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Poet Turiya Autry On 'Roots, Reality And Rhyme'

Turiya Autry

Amidst the flurry of activity commemorating the centennial of poet William Stafford’s birth, another Oregon poet and educator is releasing her first book of poetry.

Turiya Autry has been working on Roots, Reality and Rhyme for about 15 years.

Autry has also been at the center of the Portland slam poetry scene for years and directs education programs for the Caldera Arts program. In both roles, she mentors youth and promotes their voices in the arts. That work has led Autry to some unexpected places, one of which is explored in Roots.

“I was visiting Rwanda in central Africa for a conference around organizing youth to be active in their communities and to help foster positive change,” she explains. The work took her to the cities as well as Rwanda’s verdant, tropical countryside.

“Rwanda’s like paradise,” she remembers. But after visiting the mass gravesites of one of the 20th century’s most unimaginable atrocities, Autry found herself “torn.”

“How can we as human beings be on this planet Earth, which is abundant really for everyone to survive and be well taken care of, and like an Eden and a utopia, but yet we’re constantly tarnishing it and making it a destructive place?” she asks.

“On the one hand you have this devastating history that impacted everybody in the region and rippled throughout the world. And then on the other hand, there are these incredible, beautiful, motivated people who have lived through so much tragedy and seen so much destruction, who still have hope and still have love and still smile,” observes Autry. “It was a really powerful experience and there were a few times where I just had to sit and write to get it out.”

One result is a triptych of poems called “Rwanda.” You can see Autry reading part one in the video above.

Autry will turn 42 in April and feels that in some ways she is following in Stafford’s footsteps.

“If William Stafford could publish [his first book of poetry] in his late 40s and have this amazing career, and be so known that we’re celebrating his centennial, you know, it gives me really a lot of inspiration,” she says.

Autry hopes others will “think about that and [say], ‘It’s not too late for me to become a poet or to pursue my art,’ or whatever way they want to express their creativity.”

To learn more about Autry, watch her read “How I Met My Muse” in the recent Oregon Art Beat special “Discovering William Stafford, ” tune in to State of Wonder on February 1 at noon on OPB Radio, or attend one of her upcoming book readings (details below).

Poet Turiya Autry Reads From “Roots, Reality And Rhyme”:

Friday, January 31, 2014
Blazer’s Boys and Girls Club
Doors @ 7:00, 7:30pm event start
5250 NE MLK Jr. Blvd.
Portland, OR 97211
Friday, February 7, 2014

Le Meitour Gallery
Doors @ 6:30, 7pm event start
7814 SW Capitol Hwy
Portland, Oregon 97219
Thursday, February 13, 2014
IPRC- Independent Publishing Resource Center
Doors @ 6:30, 7pm event start
1001 SE Division St
Portland, Oregon 97202

Turiya Autry poet

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