Lawrence resident now state's poet laureate 7-07

By Laura McHugh
EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) - As a child growing up in Emporia, Denise Low dreamed of becoming a painter, but admits she never had the opportunity - or the talent.

Instead, she learned to create images with words.

"I constantly think about writing. It's always in the back of my mind," the interim dean of humanities and art at Haskell Indian Nations University said.

And Low uses what's in front of her to create poetry with a regional flavor and a deep respect for nature.

"Her use of language is extraordinary and vivid," said Llewellyn Crain, executive director of the Kansas Arts Commission, the group that will work with Low as Kansas' second official poet laureate.

"She's a Kansas native. She uses the land and history to convey very profound thoughts about what it means to be alive now" in 21st century Kansas, Crain said.

Recently, Low began a two-year appointment as poet laureate. The title comes with a $5,000 annual honorarium to help cover travel costs and other expenses.

"I think that people are hungry to understand and feel good about their place in the world," she said.

Low, of Lawrence, hopes to feed that hunger with large helpings of homemade poems. Well-versed on other poets from the Sunflower State - both living and deceased - Low plans to put the spotlight on them during her term.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius created the poet laureate's position in 2004, charging that person with developing a greater appreciation for writing and poetry among all Kansans.

"It's not only an outstanding poet, but someone who wants to bring it to the public," Crain said. "Someone who's a real crusader for poetry and has a real commitment to it."

Amid her many public appearances - including guest lectures at Kansas University Continuing Education programs in July and the River City Reading Festival in October - Low plans to publish an e-mail profile of a Kansas poet every other week.

"This is the literary culture of this area, and I think it needs to be celebrated and recognized more fully," Low said.

Among other ideas, Low admits she has a "not-too-hidden ecological agenda." Nature, and the human relationship to it, is a recurring theme in her poems.

"People need to respect and interact with and have many kinds of relationships with nature, and these words are a vehicle for that," Low said.

Since she was selected as poet laureate in December, Low said she's received many e-mails from aspiring poets asking for critiques and advice. She said beginning writers must learn to look at the world around them.

"Not many people care about your lost love, your dead dog or what you had for breakfast, but people do share an environment," Low said. "But you'd be surprised how many people are out there writing poems."