Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Muse: South Dakota's Poet Laureate

[NOTE: David Allan Evans resigned his position on September 27, 2014, having served more than 12 years in office. He remains Poet Laureate Emeritus until a new Poet Laureate is appointed or until the 2015 Festival of the Books, scheduled to take place September 24027 in Deadwood and Rapid City. (Read Jill Callison's article in the Argus Leader, "'Accessible' David Allan Evans Making Way for Next Poet Laureate", October 6, 2014.)

[In addition, the governor signed into law on March 13, 2015, Senate Bill 86, which restricts the term of office to four years; the term begins the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January of those years following a gubernatorial election. The poet may hold no more than one term consecutively, unless he or she was appointed to a partial term. All the state poets are accorded emeritus status at the conclusion of their term or terms.]

David Allan Evans is Poet Laureate of South Dakota. He accepted the appointment June 15, 2002, succeeding Audrae Visser, who served from 1974 to 2001, and Adeline M. Jenney, who began her term in 1958 and served until 1973. "Coyboy poet" Charles "Badger" Clark, the first state poet, served in 1937. The position was established formally under state law (South Dakota Codified Laws, Sec. 1-22-7) in 1959.

The Poet Laureate, who is recommended by and serves at the governor's pleasure, must be a resident of the state and must have written and published poems of "recognized merit" prior to appointment.

As Poet Laureate, Evans regularly gives readings and lectures, conducts workshops, attends book festivals, judges state-level participants in the Poetry Out Loud contest, and also participates in related literary events in South Dakota and elsewhere.

* * * * *
. . . Poets show us  things clearly, they describe 
and tell stories with words and phrases that, when we pay attention,
 make us more awake and aware than we'd be if we
 hadn't read them or heard them spoken aloud. . . .
~ Poet David Allan Evans*

David Allan Evans, who began writing poetry in his twenties, has published more than a half-dozen collections of poetry and has written or edited at least seven other books, including short stories, essays, memoir, and journals. His poetry books include This Water. These Rocks (San Francisco Bay Press, 2009), The Bull Rider's Advice: New and Selected Poems (Prairie Plains Series/Center for Western Studies, 2003), the chapbook After the Swan Dive (Finishing Line Press, 2009), and Decent Dangers (Edwin Mellen Poetry Press, 2000).  

Evans' poetry and other writings have appeared in many literary magazines and journals, including Kansas Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Georgetown Review, The Briar Cliff ReviewNorth American Review, and South Dakota Review, as well as scores of anthologies, among them Heartland II: Poets of the Midwest and Motion: American Sports Poems, and A Harvest of Words: Contemporary South Dakota Poetry (Center for Western Studies, 2010).

Characterized in profiles as one of America's best-known sports poets (he attended college on a full football scholarship and also was a pole vaulter), Evans also writes meditative, reflective poems and strong narrative poems that are situated especially in the American Midwest of small towns and farms and resonant with his observations and understanding of relationships. He packs his "inhabited" poems with details, vivid verbs (he calls verbs "the guts of language, the guts of poetry, along with nouns"), similes, wordplays, and, often, humor. Sometimes he punctuates his poems, sometimes he doesn't. He tends toward short poems, with only a few unadorned, plain-spoken words per line. His style is usually straightforward and matter-of-fact.

. . . Poets are nothing if not good observers. . . Observation
comes first, then reflection. . . So poems tend to have two
parts: first, observation, the event itself; second, the reflection
on the event. Frost is a superb example of this.
~ David Allan Evans**

The well-known poem "Neighbors" (from Train Windows, Ohio University Press, 1976; the first poem published in Ted Kooser's "American Life in Poetry" column) is a good example of Evans' humor; it also demonstrates in a few short lines Evans' ability to tell a story through astute observation and detail that together produce visual and emotional portraits:

They live alone

she with her wide hind
and bird face,
he with his hung belly
and crewcut.

They never talk
but keep busy.

Today they are
washing windows
(each window together)
she on the inside,
he on the outside.
He squirts Windex
at her face,
she squirts Windex
at his face.

Now they are waving
to each other
with rags,

not smiling.

Evans' "Bullfrogs" (animals in the natural environments are among the poet's subjects) is another well-known poem. Note the details that set the scene, the short lines, the concluding line that provokes thought.

sipping a Schlitz
we cut off the legs,
packed them in ice, then
shucked the rest back into
the pond for turtles

ready to go home
we looked down and saw what we
had thrown back in:
quiet bulging eyes nudging along
the moss's edge, looking up at us,

asking for their legs

Here are "Windbreak: Two Haiku" from Evans' This Water. These Rocks:

After last night's storm,
new snow against the windbreak—
new shadows, new sky.

    * * *

Blue shadows on snow
piled up against the windbreak—
why hold back your love?

Now retired as professor of English and writer-in-residence at South Dakota State University, Evans has been awarded two Fulbright Scholar grants for study in China and was the first South Dakotan to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He also has received writing grants from both the Bush Foundation and the South Dakota Arts Council. In 2007, he was honored with the Sioux Falls Mayor's Award for Excellence in Literary Arts and in 2009 with the Governor's Award for Creative Achievement.


All Poetry Excerpts © David Allan Evans

* Quoted in David Allen Interview at ... after long busyness: a poetry blog, October 19, 2007 (Evans' advice for aspiring poets is worth reading here.)

**Quoted in "Kyle Austin Interviews David Allan Evans Regarding His Book, This Water. These Rocks." at Through the Third Eye, September 27, 2010 (This interview is especially interesting for Evans' reflections on the influences of his father, his discussion of his interest in the natural world, and views on his writing process.)

David Allan Evans Profiles Oneline: "Well Done, Poet Laureate" in South Dakota Magazine, March 31, 2007; "David Allan Evans: Inside the Life of a Genius" at Through the 3rd Eye, June 21, 2008; "Interview with David Allen Evans, Poet Laureate of South Dakota", June 21, 2008; "State's Poet Laureate Mixes Old, New Works" in Rapid City Journal, May 23, 2010

David Allan Evans Poetry Online: "The Bull Rider's Advice" in South Dakota Magazine (2007); "Bullfrogs" at Breaking Out of the Box;  "Bullfrogs", "The Story of Lava", "The Man in the Rendering Room", "Next Morning", "The Poem I Couldn't Write", "Saturday Morning", and "Lions" (all of these on Evans' Website); "Bus Depot Reunion", "Neighbors", and "Pole Vaulter" at Through the 3rd Eye; "Neighbors" at American Life in Poetry; "Neighbors" at Poetry Foundation; "The Zen of Racquetball" at Cyberroad

David Allan Evans Sport Poems and China Poems

Review of David Allan Evans' This Water. These Rocks at Through the 3rd Eye (September 27, 2010) 

David Allan Evans on FaceBook

David Allan Evans Papers at South Dakota State University

South Dakotans for the Arts (SoDA)

South Dakota Humanities Council, Poets and Playwrights (Literary Map Produced for South Dakota Council of Teachers)

South Dakota Page at

South Dakota State Poetry Society (This group was organized in 1927 to publish Pasque Petals, its officiala literacy magazine founded in 1926 and edited by Adeline Jenney.)

South Dakota State Poetry Society on FaceBook


Louise Gallagher said...

Your commitment to bringing the Poet Laureates to life is a wonderful gift that inspires all who stop by here.


S. Etole said...

"They live alone together" ...

how much of society could fall into this category ...

Anonymous said...

the frog eyes...ewww.

signed...bkm said...

Maureen, May you have yours have a Blessed Thanksgiving...bkm