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Archive for Thursday, May 7, 1998

POETRY THRIVES IN A VARIETY OF PLACES, PUBLICATIONS AND POINTS OF VIEW.

May 7, 1998

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top 10 people on Mass. Street and ask them to name Lawrence's predominant art form, and it's a safe bet eight or nine will say music.

A contrarian or two might pick visual arts. But poetry? Not likely.

Despite a rich literary heritage that counts poet Langston Hughes and novelist William Burroughs among its notables, Lawrence is known more for bands than bards.

But if variety is a sign of vitality, the art of poetry is plenty healthy in Lawrence, and getting stronger all the time.

Room for everyone

"As far as I'm concerned poetry is a big tent, and you can do a lot of things within it," says Brian Daldorph. Daldorph teaches writing at Kansas University and the Lawrence Arts Center. He also publishes the literary magazine Coal City Review.

"If you're interested in serious intellectual poetry you can do that here. If you're interested in the more immediate effect of poetry slams and coffee house readings, that's going on, too," Daldorph says. "You can find whatever you're looking for in Lawrence."

Events held during April to commemorate National Poetry Month demonstrate the diversity of poetry in Lawrence. Luci Tapahonso, a KU professor and member of the Navajo nation, signed copies of her new book of poetry and fiction, "Blue Horses Rush In." Baldwin poet John Musgrave read from ``Under A Flare-lit Sky,'' a book detailing his Vietnam War combat experience. Students in KU's Advanced Poetry Writing class organized a public reading, doing everything from designing flyers and distributing press releases to writing their own introductions for Tapahonso, their instructor, to read.

Some students see the class as one step in a long apprenticeship leading to books, teaching jobs and more readings. It's an attitude Tapahonso encourages.

"I really believe these are our future poets," she says. "Some day we'll be buying their books."

Gerald Hawthorne, a walk-on defensive back for KU's football team and a member of Tapahonso's class, doesn't consider himself a future author. The soft-spoken junior, who grew up on the rough west side of Chicago, writes chiefly to vent the pain of losing friends to violence. Gunfire and death figure prominently in his poems.

"A lot of things happened in my life that I don't talk about," Hawthorne says. "A few of my friends have passed. People always tell me I need to open up, get things out. Poetry is how I do that. It's a way to deal with the frustration I've felt."

Society for live poets

For retired elementary teacher Marjorie Lamb, who leads the poetry group at the Lawrence Senior Center, poetry is a means of self-expression -- and then some. Five years ago, she met her husband, Art Lamb, in a poetry class.

"I was interested in some things he had written, and he got interested in some of my poems, and one thing led to another," Lamb says. "First thing you know, we had announced our engagement in a joint poem before five or six hundred people. It was kind of a fairy tale."

Lamb has enjoyed poetry most of her life, writing "during the low times" when she taught in Olathe. Her current group began as a six-week class at the Senior Center and evolved into a poetry lovers group that meets twice monthly.

"It's very informal. We throw out challenges each time, suggestions for the next meeting," Lamb says. "We mostly write and read our own poetry, though sometimes we invite people in."

Denise Low, who teaches poetry at Haskell Indian Nations University, says groups like Lamb's are essential in keeping the art alive.

"There's a whole range of clubs -- women's study groups, literary societies, church study groups -- that get together to talk about poetry and the arts," Low says. "They don't get much attention, but they've been a mainstay in Kansas the past hundred years."

Low says area universities are also vital in bringing poetry to the community.

"Having a creative writing program at KU enhances the visibility of poetry," Low says. "On the other hand, the contemporary scene is very inclusive. It's very spread out and not focused entirely on KU."

A long-time resident of Lawrence, Low fondly recalls seeing Allen Ginsburg read when she was a youngster.

"I've seen so many wonderful poets come through here," Low says. "Lawrence has always supported a good reading series."

`From book to band and back'

A group of local poets who banded together recently hope to make Lawrence an even better place for poets to drop in.

"We formed the Lawrence Poets Alliance essentially to try to bring people from out of town for readings and workshops here," says president Maryrose Larkin. "We'd like to bring people who wouldn't necessarily be invited by any of the colleges."

The group received a grant from the Lawrence Arts Commission in March. Their first reading, by poet David Bromige, was a success.

"We had about 50 people, which is pretty amazing for a poetry reading," Larkin says.

Their next event, featuring poets John Moritz and Patrick Doud, is at 7:30 p.m. today at the Canterbury House, 1116 La.

Though poets don't draw the crowds bands draw, Low sees a connection between the two. "I think the same impulse that brings people to town to experiment with music and write song lyrics" sustains poetry, Low says. "You have the bands on one extreme, then the performance poets, then the people whose work is made for the page. There's a continuum from book to band and back again."

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.

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