Writer Shocked to Hear Poem Read by Garrison Keillor

Post a Comment » Written on August 13th, 2009     
Filed under: News
SANTA BARBARA, CA (August 13, 2009) – Paul Willis had just returned home from walking the family dog and was in a hurry to get to a meeting at Montecito Covenant Church, where he attends. His wife, Sharon, suggested he might want to slow down.

“I think you’d like to listen to The Writer’s Almanac today,’” said Sharon, who already had tuned in earlier. Sharon listens to the program online every day. Paul, an English professor at Westmont University, listens frequently but had not heard that day’s episode.

WillisThe five-minute program that also is aired on many public radio stations features Garrison Keillor sharing information about authors and other artists born on that day, and then he reads a poem or two. To make Sharon happy, Paul stopped to listen.

“I was impatiently listening to all the writers’ birthdays,” Paul says. Then he was shocked by what he heard – Keillor read one of Paul’s poems, “Common Ground.” Click here to listen to Keillor’s reading.

The Willises had listened to Keillor, who also hosts A Prairie Home Companion, every week for 30 years. This was the first time he had read one of Paul’s works.

Common Ground,” which Paul composed 15 years ago, was included in Visiting Home, a book of his poetry released last year. The publisher had sent the book to Keillor.

Paul says the radio personality has had a major influence on him. “I’ve had Garrison Keillor’s voice in the back of my head when I write,” Willis says. “I probably had his voice there when I wrote the poem 15 years ago.”

As for Keillor’s interpretation of “Common Ground,” Paul says, “He read it very well.”

Like “Common Ground”, much of Paul’s work is rooted in a specific location. He told an interviewer last year that, “A poem, then, can become a way of connecting myself to a specific place, a way of naming that connection – and specific places can be a means of sacramental connection to God.”

The couple will be moving into a new place in November. The university-owned home the couple lived in was destroyed by the Tea Fire that raged through Santa Barbara County last November. Their new home should be completed this November.

Paul holds to Sharon’s perspective, who has encouraged him, “Let’s just think of it as a very extensive remodeling.”

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