Eastern Kansas, in the center of the USA. I say “eastern” because western Kansas is very different. Eastern Kansas has, what we call “rolling prairie.” The land is not flat and from a high point you can see one high area after another after another. The horizon is flat. It took me into adulthood to realize that the landscape in Kansas is under the horizon. The horizon is a steady line circling all around you, when you’re outside of a town, that is.
The western Kansas landscape is less rolling, and a lot dryer. Trees occassionally appear in the landscape out there. Here, we have trees everywhere. Here, trees and brush are actually a problem for farmers. If I didn’t keep at it, trees and brush would invade and fill my pasture and meadows.
My family has been here since the 60s. The 1860s. I think March 1868 to be more precise. Other branches of my family came to the colonies in the 1740s or 50s. Yet another branch came after some last ice age. We have no records at all of the earliest of them. So, feel I belong here.
What is the greatest thing about the place you call home?
The distances you can see. How far away is the horizon? Thirty, forty miles? I don’t know, but it appears that you can see forever. I love that. When I go to places with mountains, such as Colorado, where the Rocky Mountains are, I feel closed in. I can’t see. The mountains get in the way.
With such views across the prairie, you can see changes in weather coming and, with practice, can estimate how soon the storm will arrive. One time, when I was working outside I watched a wall of rain approaching. It was awesome.
The greatest thing about seeing all that space in all directions around you is the perspective on our own human insignificance. You can’t have much of an ego when you KNOW you are a tiny speck under all that endless sky.
What turns you on creatively?
Unusual things or situations. I was sitting on a rock in foot tall grass in my pasture one time and noticed a slight movement in the grass. Almost imperceptable. The movement was coming towards me. I wondered: is it a threat? Will I need to leave in a hurry? I was sure it was some kind of animal. A snake? We have poisonous snakes here. The creature was so little, and the grass was so tall and thick, I couldn’t tell anything about it – except that it was coming towards me. Finally, I concluded that since it was this slow coming towards me, it probably wasn’t much of a threat and I could run, maybe even walk, faster than it if I needed to get away.
Eventually the head of a turtle poked itself out of the grass in front of me. I had to laugh! It was a box turtle. Not quite friendly, but certainly not a danger to me. My giant self was more of a threat to it!
So, of course, I had to write a poem about the entire experience.
What is your favorite word, and can you use it in a poetic sentence?
I don’t know that I have just one. I enjoy reading old words in the Oxford English Dictionary and trying to use them. One, I’ve used for the title of a book of poetry: Ichnographical. I love that it can be pronounced as a German or as an English word. It means a rough floorplan or outline of a place. The poems in that collection form an outline of my life.
What is your pet peeve?
People who insist that, since computers can easily recognize one open space between sentences, instead of the two as I was taught, that I should stop using two. But with my dyslexia, I find two spaces even difficult to process. When I was learning to read, I didn’t see periods at all. They were nothings. When reading out loud, my teacher would constantly tell me to stop when she saw the end of a sentence. Finally, in desperation, I drew tiny stop signs coming up out of the periods, so I could notice the periods. Now, the one space makes reading even more difficult. Sentences never end.
What defines Duane L Herrmann?
I suppose that depends on who you ask, I’m a father, grandfather, uncle and friend. I’m no longer a grandson or son, but I’m still a nephew. It amazes me how the landscape of my family has changed as I’ve gotten older.
But a common thread, I think, would be my differentness from most people. Not only does the dyslexia affect my perceptions, along with ADHD and cyclothymia, but my mother was mentally ill and insisted on her warped view of the world being the only one. And, she insisted, demanded, that I do work at home that she didn’t want to do (at two I was charged with giving my baby sister her bottle, that was added to by the time I was 13 and was left in charge of the house, my two young brothers, meals for us and our father, the large garden (we canned 150 quarts of green beans on the weekends when she came home), the chickens and their eggs and assorted dogs and cats. When she returned from the college summer session she had attended out of town, my dad put me on a tractor to farm with him.
So, when I say, I’ve been working my entire life, I truly mean my ENTIRE life. Only since I’ve retired from my last paid employment have I truly had time for myself. It’s a very strange experience.
So, I see and do things differently from most people who seem to have had no responsibilities until they were adults (and some, not even then). That helps me notice things others often miss and write from unusual perspectives. The “speakers” of my poems are not always human. Sometimes, I wonder if I am.
But I now have an award-winning local history book, eight books of poetry, three memoirs ghost written for others, a book on fasting, and many short stories, stories for children, chapbooks, microchapbooks and poems published (over 100 just in 2023) and my work is in over sixty anthologies. So, I guess I’m some kind of writer too.
A reluctant carbon-based life-form, Herrmann was surprised to find himself on a farm in Kansas. He’s still trying to make sense of that, but has grown fond of grass waving under wind, trees and the enchantment of moonlight. He aspires to be a hermit, but would miss his children, grandchildren and a few friends. His work has been published in print and online, even some of both in languages he can’t read (English is difficult enough!). These include a sci fi novel, seven collections of poetry, a local history, stories for children, a book on fasting, plus other works. He has carried baby kittens in his mouth, pet snakes, and has conversations with owls, but is careful not to anger them! All this, and degrees in education and history, despite a traumatic, abusive childhood embellished with dyslexia, ADHD (both unknown at the time), cyclothymia, an anxiety disorder and, now, PTSD.