ROCK SPRINGS – Western Wyoming Community College Associate Professor of English Rick Kempa, MFA, has co-edited a new poetry anthology – Going Down Grand: Poems from the Canyon, published by Lithic Press – that assembles verses old and new into a collection of poems that celebrate the unique experience of visiting the Grand Canyon.
“It’s a collection of poems by people past and mostly present who are trying to make meaning of their Grand Canyon experience,” said Kempa, who co-edited the book with Peter Anderson. “There is a section of the book with poems about visiting the Rim, about walking the trails down into the Canyon, about running the river. It features both contemporary writers, some of them prominent, as well as some of the best classic writers we could find.”
Kempa and Anderson did much research in looking for poems from the past to fit the mood and character of their collection, while also putting out a call for original submissions. Those efforts were well rewarded; the book contains poems from such noted writers as Carl Sandburg, Mary Austin, cowboy poet S. Omar Barker, and Rim lifer William Wallace Bass, among others.
“We just found a wealth of poems,” Kempa said. “We found every poem you could find on the Grand Canyon in a process that took a couple of years. Peter and myself did some long-distance editing, made some phone calls, had occasional meetings in Grand Junction, Colo. We culled this collection of 68 poems by 61 writers that, collectively, I think, brings a different dimension of how to experience the Grand Canyon.”
Kempa also contributed his own poem, “Nightwalk, Canyon,” to the anthology.
“It’s an effort to express the feeling of doing that, walking out in the middle of the night, as one does on hot August days,” the author explained. “And, as well, to express the mixed feelings that come from leaving a place one loves, both the anticipation of return and the reluctance to leave. It’s one of 68 versions of the Grand Canyon story in this book.”
This is the second consecutive Grand Canyon-related book that Kempa has edited; last year, Vishnu Temple Press published his edited anthology of essays, On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories, to which both he and fellow WWCC English instructor Chris Propst contributed works.
“It’s my center of gravity. It has been since I was 18 or 19,” Kempa said of the Grand Canyon. “One goes back in person or in spirit. This is a way for me to stay connected to that place I love. It’s so cool, in both of these projects, through the editing process, to conjure a community of Grand Canyon lovers and writers. It was a labor of love and it felt good doing it.”
Kempa is on sabbatical this semester and is currently on a month-long Colorado River float trip through the Grand Canyon. He and his fellow adventurers put into the water on Nov. 18. It is his first river trip through the Grand.
“We’re going to be out of contact. One chance to make a phone call on day nine,” Kempa said. “New words will come from the experience. They’re already coming. I’m taking that book, and I figure that section on the river, I’ll put those poems into the air around the campfire.
“We get to make campfires in the offseason,” he added. “In the regular season, you can’t. I will gather driftwood. I may not be able to row a raft, but I can gather driftwood.”
Both Going Down Grand: Poems from the Canyon and On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories are available for purchase at the WWCC Bookstore or through online booksellers. For more information on Going Down Grand, go to http://lithicpress.com/. For more information on On Foot, go to http://www.vishnutemplepress.com/.