Michael Poage

While I still intend to feature another Kansas writer on this home page each month, I am taking a new tack in 2002.  I plan to pass the presentation on to someone who may know the featured writer better than I do, to begin with other members of the board of The Woodley Press.  To initiate this series, for January of 2002,  Denise Low-Weso, last year's Woodley Press  president and this year's vice-president and manuscript selection committee chairperson, will present Michael Poage, who is a Woodley Press author, his The Gospel of Mary, edited with an Introduction by Denise, published by The Woodley Press in 1997, but he has more recently published another book of poetry, god won't overlook us, with the  Penthe Press in Lawrence, Kansas (2001), again edited with an Introduction by Denise.

Cover of The Gospel of Mary___Picture of Michael Poage___Cover of god won't overlook us

Michael Poage_____________

By Denise Low-Weso:

    Michael Poage comes to Kansas by way of the legendary 1970s Montana University creative writing department that included Richard Hugo, Madeline DeFrees, and William Kitteridge.  Many remarkable writers developed in this mix, including James Welch, Art Homer, Richard Robbins, Carol Ann Russell, and many others.  Poage received an MFA from this program.
    Poage left Montana to study at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, where he received a divinity degree, and he has held positions in Congregational churches in Council Grove, Lawrence, and Wichita.  This varied background contributes to a sophisticated stance, with secular and religious perspectives.
    Poage published books in two phases:  first Black Stone Press in San Francisco, which published BORN and Handbook of Ornament in the 1970s; and then recent books from Kansas presses.  Woodley published Gospel of Mary (1997), and Penthe, in Lawrence, published god won’t overlook us (2001).
    Throughout his writings, Poage explores the mystery of human incarnation.  His poems are oblique, like the lessons of life, so readers must shapeshift along with the images.  The reward is a dimension of words imbued with spirit.
    The Black Stone Press books are out of print, but they show Poage’s concern with encryption.  The terse pieces are alphabetic hieroglyphs--encoded symbols that turn back into themselves, with reversals and interior voices, like “The History of Hair” from Handbook of Ornament:

Daylight is more
Than I asked for.

The ground covered us
Like cold sleep
Falling around
Our ears.

The narrative is fragments:  Who is “us” in the second stanza, if not lovers?  Is daylight birth?  Like runes, the answers are hints, not full disclosures.
    The Gospel of Mary, published almost 20 years later, collects poems of longer lines and more exposed landscape.  His residence in Kansas traces a path through the poems, as well as coastline landscapes.  The poems incarnate Poage’s own version of the biblical Mary; she is a character formed and reformed by prayers, gospels, stories, icons, and saints.  Poage’s words make her yet another incarnation, a distant lady of sorrows and joys.
    The new book, god won’t overlook us, opens the spray of blossoms a bit wider.  Poems appear within stories, nearly completed and more fully sketched. Individuals are more distinct, as well as the geography, which moves from the Balkans to the Mideast to Wichita.  The voices morph as well, from a spider comparing his web to lightning to a therapy patient.  Recursive images continue, among the haunting monologues.
    The range of these poems is astonishing.  Poage retains his sense of mystery while expanding the motion through multiple voices and shifting geographies.  Sorrow is overcome by wonder. He walks us through the setting of his grandfather’s small town, now a Kansas ghost town where the movie theater is open to cottonwood trees and a creek.  Yet the generations continue, with wife and daughter.  The physical world, of individual people and individual sites, has its beauty, beyond the stories and beyond the fragile words.  This poet uncovers an underlying layer of spirit and finds, even in the most dire situation, a fierce joy.

you hear the distant train
as you stretch
out on the bed
in the darkness
the air conditioner
cooling your skin
like rain
out on the street
and just by the look
in your voice
it is clear
you will soon be off
to see the music
for yourself

These books are available from: Michael Poage,1655 Farimount, Wichita, KS 67208.