Poem on the Range

Poem on the Range: A Poet Laureate's Love Song to Kansas

Publisher: Coal City Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-9795844-7-3

Purchase through Coal City Press, $10

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has written a terrific love paean to Kansas. In the process she’s taken us from joy to near despair to joy again, telling us—often with rapturous description and always self-depreciating humor—the story of how she and fellow Kansans lost and then saved the state’s Poet Laureate position. The book is laced with sumptuous travel descriptions of Kansas’s hither and yon. And there are black squirrels, highways stretching to the horizon, outstanding and readable poems scattered in just the right places, as well as the kinds of people who give you the shirts off their backs. Poem on the Range is a needed guide for all those who work for the arts. It’s a gift to all who glory in a place they’ve made home. I’ve always loved Kansas, but Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg will make any reader love Kansas more.   ~ Dick Allen, Connecticut State Poet Laureate, 2010-2015, and author of This Shadowy Place (winner of the 2013 New Criterion Poetry Prize), and seven previous poetry collections

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is our poet warrior. With passion, grit, and humor, she hews an unpredictable path from Jersey girl to Kansas Poet Laureate and beyond in this engaging memoir, itself a tribute to the art (and politics) of poetry.   ~Wyatt Townley, Poet Laureate of Kansas

“Our weather keeps everything in perspective, like it or not,” says former Kansas poet laureate, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. Poem on the Range describes with joy the miles Mirriam-Goldberg covered barn storming for the art, and offers a sampling of poems by Kansas poets she met along the way, as well as poems by poets she met acrosIMG_0806s state lines.   ~ JoAnn Balingit, Poet Laureate of Delaware

Caryn’s book not only recounts her experience as Kansas Poet Laureate, but also reveals how a truly awakened, poetic soul travels our state: with keen, bright eyes and a light heart. Through anecdote and meditation, Caryn reveals the pluck and beauty of our fellow Kansans and her resolve, through everyday action, to preserve and exalt poetry and the arts.   ~ Kevin Rabas, author of Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s voice, in her new memoir, is jaunty, belying the serious nature of her subject matter, a rather heroic effort on her part to shepherd the Kansas Poet Laureate position through a period of limbo following our governor’s defunding of the arts in Kansas. Caryn’s easy prose, along with a wealth of poems from Kansans and others, chronicle her time as Poet Laureate in an informative and enjoyable read, one which underscores the true value of art beyond the poor efforts to monetize it.  ~ Bill Sheldon, author of Rain Comes Riding

Poem on the Range is the uplifting literal and metaphorical journey taken by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg during her tenure as poet laureate.  Filled with anecdotes, poems and beautiful descriptions of her beloved state, it is at once a celebration of place and the poetry and poets that weave it together. I felt like I was on the road with Caryn travelling to places I’ve never been before:  Hutchinson, Emporia, Wichita and Topeka.  What an adventure.  There’s even a chapter about dodging tornadoes ! Only someone with her spirit could have kept the poet laureate office alive and well during the dark days when the Kansas Arts Commission was dismantled by the acting Governor.  Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s indomitable spirit shines through on every page of Poem on the Range. What a gift.   ~ Marjory Wentworth, South Carolina Poet Laureate

Featuring poems, prose or songs by: Dick Allen, Thomas Fox Averill, Roy Beckemeyer, Allison Berry, Elizabeth Black, Walter Butts, Jyce DiDonato, Steven Hind, Nancy Hubble, Kelley Hunt, William J. Karnowski, Maxine Kumin, Denise Low, Ramona McCallum, Ronda Miller, Karen Ohnesorge, Al Ortolani, HC Palmer, Shawn Pavey, Matthew Porubsky, Kevin Rabas, Elizabeth Schultz, Leah Sewell, Bill Sheldon, Victoria Sherry, Betsy Sholl, Marilyn L. Taylor, Lisa Starr, Roderick Townley, Wyatt Townley, John Willison, Laura Lee Washburn, and Israel Wasserstein.

Excerpt: "I'm Going To Live in Kansas"

That's what I told my grandfather when I was five years old, not that I can remember, but no matter because he reminded me of this over twenty years later when I married a Kansan. I was far from Kansas at the time, visiting Papa in a New Jersey hospital where he would soon die. He held my son Daniel, not even a year old at the time, laughed, shaking his full shock of white hair, and in his Polish accent, still strong although he emigrated to this country when he was a child, said, “You were a little girl, and you told me, 'I'm going to live in Kansas.'” He couldn't stop laughing even if I lived in a place too far to him to visit because of his declining health.

Why, growing up in Brooklyn and then central New Jersey, did I think I would live in Kansas? I'm guessing the influence of The Wizard of Oz loomed large, but then again, with my propensity for all things green and glittery, you would think I would have voted to live in Oz instead of black-and-white and bad-weathered Kansas.

