My Kansas writer for September is Stephen Meats,
whose book of poetry,
Looking for the Pale Eagle,
was published by The Woodley Press in 1993.

Picture of Stephen Meats_____Cover of Looking for the Pale Eagle

Stephen Meats comes from small-town Kansas, was born in LeRoy (613), and grew up in Concordia (5,706).  He was educated at Kansas State University and the University of South Carolina.  Then, since 1979, he has been a teacher of literature and writing, and an administrator, at Pittsburg State University, where, since 1985, he has been poetry editor of The Midwest Quarterly.  According to the comment at the end of Looking for the Pale Eagle, the principle influences he acknowledges on his own poetry are the Kansas plains and the Florida gulf coast in all weathers, the sacred spirit of the wild creatures of the plains and gulf coast, his family history, the poetry of Duane Locke and Robert Bly, and other such elemental forces.

From the Editor's Introduction:

        Stephen Meats' poems are bolts of lightning or Zen satroris (awakenings).  They flash with adventurous images and juxtapositions.  Take the description of two redbirds in "False Spring":

Each dawn, like blood
returning again and again to the heart,
cardinal and mate
return to the feeder nailed to the sycamore.
Here human circulation echoes instinctive patterns of birds, in a conceit reminiscent of John Donne.  The color red is implicit in blood, heart, and cardinal, adding another level of sensory experience.  In "A Child Falls Asleep," the creaking of a stock tank windmill becomes a father "limping/ across the pasture/ toward home."  With these unexpected turns, the poet reworks landscape around him into his own world of events.
        The language is never static.  Most of the poems are lyrical descriptions, but Meats expresses them as motion, as seen in the surprises od "These Country Towns": The willow fringed river/ to the south wraps about the bluffs like a shawl."  Midwestern poetry sometimes is called understated, even flat like the landscape, but the poet does not write quietly here.  He calls attention to the action of observation.  His dynamic is not the still earth, but the shiftings of winds and seasons, and more so, the shifts of the human mind.  In "A Change of Seasons" he turns winter into a boy leaning against a window, "looking for someone to take him in."  The summer sun flows upward, not down, in "bright ribbons."
        Midwesterners will recognize some of the sights, including landmarks of southeastern Kansas, but Meats transforms ordinary places into settings for magical fables.  He explains the origins of lawn mowers and how a woman's breasts are like "grassfires watched/ from high windows."  He travels from an elephant stampede in Sumatra in "Elephants Attack Village," to the days of the Italian inquisition, in "If the Inquisition Had Come to Coffee."  He streches the imagination as far as it will go, then skillfully returns to familiar places.  But on return, something is oddly altered, like furniture rearranged.
        Connoisseurs of poetry will appreciate Meats' control of language, honed from his years as an editor and writer.  Line breaks adjust smoothly to follow content, and each poem is plotted to be a seamless whole.  Newcomers to poetry will appreciate the high wire somersaults in the imagery, like when a cormorant "dives and pulls the day/ down with it into the sea" in "A Day at Indian Rocks Beach."  Words move on the page and take on life.  These are not poems for spectators, but poems for readers ready to participate in exploration of new territory.
                                                                       --Denise Low, Haskell Indian Nations University

If you are interested in more information on the book (including purchasing instructions), see the page describing it on
The Woodley Press Web Site, which presents the poem  "Counting the Colors of Sycamores" to show how Meats associates the life of the tree, and the cosmos, with a larger sense of "color," and comments on how, although many of the poems include familiar sights--hay bales, crows, and fields--Meats also describes the semi-rural life of a small town, but, most of all, "writes about the possibilities of the human mind, as we follow him on fantastic voyages of language."

I offer here, as my choice for best sample of his work, the title poem:

Looking for the Pale Eagle

The world is winking
at us all the time.

Take for example
that red-winged blackbird
we have admired and
grown tired of admiring
poised on the up-curve
of cat-tail stems
in every watery ditch
from Idaho to Florida.
One day on a drive to Wichita
I saw that thousandth
or ten thousandth blackbird.

From below its crimson epaulet
aglint of yellow winked at me.

Sunlight sang
across the ditch water.
I remembered the polished turning
of plowed ground near Dyersburg,
the light-edged scales
of a moccasin sunning
on a cypress log
in the Combahee,
the pale eagle rising
in the moon's face.

Wind through the car
windows laughed at me.
See--it was always there.
All you had to do
was look--and look--
and keep on looking.
 


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