It’s not hard to picture oneself in a David Allan Evans poem. And it won’t be a stretch for many to see themselves in the Midwestern paintings that he’ll feature in a presentation later this month.
Evans, the Poet Laureate of South Dakota, will be at the Madison Public Library March 29 at 6 p.m. for his presentation of Midwestern Themes in Art and Literature. The program is part of the Madison Area Arts Council Chautauqua Series and made possible by the South Dakota Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
During his presentation, Evans will look at paintings of rural scenes from the 1930s and ‘40s by Midwestern artists. Each painting is accompanied with a poem by Midwestern poets, including Evans, that reflects the picture.
Some of the featured artists are Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, Evans said. The poets are mostly contemporary, ranging from the 1960s to today. Evans will mention themes that Midwestern writers, especially poets, tend to work with, like weather and the elements.
He concentrates on the Midwest in his presentation because, while all places have special qualities, there is a particular uniqueness to this region, he said.
“One of my points is that poets and writers are pretty much the same all over,” Evans said, “but there is something to the Midwest that is treated and illuminated in literature – the small towns, the work ethic.”
Evans was born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa. Much of his own work is inspired from growing up and living in the Midwest.
Evans was an English professor and Writer in Residence at South Dakota State University for about 40 years. He was chosen as the state’s poet laureate by the governor in 2002. As part of this position, Evans visits schools, does readings and helps judge poetry contests.
“I promote poetry in any way I can,” Evans said.
Evans thinks his poems resonate with people because of his straight-forward, simple style of writing.
“I try to do it in a way that’s accessible to the reader. I want to communicate with the reader, not puzzle the reader,” Evans said.
He follows the great American poet William Carlos Williams, Evans said, who wrote poems that had strong images and were short. Evans started writing poems and short stories while in college, which he attended on a football scholarship.
Evans writes of everyday scenes and people, of sports and childhood memories. It’s easy for readers to relate to his poems of watching his children ride a Tilt-A-Whirl, looking at the birds with his morning cup of coffee or seeing his father suds his hands with Lava soap. Even unathletic people can imagine themselves pole vaulting or playing racquetball via Evans’ poetry.
He received writing grants from the Bush Artist’s Foundation and the South Dakota Arts Council and has published more than 250 poems. Evans traveled to China twice as a Fulbright Scholar and was the first South Dakotan to be given a National Endowment for the Arts grant. In 2009, he was given the South Dakota Governor’s Award for Creative Achievement.
Evans has composed nine collections of poetry. He will have copies of “This Water. These Rocks”, his most recent book of poetry, available for sale at the presentation.
MAAC meetings are held the first Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Community Arts Center at 106 SE 2nd St. in Madison. Visit the MAAC Web site at www.madisonareaartscouncil.org for more community art news and events.
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