Check Out These Popular Articles

Food, Poetry, and Form with Lance Larsen

Food, Poetry, and Form with Lance Larsen:

A Reading and Lunch with Utah’s Poet Laureate

I had the privilege of attending a reading by Lance Larsen, Utah’s Poet Laureate, and to have lunch with him afterward. Lance was the model of the poet-academic, with his baggy pants loose around his knees, his t-shirt tucked in, his dress jacket (a gray-green) and shoes (a light tan) mismatched to the rest of his outfit. He read a number of his pieces, including a range of non-poetry; he is a poet of the page who explores re-applications of poetry, as exemplified by the lyric essays and poetic prose he read. After reading his poetry, he answered questions for the general audience. Afterward, I was invited alongside a few others to have lunch with Larsen. Among the topics discussed were what Larsen calls “celebrations” within poetry, the revision process, and how to conclude a poem.

I came to the reading as a virgin to Larsen’s work. While I haven’t fallen deeply and madly in love with his work, a few of his pieces resonated beautifully. He had one specific poem where he answered the question of why he kept writing; I’m eager to add this specific poem to my collection. His poetry was especially stirring at the level of individual lines: An eye socket that was “more mouth than wound,” the pleasure of having “Pablo Neruda between my teeth,” “a tiny girl peeks into a birdbath to see if she still has a face,” and Larsen notes, “Each day I feel a little more Marxist.”

This doesn’t necessarily serve as a declaration for the man himself. “Sometimes we’re truer when we create an autobiography for ourselves that isn’t entirely factual,” said Larsen. He also freely admits the influence of other poets on his work, noting many classics (including Shakespeare, Keats, and Dickinson), as well as less-known poets such as Phillip Lavine and Elaine, on his list of favorites. Not that Larsen is a literary snob. “I like the idea of Byron,” said Larsen, “more than I like Byron.”

The most valuable concept I witnessed was embedded in the structural layout of his poetry. In some ways, his work uses the structure of a traditional joke: He sets up a concept or image at a casual pace until, when the idea has gained ground, he executes a reversal in a single line or phrase—changing philosophical declaration to humor in a single turn, or transforming the tedium of relationships to a story of love and loss with the line “I should have memorized the stale air.”

Melanie Rae Thon: Dinner and a Workshop

After the reading and Q&A, I had the chance to attend a dinner and workshop with Master Thon. (Don’t know who that is? Check out my spotlight on Melanie Rae Thon.) This entry includes some pictures, notes, and thoughts from those portions of the event.

Dinner with Master Thon

What’s it like having dinner with a writer you admire? I’ve had the opportunity on a few occasions and have always felt a strong sense of how human—how oddly normal—these writers are. Each writer has their distinct personality, of course; Melanie was soft-spoken, charming, and quietly playful. In talking about her education she clarified that she never got her PhD, though there was no sense that she was either being especially humble or making a statement against academic titles. It was a simple statement of fact, to which the group responded by shifting away from calling her “Dr. Thon.” Instead, we called her “Master Thon.”

While I love the chance to meet with talented writers, I don’t have a sense of mysticism or excitement attached to it. I had the chance to see the experience from a different perspective as I saw other students respond.

Ashley and Master Thon

Ashley and Master Thon

Read the Full Article →