June 29, 2017

Poet-professor shares craft with English students

Growing up in the Bay Area, Ted Pearson first became part of the region's creative scene while still in high school. Inspired by a friend's gift, he began writing in 1964. 

Pearson took up poetry after musician Paul Desmond (a jazz alto saxophonist and composer best known for composing the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s greatest hit, Take Five) gave him a copy of Robert Creeley’s For Love.

Now a University of Redlands adjunct English faculty member, Pearson counts himself fortunate to have been part of a burgeoning literary community, which helped establish him as an important American poet.

Today the internet makes it much simpler to collaborate with other writers in a virtual community, he notes, which led to a 2010 writing project, The Grand Piano—10 volumes by 10 writers looking back on the formation of Language Poetry, an avant-garde movement that began in the 1970s.

Pearson’s latest book, The Markov Chain, to be published in May 2017 is based on the mathematical concept of Markov sequences, with each poem deriving from the one in front of it. “I was brain-surfing for my next project,” Pearson recalls. “I’d read about Markov sequences and it stuck with me as an interesting way to approach poetry.”

The Markov Chain follows three books published in 2016: After HoursThe Coffin Nail Blues and An Intermittent Music, 1975-2010An Intermittent Music is an 18-part project he spent 35 years developing.

“In the mid-1970s I was doing a little soul-searching,” Pearson explains. “I resolved to edit the first 10 years of my work, and then moved on to a major project in four movements following sonata form. I wasn’t sure how long each movement or the whole project would be.

“It has a recurring theme—the construction of the human subject, not as a single, unified self but as a plurality of selves that make up a person,” he adds.

Next was The Coffin Nail Blues, a book Pearson calls “very depressing.” He wrote it while experiencing a deep depression but resolved not to use his writing as therapy but as art. “I wanted to be with the depression and write from it,” he says. “It’s kind of dark but has moments of wit.”

Pearson has found the University of Redlands to be an open, welcoming community. “I really appreciate that colleagues are respectful of one’s time, as teaching is a consuming sort of job,” he says.

Redlands students are “willing to work hard,” he adds. “Because it is primarily a residential college, there is a strong sense of community. This gives students the opportunity to know different kinds of people and contributes to opening them up to new experiences.” 

Pearson thinks the University prepares students for success in life with its strong emphasis on service. “Students are connected to giving back to the community,” he notes. “The combination of academics and extracurricular activities tends to produce pretty well-rounded young people with a sense of empowerment and citizenship.”