South Dakota Festival of Books Author, Sioux Falls Poet Inspired by Conservation

Cole Featured in Poetry Track at 2018 Event

By South Dakota Magazine

Editor's Note: This feature story was originally printed in our 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books Guide, which was produced by South Dakota Magazine. Download a free copy here.  

A visitor to Falls Park in Sioux Falls might spot a discarded mattress trapped by an old cotton-wood in the Big Sioux River and think it an eye-sore.

For Kevin Cole, it's inspiration. "It's a dirty river, but it's my river," Cole writes in "Lunch," one of 59 poems in his collection entitled "Late Summer Plums."

First-time Presenter

Cole (pictured to the right) is a first-time presenter at the 16th annual South Dakota Festival of Books, which will be held Sept. 20-23, 2018 in Brookings and Sioux Falls.

The Poetry track, which Cole is a part of, is one of several tracks featured at the 2018 Brookings and Sioux Falls event.

Other tracks include fiction, non-fiction, literature, children's/YA, history/tribal writing, and writer's support. The event includes authors from South Dakota and throughout the U.S.

Cole's work is a tribute to the geography and nature of East River South Dakota and northwest Iowa. Readers get the not so pleasant (a river-soaked mattress, an inebriated woman at Falls Park) with the much more pleasant (tributes to great blue herons in early spring and a regal stand of Russian olives). 

Lifetime Surrounded by Water

Sioux Falls Poet Kevin Cole is a featured author at the 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books.
South Dakota author Kevin Cole is inspired by conservation, which is illustrated in his poetry.

Cole's poems are written in the voice of a person who has spent a lifetime surrounded by the rivers, lakes and prairies of eastern South Dakota — a significant achievement given that the author grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, earned bachelor's and master's degrees in English at Texas A&M and a doctorate at Baylor.

But it turns out South Dakota's prairie pothole region feels like home for Cole, who spent his childhood among the wetlands around Copano Bay.

"If you look at photos of where I grew up compared to the sloughs and marshes anywhere East River, most of the time people can't tell them apart," says Cole, who teaches at the University of Sioux Falls. "While you might think that South Texas and South Dakota are worlds apart, in terms of geography, they really aren't."

Marriage of Poetry and Conservation

The marriage of poetry and conservation proved natural for Cole, who grew up in a house full of books and with a father who forever urged his son outdoors to hunt, fish or simply observe nature through long hikes. Cole will speak on that very subject at this year's festival. He credits Aldo Leopold's "Sand County Almanac" and Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" — the iconic 1962 book about the environmental dangers of pesticides — for propelling him down that path.

"If I had to choose a book that's been more influential on me than any other, it's 'Silent Spring,'" Cole says. "She [Carson] is the inspiration for a lot of what I do, but also thinking about conservation as a poetic act. A poem conserves language, and that's what a conservationist does. They're trying to conserve the land. There's something sacred about it. I see the two as mutual forces in celebrating and sometimes lamenting the land."

Rachel Carson's

Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" was a large influence for Kevin Cole.

Cole does exactly that in "Late Summer Plums," published in 2016. An interesting addition to the poems is latitude and longitude coordinates — clues to the places that inspired each section.

"The book is definitely about place. I really wanted to emphasize the importance of place," he says. "I think in American culture we're losing that more and more, whether that's because of urbanization or the forces of technology. I also wanted to emphasize just how rich a very small piece of ground can be, and its potential for art — painting, composing music or, in my case, writing poetry."

More About Kevin Cole

Kevin L. Cole is a professor of English at the University of Sioux Falls. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and South Dakota Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Council of Independent Colleges. Cole's first poetry collection, "Late Summer Plums," was published in 2016, and he also writes plays and is at work on two novels. When not teaching or writing, he's probably walking through the countryside looking for birds.

More About the South Dakota Festival of Books

To read more about Kevin Cole and other authors at the 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books, and for scheduling information, click below to visit our website listing everything you need to know about the 2018 Brookings and Sioux Falls event.