Nebraska Center for Writers

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About William Kloefkorn


Alvin Turner as Farmer
Copyright © 2005
by Willliam Kloefkorn
Logan House Press

It was 1972 when Alvin Turner first ambled onto the page and charmed his way into the hearts of readers. The voice behind the mask belonged to William Kloefkorn, first-book poet and assistant professor at a small Methodist university on the Plains. Alvin Turner As Farmer was an instant success — the initial printing sold out in weeks — and decades later is a classic of American poetry. In the meantime, Alvin Turner's creator — now Nebraska State Poet — has gone on to write thirty books, mostly poetry, charming readers the whole long and wonderful way. — from the publisher

Is there a more complete man in poetry than Alvin Turner? Strong, tender, witty, and wise, the man himself is as rich as the poetry which presents him. For every step Turner's head takes in one direction, his heart takes an equal and opposite step. This is the balance of the ancients, as if Classical Greece had dropped in on Attica, Kansas. Is that so strange? — Don Welch

Whether you know Alvin Turner from the first printing or will meet him for the first time, he has staying power. Through him William Kloefkorn shows us hope, love, doubt, children growing and leaving, how humans plan and dream, how we deal with loss. A persona like Alvin Turner in the hands of a poet like William Kloefkorn can show us a most valuable skill: how to look for beauty in the ordinary. — Marge Saiser, Lincoln Journal Star

At Home on This Moveable Earth
Copyright © 2006
by Willliam Kloefkorn
U of Nebraska P

Writing of a life ruled, like most, by the elements, William Kloefkorn has already given us This Death by Drowning (water) and Restoring the Burnt Child (fire). In this third installment of his projected four-part memoir, the poet focuses on earth in exploring in the most personal terms the perpetual human struggle between building foundations and abandoning them, digging in and moving on.
Whether writing about a boyhood in the Great Depression, the bond between a young man and his family, digging storm cellars and ducking tornadoes, or the dropping of the atomic bomb as experienced by a paperboy in small-town Kansas, Kloefkorn brings a congenial mixture of seriousness and humor to his subjects. Here and there the commonplace lends itself to the not-so-common question: What is the odd relationship between power, terror, and beauty? Why are human beings torn between staying put and moving — in intellectual and spiritual as well as physical terms? And how much of who we are is composed of who we were? Rife with insight, At Home on This Moveable Earth is as wonderfully readable as the first two volumes of Kloefkorn’s memoirs, a thoughtful tour of a curious character’s life so far and a model of retrospective introspection. — from the publisher

What a joy to swoop with Bill Kloefkorn through circles of memory. He leads us down into the soil of the cellar so that we might soar into the sublime tower of the tornado of his recollection. — Linda Hasselstrom

Completely delightful and yet deeply thought-provoking. The voice of these essays is so personable, so easy, so intelligent, and at the same time so humble, that I felt at times as if I was listening to these essays rather than reading them. — Kent Meyers

Kloefkorn ... reveals his life one vignette at a time in this richly evocative third installment of his proposed four-part memoir. With deftly wrought imagery so powerful and yet so poetic, this son of the plains and prairie gentles the reader back to days that nostalgia dictates must be remembered as sweetly unadorned. And yet, as Kloefkorn so cogently illustrates, no time is truly simple, and the transition from innocence to knowledge can be both magical and frightening. It takes a rare and gifted writer to seamlessly transport the reader through the devastating fury of rumbling tornadoes and the delectable freshness of romantic awakenings. Kloefkorn is just such a writer, and the journey is a lyrical experience. — Booklist

Breathing in the Fullness of Time
Copyright © 2009
by Willliam Kloefkorn
U of Nebraska P

The “tell-all” memoir takes on new meaning in the work of poet William Kloefkorn, whose accounts of the moments and movements of life touch on everything that matters, the prosaic and the profound, the extraordinary in the everyday, and the familiar in the new and strange. The fourth and final installment in Kloefkorn's reflections, Breathing in the Fullness of Time, departs from the elements ruling the other volumes—water, fire, and earth—and floats its insights and observations, its memories and anecdotes on the now wild, now whispering element of air.
“Kloefkorn is a consummate storyteller,” Publishers Weekly has said, noting his “keen eye and a gift for language that is beautiful in its simplicity.” In this final volume, the poet uses those skills and his characteristically droll sense of humor to recapture time that, once experienced, is never really lost. His remembrances include a foray into college football, a stint in the Marines, a drift in a twelve-foot johnboat on the Loup River, learning to get a hog’s attention, marriage at last to a childhood sweetheart, a sojourn in California, and a return to Nebraska to teach. The moments, large and small, sad and funny and fine, multiply to become a moving picture of life caught in the act of passing by. — from the publisher

