Tag Archives: Arts

Seeing in the Dark (poem): Everyday Magic, Days 350-351

Paired up with another of Stephen Locke’s spectacular photos, this is the poem I plan to read at the Kansas Citizens for the Arts meeting today.

Seeing In The Dark


Barn’s burnt down
I can see the moon

– Masahide, 1657-1723


After the fire, where next to turn?

Not the old words, aged with bitterness

or despair. Not habitual angers and griefs.

Not just a reflection of anyone’s new ideas.

But what’s right here: wind rising

through a tower of cottonwood.

Cicadas motoring their 17 year song.

Golden moon half revealed by

the silver of the passing cloud.


Good things, bad things happen.

News dissolves our vision of the world.

Not say what’s lost doesn’t make us ache

or strip our days of reds so vibrant

we forget what we were thinking.


But whatever is lost also brings us to this window

composed of the lush darkness, the rush

of wind or rain through the leaves,

the sudden chill dissolving the hot

anger or anguish, the pain of the questions that,

left unanswered, might divide us.


The music of the old house outlives the house.

We will make new murals out of the ruins,

mosaics from all that’s broken, stone soup

at the center of our next feast.


Nothing in this world vanishes.

Even ghosts, loved enough, turn into angels.

The dark shows us what calls

not at the edge of what we sense

but from the center of where we live.


Nothing can take away the power of the real.

Ad Astra per Aspera and the Kansas Arts: Everyday Magic, Day 334

Ad Astra per Aspera: That’s the Kansas state motto, “to the stars, through difficulty.” It’s also the motto for any artist, writer, dancer, filmmaker painter or anyone else hard-wired to make something on a regular basis despite the sketchy career path. At this moment all of us artists in Kansas are catapulted into the “through difficulty” part of that motto since today the governor vetoed funding for the Kansas Arts Commission a few weeks after he fired the KAC staff, and three months after he tried to abolish KAC with an executive order that the Senate overturned. Although it’s painful to see an elected official ignore the will of the people of Kansas and the legislative process, the total annihilation of state arts funding makes it clear that we need to unearth, conjure, cobble together and invent new ways to get back to the stars.

So here are some ideas that come to me about writing our new story of the arts in our beloved land:

  • “Poetry is not a luxury,” Audre Lorde wrote, and this is true for all the arts. While we’ve talked up one side and down the other about the economic impact of defunding the arts, we need to also talk about how the arts help us live better lives and, in fact, show us how to live with greater clarity, more of our authentic selves and in greater harmony with our communities. Art saves lives. Writing poetry as a 14-year-old gave me a reason to survive a very dark time. Thousands of other artists can tell similar stories. Those of us who bring the arts to small towns or big cities have thousands of moments when we witnessed what a difference music can make to a middle-schooler, a writing workshop can make to someone recovering from abuse, or a performance can make to an elder.
  • Withholding art in any form as a protest is a sure way to hurt ourselves more. It diminishes our spirit because we’re more alive in the making and sharing of our art. It also fulfills the ill-conceived wish of those in this world who want less art in the public sphere.
  • Yes, we need public support of the arts: the local, state, regional and national levels, and no, it’s not acceptable to not have state funding. So we need to hold together and hold strong on resurrecting that funding. We all know that those who foot the bill have power over what’s being bought. To relegate the arts to only private support means diminishing the arts as something that belongs to all of us.
  • The arts act as a public commons: a way of bringing together people through performances, displays, publications and other means so we can share communal experiences that show us who we are and more of the world we live in. The public in Kansas obviously supports the arts as a public entity, a meeting ground, a collective exploration. We need to keep growing the arts as a public commons.
  • Throughout the last four months of reaching out to legislators and each other, we have found ways to talk to more than the usual suspects when it comes to arts funding. We need to continue and extend this outreach, and find ways to deepen and widen civil exchanges, big discussions and searching together for greater understanding of how to collectively hold the space for the arts in our spacious state.
  • Art shows us how to cultivate an inner life instead of living our lives as mapped out by consumerist hooks and prompts. Art brings us home to ourselves, and in that homecoming, we find our innate power to open our hearts and connect with the world.

Besides, we live in Kansas, and if you live here or have even just driven through on a clear night, stopping in a rest top and looking up before getting back on the road, you know something about the rest of our state motto. The stars are spectacular here, and like those of us who make art in one form or another, they show up how to see the sky and even how to see in the dark. No one can take away our vision.

What Is Wrong With This Picture, and Will the Real Kansans Please Stand Up?: Everyday Magic, Day 296

Today I felt like I was punched in the stomach when I read the news: the governor put on administrative leave the five employees of the Kansas Arts Commission until the end of the fiscal year, June 30, when they would be terminated (if this decision stands). No process. No notice. No way, and yet it’s happening.

Having worked with the people at KAC over my term as poet laureate (which I intend to continue until its completion in 2012, come storm or drought), I am stunned and saddened for them. How will they support their families? What will they do? I also grieve for the integrity of our state, one in which, without any due process or discussion and debate, state employees can be booted out. The funding issue cited seems odd, given that we’re talking about the paychecks for five people for six weeks, a portion of their pay comes from federal funding, and it’s not like these people are making Donald Trump-level salaries.

There is also the huge issue of what happens with arts programs currently in process, arts programs and events about to take place, and even more so, the arts in general in our beautiful and noble, despite the actions of the governor yesterday, state. The numbers are getting to be all-too-familiar to many of us: the Kansas Arts Commission received, for this fiscal year, a little less than $800,000 in state funding, which was matched 150% percent with $1.2 million from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Mid-America Arts Alliance. No KAC means a loss of more than 4,000 jobs and $153.5 million in art-generated revenue for our state.

So I ask fellow Kansans to stand up right now, pick up the phone or start an email, show up in a legislator’s office or write the governor, and say, “No, this is not how we live. This is not how we treat each other. This is not what we value,” Also say, “Yes, the arts matter for the economy, for our children and elders, for those living in the center and on the margins, for remembering the past and envisioning the future, and for being who we are with integrity, wisdom, compassion and imagination.”

I’m pasting here an email from Kansas Citizens for the Arts:

Reading the news yesterday that the Brownback administration gave notice that the Kansas Arts Commission staff is to be laid off – and that all communications are to come from his office only, is a disheartening blow to those of us who care about the arts and believe that elected officials should listen to the voices of their constituents.  The budget could be a matter of days away from the Governor’s desk – including $689K for the KAC. This is a huge victory for which arts supporters and thoughtful legislators are entirely responsible.

It is URGENT that you tell the Governor that the arts cannot be silenced by executive order. These programs are too important in our communities to have them abolished. 

CLICK HERE to email the Governor at governor@ks.gov

or call his office at 785-296-3232 or 1-877-579-6757. 

Join Kansas Citizens for the Arts on Facebook for the latest updates.  Thank you for your hard work and continued support. Please contact us at kansascitizens@gmail.com with any questions.