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Library extends wide embrace to poet laureate

Paulann Petersen will teach workshop Saturday in Forest Grove

“Oregon is mountains, ocean, high desert, rain forest. It’s the hot springs in Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, the Church of Elvis in downtown Portland, pelicans on Klamath Lake, herons in Oaks Bottom on the Willamette. Oregon is abundance; it’s variety, vast and gorgeous,” said Paulann Petersen in an interview with Drew Myron in “Off the Page,” a literary blog, exemplifying her adoration of her home state.

The state’s sixth poet laureate will lead a writing workshop at the Forest Grove City Library 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 12, in celebration of fellow Oregon poet William Stafford’s centennial celebration.

Petersen will use three or four of William Stafford’s poems as what she calls “springboards” — a way into writing.

“Stafford’s poems are tremendously encouraging,” said Petersen, who’s on the board of Friends of William Stafford.

Stafford is a poet Petersen remembers as a great teacher who believed writing to be a kind of exploration. Like Stafford, encouragement and hospitality are also key to Petersen’s own approach to poetry. by: COURTESY PHOTO - Oregons sixth poet laureate, Paulann Petersen, will teach a writing workshop in Forest Grove April 12.

And also like William Stafford, Petersen, quite simply, loves poetry. She loves it so much she has a “Poetry Post” outside her home into which she puts multiple copies of poems she likes for public consumption — anybody can just stop by and pick up a poem.

“At first, I didn’t put my own poems in the Post, but people started to ask for them,” Petersen said.

So, just what is so great about poetry? “Poetry speaks the language of us at our best — our most creative, our most personable, responsive and attentive,” Petersen said.

Listening to Petersen speak, even a skeptic would be convinced of poetry’s power.

Her own sources of inspiration? “Anything. Memory. Image. A scrap of language.” Then she’s off, “following that gold thread,” Petersen said, quoting Stafford. “It’s a process of discovery.”

Petersen’s literary career is impressive, with six full-length books of poetry, most recently “Understory,” published by Lost Horse Press. She was also a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and received the 2006 Holbrook Award from Literary Arts in Portland.

But apart from all that, Petersen hits the road frequently to be “an ambassador for poetry,” traveling all over Oregon to spread the word, including through workshops.

Saturday’s workshop will also allow time for sharing products, poems or short prose pieces, which voluntary participants can read aloud.

“People usually want to read,” said Petersen, who describes the experience of listening to students read aloud as “exhilarating.”

Petersen stresses the importance of “creating an atmosphere for reading, supported by a community of writers.”

Workshoppers should come armed with large notebooks for plenty of writing. All levels of writing experience are welcome — yet another example of Petersen’s inclusiveness.

Registration is required at the library reference desk or at 503-992-3337.

The workshop is presented by Writers in the Grove and the library.

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