The next Meadowlark Books publication is a book of poetry by Cheryl Unruh called “Walking on Water.”

Both author and publisher share the same hometown: Emporia. Tracy Million Simmons’ publishing company, Meadowlark Books, produced the collection, which is available online at, and soon at Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore, 1101 Commercial St.

The poems in this book are basically scenes from everyday life.

“The topics of my poetry are similar to the topics of my columns and essays,” she said. “I write about the land and sky, seasons and weather, about my small-town childhood, about friends and family.

“And, like most poets, I write about death. With each loss we experience, I think our understanding of death grows, deepens. These can be very rich moments for us and are worth exploring.”

A release party, reception and reading will be held from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Prairiedust Gallery, 330 Commercial St.

“The book launch will be at my husband’s photo studio and gallery, Prairiedust Gallery,” Unruh said. “People can come and go, and I will give 15-minute readings at 7 and 7:45. We’ll have a book giveaway and, of course, refreshments.”

“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,” MIllion Simmons said. “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, Unruh explores finding her place in the world and examines how Midwesterners relate to family, to friends, and to their communities,” Million Simmons said. “Because one of her father’s jobs was as caretaker of the town’s cemetery, Unruh 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. There is a great sense of humor in Unruh’s “To-Do List” poetry, creating “clashes of thought and mixing together modern culture and spirituality, imagination and song

“I am pleased to have this book published by a local publisher,” Unruh said. “Meadowlark Books is based in Emporia and is operated by Tracy Million Simmons. She’s a writer herself and is a good friend. I’ve really enjoyed working on this book with her.”

The pair particularly enjoyed the To-Do Lists.

“The writing of these lists was pure joy,” Unruh said. “The idea of creating to-do lists as poetry came from a writing exercise which encouraged the writer to play with words, absurdities, and imagination. These lists are lighthearted and odd, and I hope this section is as fun for the reader as it was for me.”

An example:

To-Do List No. 3

Pay the gravity bill

Gather intelligence

Vacuum the magic carpet

Put SWAT phone number on speed dial

Write and submit a new book for the Bible

Begin hero’s journey

Make a to-do list

Wait on karma

Brew up a new batch of resentment

Vote for Pedro

Unruh, author of “Flyover People,” “Waiting on the Sky” and, has written poetry since junior high.

“I love poetry because so much can be said in a mere 100 words,” she said. “In poetry each word has to be carefully chosen, not only for meaning but for sound and rhythm. I love that a poem can capture one scene or one emotion and deliver that moment to the reader to interpret.”

Fine arts often inspire within. One poem, “Cat Devouring Bird,” was inspired by a painting by Pablo Picasso of the same name.

“At the Kansas Authors Club convention in October, Wichita poet Roy Beckemeyer taught a session on ekphrastic poetry — writing a poem inspired by a work of art,” Unruh said. “It was in Roy’s class that I wrote ‘Cat Devouring Bird by Picasso.’ Roy’s class led me to write other poems about paintings. One such piece in the book is called ‘Wild Horizon,’ and was inspired by a landscape painting by Anna Patricia Keller.”

“Cat Devouring Bird” by Picasso

It’s easy to feel sorry

for the bird caught in the jaws

of our husky feline

The cat wears its stripes like warpaint,

teeth bared, tearing flesh.

But this is simply nature in action,

the turn of the world

Sometimes birds get away, sometimes it is otherwise.

Unruh continues to add to her reputation as a writer who can 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


(1) comment

Wendy Devilbiss

What a fabulous article to celebrate Cheryl's first poetry volume. Congratulations Cheryl!

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