So what does happen when you mix a bunch of poets laureate in the wilds of Kansas on the Ides of March? We found out last weekend when we brought together Marilyn L. Taylor (poet laureate of Wisconsin), Mary Swander (poet laureate of Iowa), Walter Bargen (past poet larueate of Missouri), Jonathan Holden and Denise Low (past poets laureate of Kansas), and me, the present poet laureate of Kansas. The reading we gave together at the Spencer Museum of Art drew together over 85 people, some of whom drove long distances to be there.
The reading was joyous, funny, moving, surprising, and it proved something I’ve believed for a long time: if you haven’t found a poem you like, you just haven’t read enough poetry. Walter Bargen read poems full of local and universal nuance and quirks of humor and grace. Mary Swander began with banjo music, some old-time singing, and then led us into the world she created in The Girls On the Roof, her book of poetic monologues that tell the story of a community overcome by a flood. Marilyn Taylor told us she was a formalist, so she “plays in a box,” then dazzled us with a crown of sonnets on the very liberal arts. Jonathan Holden showed us how poetry can capture the sound and many layers of meaning of the sound of the meadowlark. Denise Low, in response to Mary Swander reading poems about Missouri, and Walter Bargen joking that he meant to read a poem about Iowa in revenge, read poems about Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Kansas. And I read poetry from my new book, Landed, about place, time, body and earth.
That evening, we had a little poet laureate dinner, sharing stories both moving and strange, and the next day, we met for a long breakfast before exploring downtown in time for Lunch Laureati: Brown Bag It With the Poets Laureate. At this event, held at the Lawrence Arts, we had a lovely discussion with participants about the writing life, artistic process, how and why we write, and ways we keep the writing alive.
Meeting more during the afternoon and evening, we started dreaming up what comes next, and this is it so far: the United Poets Laureate having a convergence same place, same time next year, but this time with poets laureate from throughout the country invited. We also are planning to edit a collection of poetry by poets laureate, to be published in 2011. For more, check out our spanking new website.
Photos from top: The reading at the Spencer, Marilyn Taylor, Walter Bargen, Mary Swander