River City Poetry

buffetI like the buffet as much as anyone.  I can stack my plate as high as I want.  If I don’t like it, I don’t have to finish it.  And if I can’t eat it all, who cares?  I’ll just dump it and go back for something else.

I actually hate buffets.  Human-horse troughs of congealing food.  All the precious smells get swirled together, and people take pride in that stack of plates.  I typically feel guilty, too, if I don’t eat enough to equate out to the value of the price of all I CAN eat.

But I do like the idea that my life is like a buffet plate.  I can put as much as I want on that plate.  I can shuffle things off if it turns out that I don’t like the taste of something.  And I have gotten to taste some great experiences over the last ten years.

I have also realized that I have a larger appetite than I gave myself credit.  For years, I’ve dreamed of running my own poetry anthology.  When I was in the Wichita State MFA program, I began to map out my own aesthetic for such a journal.  But I never did anything with it.  I worked for other people’s journals, reviewed submissions, worked out publishing budgets with submission fees, juried contests for youth and adults, and went through my own struggles as a poet to get published.  The whole time, I felt a great inadequacy for starting anything myself.  I’m too busy.  My teaching load is too heavy.  The girls are just at that age.  I’m committed to this or that at church.  And it’s not like I have time to write my own poetry.  My plate’s just too full.

But it really came down to the idea that I’m just not qualified.

It’s the same feeling I carried around for years about poetry.  It’s why I got an MFA in Fiction instead of Poetry.  It’s why I’ve avoided being labelled the ‘teacher poet’ that writes ‘mommy’ poems.  And I suppose there are folks out there that would agree that I’m NOT qualified and that my poetry remains two-dimensional.  But at this stage, I would just encourage those folks to head on down to the other side of the buffet where the wasabi peas and cucumbers are kept so that they could get something on their plates more to their tastes.

River City Poetry will be several things, but first–a poetry website.  We’ll use the model of small independent presses everywhere, but the internet will be our primary media.  We’ll showcase ten poets in the fall and ten poets in the spring.  We’ll run a summer writing marathon with daily posts and prompts in June.  And we’ll make it a special point to review chapbooks–because these little golden minutes of work never get the kind of attention they deserve.  We’re also going to be active collaborators in the Wichita area, tapping into the energy so inherently part of this place.

The website is currently under construction with a ‘soft’ open in May.  Want to be considered for our summer sampler of poetry?  You can submit up to three poems to rivercitypoetrysubmissions [at] gmail.com .  Our summer sampler will be a one-time issue meant to high light the aesthetic we want to encourage in future submissions.  Our first full reading period will be in August and September.

I sure am looking forward to it.  Come be a part of River City Poetry with me.


Marathon at Pratt–“The Least of These”

As I’ve posted previously (see here), a Writers Marathon can be a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with one’s muse, especially after emotional or trying times.  While unable to join the recent excursion to Lemon Park in Pratt, Kansas, I’m privileged to share Nancy Sturm’s brief essay inspired by her experience in the sunshine that day.

BIO:  After teaching high school English for 21 years, Nancy decided to retire. Now she’s pursuing some free-lance writing and has published a few articles. She also works part-time as a co-director for the South Central Kansas Writing Project. If you would like to read more of her work, she blogs regularly at Looking at the Son.

“The Least of These” by Nancy Hamilton Sturm

Even at 10 am this late June morning, the air is hot and heavy with moisture. Today’s expected high is 106 degrees. Fortunately, I sit in the park, surrounded by huge, leafy green canopies. The cottonwoods, oak, and sycamores provide some protection and relief from the sun’s rays.

All around me I hear Spring’s mating calls: the cardinals sing, hoping to attract a mate. Cicadas’ harsh calls sound from my left, then the answering calls echo to my right. I sit on a bench under the shade of a wooden gazebo, soaking in the calm atmosphere.

My mind drifts. Instead of enjoying the beauty and quiet of Lemon Park in Pratt, Kansas, my mind drifts back a few days. I’m in downtown Wichita, on a Sunday evening in 100 degree heat. Here, too, I’m seeking shade, but for a different reason.

With six gentlemen friends, I seek shade not for myself, but for others. We’re on a quest, seeking the homeless. Surely, on this hot day, they seek relief from the oppressive heat in a shaded spot or grassy, tree-lined park.

My friends and I aren’t disappointed. We find the homeless trying to keep cool in sheltered spots: under the Kellogg overpass, in the shade of a gazebo in Old Town, and in the shadows of the downtown library. We offer our small gifts—a sandwich, a bag of chips, a cookie, a pack of gum, some toiletries, and a bottle of water. They seem such a small gifts. We chat for a few moments with each group. Invariably we are thanked, often with a sincere, “God bless you.”

Then we climb back into our air-conditioned vehicles and search for others who are hot, thirsty, and displaced. The irony of our finding some respite from the heat in an air-conditioned vehicle does not escape me. The 70 or so people appreciate the gifts, but our gesture seems so small, like using a teaspoon to dig the foundation of a house. But we will continue to dig that foundation, providing what we can. One sandwich and one water bottle at a time, we’ll provide small gifts for our brothers. One small gift is better than nothing.

