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Poet follows current of language to Cornelius

Oregons poet laureate, Paulann Petersen, gives free talk Friday


PetersenWhen Paulann Petersen accepted the position of Oregon poet laureate four years ago, she agreed to make at least 20 public appearances over the next two years.

“My husband jokes that I fulfilled my agreement in the first month of being poet laureate,” Petersen said. “It has been my great good fortune to do a lot of traveling in Oregon.”

Now, halfway through her second two-year term in the position, Petersen has visited roughly 80 Oregon libraries and nearly as many schools across the state offering keynotes, workshops and readings.

The Portland-based Petersen speaks warmly of the town of Cornelius and especially the students and budding poets of Free Orchards Elementary School, where she spoke a few months ago. She will return to Cornelius Friday to speak at the public library at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

There, Petersen plans to read from her latest book of poems, “Understory.” The title is a forestry term for the level of vegetation growing under the forest canopy.

“Understory is the growth taking place closest to the earth,” she said. “It spends a good part of time in shadows. As a title it plays off the idea that any really good poem is a kind of understory in that it tells a deeper story of the world and what is going on in our lives.”

Oddly enough, Petersen admits she isn’t writing as much as she would be if she weren’t poet laureate.

“I like stretches of quiet time,” she said of her writing process. “In some ways it’s a disadvantage. I like working on the deck outside my house in good weather. I like riffing and going wherever the current of language and imagination takes me. I never know what the result will be, which makes the process exhilarating.”

Though she isn’t writing as much, Petersen says that her position as poet laureate isn’t a job, but a privilege.

“It’s an honor to be an ambassador for poetry,” she said.

An Oregon native and avid traveler, Petersen said the poet-laureate position has sent her to places even she had never been.

“It’s always exhilarating,” she said. “ There is such a beautiful variety in Oregon’s landscapes. We have one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, we have the Coast Range and the Cascades and the lush Willamette Valley. We have the sage and juniper terrain of Central Oregon and the high desert of Southern Oregon. It seems that every county in Oregon has its own particular and breathtaking beauty.”



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