Jonathan Holden



Jonathan Holden



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Jonathan Holden has been recognized as one of America's foremost poets. He is a University Distinguished Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas. And, in July 2005, was appointed the First Poet Laureate of Kansas.

As poet-in-residence, Holden is available as a resource to students and members of the community who might seek his guidance for their literary ventures. To be a poet-in-residence at a university, the author has to have published a great deal of work and won various awards. Jon Holden has won numerous awards, with prizes ranging up to $20,000. Twice he has received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. In 1995, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa chose Holden's poetry collection, "The Sublime," for the Vassar Miller Prize.

Jon Holden has published 17 books, all monographs, in addition to more than 190 poems published in professional journals. In 1986, he received the Kansas State University Distinguished Faculty Award. In 2000, he was a member of the committee that selects the Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry.

Holden earned his bachelor's degree in 1963 in English from Oberlin College, his master's degree in 1970 in English with creative writing from San Francisco State College, and his doctorate in 1974 in English from the University of Colorado. He has been at K-State since 1978.

Kansas Fair

There can be no such thing as a "normal life" until

every oppressor swine has ransomed with his

blood the blood of this brave lad.

               FROM AN I. R. A. FUNERAL EULOGY


Sorefooted, sunburnt, I escape

the hot pelt of the crowd for a little

shade, to watch from the sidelines

people trading places A baby,

eyes bugging, bobs by in its knapsack.

An old couple, in pursuit

of something severe and private,

hesitate, then find their narrow

seam through the traffic.

And as I sit there, pulled

by the argument of every smell—

­cigar smoke, french fries, suntan oil—

­by the whole, complex, bittersweet

scent of the gathered human—I wonder

what it would take to convert

these farm hands with mustard streaks

on their beards, so they might believe

in history.  A scuffle?  An explosion?

The helicopter, a dark locust swarm

spinning down over the trees?

I do not believe in one history,

but that among us the believers

are the dangerous ones.

Their minds are elsewhere.

When they eye a crowd from the side

they are counting the bodies.

And that it's lucky to be in the shade,

to be so prodigally bored,

resting one's feet, certain that

all this afternoon and the next, nothing

important will happen.



Western Meadowlark


Through the open car window

seven needles in a haystack


snatched by ear out of the moving

prairie, like you

already fading, passed, gone.


If I could find it, it would be

points of sunlight glancing

off a brooch so near shades

of gold in these moving

grasses I could scarcely distinguish

it from the grasses. Like you

it is always gone.



The bird pulled it off like a string

of catches on this flying

trapeze which keeps swinging

back. If birds' songs simply mean

I’m here! I’m here!

then why a song so baroque?

How many notes did it have?

Which notes were extra?


In the Beatles' "Blackbird"

you again hear a meadowlark, its song

canned as the slow-motion replay

of a pass-reception on TV:

Love studied into pornography,


The bird falls off a see-saw,


hesitates, picks itself

back up on the rising board,

completes its song.

It does it again.


I prefer the song that eludes me,

this one which we are passing,

banjo music picked out

through wind and distance

already falling behind


gone and not gone.

                                             —for Ana



















All poetry on this page
© by Jonathan Holden
, 2006 




Enthroned like the captain of a ship

astride the bridge, I hold

the John Deere 7700 combine steady

on course southward straight

into the tide, hold unswervingly, hard

on the far shore. From this altitude

the world's been reduced to two

by long division - blond or blue - it's minimal,

the blondness dazzling, so impossible

it hurts, the field below almost

a fathom deep, transparent, pure sunlight

flashing over surfaces of water, its brilliance

eddying, crossed by whitecaps, cat's-paws,

its surface undulates for miles, it parts and heals

itself, it seethes, a shifting brightness, foaming

in a surf, its tresses sexual, glittering

in riffles, kneeling as I ride them. High

in my throbbing, air-conditioned cab

I'm so detached, I could laugh

at the clichés I learned in Social Studies,

"breadbasket of the nation," and those documentaries,

"The Story of Steel," "The Story of Coal,"

duller than my teachers, who were

immutable, balding, broken-down adults, all

plagiarists reciting faithfully their pages

of official facts. I understand now

why farmers so stubbornly remain.

Swinging clockwise again around

the corner and lowering the header back

into the bays of waving wheat that shimmer now,

so pale, so Scandinavian, away, away, away

toward the horizon, I know why

farmers are such incurable romantics.

They count upon some central place

like this, where what a person makes

is tangible, valued by the bushel, where

an inch still costs a an inch—this place that must

sooner or later refute the solipsist.

                       — for Ruth Mortiz



Tornado Symptoms


As you step outdoors you'll enter a hot barn

with a moist haystack inside.

The cardinals will dart like embers, pierce

pierce your nerves with their bent sabres.

You'll be intimate with traffic for miles around.

But if you look up where the twigs

all stiffly point, you'll see silent

pandemonium, ugly rumors,

vagrant clouds loitering at loose ends.

It's a schizophrenic air.


By supper the sky will be uprooted,

a garden hopelessly gone to seed.

Gray broccoli will float by disconnected

from the ground, fat sooty toadstools,

a species you've never seen before,

will sprout beside swollen fungi

and other gray growths, strange weeds trailing

their severed roots, flowers the color

of bad bruises just opening into blossom,

slowly moving areas of combustion.

Even cauliflower as it rolls past

will be misshapen

before the forest comes






I like this low, comfortable kind

of conversation which the rain’s

been having with itself all day

as it goes about its business,

deftly assembling its tiny parts,

confident, in no great hurry,

discussing, perhaps, the different

gutters it has seen, the taste of rust

in New York, the rust in Chicago.

Or perhaps comparing notes

about the finer points of roofs,

where best to creep to find

flaws in asphalt shingles,

or maybe it’s murmuring in rain-jargon

over different grades of redwood,

the rate they rot.  No end of stories

that it could be telling—

the drudgery of cycling in a monsoon,

monotony of equatorial assignments,

the same steamy party each afternoon.

Or maybe the gossip’s of some great

typhoon, the melee of another

grand convention.  Or is it muttering

about the way some thunderstorms

rig their elections, the social

life of rain in some bayou,

as the rain keeps up its quiet

shoptalk—the level, reassuring

talk of people who are comfortable

again, sure what they’re doing,

graceful in their work, and accurate,

serious in the way that rain

is serious,

given over to their task

of touching the world.


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