Magazine article World Literature Today

The Life of Water: Herman Hill Park Water Center | Wichita, Kansas

Magazine article World Literature Today

The Life of Water: Herman Hill Park Water Center | Wichita, Kansas

Article excerpt

The official size of Herman Hill Park today is listed as thirty-three acres, and it is home to an eighteen-hole disc golf course, a modest playground, a police substation, and a water treatment facility that cleanses 1.2 million gallons of water daily-an impressively large structure. Chris Cherches, a former Wichita city manager, had the visionary idea of using this treatment facility as the core of what could become a public gathering place of pleasant parkland vistas, with an education center and a small museum devoted to water-specific ecology issues. I was brought on board to contribute poetry that would be appropriate to the vision of the project, poetry for walls and for freestanding bases scattered throughout the park.

I was delighted that the city cared to incorporate a version of literary language into a public, community space. (I imagined this would have the happy approval of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir.)

The Art Institute of Chicago has a seventeenth- century Japanese six-panel screen by Tosa Mitsuoki, Autumn Maples with Poem Slips. Seventeen vertically long sheets of paper, clearly bearing text, are suspended from a tree that's rich in dusky-yellow and umber fall colors, and these sheets of paper appear to sway in a light breeze. Clearly they're artifice; and yet they're holistic with their natural environment and look as if they could also be the elegant pods of exotic fruits. They bear words into landscape even as they become part of the landscape. It's something of this spirit that I hoped to bring to Herman Hill Park.

Here are some examples of the nine poems I provided. The longest piece is on a plaque set into a boulder at the southwest entrance and is meant to serve as an introduction to the park:

The geology-water exists among stones.

The mythology-water exists in hearts.

We're born of them. We're born

of all of the waters:

the Genesis-water, and the Darwin-water,

the water that turns the mill,

as well as the theoretical water in clouds. …

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