Example poetry

Poetry and Literary Education in the Words of Linda Varsell Smith

“Poetry is paying attention, sharing discoveries with puns”Linda Varsell Black-smith

True to her poetic heritage – family members in the United States and Sweden wrote poetry – Linda Varsell Smith spoke in rhyme at three, dictated rhymed quatrains to his mother at six, and finally illustrated his poetry libretto.

With a degree in elementary education from Central Connecticut State College in New Britain followed by a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Arizona at Tucson, Varsell Smith moved to Corvallis with his family, where it has changed the lives of many people.

While her husband Taught court anthropology at Oregon State University, she has taught creative writing, life history, and children’s literature at Linn-Benton Community College. For her work, she received an Outstanding Part-Time Instructor Award. There, his literary publishing class produced an award-winning anthology The eloquent umbrella featuring local writers and artists.

Now retired, Varsell Smith was still involved in the promotion of poetry until recent events. We sat down with her to discuss her life with poetry.

Teaching & Young Poets

Varsell Smith encourages young poets to learn more about the craft through contemporary poets. By reading current works, attending readings, and finding as many different poetic forms as possible, a poet can learn to express his voice.

“Poetry has always been in my life and a favorite medium of expression,” she said. “We just have to expose the students to all the opportunities. A certain style of poetry will appeal to [students] – even the lyrics. Poetry is usually laconic, chooses the right word, arouses many moods in the reader.

While there are many who teach English, Varsell Smith finds that many teachers are not trained in poetry and can seem intimidated by it.

“Now with online schools I’m not sure what’s going on,” she said. “There are Poets in the residences of the Schools normally. We could benefit from more exposure to poetry.

“Well, we have a new Education Secretary coming in,” she added. “I hope the program will become more relevant and include more poetry.”

Promotion of poetry and community impact

Over the years, Varsell Smith and her husband have sponsored annual events across Corvallis: poetry reading at DaVinci Days and poetry competitions for young people at the Arts Center. In 2007, they received the Celebrate Corvallis Patrons of the Arts award. Hoping to spread the love of poetry, she used to organize a poetry exhibition at the Benton County Fair, where professionals and amateurs alike could submit their work.

Varsell Smith has been active in several writing groups such as Poetic License, Poetry Readers, and Children’s Book Writers. She was a board member and president of PEN Women of Portland and the Oregon State Poetry Association. The latter awarded him in 2020 the Pat Banta prize for the promotion of poets and poetry in Oregon.

She is also known for her work at Calyx, a Corvallis publication created by women, for women. There she was an editor for 32 years and in 2014 was recognized with the Calyx Founders Award for Service to Women in the Arts.

To date, you can find Linda Varsell Smith’s name on over 20 books of poetry and 12 Rainbow Chronicles – fantastic novels for young people.

In addition to promoting poetry, she has also worked with the League of Women’s Voters on education and children’s issues.

Everyday poetry

Poetry is the way of life of Varsell Smith.

Poetry expresses the heart and soul of a person’s experience and how we understand our role, ”she said. “New shapes are being invented all the time. Preferences for poetry are constantly changing. Poetry in music, slam, interpreted with other forms of art. Poetry is very versatile and we hear more diverse voices.

Varsell Smith sees poetry as something that crosses borders.

“Different cultures worship poetry differently. In America there is a lot of protest poetry, spiritual poetry, mundane commentary. It is this great freedom of subject matter and these many forms of expression that make poetry so powerful.

Gathering of poets

Still an avid writer, until pandemic restrictions interfered, Varsell Smith had organized events inspired by the words where she shared her art of writing poetry and prose with many amateur and advanced writers.

On the last Sunday of the month, many gifted wordmakers from all walks of life gathered around Linda’s large dining table for the Marys Peak Poets. From the sweets served, the poets took turns reading under the watchful eyes of the angels hovering above and standing around us. There are 3000 angel figurines living in his house, hundreds of gnomes, mice, Swedish folk art figures and elves, ubiquitous, reflecting the season, coordinated with the tablecloth.

On Wednesday, those who weren’t in eight to five jobs gathered at this fantastic mini-museum and honed their skills at Varsell Smith’s fun workshops – The Wednesday Show.

Wednesday poets learned poetic forms and invented them in the process. Many poems born and polished there have resulted in public readings or have been published. Leading by example, this remarkable teacher and writer remains a prolific poet who will write one poem a day to celebrate National Poetry Month in April; she encouraged her partners in verse to do the same.

One may wonder where his inspiration would come from.

“I don’t have a personal formula for writing,” she said. “I am looking for poets and forms to see what new options are available to me. I have a penchant for rhymes and syllabic counting forms. Usually the form evolves from the content. I have a special affection for the thirty-seis, the fifties, the fiftieths and the fibs. Many [of my] the poems are triplets without rhymes. I wrote hundreds of forms.

And where does she get all these poems from?

“I get lines and stanzas for poems in my dreams. I keep a pen and paper by my bed to record them before I usually forget them.

Education of the poet

Poetry aficionados can gorge themselves on the content of Linda’s three books on poetic forms: “Syllables of Velvet”, “Poetluck” and “Word-Playful”, her publication site Rainbow Communications grants free access to those textbooks explaining and exploring various poetic forms. There you can learn not only sonnets and haikus, but hundreds of other modern structural poetic forms. Examples provided.

Among nearly a thousand forms described, one deserves special attention. It’s a Varselle – created by and named after Linda Varsell Smith. It is an eight-line stanza form, rhymed or not. The number of words, another variation is a number of syllables, in each line is: 2-3-4-3-5-5-4-6, if rhymed: 2a-3b-4a-3b-5c-5b-4c-6a.

If your poem is longer than one stanza, the creator of the form suggests experimenting with reversing the order of the number of words and rhymes in subsequent stanzas. Here is his own example of rhymed Varselle.

Oregon Spring

It’s raining- Spring is too wet! Hail force patience again sometimes the sun breaks through. The sun turns chills into sweat. What can we do? The confusion persists.

Play on words

Busy as she had been, Varsell Smith found time to host a weekly super-scrabble game on Thursday afternoon. It was a cooperative pursuit, where the ecery player started with nine tiles and lots of laughs. Eventually, the game developed off the board and the seasonal slick received the creations. No one counted any points and each player helped the others to make long and unusual words. A photo of a board ended up on the cover of Varsell Smith is the most recent book.

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By Joanna Rosińska

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