Today's poetry for today's world

Paulann Petersen   


Oregon's current Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen has six books of poetry: The Wild Awake, Blood-Silk, A Bride of Narrow Escape, Kindle, The Voluptuary and Understory.  Her most recent chapbook is Shimmer and Drone, poems about India.  A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and the recipient of the 2006 Holbrook Award from Oregon Literary Arts, she serves on the board of Friends of William Stafford, organizing the January Stafford Birthday Events.



Click on the cover to buy Understory..








Be a leaf, learn

to eat with your skin,

swallowing sun's rankness

wherever it strikes you.

Savor light, that mother

to every sweetness.

Become the bee's green sister,

the one who can taste

this world with her hands.




from Understory, Lost Horse Press, 2013.





 Photo by Sabina Samiee

Click on the cover to buy The Voluptuary.








The moon is wet nurse

to roses. She suckles

each soft-mouthed poppy.


Blame her for menses.

Rail at her for the craving

to binge and purge.


Please her when you choose

to delay the day for planting,

biding your time

until night has fattened

her silver torso.  Praise her

when the fleck of seed

poked down into damp dark

takes hold and swells.


Any girl-child is always

her offspring.


Upbraid her for your daughter’s

sass and door-slams,

that hot hurry to be what most

differs from you.


Long ago, the moon decided

on a pathway against the route

stars take.  No one else

would dare to watch

the black sky backward.




from The Voluptuary, Lost Horse Press, 2010           




Click on the cover to buy Kindle.








Become that high priest,
the bee. Drone your way
from one fragrant
temple to another, nosing
into each altar. Drink
what's divine
and while you're there,
let some of the sacred
cling to your limbs.
Wherever you go
leave a small trail
of its golden crumbs.

In your wake
the world unfolds
its rapture, the fruit
of its blooming.
Rooms in your house
fill with that sweetness
your body both
makes and eats.


from The Grove Review, 2005
and A Bride of Narrow Escape, Cloudbank Books, 2006




Click on the cover to buy A Bride of Narrow Escape. 






The wonder isn't that lightning
strikes where it does, but that it doesn't
strike everywhere. Specifically me.
It isn't the frequency of car crashes,
but their infrequency. Traffic flicks along
in its speed and perplexity, each move,
each surge a potential disaster.

The heart beats out its strange
litany of the enormously possible,
never excluding disease and stricture.
Why does my blood run so easy and warm?
This is the wonder: me approaching
the traffic light just turned yellow,
my foot pressing my trust down
into the brake, the car in agreement
coming steady steady to a stop.

from Prairie Schooner, Volume 73, No. 2
and  A Bride of Narrow Escape, Cloudbank Books, 2006



Click on the cover to buy Blood Silk. 








Pale gold and crumbling with crust
mottled dark, almost bronze,
pieces of honeycomb lie on a plate.
Flecked with the pale paper
of hive, their hexagonal cells
leak into the deepening pool
of amber. On your lips,
against palate, tooth and tongue,
the viscous sugar squeezes
from its chambers, sears sweetness
into your throat until you chew
pulp and wax from a blue city
of bees. Between your teeth
is the blown flower and the flower's
seed. Passport pages stamped
and turning. Death's officious hum.
Both the candle and its anther
of flame. Your own yellow hunger.
Never say you can't take
this world into your mouth.

from Poetry, Vol. CLXXVIII, No. 4, 

Modern Poetry Association,

and The Wild Awake, Confluence Press, 2002




Click on the cover to buy The Wild Awake.



Writer's Comment:  I'm much more comfortable with "personal fact" than I was years ago.  Mostly, this change has resulted from a realization -- a deep and steady belief -- that a poem assumes a life of its own on the page.  A poem is its own creature, with its own body, a physical body of sound, an architecture of concept and imagery.  It may carry details of my actual life, but those details aren't its life.  When I read the poem aloud, I give it voice.  For the minute or two or three it takes me to read it, the poem is lending me its life.


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