Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zingara Poet Interviews Denise Low for Poet Laureate Series

Lisa Hase posted a lengthy interview and the poem "Pocahontas: A Portrait" on her creativity coaching blog. The Interview includes this excerpt.
How does poetry bring or add meaning to your life?
"First, I became involved with poetry so young, that it is hard to tease out how it, among other experiences, add meaning to my life. It’s a spiritual practice—I do believe that learning the discipline of language is one of many paths to enlightenment. It requires engagement with reality, not neuroses. Observation and reflection are the polarity, and syntax the means along the way. So poetry keeps me connected to immediate experience, and it makes historic tradition collapse into the present moment. We use ancient words, and each use reinvigorates them. I cannot imagine my life without poetry. " For more of the interview, see:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Francisco Aragon reads "Walt Whitman," after Ruben Dario, in Spanish and English

The American Literary Translators Association hosted Francisco Aragon and Fred Arroyo for a reading at the New Letters and BookMark offices Nov. 19, 2011. This recording is from Francisco's reading from his new book Glow of Our Sweat (Scapegoat Press, Kansas City.Here is his biographical information from the Poetry Foundation website: "Poet, translator, essayist, editor, and San Francisco native Francisco Aragón studied Spanish at the University of California at Berkeley and New York University. He earned an MA from the University of California at Davis and an MFA from the University of Notre Dame.Aragón’s multi-genre book Glow of Our Sweat (2010) includes poems, translations, and an essay. His translations appear in Federico García Lorca’s Selected Verse: A Bilingual Edition (1996). The editor of Bilingual Press’s Canto Cosas poetry book series and the anthology The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (2007)." Aragon's poetry appears in Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies (2001) and Mariposa: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry (2008). Aragon is a 2008-2011 national board member of the Association of Writers &Writing Programs. At the University of Notre Dame, Aragón directs Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies, and edits for Momotombo Press, which he founded. Francisco studied and lived in Spain also.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Diane Glancy's film Dome of Heaven Is an Authentic View of Great Plains Life, Both Cherokee and Anglo

A private showing of this terrific film Nov. 18, 2011 was a highlight of the American Literary Translators Association conference in Kansas City. Diane Glancy is best known for books of poetry and prose relating to her Cherokee heritage, and this film does continue her explication of contemporary American Indian concerns. Cherokee characters are central to the film, but also this film gives an authentic portrait of small town life on the Great Plains. The film (and novel) Winter’s Bone tells truth through fiction regarding the Ozarks, and Cedar Rapids portrays upper Midwest life. Dome of Heaven has equal authenticity and quality. Glancy, who lives in Kansas City, was not present because she was attending the Los Angeles Skins Film Festival to present the film.

Small Great Plains towns often include Native populations as well as descendants of European settlers. I grew up in small town Kansas grasslands, not far geographically nor culturally from Vici, Oklahoma, the setting, in a family of mixed backgrounds. The film is shot on location, and local people participated as actors, extras, and musicians. I recognized the café, school, court, church and bar, and always the sky. The film is based on Glancy’s book Flutie, about her experiences as a visiting writer in Vici public schools. She wrote a script from the book at a Sundance Native American Screenwriting workshop. For more on the making of the film, see Glancy’s website

The story revolves around a Cherokee veteran (Wes Studi, a subtle and strong performance) of World War II and his German war bride (Sylvia Kofler, a Kansas City writer and perfect fit). Their two children are Flutie (Thirza Defoe) and Franklin (Noah Watts). Franklin works with his father in a local garage as an apprentice mechanic; although he is bright, he has dropped out of high school. His sister Flutie wants to go to college, but she is morbidly afraid of speaking in front of people. She must overcome this phobia in order to pass high school and attend college. There are romances, arguments, tragedies, two marriages (Franklin's) and hope. The Greek myth of Philomela is another layer of the plotline. Well placed ambient shots of the area, including Southwest Oklahoma State campus, create the sense of the land being a character as well.

I viewed the film with a group of academics—people whose critical faculties are sharpened by decades of grading student papers and critiquing literature. Not an easy audience. Yet there was not a dry eye by the end of the movie. I heard others comment about the  well crafted dialogue, the use of silence as counterpoint to the panoramic views of the plains, the acting, the pacing, the musical score, and more. Country western is on most radio stations in that region, and the Randall family of Vici has listened well. Their ballads complement the script. Through a Looking Glass of Lawrence, Kansa, filmed and edited the movie, and their skill is apparent. I appreciated seeing the film with outsiders, because I was lost in the film’s verisimilitude. Dome of Heaven especially captures the humor. Glancy incorporates the overlapping Cherokee and rural humor, which is understated, self-deprecating, instructive, and inventive. A neighbor sees the father Mr. Moses driving a tractor down a road followed by a ten-year-old driving a truck (early driving is commonplace), but the kid’s head cannot be seen. The neighbor deduces that Mr. Moses is training the truck to follow. One of Flutie’s suitors creeps into her bedroom late after a night of drinking beer at the Cedar Shack. His hasty morning retreat, under the eyes of father and brother, is a classic.
Glancy brings skills of a trained writer to her script. After receive a graduate degree at the University of Iowa, she has published about 30 books of fiction, poetry, non-fiction prose, and drama. Among her awards are two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Minnesota Book Award, an Oklahoma Book Award, an American Book Award, and the 2011 Best Native American Film at the Trail Dance Independent Film Festival (Duncan, Oklahoma). Her most recent poetry is Stories from the Driven World (Mammoth 2010). A new collection of nonfiction, The Dream of a Broken Field (University of Nebraska Press 2011). For a clip, see:  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nikky Finney wins 2011 National Book Award for Poetry

