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Helen Rhoda Hoopes

Helen Rhoda Hoopes

contemporary ks poetry

sunflowers


 

 

 

 

Biography  
          

In 1949, two years after Helen Rhoda Hoopes retired from the English Department of the University of Kansas,The Sour Owl, a KU publication, wrote: "She probably was best described by one of her former students when he said, 'She looks like my grandmother - but she talks like my roommate.'"

From 1914 to 1947, Hoopes was one of the best-known teachers on the KU campus. Some knew her for her reputation for swearing in class; some for her intolerance of late comers; some for her rapier wit; some for her professed preference for male over female students; some for her role in helping found the Gamma Phi Beta sorority chapter on campus; some for her founding of the KU Quill Club, or for founding Pi Lambda Theta, which becamse a national teacher's honorary society, or for founding Theta Sigma Phi, a women's journalism society which also became a national organization. As an undergraduate, Hoopes had been the first woman to edit the University Daily Kansan, though because women were not allowed to be official editors, her name did not appear on the mast head.

People in Lawrence remember her for her letters to the editor, often rhymed; for her articles on KU-related subjects; for her engagements as a speaker and reader before many civic groups; for her activities in a play-reading group and on KU’s stage; for her founding of the Kansas Poetry Society; for her presence in Dorothy Marsh’s Book Nook Book Store; and for her constant poetry contributions to the “Starbeams” column of the Kansas City Star from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Hoopes was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on August 1, 1878.  Before arriving at Lawrence to study at KU, she took degrees from an oratorical and then a music school.  Once in Lawrence, she stayed.  An undergraduate at age 30, she received first a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 1913, then an M.A. in English in 1914, writing a master’s thesis on Harriet and Sophia Lee, women novelists of the 18th century.  She later took a summer at Harvard and another in Europe.  From 1914-1947, she was an Assistant Professor.  She lived at 1046 Ohio until her parents’ deaths, then moved to 1801 Mississippi, then to 1330 Rhode Island.  Her last years were spent at the Lawrence Manor Nursing Care Center, where she died on September 6, 1973.

Always, Helen Rhoda Hoopes was busy, actively exercising her capacity for wit and humor, for flamboyant classroom teaching, and for writing the poetry which ranged from classical themes to humorous verse about her own life:

            Compensation

A Spinster has a sad, sad, life;
    She walks always alone;
Unaided, quite, she mounts a bus
   Or climbs the curbing stone.

She works for every cent she earns,
   In every kind of weather,
Yet never manages to buy
   New shoes and gloves together.

She has few friend, and never gets
   Invited out to dinner;
There’s not soul to care a whit
   If she be fat or thinner.

Her life is full of sorrow; yes,
   But when you’ve said the worst,
Remember this: the paper’s her;
   She gets to read it first.

Not only was Hoopes a poet (she was the third Kansas poet selected to attend the McDowell Colony), but she encouraged the writing and publication of poetry by others.  In 1927, she edited Contemporary Kansas Poetry, an anthology of Kansas verse.  That same year, she wrote a poem about poetry in Kansas:

            Wisdom of Pine Trees

Three beautiful pine trees
Grew on the brink of a gully
In Kansas.

They were tall, with wide, out-reaching branches
Bent at angles delightfully irregular.
Their needles were green and flexible and resinous.
Their trunks were brown and straight,
Just as the trunks of pine trees ought to be;
Except that, like the Parthenon,
They curved enough to make them perfect.
Their cones, like pineapples, were marvels of overlappings,
Neat yet intricate.
And yet, because these lofty conifers
Grew on the brink of an untidy gully
In the vicinity of crumbling houses, ugly as influenza,
Nobody saw their soft green overwhelming beauty
Except me.

The wisdom of pine trees is to grow
Where a gardener can find them when they are slim and small
And easily transplantable.
Then they will march majestically
Before the mansions of the very rich
Together with roses and magnolias
And other attributes of a hand-decorated lawn
On which a cultivated child or two
May dance decorously.

Pine trees that grow on the gnawed brink
Of dirty gullies in the state of Kansas
Merely have poems written about them:
Poems that are never read.

