Karla K. Morton and Alan Birkelbach
Ed. note: Today’s post is a special feature in honor of National Park Week. We have had the pleasure of working with Karla K. Morton and Alan Birkelbach, two Texas Poets Laureate who are currently on a Poets Laureate National Parks Tour. Karla took the time to answer our questions, and even shared some poetry. Enjoy!
- What does it mean to be Poet Laureate?
Both Alan Birkelbach and I have the great honour of being named Texas Poets Laureate, a lifetime title. Alan was named in 2005 and I was named in 2010. A Poet Laureate is the highest rank you can go in a state as a poet, and almost every state in the US has one. Here in Texas, there is no pay, no set criteria, so we do what moves us. This Poets Laureate National Parks Tour is truly what moves me and Alan. We are poets of nature. Our work holds a great sense of place. And above all, we are passionate when it comes to preserving such beauty.
- How did you become Poets Laureate/Poet Laureates?
In Texas, there is a call for nominations every two years (since that’s when the Texas Legislature meets). All the nominations are sent to the Texas Commission on the Arts. Those that meet the TCA’s long list of requirements are invited to submit their portfolio/resume/list of works. Out of that great list of people, the TCA narrows it down to a group of up to ten. Then, the names go to a group of people educated in literature around the state who make the final decisions. Those judges are kept anonymous to keep the politics away! So, as you can see, just being nominated in Texas is a great honour, but to be selected is truly a dream come true.
- Please tell us more about your Words of Preservation: Poets Laureate National Parks Tour.
I first learned about the upcoming 100th Birthday of the National Parks in 2013. I knew I had to do something to celebrate. Knowing there had not been adventurer writers dedicated to the Parks since the days of John Muir and Thoreau, I came up with the idea of visiting at least 50 of the 59 Parks, writing poetry, taking pictures and putting them in a book, with a percentage of the sales of that book to go back to the Park System. I asked Alan Birkelbach to join me to increase the historic significance of the project – to have the works from not one, but two Poets Laureate!
He immediately agreed to do this with me! Already, the result is wonderful – to witness and take part in this wonder, and see it reflected in two different ways. This is the magic of poetry and the magic of nature – everyone who experiences it takes from it what they need.
- The National Park Foundation has been encouraging people to #findyourpark throughout their centennial celebration. What are your personal Parks and why?
We had to begin our Tour with Yellowstone, since that was the first official Park designated, but we both have a hard time choosing favorites.
I feel drawn to the magic of Yellowstone, the silence of Joshua Tree and the intimacy of the Guadalupe Mountains.
Alan is still in a state of wonder about Yellowstone, especially Lamar Valley, and a part of him is still trying to ponder the mysteries of Mesa Verde.
- Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Literary, education, anything of interest.
I studied Journalism from Texas A&M University, which is a good profession, especially for poets, since every word counts, but I have always written poetry. I have to write. I am pulled to it in inexplicable ways. Being named Poet Laureate of Texas is one of my greatest honors. It allows me to be the ambassador of the written word in ways I have always dreamed.
Alan started writing poetry when he was twelve. He says his biggest regret is that he started so late! He started writing more seriously in the late 70’s and received his degree in English from North Texas State University (now called University of North Texas). He personally knew some of the earlier Texas Poets Laureate and is still honored that he gets to share that title.
- May we please have poems?
Yes! Here are our most recent poems inspired from Guadalupe Mountain NP:
What words are grand enough to speak of light –
the itch of orange, the streaking winks of pink?
Sun-shone hours turn belly-up, toward night
Good Day, Good Day is all that we can think.
Our legs a’tremble, muscles beastly sore,
a quest to know each vista, scene and swell.
Our soul’s now been imprinted evermore
and become something greater than ourselves.
These moments groom the core of who we are.
How could we come and not be wholly changed?
We’re mountain, wolf, and now, the evening star –
every atom of our hearts rearranged.
We came here knowing not what this might bring.
We leave in awe; we leave with everything.
karla k. morton, 2010 Texas State Poet Laureate
1 a.m. Guadalupe Mountain
Short-visioned men still think there is
a silent line that separates all things.
But I have seen the full moon strike the calcite
in the Guadalupe walls, heard
the horned owl sing a tufted dirge,
the small fox bark, the quails flutter, the pinions
sigh with green caressing wind, the crunch
of stones beneath my deep night boots.
I learned it then. I know it now.
There is a timbre here, a larger song. No lines.
One world. Full of music. One choir. One song.
–Alan Birkelbach, 2005 Texas State Poet Laureate
- Where can people find out more about the two of you?
Alan and I both have eleven published works each, many of which can be found online or at bookstores/Amazon/Barnes and Noble, etc.
Here is a facebook link: www.facebook.com/karlakmorton
and a website page: http://www.texaspoetlaureate.com/tour.html
that people may follow us along!
Also, we have just started a blog: Poets Park Tour
- Anything else you’d like to share?
We would just like to say that these lands, while under the preservation of the government, still need champions, still need those who are willing to give their time and hearts to make sure they continue to be protected.
Like Homer recounting the journey of Odysseus, we long to be the eyes and ears for the home-bound, to bring our tales back to the hearth.
We are certainly not the first artists who believe inspiration can come through great natural beauty, who have fallen in love with the grandeur of our National Parks, but we want to take it one step further and try to do something incredible – to infuse that beauty into the written word – the eternal language of poetry.
Lone Star Literary: Interview with Karla K. Morton
Carlsbad, NM newspaper: Texas Poets Laureate Visit Guadalupe Mountains
Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine: Feature
All photos above by Karla K. Morton, used with permission.
And of course, if you’re interested in the Badlands blanket, remember that a portion of your purchase helps to support preservation of your national parks through our National Park Service. See it here: Badlands Blanket