I’m always the last to know.
By SARAH SMITH NESSEL
Special to The Star
It recently came to my attention that Kansas has a poet laureate. Not only that, but she lives in my own (not-so-very) humble little burg, Leawood.
Her name is Wyatt Townley, and she was named to the post a few weeks ago by the Kansas Humanities Council. The nonprofit group is in charge of all things poet laureate now that Kansas has become a trailblazer in yanking funding from the arts and therefore no longer has an arts commission. But I digress.
I’ve always been a fan of poetry in an abstract sense. It’s like the visual arts, or fine wine: I appreciate that it exists, but I don’t feel the need to analyze it or learn a lot about it. My unrefined tastes follow those of the masses straight to Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, though not all the way off the deep end to anything involving pop music lyrics or modern-day celebrities, unless it’s William Shatner reading Sarah Palin’s tweets. (Yes, that really happened.)
Mostly, I find poetry useful as a gauge of other people’s pretentiousness. If you must talk to me about poetry, spare me your musings about iambic pentameter. I don’t even know what it is, and I’m fine with that. Teach me a dirty limerick instead.
Townley, being an actual poet laureate, has no need to be pretentious. I haven’t met her, but I have a feeling we’d get along just fine, even if she insisted on explaining literary terminology to me. I’m pretty good at separating the artificial from the genuine —living in southern Johnson County gives me a lot of practice — and Townley’s website looks genuine. It’s the kind of site I’d put together if I were poet laureate: not a lot of actual poetry, but plenty of photos, including one of Emily Dickinson’s gravesite. I appreciate gravesites, which have a way of helping me put things into perspective. If it weren’t for my blonde suburban-ness, I could be goth. Goth worked well for Emily.
In addition to learning that Kansas has a poet laureate, I’ve also recently learned that “laureateship” is a word, and that laureateships have themes. The theme of Townley’s laureateship is “coming home to poetry,” which I immediately fell in love with, because from my current perspective, I’m coming home to a messy house, an empty refrigerator and a pile of bills. Clearly, a shift in outlook is needed.
I especially liked Townley’s imagery in the humanities council’s press release announcing her laureateship: “Poetry is a place we can return to in all kinds of weather, with its innate power to heal and comfort, transform and inspire. Its porch light is always on.”
I think we can all agree that every press release from this day forward should be written by poet laureates. And that those of us who don’t know a sonnet from a stanza could perhaps benefit from opening a book of poetry every so often. We may never write anything that’s featured on NPR or The Paris Review, as Townley has, but we might learn a bit, reflect a bit or simply find words that bring an indistinct emotion into focus.
Even I can find the poetry in that.
Freelancer Sarah Smith Nessel writes The Bubble every week.