Back when he was in the Army, Peter Sears wasn’t able to fit novels into the back of his pants for reading during the down times — those works of fiction were just too fat to fit.
But he could fit in a slender volume of poetry, and so he read poets: T.S. Eliot, say, or maybe Wallace Stevens.
And he started writing, too: “Short, episodic things,” he said in an interview Friday with the Gazette-Times. “I didn’t think of them as poems. … I didn’t take them seriously. But I kept writing.”
On Friday, years removed from that early exposure, Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed Sears Oregon’s seventh poet laureate. It’s a two-year appointment for Sears, who primarily lives in Corvallis.
Think of the job as the state’s semi-official ambassador of poetry. A press release Friday from the Oregon Cultural Trust and Oregon Humanities said the poet laureate “fosters the art of poetry, encourages literacy and learning, addresses central issues relating to humanities and heritage, and reflects on public life in Oregon.”
Sears will provide at least six and as many as 20 public readings each year across the state.
On Friday, he sounded like he was ready to go. And he didn’t have any patience for people who lament that poetry is a fading art.
“Look at how many people write and read it,” he said. “There are an awful lot of them.” And he added that he frequently has a waiting list for the poetry workshops he teaches.
“People over 40 realize that there are things they want to work out in their souls and poetry is a good way to do that,” he said.
And children and teenagers naturally are drawn to poetry, he said — even if, like the young Sears, they might not immediately recognize their writings as poetry.
A 20-person committee of writers, poets and cultural leaders reviewed nominations for the position in March and made its recommendation to Kitzhaber this month.
Sears understands that the selection committee had its work cut out for it: “There are a lot of good poets who could do this job and do it well.”