Though seemingly pessimistic about the state of poetry in the state of Kansas, Hoopes did much to make sure that Kansas poems were published and read.  Two years after the publication of Contemporary Kansas Poetry, she was one of the editors of the Kansas number of The Troubadour, a national poetry magazine, and all of ther life she encouraged the writing and reading of poetry in her many talks, in her membership in the Kansas Authors Club, and in her activities with the Kansas Poetry Society.  Kansas landscape and history, in fact, stimulated her own poems:

            Rock City

The wide blue sky, with three small clouds.
Fields level and green, or furrowed brown.
A sweep of trees hemming the horizon
The Kansas sun, oblivious to all but duty.
Grain elevators, far off, like white castles
Of beleaguered towns.  And here before us,
Dwarfing the car, lie heaps of mud
Which once swirled in a mad dance
On the floor of a great ocean,
And were hardened by the witch of time.
Rock City, we call it now.
It frightens us with time long past.
Watch the wild oats blow softly in the wind
As we drive safely back into modernity.

Helen Rhoda Hoopes never collected her poetry in a volume, though she left many fine poems.  She may be, in fact, best remembered for the way in which she seized upon life.  In a story about a high school girl, very much like herself, in bed after graduation exercises are over, Hoopes wrote:

           "Suddenly, she thought of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow: all the days and weeks and months and years that lay beyond this night.  She must face them alone.  There was only life ahead of her.  Her back was to the wall.  Then she remembered something Uncle Duck had read to Papa out of the evening apper, before she as graduated.  Perhaps it would do almost as well as a prayer.  She stared at the darkness, which not even the wallpaper roses could pierce.  Though she could not see the roses on the latticed walls, she saw, or thought she saw, Life.  She smiled at Life, and murmured, 'You may fire when ready, Gridley.'”

Hoopes fired many a salvo at life in her 95 years; she seemed always ready.  Her readiness, her personal style, her character, all live on as much as her poetry in the people who knew her.  One thing is sure, Hoopes never failed to inspire comment—this from the Outlook of September 30, 1943:

Jalopy Almost Rolled the Hoopes

It was a breath taking moment when Helen Rhoda Hoopes, professor of English at the University, argued priorities with a student jalopy at a campus intersection.  Could the car stop?  Would it hit her?  Would she jump?  Spectators were frozen in their tracks while perspiration streamed from their brows.  That’s how close it was.  Everything and everybody stopped but the car and Miss Hoopes.  She won by the rheumatic groan of a joint on the old car.  Prof. Ashton of the English department was the first spectator to recover his speech.  “I was never so scared for a car’s bumper in my life,” he observed as the campus came back to life.

In her introduction to Contemporary Kansas Poetry, Hoopes repeats Carlyle’s phrase: “We are all poets when we read poetry well.”  Hoopes herself was always involved in the reading and evaluation of poetry, particularly local poetry.  In editing Contemporary Kansas Poetry, she saw herself as continuing a tradition.  Her introduction cites both Songs from the Hill, an anthology of KU verse published in 1911, and Sunflowers, a broader anthology of Kansas poetry first published by the Journal World company in Lawrence, then reprinted by McClurg & Co., Chicago.  She writes: “In the decade since (Sunflowers)…the poets of Kansas have continued the task of discovering the beauties, great and small, of the state which they call home.”  Hoopes helped foster this discovery and by publishing in local markets-especially in The Harp, a Kansas-based poetry magazine with a national reputation edited by May Williams Ward, and in Kansas Magazine, published by Kansas State University from 1933-1967, when it became Kansas Quarterly.  These publications, many of them on specific Kansas themes, make Hoopes of special interest to anyone exploring local literature.


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Published Work  
 

Edited:

Contemporary Kansas Poetry, Lawrence, KS.: Franklin Watts-The Book Nook, 1927, 137 pp.

Selected work:
from Kansas Magazine:

Value, 1933, p. 85
True Lover, 1933, p. 17
The Flitting of Elisabetta, (story), 1934, p. 62
Demeter in Kansas, 1936, p. 28
Chronicle of a New Sisyphus, 1935, p. 19

from The Harp:

A La Carte, Vol 3, No 3, 1927-28, p. 14
Wisdom of Pine Trees, Vol 3, No 4. , 1927-28, p. 9
Woodcuts of Kansas, Vol 3, No 6, 1927-28, p. 18
Tea-Drinking, Vol 5, No 3, 1929-30, p. 9
Sudden Conversion, Vol 5, No 4, 1929-30, p. 14
Separation, Vol 5, No 4, 1929-30, p. 14

from Jayhawk:

Prairie Imprisoned, Vol 2, No 5, May 1929, p. 149
And After Russia, Kansas, Vol 2 No 7, July 1929, p. 194

from The Troubadour:

April Encounter, Vol 2, First Winter Number, December 1929, No 5, p. 8

Hoopes' work also appeared in American Poetry Magazine, Bozart, Lyric West, Contemporary Verse, Youth's Companion, Wichita Eagle, Christian Century, University Review and in the "Starbeams" column of the Kansas City Star throughout the 1920s, '30s, '40s and '50s.


