University of Utah professor Paisley Rekdal was named Utah’s new poet laureate. The governor-appointed position was established two decades ago. Utah is one of only 16 states to host its own acting Poet Laureate in the US. Past laureates include prestigious writers like poets David Lee, Ken Brewer, Katharine Coles and Lance Larsen. The Utah Poet Laureate advocates for artists throughout the state — especially poets, publishers and authors. They also speak and read their writing at schools and libraries, as well as some public events.
Rekdal teaches English at the U and is the author of many publications. Her work includes a book of essays titled The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee, and four books of poetry — A Crash of Rhinos, Six Girls Without Pants, The Invention of the Kaleidoscope and Animal Eye.
Having moved here just 14 years ago, Rekdal was both surprised and honored by the appointment. During her relatively short time in Utah, however, she has realized that the stereotypes surrounding the state don’t represent its people.
“Utah is a state with a rapidly changing demographic,” said Rekdal. “So many people have moved here in recent years that we can’t see our state as either monolithic or homogenous, regardless of how others outside our state perceive us. The state is composed of communities that are constantly changing, and for me, the role of Poet Laureate is to respect and reflect those changes, however, I can.”
Along with supporting literature and arts in Utah, the poet laureate is expected to devise and execute a project during their tenure. For example, Ken Brewer, the Utah Poet Laureate from 2003 to 2008, chose to develop a documentary and video archive of writers in Utah.
Rekdal’s project also works to raise awareness of Utah writers. “Mapping Literary Utah,” a spin-off of a previous project called “Mapping Salt Lake City,” is a website that will archive the work of all types of artists across Utah. The website will include interviews conducted by Rekdal, as well as video and audio recordings of artists.
“Ultimately, what I’m hoping to do is make this site as inclusive as possible,” said Rekdal. “I want to get poets and writers whose first language isn’t English on this site, and I want to reach out to the indigenous communities here as well, and make sure that their contemporary poets and writers, as well as their literary forebears from Utah, are represented.”
She highlighted that in the past, much of the Utah Poet Laureates’ work has been focused on the Salt Lake City area. Rekdal aims to expand her reach into every corner of the state.
To learn more about Paisley Rekdal’s work, visit her website https://www.paisleyrekdal.com/.