Monday, May 5, 2014

Monday Muse: Oregon's New State Poet Laureate

I write poems because I need art in order to seek full expression.*
~ Peter Sears

Peter Sears has succeeded Paulann Petersen as Oregon's seventh Poet Laureate. Petersen served two two-year appointments (2010-2012 and 2012-2014). Sears began his term on April 25, 2014.

Information about the Oregon position is found in my March 15, 2010, post about Lawson Fusao Inada, state poet from 2006 to 2010.

As Poet Laureate, Sears aims to "partner" with others in advocating for poetry. He told Oregon Public Broadcasting, "I have this notion of expanding voices. I'd like to arrange to have a person from within the community read with me" during travels around the state. Sears expects to give numerous public readings and work to educate citizens as well as business and state leaders about poetry's value and importance to Oregon's culture. 

* * * * *
. . . what I am interested in is the rendering of the experience,
not the content. If, in the effort to render, nothing
 happens of interest in the language, 
then I set the draft aside, usually for good.*

Peter Sears is the author, most recently, of Small Talk: Selected Poems (Lynx House Press, March 2014). In addition to a number of chapbooks, including the 14-poem Luge, he has published three other full-length collections of poetry: Green Diver (C.W. Books/WordTech Communications, 2009); The Brink (Gibbs Smith, Peregrine Smith Poetry Competition 12, 1999; available through resellers), awarded the 2000 Western States Book Award for Poetry and named by the Oregon State Library as one of the 150 Oregon Books for the Oregon Sesquicentennial; and Tour: New and Selected Poems (Breitenbush Books, 1987; available through resellers). (Tour includes poems from earlier chapbooks.) He also has written two textbooks: Secret Writing: Keys to the Mysteries of Reading and Writing (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2000) and Gonna Bake Me a Rainbow Poem: A Student Guide to Writing Poetry (Scholastic Trade, 1990; available through resellers). 

Sears's poems are notable not only for their use of narrative, an express interest of Sears (see quote above) but also for their humor, irony, and occasionally unexpected darkness and depth. The poet is as apt to write on fishing, baseball, or nature as on such abstract subjects such as memory, regret, and loneliness and emptiness. He can be at one and the same time playful and reflective. His voice is assured (he seems to write primarily in first and third person) and be lyrical (". . . I can hear / . . . an echo like / when you turn away from a river and you can't tell / if it's the river right then or a sound / of the river echoing through you. . . ." from "Snow at Night").

One of the best examples of Sears's work is his deceptively straightforward and delightful poem "High in the Bamboo":

The cat likes to sit in the bamboo,
rest its head on its front paws,
and look out at the world.

I like to sit on the porch,
rest my head against the back of my old chair,
and watch the cat look at the world.

I look up into the bambo, too,
glance back down at the cat
to see if it has moved.

It hasn't. I try to catch it moving.
I don't succeed. I squint to pretend
I am falling asleep. I fall asleep.

When I awake, the cat is gone.
I look back into the bamboo.
The bamboo tops move.
~ from Green Diver

Note the contrasting but parallel stances of cat and narrator ("The cat likes....", "I like...."), which structures the poem, and how the quiet, somewhat languid cat-like movement of the poem is disrupted with the sudden shift of rhythm in the fourth stanza, full of end-stopped lines that wonderfully conclude with the narrator(!) falling asleep. Sears leaves readers with some questions about who's watching whom.

Sears, whom Dorianne Laux has called "an heir to Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch", has published his work in Antioch Review, The Atlantic, Black Warrior Review, Cimarron Review, Field, Iowa Review, New Letters, Northwest Review, Oregon Literary Review, OrionPloughshares, Poetry Northwest,  Poetry NowSeneca Review, and Southern Poetry Review, among many other literary periodicals and national magazines and newspapers.

Some anthologies that include Sears's poems are Fast Break to Line Break: Poets on the Art of Baseball (Michigan State University Press, 2012), The Art of Angling: Poems About Fishing (Knopf/Everyman's Library Pocket Poets, 2011), Yes Poetry (Fast Books, 2007), Never Before: Poems About First Experiences (Four Way Books, 2005), Night Out: Poems About Hotels, Motels, Restaurants, and Bars (Milkweed Editions, 1997), Scribner's Poets for Students: A Scribner's Student Encyclopedia, Season of Dead Water (Corner Books, 1990), and Voices for the Land. Three Sears poems ("How Do You Really Do?", "The Crazy Animals Say They Love Me", and "Harvey Wallbanger" are on the Fishtrap 25th Anniversary Sampler, a CD.