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"The Flitting of Elisabetta," A Fantasy by Helen Rhoda Hoopes  
 

Christmas has wrought great changes in our house. The idea originated, of course, with Madame Heloise; but Elisabetta professes herself to be well satisfied.

Ever since she came here from Chicago, a year ago, Elisabetta has stood on the top of the maple desk, poised on a white china button, her lace skirt flaring from the waist of a pink bodice, her blonde braids bound with a blue ribbon. One plump arm balanced on a sturdy shoulder a basket brimming over with yellow fruit.

She led a pleasant life. In the morning, she was protected from the rays of the sun by the Dresden china candlestick on her right; and in the afternoon, by the Marie Antoinette comport on her left. Elisabetta called it her umbrella. At night Elisabetta was very quiet. She was a good girl.

So matters went until this year's Christmas packages bagan to arrive. From one of these emerged a Lady, delicate, languid, soignee, and very, very French. Old-fashioned? Mais non; of a modernity, absolutement. As the tissue paper wrappings fell away from her dainty figure, she patted into place a platinum blonde lock, shook a lavender flounce, puffed out a green pannier, crossed her wee blue slippers on a purple hassock and leaned a dimpled elbow on the tasseled cushion of the arm of her chair. "Sauterne," she murmured in Parisian accents; "et petits fours." Only with difficulty was she prevailed upon to accept instead a cup of tea. But before she took a sip of the liquid, she pointed to her lovely cheek. "Am I pale?" she asked, and was happy to be assured that the rose had not faded from her cheek nor the coral from her perfect lips.

Refreshed, she looked about her. "Chinoiscric?" she queried sharply, as she glanced at the lacquer lamp. "And this brass tray? It is of a strangeness. I do not like it, me. It does not become me. Move me," she said, slanting her eyes this way and that; "move me, quickly to the yellow desk."

"If Madame Heloise could persuade Elisabetta--"

Madame solved the problem effortlessly.

"My little cabbage," she called softly across the intervening space. From the top of the desk, Elisabetta turned on her a bright blue eye. "Quelle dommage!" Madame continued, with an air of sweet concern. "Thy lace petticoat will gather dust, and that pretty forget-me-not at thy waist will be dimmed and darkened."

Elisabetta shifted her heavy basket of fruit and gave her lace ruffles a little flirt. She sniffed. Dusty? Her? She sniffed again, more purposefully. A suspicion wrinkled her little round china nose. "Maybe I ought to be under glass," she said, politely.

"But, yes," agreed Madame Heloise. "The book-shelf, perhaps? Charmant!"

Elisabetta faced the shelf behind the bookcase door, and thoughtfully considered the lad and lass from Staffordshire, dancing in the hay, and the blue Delft fish, nibbling his tail. "I think I'd like it, over there," she said, and in a trice the change was made.

Settled comfortably in her new location, Madame Heloise looked appreciatively from one objet d'art to the other. "The Marie Antoinette pattern," she commented. She did not call the comport an umbrella. Then she gave a silvery cry of delight. "This rug, on which I find my chair? They are of a delicacy, these pastel colors; pink, green, blue, lavender. What is it that it is?"

"A tiny serape," she was told; "from old Mexico."

"Tres chic," she replied; "and is there one, too, for Monsieur Abelard?--Bien.--And where is Monsieur? Why is he not here to welcome me?

"He is for the moment delayed on a large shelf in Omaha. This has come for Madame."

"Une petite lettre?"

"A telegram."

Bits of yellow envelope fluttered about Madame's china chair, as she read:

Omaha, Nebraska, January, 1934.
Madame Heloise:
My treasure: Leaving Omaha by
plane today at 12:55 stop arrive Kansas City at three stop to Lawrence on the five o'clock Santa Fe stop dinner at seven stop love stop Abelard.

