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An ambassador of poetry

As an ambassador of poetry, Oregon's Poet Laureate Peter Sears works to encourage literacy and address issues related to arts and heritage in this state.

As part of that work, Sears will provide at least six and up to 20 public readings per year in settings across the state to educate community, business and state leaders about the value and importance of poetry and creative expression. This is his first visit as laureate to Southern Oregon. Throughout his tenure, Sears said in a press release, he plans to work closely with members of diverse communities and expand the reach of poetry.

He'll read work from his latest book, “Small Talk: New and Selected Poems,” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12, at the Ashland library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd. The event is presented by Friends of the Ashland Public Library. “Small Talk” includes poems from his previous collections and adds 30 new poems. Long-time fans of Sears' work will be pleased to find many familiar favorites, and he will win new fans with his disarming, comic and surprising voice. Admission is free.

Amy MacLennan, part of the Chautauqua Poets and Writers group that helped organize the reading, says those not familiar with his work will be delighted.

“He represents Oregon and Oregon poetry so well,” MacLennan says. “His work is great. He writes straightforward, down-to-earth, witty stuff, and people are going to have a great time at his reading.”

Sears also will conduct a poetry workshop, “Ways of Revising,” at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Ashland library. The cost is $20. Call 541-646-8191 to register. The workshop will focus on strategies for editing and revising poems.

MacLennan, who's participated in Sears' workshops in the past, says he is a very good teacher.

“In workshops he's honest and kind at the same time," she says. "I think folks are going to come away with solid tools they can use to take a close look at their own work to improve their poems,” she says.

Sears is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. From 1959 to 1962, he worked in the Army as a linguist, a job that may have influenced the finely crafted language in his poetry. Later, he worked in publishing, advertising and as a high school teacher. Sears came to Oregon in 1974 to teach creative writing at Reed College, and has served as the community services coordinator for the Oregon Arts Commission.

His poetry collection, “The Brink,” was named one of Oregon's 150 best books by the Oregon State Library. In addition, he does many poetry workshops and readings at public schools, libraries, colleges, community centers and literary festivals throughout the state. He is the founder of the Oregon Literary Coalition and co-founder of Friends of William Stafford and Cloudbank Books. He teaches in the Master's of Fine Arts program at Pacific University. In April of this year, Sears, who lives in Corvallis, was selected by Gov. John Kitzhaber to succeed Paulann Petersen as Oregon's seventh poet laureate.

“It is exciting to have Peter Sears read here in Ashland,” MacLennan says. "We've had amazing poet laureates. We've had William Stafford, Lawson Inada, Paulann Peterson, and now Peter Sears. People are going to come away from his reading knowing that the reins of the poet laureateship are in good hands.”

Peter Sears, shown here at his work, was named Oregon's poet laureate in April by Gov. John Kitzhaber.