Statement of Poetic Intent

A Tenderness Toward Existence

Galway Kinnell said all good writing has a certain quality in common, “a tenderness toward existence.” Coleman Barks adds, “[Poets] will never finish noticing what is going on.”

Isn’t the great malady of our age the communal loss of this feeling of “tenderness towards existence?” We’ve lost tenderness because we’ve forgotten how to see. We do not see because we do not have to. Well, the farmer on his own land must see, and the fire watcher in the forest, and the entomologist, and on and on . . . and the poet.

Wendell Berry said “people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know.” Here is a quotation from the British naturalist, Robert Macfarlane that shows how difficult this has become. Even the dictionary makers are against us:

Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood [in the Oxford Junior Dictionary]. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.

What the Oxford University Press has done is replace words from the world of nature with words from the technological construct we are building. Is it not the job of the poet to hold on to, bring back, invent again the language of seeing? Why? So we can fall in love with the world, or fall in love with the world again, or remember how it was to be in love with it.

Vita in Short

Nils Peterson is Professor Emeritus at San Jose State University where he taught in the English and Humanities Departments.

He has published poetry, science fiction, and articles on subjects as varying as golf and Shakespeare. A chapbook of poems entitled Here Is No Ordinary Rejoicing  was published by No Deadlines Press, a collection of poems entitled The Comedy of Desire with an introduction by Robert Bly was published by the Blue Sofa Press, a collection of poems entitled Driving a Herd of Moose to Durango appeared in 2005, For This Day in 2008, A Walk to the Center of Things in 2011, and a collection of poems with watercolors called Earth Fire Water Air in 2015.

Wordrunner Press published a memoir in 2014 entitled, Talk in the Reading Room.

About his poetry:

Jane Hirshfield: “Nils Peterson’s poems move with depth, authority, and the occasional grace-granting glint of humor….”
Robert Bly: “This is a book with humor and grace.”
Joseph Stroud: “he is an artisan of the ‘keen, clear song.”

In 2009, he was chosen to be the first Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County.

NILS PETERSON: Vita at Length

Nils Peterson taught in the English and Humanities Departments at San Jose State University from 1963 to 1999.  He was Coordinator of the Creative Writing Emphasis for more than 20 years, and served as Coordinator of the Creative Arts and Chair of the Humanities Department. He was chosen as Professor of the Year by the Student Honor Society.

He has published poems in many journals, has written science fiction, as well as articles on subjects as varying as golf and Shakespeare.

He was poetry consultant for San Jose State Studies and was an editor for Discover America, a collection of poems celebrating the bicentennial anniversary of the USA, and contributing editor to The Blue Sofa Review, Local Habitations, Good Talk, More Good Talk.


Has published much poetry in many journals including: The Beloit Poetry Journal, The Midwest Quarterly, The Fiddlehead, Cape Rock Quarterly, The Tower, The Quire, Poet And Critic, College English, Nightshade, Mobled Muse, American Weave, Satire Newsletter, Lyrismos, The Berkeley Samisdat Review, Reed, San Jose Studies, Famous Writers’ Anthology, Famous Writers 76, The Gorilla Salon, Arête, Aethlon, The Men’s Journal, Caesura, Blue Sofa Review, National Poetry Review, Disquieting Muse Quarterly, and many more.                   

Has published articles on poetry in College English, The Tower, Poet and Critic, on Shakespeare in San Jose Studies, on Golf in Arête and Aethlon, on Robert Bly in Walking Swiftly, Writings in Honor of Robert Bly
Has published stories in Fantasy and Science Fiction
Has been anthologized in Satire: From Aesop to Buchwald;
A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown; The Tower Anthology; Grrrr, A Collection of Poems on Bears; Time Capsule  


Here Is No Ordinary Rejoicing No Deadlines Press, Palo Alto, CA 1976,
The Comedy of Desire, ed. Robert Bly, Blue Sofa Press, Minneapolis,MN, 1994.
Water, Fire, Earth, & Air, Meditations and Poems on the Four Elements, a fine print edition published by Patrick Surgalski with his own lithographs, San Jose, 2003. Exhibited at the San Jose Museum of Art, November 2003 through February 2004.
Driving a Herd of Moose to Durango,Jotunheim Press, San Jose, CA, January 2005.
For This Day, a Suite of Christmas poems, Frog on the Moon Press, Cupertino, California, December 2008.
The Revenge of the Socks, Frog on the Moon Press,Cupertino, California.
A Walk to the Center of Things, A Poetry Center San Jose Publication, April, 2011.
For This Day II, an expansion of the original Suite of Christmas poems, Frog on the Moon Press, Cupertino, California, December 2012.
Talk in the Reading Room, selected by the editors to be the memoir published by Wordrunner Press as an echapbook in 2014.
Earth Fire Water Air in conjunction with Lorraine Chapperal a watercolorist, a collection of poems each with a watercolor in 2015.

