WU professor named Poet Laureate of Kansas

Daniel Haws

The spring semester of 2015 is proving to be an eventful and rewarding season for recently tenured Associate Professor of English Eric McHenry. The Kansas Humanities Council has announced that beginning May 1 Professor McHenry will ascend to the position of Poet Laureate of Kansas, while continuing his role as educator at Washburn University.

McHenry is a fifth generation Kansan with deep roots in the Topeka area, including the Washburn campus. He comically recalls the time as a young boy when he was respectfully removed from Petro Allied Health Center for riding his bicycle down those long halls. He’s come a long way since those days as a rambunctious youth.

One of the many duties that will be required of McHenry include fostering the development and sustention of the humanities and poetry across the great state of Kansas.

“I have an enthusiasm for poetry, which I try and share in the classroom. I want to take that enthusiasm and infect people across the state with it,” stated McHenry.

Faculty and students alike share the excitement for McHenry’s newly appointed role as well. Vanessa Steinroetter, Assistant Professor at Washburn and colleague of McHenry’s, says she is delighted to hear of McHenry’s appointment.

“Professor McHenry is not only a very talented poet, but also a beloved and engaging teacher. I am happy to know that, in addition to his students and colleagues at Washburn, other readers and writers across the state will benefit from his talents as he travels to readings, workshops, and other engagements,” Steinroetter said.

Senior English major Märtha Custis states that her interactions with McHenry were among her most positive and influential experiences as an undergraduate student at Washburn.

“He never acknowledged his own superior expertise and knowledge in writing, but rather was incredibly humble. I learned more in his classes than I had ever imagined possible. I am indebted to him forever,” Custis said.

Corey Zwikstra, Associate Professor at Washburn, says that McHenry is a stand out in the world of writing which is why he deserves the honor of Poet Laureate.

“The currency of writing is ideas, and Eric has ideas. He practices what he preaches. He is precise with language, while not all poets are, and I respect that,” Zwikstra said. “Good writing has to be about language, not just feelings and emotions. People forget that. Eric does not. He is mindful of language and form.”

Peter S. Rocha, senior English major at Washburn, agrees that McHenry is exceptional in his craft, and in conveying that craft to his students.

“Everyone who enters class is treated as a fellow poet. He finds the gold that hides in every poem. He is an expert in his field, but still makes every person who walks through his door feel like part of the world of poetry,” said Rocha. “It is that type of enthusiasm that inspires good poetry.”

While the achievement is an exciting benchmark in McHenry’s career, he says that he won’t be resting on his laurels. Instead, he feels invigorated in his future ambitions as Poet Laureate.

“This isn’t a time to relax, and cease being productive. I feel more like, okay, GO!” McHenry said.