Education professor recognized as Literary Arts Fellow

12/4/2008 - By: Alix Cirac

Alix Cirac, a prospective Fall 2008 University Honors Program graduate and student intern with the University Media Relations office, recently interviewed Department of Educational Leadership Professor George Perreault, whom the Nevada Arts Council honored this fall as a Literary Arts Fellow for his poetry. The council awards nine fellowships and nine honorable mentions each year to recognize and encourage the state's exceptional literary, visual and performing artists. As part of the honor, Perreault received $5,000 to produce poetry and nonfiction during the next year. In addition, he will provide a free public presentation about his discipline and published work in spring 2009.

As a professor at the University for more than nine years, Perreault has published numerous poems and books, including All the Verbs for Knowing, published by the University-based Black Rock Press, in 2006. Perreault answered Cirac's questions about his experiences, inspiration and future goals.

How do your educational leadership courses relate to your work as a poet and writer?
I'd say the intersection of the two is mostly indirect - the way that everything's related to everything else. Though, of course, poetry is generally better when it grows out of specific realities, and schools are always very specific gatherings of individuals at very specific times and places. There aren't many algorithms when you work with people, and this is something which educational leaders need to remember. Poetry also can deal with nonrational aspects of our lives, and an appreciation of those nonrational elements is important for leadership. Then, too, the ability to communicate with precision and clarity is always useful.
When did you start writing? Do you remember the first thing you wrote, before your work was ever published?
The first thing I remember writing was an English assignment in high school - and since my graduating class is coming up on its 50th reunion, that was quite a while ago, wasn't it? I remember that we had to write paragraphs on two different topics, one about a pet and the other about a cloudy day. I think I spent more time on the first one and just dashed off the other, but our teacher chose to read the second one to the class. That was probably an astute decision because, as I think back on it, it was a much stronger piece, and it taught me that we are not always the best judges of our own work.
What inspires you to write? Specifically, what were some of the inspirations for All the Verbs for Knowing and other recent work?
Well, a number of people have pointed out that there are only two subjects for poetry, love and death, and most of my work is in the lyric tradition, so I'll stick with that. Poems almost always grow out of my daily life, the people I care about, the losses we all suffer - being human in the world. The most recent book (for which I'd like to thank Bob Blesse at Black Rock Press) is structured around something I read years ago about a Native [American] language in California which had become extinct. A linguist noted that their verbs had various endings depending upon the source of the speaker's knowledge - by the sense, by logic, and so forth - and that became a useful framework on which to hang the poems. There are things we feel, things we puzzle out, things which come to us in dreams.
What does it mean to you to be honored as a Literary Arts Fellow by the Nevada Arts Council?
I know the work of a number of past winners, which has been quite good across the board. So it is, as you say, quite an honor to be recognized in this way. And poetry, you know, doesn't have a huge following in this country, so it's very helpful that state arts councils encourage and reward the effort, especially for someone like me who works outside the mainstream, not being affiliated with an English department or a writing department in any formal way.
What advice do you have for amateur writers and poets?
Only two things, really - write and share. The first part is probably easier than the second. Some poet - and I'm embarrassed that I forget whom - said it was no problem; all it took was blank paper and a razor blade. But sharing your work can be harder. You have to develop a thick skin so you can profit from criticism, and you need to be lucky enough to find someone who will be honest with you, who understands writing, and who will sacrifice his or her time to work with you. And that's not easy to find. A number of years ago I made a connection with Len Roberts, an excellent poet and translator, and he was a wonderful sounding board for me and, I know, several other writers up until his death.
How long have you taught at the University? Have you been a professor in educational leadership the entire time?
I moved to Reno in January 1999 from North Carolina where I had been working for a couple of years, although I've lived mostly in the West since the early '70s. I've been here 10 years, which has been the longest stay of my career, so I guess that's a good measure of satisfaction.
What are your future goals, personally and academically?
Well, the Sufis say if we have to choose between money, health and work that we should always choose work because that's what really sustains us. I have a couple of academic book projects laid out, and in our department, we have doctoral cohorts at dissertation stage, so that's plenty of work there. Poems come when they do, like little presents; that's really a wait-and-see kind of thing. Then there's a novel I haven't given up on yet, though it always seems that it needs more and more work. I also have a wonderful family I try to spend time with, so I guess a Sufi would say I am blessed that my life's so full.

Mostly Cloudy