The 19th-century English novelist George Eliot was reportedly no great beauty. One contemporary called the author of Middlemarch "exceedingly plain, with her aggressive jaw and her evasive blue eyes." Writer Henry James, who was an admirer, characterized her as "magnificently ugly, deliciously hideous."

A talk with a local visual and performing artist who has just released his first collection of poetry.


Chico Sierra has a reading on September 15 at the Raven Bookstore in Lawrence.


C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

Miguel M. Morales has been a writer his whole life, but he began to make it more than a hobby after joining Kansas City's Latino Writers Collective seven years ago (he recently finished a two-year term as the organization's president).

Morales says this summer's shootings at the Pulse nightclub "disrupted" his life in ways that will probably always affect his writing.

"This summer, in particular, has been very troubling, very violent — just one instance after another of violence, shootings, and massacres," he says.

Photo courtesy of Katherine Dumas

On June 30, Governor Jay Nixon appointed Aliki Barnstone as Missouri’s fourth Poet Laureate.

A creative writing professor at the University of Missouri–Columbia, her work has often appeared in UMKC’s New Letters magazine.  

The daughter of Greek visual artist, Elli Tzalopoulou-Barnstone, and American writer, Willis Barnstone, Aliki Barnstone was destined for a life in the arts.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City artist and writer José Faus was getting ready for bed when he first saw the video of Philando Castile's death at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota.

"There's sun coming in the car window," he remembers. "I see the glare, to the left the open window, the sky, the trees, the [gun] ... and then, the wound."

He says he will never forget the crimson of the blood against Castile's white shirt.

Courtesy Aliki Barnstone

Missouri has a new poet laureate: Aliki Barnstone, a professor of English at the University of Missouri-Columbia, appointed last week by Gov. Jay Nixon. Barnstone has published seven books of poetry; her first was published when she was 12; her eighth, Dwelling, is expected this fall.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Within ten minutes of his first day of school Juan Felipe Herrera was spanked, scolded, and left crying, all for speaking Spanish, the only language he knew. You wouldn't have guessed it then, but Herrera would grow up to be named the United States Poet Laureate. Twice.

His journey may never have happened if it weren't for his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Sampson.

"She said something that stayed with me for the rest of my life, and that I tell everyone I meet," Herrera said in an interview on KCUR's Up To Date, "you have a beautiful voice."

C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

Juan Felipe Herrera's official duty is to be the "lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans."

That's how the Library of Congress begins its job description for the United States poet laureate. In other words, the poet-in-chief "seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry."

Stephen Locke/Tempest Gallery

Storms in the Midwest can be dangerous, but there’s often beauty to be found in a streak of lightning or a billowing supercell.

"Chasing Weather," an exhibition at the Kansas City Public Library's downtown branch, combines 17 vivid storm photographs by Stephen Locke with poems by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Poets have a different way of looking at things. So for our year-in-review show, we decided to see what 2015 looks like in their rear view mirror. Four poets of color discuss: the three-word poem that is #BlackLivesMatter, the overlooked tragedy of Bobbi Kristina Brown, the lack of followup on kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, and closer to home, new positions in the arts and a victory for the Royals. Plus, new meaning in an old song


Lynn Wilson / Washburn University

As a teenager in Topeka, Kansas, Gary Jackson found solace from loss and loneliness in comic books, with a best friend named Stuart, and in putting his own pen to paper.

He captured those memories in a 2010 poetry collection called Missing You, Metropolis that won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a first-book award for "exceptional manuscripts by black poets."

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Iris Appelquist's latest collection of poems "where we were we were there" was published in March. It's the third book in Prospero's POP poetry series, releasing a chapbook each month by Kansas City area poets until the end of 2015. 

A Kansas City native, Appelquist is not only a poet — she's also a single mother. And the poems in the collection explore what she describes as "the mystifying process of personal growth."

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Eighth Street Tap Room, a bar at 8th and New Hampshire in Lawrence, Kansas, hosts poetry readings each month in a dimly lit basement. As poets take the stage, they're cast in a reddish light, with gold streamers as backdrop.

Sunday's event started with a short open mic session, and then three featured poets. The final reader of the night: Hadara Bar-Nadav, an associate professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Mike Wilson, of Independence, Missouri, has a hectic schedule — he works long hours as a mail delivery driver, and he's married with three kids (with one more on the way).

So Wilson sneaks in time to write when he can.

"Late, really really late, or really really early," he explains. "(I write) before they're awake, or when they're asleep, when I get home."