With homespun candor and hard-won recognition, Kloefkorn’s reveries reveal the persuasive benediction of a life well lived. — Booklist

Kloefkorn may be the most readable writer on the planet. Reading this book is like listening to a great storyteller with perfect pace pinning you to your chair. Its a delight to read. ... This book made me laugh out loud, and at other times was so poignant and elegiac and lovely that I had to stop reading and gather my emotions before continuing. It's that generous, that quietly good, that rich in its view of humanity — and so very, very well written. — Kent Meyers, the author of The Work of Wolves and The Witness of Combines

Copyright © 1996
by Willliam Kloefkorn
Spoon River P

Covenants is the kind of book that marks literary history. William Kloefkorn and David Lee, arguably two of the best poets working the language at the dawn of this new millenium each contribute a book-length collection to this single volume. Regular readers will not be disappointed, and new readers are in for a double dose of the kind of rare surprise that arises from the discovery of true voices and generous visions. — Nebraska Territory

Drinking the Tin Cup Dry
Copyright © 1985
by Willliam Kloefkorn
White Pine P

William Kloefkorn's poetry is midwestern writing at its best, capturing the fertile landscape of homestead, small town, men and women in a rural countryside, and family. Kloefkorn's poetry blends wit and wisdom, runs the gamut of emotions, and is as unfettered as a prairie sky. Kloefkorn's poems adorn the pages like fine paintings hanging on an exhibition wall. He is a master wordsmith whose writing evokes images in the mind's eye, feelings in the heart's recess, and passions in the soul. Drinking The Tin Cup Dry is a slender compendium of fine verse, finely expressed — and a testament to a human vision, shareable by all. — Midwest Book Review

Fielding Imaginary Grounders
Copyright © 2004
by Willliam Kloefkorn
Spoon River P
How to Buy

Like most of Kloefkorn's work, the poems of this collection concern themselves with memory, with time, and with the passage of time, although these considerations assume increased significance as the poet matures, and we sense more urgency in the poems of this book than in previous work. Some explore characters and histories which will be familiar to readers of his other collections of poetry, and his two books of memoirs. Kloefkorn's familiar talent for seizing elements of voice and idiom are also prominent in this collection, as is his preference for the three-line stanza. — from the publisher

Going Out, Coming Back
Copyright © 1993
by William Kloefkorn
White Pine Press
How to Buy

A young man jilted by his steady hits the meat end of his Louisville Slugger against a tree over and over again; on the very day her mother dies, a man's wife bakes bread as perfect as her mother's and he wonders if her mother somehow realized her bread was equaled, "meaning that her time was up"; a teenager at the movies lusts for Betty Grable to the point that "I ache so much not even my popcorn can cover or reduce it"; Tub Schmidt, "the huge and invincible," has a spider captive in a mason jar and "he is going to study it, he says / until he becomes himself / the consummate means by which / to catch the fly"; and a man buys a radio at an antique store and half expects it "will play only what it cut its / massive mahogany teeth on, / Tom Mix and Terry and the Pirates, / Jack Armstrong and the Lone Ranger." Kloefkorn, the state poet of Nebraska, writes about the familiar, the experiences we all share while we are going out and coming back, and transforms everyday activities and thoughts into significant acts and clarifies the existence of the past within the present in poems that explore the timeless range of human emotion. — from the publisher

Masterful ... understated ... Childhood figures take on mythical proportions as the narrator seeks out names and faces, only to find "Some things don't come back to you, after all." — Publishers Weekly

Out of Attica
Copyright © 2008
by William Kloefkorn
Backwaters Press

New poems by the Nebraska State Poet, widely acclaimed for his poetry dealing with the land and people of the Great Plains.

