Profile on Visiting Writer Oliver de la Paz

By Robert Drinkwater Contributing Writer

    Oliver de la Paz, poet and College of the Holy Cross professor, is scheduled to come to UMF on March 7th and will read from his works at the Emery Performance Space as the first visiting writer of the spring semester.

   Despite living in Massachusetts, this is not de la Paz’s first time in Farmington. “I’ve visited Farmington about 11-12 years ago back when April Ossmann was the executive director of Alice James Books,” said de la Paz in an email interview. “I’ve also got a number of friends who teach and work in the area.”

   When it comes to inspiration for writing de la Paz said, “ I’m most inspired by what I am currently reading in terms of poetry. I write ‘dialogically’ or in dialogue with other works of art.”

   De la Paz mentioned that his poems will focus on one subject and paying close attention to something that someone may not notice. “For someone who wants to know about my poems and poetry I would describe it as obsessive and interested in closely looking at or regarding a subject,” de la Paz said. “I like to zoom in on things people don’t notice.”

   His children are also what inspires him to write. “Three of my children have special needs and two of them are on the autism spectrum,” de la Paz said. “I recently completed a book length collection of poems that is inspired by parenting and learning to understand what it means to be a parent of children on the spectrum.”

   De la Paz has been a lifelong writer, “I’ve been writing my entire life” said de la Paz, “ I became serious about writing poetry in my early twenties but had written poems at my leisure before then. When I took the work seriously I had applied to schools to apprentice with some notable writers including Alberto Ríos, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, and Norman Dubie at Arizona State University. That was back in the early 90’s.”

   When it comes to describing his poetry, de la Paz said, “Some days I describe my poetry as ‘a chore,’ others days I describe my poetry as ‘my lifeline.’”

   In terms of who has influenced him, de la Paz said, “My most pressing and important influence is often who I’m currently reading. Right now I’m reading a wonderful novel by Jon Pineda entitled ‘Let’s No One Get Hurt,’ I’m reading a new collection of poems by January Gil O’Neil entitled ‘Rewilding,’ and a book by Sarah Gambito entitled ‘Loves You.’”

   “In the past I was strongly influenced by the work of poet Larry Levis and Li Young Lee as well as my teachers whom I’ve mentioned,” de la Paz said, “And when I was starting out I was really strongly influenced by Sylvia Plath.”

   Creative Writing professor and Director of the Visiting Writers Series Jeffrey Thomson is also familiar with de la Paz’s work. “I’ve read his books and I knew him by reputation,” said Thomson. “He’s a good guy.”

   The Creative Writing program, along with The Writers Guild, sponsor the visiting writers events usually held in the Landing a couple of times per semester. They try to bring in six to seven writers per year.

   “People are doing exciting work in contemporary literature,” said Thomson.