Poetry winner of the National Book Award is Nikky Finney for Head Off & Split,  from TriQuarterly, an imprint of Northwestern University Press. My friend Damaris Hill had been telling me to read Nikky Finney for a couple years, and so I did. Her work is tough and strong. The poem “Sign Language, “ from The World is Round (Innerlight Publishing, 2003), shows the vivid, visceral images she uses—here, the image of two hearts torn out of two lovers’ chests. She addresses the reader directly—no safe distances here—with “tell me what is the difference.” This is unforgettable.

For the man who jumped out in front of the woman with his
arm raised like a machete screaming Abomination! as she
walked the streets of San Francisco holding her lover’s hand
for the first time in public.

There is a woman who goes to sleep
every night wishing she had broken
your sternum reached up inside your
chest momentarily borrowing your
heart to hold before your screaming
face and with her other hand still
clutching her lover’s broke next into
her own sternum plucking next her
own heart dangling them both there
sterling silver sign language for you
tell me what is the difference.
Finney is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky and lives in Lexington. She’s also on the faculty at Cave Canem, the writer’s center for African-American poets, and a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets. She was born in Conway, S.C. an educated at Talladega College and Atlanta University. Writes Walter Mosely, “She has flung me into an afterbirth of stars and made my stiff bones as loose as jelly.” Caribbean poet Lorna Goodison notes, Finney “calls us to consider and value again the blessings found in community, the strong bonds of family and the transcendent and inexplicable ways of the spirit.” Her narrative poems include characters as diverse as Jacques Cousteau and Saartjie Baartman (the so-called Hottentot Venus), young women defined by violence and old women killing time in a thrift store.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Excerpt from Natural Theologies introduction: defining the West

This book of critical essays about contemporary literature of the American grasslands region begins with an essay that defines the region, and then introduces settler and Indigenous writers with themes of frontier, settlement, people, and nature.
"The landmass known as the West or Middle West or Grasslands or Great and Lesser Plains is an area first conceived by European Americans as a frontier zone. Subsequent histories and American Indian perspectives complicate representations of this region, as contemporary and recent 20th century writers rework themes of history, settlement, personal identity, and theology. Despite the complexities, these writers return to a fundamental truth unaltered by any human constructions: the natural world persists as the defining characteristic of the region."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nov. 2011 National Book Critics Circle blog Critical Mass mentions Natural Theologies along with other NBCC member news

NBCC notes publication of my new book of personal critical essays about contemporary grasslands writers: "Former Kansas poet laureate Denise Low has published a collection of her review-articles and other prose, Natural Theologies: Essays about Literature of the New Middle West from The Backwaters Press. . . ." and more on the NBCC blogmember news summary.The link to The Backwaters Press is Thanks to editor/publisher Greg Kosmicki! He's great to work with. Paul Hotvedt did the cover art--an amazing artist collected by museums & universities for teaching techniques-- More on my writing is at

Natural Theologies: Essays about Literature of the New Middle West, is the first critical study of contemporary Mid-Plains literature. Denise Low, former Kansas poet laureate, shows how the region’s writers inherit a Frontier legacy from Indigenous and American settler communities. Myths continue to provide framework for fiction writers and poets, as well as nature and the rich community life. Not all of the region is rural. Cities like Minneapolis, Omaha, and Kansas City, have presence in the literature—but in context of the great acreage around them.  This innovative book defines the region’s character while at the same time illuminating a panoramic past. Indigenous peoples and their philosophies add to this unique look at the Mid-continent’s literary culture. Writers whose work comes to Low’s attention include: William Stafford, Louise Erdrich, Langston Hughes, Ted Kooser, Robert Day, David Ray, Heid Erdrich, Jo McDougall, William Kloefkorn, Adrian C. Louis, Joseph Marshall III, Thomas Fox Averill, Linda Hasselstrom, Diane Glancy, and other Mid-Plains writers .

