Utah’s poet laureate suggests everybody learn these three poems from Utah writers

Paisley Rekdal mentioned she thinks of her title, poet laureate for the state of Utah, as “an ambassador of poetry …, a person who tries to make poetry more accessible to the community at large.”

After 5 years, the ambassador is ending her tour of responsibility — and she or he considers her time period successful.

The largest challenge on Rekdal’s agenda is the Utah Poetry Festival, which has been happening all through April in venues across the state, coinciding with National Poetry Month. Rekdal — together with writers Lisa Bickmore, Kimberly Johnson, Natasha Sajé, and Jennifer Tonge — began the primary competition in 2019. For 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the occasion went digital.

One draw back of going to an internet format, Rekdal mentioned, was not seeing schoolkids across the state in particular person. “Many of the most memorable moments have been working with really young kids who have this incredible talent for poetry that they didn’t even know they had, and being able to sort of nurture that a little bit,” she mentioned.

One of the centerpiece occasions of the competition occurs this weekend. Rekdal will host a studying over Zoom, Friday at 7 p.m., that includes Utah poets Jay Hopler, Kimberly Johnson and Nan Seymour. That’s adopted by a day of on-line workshops and conversations on Saturday — ending with one other studying at 7 p.m. with Utah poets Danielle Dubrasky, Nancy Takacs, and John Belk. Registration is offered on the competition’s web site.

Another challenge Rekdal spearheaded over her time period is Mapping Literary Utah. She described it as “a web archive of all the Utah writers past and present” that enables individuals to analysis and discover Utah writers.

Rekdal additionally labored on “West: A Translation” which she was commissioned to write down upfront of the May 2019 statewide celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, when the “Golden Spike” was pushed at Promontory, Utah, in 1869.

She referred to as “West” primarily “a digital poem that thinks about the cultural impact of the Transcontinental Railroad, both on our state and on our nation.”

Rekdal mentioned the important thing to the work is a Chinese poem, the place “every character that I’ve chosen opens up into another sort of story about the railroad or one of the railroad workers.” It’s a response to a Chinese elegy that was carved into the partitions of Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco, the place Chinese migrants have been detained because of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.

“No one knows who wrote the poem, but the poem elegizes a fellow detainee who committed suicide,” she mentioned. “I wanted to use that poem as a lens into thinking about so many of the workers’ lives, the ways that the Transcontinental [Railroad] really shaped American immigration law, labor law ideas about race, gender and culture.”

Rekdal beneficial all Utahns to get entangled with poetry — by being good viewers members, by sharing the poetry competition with others, and by letting museums and different organizations that stage poetry occasions know that they’re appreciated.

Utah’s poetry neighborhood, Rekdal mentioned, is “diverse, and it’s kind of wild and wonderful. We have people writing all different kinds and types of poems, and they approach poetry with so many different lenses. … One of the things that I really loved about being part of this poetry community is that all the poets that I’ve met have just had such goodwill for each other, and they reach out to each other.”

And whereas Rekdal mentioned “there are no Utah poems” — in that there aren’t any poems that sum up all of the sides of the state — she did record three poems, whose writers have been in or from Utah, that she significantly loves:

  • Feel Me” by May Swenson • “I just love the way she twists and turns this opening phrase to reconsider feeling and intimacy.”

  • The Two Trees” by Larry Lewis • “I simply adore Larry Levis, and the way he’s able to balance the personal and the philosophical so perfectly.”

  • Topaz, Utah” by Toto Suyemoto • “If there is such a thing as an actual ‘Utah’ poem — a poem that could only have been written in Utah — then it was forged in Topaz, where we incarcerated Japanese Americans during WWII and thus altered both the course of Utah’s literature and Asian American literary culture as well.”

Rekdal mentioned she participated in some 60 occasions in 2021, so she’s trying to take a trip when her time period is over. She will proceed to write down and be concerned with poetry. For her, she mentioned, “it’s a very practical thing, physical, almost daily.”

A spokesperson for the Utah Division of Arts & Museums, which has overseen the poet laureate program because it started in 1997, mentioned the choice committee to search out Rekdal’s successor was convened final week. The division will ahead an inventory of candidates to Gov. Spencer Cox, who will make the ultimate alternative.

Poetry isn’t useless, Rekdal mentioned. “If anything, it never died,” she mentioned. “Now, it’s flourishing.”

Poetry, Rekdal mentioned, “is a way we take stock of ourselves. … Poetry for me means a human record. If poetry cannot necessarily affect any great social or political change on its own, what it does is suggest the activation of certain values in readers that choose to live the values that they find in the poems that they read.”

Poetry evolves with expertise, she mentioned — citing the instance of the sound poets from the 1910s, simply earlier than World War I, who didn’t have clear written language.

“We’re expanding this notion of poetry again to include more voices and include more ways of accessing what poetry finally is, which is an expression of a sort of deep human feeling in a moment of time,” Rekdal mentioned. “And there’s nothing that says that has to be written as a sonnet.”

Editor’s observe • This story is offered to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers solely. Thank you for supporting native journalism.

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