“For there are more poets, painters, and pianists to the acre in Kinsley than any place west of Indiana.” Hutchinson News, October 7, 1937
People usually think of western Kansans as being hard-working, practical farmers and ranchers, not poets. But six years ago, I decided to research what was behind the above quotation for a program in April celebrating National Poetry Month. It certainly proved to be true.
Among the many amateur poets who live here in the first half of the 20th Century, there were two well-known professional poets: May Williams Ward (1882-1975) and Nell Lewis Woods (1889-1959).
May Ward was not native to Edwards County. She came to Belpre with her husband in 1921 and stayed until 1933. She often came to Kinsley to meet with the other lady poets and to attend Ward Family gatherings at the Fravel House (816 E. Second St.). Gladys Fravel was married to Vernon Ward, May Ward’s brother-in-law. One can imagine the parties going on in this grand house in the 1920s. (The house was originally built by Alfred Hobbs and is now owned by the Bill Brokars.)
May Ward wrote poetry and edited “The Harp” a national poetry magazine. Ward created over 300 poems which were published in 35 magazines, including Life and The Saturday Evening Post.
Nell Woods came to Kinsley as a toddler and graduated from Kinsley High School in 1908. She married Rex Woods, Sr. that same year. By 1926, she had published over 75 poems and over 200 columns for the Kansas City Star under the banner of “Over the Back Fence”. She was syndicated in the Baltimore News, the New York Sun, the New York Tribune, and the St. Louis Dispatch from 1928-1947. The columns were collected into a book by the same title in 1929
You can learn more about these ladies and eight other local poets by visiting the “Prairie Poets” link in the left menu on the library homepage: www.kinsleylibrary.info. You’ll be able to see the ladies’ pictures, learn where they lived in Kinsley and a little about their lives, read some of their poetry and view their tombstones in Hillside Cemetery.
During these last days of April, I invite you to take a few minutes to celebrate National Poetry Month, 2020, by enjoying Mary Williams Ward’s sonnet celebrating the season.
“Spring Day in Kansas” This is a day like days in a story book With glitter in the air that glorifies The edge and tip of every leaf, and lies In pools of mirror strangeness on the brook. Pale trees are deeply shadowed with the look Of rendezvous, and clouds like turrets rise. This is a day for knights and their emprise. Treasure seems probably in any nook. And I am not a changeling in the tale. My ears feel pointed. I can talk in rhyme Today, and know what birds say in their song. I'll find a next, I know, here in the swale. And over this next hill that I shall climb, The lover I have waited for so long.