Lawrence, Kansas | 31 October 2007
O the LO-cust-es are loud in the locust trees on Locust Street in Laaaaaawrence . . . [banjos]
Langston Hughes discovered literature, and William S. Burroughs bid it adieu, in Lawrence, Kansas.
Some grow up in Kansas, some have Kansas thrust upon them. Some go away but are drawn back into the orbit and ambit of Lawrence (e.g., Ken Irby, Cyrus Console, Anne Boyer). Some never thought they’d be here but like it enough to stay (Jim McCrary, Judy Roitman, Billy Joe Harris, Joe Harrington). Then there are those who live elsewhere but stay for months at a time, or keep coming back, or both (e.g., K. Silem Mohammad – or Ed Dorn or Allen Ginsberg, for that matter).
Gun-totin hippies (cf. Cows Are Freaky When They Look at You), poetry slams at strip clubs, pawpaw parties, official celebrations of dada at city hall, digital paranoiapoetics, and even hills. Who woulda thunk.
All of which leads to a remarkably vibrant and eclectic literary space for a town of 80,000. For this issue, I’ve focused on some of the more investigative or linguistically unconventional work around here, but other Lawrence & vicinity poets do fine work in a more representational and narrative vein (cf. the blog of Kansas’ Poet Laureate, Lawrencian Denise Low). If anyone discovers a “Lawrence School,” hold onto your wallet. It’s seriously eclectic & still too small to have cliques; hell, these people all drink together. Lawrence, a college town, wears Town and Gown as a reversible suit. So Robert J. Baumann (an MFA student at the University of Kansas) and Anne Boyer (who is not) co-curate “An Actual Kansas Series” of readings, by local and visiting poets, at the 6 Gallery (yes, that’s its real name), an off-off campus venue.
Other reading series are numerous and often ephemeral. Hand-posted flyers in coffeehouses are probably the best way to find out about them, but also check the (otherwise semi-literate) local paper. The Lawrencian, our independent newspaper, is an excellent source for arts info (free – but well worth subscribing to). Readings also occur not infrequently at the Public Library, the Lawrence Arts Center, and the Raven, an independent bookstore.
The University of Kansas (aka Kansas University aka KU) brings in a variety of interesting poets and critics (like Paul Muldoon, Arnold Rampersad, and Lyn Hejinian this coming year); its relatively new MFA program has already attracted an exciting variety of writers in all genres (sometimes all at once). Haskell Indian Nations University also hosts readings by many well-known poets (e.g., Joy Harjo, Simon Ortiz, Sherman Alexie, in recent years).
The journal First Intensity and First Intensity Press, both under the guidance of Lee Chapman, are official National Treasures of Lawrence (or should be). FI publishes some of the most interesting and forward-looking work in the country. (Two yearly issues for $28: P.O. Box 665, Lawrence, KS 66044; check out the array of terrific and inexpensive books, too). Anne Boyer and K. Silem Mohammad edit Abraham Lincoln, which includes a delightfully disturbing cross-section of new writing (1 yr.=$8, c/o 840 Park St, Ashland OR 97520). Other local journals and presses include Cottonwood, Coal City Review (and press), and Mammoth Publications.
Studies have shown that 37% of Lawrencians either write poetry or are reincarnations of people who did (sometimes in Lawrence, sometimes in ancient Sumer). Get off I-70 and sit a spell. Have a drink. Write something good. Come back.
is the author of Poetry and the Public: The Social Form of Modern US Poetics (Wesleyan, 2002). Re: Cancergate: An Amneoir : “Since the dates of the Watergate scandal and the dates of my mother’s last illness coincide almost exactly, I find it impossible to separate the two.” Harrington’s poems have appeared recently in First Intensity, Tarpaulin Sky, and on screen at the University of Victoria, B.C. He teaches at the University of Kansas.