The Kansas City poet, who just realized his eighth book, is a recipient of a “Gift of Faith” award.
Regardless of their differences, the arts and faith communities share a belief in the human need to connect. It’s also true that, to a great extent, local artists depend on community support.
REACH—an alliance of Kansas City-area churches—has established the “Gift of Faith” awards to lend such support to Kansas City-based artists. Each honoree receives an unrestricted grant of $2000. Recipients of the inaugural awards are Jose Faus, Phil Shafer, Jordan Stempleman and Erin Zona.
Stempleman is a poet and Kansas City native who teaches writing and literature at the Kansas City Art Institute. He also co-edits the online literary magazine, The Continental Review, and curates A Common Sense Reading Series, a forum for local and national mid-career writers held monthly from September through May at the Art Institute’s Irving Amphitheater.
His work, in contrast to that of other award winners, is primarily focused on words.
According to Stempleman, he became a poet as a result of romantic disappointment.
“In high school, I had a relationship that soured,” he said. “And I turned to poetry to find my way through that.” His initial efforts, he added, “were really bad and sentimental and terrible.”
Things improved at Columbia College in Chicago, where he got a first-rate education in American poetry.
“The poet Paul Hoover was the director of the undergraduate program there, and he brought in just incredible poets: Diane di Prima, Amiri Baraka, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
“Just really fantastic poets came through there, and that’s where I got confidence,” Stempleman said. “I’d go home at Thanksgiving, I remember, and tell my family I was going to be a poet. It was kind of like admitting you were a circus clown.”
Just as important were his years at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in poetry in 2008. “My time there was quite responsible for directing my writing to where it is now,” Stempleman said.
In the poem Volador from Wallop, his eighth book of poetry, Stempleman reflects on the immutable nature of humankind:
I’ve named one too many clouds
after one too many unintended inventions.
People still hide people
in their garages, and we go nuts
for mail on Saturdays. No one will believe
us fifty years from now.
In fact, fifty years from now, the brain, merely inches
from the ground, will still have the same expression
on its protected ugliness—that old rippled
look that can send feeling through stone.
And someone who might as well be me
will still look for something
better to do, every day, around 2 pm.
REACH artist-in residence and pastor, Dylan Mortimer, a member of the four-person panel that selected the honorees, said that Stempleman is exemplary of the artist who is engaged with the community.
“What we were looking for were people who aren’t only thinking about their own work, but also about how to directly inspire and motivate others,” he said. “And that’s obviously a big component of what he does.”
Mortimer said that Stempleman, as the only poet nominated for the award, was in a sense “a bit of an out-of-the-box” choice.