Poetry of Kansas Here & Now, There & Then

to the stars through difficulty1622856_3847566204678_1093079812_n
we extinguish the piercing porch light
a new line begins: from the stars with ease
looking up we drink in the Milky Way
the distance from Goodland to home
is now more like a brief Sunday cruise

never was Orion’s Belt more bright
the hoot owl talks from the branches in the trees
and we listen for the nuance in what he has to say
there is no need nor cause for us to roam
I get Cassiopeia kisses from my midnight muse

~ William J. Karnowski

William J. Karnowski is the author of seven books of poetry; Pushing the Chain, The Hills of Laclede, Painting the Train, Hardtails and Highways, Catching the Rain, Dispensation, and The Sodhouse Green. He has poetry published in Kansas Voices, The Midwest Quarterly, Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, Kansas Author Club Yearbooks and multiple website locations. Karnowski is the current State President of Kansas Authors Club.

chosen by Dennis Etzel Jr.

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. His chapbook The Sum of Two Mothers was released by ELJ Publications in 2013, and his work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, DIAGRAM, and others. He is a TALK Scholar and Speaker for the Kansas Humanities Council, and volunteers for the YWCA of Topeka and Midland Hospice. His website is http://www.dennisetzeljr.com.

Dennis says, “This poem transcends time and space through its elements–and looking at the stars. It informs us we can be in any time and place to be moved as ‘we drink in the Milky Way.’ These guiding lights from the past inspire the poet to create her or his own bright place.”

05_10_1Flint Hills Runner

I.
All day wind
Sprints through

The grass and never
Gets out of breath.

II.
At night no one to play
Catch with or run

For a pass unless
You count the stars.

III.
At dawn it races
For the hilltop

Before sun leans across
That gray ribbon of creek.

IV.
Who can explain
Something so ancient,

That seeps from the rocks,
And rises from the earth?

V.
The old rancher
Stands at his barn

Watching for what
Chases that old boy.

[

Thomas Reynolds is an associate English professor at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, and has published poems in various print and online journals, including New Delta Review, Alabama Literary Review, Aethlon-The Journal of Sport Literature, The MacGuffin, Flint Hills Review, and Prairie Poetry. Woodley Press of Washburn University published his poetry collection Ghost Town Almanac in 2008. His chapbook The Kansas Hermit Poems was published in 2013.

chosen by Dennis Etzel Jr.

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. His chapbook The Sum of Two Mothers was released by ELJ Publications in 2013, and his work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, DIAGRAM, and others. He is a TALK Scholar and Speaker for the Kansas Humanities Council, and volunteers for the YWCA of Topeka and Midland Hospice. His website is http://www.dennisetzeljr.com.

Dennis says, “This ecopoem connects for me place with nature with human. The space that happens while running is where this poem becomes as testimony for the Flint Hills. The questions of existence are here, as well as the cycle of life in the last stanza. Thank you for this poem, Thomas!”

1150860_10201817201337491_1439121457_nKansas Drought

Last week, Rain made puddles along the curb and the white chrysanthemums bent over

as though they wanted more to drink.

The air tasted like baking soda, fresh and gritty and the odors are absorbed,

absolving us for a brief moment from the unending guilt

which comes knowing just exactly what we’ve all done to our Mother.

Yesterday when I tried to dig up a spot to plant iris under the oak tree, the dirt was dried up and

dead, parched, heavy chunks, sort of like concrete. Frantic,

I dug deeper and was finally able to breathe when I found one small worm – a sign of life.

Rain came again this morning for a short visit and I wanted to offer her a homemade green

tomato pickle and a hot corn biscuit with apricot jam.

[

Iris Wilkinson lives in North Lawrence, just off the banks of the Kaw River. She enjoys leading a creative writing group for the women at the county jail and is thankful for her day job as a college professor at Washburn University.

chosen by Dennis Etzel Jr.

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. His chapbook The Sum of Two Mothers was released by ELJ Publications in 2013, and his work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, DIAGRAM, and others. He is a TALK Scholar and Speaker for the Kansas Humanities Council, and volunteers for the YWCA of Topeka and Midland Hospice. His website is http://www.dennisetzeljr.com.

Dennis says, “This ecopoem really surprised me. It is truly of time and place, addressing via a meditation a subtle crisis on both personal and global levels ‘from the unending guilt / which comes knowing just exactly what we’ve all done to our Mother.’ One can only do what one can do from the signs found in nature–and in poems–‘I found one small worm – a sign of life.’ I am still captured by its call for my own attention to life.”

1478989_10151821111791994_1022361121_nOde to Washing Dishes

First, make sure your sink is under a window.
Look outside while you fill the basin. If daytime,
don’t scrutinize your lawn. Do laugh
at quarreling birds or your own yawning dog.
If night, be kind to your reflection.
Appreciate your long arms that disappear
at the wrists and the wrinkles at your mouth.

Don’t think of this task as another in a hundred.
It is the reward when those are done,
the chocolate mousse after steamed vegetables.
If the hot water and bubbles,
the lavender smell, the wine glass
to your left and soft terrycloth
against your bare shoulder are not a comfort
in this late hour, then you are doing it all wrong.

[

Melissa Fite Johnson teaches English at Pittsburg High School in Kansas. She’s had poetry published in magazines such as Sotto Voce, The Little Balkans Review, and Inscape Magazine, and in a Kansas Notable Book poetry collection To the Stars Through Difficulties. The Little Balkans Press will publish her first book of poetry, While the Kettle’s On, this year. Melissa and her husband, Marc, live in Pittsburg with their dog and several chickens.

chosen by Dennis Etzel Jr.

