State Poet Shares Richness of Folklore and Storytelling

Twyla Hansen grew up on a farm just outside of Lyons, and, for the first time since being appointed State Poet of Nebraska, she returned there to do a reading and presentation about the stories of her native place.

After sharing stories of her small farm upbringing; portrayals of the land and its people for which she is known, Hansen opened the floor to audience members to share their own stories and area folklore. In the audience was family, former classmates, and a teacher from her schoolhouse days; making the event seem like an intimate homecoming. Community members had the time and space to remember together, to laugh, and to reflect on the changes they’ve seen in the landscape and in rural life.

Storytelling is a great way to understand and engage with the culture and identity of a place. In recent months, the Center has been working to transform the stories of four Nebraska towns into community artworks with our Byway of Art project. When completed, the Byway of Art will connect four distinct northeastern Nebraska towns through new creative venues and cultural events. 

What we’ve noticed is that storytelling – whether it’s a poetry reading, or the unveiling of a community artwork, or the screening of a locally-produced documentary – brings people together to talk about what is most important to them. Twyla’s poems burst with a sense of those values stripped down to their bare parts: the simplicity of walking through an open field, of family together on the farm, the quiet beauty of the natural world. All are stories we are capable of telling. It’s but a matter of creating the space.

Here is one of Twyla’s poems, presented with her permission for your delight.

Walk on the Prairie

There is mystery here, in the shapes of grass,
in the dim movements of an inland sea, 
connections to an earlier time. Wander barefoot, 
hypothesize the dance of millennia, the unbearable 
carvings of the built environment, this ragtag escape.

Let its divine simplicity ooze into your pores.
Comb the steel from your hair, blanket your
tongue with orange. Your breathing will slow.
Breathing slow, unbutton the child within. 
Give her permission to fly like a kite.

by Twyla Hansen
from Prairie Suite: A Celebration (with Paul A. Johnsgard)
2006 Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center