Inspiration is all around us — at least, that's the message that Kansas Poet Laureate Kevin Rabas is trying to spread.
Rabas will bring that message to area on Monday, leading a 7 p.m. presentation, "Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary," at the Newton Public Library (720 N. Oak).
"The talk is about finding the beauty in everyday things — looking at all of our life and seeing how so many moments are meaningful and we want to observe that, cherish it and be fully present during our lives," Rabas said.
For example, Rabas mentioned the efforts one might take stopping on the road to make sure a turtle can cross safely. While minor to us, it is a grand gesture for the turtle. Those moments are something Rabas has become uniquely attuned to, as he has found influence for his poetry throughout his everyday life.
On top of writing and teaching poetry, Rabas is also a jazz musician and professor of playwriting at Emporia State University (as well as the chair of the Department of English, Modern Language and Journalism). He admitted the titles of several of his collections are inspired by music, including one that draws directly from one of those grand life experiences — "Lisa's Flying Electric Piano."
While helping his then-girlfriend (now wife) move a piano, the instrument went hurtling out of the back of his truck in transit, an experience he noted he will never live down — so he decided to immortalize that moment in the title poem of "Lisa's Flying Electric Piano."
That collection was a Kansas Notable Book in 2010 and winner of the Nelson Poetry Book Award, while Rabas has also received the Langston Hughes Award for Poetry and the Victor Contoski Poetry Award, among others.
Part of the allure of having Rabas speak, according to NPL adult services coordinator Dan Eells, is the fact that he finds so much inspiration in everyday life. Eells admitted he was already a fan of Rabas' work and hopes that viewpoint connects with those who attend the presentation in Newton.
"He's kind of your average guy who writes poetry and has this great honor to be the Kansas Poet Laureate. I really like having the Kansas Poet Laureate here. It's a good opportunity for people to hear poetry and be introduced to creative people in Kansas," Eells said. "I think it's a great opportunity for our community. It's a great way to highlight what is going on in our state that is kind of positive and enjoyable."
According to Eells, Rabas will be at least the third Kansas Poet Laureate to visit the Newton Public Library, and while he is excited to have Rabas speaking because of his poetry, he said he is also looking forward to an engaging presentation.
Not only will Rabas be talking about how he finds inspiration in even the simplest parts of his daily life, but there will also be a performance aspect to his presentation. Rabas said he normally reads three or four of his poems (to illustrate his perspective) with the accompaniment of jazz drums, noting audiences seem to like the active and lively infusion.
Engaging the audience is a main goal of the discussion, Rabas admitted, as both he and Eells want those who attend to take something away from the event.
"I'm really excited and I hope to see lots of people come out here and see this unique event. I think it will be a fun and educational night," Eells said.
"My big mission as I travel across Kansas is to get people excited about poetry and, by extension, the arts and humanities. One of the things that drives me today is to enjoy the larger world you can experience through reading, writing and the arts," Rabas said. "I hope guests will leave inspired and energized about reading poetry, listening to poetry and writing poetry."
For more information on the presentation, call the library at 283-2890 or visit www.newtonplks.org.