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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg uses her position as poet laureate to build community

  • If you’re a poet laureate in England, you write a poem every time a member of the royal family gets married, has a baby or wins a battle. The job is a little bit different in Kansas.

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  • If you’re a poet laureate in England, you write a poem every time a member of the royal family gets married, has a baby or wins a battle. The job is a little bit different in Kansas.
    “I have written occasional poems, for the state’s 150th anniversary, for the inauguration of the University of Kansas chancellor,” said Kansas poet laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg during a telephone interview. “But more of my job has focused on reaching out to other people across the state to lift up the literary arts.”
    Mirriam-Goldberg will present a free public reading at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Governor’s Room of the Overman Student Center, Pittsburg State University. Her reading will be part of the PSU Distinguished Visiting Writers Series, sponsored by the  PSU English department and the Student Fee Council.
    Most states have a poet laureate, and Mirriam-Goldberg said that most of them use poetry for community building across their states.
    She has been doing this in a variety of ways, including editing “Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems,” published by the Woodley Press. Poets from across the state contributed to this collection in honor of the Kansas sesquecentennial.
    “A big, healthy group of wonderful Pittsburg poets are in that book,” Mirriam-Goldberg said.
    Now in progress is “To the Stars Through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices,” which is scheduled to be published in December by Mammoth Publications.
    “A renga is a Japanese form in which one person writes a few lines, then another person writes a few lines,” the poet laureate said.
    Mirriam-Goldberg has also had a poetry pen pal project and conducted writing workshops.
    “There’s been a whole swathe of projects,” she said.
    She did face one challenge in all this. The poet laureate program was sponsored through the Kansas Arts Commission. which Mirriam-Goldberg explained was “kind of dissolved” by Gov. Sam Brownback.
    “For about 17 months I carried the poet laureate project in my pocket,” Mirriam-Goldberg said. “As of last month the Kansas Humanities Council now houses the program.”
    Her term as poet laureate will expire in April or May, and a call will be sent out for a new poet laureate.
    “We just had an advisory meeting to talk about the selection process,” Mirriam-Goldberg said.
    She’ll still have plenty to keep her writing after her term is over. She’s the founder of Transformative Language Arts at Goddard College, where she teaches, and is facilitator of Brave Voice workshops.
    Mirriam-Goldberg recently published her first novel, “The Divorce Girl, and will be reading from it on Thursday.
    “I’ve worked on it for the past 16 years,” she said. “I’ve got a Holocaust book coming out that I’ve worked on the last five years.”
    Page 2 of 2 - She said that she’s also written a memoir.
    “I write in a lot of different genres, and don’t really think of it as a different process,” Mirriam-Goldberg said. “I kind of follow what’s on top. When it comes to writing time, I focus on what I think I can write best at that time. If I get stuck on one thing, I’ll go on to another thing.”
    She believes that writing can be a good thing for everybody to do at some time in life, noting that many write when they’re younger and then drop it as they become more occupied with jobs, raising families, etc.
    “I find it’s important for a lot of people to get back to writing later in their life,” she said. “I’m constantly encouraging people to get their stories out. There’s a hunger to put our stories out there.”
    Thanks to the advent of self-publishing, that’s much easier to do.
    “The tools for getting the words out are now in everybody’s hands,” Mirriam-Goldberg said.
    She’s not a Kansas native, but grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey, and is saddened that so much of the Jersey shore she knew was demolished by Superstorm Sandy.
    “I’ve lived in Kansas for 30 years,” she said.
    Following Mirriam-Goldberg’s reading will be a reception in the Heritage Room, and copies of her books will be available for purchase.

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