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Oregon poet laureate carries message across state

Oregon’s new poet laureate, Peter Sears, will be in Ashland for workshops and readings Friday and Saturday, events in which he will promote his new book, “Small Talk,” and hopes to ignite interest among his audience in picking up the pen or keyboard and dashing off verse as a way of life.

 “I don’t have a ‘thing,’ a central subject matter in my work,” said Sears. “I write to express feeling and situations .... It feels great to be able to travel around as poet laureate, though it’s a lot of work.”

Sears' talk and reading will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Gresham Room of the Ashland library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd. He will speak on Jefferson Exchange radio at 9 a.m. Friday and for teacher Kathi Bowen-Jones’ Creative Writing students Friday in the Ashland High School library. He will also do a workshop Saturday, but registration is full. Many of Sears’ poems can be found at https://www.facebook.com/PeterSearsPoetLaureate.

 Sears said in a phone interview that he came to like poetry, especially modern verse, in college, then expanded it in off hours during Army service.

 “I sent poems out for publication. They weren’t very good. I went to writing workshops, then finally the Iowa Writers Workshop,” at University of Iowa.

 “It helped me learn what poetry really is and how to work on it,” he said.

 What poetry does, he adds, is allow people to express themselves. People go about their lives with a lot of private, internal thoughts they want to share and poetry can open that.

 “For the reader of poetry, it opens all kinds of questions and material that people want to think about. It’s quite interesting and uplifting. Reading it helps me write it. It engages a different part of the brain and it’s interesting to go there and engage it.”

 The lectures, readings and classes of Oregon’s poet laureates are “absolutely an introduction to poetry, writing and workshops for many people who have never been to such a workshop,” Sears said.

 Last weekend he led a poetry workshop at Oregon Caves and, for most participants, they’d never had any direct experience with poetry, he said.

 “They read some of theirs, which they just wrote, and we all wanted to talk about it,” he said. “Some wrote some pretty good stuff and liked it. We tried to give them enough stimulation and support to come back to it and write more. It’s quite a creative situation to come back to it on your own. You have to discover it for yourself and want to come back to it.”

 Oregon’s first poet laureate, Edwin Markham, was appointed in 1923. Ben Hur Lampman served in the '50s and the widely noted William Stafford, 1975 to 1990. Stafford was a mentor of Sears. Ashland’s Lawson Inada was top poet from 2006 to 2010.

 “Bill Stafford was very special,” said Sears. “I knew him and absorbed a lot of inspiration from him. He had modesty and great attention to detail.” Stafford died in 1993.

 The full title of Sears' new book is "Small Talk: New and Selected Poems,” and it's published by Lynx House Press.

 The Oregon poet laureate is appointed by the governor. The program is a collaboration of the state's five cultural partners, Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Humanities, Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Historical Society, and State Historic Preservation Office, with funding from the Oregon Cultural Trust.

 Reach freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Peter Sears