Stacey Balkun, Festival Assistant
Humans are drawn repeatedly to the narrative; our lives are a sequence of journeys from one place or time to another. Situating these passages within the context of geography or time can reveal themes and motifs that persist throughout the days, months, or years and often resurface as stories or poems. Oliver de la Paz is a curator of these memories and experiences, cultivating personal myths as well as spiritual elements to create poetry out of the autobiographical.
In an interview with Box Car Poetry Review, de la Paz describes himself as “very deliberate when it comes to discovering [the] patterns in [his] writing”. Author of three collections of poetry, de la Paz’s work often revisits themes, slowly evolving through experiments with form. Images surrounding the motion of flight are prevalent: wings, birds, even airplanes resurface often, as the speaker often desires spiritual ascension.
De la Paz recognizes the influence of life history on in his poetry. During a reading at Bowdoin College he tells a memory of a voyage taken to Lourdes, France as a child to collect holy water in tiny vessels; the inspiration for his poem “Four Madonnas”. De la Paz suggests the spiritual element within the imager of his poems. He approaches the creation of a poem with a focus on craft before symbolism, as evident in his How a Poem Happens interview. His poem “Holiness” holds the shape of a sonnet because de la Paz felt the sonnet form was “an ideal container for questioning belief”. The question of holiness re-emerges throughout the poet’s three collections.
De la Paz reveals his flexibility as a writer by adapting this motif to a variety of poetic forms: aubades, sonnets, couplets, and apostrophes, among others. He weaves form, image, and theme together gracefully, working in and around form to tie myths and reality together in a subtle manner. His style of reading reflects this elegance; de la Paz’s voice presents each line of poetry with composure and deliberation, allowing the listener to digest each image and recognize its relation to the poem as a whole. Hear de la Paz read on the poet’s website.
De la Paz co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Asian American Poetry. He is the author of three collections of poetry, Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, and the forthcoming Requiem for the Orchard, winner of the Akron Prize for poetry chosen by Martín Espada.
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