Legacy of poetry in Kansas flourishes with 38th installment of Salina series

April 9, 2022 3:33 am
Bobby LeFebre, poet laureate of Colorado, meets with the audience after his performance in Salina. (Jared Jones/Salina Arts and Humanities)

Bobby LeFebre, poet laureate of Colorado, meets with the audience after his performance in Salina. (Jared Jones/Salina Arts and Humanities)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Huascar Medina is the poet laureate of Kansas.

In its 38th year, the Salina Spring Poetry Series continues to bring the nation’s poets to read their work and engage with the Salina community. The series was founded in 1984 by poet, novelist and essayist Patricia Traxler with the goal of bringing national, regional and local poets together.

If you are not familiar with the long heralded history of the Salina Spring Poetry Series, it’s OK — I wasn’t either. At the end of 2021, the Salina Arts & Humanities, a city department, asked me to curate the series for 2022. That was the moment I started to investigate the history of the Salina Spring Poetry Series.

Here is what I found.

As its name implies, this reading series occurs in the spring, during National Poetry Month, every Tuesday in April. Over the years, the series has had an impressive list of readers. This list includes six Kansas poets laureate: Jonathan Holden (’84, ’88), Denise Low (’85), Wyatt Townley (’99, ’18), Kevin Rabas (’03, ’08), Eric McHenry (’15), and myself, Huascar Medina (’22). 

Bobby LeFebre opens the 2022 Salina Spring Poetry Series with an invocation. (Jared Jones/Salina Arts and Humanities)
Bobby LeFebre opens the 2022 Salina Spring Poetry Series with an invocation. (Jared Jones/Salina Arts and Humanities)

This reading has, since its inception, attracted nationally recognized, award-winning poets: Robert Pinsky ( ’86, ’87, ’89, ’93), was the United States Poet Laureate from 1997 to 2000; Stephen Dunn (’02), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2001; Ted Kooser (’94, ’08), Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry in 2005 and Poet Laureate of the United States from 2004 to 2006; and Albert Golbarth (’88, ’11), a two-time National Book Critics Circle award winner.

Salina Spring Poetry Series founder Patricia Traxler began the event after arriving in Salina in 1980. Within her first year there, Traxler, a transplant from San Diego, was named Salina’s poet-in-residence by the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission.

When I asked Traxler why she began the series, she simply stated, “There was a need.”

Anna Pauscher Morawitz, operations and development manager at Salina Arts and Humanities, said “the series is successful, in part, because of the foundation set by Patricia Traxler in the ’80s. As an artist in residence, she brought a fresh perspective to the community and ignited interest in the art form. The series sponsor and leader have changed through the years. Still, the purpose has remained the same, gathering to celebrate poetic expression and perspective.”

As of 2021, Salina Arts and Humanities took the lead on the Salina Spring Poetry Series with a virtual event.

“Salina Arts and Humanities is proud to continue our support of the Salina Spring Poetry Series and the tradition of gathering for poetry readings. This program supports poets and contributes to community dialogue about critical social issues and perspectives,” Morawitz said.

The Salina Spring Poetry Series continues to use poetry as an invitation to conversations on critical issues. On April 5, the poet laureate of Colorado, Bobby LeFebre opened the 2022 series with fervor and flair. That’s an expected experience if you are familiar with the former National Poetry Slam finalist, two time grand slam champion, and individual World Poetry Slam finalist.

His poetry, weighted in emotion, carried in the open air of an outdoor venue in downtown Salina. It washed over the crowd like a wind of words, in a gust of deliverance. It was a sight to see and hear.

LeFebre spoke about police violence in a poem for Elijah McClain, who died in the hands of Aurora, Colorado, police officers and paramedics after being stopped while walking home from a store. He shared his views on the differential treatment experienced by immigrants seeking asylum at the southern border and the U.S. plans to accept 100,000 Ukraines displaced by the Russian invasion.

LeFebre’s poetry led to meaningful dialogue at the event among the audience. It felt safe and freeing to gather around spoken word. This is why there will always be a need for more poetry in more places. So we can have these hard conversations in a soft way.

The next two poets two read at the 2022 Salina Spring Poetry Series will be Michael Kleber-Diggs and Megan Kaminski. Come join the conversation or just listen to some of the best poetry around.

Learn more here.

Correction: This story was updated with the year when Salina Arts and Humanities took on the poetry series.

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Huascar Medina
Huascar Medina

Huascar is a poet, writer, and performer who lives in Topeka. He works as a freelance copywriter and as the literary editor for seveneightfive magazine, publishing stories that spotlight literary and artistic events in northeast Kansas. His poems can be found in his collection "How to Hang the Moon" and "Un Mango Grows in Kansas." He is the winner of ARTSConnect’s 2018 Arty Award for Literary Art.