Kansas Humanities Council announces new state poet laureate


Wyatt Townley

As the state’s new poet laureate, a fourth-generation Kansan says she hopes to use poetry to help fellow residents explore the concept of home.

The Kansas Humanities Council announced Wednesday that Wyatt Townley, of Leawood, has been chosen as the 2013-15 Kansas Poet Laureate.

“It’s wonderful that the laureateship has found its way home to the Kansas Humanities Council — a natural habitat for it,” Townley said in a news release. “The notion of ‘home’ is a long-held Kansas value, and I’d like to start a conversation around the state about coming home to poetry. 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.”

Townley is the first poet laureate selected by the Humanities Council, which took over the program from the now-defunct Kansas Arts Commission. With the shift in leadership comes a shift in focus, making the program less about creating poetry and more about how poetry — the laureate’s own and others’ — speaks to the human experience.

Townley’s mission is to promote the humanities as a public resource for all Kansans, including through public readings and discussions about poetry.

“What was really important to the Humanities Council when we took on the program was that the poet laureate be available to engage with Kansans in communities across the state,” said Tracy Quillin, communications director for the Humanities Council.

Programs are free and open to the public, Quillin said. Organizations wishing to host Townley in their communities can find more information online at kansashumanities.org.

Townley’s work has been featured on National Public Radio’s “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor, in U.S. Poet Laureate Emeritus Ted Kooser’s “American Life in Poetry” column and in journals ranging from The Paris Review to Newsweek. She has published three collections of poetry: “The Breathing Field” (Little Brown), “Perfectly Normal” (The Smith) and “The Afterlives of Trees” (Woodley Press), a Kansas Notable Book and winner of the Nelson Poetry Book Award.

Townley is a founding board member of The Writers Place in Kansas City, Mo., has served as a teaching artist with Young Audiences and Writers in the Schools program, and has appeared at writers’ conferences and literary festivals in the Midwest and Northeast.

“Wyatt’s work, along with her knowledge of the craft and history of poetry, will guide Kansans as they make the connection between poetry and civic life,” Humanities Council executive director Julie Mulvihill said in the news release.

Townley will take the reins from the 2009-2012 Poet Laureate of Kansas, Lawrence resident Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.


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