Restoring the Burnt Child
Copyright © 2003
by William Kloefkorn
U of Nebraska P

Negotiating the no man's land between ages nine and thirteen, this memoir of a small-town boy's life in 1940s Kansas continues the story William Kloefkorn began in his much-loved volume This Death by Drowning. With characteristic humor and in prose as lyrical as his best poetry, Kloefkorn describes the unsentimental education he received at the hands of the denizens of Urie's Barber Shop and the Rexall Drugstore and at the knees of the true characters who made up his family. From the "firefly" stunt that nearly burns down his home to the distant firestorms of World War II, fire holds an endless range of subtle and surprising lessons for the boy, whose impressions Kloefkorn conveys with the immediacy, naiveté, and poignancy of youth—and reconsiders with the wisdom and distance of age. By turns charming and resolute, funny and moving, Restoring the Burnt Child powerfully brings to life the lost, unforgettable world of a boy, and a poet, coming of age in midcentury middle America. — from the publisher

A marvelous book, full of the intensity and grittiness of language drawn from rocky Kansas fields and from great literature. Kloefkorn's voice provides a perspective unlike any other I've read, one that has had me reading out loud, saying, "Listen to this." — Peggy Shumaker

A fun, interesting, and compelling read, combining the best of fiction writing with the intimacy and material of memoir. — Dianne Nelson Oberhansly

Copyright © 2003
by William Kloefkorn
Logan House Press

In this new collection of five stories, one of America's master poets delves again into the lives of idiosyncratic and diverse characters of the Plains. William Kloefkorn introduces us to a teen-aged babysitter shadowboxing his way to adulthood, a waitress and the hero who rescues her from her grief, a young couple just finding love, an old man desperately trying to locate the threads that tie his life together, and a professor fumbling to make a connection to real life. The voice that tells of these people and their place is filled with compassion and good humor. — from the publisher

This Death by Drowning
Copyright © 1997
by Willliam Kloefkorn
U of Nebraska P

Is there any human corner left to illuminate? To surprise? Absolutely, as these wondrous recollections by poet Kloefkorn prove. This slim volume is filled with provocative perceptions garnered from daily life. ... After the last line, readers will turn back to page one and start again, slowly. — Publisher's Weekly

Sad, humorous, whimsical, sentimental, and of course poetic, these memoirs celebrate the profundity of life and death. — Booklist

Kloefkorn writers prose with pensive grace, one thought flowing into another as water flows into rivers, lakes, and oceans that become his metaphors for the world's connectedness. This is a quirky, funny, moving memoir full of unforgettable characters; readers will not have seen its like before and shouldn't expect to again. — Library Journal

An elegant, moving little book from the current state poet of Nebraska that reflects the author's fascination and intense personal involvement with waters big and small, from farm ponds to the South Pacific. Kloefkorn (English/Nebraska Wesleyan Univ.) cites Loren Eisley's dictum, "If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water." The author finds magic in other liquids, too, "chief among them cow's milk," but it is water — and the dangers it can pose — that is Kloefkorn's touchstone, both literary and actual. At the age of six, he fell into Harold Simpson's cow-pasture pond in south-central Kansas and nearly drowned. A few years later his brother, trying to sit behind the wheel of a car submerged in Ely's Sandpit, duplicated the near-fatal mishap. The author writes of his youthful wonder at the family's cistern; of watching his grandmother at a washtub in the backyard, "washing her long white hair in rainwater"; of his and a paraplegic friend's baptism in Shannon's Creek, performed by a preacher whose sermons were, like "Kansas waterways, neither deep nor wide." Kloefkorn notes another baptism that went awry, with the victim drowning, and wonders if it "had been sufficiently and well-enough performed for it to have taken hold and thus last." Some of the waters he treads are larger, or of different form: He recalls learning of the hundreds drowned in the "bespoiled water" of Pearl Harbor; FDR taking the waters at Warm Springs, GA; Truman's calling the Hiroshima bomb "a black rain of ruin"; the time he and a friend dropped an M-80 firecracker in the women's toilet at the Baptist church, bringing on a prodigious flood. He writes, also, of favorite rivers, especially Nebraska's Loup, a stream he has floated down every summer for 30 years. Water drenches these pages, written about in a style that both immerses and quenches. — Kirkus Reviews

A Time to Sink Her Pretty Little Ship
Copyright © 1999
by William Kloefkorn
Logan House Press

Some things have gone awry in the sleepy bergs wherein William Kloefkorn's characters dwell. The unassuming title character of "Newberry's Boy" has been, for some time now, violating our most sacred taboo. "The Pisser Into Clear and Faraway Streams" refuses to die quietly. In "Baptizing the Shirt" a woman does what she can to bridge the irreconcilable difference in her marriage. A paper boy in "A Time to Sink Her Pretty Little Ship" plots a singular act of patriotism.
A Time to Sink Her Pretty Little Ship is Kloefkorn's first book of fiction. This collection of short stories as expected, has raised quite a commotion in literary circles. Kloefkorn's prose is crisp and clear, drawing on his familiar poetic voicing, as if written in a language all his own. — from the jacket

