Monday Sept. 7, 2015, Peter Sears, the Poet Laureate of Oregon, came to Corban’s campus for the second time. He spent the afternoon sitting in on classes and then taught a poetry workshop in the Emitte Center that was open to students, faculty, and the general public.
Sears began the workshop with a prompt to write a poem using the phrase “I don’t know.” After several minutes to allow the attendees some time to write, he then asked for volunteers to read their poems aloud. Sears walked around the room, giving the individual reading his full attention.
“He is amazing at uplifting you even if you really are bad [at writing poetry],” said student Andrew Tattersall.
Professor Colette Tennant said, “Sears was very thoughtful in his comments to student poets.” Tennant said that Sears was a “generous teacher” in his approach to the students and the workshop.
Sears pushed the participants to read what they had out loud. “It is right to, even if, as they say, they ‘don’t have much,’” said Sears. He would offer to read the poem out loud for them if they were reluctant.
“It’s about sharing,” Sears said. “Poetry creates an opportunity to express yourself.”
As Sears led the workshop, he kept the mood light by making jokes. The participants were laughing and engaged with the speaker and one another. Sears spent more time encouraging individual poets then teaching, but he always had something to say that would apply to everyone. After a student read his poem, Sears expressed his shock and envy that the poem was produced so quickly. “You’ve got to be suffering and moping,” Sears said about when he wrote poetry, “so people ask you what’s wrong. ‘I’m trying to write a poem.’”
Sears holds the belief that a poem is rarely ever finished. He urged the poets to be willing to share and explore, even if they didn’t think their poem was complete. For Sears, the way the poet gets his idea across is what really makes a poem. “Ideas in themselves don’t make a poem. Your fervor in the ideas does.” Sears encouraged the attendees to “let something weird and strange happen” with their poetry.
Tennant, who has been a friend of the Poet Laureate for many years, was excited to have Sears back on campus. “It’s important for students to be exposed to and hang out with famous writers,” Tennant said. She hopes that this opportunity will allow students to realize that “famous writers” are made of the same stuff as the students themselves. Tennant wants her students to realize that they can be successful too.
Professor Jim Hills attended the workshop as well and wrote a poem based off of Sears’ “I don’t know” prompt:
Wild Geese Under a Full Moon
The geese are saying
something I don’t know.
A moon like new snow
flies with them
singing some song
only birds know
who have flown
above Denali, crossed the Frazier,
over mountains of white stone.
They know no borders, show
no passports, go
in seasons and directions
I don’t always know.
You can contact Peter Sears through the non-profit organization Oregon Humanities.