Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday Muse: Utah's Poet Laureate

Poems, I believe, are always a transaction
between the world of words and the world of things.
~ Lance Larsen in Interview at MormonArtist

Utah's Poet Laureate is Lance Larsen, appointed in 2012 to a five-year term. The successor to Katherine Coles, Larsen is just one of four poets to have been awarded the unpaid position, which carries no official duties.

In this 10:56-minute video, Larsen talks about Utah's laureate program, his background as a poet, and what he's thinking he might do as Poet Laureate. He also offers some well-considered advice for those who want to pursue a vocation in poetry. As the state's public advocate for the literary arts, Larsen, who claims an interest in spoken-word performance, expects to do a lot of traveling, doing readings and book signings and leading workshops.

My profile of Coles includes background on the state laureate program and the selection process. Coles's "Bite Size Poems Project", to which Larsen has contributed, continues.

* * * * *
Poetry gives us a second chance at life.
~Lance Larsen*

Lance Larsen, Ph.D., who also writes nonfiction (essays) and memoir, has published four poetry collections: Genius Loci (University of Tampa Press, 2013), Backyard Alchemy (University of Tampa Press, 2009), winner of the 2009 Utah Book Award for Poetry; In All Their Animal Brilliance (University of Tampa Press, 2005), which was awarded the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry; and Erasable Walls (New Issues Press, 1998), meditations drawn from personal experience.

The subjects of Larsen's work, which he describes as "traditional" poetry and which former state poet Katherine Coles has called "brainy", encompass love, family, community, connection, and sense of place (belonging versus standing apart), aging and mortality, loss, religion, growth and renewal, the natural world. They are at once familiar and universal, the stuff of the everyday. How Larsen treats them can seem, on a first or surface reading, simple, even mundane, but revisiting the poems, especially the longer, narrative work, reveals a keen eye for the observed, a searching for deeper meaning through sometimes startling metaphor and simile, and an appreciation for the transformative power of what is larger than oneself. He is drawn, he told one interviewer, to "the up-close, magnifying-glass-and-tweezer work that goes into a poem" but tries always to "step back and see what kind of larger argument a poem makes."** I read in his latter statement an expressed willingness to remain open to experience, which can only serve his poetry well.

Here are the opening lines of Larsen's "The Shapes Sadness Can Take":

A boy on his back staring past smokestacks
wants the one white cloud to look like the state

where his father was born,. . . .

His "Chancellor of Shadows" is representative of his command of imagery:

Horses are praying the old fashioned way, trotting
a fenced field at twilight under a towel of moon.

. . . Yes, we have our rituals, like the skunk

stitching one pulsing patch of shadow to the next
with the swish of its tail. . . .

Larsen has noted in interviews that he collects into a notebook sentences that he might later craft into two-line poems or aphorisms. Here are two examples, both from "Backyard Georgics":

Look down: a river of grass. Look up: a velvet lost
and found: Look inside: no straws to drink that dusk.

* * *
A woman's watch thieved by a jay—ah, to be lifted
like that, to be carried like time across lapping waves.

Poems by Larsen have appeared in many literary periodicals, among them Agni, Black Warrior ReviewGeorgia Review, Green Mountains Review, Image JournalThe Paris ReviewPoetry, Poetry NorthwestPloughshares, Poetry Daily, Prairie SchoonerQuarterly WestRiver Styx, Southern Review, and Versedaily, and are in such anthologies as The Pushcart Prize AnthologyBest American Poetry, and American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series, 2000).

Larsen's collection of essays Seventeen Ways to Float was awarded first place in biography/autobiography in the 2011 Utah Original Writing Competition (an excerpt, "Tired" is here). His other honors include a Pushcart Prize and a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry, and awards from The Anderson Center, The Joseph Campbell Foundation,  Sewanee and SouthWest Writers, and Association for Mormon Letters.

Larsen is Associate Chair of the English Department at Brigham Young University, where he teaches literature and creative writing.

Mixed media artist and painter Jacqui Larsen, the poet's wife, occasionally collaborates with her husband. Jacqui Larsen's work is used on the covers of Genius LociIn All Their Animal Brilliance, and Backyard Alchemy.


* Quoted in "Gov. Herbert Names BYU English Professor as Utah Poet Laureate", The Salt Lake Tribune, May 4, 2012

Photo Courtesy Utah Division of Arts & Museums

All Poetry Excerpts © Lance Larsen

Ben Fulton, "Gov. Herbert Names BYU English Professor as Utah Poet Laureate", The Salt Lake Tribune, May 4, 2012

Paige Fieldsted, "BYU Professor Named Poet Laureate", Daily Herald, May 8, 2012

Lance Larsen Poetry Online: "Want Song" and "Backyard Georgics", Both at Poetry Foundation; "Light", "Love", "Memories", and "Snow", All at PoemHunter; "Late Measures in Blood" and "The Most Spider Part of Me", Both at ConnotationPress; "The World's Lap" at How a Poem Happens; "A Tenderness Likes Knives", "The Shapes Sadness Can Take", Both at Versedaily; "Not Necessarily at Rest" at Orion Magazine; "Sub Rosa", "Warming the Bed", and "The World's Lap", All at Agni Online; "Trust" at Poetry Daily; "To the Ode", "A Necklace of Ants", "Some Minutes", "Not Necessarily at Rest", and "A Bright Darkness Sometimes Mistaken for Fishing", All at MormonArtist; "Vineyard" at NEA Writers' Corner; "To Breath" at likewise folio; "Chancellor of Shadows" at All Finite Things Reveal Infinitude; "Santiago, Pluperfect" at Slate (Audio Included); "February 1922: My Father's Conception" at New Issues; "To My Muse" and "Aphorisms for a Lonely Planet", Excerpts at Project Muse; "Best Use" at Southern Poetry Review; "Water"; "Why Do You Keep Putting Animals in Your Poems" at Indiana Review (Audio); "Like a Wolf" at The Write Question (Montana Public Radio Program); "Between the Heaves of Storm" at Poem Bouquet; "A Bright Darkness Sometimes Mistaken for Fishing" at Green Mountains Review (Why Write Series #14); "The Hunger Diaries" at The Gettysburg Review; "Sub Rosa" at The Victorian Violet Press & Journal; "To Fire" at plume; "Feed" at Zocalo Public Square

Lance Larsen, "Looking for Spiral Jetty", Essay, Web del Sol/Quarterly West

"Lance Larsen on His Poem 'To a Braying Donkey'", Ploughshares Blog, March 8, 2011

Jon Ogden, "Lance Larsen", Interview, MormonArtist, Issue 11, August/September 2010

"An Interview with Newly Appointed Utah Poet Laureate Lance Larsen", Tampa Review & Tampa Press Blog, May 2012

Jennifer Napier-Pearce, "Bite-Size Poetry: Lance Larsen", KUER 90.1, Interview and Reading (Audio), December 29, 2009

"Poet Lance Larsen" at ThinkingAloud, Classical89, March 2009 (Poetry Reading) (This audio interview also can be found here.)

Mike White, "Lance Larsen: In All Their Animal Brilliance", Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review

"Chris Straubhaar Reviews In All Their Animal Brilliance", Inscape, November 16, 2011

Lance Larsen Performs "Some Minutes", Video on YouTube, 2009

Utah Division of Arts & Museums

University of Tampa Press

Utah Center for the Book at Utah Humanities Council (Utah Book Award)

Utah State Poetry Society


Louise Gallagher said...

Love his two line journalling!

Anonymous said...

bite size poems is interesting.