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Oct. 18, 2017 La Grande, Ore. − Eastern Oregon University professor, David Axelrod, published two books of poetry this summer: a selection of his own recent work, and a book of poems by a deceased friend and colleague.
Axelrod’s eighth collection of poems, “The Open Hand,” was published by Lost Horse Press. He edited, “Sensational Nightingales: Collected Poems of Walter Pavlich,” and it was published by Lynx House Press in its Northwest Masters Series.
Axelrod will be reading short excerpts from each book and signing copies at 1 p.m., Oct. 28 at JaxDog Café and Books in downtown La Grande.
Axelrod’s poems express gratitude for the pleasures he encountered during his travels across the Upper Rhine Valley to the Alps, throughout western and central Europe, on to Jerusalem, and into the far north in Scandinavia.
Greek philosopher Epicurus inspired Axelrod’s work. The ancient writer advocated comradeship, sharing pleasure with others, and creating a life free from fear and pain in 300 BCE.
“Obviously, the western world has chosen a different path than the philosopher hoped,” Axelrod said. “But in my work, I wanted nevertheless to celebrate those moments of connection to people and places, often strangers, who shared with me the great pleasures of their kindness and generosity.”
Piotr Florczyk, who has edited Axelrod’s selected poems for publication next year, praised the new work as “equally profound and fierce in [its] intelligence and humility.”
“Axelrod is a poet of amazing range and generosity,” Florczyk said. “Standing apart from much of contemporary poetry, partly because he lives in rural eastern Oregon … and also because his poetic outlook is as local as it is universal.”
Axelrod’s edited “Sensational Nightingales,” out of loyalty to friend and classmate Walter Pavlich, who passed away 15 years ago at age 47. Pavlich published many books and won awards during his short life, but soon after his death his work went out of print and has remained so until now.
In his note on the text, Axelrod wrote that a dream inspired his involvement in the project. In 2013, Pavlich and his widow, poet Sandra McPherson, appeared in Axelrod’s dream and asked him to help make Pavlich’s work available.
“Though Walter had been in my thoughts over the years,” Axelrod said, “I’d never met Sandra, nor even corresponded, so it was a bit of a surprise to meet them both in that dream. Odd as it may seem to reach an agreement in a dream with a ghost and a stranger, I said I would do what I could, and as soon as I woke that morning, I set about the task of making it happen.”
The title refers to one of Pavlich’s favorite African-American gospel groups.
“Walter struggled with drink and drugs, and gospel music and the welcome he found as the only white person present in Black churches went a great distance to healing him and delivering him again into what he referred to as ‘this other world’ of the fully awake,” Axelrod said.
Pavlich’s poems owe much to the rural and urban landscapes and occupations of the Pacific Northwest, and much of his best work was written while battling wildfires.
Copies of both collections will be available at JaxDog Café and Books, as well as at the EOU Bookstore.
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