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Poet laureate to speak at St. Helens library

Paulann Petersen will celebrate a predecessor in her position: William Stafford


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Paulann Petersen, Oregon's poet laureate.Oregon’s poet laureate, Paulann Petersen, is set to kick off next month’s celebration of National Poetry Month at the St. Helens Public Library with an appearance on April 1.

Petersen will read and discuss poetry by famed Oregonian poet William Stafford, poet laureate from 1975 to 1990, beginning at 7 p.m. at the library.

Speaking Tuesday, March 11, about her upcoming presentation in St. Helens, Petersen said she wanted to visit the area before her term as poet laureate ends April 26.

“I was looking at a map, an Oregon county map, and realized that Columbia County was the only county of our 36 counties in which I had not given some sort of a presentation as poet laureate,” Petersen said.

Petersen’s work as poet laureate, traveling the state to stage workshops, give presentations, and visit classrooms and libraries, has taken her from her home in Portland all the way out to Burns, Medford, Ontario and beyond, Petersen remarked.

“Oregon’s a big state, and those are distances,” said Petersen of the far-flung communities to which she has traveled. “And St. Helens is close, and I thought, ‘I should do something about that. I should remedy that situation.’”

Petersen is Oregon’s sixth and current poet laureate, having been first appointed to the position in 2010 and subsequently reappointed in 2012. Her most recent book of poetry is “Understory,” published last year.

Margaret Jeffries, director of the St. Helens Public Library, told the Spotlight that she asked Petersen to read some of her own poetry as well when she visits the library next month, and the poet laureate agreed.

“The presentation that I will make will be on William Stafford’s work, but I will read some of my own poems too,” said Petersen.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Stafford’s birth, and Jeffries said she is hoping people will read the poet’s works in advance of Petersen’s appearance and other library events celebrating Stafford next month.

“We have several copies of Stafford’s poetry available to check out,” including 20 copies of the anthology “Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford,” said Jeffries.

Jeffries added, “I would like to encourage people to come in and check out these newer volumes of his poetry.”

Nominations for Oregon’s seventh poet laureate recently closed, Petersen said. The governor is responsible for appointing poets to the post.

The position of poet laureate was revived in 2006, with term limits restricting tenures to no more than four years, after being vacated by Stafford 16 years prior.