"Everyone who has been nourished by the soil and water of the Great Plains owes Denise Low a debt for giving voice so brilliantly to the kinship we all
feel for this country
Professor of English, Pittsburg State University
Ad Astra Project
grew up in the Flint Hills of Kansas, descended from British Isles,
German, and Native (Delaware and Cherokee) peoples. She is the
2007-2009 Kansas Poet Laureate, with over 20 published books of
poetry, personal essays, and scholarship, including Natural
Theologies (The Backwaters Press, 2011) and Ghost Stories: Poems
(Woodley 2010 and Kansas Notable Book Award winner).
For over 25 years
she taught at Haskell Indian Nations University, and she has been
visiting professor at the University of Kansas and University of
Richmond. She has awards from the NEH, Sequoyah National Research
Center, Lannan Foundation, The Newberry Library, Academy of American
Poets, and Ks. Arts Commission.
books include prose about Native and settler literatures of the
middle plains region. She is 2011-2012 president of the national
board of the Associated Writers & Writing Programs. Her web site is
www.deniselow.com , and she maintains a writing-related blog,
More on the
Low, the daughter of Francis Dotson and Dorothy (Bruner) Dotson, was born and grew up in Emporia, Kansas, within sight of the Flint Hills.
She is a 5th generation Kansan of mixed German, Scots, Lenape (Delaware), English, French, and Cherokee heritage.
Her father was the Democratic Party Lyon County chairman from the
1960s to the 1980s. As a child she remembers his lively discussions with William L. and Kathryn White of the Emporia Gazette and other Republican advocates.
Low began her writing career as a high school correspondent for the Gazette, like her brother David and sister Jane Ciabattari.
Her sister Jane is a well-known journalist and fiction writer in New York City.
Dr. Low holds bachelor’s,
master’s and doctoral degrees in English from the University of Kansas and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Wichita State University. She has published ten books of poetry and essays and received awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Lannan
Foundation, Kansas Arts Commission, Poetry Society of America and others. She also publishes reviews and articles about poetry and American Indian Literature.
Dr. Low followed the lead of the first Poet Laureate of Kansas, Jonathan Holden. Dr. Holden initiated a
dialogue with communities and schools across the state through televised poetry programs and other appearances.
Low continued adding to the Kansas Poets web site (www.kansaspoets.com),
created by Greg German, to engage writers and readers of Kansas poetry. In addition, she
wrote a weekly column featuring a Kansas poet for the web site, free to Kansas schools, libraries and arts organizations.
Ad Astra Project
Dr. Low resides in Lawrence and is married to Thomas Weso. Her children are David Low of Healdsburg, CA; Daniel Low of
Washington D.C.; and stepdaughter Pemecewan Fleuker of Lawrence.
*Permission is granted that this page's information can be used by others
to positively promote Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low.
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statement by Denise Low at the end of her 2 year term, June 30, 2009
"As a new poet laureate, I planned to make appearances and to create a series of
electronic poetry broadsides to disseminate to poets, arts organizations, libraries, and publications. I did not expect to take on such a broad role as an ambassador for poetry to colleges, arts centers, libraries, social service organizations, and churches. I
spoke on radio and television shows. I judged contests and ran my own series of contests for Poetry Month. In this time I discovered the profound hunger Kansans have for high-level communication. Poetry is not an easy art form, as it requires concentration, skill,
logic, and heart. It is the most intense form of literacy. I appreciate the chance to be part of the Kansas Arts Commission-sponsored effort to bring arts into daily lives of my fellow citizens."
...a statement from , by Denise Low at the beginning of her term, July 1
Dear Fellow Kansans,
To me, one of the most striking things about the poet laureate position is how unique it truly is. Despite electronic communications and commercialization, this quaint post still exists and indeed flourishes.
I wish there could be a laureate for each occupation. This uniqueness underscores how essential poetry is to the human spirit.
