by KATE Pages Editors
As National Poetry Month comes to a close, we felt it germain to highlight the poetry interactions throughout our respective communities. From poetry readings, to open mic nights, poetry is indeed alive and well in Kansas. As educators, we seek authentic ways to incorporate arts in our student’s lives, and one of the best ways we can do that is to seek out authentic opportunities to interact with art in public.
Salina, Poetic Experience
For the 39th year in a row, the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission has put together a proverbial smorgasbord of poetry through the Salina Spring Poetry Series. Each April for National Poetry Month, the SAHC brings 4 poets to conduct readings each Tuesday. Both last year’s and this year’s series were curated by the state Poet Laureates, Huscar Medina and Traci Brimhall. In addition to hosting readings one of the weeks during their respective terms, the poets brought together voices of diversity. KATE Board Member Amanda Little enjoyed these readings and interacting with poets who have Kansas roots at Ad Astra Books & Coffee House, found at 135 N Santa Fe in Salina.
This year the theme seemed to be intersectionality. One of the participating poets was Miguel M. Morales, a poet and activist for migrant workers and the LGBTQIA+ community. Morales, who grew up as a migrant worker himself, draws on his personal life to craft his poetry, which ultimately speaks to so many. When asked about whether or not he uses personae in his poetry, he said that instead of using a mask or “fictional character,” he draws on his real experiences as he works through the memories and emotions. He said that he hopes his poetry is a medium that resonates with commonalities, sharing stories and making space for all. And that is exactly what his poetry did. He read poems about farming and fatness and queerness and anger and joy and hope, which brought a comforting familiar and tenacious fervor of labor, love, and life.
Another poet that graced the Salina community was Sheri Purpose Hall. Purpose Hall is on fire for inspiring positive change and boasts a long resume of community involvement and artistic endeavors. And Purpose Hall used this momentum to found Poetry for Personal Power, a nonprofit aimed at doing just what the title suggests, “using art to show that emotional distress is temporary and transformative,” as the mission statement reads. Running for city council in Kansas City’s 3rd District, Purpose Hall started the night off imploring others to speak up and step up to make change happen in their communities, specifically through running for local office. But she didn’t stay on her soap box long. After getting settled in, she took the spotlight as an experienced and award-winning performance poet. Spursed throughout the reading, Hall explained one of her workshopping techniques she uses in Poetry for Personal Power is to “explain the box, unbox it, and disappear the box,” sharing a riveting “unboxing” poem exploring her own pain and growth through learning to love herself.
Arts as Healing & Connection
Both Morales and Purpose Hall shared the cathartic value that arts, particularly poetry, have had for them and how they share this with others. Morales works with youth who are children of migrant workers, or migrant workers themselves, developing a space of freedom to express what seems inexpressible, things that have even been repressed. Especially anger. Morales said, “Anger is malleable. We have to learn to redirect that rage toward the light,” rather than suppress it or run from it. Likewise, Purpose Hall channeled her anger and pain into her poetry and performances, and now into civic action. And they encourage the same with the students and mentees they work with.
When asked about what advice they would give teachers, both poets emphasized seeing the students as a whole person. Morales pointed out that teachers should worry less about the assignment and more about providing a safe space for authentic exploration of self for the healing process. And this leads to finding the poetic moments of life. Almost an echo, Purpose Hall emphasized that effective communication begins with freedom of expression. And both poets said this starts with us, the teachers.
Wichita, Poetry Reading
On April 29th, KATE Members attended a poetry reading and reception for the poetry anthology Level Land: Poems For and About the I35 Corridor at Watermark Books & Cafe (4701 E. Douglas). The anthology contains aesthetically and stylistically diverse selections from 16 Kansas poets, as well as writers from many other states, Mexico, and Canada.
Editor Crag Hill noted a common theme of the collection is the tensions that exist between perception and reality. The book’s title, Level Land, is both an acknowledgment of outsiders’ perceptions of the flatness of the Great Plains, and the vast truth of diverse ecoregions that dot the corridor’s landscape. Four of these ecoregions—Borderlands (Mexico/Texas), Cross Timbers (Oklahoma), Tall Grass Prairie (Kansas), and Upper Mississippi (Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota)--divide the poetry into a visual journey one can take from the latitudinal depths of Mexico City to the frigid North of Thunder Bay. This pathway has served both the human traffic of Native Americans and the natural migrations of birds and animals for thousands of years before America’s obsession with Manifest Destiny brought Western settlement.
Hill and co-editor Todd Fuller felt a responsibility to be inclusive of Indigenous voices, as well as those currently living in or from the area. Two of the poets in attendance were Cowley College professor Marlys Cervantes of Ponca City, OK, and Bethel College professor Siobhan Scarry of the North Newton/Hesston area. Cervantes read her poem “Fried Potatoes and Alcohol,” and explained that her poetic inspirations come from writing about land, nature, and personal healing. Scarry recited “Old 81,” a stream-of-consciousness poem about her daily car ride between North Newton and Hesston while taking her daughter to preschool. She also read from a new manuscript, noting her inspirations come from pastoral poetry and contemporary thinkers and writers. Hill read the writing of Joe Harrington and Jim McCrary, longtime KU professors and residents of Lawrence.
Overall, the reading was an enjoyable event for all who attended. Hill mentioned that Level Land is the first of an eventual eight poetry anthologies that follow interstate highways connecting Canada to Mexico. His hope is that each anthology will highlight the beauty, richness, and diversity of America’s peoples and landscapes.
Find the Poetic Moments
Poetry in its simplest form is an examination of life. These poets inspired us to find the poetic moments and let the art bring forth the beauty and pain, the successes and set-backs, the funny and the heart-wrenching. When we are able to be our own authentic human selves, we are able to facilitate that in our students. We hope you find those poetic moments as well.
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