poems by Cheryl Unruh
Paperback: 122 pages
Publisher: Meadowlark (April 2017)
Award-winning essayist, Cheryl Unruh, grounds the reader in a study of land and sky, love and life, and death and curiosity in Walking on Water, her first book of poetry. Once an inland sea, this place called Kansas now offers a wide-open prairie, covered with grasses and grains which wave in the wind, mimicking that long-gone sea. The vacant plains and open skies of her native state provide a sense of freedom for Cheryl, and it is these elements, as well as the colorful textures of this land and its people, that she draws from for her writing.
Through glimpses of her childhood growing up in a tiny Kansas town, Cheryl explores finding her place in the world and examines how Midwesterners relate to family, to friends, and to their communities. Because one of her father’s jobs was as caretaker of the town’s cemetery, Cheryl spent part of her youth in the graveyard, becoming acquainted early with the concept of death. Poems in this collection reflect her varied perspectives of death, including a childhood perception that the afterlife took place underground.
The book isn’t all serious, however. Readers will laugh out loud through Cheryl’s To-Do List poetry. She employs her sense of humor, creating clashes of thought and mixing together modern culture and spirituality, imagination and song.
Fans of Cheryl’s two previous collections of vivid Kansas essays will delight in her poetry. New readers will be charmed. This collection leads the reader to discover the beauty in the simplest of landscapes, to revel in the always-changing seasons, and to seek magic and splendor in the everyday moments of life.
Praise for Walking on Water:
Walking on Water is a refreshing and original exploration of place: poems that speak from the earth and into the sky of what it means to live and create in the center of the continent. From the remnants of the inland ocean to this planet that “twists in the dark,” Cheryl Unruh expands our ability to see and hear what’s on the edge of our horizons as well as the seemingly simple moments that encapsulate living in “the prairie’s open hand.” She also sparks this clear-seeing with humor, such as in “Making a List,” a collection of to-do lists mixing the mythical and ordinary, psychological and geographical. Memory and the power of storytelling, what lies within and around us, and the simplicity of paying attention sing through these poems of home as both a journey into what makes us wild and an arrival into the essence of life.
~Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, 2009–13 Kansas Poet Laureate
and author of Chasing Weather (with photographer Stephen Locke)
Cheryl Unruh brings to her poems the same insider’s insight and open-eyed sense of wonder that made her essays about Kansas so delightful. “In a scrappy little town / wooden houses have been / left for dead . . .” we read, and we know she has ridden those silent, dusty, rural roads. The lines: “An airplane, / camouflaged by constellations” have us standing beside her, searching the singularly brilliant Milky Way that arches from horizon to horizon across the nighttime Kansas prairie. “I listen in the dark, / the rain filling a place / I didn’t know was empty,” she writes, and you find that Cheryl’s words work just that way for you.
~Roy Beckemeyer, author of Music I Once Could Dance To
Cheryl’s new book of poems re-exhibits her keen eye for Kansas life and her heart for Kansas-land and its people, from its coyote “running for home like a kid / late for curfew” to its “cicadas (that) chant evening prayers.” The collection also exhibits her wit, revealed in to-do lists that include “Spend only dimes today . . . Restripe the zebras . . . Do not cry at elevator music . . . Blare Jimmy Buffett until the neighbors complain . . . Toss yesterday to the wind.” Such is the way of this collection, full of wit and wisdom, as strong as her prose, but with more vivid light, like a thin blue butane flame.
~Kevin Rabas, author of Songs for My Father
The hallmark of Cheryl Unruh’s prose has always been its lyricism. Admirers of her essays and columns—which is to say, anybody who has read them—will be delighted and not at all surprised to learn that she produces wise, witty, painterly poems as well.
~Eric McHenry, 2015–17 Kansas Poet Laureate