Drawing on Kansas background, poet leads students in workshops

Mary Pinard shares a poem from her book, "Portal," about the passing of her brother during a tugboat accident. She creates pieces centered on loss and love through the usage and symbolism of the prairie. (Katelin Woods | Collegian Media Group) Photo credit: Katelin Woods

“Poets are the most powerful people in the universe,” Mary Pinard, poet and professor of English at Babson College, said during her reading in the Ekdhal room of Regnier Hall on Wednesday.

Pinard’s poems are centered on the Flint Hills; she is connected to the area because her late husband was born in Kansas, and she’s also served as the poet in residence at the Volland Store in Alma, Kansas.

That connection to the prairie came in handy as Pinard led workshops for students in landscape architecture and English on campus this week.

On Tuesday, as part of Design Day in the landscape architecture and regional & community planning department, Pinard focused on ekphrastic poetry, or poetry that has an emphasis on attention to detail and vividness.

Design Day was a “really glorious experience,” said Pinard. Students started out by writing haikus, then Pinard challenged them to flip the first and last lines.

Lorn Clement, associate professor of landscape architecture and regional and community planning, said even the simple process of flipping lines of poetry applies to design.

“Sometimes you move yourself to the other side of the table and look at it from the opposite side and making sure it reads both ways…you gain new insight,” Clement said.

Pinard’s time in architecture ended with groups of students taking different walking paths across campus and stopping to write or sketch at different locations based upon prompts she’d provided.

Pinard’s first workshop experience was followed up with an on campus reading of her work.

Many of Pinard’s poems prominently featured the prairie, as well as her own sense of loss. Pinard said being connected to the prairie means being connected to loss.

Her poems “Widow Seeing Widow Skimmer Dragonflies in the Flint Hills, Kansas” and “Letter with Ruptures” both explored that connection.

To end her reading, Pinard read a poem titled “All that is Tilled,” which featured the line, “Then again my heart might be a prairie.”

To finish her visit to campus, Pinard led a workshop on Thursday morning for students students studying poetry in the English department.

Pinard’s plan was to lead a workshop en plein air, which would take students outside into nature and challenge them as writers; however, the rain thwarted that plan, so students instead positioned themselves in front of windows and doors to examine the outside world, before reconvening in their classroom.

Anna Meyer, graduate student in English, said she had “never thought about doing en plein air writing before,” but she wants to continue using in the future to grow as a writer.

Pinard had students use their observations to create poems in different forms and gave them prompts to write more poems outside of class based on the experience.

“It was an embrace of risk taking,” Pinard said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Pinard’s brother’s cause of death in the cutline of the lead photo. Pinard’s brother died in a tugboat accident.

I'm Macy Davis a former Collegian culture editor and a 2019 graduate in English. When I was not reading and writing (both for class and for fun), I was also a member of the nationally ranked K-State speech team.