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Contributed By:

Emily Harris

Northwest Passages: Paulann Petersen

OPB | June 8, 2010 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:28 p.m.

Sabina Samiee

Oregon’s new poet laureate, Paulann Petersen, believes poetry is for everyone. She told the laureate committee that

Poetry is not the domain of just a few, not the realm of the elite. Poetry is as natural and accessible as heartbeat and breath.

Petersen came to poetry relatively late herself. She’d always read passionately, but contemporary poetry only caught her eye when she was a housewife raising young children in Klamath Falls. She says poetry brought her to poetry — simply falling in love with what she was reading.

I had found some of the poetry that was spinning out of the poets of the day, of the moment — so fresh its ink was barely dry. I guess the desire to be a writer was there, inside me, waiting. A strong desire. I’d found what took my breath away, what I most wanted to read, to hear. And I began to write it.

She writes in “sonic riffs” — letting words take her where they are going through sound as well as meaning. She is a passionate teacher, and as poet laureate hopes to bring a technique she says has revolutionized her poetry workshops to teachers in every part of Oregon. (She wrote about the technique in this downloadable essay (.doc), which was originally published in the Oregon English Journal.)

If you’ve read her work or taken a workshop from her, what did you experience? What would you like Paulann Petersen to do as Oregon’s poet laureate?

Or — another way to join the conversation — tell us what you think when you read this Paulann Petersen poem, “When Meeting: the other” from her most recent book, Kindle.

Given arms, the sun
would choose to grow many.
Having many narrow arms,
the sun would — at each limb’s end —
flare into a palm and fingers,
into the curves made for reaching.

Extremities of flame, of shine.
Hands that carry enough
heat and light to give away.

Be that sun. One small sun.

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