Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Muse: New Nebraska State Poet

I grew up reading and have always been a little nutty about words.
~ Twyla Hansen*

Twyla Hansen is Nebraska's new State Poet. The first woman to hold the five-year renewable post, Hansen succeeds William Kloefkorn, her mentor, who originally assumed a lifetime appointment as Sate Poet in 1982; he died in 2011. Only one other person, John Neihardt, has held the position. (When the office was established in 1921, it bore the title Poet Laureate. The title changed with Kloefkorn's appointment.)

Hansen will serve through December 1, 2018. In addition to outreach to schools and libraries, she will advocate on behalf of literacy, literature, and poetry; give public presentations and readings, attend literary festivals and similar events in rural and urban communities, and lead workshops. See the pdf link at Nebraska Arts Council for Nebraska State Poet Guidelines detailing eligibility requirements, the nomination and selection processes, and duties of the Nebraska State Poet.)

* * * * *
I like to write about ordinary things. The challenge is to 
make it interesting.
~ Twyla Hansen**

A native Nebraskan, Twyla Hansen, whose appointment was announced in mid-November,  is the author of Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, with Linda M. Hasselstrom (The Backwaters Press, 2011), winner of the 2012 Nebraska Book Award for Poetry; Prairie Suite: A Celebration (Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, 2006), on which she collaborated with artist and ornithologist Paul Johnsgard; Potato Soup (The Backwaters Press, 2003), and the chapbook Sanctuary Near Salt Creek (Lone Willow Press, 2001). Her earliest collections are In Our Very Bones (Slow Tempo Press, 1997), available through resellers, and How to Live in the Heartland (Flatwater Editions, 1997). Field Trip (Blue Heron Press/Borowsky Center for Publication Arts), a limited-edition artist's book with images by Karen Kunc, was published in 2002. (It is in the Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection.)

A quick look at Hansen's poems' titles, many no more than a word or two or three, affirms the subjects of her writing. Nature and wildlife, especially birds (Hansen is an ornithologist and an agroecologist; she grew up on a farm), figure prominently in the poet's primarily free verse, as do friendship, loss, the past, and the twin themes of land and place, family and work. Hansen pulls her language from her attentive observations of her rural surroundings and daily events in the two worlds — natural and human — of which she's part and to which she appears always connected. Kloeffkorn wrote of Hansen as being "[a] poet of the prairie [who] is equally a poet of the human spirit". Feeling is not betrayed by the simplicity of her words.

I think of poetry as a big tent, big enough to hold it all,
from the kinds who can't wait to write about bugs
to the professional poet who has been writing for years.**

Hansen has a way of catching your attention in her opening lines, as in these examples from Prairie Suite:

You can keep your theories: we have stalked it
nearly to extinction. Yet out here in spring [. . . .]
~ from "Prairie-Chicken"

It could happen: this moment beneath  the sickle moon
with those delicate formations dotting the blue-black,
the strange breath that quickens when you weave [. . . .]
~ from "Sickle Moon"

Chew, chew this dense forest of grass, it's what I do,
in open prairie, in pillars of forbs, in morning dew,
this fragile house tangling in green webs known as food, 
my affectionate song echoing in wind, the deep wand
of my oboe legs merging with the sky at night. [. . .]
~ from "Grasshopper"

Hansen has an ear for language, the flow-through of a line, and the preciseness of an image that lets you hear and see and wonder at what she herself has taken time to experience.

Poems by Hansen have appeared in Ascent, The Briar Cliff Review, The Cape  RockCrab Orchard Review, KalliopeThe Laurel Review, MacGuffin, Midwest QuarterlyNatural Bridge, Nebraska Bird Review, Nebraska LifeNebraska Review, North Dakota QuarterlyPalo Alto Review, Plains Song Review, Platte Valley ReviewPrairie Schooner, Slant: A Journal of Poetry, South Dakota Review, Talking River Review, Verse DailyWhetstone, and The Writer's Almanac, among other literary magazines and periodicals.

