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Poetry in the Garden: Meet our New Poetry Editor Beth Gulley

I'm so honored to share with you all a bit about Beth Gulley. On a Monday afternoon in this crazy heat, I drove past fields of head-high corn and the bluest July skies down to "the studio" in our North Kansas City warehouse office by the muddy ol' Missouri River. Beth and I, despite those pesky COVID masks, enjoyed some time sitting across a beat-up table, talking about poetry. We are now welcoming Beth as one of our poetry jurors and onto our amazing editorial team of volunteers that are helping to launch our press. She has written a guest blog for us below about Poetry in the Garden, but I first wanted to share a little bit more about her work so far.

Beth Gulley lives in Kansas City and teaches writing at Johnson County Community College. She has an MA from UMKC and a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. Her poems also appear in the Bards Against Hunger Anthology, From Everywhere a Little: A Migration Anthology, the Thorny Locust, and The Gasconade Review Presents: Storm A’Comin’. She loves thrift store shopping, traveling, and drinking coffee.

When I asked about Beth's most recent publications, she told me about her recently published chapbook "$!*# Hole Countries: A Find and Replace Meditation," inspired by her love of the beautiful places and the little moments. Beth grew up in the U.S., Ecuador, and Paraguay. Her work as a professor has also taken her around the world, meeting educators. In 2018, the quote that inspired the title of her book, and the associated block on travel, occurred while she was on a cross-cultural exchange trip in Pakistan with other faculty from Johnson County Community College. Beth shared with me her emotions on hearing whole parts of the world debased by profanity, when her continued reality was one of beautiful and priceless experiences of both growing up and sharing in an international community of educators. Beth is one of those fierce and gentle poets who works by action and carefully chosen words. So, you'll have to check out her new book to find out what happened with her exercise to meditate on these incandescent moments of place with poetry. She told me she wrote mostly about El Salvador, Pakistan, Kenya, and a few others.

When I asked about Beth's writing process, she said she enjoys writing with the 365 Days Poetry group on Facebook, and she loves to work in form—often Japanese forms—like the Tanka. She is excited to be published in an upcoming issue of Gasconade Review, "Letters to a Young Poet," by Spartan Press and the Osage Arts Community in Belleview, MO. The biannual Gasconade Review features Kevin Rabas, former poet laureate of KS, and is coordinated by Jason Ryberg of the Osage Arts community. Beth admits that, while her husband also teaches writing, does a daily writing prompt with flash fiction or portions of a novella with a friend online, she likes to write by hand, or sometimes in her phone. "I draft it, move it around, and edit it. Share it with Family. I have a little writing spot in what is supposed to be a sunroom. Drink coffee. Black, or sit outside and write by hand...There is something visceral about writing in a notebook with a pen—a tangible record for a later moment. I can go back later and say, 'there is a good seed in this poem.'"

Beth is not one to let things go by. During the summer, she rented some garden plots at Paola Community Garden. She started doing yoga in the garden, then met with the garden organizer, and told her she'd love to host a writing event. Below is the description of the first one; the second writing in the garden is scheduled for September. I don't know about you, but I plan to be doing writing in the garden on my own homestead, or in the park nearby maybe for the rest of the...year.


Writing with Crickets by Beth Gulley


On the second Thursday night in July at the Paola Community Garden, I give in to the heat and put my hair up in a ponytail. People begin to gather. I’ve met most of them before, but many of them are visiting the garden for the first time. We all anticipate an hour of writing silently in our own pocket of shade. This is the first Writer’s Retreat at the garden.

I make introductions, hand out prompts, and offer pens. I’ve brought composition sized notebooks for anyone who wants one, but all the writers brought their own supplies tonight. Clearly, they all brought their own writing agendas to our meeting. The writers disperse after a quick invocation using a Ted Kooser poem from Winter Morning Walks.

The quarry road tumbles toward me

out of the early morning darkness,

lustrous with frost, an unrolled bolt

of softly glowing fabric, interwoven

with tiny glass beads on silver thread,

the cloth spilled out and then lovingly

smoothed by my father’s hand

as he stands behind his wooden counter

(dark as these fields) at Tilden’s Store

so many years ago. “Here,” he says smiling,

“you can make something special with these.”

Two ladies sit together in the shade formed between the blackberry patch and the grape arbor. My mother settles down just outside the prayer garden. Two other writers make their way to picnic tables near the road. A latecomer finds her way to the flat shady spot near the potting shed.

I choose a table in front of the plots rented out to individual gardeners. The “nice lady” in me can’t settle down until I’m sure all the writers I’ve invited here are content. I look around, and the other writers are bent over notebooks (or secretly picking fruit off the vine), so I turn to my own notebook. As sometimes happens, my mind blanks out just as I open it.

I printed four pages of writing prompts, and I rely on them now. Some of them are poetry forms, some are from a blog assignment I give my college students, and some come from a journaling book called The Daily Spark. Since I don’t know what to write, I start answering the journal prompt “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” I write a brief and messy meditation on the benefits of flying, and my blank spell is broken.

While we are writing, gardeners come through to weed, water, and pick blackberries. They don’t seem concerned about the writers spread around the grounds. Their chatter doesn’t seem to bother the writers either. I go back to the prompts and try a few poetry forms I haven’t used in a while.

Here is my attempt at an acrostic:

Late afternoon light

obscures the necklace.

Silver glints gone.

Token torn, forgotten.

Then I tried a Tanka to reflect the sounds of the garden:

Birds chirp louder than

the army helicopter

buzzing the garden.

Birds whistle, settle down now,

tell the bunnies it will pass.

I look at my phone and realize it is time to wrap up. The other writers gather back at the shelter house. Several of them share excerpts of their writing with the group. We end with a Naomi Shihab Nye poem.

Crickets Welcome Me to Japan

All night they strum

their tuneless tunes

cousins of the crickets I heard

long ago in the corner of my room

I know the stories

to carry them out, not to crush them

and the small cages they are kept in

for good luck

but tonight I understand them

for the first time

after all my flying over water

the long tipped hours, the stretched-out light

they are saying, Slow down

slow down

We told you this long ago

but you forgot

We pack up the folding chairs and snitch one more blackberry. It is time to leave the garden. All the writers want to come back in the fall when we can wear sweaters instead of scrounging for shade. As for me, I will remember a little longer this time what the crickets said. Slow down, slow down.

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