Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Muse: Nebraska's Poet Laureate

Note: William Kloefkorn died in May 2011. See "Nebraska Loses State Poet Bill Kloefkorn in The Lincoln Journal Star, May 19, 2011. The position currently is for five years and is renewable. Nominations may be made until July 26, 2013.

William Kloefkorn assumed a lifetime appointment as Nebraska's State Poet in September 1982. 

Only one other poet, John G. Neihardt (1921-1973), has held the position since its establishment in 1921. Until Kloefkorn's appointment, the job's title was Poet Laureate. 

Unencumbered by a job description, Kloefkorn travels the state, discussing poetry with everyone from elementary students to elder citizens. 

* * * * *
Poems should not be simplistic, nor should they
be sermons. Poetry is for those who want to use 
their own minds to find answers. It can challenge
without being elitist or obscure.
~ William C. Kloefkorn*

Poet, fiction writer, and memorist  William Kloefkorn is a prolific writer. He has published several dozen volumes of poetry, two collections of short fiction, and three memoirs. Among his recent poetry collections are Breathing in the Fullness of Time (University of Nebraska Press, 2009), a book that also includes essays, Out of Attica (The Backwaters Press, 2008), Sunrise, Dayglow, Sunset, Moon (Talking River Publications, 2004), and Walking the Campus (Lone Willow Press, 2003). His newest book is Swallowing the Soap: New and Selected Poems** (Bison Books), edited and with an introduction by VQR editor Ted Genoways; it brings together work from limited editions and out-of-print or hard-to-find work, in addition to Kloefkorn's many anthologized poems.

Kloefkorn's individual poems have appeared in scores of prestigious literary magazines and periodicals, including Beloit Poetry Review, Harper'sIndiana Review, Ironwood, The Laurel Review, New Orleans Review, Prairie Schooner, Spoon River QuarterlyVerseDaily, and Virginia Quarterly Review.

I enjoyed reading Kloefkorn's wonderfully accessible poems. Reading his work is like listening to a very good storyteller; you come away with a sense of distinct time, place, and voice; a sense of life recognizable, details recalled vividly and with purpose; you've heard something that matters. The subjects range over years of memories rooted and made in the Midwest, wonder at nature, recognition and understanding of loss, and delight in the people who populate the rural areas of America. You find history and humor and wisdom, references that betray a well-educated and inquisitive mind, and a lot of depth in what initially seems arrestingly simple (note, for example, what's contained in the seven-line "I stand alone at the foot", below).

Here are several excerpts that I think give a good impression of how straightforward, honest, and unfancy Kloefkorn's poems are:

Whoever it was that painted graffiti
on the silver belly of the water tower
it wasn't me,
though I wish it had been. I had
two of the three essential ingredients,
something to say and plenty of blood-red

paint. But I lacked whatever it takes
to keep the legs walking skyward. . . .
~ From "After the Senior Prom"
(Scroll down the page to the poem's title to read the poem in full.)

I'll not arise and go now
to the Lake Isle of Somewhere Else
because I'm perfectly happy just where I am. . . .
~ From "Not Long Before Sunset"

The cats too congregate
At milking time,
Discovering their own
Firm ritual in mine. Together we make a church of it:
I and the cows and the cats,
And the flies that swarm like music
At the worshippers' backs. . . .
~ From "At Milking Time"
(Scroll down the page to the poem's title.)

I stand alone at the foot
Of my father's grave,
Trembling to tell:
The door to the granary is open,
And someone lost the bucket
To the well.
~ "I stand alone at the foot"

Kloefkorn was awarded in 2004 the Nebraska Book Award for Non-Fiction, for Restoring the Burnt Child (University of Nebraska Press, 2003; the link provided here is for the 2008 Bison Books paperback version); it is the second of a four-part memoir (the others are listed here). (A Nebraska Library Commission post about the memoir includes links to discussion questions, a book club kit, and other pertinent information.)

Kloefkorn is professor emeritus of English at Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, Nebraska.


* Quoted in Alumni Online, Nebraska Wesleyan University

**A digital page view of Kloefkorn's Swallow the Soap can be seen here. Go here for GoogleBooks.

Bibliography for William Kloefkorn

Excerpt from Breathing in the Fullness of Time

Some of Kloefkorn's Poems Online: "Achilles' Heel"; "I stand alone at the foot" (also found at American Life in Poetry: Column 147); "Opus 21"; "Some Directions for the December Touring of Westcentral Nebraska" and "Ludi Jr Sits Quietly Through the Passing Along of His Father's Advice", both of which are here; "My Love for All Things Warm and Breathing"; "August"; "The Night Joe Louis Went 21-0 By Dropping Tam Mauriello"; "Stopping the Tractor" and "Legend" are here; "Bushes Burning" and "Old Man, Early Autumn" are published here; "Sergeant Patrick Gass, Chief Carpenter: On the Trail with Lewis and Clark". Previews of four of Kloefkorn's poems in the summer 2010 issue of Virginia Quarterly Review are available here.

Kloefkorn on FaceBook

Profile: Leo Adam Biga, "A Man of His Words, Nebraska State Poet William Kloefkorn", July 7, 2010

Nebraska Page


Kathleen Overby said...

Earthy, loamy words. These midwest farm boys have wisdom that should be tapped like the finest Grade A
Amber Maple Syrup, or mined like gold. Thank you. I enjoyed him. :) iLike farm boys. :)

signed...bkm said...

thank you for sharing...I love what I have read so far and you have just wet my lips to taste more of this mans poetry.....thnk you Maureen...bkm

Anonymous said...

thanks, maureen :-)