Oregon’s sixth poet laureate read from her new book of poems to a high turnout of students, faculty, staff and others Nov. 30 in the Jane Austin Reading Room of Nicholson Library. The event is part of Linfield’s ongoing series “Readings at the Nick.”
More than 60 people listened to Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen read from her new collection of poems, “The Voluptuary.”
“The turnout was gratifying — one of the largest we’ve had for any of the ‘Readings at the Nick,’” Professor of English Lex Runciman, who arranged Petersen’s visit, said in an e-mail. “It suggests to me that even in a time of 4G phones and instant access to information, the title ‘Oregon Poet Laureate’ carries a particular cachet.”
Petersen said the book was dedicated to Walt Whitman (with whom she shares her surname) and to her parents. One section of the book consists of poems addressed directly to Whitman.
She said she was inspired by Whitman and wrote many poems while reading through two of his collections: “Leaves of Grass” and “Speciman Days.”
“I was overcome by the immensity of his embrace of the world. [He] just draws the whole world into his poems, and his generosity of spirit,” Petersen said. “It was very, very moving.”
She read two of her poems addressed to Whitman, and she also read a poem by Runciman, titled “All Is A Procession,” which praised Whitman.
“I didn’t know she would be reading it,” Runciman said via e-mail. “For her to do so was a gracious gesture.”
Junior Josh Rivas said he enjoyed Petersen’s reading.
“I liked it overall; her words were almost always of praise, with a bit of nostalgia laced in between,” he said in an e-mail. “Her style has a very personal voice — something I can respect in a poet.”
Rivas said he particularly liked her poem “During a Solar Eclipse.” In the poem, Petersen described how ancient cultures yelled and made noise during solar eclipses in order to drive off whatever they thought was trying to kill the sun, but she also wondered if perhaps the sun and the moon were making love instead and that perhaps it was best to keep quiet and look away.
Petersen also answered questions from the audience about her work as a poet.
“It’s so wonderful to be an ambassador for poetry,” she said in response to a question about her role as poet laureate. “It’s a delight and honor. It’s pure pleasure.”
When asked why she thought it was important to write, she said, “we write to create ourselves.” She also called writing “a wonderful process of discovery.”
Rivas said he thought writing was important for individuals.
“I believe she meant that writing is a way of exploring and relating to the human condition,” he said via e-mail. “We find a bit of ourselves in writing because it is a reflection of the will of our hearts.”
According to oregonpoetlaureate.org, Petersen began writing poetry after moving to Klamath Falls, Ore., and being inspired by its landscape. Her first published poem was in a Sunday edition of the Oregonian in 1976, according to the website.
In April of 2010, she was named Oregon’s sixth poet laureate.
“It still seems amazing to me,” she said. “Practically every day I just have to stop and think, ‘Oh my gosh, is this really true?’”
Runciman said he thinks it’s important for students to attend events such as readings, concerts and art exhibits.
“For our students, we want to put them in the company of practitioners and practitioners that aren’t their teachers,” he said.
Rivas also said that he believes readings such as Petersen’s are valuable to students interested in writing.
“It gives us a perspective of the successful writer and the things that they have to do in order to become so successful,” he said via e-mail. “It also exposes us to new styles and techniques in writing that we have yet to touch upon.”
For more information about Petersen, and to read selections from “The Voluptuary,” visit www.paulann.net.
Braden Smith /Managing editor
Braden Smith can be reached at email@example.com.