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Laura Patterson positive poetry still has a place

Shirley McMarlin
| Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
Laura Patterson is a poet and professor of English at Seton Hill University in Greensburg.
Laura Patterson is a poet and professor of English at Seton Hill University in Greensburg.

Laura Patterson is a professor of English at Seton Hill University in Greensburg. The Raleigh, N.C., native did her undergraduate studies at Princeton University and earned master's and doctoral degrees at Vanderbilt University. Her areas of specialization include 19th- and 20th-century American literature, southern literature, women's literature and feminist theory.

Her scholarly writings include titles like “From Courtship to Kitchen: Radical Domesticity in Twentieth-Century Southern Women's Fiction.”

Lest that all gets too weighty, Patterson writes poetry in what she calls a “quirky, bold voice.” She's working on a book-length collection of poems with water as the common theme.

Question: What else can you tell us about your poetry?

Answer: I'm very interested in place. Often, my poems start with a place. I have a lot of poems that are set in Greensburg and many that are set in North Carolina, where I grew up, especially on the coast. I spent a lot of time on the coast. I'm interested in natural imagery and weather imagery.

I'm interested in human relationships, family stories and voice. I think my poems have a kind of quirky, bold voice, a little bit in-your-face, much more so than I am. I'm more mild-mannered and my poems are a little more out there.

Q: Do you write in a particular form?

A: Lately I've been working with really short forms, 12 lines or under, very boiled-down, little poems. Trying to see if it's possible to say what I want to say in fewer words instead of more. It's hard to do. What can you take out and still have what you need?

Q: How did you first become interested in verse?

A: I remember in fourth grade writing a poem about frogs and my teacher praised it, so I immediately thought, hey, maybe this is something I should keep doing.

As an undergraduate, I took a poetry seminar with Paul Muldoon that was amazing. He's an Irish poet, Pulitzer Prize winner, really beautiful work.

He was so kind to us as students and treated us like we were already poets, even though we were just starting out. He did wonderful readings of our work and gave us a lot of feedback and pushed us hard, made us write hard forms like sestinas. That inspired me early on to keep going.

Q: Whose poetry resonates with you?

A: As a teenager, I read a lot of Sylvia Plath, which I think is common with teenage girls. But her work stays with me. I think it stands up over time.

Q: By its nature, poetry is a form that can take some contemplation to understand and appreciate. In an age obsessed with rapid communication, does poetry still have a place?

A: I think it does. I think it's almost trending right now. When I'm on Instagram, I see a lot of young people writing short poems, even photographing them out of their journals and posting them. And people tweet out short poems — that's a form.

I think that it's fascinating to use new forms of social media as frameworks for poetry. There seems to be a new energy with younger people around poetry.

Q: You teach a poetry writing class that fulfills a liberal arts requirement for students in various majors. What do all those different mindsets bring to the mix?

A: They really feed off of each other, because they come with such different skills. I have science students who are very careful observers of the natural world. They see imagery in a lot of detail. Watching the students is very interesting because they all have very different styles, even the English majors, who are mostly fiction writers, so poetry can be new for them as well.

Some of my students are interested in social issues, so they're writing about that. There's no topic that they have to write on, so you get a really diverse range of topics even when everyone's focusing on imagery or sound. They have a lot of untapped feelings and thoughts that can be channeled into poems.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

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