Professor and Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal on the Personal and Narrative Scope of Poetry

Paisley Rekdal, Utah Poet Laureate. (Photo Courtesy: Austen Diamond Photography)

Paisley Rekdal, Utah Poet Laureate. (Photo Courtesy: Austen Diamond Photography)

By Whit Fuller, Arts Writer


The medium of poetics can be a vehicle for catharsis or a personal touchstone. Whatever connections it is able to form, poetry is a force that shapes both a poet and their audience. I had a chance to speak with Utah’s poet laureate and University of Utah professor Paisley Rekdal on her opinion of the role that catharsis plays in her own poetic works.

Poetic Opinions

“I don’t view my work as a way of achieving catharsis: I see it as an art,” Rekdal said. “It is only a personal touchstone to me in that, when a poem ‘works,’ it reveals something that I believe or think about the world that I couldn’t have articulated in any way other than through the writing of that particular poem. But the poem itself heals nothing.”

While Rekdal doesn’t view her own poetry as a means of catharsis, she acknowledged that poets often connect to poetry in this way. “Writing is an art that often manipulates language, time [and] narrative in ways that serve the poem but rarely achieve any kind of personal catharsis for the poet: this is why we tend to write about the same subjects over and over, just in different forms,” she said. 

“We’re trying to find the narrative that will heal what, at root, likely can’t be healed,” Rekdal said of the scope of narrative work. “That’s not a failure of poetry, just a reality of the limitations of narrative. But poems aren’t just for the poets that write them: they are for an audience who will read and interpret those poems outside the author’s own desires.” 

Personal Connections

Poetry is a powerful tool that goes beyond the poet — open to interpretation. Readers bring new life to a work of poetry and extend it beyond its original intention, to which Rekdal said, “People have powerful reactions to poems, and likely this is because the form itself feels so personal. A poem often feels like a person revealing her most private thoughts: it’s hard not to be drawn to that, to feel as if the poem or poet is speaking directly to you, even when the poem has in reality been composed for everyone and no one simultaneously.”

Regardless of how one uses poetry, it can serve as an outlet for readers and can help poets themselves discover new emotional scopes through writing. Rekdal also suggests that there are no “universal” poets that connect with readers or provide catharsis. Poetry is an individualized art form and what resonates with one reader may not resonate with another, or may resonate with them for entirely different reasons. 

The idea of poetry as catharsis or as a personal touchstone is a compelling one. There is no denying that poetry forms connections with poets and readers. Personal connections are an important part of what makes poetry such an expressive art form. 


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