Mark 12:29-31 The most important [commandment] …is this… ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Matthew 25:40b Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did your for me.

Bartlett Arboretum Writing Marathon 5

Meg Rice is one of the most delightful people I know.  She shares of herself freely and openly–and without ego, nurtures and supports her fellow writers.  Always up for the next adventure, this elementary teacher and former Teaching Instructor for the National Writing Project takes solace from the beauty of the Bartlett Arboretum.  She generously shared the photos of her time as well and is a proud supporter of Bubble Therapy.

This poem was written at Bartlett Arboretum, after scaling the new south-bridge, with some of my favorite writer friends, one fine muddy morning in May

 Sally Said We Could
Meg Rice

Sally said we could;
Ignore the yellow caution tape,
Ignore the mud,
Explore the place.

Fashioned of tile
And curved concrete,
Bartlett’s newborn-bridge,
Spans Euphrates Creek.

Like a startled cat,
Joins mud to mud,
From last night’s storm.

In approaching the
Bridge’s uphill side,
Mud invites our feet
To slip and slide.

We traverse the
Muddly-puddly ramp.
Our shoes fear more,
Than getting damp.

With every step,
Mud bonds to shoe.
Inch by inch taller,
On layers of goo.

So new is this bridge,
It still lacks side-rails.
We might slip at the ridge,
If our balance fails.

Pitching forward at the peak,
Toward the other side,
I glide with a shriek,
In a downhill slide.

“Hey, don’t fall in.”
My friends all yell.
That’s not a story,
You’ll want to tell.

And mud caked shoes,
Five more followed after
Feet thick with goo.

Slippery morning adventure,
Exhilarating, indeed!
A lesson learned will endure,
Do not follow my lead!


Bartlett Arboretum Writing Marathon 4

Sometimes the experience of a Writing Marathon helps me to blend a project/piece that’s been floating incomplete in my head.  I wanted to share a poem that came together as a result of the journaling I did during this experience:

And the Grasses Speak

Part I
There is a smell of lush soil and verdant moss. Like Leia,
I want to dig through the gravel for some smidgen of
some little shell to keep in my pocket, to remind me of
time swept oceans on our dry plain, to remind me of what
this moment feels like,
right here overlapped by right then,
the sun warming the soreness from my gut and shoulders,
and I know there will never be enough breakfast
to feed this day.
I will never be full.

Part 2
Grasses grow from a pot, growing, blowing tendrils of hair,
the tips nearly furry and splayed in the wind. I want to dwell
among them, listen to the sweet tenor of the soil sisters putting
their fingers to soil, sending prayers through the ground, sweet
thoughts travelling up roots, lifted more pure to heaven.
They whisper, “Speak to me of eternity,”
and the grasses say,
“you have already been there, but you have forgotten the memory.
Trees remember,
the soil rejoices,
the flowers speak of it,
but you do not have eyes or ears
or the mind to recall,”
and we grasp soil,
our fingers desperate to remember.

Bartlett Arboretum Writing Marathon 3

I am proud and honored to share another piece from our Bartlett Arboretum Writing Marathon.  Jeff Roper wears many hats and plays many roles, including sitting on the Board of the Kansas Association of Teachers of English, supporting the National Writing Project, and following God’s calling as a Chaplain for the Episcopal Church.  This is from one of our ‘sprints’ during the marathon.

“Bartlett  Arboretum  Revisited”

By Jeff H. Roper

            Vicky and I have experienced 32 years of a wonderful shared life together. In September, 2011 Sarah Henry Roper became a new member of the Roper family. Our son Jonathan married Sarah at St. James Episcopal Church. I mention this wedding because a year earlier, in planning for this wedding, Sarah and Jonathan gave strong consideration to getting married at the Bartlett Arboretum. They opted not to get married here, but this place continues to be a beautiful place to be married.

            But I have revisited this place for another writing marathon. It is 11am in the morning with a cool northerly breeze keeping our temperature in the sixties. Although it has been in the nineties and dry for much of May, a severe storm with hail swung through south central Kansas last night with a fury. Today, the sky is blue. The oxygenated-air from the pine trees is filling the air that I breathe, refreshing and restoring my soul while feeling the friendly warmth of the sun behind me when it breaks through the occasional small light cloud.

            I smell the collective scent of flowers the color of the fresh inside of a watermelon. Their delicate petals hug the ground behind me while gusts of wind rush powerfully through the tall maple trees and lone sycamore tree above. These senses help me to re-set and re-paradigm my view of the world—shifting from the hustle and bustle of moving from point A to B to C as I constantly check my iPhone for emails to relaxing, breathing, settling in, and enjoying the heavenly pleasantry of nature and the fellowship of friends.

            Please pardon me for a moment from my writing while I clean the mud with a stick off my tennis shoes. The mud resulted from my dear friend Meg who was getting in touch with her “create new paths in the forest” adventurous style of living.