ELLINWOOD — Wyatt Townley, Shawnee Mission, finds poetry in every day life, in trains, in the Kansas wind, and in nature. Imaging magical ways to weave words, she comes home to poetry.
“Home is a long held Kansas value,” said Townley, speaking to Ellinwood school students and patrons last week at Ellinwood School/Community Library.”There’s something that keeps us here.”
This is why, after 17 years in New York, she moved back to Kansas and spends time at her grandparents farm founded in 1860. She was a dancer in New York, and her poetry is a confluence of words and motion.
She is the 2013-2015 Poet Laureate of Kansas.
“Coming home to poetry” is the theme Townley chose for her time as Poet Laureate. She wants to “bring poetry home to people.”
Using life experiences as a dancer, yoga instructor and actress, Townley puts pen to the paper with these images. She writes about being a six-foot-tall teenage girl and being dropped as a dancer.
“All night Kansas
the lungs of the continent
takes a sip of the galaxy
swirling stars and barbed wire
sofabeds and willows
books and doors banging open
signs disappear whole towns
ditch themselves in the countryside
I stir the coffee to center the house
the place our mothers and fathers
and theirs and theirs passed through
their aprons strung on telephone wires
this tunnel of wind this trial
makes trees throw back their heads
and hair on our arms stand up
we’re nothing but breath on its way
through the woods”
-Wyatt Townley “Centering the house”-
On Friday, Townley interacted with Ellinwood students, drawing them into a conversation with such metaphors such as “woods are a book we read to our children.”
She profoundly believes in the power of poetry to impact individuals.
“You must change your life,” said Townley. “Poems change us.”
Townley is a widely published, nationally known poet and a fourth-generation Kansan.
Her work has been featured on National Public Radio’s The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, in U.S. Poet Laureate Emeritus Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry column, and published in journals ranging from The Paris Review to Newsweek. She has published three collections of poetry: The Breathing Field (Little Brown), Perfectly Normal (The Smith), and The Afterlives of Trees (Woodley Press), a Kansas Notable Book and winner of the Nelson Poetry Book Award. More information can be found on her website.
She is the fourth Kansas Poet Laureate.