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Readorama: Lansing inmates will read their poetry in Overland Park

Leawood poet Arlin Buyert coordinates the Lansing prison poetry program.
Leawood poet Arlin Buyert coordinates the Lansing prison poetry program.

Six poets are scheduled to read Tuesday night in Overland Park.

Four will be former inmates of the Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kan.

Two will be current inmates, a first.

“This is historic,” said Arlin Buyert, a Leawood poet who coordinates the Lansing prison poetry program. “We’ve never done this before.”

Twice a year, Buyert leads 12-week poetry seminars for Lansing inmates. The classes are organized by Arts in Prison, an Overland Park group that coordinates choral, writing and other programs for those incarcerated across the region.

Buyert meets with the group, which currently numbers 12 inmates, on Thursday nights. The workshops are therapeutic for them, Buyert said.

That goes for the former Navy pilot, too.

Educated at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., and the University of Minnesota, Buyert began writing and publishing poetry on the advice of a therapist after his first wife died eight years ago following a long illness.

He began leading the Lansing sessions four years ago.

For those wondering, the event will have appropriate security, Buyert said.

Members of the East Hill Singers, a Lansing prison choral group, are allowed to make several appearances in public every year, he said, and the approximately 20 inmate singers who participate are accompanied by several security guards.

He expects something similar Tuesday night. Not that he thinks there will be any problems.

“The recidivism rate at Lansing is about 60 percent, but for inmates who participate in the Arts in Prison program, it drops down to about 10 percent,” he said.

“I’m not sure why, although it might be the self-awareness the poetry program brings the poets.”

Twice Buyert has edited anthologies of Lansing inmate poetry. The published poets, some of whom didn’t graduate from high school, have been thrilled to see their work in print.

“It really helps their self-confidence and self-esteem,” he said.

Tuesday night’s event is the February installment of the Thomas Zvi Wilson Reading Series, a collaboration between the Writers Place and the Johnson County Library.

The reading begins at 6 p.m. at the Johnson County Central Resource Library, 9875 W. 87th St. in Overland Park.

Moynihan author at Central Library

Fifty years ago next month, the U.S. Department of Labor published “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.”

The paper came to be known as the Moynihan Report for its co-author, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a sociologist and the department’s assistant secretary for policy planning and research. The paper, now available online through the department’s website (dol.gov) argued that the decline of the African-American family structure would make social and economic equality difficult to attain.

The report was controversial, said Greg Weiner, author of “American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan,” published last year.

“In terms of the controversy, Moynihan dealt frankly with issues of race, although he was quite clear later in his life that he believed the breakdown of the family was happening across racial lines,” Weiner said recently.

“Many of the predictions he made have turned out to be true. He predicted the continued erosion of the American family and the rise of single-parent families.”

New York voters elected Moynihan senator in 1976. He served four terms before leaving office in 2001.

“I think Moynihan represents two things,” Weiner said. “One is a politics that was not rooted in ideology. The second was a different kind of liberalism, a liberalism that believed very deeply in what government could accomplish but also accepted that there were limits.”

Weiner considers Moynihan an American version of the 18th-century British philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke.

“Both had an abiding respect for the importance of respecting social complexity,” he said. “Both wanted to achieve reform, but both also believed there were limits to what they could achieve.”

Weiner, an assistant professor of political science at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., will speak at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Brian Burnes: 816-234-4120, @BPBthree

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