In honor of National Poetry Month we asked Huascar Medina, Poet Laureate of Kansas, to share his thoughts on Kansas poetry and the future of poetry. Read on for his lyrical thoughts and recommendations for fresh poetry.
To hear more from Huascar Medina, register for his live presentation and Q&A via Zoom, Thu, April 8, 7-8pm. Medina is a powerful and expressive reader, as well as a thoughtful poet, so you’re in for a treat.
We think of nature and the plains when we think of Kansas poetry, but what are other themes you see in what you’re reading from Kansas-based poets?
I do believe nature and the plains are the easiest associations to make with Kansas poetry. I hold William Stafford responsible for those designations. Stafford is synonymous with Kansas poetry. We have a tradition of ecopoetry in Kansas as a direct result of his work. If he had not written biocentric nature poetry we might be known for something completely different. But I believe we would still be synonymous with Stafford poems- he was prolific.
According to the National Park Service website the prairie has been reduced to 1 perecnt of is its original area. This makes the prairie the most endangered ecosystem in the entire world. This blew my mind. I admit, I have taken the prairie for granted. It looks vast and expansive from the highway. I feel small in its presence. I am pinched by the sky and the rolling plains in the Flint Hills. If prairie poems can assist in its conservation, I don’t want to dissuade anyone from wanting to be like Stafford and writing ecopoetry. Nature can’t write poetry. We need ecopoets to voice nature’s concerns. I’m just really glad that we have a word other than pastoral to describe what we consider Kansas Poetry.
In the Kansas-based poets I am reading countless themes arise. I’ve read poems about grief, motherhood, divorce, love and loss in Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod by Traci Brimhall. I’ve read poems depicting racism and sexism toward Black female bodies and the power those Black female bodies possess in Uses of My Body by Simone Savannah. I’ve read poems on growing up half-Mexican, half-Native American, of imprisonment and redemption in Taking On Life by Antonio Sanchez-Day.
There is a similarity in the work that I prefer reading from Kansas-based poets, like the poets I mentioned above. The words are unapologetic, brutally-honest, and sincere. They amplify voices that have been overlooked, misunderstood and marginalized. Kansas poetry, for me, is not just about nature and the plains- not at all. We have moved beyond the adulatory expression of a place. Kansans-based poets are making cases for the Kansans that inhabit that place. We have progressed from the panoramic to the personal.
Amanda Gorman recently became a visible, viral example of the power of spoken word and youth voices. What do you see on the horizon for poetry in Kansas? In the country?
Amanda Gorman [a National Youth Poet Laureate] reinforces my belief that our youth are not our future, they are our right now. I’ve had the privilege to travel the state as Poet Laureate. Traveling has given me an opportunity to meet with students in middle schools, high schools and colleges throughout Kansas. They have their own view of Kansas and it is as valid as yours and mine. The choices we are currently making in our state, affect them today and tomorrow. We should allow them to share their truth. We should embolden them to share their truth. We should create a safe space for them to do so. I always say that not all truth is beautiful some is downright ugly to hear but all truth is poetry.
Poetry in Kansas continues to grow in popularity, expanding its utility and increasing its necessity in our lives. What we consider Kansas poetry will not only be limited to the prairie and nature. We have always been more than that. Kansas readers will begin truly accepting diverse voices in poetry. Kansas poets who relocated because they weren’t fully embraced or appropriately recognized for their talents and left to make a bigger name for themselves elsewhere will return to visit and receive the adulation they rightly deserve. I like to speak things into being. Kansas is going to enter an unprecedented period of creativity across all artistic disciplines. Poetry will play an integral part of that movement. That period will probably be named The Prairie Renaissance if it hasn’t been already. Who knows, we might be in it right now? Only time will tell.