Well, I’m still poet laureate, and as I’ve written before, I still plan to finish my term, which ends next July, and to pass on this post to another poet. Yet today in the paper, I read these words: “The NEA said a draft version of a Kansas plan for the commission’s future operation made reference to elimination of the state’s poet laureate program, arts management training and public receptions.” I figured this was the case from the cues I scoped out, like all the poet laureate pages disappearing from the KAC website and the new chair of the KAC, after one very polite phone call (I initiated) to find out about the status of my position, not returning any of my calls or emails. But still, sheesh! It is kind of a kick in the head.
Ken says I should tell people I’m the poet laureate in exile, taking refuge in the people of Kansas, which sounds lovely, but I wouldn’t want to compare my little plight to keep this position alive to what the Dalai Lama has on his shoulders. On the other hand, I have felt for months like I’ve been in limbo, operating on the cheer and goodwill of people around me and, at the same time, making plans to ferry the position toward a safe harbor (more on that later).
What bothers me is hearing the new powers-that-be “eliminated” the program as if that act should silence people like me, but poets aren’t known for easily being quieted down. The poet laureate program is not over, finished, buried or dead. To the contrary, my work as poet laureate is very much alive: In coming months, the anthology I’m editing — Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems – will be published by Woodley Press, and I’m working with others to encourage dozens of readings around the state. The website the book is based on, www.150KansasPoems.wordpress.com, is popping out a new poem every few days (thanks to me pre-loading these poems from the thousands submitted). I’m giving readings, workshops, talks; writing occasional poems to present at whatever occasion I’m invited to; and doing all I can to represent the power of our words on the page and aloud.
So to paraphrase that famous Mark Twain quote, yes, news of my demise is highly inaccurate. I don’t feel eliminated at all (although I certainly mourn the loss of arts support for all of us in the arts in Kansas). Instead, I’m hopeful that all of our actions to lift up the arts in Kansas will one day restore state funding for the arts, and give back to our state more of who we are in image, sound, motion and other mediums. This is all another way of saying the goodness of the arts will outlive the evil of the day.