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Background Image Poet Laureate of Kansas Kevin Rabas

Writing for the Event: Bring Back the Occasional Poem

By Kevin Rabas, Poet Laureate of Kansas™, 2017-2019

Before the drugstore greeting card, I imagine folks wrote their own poems for occasions—for birthdays, weddings, going-away parties, valentines, anniversaries, funerals. I’d like to bring that tradition back. I’d like us to write each other commemoratives, not just as art, but as simple, sincere communications from the heart.

A poem written for an occasion, or “occasional poem,” has an unerring, essential, (sometimes urgent) purpose, as strong as a check or deed. It’s like a love letter at a relationship’s start. Everything might depend upon it. The poem’s meant to be read like a check is meant to be deposited or spent, and I like that about the occasional poem, that it is emotional, intellectual currency. The poem must be read, must be put to use, usually at once.

The public immediacy of a certain type of occasional poem is another draw. When the poem is written for a birthday or wedding or funeral, the poem is often meant to be read in front of a crowd, as a poem instead of a speech. The poem is meant to be heard and savored by the group. The poem has a public (vs. private) purpose. No one can say such a poem is obscure or “difficult” or garroted away somewhere offstage. The poem is in the spotlight. The poem has the lead role.

So, I hope we can return when we can to the occasional poem and its public role. I encourage you to write one. Skip the stop to the drugstore for a card. Make your own.

Here’s one I wrote for my Dad on Father’s Day:

Dear Dad,
you have taught me
to lift things, to hold things.
You’ve taught me every game I know.
And I owe you, I give you
every swished basket, every smoked bluerock,
every moved sofa.
I do them in your honor
with your blood in my muscles,
your grip in my fingers,
along my thumb,
and in the center of my palm—

muscle made for moving,
muscle made for gripping and for holding,
muscle made for balancing a ball
so that every part of the hand takes hold—

how we take hold
when we shake.

--Kevin Rabas, Poet Laureate of Kansas, 2017-2019



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