Kansas Poet Laureate Kevin Rabas presented poetry and accompanied himself on the snare drum and cymbal the lead a creative poetry writing exercise for students at Pratt Community College.
It was most definitely not the average classroom lesson Nov. 28 at Pratt Community College when students gathered in the Reimer Art Gallery at PCC to listen and learn from Kansas' Poet Laureate Kevin Rabas.
About 25 students and a couple of faculty members gathered in the art gallery as Rabas read his own works and those of others, some while playing a snare drum and cymbal plus a percussion box "Cajon." On some occasions he performs with is 10 piece band "Poetry Plus Funk" based out of Emporia. The music is always jazz so Rabas calls himself a jazz poet. Brazilian music is also a strong influence for Rabas. He likes to talk to other poets and gets inspiration from them.
Rabas became Poet Laureate on May 1 and will hold the title for two years. He is the fifth Poet Laureate in Kansas and said whenever he performs is his favorite part of the day.
He confesses that it's hard to make a living by reading poetry in America so he spends most of his time teaching at Emporia State University.
"I love teaching. That's the way I pay the bills," Rabas said.
Rabas travels, two or three times a week or more, to various locations around Kansas including community colleges, libraries, bookstores and nursing homes as part of his duties. He's been playing coffee shops since 2000. Sometimes he reads at six to eight places in one day. His poetry and that of others he reads covers a wide range of topics, some humorous, some sad, but all have some retrospective of life. He tries to come up with three subjects for poems every day.
At PCC he read a variety of styles, including his own and answered student questions. Then he led a student workshop where they had to create their own poetry. Most of the students were athletes at PCC and Rabas was very pleased with their enthusiasm. His goal at PCC and at all his stops is to help people develop an appreciation of the beauty in every day of life. He wants people to see the ordinary and the extraordinary.
Rabas liked to write poems and stories as a young person. His mother wrote stores and he got some inspiration from her. The poems of American Langston Hughes had a strong impact on Rabas' writing style. Hughes and jazz musician Charles Minges performed together on a recording in 1958. When Rabas heard that recording years later, it was the first time he had heard poetry and jazz together and he knew he wanted to do that.
He would take part in jam sessions seven or eight times and worked in the jazz archive at the University of Missouri in Kansas City where he had access to a wealth of jazz music.
But he likes works from many other authors such as Tim Seibold and his sports poem about basketball.
To become the Kansas Poet Laureate, the person has to be an established poet, give a speech to the Kansas Humanities Council and be willing to travel the state to share the art of poetry.
Rabas' visit was made possible through funding by the Kansas Humanities Council.