Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday Muse: Kansas's Poet Laureate

I see myself serving as a door opener, welcoming
people home to the poetry that underlies our lives
and imbues them with meaning and depth.
~ Wyatt Townley, Kansas Poet Laureate*

In May of this year, Wyatt Townley succeeded Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg as Kansas's Poet Laureate. Only the fourth incumbent, Townley will serve until 2015. She defines the "theme" of her laureateship as "coming home to poetry, with its innate power to heal, transform, and inspire."* Her activities include public readings and talks and workshops. Even before becoming Poet Laureate, Townley was active in leading workshops, participating on reading committees, judging writing contests, and giving readings in schools and universities, literary centers and festivals, retirement centers, museums, libraries, and other public venues.

My post on Mirriam-Goldberg, who served from July 1, 2009 to May 23, 2009, includes information about the appointment. The laureate program is coordinated by the Kansas Humanities Council (the Kansas Arts Commission was abolished in 2012).

* * * * *
Poetry saved my life, providing solid ground
after a childhood  trauma, and it is a place I turn to
every day for sustenance and renewal. 
More than a place, poetry is home.
~ Wyatt Townley*

A fourth-generation Kansan, Wyatt Townley is the author of three poetry collections: The Afterlives of Trees (Woodley Press, 2011), The Breathing Field: Meditations on Yoga (Little Brown/Bulfinch, 2002), and Perfectly Normal (The Smith, 1990; available through resellers), her debut collection, which was finalist for the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

In her work, distinguished by attention to craft, Townley addresses the universal subjects of love, connection, loss, acceptance, time's passage, life and death, growth, change, and transformation. 

Here are a few lines from several poems that give an idea of Townley's lyricism and use of vivid imagery, as well as her philosophical perspective:

[. . . ]
Let the hands, lined with meteors,
open, releasing all they have held—
coins, hammers, steering
wheels and the silken
faces of children. . . .
~ From "Prayer for a New Millennium" in The Breathing Field

[. . .]
Everything is nothing
if you look long enough.
~ From "Inside the Snow Globe" in The Afterlives of Trees

You've left a hole
the size of the sky
in the chair across the table

in the chasm of the closet
your shoes hold the shape
of every step we took

through the seven rooms. . . .
~ From "Abyss" in The Afterlives of Trees

Between each vertebra
is the through line
of your life's story,
where the setting sun
has burned all colors
into the cord. . . .
~ From "The Breathing Field" in The Breathing Field

Townley's poems have been published in many literary journals and periodicals, including Berfrois, Flint Hills ReviewHeliotrope, Margie, New LettersNewsweekThe North American ReviewThe Paris Review, Southern Poetry Review, Western Humanities Review, and Yoga Journal. Her work, which has been featured on NPR (The Writer's Almanac) and American Life in Poetry ("Finding the Scarf" is widely  republished on the Web), also is in the anthologies In the Black/In the Red: Poems of Profit and Loss (Helicon Nine Editions, 2012), Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems (Woodley Press, 2011), Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English (Wesleyan University Press, 2000), Proposing on the Brooklyn Bridge: Poems About Marriage (Grayson Books, 2003), and Prayers for a Thousand Years (HarperCollins, 1999).

Among Townley's honors are a Master Artist Fellowship in poetry from the now-defunct Kansas Arts Commission, a Kansas Notable Book citation (for The Afterlives of Trees), a Hackney Literary Award for Poetry, Kansas Voices Poetry Prize, The Nelson Poetry Book Award (for The Afterlives of Trees), a Poets & Writers grant, and a Pushcart Prize nomination. Her poem "Striptease" was a 2006 Finalist for the James Hearst Poetry Prize of North American Review.

Townley's background is rich and varied. She has been a dancer (she had her own company in New York) and dance critic (she wrote in 2007 the 50th commemorative history of Kansas City Ballet), and has taught yoga for more than three decades (she's the founder of Yoganetics®, has published a book on the method, and writes poems about yoga).

A founding board member of The Writers Place, in Kansas City, Wyatt also is on the board of the Kansas Alliance for the Arts in Education.


Photo by Terry Weckbaugh, Courtesy Kansas Humanities Council

All Poetry Excerpts  © Wyatt Townley

* Quoted from FAQs of Poet Laureate (Here you'll find some interesting and informative responses from Wyatt about her interest in poetry, her background and work and publishing experience, literary influences, and writing resources.)

Wyatt Townley Poems Online: "Prayer for a New Millenium", "The Fountain", and "The Breathing Field", All at Kansas Humanities Council; "Fire" at The Writer's Almanac (Audio Available); "Centering the House" and "Inside the Snow Globe" , Both Winners of Kansas Poetry Month Contest, and "Ahead of Everywhere", All at 150 Kansas Poems; "Striptease", "The Breathing Field", "Abyss", "Prayer for a New Millennium", All at Kansas Poets; "Finding the Scarf" at The Poetry Foundation; "Finding the Scarf" at Berfrois; "Finding the Scarf" at Reckonings; "Abyss" at The Paris Review on Tumblr; "Centering the House" at Kansas Arts Commission Poetry Month Feature; "Prayer for a New Millennium" at Southern Poetry Review

Sara Shepherd, "Kansas Humanities Council Announces New State Poet Laureate", LJWorld, May 1, 2013

Laura Spencer, "A New Poet Laureate for Kansas", KCUR, May 1, 2013 (The poem "Fire" is reprinted with the article.)

"Leawood Woman is New Kansas Poet Laureate", The Kansas City Star, May 2, 2013

Cheryl Unruh, "Flyover People: The Afterlives of Trees",  Review, The Emporia Gazette, July 31, 2012

The Afterlives of Trees on ISSUU (Excerpt)

Wyatt Townley on FaceBook and Tumblr

Grayson Books

Helicon Nine Editions

Kansas Alliance for the Arts in Education

Kansas Authors Club

Kansas Book Festival

Kansas Arts Commission (Archive)

Kansas Arts on Tour Roster (Archive)

FAQs about Kansas Poet Laureate at Kansas Humanities Council

You'll find audio of an 8-minute interview with Townley on the News + Events page of  Townley's Website.

An excerpt from The Breathing Field is available at Yoganetics.


Hannah Stephenson said...

I love what you've shared here of her work...I'll be reading more. And I love her name--very unique.

Anonymous said...

thumbs up