Poetry is often finding order inside chaos, exploring the undefinable to find its borders, to work it into something tangible and explainable. So, of course, poets are the best ones to have in your corner when you have a few hundred high school students on your campus and black ice suddenly on the roads.
Zedeka, joe and I were supposed to run a morning open mic at Chadron State College for students coming in from around the region for their Scholastic Day. We were expected to have a small group of students coming and going between taking tests to hopefully earn scholarships to the College, but I started receiving texts from Markus early that morning with alerts about the roads, campus, hundreds of students stuck in the Student Center.
So we do what poets do: We ran an open mic. We cajoled students into writing poems and then reading them out loud. We had a blast.
It was a fun morning, with a number of the Chadron State English students reading with us, a few professors, too. And we had a number of high school students who were full of “Oh, I’m no poet” energy finding themselves turning around and reading with us for a few hours. joe even got one hesitant student (who, in round one, refused to read her poem out loud but did let joe read it) to read her own poem late in the day. Poetry for the win.
Afterward, I even got to read my poem “Notes For My Daughter Against Chasing Storms” in front of a room of students about to take an essay exam about that same poem.
Thanks for hosting us, Chadron, and wonderful job, English Department, on rolling with the punches.
After a day like we had in Valentine, everything after just has to be a disappointment, right?
We rolled up at Gordon-Rushville High School not sure what to expect. joe found himself captivated by a metal sculpture of a horse’s head by the main entrance, the principal turns out to be someone I’ve worked with before, and we found my friend Tracy Baker’s senior photo on display with the class of ’92. Okay, good start.
And all three of us had a blast. It was another group of fun students with smart questions, dedicated teachers, and we enjoyed talking in classes and at an all-school assembly. We even found out the sculpture we’d admired wasn’t made by some famous graduate (as I’d thought) but by some of the students we were talking with!
Students directed us to the Fuel Grill for dinner and it was the right move. They have creatively-named sandwiches (I had the Geo Metro, it was delightful) which didn’t disappoint. Then we had time before our Gordon Theater reading and so stopped by the library. On this tour, I’m donating a pair of Nebraska poetry anthologies to the schools and libraries, so we handed them copies of Watching The Perseids and Nebraska Poetry: A Sesquicentennial Anthology. After that, we also went to Harvest Coffeehouse (Caffeine!), and Joe’s Games for some Asteroids, Defender, pinball, and more.
The Gordon Theater is a great space, fairly recently renovated, for a poetry reading and the students and community came out with a good crowd. It made for a fun, interactive reading, and there were even encore poems requested. Afterward, we talked with a group of students about what it takes to run their own open mic, and we helped connect them with the Theater’s owner and a board member who was there. So, Gordon, we look forward to returning and reading at your open mic!
I was touched, too, as one of the students ran outside and came back to present me with a bundle of sage. It’s an honor to work with these students and spend some time talking about poetry.
Poetry is more than a lesson plan, it’s something special where we get to say who we are, figure out little bits of this world, and listen to others do the same. I feel lucky to get to do this, especially with artists like Zedeka and joe.
There’s a new review of my book at The Tomorrow Society wherein the reviewer gets everything right (well, almost, I do find his lack of enthusiasm for churros disturbing).
Valentine, you waterfall city, you beauty on the Niobrara, you poet-feeding wonder!
I rolled into Valentine with poets Zedeka Poindexter and joe fromLongIsland for the first stop of the Nebraska Poetry Pen Pal Program this past Monday. We spent the day at Valentine High School, meeting with some pretty wonderful students and teachers, reading poetry, answering questions, geeking out about some poetry at a full school assembly and then several different classes through the day.
We had a break which included lunch at the Coach Light Inn and a waterfall visit, both of which were stunning. The coach light had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had (Cream cheese, pepper jelly and bacon on it? Why, yes, that sounds delightful), what has to be the finest pie in the region (peanut butter pie? Sour cream and raisin? Lemon Meringue? Don’t mind if we do… ), and then the hike down to Fort Falls just outside of town was just what I needed after such a lunch.
In the evening, we had another great meal at the Peppermill and a reading at the Valentine Public Library, a place I think joe wants to move into for the fireplace and the conversations with some of the best librarians around.
We had a warm reception at the school and the reading, we really felt honored by how well Valentine treated us and how the students engaged us in really wonderful conversations. Even a stop at the Dollar Tree proved magical as, when the clerk asked what we were in town for and we answered “Poetry,” he lit up and ended up playing me a recording of a song he wrote with lyrics that knocked me out and talent on the guitar and drums.*
Valentine, thank you. We all want you to adopt us.
Thank you, Academy of American Poets and the Mellon Foundation, Humanities Nebraska, Valentine Public Library (especially you, Anne Quigley), and Valentine High School for making this possible. Thank you, too, Niobrara Lodge, you treated us well!
*=Bonus Track: The musician I talked to at the Dollar Tree said to look for him at Apple Music. When I did, I found this (it’s not the song he played me but you still get the sense): https://music.apple.com/us/artist/kid-on-the-hill/1649809336
As part of my 2022 Laureate Fellowship, I’ll be touring the Nebraska Panhandle with poets Zedeka Poindexter and Joe fromLongIsland next week, with stops in Valentine, Gordon, and Chadron. This program will visit high schools during the day and then host public events in the evenings, encouraging a dialogue through poetry.
Public events include:
- Nov 7, 7pm show at the Valentine Public Library (324 N Main St)
- Nov 8, 7pm show at the Gordon Theater (320 N Main St)
It was fun to finally meet my publisher in person at the Disneyana Show and Sale last weekend in Orange, CA. On top of meeting Dave Bossert, I also got to sit with author and historian Don Ballard as we signed books and chatted with folks dropping by The Old Mill Press table.
I’m excited for the readings I have these next few weeks! In addition to a few school and senior center visits, I’ll be at:
- August 31, 7pm, I read with Lydia Kang at the Dundee Book Company. See details here.
- September 8th, 5:30pm, I’m part of a panel discussion for the Nebraska Writers Collective’s screening of the documentary Louder Than a Bomb at Film Streams in Omaha. Here are THOSE details.
- September 10th, 7pm, I am the featured poet for the Omaha Poetry Slam at the Benson Theatre.
- September 11, 3pm, I get to read at the The Allegro Wolf Arts Center in Sutton, NE to promote my new book. See a few details here.
There’s a community farewell party for the W. Dale Clark Library in downtown Omaha on Saturday, 8/20, 2-4pm. I’ve been asked to write a poem for it and will be reading around 3:30. Drop by to celebrate a building that’s meant a lot to me and to many others: https://omaha.bibliocommons.com/events/62d840fc0685eb4200c7322c.
I’m thrilled to announce I was named by The Academy of American Poets as a 2022 Poet Laureate Fellow (along with an incredibly talented list of other poets). It makes a big difference for my work and lets me really dive into what I want to do with this next year!
Most of all, thank you Sarah for your help, your belief, and your patience: I love you.
I enjoyed being at the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. Thank you, everyone who picked up a copy of At The Corner of Fantasy and Main: Disneyland, Midlife and Churros and everyone who stopped by to chat!