Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Muse: New Kansas Poet Laureate

I think we're all grateful when we encounter
language that's equal to life's richness
and complexity. Poetry can provide that.*
~ Eric McHenry

The new Poet Laureate of Kansas is Eric McHenry. He succeeds Wyatt Townley, who occupied the position from 2013 to 2015. McHenry, whose appointment was announced April 16, 2015, will serve until 2017.

The laureateship, which is not compensated, is coordinated by the Kansas Humanities Commission. As the state's official poet, McHenry will participate in public readings, presentations, and discussions of poetry in communities across Kansas. An assistant professor of English at  Washburn University, McHenry has years of teaching experience, not only in college classrooms but also in K-12 teacher workshops, libraries, adolescent service agencies, and local authors' groups, venues that will well-equip him during his tenure at Kansas's fifth Poet Laureate.

Following the commission's announcement, McHenry told a KCUR interviewer, "I'd like to show Kansans poems that can shake them up, change their perception of the world or make them glad someone puts words in that order."**

* * * * *
The poems that I write rhyme and scan.
That's not because I think poets should write
that way. It's just that the poets who have written the poems I
would most like to have written—Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop
and Philip Larkin—have written that way.***

A Topeka, Kansas, native, Eric McHenry is the author of two collections of poetry: Mommy Daddy Evan Sage (Waywiser Press, 2011), for children, and  his debut book Potscrubber Lullabies (Waywiser Press, 2006), which was awarded a Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He plans to publish a third collection, Odd Evening (Waywiser Press) in 2016.

McHenry also is the editor of Peggy of the Flint Hills (The Woodley Press, 2012), a memoir by Topeka newspaper columnist Zula Bennington Greene. (McHenry was a journalist before switching to a career in education.) In addition, McHenry has translated poems by Jorge Luis Borges.

McHenry's poems are marked by their formal structures, humor, wordplay, traditional meters, and rhymes—all characteristics noted early in his career, when he received the prestigious Tufts prize.

Below are excerpts from two of McHenry's poems:

Derivative graffiti crawls
up the overpass like ivy—
abstract names on concrete stanchions.
To the south, symbolic walls:
NO OUTLET signs along the levee,
idle river, idle tracks,
bypass, bluffside and the backs
of Potwin's late Victorian mansions,
flush like book spines on a shelf.
Drunk on your late-Victorian porch
you promised me that if elected
you'd have the river redirected
down Fourth Street, to make Potwin search
North Topeka for itself. [. . .]
~ from "Figurative North Topeka"

This is no way to live: as though more light
were wanted here, a winded sun has come
through the east window like a stumblebum
to order things. This is no way to fight
disorder: sticks of furniture that seem
to have been broken up and brushpiled prior
to now; the ceiling falls upon the fire
with nothing, with its one obtruding beam.
No one has stayed to watch these things abet
their breaking down. [. . .]
~ from "Living Room"

McHenry has published poems in numerous literary magazines and periodicals, including Agni, American Literary Review, Bat City ReviewCincinnati Review, The Guardian, Gulf CoastHarvard Review, New Republic, Poet LorePoetry DailyPoetry International, Poetry NorthwestSlate, TerrainTopeka magazine, and Yale Review. His poetry reviews, essays, and creative nonfiction have appeared in AgniThe AtlanticBoston GlobeColumbia magazine, McSweeney's, Modern American PoetryThe New York Times Book ReviewSalon, and Slate.

In addition to the 2007 Tufts Discovery Award for his debut poetry collection, McHenry has received the 2010 Theodore Roethke Prize, awarded by Poetry Northwest for poems in the Fall/Winter 2010-2011 issue, and seven Pushcart Prize nominations for poetry. In 1999 he and photographer Gary Logan received from Agni The Philip Guston Prize for "Witness, Building, Living Room, and Collision" (see Agni Awards).


Photo Credit: Kansas Humanities Council

All Poetry Excerpts © Eric McHenry

* Quoted from "Eric McHenry Named Poet Laureate of Kansas", News Release, Kansas Humanities Council, April 16, 2015 (Announcements drawn from the news release also appeared in the Topeka Capital Journal, The Republic, and Lawrence Journal World.)

** Quoted from C. J. Janovy, "Three Rules for Poets, From the New Laureate of Kansas (Plus: Leonard Nimoy)", KCUR, April 16, 2015 

*** Quoted from UW Today Article by Nancy Wick, February 15, 2007 (Full Citation Below)

Eric McHenry Poems Online: "Apparent", "Deathbed Confession", and "The Gil Carter Correspondence", All at Kansas Humanities Council; "Figurative North Topeka" and "The Incumbent", Both at Slate (Audio Available); "How to Steal the Laptop of Your Childhood Nemesis" at Slate; "Borrowing Milky-White for the St. Paul's Student Production of Into the Woods" at Slate; "Potscrubber Lullabies" and "Bird Plays to a Cow", Both at Waywiser Press; "Rebuilding Year" at Your Place (Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library Online); "Figurative North Topeka", "Rebuilding Year", "Vanguard", and "Hypermart", All at Kansas Poets; "The Pass-Through" at Terrain; "The Song of Stationary Nathan" at Salamander Magazine; "The Worst" at Seattle Poetry Chain 17; "Deathbed Confession" at Poetry Northwest; "Living Room" at Agni Online

McHenry's poems "Rebuilding Year" and "Vanguard" also appear at Denise Low Postings, a blog.  "Potscrubber Lullabies" and "Bird Plays to a Cow", with audio, also are at The Bridge of Dreams. McHenry's translation of a Jorge Luis Borges poem, "For a Version of I Ching", is at Clarity.

Toby Clements, "Mommy Daddy Evan Sage by Eric McHenry: Review", The Telegraph, October 18, 2011

Douglas Basford, Review of Eric McHenry's Potscrubber Lullabies, Unsplendid; An Online Journal of Poetry in Received and Nonce Forms

Miranda Ericsson, "An Interview with Topeka Poet Eric McHenry", Your Place (Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library Online), November 14, 2013

Bill Blankenship, "Poet Rhymes Darndest Things His Kids Said", The Capital-Journal Online, December 2, 2011

Susan Seligson, "When the Darndest Things Are the Stuff of Poetry", Bostonia, Fall 2011

Kansas Humanities Council on FaceBook and Twitter

Theodore Roethke Prize, Poetry Northwest

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