Sears's honors include a Willamette Writers award for his contributions to Oregon writing (2008), a Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award (1999), Award of Honor and Appreciation from Oregon State Library (1988), and an Oregon Arts Commission fellowship in poetry (1984). He was Writer-in-Residence at Reed College in 1974.

Currently, Sears teaches in Pacific University's low-residency Masters of Fine Arts program in writing. He is a member of the faculty of the Mountain Writers Series (he teaches poetry workshops) and co-edits Cloudbank: journal of contemporary writing, a limited-edition publication he started in 1999 with Michael Malan. Sears also is the editor of the anthology Just Now: Twenty New Portland Poets (Cloudbank Books, 2014).

Sears founded the nonprofit Friends of William Stafford with Stafford's son Kim.


All Poetry Excerpts © Peter Sears

* Quoted from B.T. Shaw, "Poetry: A Chat with Corvallis Poet Peter Sears", The Oregonian, April 24, 2010

Michael McInally, "Governor Appoints Corvallis Man State's Poet Laureate", Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 26, 2014

KOIN, "Peter Sears Named Oregon Poet Laureate", April 25, 2014

Oregon Cultural Trust, "Peter Sears Named Oregon Poet Laureate", April 24, 2014, News Release

Oregon Humanities, "Peter Sears Named Oregon's Seventh Poet Laureate" (This is the same announcement as was issued by Oregon Arts Commission on April 25, 2014. A variation of the annoucement was picked up by a number of the newspapers, including Corvallis Gazette-TimesStatesman Journal and The Register-Guard.)

Oregon Public Broadcasting, "Peter Sears Named Next Oregon Poet Laureate" (Audio and Text), April 26, 2014

Peters Sears Poems Online: "No Problem" and "It's Shifts of Sideways If She Talks to You", Both at The Cortland Review; "Blue Meat Loaf", "They Are So Slow in This Town", "Dumb Eyes", and "Greetings from Earth", All at Spork Press; "High in the Bamboo" (from Green Diver) at Public Poetry; "What Grandfather Did at His Funeral", "When the Red Wind Blows", and "Mean", All at Oregon Literary Review; "Luge", "Dear Giant Squid", "Dream of Following", and "Long After I am Gone", All at; "Chemo Silver", "My Time May Come Any Time", "The Iraqi Women", "Worried Sick in Klamath Falls", All at Oregon Poetic Voices (Audio Available with Text); "High in the Bamboo", "My Emptiness Rides in the Back Seat, Propped Up", "The Iraqi Women", and  "Postcard to Herself", All at CW Books; "Bike Run" at Without ellipses... (Broadside); "Boycott" at MFA in a Box; "The Dew Lies Thick on the High Grasses" at Raven Chronicles; "The Problem With Being a Pallbearer in This City Under Siege", "The Old Demon Drops By to Cool Off", "Twerp", and "Going Off the High Board", All at Apercus Quarterly (pdf; pp. 41-46); "Snow at Night" at Poetry Society of America; "American Hero" at Beloit Poetry Journal (pp. 37-39)

Audio of Peter Sears Reading "No Problem" at OPB News on SoundCloud

Audio of Peter Sears at Reading from Mountain Writer Series, 2009

Dave Jarecki, "Interview with Peter Sears, pt. 1", January 2009

Review of Green Diver and Luge: a chapbook of poems by Peter Sears (Cloudbank Books, 2008) at Writecorner Press

Review, "On Peter Sears's Luge" at Far Corner Reader, 2008

Peter Sears on FaceBook

Mountain Writers Series (Peter Sears's Workshop)

Oregon Arts Commission

Oregon Cultural Trust (FaceBook)

Oregon Humanities

Oregon Poet Laureate

Oregon Poet Laureate on FaceBook

Oregon Poetry Association

Oregon State Library

Portland Poets Exchange

Western States Arts Federation


Maureen said...

Coming up on Monday Muse are profiles of new Poets Laureate for the states of Idaho, New Hampshire, and Wyoming.

Anonymous said...

thanks for all the info.
i will take some time on it.