These stories, individually and collectively, are in the American tradition of Anderson, Faulkner, and Hawthorne, among others. Like those writers, Kloefkorn takes as his subject and theme small town America and its inhabitants and, more importantly, people's fascination with the seemingly bizarre and the horrifyingly inexplicable.
Better than Anderson and equal to Faulkner, in "Baptizing the Shirt" and "Newberry's Boy" Kloefkorn depicts the bizarre, but, once explained, understandable, if not forgivable, behavior of Cora Hill and a character townspeople refer to as Newberry's Boy. Cora Hill's love for her husband — and a bit of selfishness and arrogance — lead her to "baptize" her dying husband's shirt. Kloefkorn's depiction of Cora makes clear that her heart and love are right, but her head and religious obsession are off-base. She wants to assure that Clarence, who has steadfastly rejected "infernal baptism" and all it represents, will be welcome into that place of "joy inspeakable," fine. More troubling, she also thinks "she and the Lord might be in cahoots" and is convinced "God was looking favorably upon her and upon her deed"; we recall the protesters at Matthew Shepherd's funeral. By the conclusion of the story, we have an insight into and understanding of the origins of Cora's behavior, and the story reminds us of our propensity to measure the world and our relations not by our "blessings" but by our perception of what is lacking. We are also reminded of our arrogance and the harm in "violating the human heart," even when the motive is love and it appears no real harm is done. Therein, Kloefkorn, in my book, outdoes Anderson and is reminiscent of Hawthorne.
In "Newberry's Boy," Kloefkorn" story-telling is at its best. The narrator and Brant, the local merchant, undertaker and string-kicking champion, are credible because they are a part of and sympathetic to, but distinct from, the "snoopy" and "curious" crowd of "wide eye[d] and slack jaw[ed] townspeople. Both are responsible, humane men who are proud of their skills in kicking, embalming, carpentry, and story-telling, but both know the source of their gifts. Their realization and their story remind the reader of the importance of humility and of resisting the temptation to seek complex answers when simple ones will do. In this, Kloefkorn is as good as, and maybe better than, Faulkner. Kloefkorn's humor ("Brant served in the European theater and brought most of it home ..."), his ability to delay the narrative ("... which as it turned out was none other than Jack 'The Ripper' Thomas, as you will find out directly."), and his mastery of the simile from small town America ("the string from a sack of Bull Durham hanging from a pocket on his red plaid workshirt like the tongue of a small viper," Sand Creek ... "was dry as a Presbyterian," "Accuracy ... brought the bird dead as yesterday's issue ...") more than meet the expectations of readers familiar with Kloefkorn's story-telling and serve as one of the bases for recommending his work to new readers.
Buy this book. — Jo Taylor, Nebraska Territory

Copyright © 1996
by William Kloefkorn
White Pine Press

This long-awaited collection from the man who's often called the Garrison Keillor of contemporary American poetry contains works from eleven books, plus a large section of previously uncollected work. — from the publisher

Quiet and unpresuming...Kloefkorn captures the moment. — Publishers Weekly

Kloefkorn's poems adorn the pages like fine paintings hanging on an exhibition wall. He is a master wordsmith whose writing evokes images in the mind's eye, feelings in the heart's recess, and passions in the soul. — Midwest Book Review

[Kloefkorn's poetry] is stoutly hefted, four square, saying what it means to say and as straight as a box for the shoe-cleaning equipment which people used to keep in the kitchen and probably still do in Nebraska. — The North Stone Review

Uncertain the Final Run to Winter
Copyright © 1974
by Willliam Kloefkorn
Windflower Press

Uncertain the Final Run to Winter was William Kloefkorn's second book of poems, following Alvin Turner as Farmer, also from Windflower Press. In this collection, Kloefkorn writes about the places and the people he knows best: the small town (and the small-town character), the milkcow and the cornrow and the chuck-hole, the beauties and the beasts of a rural countryside. Kloefkorn has described these poems as "a series of images and vignettes and (I hope) surprises, many of them intended to remind us that there is no world more disgusting, or more compelling, than the small world." — from the jacket

Walking the Campus
Copyright © 2003
by Willliam Kloefkorn
Lone Willow Press

These peoms reveal an incisive, inventive intelligence, and a spirit whose generoisity and humor shines through even the darkest of moments. — Steven Blaski

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