Chat with the Kansas Poet Laureate
Lawrence writer Denise Low assumes her post as Kansas Poet Laureate on July 1. The interim dean of the College of Humanities and Arts at Haskell Indian Nations University will take questions about her new role: supporting other Kansas writers and developing an appreciation for the writing and reading of poetry.
Who are you reading these days, someone who you’d like to recommend to others?
Hi, everybody. Denise is here to answer your questions about her position of poet laureate, and about poetry in general. I’m Terry Rombeck, a features reporter here at the J-W, and I’ll moderate today’s chat.
Hi, and I appreciate the J-W’s sponsorship of this e-chat about poetry and the laureate position.
First off, please tell us a little about the poet laureate program.
Sure. 37 states have a poet laureat, as well as the U.S., which changed the U.S. Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress to a Poet Laurate in 1986. Kansas began its poet laureate position in 2005. Jonathan Holden is the first poet laureate. He established a great website www.kansaspoets.com and held teleconference Shoptalk programs throughout his tenure. I plan to continue the website.
In addition, I will provide an electronic page about a Kansas poet biweekly, to be sent to Ks. libraries and other places. I’ll also post this on my blog, http://deniselow.blogspot.com. These may be used for educational purposes. Then we’ll publish this, through the Washburn Center for Ks. Studies. Tom Averill nominated me for this position, and more information is on the Kansas Arts Commission website.
First, congratulations about becoming the Poet Laureate.
I’m a poet and have a pile of poems ready to send off for possible publication — but am clueless about where they should be sent.
Are you, in the future, possibly going to run seminars on poetry writing, including publication?
Thanks for your good wishes. Coming up in the near future, August 11, 9:30 at the Lawrence Public Library, I will be the guest for an open meeting of the Kansas Authors Club. I will be happy to address this question in more detail then.
I have held such discussions in the past and attended many. The best quick advice is to look in a recent copy of Writers Digest-Poetry (or whatever your genre). They have very, very good lists of how to prepare a manuscript, places to send work, agents, etc. They do a great job.
My own advice beyond what they tell you is:
Get involved in a writers’ group
Take a class through the Art Center, KU, or wherever
Try publishing in local organizations–the LJ-World, for ex., publishes poetry. My first publication was a newsletter.
What are some ways that libraries can help promote an appreciation for poetry?
Excellen question, and I think I know who this is… how about the River City Bookfair, Oct. 6, I believe (that weekend anyway–stay posted), where many area writers including Jo MacDougall, Barry Barnes, and myself, and many more will present free discussions of writing and reading.
I noticed the Lawrence library at one time had open mics for high school students. That’s a great idea.
I reallly am impressed with the number of contemporary poetry books in the library, but I’d like to see more local writers’ works. And how about a nook for Kansas literary journals? First Intensity, Midwest Quarterly, Cottonwood, and others?
Area musicians and filmmakers have to constantly defend the fact that they’re from Kansas. Does the same thing happens to you within the poetry community?
Oh boy yes. I cross the river to KC even, and I’m bucolic. I have come to appreciate that my regional dialect is different from the mainstream one, my aesthetic is different, and my reasons for writing are different. My experiences are not in the national memory bank, either: most Americans–like 80% or more–live within 100 miles of an ocean coast. So when I write about prairie burning, it’s very abstract to folks outside the area. Wes Jackson has a very nice riff in Altars of Unhewn Stones about how urban Americans LEFT the rural life (1900 American was 90% rural; now less than 10% of America is rural), so the old, discarded place is the Midwest, while the urban coastal area is the Promised Land.
you mention poetry discussions. what about workshops/clinics?
Conferences are a great learning experience, and also any workshp or clinic you can find. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg does great ones, including one with Kelley Hunt. Her website is www.writewhereyouare.com. Also, Gov. Sibelius has initiated a state-wide book fair, to be in Wichita this fall, also. I’m not good at remembering dates, but I have these events posted on my blog.
My former mentor Carolyn Doty, a novelist, used to say it takes 10 years to learn how to write a novel. I’d say the same is true for a book of poetry. However, attendance at workshops, classes, and other instructive situations will shorten that time. In short, yes, there is some talent involved, but also writing poetry is a lot about a craft, which can be learned.
I know you’re starting a resource for introducing people to Kansas poets. Are there other books or resources out there you would suggest for reading Kansas poets’ work?
The best resource right now is the index of poets, and their books, at www.kansaspoets.com. also, Washburn is sponsoring a Kansas Literary Map, which comes up if you google that title. And George Laughead at the Kansas blue skyways site has a great index of poems. Right now, the best resources are online! I edited several anthologies of Kansas poets in the 70s and 80s, respectively, but these are long out of print. Folks talk about how hard it is to sell poetry, but both of these anthologies went through several printings, and both sold out.
The Ad Astra Poetry Project that I am working on should be a great new resource. Also, the Washburn Center for Kansas Studies has some relevant publications. Woodley Press at Washburn publishes Kansas area or Kansas-related writers, including poets.
That does it for today’s chat. Thanks for all your questions and thanks, Denise, for coming in to answer them. Good luck to you as your start your two-year appointment.
I appreciate your interest. This is an interesting time for journalism–for example the Chicago Tribune has shifted its book review section to online. The video clips, audio clips, interactive chats, and almost unlimited archival space online is changing how we get news and interact with cultural news. This was fun!