Saturday, June 17, 2006

Paulann Peterson

Paulann Petersen’s work has appeared in Poetry, The New Republic, Prairie Schooner, Willow Springs, Calyx, and the Internet’s Poetry Daily.

A collection of her poems, The Wild Awake, was published by Confluence Press in 2002; Quiet Lion Press published Blood-Silk, a volume of her poems about Turkey, in 2004; and a third collection, A Bride of Narrow Escape, has been released from Cloudbank Books. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, she serves on the board of Friends of William Stafford.

Paulann Peterson was awarded Literary Arts' Stewart H. Holbrook Award, recognizing her "significant contributions that have enriched Oregon's literary community" ­ namely organizing the William Stafford Birthday Readings all over Oregon and the U.S. Her recent book of poetry A Bride of Narrow Escape was nominated for an Oregon Book Award.

David Lee

In the beginning, there were no writers, because there was no written language. But there were poets and poetry, which began with a simple, purposeful objective: to record local history and pass it on orally in such a memorable, entertaining way that future generations could hear and learn from past tragic and foolish events so that they might have some advance warning about committing similar miserable mistakes during their own lives. From that ancient, oral, poetic tradition evolved the thoughts and judgments that have resulted in all religion, philosophy, education and government.

This great narrative tradition lives on in the work of our first guest, author of twelve books and winner of the 1995 Western States Book Award, the Plains States Booksellers Award of 1996, and a Critics Choice Award. He has worn many hats on his journey to being named one of Utah's top twelve writers by the Utah Endowment for the Humanities and the Utah Governor's Award for lifetime achievement in the arts, including those of decorated soldier, boxer, semi-pro ball-player, hog farmer, professor of literature and seminarian.

But he didn't become the head of the language and literature department at Southern Utah University or the celebrated poet that he is by churning out the elitist, obfuscated and unmemorable drivel that often passes for poetry these days, which has largely served to drive modern readers away from honest poetry.

In an interview, he comments upon his narrative impulse: I'm really out of love, disenfranchised with the modern lyric poem or the 'language poem' that has no spine or character to it. Such poems are simply lumps of words that may or may not even connect. I want to get back to the original traditions of what poetry and art are—storytelling. I love stories, but I'm not a good storyteller. I have to think about it, brood, steal, lie, to create a story. As for sitting around the campfire, I'm the quietest person there. That's why I chose writing as my outlet."

The only line from that quote I'd have to dismiss outright is the one about our guest not being a good storyteller. But judge for yourself.

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photo by Carla Perry