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May 28th, 2023

poet laureate traci brimhallCourtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


The need for creative arts continues to increase, and recently, the State of Kansas made an announcement in regard to just that. 

Thursday, Gov. Laura Kelly announced the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission (KCAIC) selected Traci Brimhall as the 2023-2026 Poet Laureate of Kansas. Brimhall, a professor and Director of Creative Writing at Kansas State University, will become the state’s eighth Poet Laureate when her four-year term begins Jan. 1. 

“Supporting and celebrating poetry is essential to preserving our state’s rich history for future generations,” Gov. Kelly noted in the State of Kansas release. “That’s why I’m glad Traci will be our next Kansas Poet Laureate. Her passion and introspection make her the perfect advocate for poetry and the arts.” 

“The arts not only mold the quality of life in Kansas communities but color the palette of both local and state economies,” Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce David Toland noted in the State of Kansas release. “Traci Brimhall’s exceptional talent and her willingness to share it with the people of Kansas is a wonderful gift.” 

Brimhall said she was excited to get the news. 

“I knew I was a finalist, and I will say all the other finalists are amazingly talented and wonderful people, so I knew I had gotten to that point, and it was only a few weeks ago when I got the phone call letting me know I was named Kansas Poet Laureate. And then it was only last week when the news was made public, so I'm just really excited,” Brimhall said. “I was doing an exhibit at the public library in Winfield about a mental health facility that used to be there, so I had to jump right back into talking about mental health history in Kansas with those people, so I had to concentrate on that before I could really let myself realize what was going on. I've noticed at times of celebration/big news, it's a rather inconvenient time for that to take place, and it wasn't until a little while later when I let the news really sink in so I could process. I say to my son all the time 'You have to open up your happiness tank so that happiness gets in there' because you have to let yourself find joy and pride and find time to celebrate.”

Brimhall is the author of four poetry collections, most recently “Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod.” Her poems have appeared in publications including The New Yorker, Poetry, Orion, and Best American Poetry. She received the 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Poetry, among other awards. As Brimhall tells it, poetry has long been a part of her life. 

“I feel like I've always been writing because even when I was young I really liked writing poetry and reading and all of that. However, I didn't really call myself a poet until I was about 24 or 25 and thought 'This is it, this is what I want to do!'” Brimhall said. “That's when I felt a high level of passion about it instead of considering it just a hobby. I've published four books of poetry, with my most recent book being 'Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod,' which was released in 2020. I currently teach creative writing at Kansas State University and have been teaching there for nine years, and Kansas is the longest place I've lived anywhere because I was a bit of a nomad for a long time. One of the reasons I like poetry, and one of the reasons I think it's so special, is it's an art form that makes me feel less alone. When I read other people's poems, I feel connected to them, and I hope people who read my work feel the same way. Poetry has so much honesty and vulnerability, and I feel it's a great way for people to express their feelings.”

Brimhall added becoming a teacher was not always in her plans. 

“I will admit teaching wasn't always in my plan, I always felt like my path would remain on the creative side and being a poet full time. I also was never really a standout student when I was in school myself, so the thought never really occurred to me to be the one at the head of a classroom,” Brimhall said. “However, I had to work really hard to get myself to the level I'm at, and since there was so much I learned along the way as far as writing and flow and all of that, I realized I understood how to teach and share what I know. I've found for people who are naturally good at something, it can be hard for them to teach their particular skill set since they didn't have to struggle as much, but I figured I could show how I learned to do things since I did have that struggle starting out. I also really like helping people and all of that, and teaching is a great way to fulfill that – when someone applies something you taught them to an assignment or project, there's almost no better feeling.”

For her, Brimhall said the writing process is very enjoyable. 

“It's wonderful when I'm working on a project and then something just comes out that just absolutely surprises me. There have been times I've been working on something and then it goes in a surprisingly different direction than I had originally intended, and it always makes me think 'Oh WOW, I hadn't thought of that before!'” Brimhall said. “And there have also been times when those types of projects have led me to some extra research that also yields some surprises. I love learning about the world, and that level of discovery is always so much fun. There's a beauty in that part of the process, and I love when those moments happen.”

Brimhall said she is excited to travel throughout the state in her new position. 

“One of the things I found magical about moving to Kansas was growing vegetables for the first time, that's something I had never been able to do before, so it means a lot to be able to plant something of my own. I love to connect food and poetry, so I've been thinking of some ways I could do that. I love writing food poems for people, and I also teach Maya Angelou's 'Cookbook of Literature' in my classes, because food is such a sensory experience as far as tastes and smells and all of that,” Brimhall said. “A lot of times with poetry, poets focus on the visual, but food's a great way to connect people with their senses while writing, and it's also a great way to bring back some memories because everyone has a favorite recipe from a family member or friend. I'd love to do some kind of wine and chocolate event for like Valentine's Day and pair that with reading some love poems or something like that, or maybe do a food drive to celebrate the arts, because I feel like there are a lot of connections there. Kansas is one of the largest food producers, and we have that to be proud of, and I'd love to connect that with people. Like I said earlier, poetry is a great connector, so I'm looking forward to meeting people and hearing their thoughts on poetry and just getting to know other areas of the state.”