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Good article on docupoetry by Joseph Harrington

Joe defines “docupoetry” as verse that " (1) contains quotations from or reproductions of documents or statements not produced by the poet and (2) relates historical narratives, whether macro or micro, human or natural. " See the full article at the Jacket2 website  

Saralyn Reece Hardy supports reinstatement of a public Kansas Arts Commission

The Kansas legislature voted to reinstate the state funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, after Gov. Brownback eliminated it. The Kansans who oppose public access and funding for the arts are Brownback and the Koch brothers. Saralyn Reece Hardy explains financial and community concerns in this article, reprinted with permision. Denise Low
The Kansas Arts Commission has closed its doors. Kansas has become the only state in the nation to eliminate public funding for the arts. Public funding is premised on one intrinsic rule: Art is for everyone, and our culture belongs to all. Public funding is about equal access. Public funding ensures that Kansas museums, concerts, dance and theater events are open to all Kansans, not just to those who can afford the price of admission or enjoy private access. Public funding is crucial in expanding audiences beyond elite circles. Public funding ensures that people across Kansas can build strong cultural communities in places large and small, rural and urban: Goodland, Hays, Fort Scott, Concordia, Salina, Lincoln, Greensburg, Wichita, Lucas, Lawrence and Kansas City.
Let’s not forget what the arts look like in Kansas. Art in Kansas is and has always been of the grassroots, nurtured by values, reflecting the unrelenting work ethic of its people, and exploring a common landscape that runs beyond our vast horizon. Every community in Kansas can point to local examples of how artists – musicians, visual artists, writers, actors, dancers — have helped shape the shared language of our state. Thriving arts communities are an integral part of Kansas’ independent, democratic nature.
On one hand, art is not about the money. Still, the financial impact of eliminating public funding for the Kansas Arts Commission is clear: The state cut a budget of $689,000 in funds that had yielded an investment of $1.3 million in federal funds, creating jobs statewide and supporting arts all over the state. All of those dollars, those jobs, those opportunities, are now gone.
In my career in the Kansas arts, and also as a steward for national public arts funding, I have experienced firsthand how powerful public support can be in stimulating philanthropic contributions among communities, artists, private business and foundations. In turn, these public-private partnerships have the power to draw national and international recognition for local arts programs and a reputation for innovation to the entire area. A renovated arts facility may owe its presence to a generous private donor, but sustaining its future often requires a public source. Foundations award prestigious challenge grants to arts organizations, but matching funds often depend on an arts infrastructure supported by city and state grants.
The Kansas Arts Commission once made it possible for generations of children in our state’s communities to experience a rich selection of arts opportunities, but now the organization and its network lie fallow, and Kansas children are the poorer for it. All of our residents deserve opportunities to develop creative and critical minds, capable of imagination and innovation, the same resourceful qualities that characterize us as Kansans.
If Kansas is to contribute to a national currency of ideas, then the state must invest in arts and education for our residents. Cultural capital and economic capital are not separate; they go hand in hand. If we shortchange our children and communities on one count, we will shortchange them on the other. For the sake of future generations of Kansans, public funding for the arts must be reinstated in the blueprint for the state.
Ultimately, art is not about money: Art is about innovation and improvisation, authenticity and insight. Art means exercising individual freedoms in conversation with a community. Public funding is about access and opportunity — investing in the marvelous diversity of human expression, sharing those perspectives among us all, and making us stronger as a people.
— Saralyn Reece Hardy has worked in the arts in Salina, Washington, D.C., and now Lawrence.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Matt Porubsky Reading with Eric McHenry, Denise Low, Bill Sheldon, Brian Daldorph

& Kevin Rabas, Dennis Etzel Jr,Jason Wesco, Mary Stone Dockery and Jeff Tigchelaar
Reading Friday, November 4th 5:30-7ish pm to celebrate the new book by Matt, at Blue Panet Cafe Nov. 4, Topeka
Blue Planet Café 

The Three Times in My Life when I’ve Read William Stafford’s ‘Key of C – An Interlude For Marvin’ from Kansas Poems

We were on the road between our homes
speaking only of each other, instances and secrets.
You read to me on the way,
your voice elliptical in turns
and surroundings of stanzas and statements.
I saw the poem first through your voice:
all of them telling their futures,
their secrets to come to hold them fast to time.
I had to cry for their fates.
It seemed like our moment was in theirs,
the uncertainty of our timelines placed to sight.
She was born sometime later.
I had forgotten the poem as time travelled us
toward embraces of three.
I stumbled upon it and was stopped like a short breath.
I saw the poem through the both of you,
close by on the bed, in your light and sighing
moment of arms and nothing but that.
I had to cry for you and them
in the gathered instant of gathered fortune,
knowing how tightly you would always hold her.
The sun shined setting through
the windshield of the locomotive.
The air-conditioning and my shaded safety-glasses glinted it away.
I found the book of poems in my bag and read the poem again.
I was sure of my emotions in my surroundings of reflecting steel,
ballast black from loose oil and a co-worker stranger beside me.
But still, behind my glasses I had to cry for the poem.
The gentle giving. The gentle giving.
I put the book away and turned from the stranger,
bent to reach for a bottle of water from the ice bucket,
not offering one to him.
The poem swirled into me as cold water.

Matthew Porubsky’s first book of poetry, voyeur poems, published by Coal City Press, was the winner of the Kansas Authors Club Nelson Poetry Book Award in 2006. His second book of poetry, Fire Mobile (The Pregnancy Sonnets,) is  from Woodley Memorial Press. He lives in Topeka where he works as a freight conductor for the Union Pacific Railroad.!
Links to articles about Fire Mobile (The Pregnancy Sonnets):