Anthony Crawford has had a good retirement. Recently, he spent a weekend driving four-wheelers in the Flint Hills, parking at the top of a rise, and eating a home-cooked meal while watching the sun set beneath the golden plains.
Crawford, 76, retired in 2015 from K-State Libraries, where he was curator of manuscripts in the Morse Department of Special Collections. Since then he has published two books of poetry, “Life Shards” and, recently, “The Flint Hills and Beyond,” which was inspired by his time in and around Manhattan.
Crawford grew up in Oklahoma City and got his bachelor’s degree in education from Oklahoma State in 1967. He taught high school history in Miami, Oklahoma, until 1972, when he decided to go back to school and enrolled in the University of Oklahoma’s Library and Information Studies Program. During that year at graduate school, Crawford got a job in the archives department. He fell in love with the information surrounding him and decided he wanted to keep his own archive of moments, emotions and observations.
That was all it was for a time; he wrote and recorded through his transition to the George C. Marshall Research Library in Lexington Virginia, a move to St. Louis in 1980 to become head of archives at Missouri Historical Society, and his final settlement in Manhattan in 1983. When Crawford came to K-State, he doubled the staff of the Special Collections Department and became the university’s first professional archivist.
Crawford grew more invested in writing after publishing “Generations of Success: A Photographic History of Kansas State University 1863-2013” in 2013 and “K-State Keepsakes” in 2015. He retired that same year having helped build the special collections department and having established endowments in excess of half a million dollars.
Crawford’s retirement brought his view of life into stark focus. He had been recording his favorite moments and ideas for 43 years and did not want them to go to waste. Crawford said retirement brings a confrontation of one’s mortality, and that’s what ultimately pushed him to publish these thoughts as his first poetry book.
Crawford published “Life Shards” in 2016. He describes this first poetry book as a “very important moment for me, as until that moment four years ago, I was a ‘closet poet’. I didn’t tell anyone about my writings, and I hadn’t published anything close to this before, so no one knew.”
He began doing poetry readings and connecting with creative writers at the Manhattan Arts Center and the Manhattan Public Library. He started translating more of his stream-of-consciousness free-verse into organized stanzas with a haiku-like rhythm. He started taking more sabbaticals into the wilderness of the Flint Hills.
“The Flint Hills have a raw beauty to the terrain, the colors, and the solitude it provides you” he said. “All of these channel emotions stir up feelings and allow you to write.” Crawford describes himself as a “grassroots poet,” so what better way to write than exploring the grasslands all around us? “Spending time in the Flint Hills is awakening—in part because there is no path—you have to make one for yourself,” he said.
Crawford particularly enjoyed his time staying at The Volland Store, about 40 minutes southeast of Manhattan, as poet-in-residence. The Volland Store was originally a general store supporting Volland and surrounding areas but, after decades of neglect, was restored as an art gallery and event center by Patty Reece.
Through Crawford’s stays as poet-in-residence, and his work on various event committees at the Volland Store, Reece has gotten to know him and his poetry quite well.
“Tony is a fine man and a talented poet,” she said. “He is such a great guest and contributor at the Volland Store, in part because he is always writing and creating for others. As the Volland Store is about building an art community, so, too, are Crawford’s poems something beautiful and, importantly, accessible enough that others can find something within their pages.”
It was at the Volland Store that Crawford wrote many of the poems that would become his new book, “The Flint Hills and Beyond.” His experiences hiking golden hills swaying with grass, exploring dirt roads amid untamed woods, and watching Kansas sunsets are a central theme of the book. His time in the Flint Hills seems to impact his style as well — stripping down unnecessary prepositions and avoiding flamboyant language to focus instead on the simplicity of nature’s beauty.
Crawford’s poetry books are available at Claflin Books or the Manhattan Public Library.
“Prairie Fall Sundown,” from “The Flint Hills and Beyond” by Tony Crawford
no other season
displays the lengthening
of the flint hills
final observance of the day
rustic browns, deep oranges, tints of green, yellow
as the slopes
extend into darkness.