My Kansas author for the month of August, 2001, is Harley Elliott.

Picture of Harley Elliott_____Cover of The Monkey of Mulberry Pass

                                                 Photograph by Patricia Traxler                                              Cover Design by Tammany Devine

Harley Elliott is a poet and painter who lives in Salina, Kansas, and is currently Coordinator of Education at the Salina Art Center.  Over the years he has published several books of poetry, a memoir, Loading the Stone, and two novels, Pink Jade and The Ruby Zone, in a 4-novel series of "Social Science Fiction."

But the book of poetry he did for The Woodley Press, in 1991, was The Monkey of Mulberry Pass.

The editor of that book, Tom Averill, asked these questions (on the Woodley Press web site):

What is a monkey doing in central Kansas during the cattle days of the 1870s?  Does Mulberry Pass still exist?  And the limestone house that once attracted businessmen, railroad workers and cowboys--is it still there?

And then he provided these answers:

The monkey is the mascot of a house of prostitution, a limestone building along Mulberry Creek near Salina, Kansas.  This era of Kansas history still lives in Harley Elliott's The Monkey of Mulberry Pass. Harley Elliott writes more than fifty poems from JoJo the monkey's point of view; each is a sympathetic commentary on the animals--from humans to wolves--from an animal's point of view.

And these comments on his friend:

Harley Elliott, a Salina poet with eight published books, has long been interested in the relationships between people and their natural environment, especially animals. One of his books, Animals That Stand in Dreams, is an exploration of that relationship. Another book, Darkness at Each Elbow, explores the Kansas past, helps the reader to truly see the Kansas environment, and celebrates both our human and animal natures.

Harley Elliott is also a visual artist, and taught at Marymount College in Salina before that school was closed by the Catholic Church.  He now works for the Salina Arts Council.  His poems have the feel of the visual, the tactile, the sensory.  They are laid out visually, so that line breaks and stanza breaks do the work of punctuation.  Also, like many Kansas poems, they see into physical place as a vehicle for exploring the past and its relationship to the present.  The Monkey of Mulberry Pass is Kansas history from one of the most unique perspectives in our literary history.

Then he presents the first poem in the book (see that Woodley Press web site for that poem, and for ordering information on The Monkey of Mulberry Pass).  But (to give you two of the poems free) I here present my favorite:

THE IRISH GUITAR
Railroad workers gone farmers
replacing dirt houses with stone
the Irish who have not
yet drawn women
come here to be men

struggling to best each other
with the finest basket
of potatoes in the valley
choicest of the corn
raccoons didn't want.

Homely James brings a guitar
to help him sing
the fate of Roddy McCorley
or murder by the river Ohio.

Before going upstairs
with Dora each time
he turns big shoes big jaw
big ears to me and winks.

"JoJo this here is an
Irish guitar
now don't you let no one
play it who ain't Irish."

Martha puts it in the closet
away from the eyes
of any ranch hand who
might show up
drunk and mistakenly
thinking he is Irish.


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