Write From Your Life: Denise Low

My first radio show on High Plains Public Radio is up and ready! You can listen to the podcast or visit the the HPPR page featuring the show. Here’s the text of the show, highlighting Denise Low, poet laureate of Kansas from 2007-09, including seeing her poem, “Place,” along with a writing prompt you can try on your own, and then share your response below. For more on these writing prompts, please see the Write From Your Life pages.

For those of us who live here, the word “Place” brings to mind expansive vistas unfolding all directions DeniseLow and a whole lot of sky. In a sense, you could say that when it comes to place, we have front row seats to one of the biggest views in the country. No wonder that many writers from this region aim their writing toward place, asking not just what a certain place looks like but what living in this place says about those of us who live here. Denise Low, past Poet Laureate of Kansas and a writer known for in-depth poetry and essays on place and the Great Plains, often mixes memory and observations of particular places and places in time to illuminate where we live. In her poem, “Place,” she begins with a larger view of eagles landing and then funnels down to our most local home, the bodies in which we live.

Low is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, anthologies, and a collection of essays called Touching the Sky. She teaches at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas She brings to her writing perspective from being a 5th generation Kansan of mixed German, British, and unaffiliated Lenape (Delaware) and Cherokee heritage. Listen to the questions she asks in this provocative poem:


Is it the eagles returning to Lecompton, Old Eagle town,

that stretch of lookout cottonwoods on the Kaw River,

or is it the rivers we measure towns by,

where we wait for flood and drought tides?

Or finding my grandfather during a storm,

clouds and lightning and his face by the window?

Is it the house I grew up in,

the way sun slanted through the front window,

warm bars of winter dust and light?

Is it the locus inside a muddy muscle,

the heart squeezing rivelets of blood

again, again, again?

One of the great gifts of living here is that all of us have stories about what place has been, is and could be to us, whether it’s memories of panoramic storms, quiet moments watching “warm bars of winter dust and light” or stories of “flood and drought tides.” For this month’s writing exercise, please put aside thoughts of grammar, spelling or making sense momentarily and, using Low’s poem as a prompt, ask questions about what place is. Start with the phrase, “Is it the….” and then fill in the blanks, drawing from moments you’ve lived.


3 thoughts on “Write From Your Life: Denise Low

  1. Loved it! Nice, clear radio voice and such a lovely topic… Denise’s shining poem. So proud of you and pleased to count you both as my teachers and friends.

  2. Affirm please: Am I entering these prompt responses where you want them?

    That One Particular Place, My Space

    Is it the exact center
    of a boulder in the exact
    center of a glacial runoff
    in the inexact center
    of a field of purple lupine
    and red paint brush
    below an exacting August sun
    suspended over Elk Meadows?

    Or is it this longing
    for nothing between us
    but lavender, cotton sheets
    and Abba lyrics:
    “…the sun is still in the sky
    …let me hear you sing once more
    like you did before.
    Sing a new song, chiquitita.”

    My place is not where I grew up
    except for the horse stables,
    sassafras roots, and wooded
    wandering deer trails
    that led me to contemplation
    under apple trees
    in fields of Black Angus cows.
    “You were always sure of yourself.”

    Then, but now, place
    is pain, “a blown out candle”
    between love and declaration
    “Will you try again?”
    Between “patch it up”
    and let it go,
    between the first glass of wine
    in the bottle and the last.

    Then and now, place
    is in the darkened stairwell
    of the Hopewell United Methodist Church
    where an icon painting of Jesus
    and an aged copy of Desiderata
    expand my skin and detonate
    my soul into the place between,
    the white space, the thin place.

    My place is wherever gardens
    grow or need to grow, impatiens
    and luxurious gladiolas, crimson
    with passion and summer ending.
    My place is the space between,
    preparing for my first dive
    and the kiss of lake water
    on nubile fingertips.

    My place is where “heartaches
    come and they go and the scars
    they’re leaving. You’ll be dancing
    once again and the pain will end.
    You will have no time for grieving.
    Try once more like you did before
    Sing a new song, chiquitita…
    There is no way you can deny it.”

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