Explore Your World with Poetry

Kevin Rabas is on a mission. As the Poet Laureate of Kansas, he’s working to bring people to poetry all across the state. He travels from our tiniest towns to our cities, sharing the joy of poetry. Rabas takes his work seriously—he knows that poetry can make people’s lives better by helping us explore and appreciate our world. He quotes poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who said, “Poetry helps us to see something worth seeing everywhere, whether inside or outside of us.” Nye’s words inspired Rabas’s presentation “Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary.”

“Poetry helps us to see the value in everything and the beauty in everything,” Rabas said. “It reminds us that every little bit of our lives is meaningful, and not only the outside world—what we can see, but also our inner lives—our thoughts and our emotions.”

He adds that everyone can write and enjoy poetry, and through that process people can notice and cherish the extraordinary in the ordinary.

“Poetry, whether we read it or write it, helps us to more fully observe the world around us,” Rabas said.

Rabas said he sees poetry as a valuable tool for sharing perspectives different from our own.

“Poetry helps amplify voices, all voices,” Rabas said. “I hope to help folks discover the diversity found in Kansas and American poetry, introducing folks to the many voices of our state and nation, folks from all walks of life, all races and ethnicities, all genders, ages, and positions.”

The Poet Laureate of Kansas program is sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council, a nonprofit organization that supports culture and arts in Kansas. Julie Mulvihill, Executive Director of KHC, notes that programs like Rabas’s create shared experiences for communities and help people engage with the arts.

“Libraries are anchors in our communities and provide opportunities unlike any other” Mulvihill said. “Bringing the Poet Laureate of Kansas to town is just one example. The Poet Laureate experience is one-of-a-kind. Participants will engage with words in a way they didn’t necessarily expect and engage with others in a shared experience that everyone will be talking about for days and will remember for life.”

Take up the challenge to explore your world through poetry, whether you consider yourself a poetry fan or not. Join us for Kevin Rabas’s presentation “Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary” on March 11, 2-3:30pm. Before the presentation you can get hands-on with poetry in a workshop with Rabas, Imagery in Poetry and Prose, 12:30-1:30. Check out our event on Facebook to put this program on your calendar.

Rabas points out that Kansas is “poetry rich.” It’s true! Check out the list below for Rabas’s recommendations, including many Kansas poets. Then read on for an interview with the poet.

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An Interview with Kevin Rabas

You’ve recently been chosen as the sixth Poet Laureate of Kansas. How do you see the role of Poet Laureate?

As Poet Laureate of Kansas, I’m a spokesperson and advocate for poetry—and the arts and humanities—in our state. I love it. It’s a dream role. I travel across the state fairly regularly, giving talks, readings and presentations about poetry, the arts and humanities. Also, I have a number of initiatives, including a Letters to a Young Poet project, where more experienced poets mentor new or developing poets, and the “greatest hits” from those conversations will be published in an anthology.

One of my main messages is that everyone can write and enjoy poetry, and through that process people can notice and cherish the extraordinary in the ordinary. Poetry, whether we read it or write it, helps us to more fully observe the world around us.

One of the “quotables” from my main talk goes something like this: Poet Naomi Shihab Nye said, “Poetry helps us to see something worth seeing everywhere, whether inside or outside of us.” In this way, poetry helps us to see the value in everything and the beauty in everything. It reminds us that every little bit of our lives is meaningful, and not only the outside world—what we can see, but also our inner lives—our thoughts and our emotions.

Additionally, I hope to help folks discover the diversity found in Kansas and American poetry, introducing folks to the many voices of our state and nation, folks from all walks of life, all races and ethnicities, all genders, ages, and positions. Poetry helps amplify voices, all voices.

Do you anticipate your term as Poet Laureate will change your perspective on poetry or inspire your writing in any way?

As I travel, giving my talks, I get to see another part of Kansas each week. I can spend time in rural, suburban and urban Kansas communities, and those trips will help inform my work, broadening my horizons both personally and artistically. I’ll see Kansas more as a whole. That’s a great gift. I’m thankful for my travel time and the reflection that brings. I’ll have a lot of time to think, as I drive.

I continue to write daily, now just at different times. I’ve got a voice recorder, and I sometimes use it during my long trips, speaking as I drive. Then I write it all down when I stop.

Also, sometimes I’m asked to write occasional poems. I wrote one for Emporia State, a kind of “welcome back” poem. I enjoyed the process. It’s not every day one’s asked to write a poem to say in front of hundreds.

Why is it important for readers to meet poets and authors in person? What value do libraries and other community organizations bring to their communities by hosting author visits?

If you want to begin to understand a writer, see that writer in person. Listen to their reading. Ask questions. If the writer is alive, this is the best way to learn—first hand, at once, in person. Many times I didn’t understand what a writer was up to until I heard her in person. Then it clicked. The intricacies arose. The timing, the pacing, the personality, the voice, the style—I could hear them when I went to the reading. I saw and heard the person behind the words. You, too, can do this. Come and enjoy!

Plus, readings are lots of fun. They’re energetic. They’re thoughtful. I almost always come away from a reading inspired, and I have “new eyes” and perspective when I start to write on my own again.

You chose to focus on imagery for the topic of your March 2018 workshop at our library. Why is imagery such an important element of the craft of writing?

Imagery is in the details, in the five senses. It’s the way that poetry and prose connect us to the physical world. To capture a person’s heart or mind, you must first capture their attention. One way to do that is through the senses, through the body’s interaction with the world. If you can describe something well, you can make it real to your reader, and your reader can now begin to care about what you’re writing about.

Miranda Ericsson

Miranda loves to talk lit, and to connect readers with great books. Her favorite reads are poetry, literary fiction, and speculative science fiction, and she's passionate about promoting literature written by Kansas authors. She works with library programs that support and engage writers in our community, so ask her for more information about the Local Writers Workshop and Great Writers Right Here author fair. Miranda also facilitates TALK book discussions, co-leads the BookBites book discussion group, and serves as a member of the library's 2Book Topeka team.