Reinhard: Finding the music in language

Patsy Cline, trout fishing and love blend in Reinhard's poetry

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2001

Poetry reading

Time: 7 p.m. Friday.

Place: Egan Library at University of Alaska Southeast.

Cost: $5, free to UAS students.

Poet John Reinhard writes for farmers and scholars. He strives for plainspoken language as well as lyrical eloquence, and his award-winning poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.

"You want it to sound like regular talk, but you want music there, too," Reinhard said. "You are trying to work at different levels so you are accessible, but so there's also some texture to it. So you're not just working one way. I'd like poems to unfold for people as they read carefully."

A professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, poet John Reinhard is the featured writer for the April literary reading series, "Between the Lines." He will read his work at 7 p.m. Friday in the Egan Library at the University of Alaska Southeast. He will also give a talk about the craft of writing at noon in the Lake Room at UAS. The reading and the brown bag craft talk are open to the public.

Reinhard has published two books of poetry, "On the Road to Patsy Cline" and "Burning the Prairie." He taught in Minnesota for a number of years before moving to Fairbanks with his wife and two young children in 1999.

"I remember reading at an American Legion Hall in Minnesota, way out on the prairie," he said. "There were these union activists there, playing three chord songs on guitars, and these old farmers, and they liked my poems. It's fun if they can listen, too."

Reinhard said he doesn't want to write to his readers, but he does want to connect. He does that by showing people what he wants them to see, not by telling them what to think or feel. He said a poet should be able to evoke a beautiful scene without ever using the word beautiful.

"You give them the particulars that allow them to reach that point on their own," he said. "Otherwise, you're reminding people what they've already figured out, but not getting them to look at it more closely."

He said Patsy Cline is not the only country singer to appear in his poetry.

"I have a lot of country singers floating around in my poems," he said. "I love music, music with words in it, music that seems connected to the earth I live in. Like anything else, it's what you care about that makes it work for you or not."

Reinhard grew up in Michigan. He was a shy kid and began writing as a way to talk to people that was more rewarding than conversation. Writing poetry also became a way to explore philosophies of living and questions of faith.

"It was quite purposeful for me," he said. "I was trying to find something that worked for me - how to have a family, falling in love in some way that would last - and about art itself and how that sustained me at times. "

His first book came out in 1988, and his second in the mid-1980s. He published in a number of journals, and his work has appeared in anthologies and collections, sometimes to his surprise. A recent discovery of a poem he wrote years ago inspired a theme for his Juneau reading.

"I found out I was in an anthology," he said. "An old poem about a barmaid complaining about the size of her breasts, that they were too small. Then I pulled out another about a woman's ankle, and I thought, let's see if we can string these together in Juneau."

Body parts and Alaska is his unofficial theme for the hour-long reading. He'll jump between new work and older poems as he touches on those topics. The cost for the reading is $5 and free to UAS students.

The "Between the Lines" series will continue on May 7, said organizer Alexis Ross Miller. Grace Elliott and her sisters Cecile and Mary will tell stories. The last reading of the series will be May 28, with Christine Marie, a poet from Sitka.

Riley Woodford can be reached at

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