The poet laureate position has a long European history. A king’s poet or “versificator regis” was part
of a royal household. In 14th century Rome,
who invented a sonnet form, was made poet laureate. Richard the Lion-Hearted had a court poet, and Chaucer had a pension and allotment of wine to serve the court of Edward III. Edmund Spenser served Elizabeth I, and John Dryden was the first officially appointed
poet laureate. Ben Jonson in 1619 declined a pension and took his payment as wine allotments only, and no cash. So far the state of Kansas has not offered this option to me, nor have they offered cash beyond a modest stipend for related expenses. A Topeka radio
station disc jockey wondered just how much the state of Kansas was paying someone to be poet laureate, and believe me, it is not a salaried post. My state is known for being frugal.
In America, a position Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress was created in 1937, and Kansan and KU graduate
William Stafford held that position. In 1985 Congress changed the name to The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and their guidelines state: “During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater
appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.” The current U.S. poet laureate is
who spoke in Kansas City Jan. 24, 2007. Nebraskan Ted Kooser spoke at the University of Kansas and Kansas City in 2005-6, during his tenure as U.S. poet laureate. The American approach to national and state poet laureate position is to value individualism. The
United States laureate mission states: “Each Laureate brings a different emphasis to the position.” Various projects have included teaching school children, discussion of the African diaspora, poetry placed in public places such as airports and buses, and many other
forms. Most often public appearances in themselves raise public awareness, and I understand Ted Kooser made 100 appearances in a year.
There are poet laureates for cities, such as San Francisco. We could indeed create a poet laureate position
for Lawrence, Wichita, or any other community. Wikipedia maintains a current list of the thirty-nine state poet laureates.
The governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, appointed its first poet laureate, Jonathan Holden, 2005-2007. In
Kansas, the arts commissions stipulates: “The Poet Laureate program of Kansas is intended to serve the cultural tradition of officially recognizing a citizen poet of exceptional talent and accomplishment. The program will also encourage the appreciation of poetry in
Kansas by making the Poet Laureate available to a wider audience throughout the state.”
Holden, a distinguished professor at Kansas State University and friend for twenty-five years, addressed
the needs of the poet laureate position in terms of the size of this state, through a series of teleconferences. Holden summarized this project, on the
www.kansaspoets.com site: “To promote the practice of poetry in the state of Kansas, I propose a series of poetry readings and
conversations by and about Kansas poets. The Kansas Poets "Shoptalk" Series will consist of readings of contemporary poets, as well as readings and discussions of past Kansans, in order to provide an historical perspective. In this way, we can create a
Kansas-wide community of poets who have access for continued discussion and ‘shoptalk’ to the finest and most knowledgeable poets across the state no matter the location.”
This shoptalk series
had outlets in just about every larger town in Kansas. Some of these were videotaped and are available through the kansaspoets.com site. The site and Holden’s efforts provide resources for teachers and students of poetry.
My own plans are to continue some of Holden’s initiatives, including the kansaspoets.com website; a few
shoptalk sessions; participation in the second annual Kansas Book Fair in September and the first River City Book Fair in Lawrence (Oct. 2007); and personal appearances. I hope to be part of a poetry rendezvous in the Flint Hills that will feature the influence of
In addition, I have talked with the Center for Kansas Studies at Washburn University about an internet
and print media project that would result in an anthology of Kansas poets. The Kansas Ad Astra Poetry Project would begin with a weekly e-mailed poem by a Kansas poet, to be delivered to libraries, schools, and other subscribers and also published on the Kansas
Poets website. Libraries and schools would be encouraged to print out copies to post. I would select from living and historic poets and include short biography, the poem, and commentary. At the end of the term, the Center for Kansas Studies is interested in printing
the collection of these pieces as a representative publication of Kansas poets. This anthology can be distributed to school and public libraries across the state, according to the Center for Kansas Studies.
I have already begun, through encouragement of my women’s writers group, a blog, which lists
events, commentary, reviews, and poems, at
Poetry sustains our spirits and holds our communities together. It celebrates the land, our loves, and mourns
our losses. Words create our ability to survive. N. Scott Momaday named his autobiography, Man Made of Words, and I think that is our unique identity as human beings. We all are made of breath and flesh. Poetry binds these together.