Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Prairie Poet: A Kansas Day Tribute

Kansas celebrates her 158th birthday today, January 29. Unlike me, Kansas doesn't seem to mind counting each of her years.

Kansas poet May Williams Ward captured the essence of this state I call home with her poem, Sky Mountain. While I'm not usually a poetry fan, her poem spoke to my appreciation for Kansas, where I've lived my entire life. I illustrated her words with my photos in an earlier blog post. After harvest, I used the same poem for an entry in the Stafford County Fair's computer-manipulated division (see the photo at the top of this post). 

Ward lived for a time in Belpre in Edwards County, our neighbor to the west. Belpre isn't exactly a thriving metropolis.
May Williams Ward
Even though I'm sure it had more businesses and people a hundred years ago, I was even more intrigued by this young poet who harvested words in a small Kansas town, while her husband Merle collected the harvests of area farmers at the grain elevator his family owned.

While living in Belpre, Ward became editor of The Harp, a national poetry magazine. Last year, I discovered that the Hutchinson Public Library had added a book about Ward to its shelves. I get a weekly email from the Hutch library, which summarizes some of the new books in their collection. I couldn't believe the timing. I think I was probably the first patron to check it out.
Prairie Rhythms: The Life and Poetry of May Williams Ward was written by Lana Wirt Myers and published by Mammoth Publications in Lawrence.

William Allen White had this to say about Ward:
This Kansas poetress ... contributes to the most important magazines of verse and is easily the champion poet of Kansas. Her verse is beautiful, poignant, understanding. She excels because she is of the prairie. She takes her music out of her environment, winds, birds, the rhythm of the windmill, the Kansas scene. ...
 Literary correspondent Dorothy Brown Thompson wrote:
Why shouldn't more poets write about their own background instead of the isle of Capri sort of thing - especially an almost untouched field like our middle west? Probably because they don't see a sky mountain or the monstrous horn of a unicorn. You and William Allen White and John Stewart Curry give a three-faceted view of Kansas - utterly different but all true.
As I was reading her work, another of her poems struck a chord with me, and I remembered it again during wheat harvest.  Song Cycle: Farmer and Wheat placed fourth in a Kansas Authors Club poetry competition in 1921.

On this Kansas Day, here are more of Ward's words, with my photo illustrations, celebrating our Wheat State:

Wheat Farmer  (A Sequence)

I. Scene 

My valley is covered with riches
Gold wheat in the soft breeze blown;
More golden than gold itself for it blends
Two golds, the sun's and its own.

II. Action
I worked and I sweat and somehow
The complex rhythms of toil
Made contact that brought forth the beaded wheat
From the wedding of seed and soil.
It was magic. Moreover, provided
By the cunning planning of men
There was a miracle machine
For the working of magic again
The intricate harvester-thresher.
It slid though the yellowed field
Cut and winnowed and threshed and cleaned
And weighed and measured the yield

 Tons of my wheat at the market
Enough to cargo a ship
Has its bulk compressed (by magic again)
To a narrow paper slip
And so I pocketed my wheat crop.
With power to transmute it at will
Into heat and clothing and food and books
And a new white house on the hill;
But a part I shall change into solid coin
For something heavy to hold
A tangible weight to remind me
Of my labor turned into gold.

III. Gift
Wife, do you know what I dreamed last night?
I dreamed I sweat drops like dew
And they turned into gold and I gathered them up
And gave them to you.
Happy 158th birthday, Kansas! You sure look good to me!
Today, I get to spend part of my day reading my farm counting book to Kinley's first grade class in Manhattan and sharing these Kansas sunflower cookies I made. (Recipe to come in a future blog.)  It sounds like the perfect way to celebrate!


  1. How lovely to celebrate with your Granddaughter.

    1. We had a great day! There were lots of questions and comments from curious 1st graders.