As a kid, I thought I would live in Vermont, someplace mountainous and filled to the brim with hippies. Turns out that came true too, but in a whole different way. Since 1996, I've taught in a low-residency program at Goddard College in central Vermont, which means I live in a small dorm room for 10-12 days twice a year, winter and summer. After so many years of doing this, I have my Vermont friends, favorite restaurants and coffeehouses, thrift stores and trails in the woods in Plainfield and Montpelier. But although I pay taxes in Vermont, I consider myself a Kansan.

How I got here can be traced to happenstance, the fear of starving as a poet, a hankering to go west without knowing where the west was, and, like everyone else I knew from my home state, an urge to leave New Jersey (we are, after all, “Born to Run”). When I graduated Manalapan High School at age 17 in 1977, I wanted to immerse myself in poetry, my great life love. I stumbled into my local community college, which turned out to be superb. Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ allowed (and still allows) students to study what they love most according to how they learn best. After graduating with an associates degree in poetry, and unduly influenced by my father's claim that as a poet I had only two ways to make a living -- advertising or journalism -- I chose journalism. The University of Missouri's journalism school had a great reputation, so I went. In 1979, I boarded a plane with my high school friend Kathy Guzda, who had moved there six months earlier, and our combined 17 pieces of luggage.

Geographical ignorance is the arrogant mark of people from the tri-state area (NY, NJ and PA), and I was no exception. I knew California was on the other side of the country, but like those New Yorker cartoons, I only had the vaguest idea about what was between New Jersey and California. Our flight was delayed, repeatedly, by a blizzard west of us, and in the end, it took us 19 hours to get to St. Louis with too much caffeine in our systems to close our eyes on that bus trip to Columbia. Once at Kathy's house, I went to sleep on her couch without any idea where I was. The next day, I moved to a dorm and prepared to finish my bachelor's degree in journalism. Then I would return to New Jersey, live near the ocean, marry my boyfriend back home, and write features for the Asbury Park Press in between moonlighting at poetry.

Tell god your plan, and she'll laugh - so goes the old saying. By the time I left Columbia, I had most of a history degree instead, specializing in women's labor history, and a minor in poetry, and I didn't have the Jersey boy anymore. Along the way, I studied with the always-tipsy sweetheart of a poet Tom McAfee, who was gentle and kind with me during our frequent meetings at the Tiger Hotel bar. The poems I wrote that were truly bad. I'm not being modest here. I wasn't born with a gift for poetry, but through years of writing like a maniac, I learned poetry. Back in Columbia, I was agonizing over just the right way to say things like “You are the rose to my thorns.”

So what does a person who studied women's labor history and poetry do with her degree? She ends up a grassroots political organizer. In 1981, I started writing for a labor newspaper in Kansas City, moved on to coordinate a statewide coalition of groups advocating for renewable energy until our coalition lost all its funding, and met a surprising benefactor (a character in the Ozarks who liked my naïveté and attitude), who gave money to a nonprofit group to hire me. The Citizen/Labor Energy Coalition brought together alternative energy groups with labor unions to work for policy reform. We were outrageously ahead of our time, pushing for natural gas regulation, conservation projects, wind energy and many other forms of making a lighter carbon footprint on the earth.

Given the politics of the moment, the coalition had me run a campaign to turn around Kansas congressman Jim Slattery's vote on natural gas deregulation. Our organization backed my efforts with canvassers going door to door, enticing people to call the congressman over several months. Meanwhile, I drove each week from where I lived in Kansas City, Missouri, to Topeka in a friend's falling apart Dodge Dart so I could march into the Topeka Building Trades hall, and visit each union office about the campaign. Most of the union leaders just laughed at me or rolled their eyes. I looked younger than my 22 years, I still had much more New York and New Jersey in me than Kansas and Missouri, and the flowing hippie skirts didn't help. Plus, this campaign was supported by their national offices, not by what their local members needed.

Everything changed after I debated the public affairs director of Standard Oil on public television. Having been well-prepared with how to rebut whatever he might say, the debate went very well for me. The next day, the union leaders were waiting for me at their doors, thrilled I had been on television, and ready to do anything for the campaign. Within a week, Slattery voted against natural gas deregulation, but winning one battle didn't win the war. Gas was deregulated, and many other things changed, not the least of which was me, mainly because of a stop in Lawrence.

In May of 1982, I was with my friend Ira on our way to the first Kansas Area Watershed (KAW) Council gathering, a weekend bringing together people interested in renewable energy, health and wellness, and local culture. Ira and I were talking so much and so fast that we missed the exit from the city to I-70, missed it again, then a third time. We had planned to stop in Lawrence, a place I never visited before, on the way to the gathering, but by the time we got to Lawrence, we were so enchanted with a festival going on in South Park, then a concert at Liberty Hall featuring the band Tofu Teddy, that we decided to stay overnight at the friend of a friend's house.

Walking up the steps of that bungalow to the front door, something happened that changed my life forever. A voice, one I felt with my whole being rather than actually heard, over my right shoulder said, “This is your home for the rest of your life.” The next morning I met Ken, the man I would marry and some of the people who would become my closest friends.