Madame counted the words despairingly. "He might have omitted 'love'," she sighed. She waved a white hand. "Place Monsieur here at my right," she directed, and sipped her tea.

From her shelf behind the glass door of the bookcase, Elisabetta surveyed her stiff flounces complacently. Now, her lace would stay white and her forget-me-nots pretty and blue forever. Elisabetta had her back against Ibsen's Ghosts, but she was none the wiser and none the worse.

The room was very peaceful, awaiting the arrival of Monsieur Abelard from Omaha.

-Kansas Magazine, 1934


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Poems  
 

Stars Over Wichita

The tea room, done in Spanish style,
Echoed to syllables of social chatter.
The waitress, in peach-colored muslin,
Was Beatrice Lillie done by goya.
(She knew she looked like Lady Peel
And made the most of it.)

Three ladies threw back their furs,
And ordered consommé,
With Russian salad, black tea with lemon,
And pineapple mousse.
A nibble at a thin wafer
Brought their luncheon to a delicate close.
A brief immersion of polished nails in clear water;
A regulated tip for Lady Peel;
Deft dabs of perfumed powder;
Fur closely drawn; departure.
The motor purred like a sleek, tawny cat.

In the new theater rose Spanish walls, vine-draped;
Clouds of a sunset, moonrise tint
Veiled a blue sky where small stars
Twinkled so artfully
That only by a little did they miss the splendor
Of being real…

Outside, above the roof, an early winter dusk revealed
Dazzle of stars;
Stars over Wichita; stars that, not many years ago,
Bathed in their brightness blackened campfires,
Bleaching bones,
The rust of shattered firearms,
And the low graves of anguished women,
Dying alone to bear the sons of pioneers.

- Kansas City Star

No Greater Marvel

I know the famous wonders of the world.
I have stood near the fragments of the Mausoleum,
And I have gazed at a tall massive pillar
Of the great temple
Built for the huntress-goddess
By Ephesian laborers.
I have seen the Nile,
And watched Vesuvius plume the sky
Above the bay at Napoli.
Twice have I heard Niagra,
And knelt along the grassy edges of the Sister Isles
That try in vain to guard the precipice.
I have crossed Thames and Arno,
And watched the ripples of the peat-brown river Doon.
I lingered on the bridge of Henri Quatre,
Above the Seine;
For a dull, fever-stricken day and night
I slowly steamed along the broad yellow waters
Of the Mississippi.
I punctured the Rhine with the broad solidity
Of the Dom at Koln;
And wept to see the loveliness of Milan
Pierce the sky;
And I have seen small perfect shrines at Pisa,
And at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This is a world to wonder at.
A world to live in thankfully;
Yet there is no great need to look afar for marvels:
On a green campus curving along a hill in Kansas.
A score of young folk, girls and boys, one summer day,
Emerged from a gray old doorway.
Shepherded by a quiet-spreaking man,
They walked about, looking at trees and shrubs,
But seeing God.
There is no greater marvel in the world,
If only we will see it so.

Demeter in Kansas

A Kansas sun blazed over a small frame house,
Or Kansas stars burned steadily overhead,
Or Kansas rain dripped blessedly
From over hanging eaves to garden plots,
When we were born;
Yet we still say, "Out here," as if exiled from home
We must forget our forebears' heritage of mountains, hills,
Rocks dashed with ocean spray, green wooded isles,
Clear inland lakes, deep rivers running to the sea,
Huge rocks, bright streams, and shallow water falls.
The prairie is our mother.
She brushed off her fringe of waving grasses;
She wrapped about her a girdle of golden wheat;
Yellow corn dropped from her fingers;
She warmed in her broad bosom
Our cities and our little towns.
We must live happily between horizons
Level and blue;
We must love sun and wind and sand,
And find waves only in ripples of wheat,
And gold in its garnered store.
We must travel miles of geometric roads;
And lay our weary limbs at last
In the brown embrace of prairie earth,
One with Demeter and eternity.

-Kansas Magazine (1936)


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Links
 

Read "Winter Twilight on the Victory Highway," a poem written by Hoopes, on Blue Skyways, a service of the Kansas State Library.

Contents of Contemporary Kansas Poetry, edited by Hoopes, on Blue Skyways.

The Spencer Research Library on the University of Kansas campus houses a Helen Rhoda Hoopes collection.


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