Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

An Interview with Denise Low

Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

An Interview with Denise Low

Article excerpt

On the afternoon of May 8, 1998, William Sheldon sat with Denise Low, in her backyard in Lawrence, Kansas, to talk with her about her writing and about writing in Kansas. Following these excerpts from that interview is a more recent follow-up interview conducted soon after Denise teas selected to be the second Poet Laureate of Kansas.

WS: Could you talk about how you found your way to writing, and poetry specifically?

LOW: I've thought about that, writing in general. I grew up in a small town in Kansas--Emporia--where there weren't a lot of distractions, but there was a lot of respect for books and reading. I didn't have television until I was twelve. My parents, by these days' standards, certainly sheltered me. I was at home most of the time, or carefully taken to certain things and brought back, but really, there weren't after-school activities like now. Actually, I was pretty athletic. I would have loved to have been involved with sports, but there were none for young women or girls. So, we were at home, we were in the neighborhood. A big event was to go to the library. One of the other things, too, was that William Allen White's memory was still in Emporia. His son was running The Gazette, and he was having his career as a novelist, writing the memoirs, Journey for Margaret. You'd see his editorials in the paper every week. I only met him a few times, but it was the sense that, "'Wow, that's a good thing to do."

WS: How about poetry?

LOW: And there I think you do just have a turn of mind for it. Because although my grandmother had written poetry, she wasn't around doing that. She'd come into town and do other things with me. As a teenager, I do remember her bringing Tung dynasty poets and some of the Japanese poets--she really loved Asian poets--and that was an influence which is better than, say, the Jerry Springer show.

WS: Do you remember a point at which you felt like, "Hey, I'm a writer now"?

LOW: It's more a yearning. And maybe I still have that. Maybe that's something that keeps me still a novice, with still a sense of learning about life through language, which I think poetry really is in many ways. But I do remember Jim Williams, my junior high school English teacher, bringing in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and that in order to be cool or something, I should know what that was. He presented it as something kind of exciting. And I liked the modernist themes.

WS: Now that you teach creative writing, is that a process that you find has any influence on your own writing?

LOW: Teaching in general to me, whether it's creative writing or literature, is a chance to engage in meditative contact with someone else's language--which always feeds me and energizes me--as well as to be involved with other people. You know writing can be pretty lonely [laughs]. I'm really kind of stuck having a lot of needs for solitude and a lot of needs for people, and for me, teaching is really a good balance.

WS: In your books, it's obvious that you not only have a conscious, very knowledgeable, appreciation of this state, but also a very spiritual awareness of the state, too. Was that something that was developed, do you think, or have you always had an affinity for this place?

LOW: I think that place is something that somehow in my family we did admire. My father was kind of rebellious, anti-establishment in his own way. He was a Democrat in Kansas. You understand what that means. And so I was encouraged to look at things on my own. And actually, I was brought up in a Congregational Church, which also encourages individuality and more of the intellectual--you know, the Scripture, if it's metaphorical, what does that mean? How does that apply to your life?--rather than a fundamentalist way or ritualized way. And I kind of missed that ritual. You know, I'd go into a Catholic church, and boy it was so lush and beautiful. I missed the aesthetics. …

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