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.”