Among anthologies with Hansen's work are Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry (The Backwaters Press, 2007), Encyclopedia of the Great Plains (University of Nebraska Press, 2004), Poets Against the War (Nation Books/Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003), Times of Sorrow/Times of Grace (The Backwaters Press, 2002), Woven on the Wind (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner Books, 2002), The Logan House Anthology of 21st Century American Poetry (Logan House Press, 2001), and A Contemporary Reader for Creative Writing (Harcourt Brace, 1994). (For a comprehensive bibliography, see Selected Publications of Twyla Hansen.)

A Pushcart Prize nominee in 2001 and 2003, Hansen is the recipient of a number of awards, including two Nebraska Book Awards for Poetry, for Potato Soup (2004) and Dirt Songs (2012); and a High Plains Book Award (2012), for Dirt Songs. She was a finalist for a 2012 Willa (Women Writing the West) Literary Award, also for Dirt Songs.

Hansen is a member of Humanities Nebraska's Speakers Bureau, for which she presents "All Across the Plains: Creative Writing" and "Playing Around with Words: Reading, Writing, and the Creative Process" (program descriptions). 


Photo Credit: Humanities Nebraska

Poetry Excerpts © Twyla Hansen

* Quoted from Interview at Les Femmes Folles

** Quoted from "Award-Winning Poet Shares Insights" at The Grand Island Independent

"Gov. Heineman Names Twyla Hansen Nebraska State Poet", Office of the Governor, News Release, November 14, 2013

"Lincoln's Twyla Hansen Named Nebraska State Poet", Omaha World-Herald, November 14, 2013 (Many papers in the Midwest published essentially the same news release.)

Twyla Hansen Profiles at The Backwaters Press, Nebraska Arts CouncilNebraska Center for Writers, Poets & Writers

Twyla Hansen Poems Online: "New Years on Nine-Mile", Video Reading; "Scars" and "Midwestern Autumn", Both at University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska Writing Project; "Hailstorm, 1965" at The Writer's Almanac (Audio Available); "Potato Soup" and "This Early Evening", Both at The Backwaters Press; "Blue Herons", "Warbler", and "Turkey Vultures" at The Nebraska Bird Review; "Evolution", "Coyote", "Earth", "Frog Pond", "Prairie Chicken", "Lark Sparrow", "Sickle Moon", "Meadowlark", "Snake", "Dragonfly", "Song of Silence", "Lightning Bugs", "Eastern Screech Owl", "Walk on the Prairie", "Grasshopper", "Upland Sandpiper", "Monarch", "Summer: Night. Day. Night", "Cicada", "Great Blue Heron", "Prairie: Giants in the Earth", "Red-tailed Hawk", "Late Fall", "Bobcat", "Northern Harrier", "This Fragile, Healing Land", All from Prairie Suite at DigitalCommons (Also see the E-book Editions Below); "Moon Song" at The New Magazine; "At the Prairie, the Day Before" from Woven on the Wind at GoogleBooks; "For All the Women", Video Reading; "At the Greasy Spoon" from the Anthology Crazy Woman Creek: Women Rewrite the American West at GoogleBooks; "Great Blue Heron" at Frequency, Video Reading; Bone Creek Poetry Reading (Session 1, Twyla Hansen, October 2010)

NET Humanities Desk: Extended Conversation with Twyla Hansen and Pam Herbert Barger, April 22, 2011

NET Radio News and Features: Poetry of the Season (Twyla Hansen Reads), April 23, 2011

How to Live in the Heartland E-book Edition (Downloadable) (This is also at GoogleBooks.)

In Our Very Bones E-book Edition (Downloadable)

Prairie Suite E-book Edition (Downloadable)

Francis Baumli, Review of Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, Viaticum Press International (pdf)

Alexa Mergen, Review of Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, Rattle, April 5, 2012

Amy Schweitzer, "Award-Winning Poet Shares Insights", The Grand Island Independent, April 11, 2013

"Twyla Hansen, Poet", Interview, Les Femmes Folles, March 5, 2013

High Plains Book Awards


Kathleen said...

I always love learning about the state poets/poets laureate from you!

drew said...

I agree with Kathleen. I get all my laureate news from you. Thanks!