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Oregon’s Poet Laureate is PCC’s own Peter Sears
Story by Rebecca Olson. Photos by Vern Uyetake.
For those of us who don’t use the word “villanelle” in our daily lives, writing a poem might seem like a difficult undertaking. But for Oregon Poet Laureate Peter Sears, poetry is actually the easier of his two art forms.
The PCC writing instructor says he is involved in two art forms: writing and teaching. “I think in many ways that teaching is the greater art form. Primarily because it’s so hard. A poem you can put aside into the background, but students — they’re right there in front of you.”
Peter Sears is well known in Oregon’s literary scene as both a teacher and as a poet. His words have graced the pages of countless publications like The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Ploughshares. He’s also the author of three full-length collections of poetry and a fourth collection of new and selected poems titled “Small Talk” (Lynx House Press, 2014).
A dedicated instructor and former high school basketball coach, Sears has been working with students “for 300 years.” Before he came to PCC’s Hillsboro Center, he taught writing at high schools and universities around the world, and locally at Reed College, Lewis & Clark College, and Pacific University.
Sears says he likes the challenge of working with young people, especially those who don’t realize the introductory college writing course he teaches is about to become their favorite class.
“Many students come to class with a lot of other stuff on their minds, and I want to make this the best course they’ve ever had,” he said. “Writing a villanelle is easy compared to that.”
In the classroom, Sears works one-on-one with his students to develop and strengthen their critical essays. While he challenges his students to push themselves, he keeps it fun and doesn’t skimp on the punchy sarcasm.
“I like to say, hey, if you don’t look out, you’re going to become an intellectual. And then what would your friends think of you?”
In addition to his life as a teacher, Sears is a major player in the state’s literary community and founder of the Oregon Literary Coalition. Given his commitment to advancing poetry in the state of Oregon and his prowess as a writer, it’s no surprise that he was named Oregon’s seventh Poet Laureate by Gov. Kitzhaber earlier this year.
During his two-year term as Poet Laureate, Sears is committed to fostering the art of poetry and encouraging literacy and learning across the state of Oregon. He’s looking to use his position to attract new readers and highlight the creative work of writers from diverse communities across the state.
“I’m calling this project ‘Expanding Voices,’” he said. “We live in a global community of voices, and so I’d like to give writers and speakers of other languages the opportunity to read with me.”
The premise is pretty solid. If you want to engage readers from diverse communities, invite writers from within those communities to share the spotlight with you. The more voices that get out there, the better.
Sears has several of these “Expanding Voices” readings lined up for the coming year, partnering with bi- and multi-lingual writers, teachers, and librarians from across the state. The first one will take place on Oct. 4 at the Eastern Oregon Word Round-Up in Pendleton, where Sears will read with local Spanish teacher Amelia Ettinger.“I’m more interested in reading with emerging writers. As Poet Laureate, I can help give their voice and their reading a little more oomph, and that’s very exciting,” Sears said.
To see a full list of the Oregon Poet Laureate’s upcoming events, visit oregonpoetlaureate.org