Alumna with passion for poetry named Kansas Poet Laureate

Contact: Meghan Behymer

TOPEKA, Kan.—Dr. Traci Brimhall, a Western Michigan University alumna, has made a career out of her passion for poetry. And, now, the entire state of Kansas is ready to hear her.

Dr. Traci Brimhall

Brimhall, a Kansas State University professor, was recently named Kansas Poet Laureate for 2023-2026, a prestigious post awarded by the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission to promote the arts as a public resource.

"Poetry is the thing that helped me be where my feet are. It helps keep me alive and aware of myself and deeply present in the world," says Brimhall. "I’m looking forward to going into all sorts of communities and making genuine connections with people through poetry."

As the newly-appointed Poet Laureate of Kansas, Brimhall will take charge of public readings, workshops, lectures and presentations that will benefit communities throughout the state. Her vision for the laureateship includes fostering connections with Kansans through the power of language, Kansas' agricultural heritage and food.

"While Kansas is the 7th-largest food producer in the U.S., it's also really high in food insecurity. So I started thinking about how I could use the laureateship to both talk about food insecurity and connect communities through food," says Brimhall. "Focusing on food just seems like such a joyful way to share language and poetry."

As an avid baker, Brimhall personally understands the importance of the connection between food and other aspects of life. She values it so much that she incorporates it into her "Literature and the Body" course, where students read Maya Angelou's cookbook "Hallelujah! The Welcome Table" as a means to engage their senses, a useful technique for both cooking and poetry. 

While Brimhall views the laureateship as a natural extension of her passions and practices in the classroom, she also takes to heart the words of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca that "a poet must be a professor of the five senses" as she begins this prestigious position.

"Everybody has some connection with food—like the smell that reminds you of your grandmother or food that is tied to culture or important moments in your life. Poetry is the act of taking these senses and crafting them into art people can connect with," says Brimhall.

With her four-year term already underway as of January 1, 2023, Brimhall will connect with communities as poet laureate in various ways, including working with the high school Poetry Out Loud competition, engaging with county fairs throughout Kansas, collaborating with the tourism board and simply serving as a person who can connect others through poetry.

In addition to being a professor and poet laureate, Brimhall is also an accomplished author of several collections of poetry since she graduated in 2014 with a Ph.D. from Western’s Department of English. Her most recent collection, "Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod," was published in 2020 by Copper Canyon Press.

"We're both blown away and not at all surprised that Traci has received such a prestigious honor so early in her career," says Dr. Todd Kuchta, Department of English chair. "She was an absolute superstar when she was a student here, and we're sure this isn't the last we'll be hearing of her amazing accomplishments."

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