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Kindred poets to read from their work

March 22, 2011 12:00AM

Two kindred poets will read together in honor of Women's History Month and as part of the Pittsburg State University Distinguished Visiting Writers series. Jeanne E. Clark and Laura Lee Washburn will read from their works at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 31, in the Governor's Room of the Overman Student Center. The reading is free and open to the public.

Washburn and Clark are longtime friends and colleagues. The two of them read together as part of the first dual thesis defense at Arizona State University, where they were both completing their MFA degrees.

"This will be the 21st anniversary of that reading," Clark noted.

Clark is a Midwesterner who spent several years in the Southwest before joining the creative writing faculty at California State University, Chico. Her first book, "Ohio Blue Tips," won the Akron Poetry Prize in 1997. Her most recent book is "Gorill's Orchard."

At CSU-Chico, Clark teaches creative writing classes with an emphasis in poetry as well as literature classes. She is interested in community-based education and taught for many years in prisons, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and public schools as an artist in education.

Washburn began teaching at Pittsburg State University in 1997. Born in Virginia Beach, Va., she has also lived and worked in Arizona and Missouri. She is the director of creative writing and a professor of English with a specialty in poetry. She serves at the director of the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series and as vice-director of Women's Studies. She is an editorial board member of the Woodley Memorial Press.

Her books are "This Good Warm Place: 10th Anniversary Expanded Edition" and "Watching the Contortionists," which is a winner of the Palanquin Chapbook Prize. Washburn has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has had more than 100 poems published in more than 60 magazines, anthologies, or websites, including Carolina Quarterly, Quarterly West, The Sun, The Journal, and Valparaiso Review. 

Clark said that the voice in Washburn's work "is like the voice of a beloved, yet sometimes cantankerous aunt standing next to you at the kitchen sink, telling you what to do as the two of you peel onions and how to clean up afterwards the mess that you will have made. Laura Lee Washburn, with wit, tenderness, and wisdom stands next to the reader in every poem, so when she writes poems, 'everything stays and is felt / whether we choose to notice, amaze, or worry,' you have no real choice but to stand with her, and believe."

Washburn described Clark's work as "wild and strange."

"There is an unease in her work that balances against a deep sympathy for the people and animals she writes about," Washburn said.

Washburn said Clark was one of the first readers of her more mature work.

"Her feedback was vital," Washburn said. "She understood some of the grotesqueries in my work early on and encouraged me with the gift of a book of Diane Arbus photographs. The characters in these photos came to inhabit quite a few of my poems, namely 'The Albino Sword Swallower at a Carnival in Maryland,' and 'The Circus Fat Lady and Her Dog,' which won a narrative poetry prize from Poet Lore."

The Washburn-Clark reading is sponsored by the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series, the Women's Studies Council and the Student Fee Council. A reception will follow the reading in the Heritage Room.

©2011 Pittsburg State University