Denise Lea (Dotson) Low (1949 - )
a fifth-generation Kansan, Denise Low writes verse that references the
history and environmental concerns of this region. She grew up at the edge
of Emporia, where the Flint Hills and town meet. Early experiences were with
wildlife, grasslands plants, weather, and home gardens of the area. She
learned to plant tomatoes every summer, and nothing store-boughten can
compare to their flavor. From William Allen White, William Stafford, and
William S. Burroughs, she learned the variety of Midwestern experiences and
the idioms of those literary traditions.
Like Stafford, Low is conscious of time as another dimension, which has its
own cycles, more recursive than linear. Transformation, rather than static
grief, characterizes this elegy to her mother. A “columbarium” is a cemetery
for people who have been cremated. The poem is a study in contrasts: cold
and sun; brick and ash; organic and mineral; sky and earth; animate and
inanimate; grief and joy. These oppositions constantly shift.
Cold sun brings this mourning season to an end,
one year since my mother’s death. Last winter thaw
my brother shoveled clay-dirt, she called it “gumbo,”
over powdery substance the crematorium sent us,
not her, but fine, lightened granules—all else
rendered into invisible elements. That handful
from the pouch, un-boxed, was tucked into plotted soil,
the churchyard columbarium, under a brass plaque
and brick retaining wall, as semblance of permanence.
Now my mother is a garden—lilies and chrysanthemums
feeding from that slight, dampened, decomposing ash.
Her voice stilled. One ruddy robin in the grass, dipping.
Denise Low earned BA and MA degrees in English (University of Kansas 1971,
1974) and an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University (1984).
In 1997 she completed a PhD at the University of Kansas in English.
Low has taught and been an administrator at Haskell Indian Nations
University for 25 years. She also has been Visiting Professor at the
University of Richmond and KU. She has written and edited more than 20 books
of poetry and prose. From 2007-2009 she served as Kansas Poet Laureate. She
is on the national board of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs. Her
awards include NEH, Lannan, KAC, and Poetry Society of America recognition.
Her websites are
Books are available through
© 2009 Denise Low AAPP 36. ©2009 Denise Low “Columbarium
Garden” ©2007 Tim Janicke photograph