The Kansas Humanities Council announces that Eric McHenry of Lawrence has been named the 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Kansas. In this role, McHenry will promote the humanities as a public resource for all Kansans through public readings, presentations, and discussions about poetry in communities across the state.
"Eric brings to the Poet Laureate of Kansas position an abundance of talent and enthusiasm," said Julie Mulvihill, executive director of the Kansas Humanities Council. "As a writer, his words seem effortless, although we know how meticulously and thoughtfully he deliberates on each one. As a teacher, his intelligence and humor make poetry come alive. The combination of these qualities will make Eric an exceptional poet laureate for our state."
"There's nothing I love more than sharing poetry with people, and I look forward to doing that in every corner of Kansas over the next two years," said McHenry. "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 is a nationally known poet and associate professor of English at Washburn University in Topeka. His work has been featured in publications such as Poetry International, Slate, Yale Review, and Topeka magazine, among many others. He also contributes poetry reviews for the New York Times and Columbia magazine. Odd Evening, his third book of poems, will be published by Waywiser Press in 2016.
A fifth-generation Topeka native, Eric has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for poetry seven times and received the Theodore Roethke Prize in 2011. His first book of poems, Potscrubber Lullabies, earned him the prestigious Kate Tufts Discovery Award in 2007, the largest American prize for a first book of poetry.
“In 1971 a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked a plane from Portland to Seattle, demanded parachutes and $200,000 in cash, then jumped into the night with the money, never to be seen again.” — fbi.gov
So little seemed to be at stake. The bomb was real; the threat was fake. Neither was difficult to make.
And I was in my element, or nearly there. Yes, the descent was cold, but warmer as I went,
and yes it was coal-black and raining, but I had uppers and my training. I’ve spent my whole life not complaining.
When I could see the woods I wandered out with the twenties, which I laundered, safety-deposited, and squandered,
and with the oddest thing, a name I’d paid for but could never claim, a private joke, my private fame.
That’s been the hardest part: denial — remaining of no interest while the Bureau opened up a file
on every former paratrooper who in his final morphine stupor discovered he was D.B. Cooper.
I’m D.B. Cooper. There, I said it. It’s decent work if you can get it, but it pays cash. There is no credit,
or blame, or pity in thin air, and I’ve spent forty winters there. I’ll take whatever you can spare,
although I don’t suppose the guy whose last confession was a lie deserves it any less than I.
Poem: "Books," by Billy Collins, from Sailing Alone Around the Room (Random House).
From the heart of this dark, evacuated campus I can hear the library humming in the night, a choir of authors murmuring inside their books along the unlit, alphabetical shelves, Giovanni Pontano next to Pope, Dumas next to his son, each one stitched into his own private coat, together forming a low, gigantic chord of language.
I picture a figure in the act of reading, shoes on a desk, head tilted into the wind of a book, a man in two worlds, holding the rope of his tie as the suicide of lovers saturates a page, or lighting a cigarette in the middle of a theorem. He moves from paragraph to paragraph as if touring a house of endless, paneled rooms.
I hear the voice of my mother reading to me from a chair facing the bed, books about horses and dogs, and inside her voice lie other distant sounds, the horrors of a stable ablaze in the night, a bark that is moving toward the brink of speech.
I watch myself building bookshelves in college, walls within walls, as rain soaks New England, or standing in a bookstore in a trench coat.
I see all of us reading ourselves away from ourselves, straining in circles of light to find more light until the line of words becomes a trail of crumbs that we follow across a page of fresh snow;
when evening is shadowing the forest and small birds flutter down to consume the crumbs, we have to listen hard to hear the voices of the boy and his sister receding into the woods.
Wyatt Townley of Shawnee Mission has been named the 2013-2015 Poet Laureate of Kansas. As Poet Laureate of Kansas, Townley will promote the humanities as a public resource for all Kansans through public readings, presentations, and discussions about poetry in communities across the state.