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. His chapbook The Sum of Two Mothers was released by ELJ Publications in 2013, and his work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, DIAGRAM, and others. He is a TALK Scholar and Speaker for the Kansas Humanities Council, and volunteers for the YWCA of Topeka and Midland Hospice. His website is http://www.dennisetzeljr.com.

Dennis says, “This poem is brilliant, not just for taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary, but does so in the instructional “how to” tone. This says to enjoy one’s self in place and time, to not ‘think of this task as another in a hundred.’ This poem is helpful in a time of need.”

Nachtmusik by Stephen Meats

StephenCrickets and tree frogs

Choir the starlit yard.

Low in the east

a half-moon, opaque

almost as an egg yolk,

backlights the silhouettes of trees

like semiquavers in the score

of the Bach requiem

when a darker shadow

whispering into the branches

of a pin oak drops a pall of silence

into which barred owl chants―

Who dies for me?

Who mourns for the small?

―and every living thing

within sound of the call

is still and alone

with the beat of its heart.

But then the shadow lifts

and mockingbird begins

once more to improvise its

three phrase melody,

and the crickets and tree frogs

again relax their anthems

into the sacred dark.

~ Stephen Meats

Stephen Meats, recently retired from teaching and administration at Pittsburg State University, is the author of a mixed genre collection of poems and stories, Dark Dove Descending and Other Parables (Mammoth Publications 2013), and a book of poems, Looking for the Pale Eage (originally published, 1993; second expanded edition, Mammoth 2014). He has been poetry editor of The Midwest Quarterly since 1985.

Guest editor: Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State and co-edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird’s Horn, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar, also a Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, and Spider Face: stories. He writes, “For my month, I searched for poems that meditate on “time” in its many musical nuances, such as in times a tune jogged your memory, times the music seemed to transport you in time, times you patted your foot or danced to the music’s groove (time), times the music jump-started your heart (internal time), OR meditations on musical elements (such as 4/4 time vs. 6/8 time OR swung vs. straight, rock 2+4 time).”

bio photo 2The boomers return to the roadhouse

to dance to the Beatles. They gyrate through

“Twist and Shout” and “Day Tripper.”

Few manage the floor for more than two

or three songs. They return to their canned beer,

flushed, sucking air like tread-millers

after a cardiac exam. There are moments

in the blue neon when they glimpse each other again,

sweating to an electric guitar, the thump

of the Ludwig, the band superimposed

against a newsreel of missiles—rising

like poems from submarines.

These were the children, hidden below

school desks, arms folded above their heads

in a looping number 9. They dance

hard tonight to the old songs, the highway

through the bean fields winding homeward

between “Let It Be” and “Imagine.”

~ Al Ortolani

Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, and the New York Quarterly. He has four books of poetry, The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge, published by Woodley Press at Washburn University, Wren’s House, published by Coal City Press in Lawrence, Kansas, and Cooking Chili on the Day of the Dead from Aldrich Press in Torrance, California. His fifth book, Waving Mustard in Surrender, will be released by New York Quarterly Books later in 2014. He is on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place and is an editor with The Little Balkans Review.

Guest editor: Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State and co-edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird’s Horn, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar, also a Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, and Spider Face: stories. He writes, “For my month, I searched for poems that meditate on “time” in its many musical nuances, such as in times a tune jogged your memory, times the music seemed to transport you in time, times you patted your foot or danced to the music’s groove (time), times the music jump-started your heart (internal time), OR meditations on musical elements (such as 4/4 time vs. 6/8 time OR swung vs. straight, rock 2+4 time).”

McCallum headshot photoI’m lying awake in this life and listening
to sound tell me something beyond
my bedroom window, three flights high.

It’s four in the morning & tree frogs layer
their song in the backyard, along
with crickets and cicadas. This time

of year, something frantic beats
inside of all of us. So much happens
that we don’t really understand. The bedroom
ceiling fan speeds up with a pull of its cord.
The old refrigerator is ready to die but still
insists on whining to the best of its slow
and slightly-chilled ability.

A few minutes ago, I accidentally
toppled a tower of books onto the wooden floor
from their place on the windowsill, in hopes
of glimpsing the meteor shower
everyone spoke of yesterday.

But I saw bats instead. They slid,
silent through the air the way that wisps
of black paper will rise from a fire, curling
like sheets of concert music into shadow,
that the maestro has no further use for.

And as I slide back into bed I hear them
orchestrate their high-pitched chatter, coming,
I figure now, up-side down from the gaps
between the walls of this apartment.

Does it matter, when I moved in here a year ago,
I thought that was the sound of birds,
building a nest on the roof?

~ Ramona McCallum

McCallum is the author of the poetry collection Still Life with Dirty Dishes (2013, Woodey Press) and is in the second year of her MFA studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she is a Durwood Poetry Fellow. Ramona and her husband Brian McCallum, a ceramic sculptor, and their six children are currently founding a nonprofit organization called PowerHouse Universe whose mission is to recognize and encourage the creative abilities of youth by providing opportunities for positive self-expression in the literary, visual and performance arts.

Guest editor: Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State and co-edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird’s Horn, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar, also a Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, and Spider Face: stories. He writes, “For my month, I searched for poems that meditate on “time” in its many musical nuances, such as in times a tune jogged your memory, times the music seemed to transport you in time, times you patted your foot or danced to the music’s groove (time), times the music jump-started your heart (internal time), OR meditations on musical elements (such as 4/4 time vs. 6/8 time OR swung vs. straight, rock 2+4 time).”

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