Wilson’s work has been published in literary magazines such as The Allegheny Review and Midwestern Gothic, as well as on Tweed’s fiction blog.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

"I think once you start writing — and you really love it — you can't stop doing it," says Andrew Gordon Rogers, who graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

"Every form that I can think of, you know I've tried short stories, poetry, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, and it's all fun to me." 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Monique Gabrielle Salazar is a writer, artist and musician. A member of the Latino Writers Collective, she’s also a self-described “collector of nostalgia.”

Here, she reads four poems in a series:

Next week, KU will host a Black Arts Poetry Conference, which will feature readings by poets Frank X. Walker and Kevin Young at the Black Archives of Mid-America. A poet and one of the conference organizers discuss the past, present and future of African American poetry.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Creative and commercial writer Lisa Stewart has traveled thousands of miles as a long-distance horseback rider, through the Rockies and the Midwest. In 2012, she took at 500-mile solo ride in Kansas and Missouri. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Spoken word artist and poet Jeanette Powers started writing at the age of 9. 

"I realized that in my imagination, I was completely free. There were no rules, there were no laws, and invention was everything," says Powers. 

"Writing has been the one thing that's been the thread throughout." 

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

Topeka poet Annette Hope Billings has described herself as a shy child who found her voice through theater productions at Topeka High School – but she didn’t fully devote herself to expressing that voice until after a long career as a nurse. After nearly forty years in that field, Billings retired earlier this year to concentrate on writing full-time. In March, the Topeka Capital-Journal wrote a profile of Billings.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Alan Robert Proctor has published fiction, essays and poetry, in journals such as New Letters and I-70 Review. He's also a poetry editor for Kansas City Voices.

Proctor says when he reads a poem out loud he always includes the title at the beginning — and at the end.

Courtesy of Iris Appelquist

my dearest and most sweet

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Sometimes it just takes one teacher to change everything. For Seann Weir, who studies English and creative writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, it was poet Michelle Boisseau and her "high demand of excellence."

"I took a class with Michelle Boisseau," says Weir, "which terrified me and taught me how bad my poems were, which I'm really grateful for." 

Now a senior at UMKC, Weir is due to graduate next semester — and, after that, he plans to explore graduate school. Here, Weir reads a poem titled "In Your City."

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Glenn North describes spoken word poetry as "in your face," using word play and slang. And he's gained a reputation as a performance poet, sharing the stage with poets like Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni. 

The community programs and education director at the Black Archives of Mid-America, North has worked with urban youth to develop their open mic skills, and encouraged them to write a style of poetry that's meant to be performed for an audience. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

 Artist José Faus, a native of Bogota, Colombia, is widely known for his colorful community murals in the Kansas City area, but he's also a poet, writer and playwright, and a founding member of the Latino Writers Collective.

Courtesy Paul Richardson

At the Gem Theater on Saturday night, the Louder Than A Bomb competition brought the top four spoken-word poetry teams from metro high schools up against one another for the last time this school year.

On Monday, after a win from the returning champs at Paseo High School, Central Standard host Gina Kaufmann spoke with Paul Richardson, a soon-to-be-former English teacher from Washington High School who is responsible for bringing Louder Than A Bomb to Kansas City. They talked about the culture of spoken-word competitions and explored why Richardson is leaving his position as a high school educator.

Below is a shortened and edited version of their conversation.

But first, here’s Saturday night’s winner: Alton Herron.

Courtesy Johnson County Library

Johnson County might not have a reputation as a hot spot for cultivating young poets. But that’s exactly what’s been happening for more than a decade now, thanks to some librarians.

Earlier this month, the Johnson County Library published the latest edition of Elementia, a gorgeous glossy magazine with original artwork and poetry by nearly 60 middle and high school students.

courtesy of the author

Andrés Rodríguez grew up in a working class family in Kansas City. For about two decades, his father’s job was at the Swift meatpacking plant – and one visit, as a young child, made a lasting impression. But Rodríguez says in writing poetry, there’s a fine line between memory and imagination.

"The paradox is that the more you imagine, the closer you come to the truth," says Rodríguez. "But I know that the experience that it's trying to get it is the letter and spirit of what happened."

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Poet Marcus Myers says he started to get serious about his writing about a decade ago, when he turned 30 — and set his sights on publishing in literary magazines. Myers and poet Brian Clifton now co-edit Bear Review, an online journal of poetry and micro prose.

Karen Matheis / Larryville Artists

Throughout the 1990s, Mark Hennessy was the frontman for the hard rock Lawrence band PAW. After the band broke up in 2000, Hennessy turned his focus to writing — and continued performing.

"I think performance of poetry offers opportunities to communicate in ways that the page just doesn't," says Hennessy.