I’m proud to be Kansas’ third poet laureate, following in the good work and writing of Denise Low and Jonathan Holden. Although I’m beginning my fourth year in the position, have no formal organization behind the poet laureate program at the moment, and the last year has been outrageously confusing (to say the least), I’m hopeful about this wonderful program continuing, so much so that I’m not leaving until the program is anchored to a strong future.
This is all way of saying that although my *official* term could be over (even that’s amorphous), I’m occupying this position until the giant sunflower (our version of a baton) can be passed onto the next poet within the next year.
People often ask me what’s happening or what happened, and well, it’s hard to explain without a whole lot of detail that doesn’t (yet!) lead to resolution. But here’s a go at it anyway: In May of 2011, our governor shut down the Kansas Arts Commission office, the office that housed and staffed the poet laureate program among other programs. Funding stopped, an arts foundation was supposed to make up the gap (but didn’t succeed), and this last legislative session, a new arts organization was formed, the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission.
Since that time, I’ve been carrying the poet laureate program in my back pocket, continuing to do the work, and turning directly to the people of Kansas to report on my projects and to fundraise my own stipend and travel budget (which some of you contributed to so quickly that all the funds were raised in three weeks). (You can see an article I wrote for Huffington Post here on being poet laureate of limbo.)
For the last 14 months, I’ve been working to move the program to another organization, which you wouldn’t think would take so long, but solving complex issues (such as who “owns” the poet laureate program) is outrageously time-consuming, particularly in our political times. I’m hopeful that within a month or two, all will be resolved, and we can aim ourselves toward the good work of passing this program onto the next poet laureate of Kansas.
In the meantime, rather than let the program vanish into the netherworld, I’m holding down the fort (even if there isn’t a literal fort or any building or even office), and I’m honored to be able to continue the good work for our good words.