Kevin Rabas, the 2017- 2019 Kansas poet laureate and chair of Emporia State’s English, modern language and journalism department, read his poem “Kansas Awakening” at Gov. Laura Kelly’s inauguration on Jan. 14 in Topeka.
This is the second time that a poet was invited to read a poem at an inauguration in Kansas history after the early 2000s.
It’s significant that they’ve brought back a tradition of having a reading, according to Michael Smith, professor of political science.
“The interesting thing is the decision to have a poetry reading,” Smith said. “Of course, we know that at the universities and even more so in the K-12 schools in Kansas that…there’s been a lot of budget cuts so it’s nice to recognize the arts, because the arts have been having a hard time of it in Kansas.”
“Kansas Awakening” is a short poem but it packed a lot of things, and it also touched on so many things, and it’s a gift, according to Smith.
“It was wonderful,” Rabas said. “It was a great honor to be able to be a part of governor elects Laura Kelly’s inauguration ceremony. It shows that she supports and honors the art of humanities.”
“Kansas Awakening” is about Kansans working for a better Kansas, according to Rabas. In the poem, school kids are going to work and the farmer and people in the office are waking up to do their work.
“Here at the very beginning, there is a person running the fingers along the wheat whiskers, because wheat is important to Kansas,” Rabas said, “In many ways, it (wheat) makes Kansas. Without the ability to grow wheat, we wouldn’t be here.”
Kelly asked Rabas to write a poem about Kansas for the inauguration ceremony.
“I really think it’s a beautiful poem. I think it really captures all of the different types of people, environment and feeling of Kansas,” said Lisa Moritz, Rabas’s wife, and English adjunct instructor at Emporia State. “He worked on the poem over the course of several weeks.”