Utah’s First Poet Laureate David Lee Visits SUU

Former Southern Utah University English professor David Lee returned to campus on Thursday, reading poems about everything from roadkill to false teeth during an A.P.E.X. Lecture and Speaker Series presentation.

“I haven’t been this close to people since March,” Lee told the audience at the Hunter Conference Center. “And that’s been difficult… because as artists we need people. People are the muse.”

Lee, who was Utah’s first poet laureate, constantly moved around the stage. He changed his voice and moved his hands as he recited pieces to engage those sitting in the socially distanced chairs in the Great Hall as well as those viewing the event virtually.

He admitted that he hasn’t done much writing during the pandemic, but spoke on how he’s pushing through the struggles it has brought as an artist. 

“You have to force yourself to sit down, and if nothing else, write a letter home to mama even if she has been dead 40 years,” he said. “Move the pencil. Just do it and never give up.”

Lee said to the audience that his favorite assignment to give to students was to write a love poem without the word love in it, explaining that the “ultimate purpose of a poem” is to define the abstraction without naming it.

In addition to his own poems, Lee also shared works from other artists that he has inducted into his “poetry hall of fame,” including poems by William Cleffcorn and Richard Shelton.

Cleffcorn and Shelton inspired Lee after visits to SUU during his 32 years as a professor. He credits the works of fellow poets as major influences in becoming Utah’s first poet laureate in 1997. 

He offered advice for students during a question and answer segment by quoting Shakespeare reciting, “This above all else, to thine own self be true.”

“Believe in yourself,” he continued, with tears in his eyes. “And when you’ve got something great, hold on to it.”

Visit the Poetry Foundation to learn more about David Lee and to read his poetry.

A.P.E.X. events take place every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.  For more information on upcoming events, visit the A.P.E.X. website


Story and photos by: Larissa Beatty