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Kentucky’s poet laureate, Jeff Worley, reads poetry at Campbellsville University

Kentucky’s poet laureate, Jeff Worley, reads poetry at Campbellsville University
Jeff Worley, 2019-20 Kentucky Poet Laureate, holds a poetry reading at Campbellsville University Feb. 13. (Campbellsville University Photo by Hannah Kennedy)

By Matthew Taylor, student news writer, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – The 2019-20 Kentucky Poet Laureate read poetry for a crowd of students and professors in Bright-Redmon Commons Feb. 13.

For his reading, Worley read nine poems and shared how those poems came to be.

Worley’s poem, “Ode to a Sharp-Shinned Hawk,” was written while a hawk was in arm’s length away from him.

Worley was at his cabin at Cave Run Lake filling his bird feeder with seeds when his neighbor called him over. Worley walked into his neighbor’s kitchen and watched his neighbor pull out a Kroger bag with a dead hawk inside.

“You need to take advantages of opportunities to write poetry,” Worley said. So, he asked his neighbor to borrow his dead hawk.

Worley kept the dead hawk in his freezer until the next morning until he got it out with his morning cup of coffee and Cheerios ™, and then he wrote the first couple of drafts for his poem.

Having the hawk present while he was writing those drafts “allowed me to be tactile with description.”

Worley’s poem, “Eunice Winkless’s Dive into Pool of Water: Pueblo, Colorado, July 4, 1905,” is about a sport from the 1880s known as horse diving.

Worley received a postcard from a friend that had a photo of a horse diving which sparked the idea of the poem.

Horse diving became a sport when William Frank “Doc” Carver was crossing a bridge over Nebraska’s Platte River when the bridge collapsed causing the horse to dive into the river below.

“Poets do research, you know,” Worley said.

Worley’s poem, “UFO Lands near Beatrice, Nebraska; Dog Killed,” was derived from a headline from Star® Magazine.

The headline struck Worley in the right way which caused him to purchase the magazine and read the article which led to his poem with the same title as the headline for the magazine.

Worley decided to make the perspective of the poem to be through the dog.

The other poems Worley read at CU were “The Day after My Death,” “On Finding a Turtle Shell In Daniel Boone National Forest,” “Another 8-to-5 on the Porch of Our Cave Run Lake Cabin,” “Erasmus’s Rules of Table Etiquette,” “Reality Check,” “Seventy” and “Ode to the Tongue.”

Dr. Sarah Stafford Sims, chair of the Division of Humanities and professor of English said, she “hoped that students learned to love language” through Worley’s reading of his poetry.

Kentucky’s poet laureate position was established in 1926 by an act of the General Assembly. Prior to 1990, poets were appointed by the General Assembly to lifetime terms, and several poets held the position simultaneously. In 1990, new legislation provided for appointment by the governor to a two-year term.

The Kentucky poet laureate promotes the literary arts in Kentucky through readings of his or her work at community and educational events, meetings, seminars and conferences across Kentucky.

Since 1995, the governor has appointed the position in consultation with the Kentucky Arts Council. Worley succeeds poet laureate Frederick Smock, who was appointed in 2017. Worley will serve through the end of 2020.

Additional information about the position is available through the Kentucky Arts Council website.

Worley was born and raised in Wichita, Kan. He was the second to graduate from Wichita State University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) creative writing program in 1975.

Since then, Worley has worked as an offset pressman, cab driver, folk singer, university professor and research magazine editor.

His first teaching position after graduate school was with the University of Maryland’s European Division. Worley taught writing courses and American literature, primarily in Heidelberg and Nuremburg.

He worked for the University of Maryland until 1983. During his eight years with the European Division, he traveled to Germany, France, England, Spain, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Greece and Yugoslavia.

Worley returned to the United States in 1983 with his wife, Linda, who he met in Nuremburg in 1977.

In 1984, Worley became an assistant professor of English at the Penn State Altoona campus. His wife took an assistant professorship in German at the University of Kentucky.

Worley, wanting to try his hand at something new, joined the staff of Odyssey, UK’s research magazine, where he wrote feature articles primarily focused on hard science and medical research. He became the editor for that magazine in 1997.

Worley retired in 2010, but continued to create his own creative work. From 2012 to 2019, Worley offered poetry writing workshops for the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy.

He has won many awards and honors consisting of the Hall Endorsement for the Arts Fellowship for Creative Writing; three Al Smith fellowships from the Kentucky Arts Council (1991, 1997 and 2007); writing the 2006 Kentucky Book of the Year in Poetry, Happy Hour at the Two Keys Tavern and winning the X.J. Kennedy Prize for A Little Luck in 2012.

Sims said a special thanks goes to the Writing-Engagement-Learning grant for funding the event; the Montgomery Library staff for hosting the event; the Office of University Communications for advertising; Jana Kortas and Enrollment; Physical Plant; Pioneer College Catering Inc. and Crystal Pridgen for setup; Daran Kennon for printing; the Chapel Committee for approving; Dr. Judith Collins and Elena Hughes for baking cookies; and Ruby Wilson for coordinating the event.

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with more than 11,600 students offering over 100 programs of study including PH.D., master, baccalaureate, associate, pre-professional and certificate programs. The university has Kentucky based off-campus centers in Louisville, Harrodsburg, Somerset, Hodgenville and Liberty with instructional sites in Elizabethtown, Owensboro and Summersville. Out-of-state centers include two in California at Los Angeles and Lathrop, located in the San Francisco Bay region. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.

Campbellsville University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award certificates, associate, baccalaureate, masters and doctoral degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the status of Campbellsville University.