In his introduction to Comedy of Desire, Robert Bly said:

“Nils Peterson is that rare thing in contemporary American Poetry, a comic poet who does not diminish the world with his humor.”

The poems have great affection for the feminine, and they are wonderfully patient with human confusion. I also admire the generosity of praise in these poems.

Here are some remarks about his latest collection,A Walk to the Center of Things.

“Nils Peterson’s poems move with depth, authority, and the occasional grace-granting glint of humor as they travel through image, idea, and a deep storehouse of recollection both cultural and personal. A lifetime’s attention to both writing and living buoys these intimate, intelligent, sometimes chastened, sometimes celebratory,  but always compassionate pages.” —Jane Hirshfield

“Nils Peterson is a poet who sets the world before us—tangible and mysterious. With almost effortless craft and a superbly tuned ear for the music of language, he reveals the luminous within the everyday events of our lives.  To use Sappho’s words, he is an artisan of the “keen, clear song.”  Varied in subject and manner, his poems embody a deep pleasure and wonder in being alive, and they bring us into the company of a larger life.”—Joseph Stroud


Chosen Professor of the Year, 1965 by Tau Delta Phi, the Men’s Honor Society.

Received a Senatorial Citation from Senator Dianne Feinstein on the occasion of his 70th birthday for his work as a teacher, poet, and supporter of the arts.

Selected as the first Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County, March 2009.

Received a Citation from Representative Mike Honda on the occasion a celebration in his honor sponsored by Poetry Center San Jose, The Valley Arts Commission, and the Department of English at San Jose State University for his work as a teacher, poet, and supporter of the arts.

Nils Peterson’s Influence

In the spring of 1973, I received a grant of $1000 from the Villa Montalvo  Foundation to put on a weekend session devoted to poetry writing. I persuaded the distinguished poets John Logan and Robert Hass to come teach. Robert Hass’s first book of poems had just won the Yale Younger Poet’s Award. It was the first event of its kind in the area that I know of and it made us understand that such an event could be successful, that there was a hunger for poetry in our valley.

So, in 1975 I proposed to the Fine Arts Commission of the City of San Jose that it join with San Jose State in putting on a bicentennial celebration of American poetry consisting of readings by distinguished American poets, a series of four scholarly papers to be read on campus, a national contest for a poem of not more than 200 lines on American themes with a first prize of $1000. The budget was $11,000 and the Fine Arts Commission provided $5777.

The program was an astonishing success, the readings and lectures well attended by students, faculty, and the general public. Sometimes the hall was filled to overflowing. The poetry contest was so successful, the entries of such high quality, that the distinguished judges, Josephine Miles, Robert Hass, and Kathleen Fraser, said we should try to find a way of keeping them together.  Once again the Fine Arts Commission responded generously, this time with a grant of $2000. With that we created a wonderful collection of poems entitled Discover America as a special edition of San Jose Studies.

The program was so successful, that we presented a similar one the following year, again with the aid of the Fine Arts Commission of San Jose. Though we did not go on beyond 1977 in this particular way, in part because of battle fatigue, we did go on in other ways. Out the people and energies of those two years grew what is now called Poetry Center San Jose, and from that, I think it not unfair to say, the CLA. Both of these organizations have had a great impact on the poetry-literary community of our area.

Personally, I have been doing an Valentine’s reading for Poetry Center San Jose every year since 1981, always with music – at first Charlene Archibeque and the Choraliers of San Jose State.  I’ve also worked with a Jazz pianist and singer, a classical pianist, and a barbershop quartet as well as Chamber Choirs made up of members of the Silicon Valley Symphony Chorale. The event has been held at the Hotel Ste. Claire, the San Jose Museum of Art, the Fairmont, an Art Gallery, a theater and Le Petite Trianon, and now the Cafe Strich.  For the last dozen years, Sally Ashton, the second Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County [I was the first], to read with me. For many years, I have finished up the PCSJ poetry season with a Christmas Reading lately offered at the Willow Glen Library. In April of 2004, for the Chamber Society, provided the narration for the Amadeus Trio’s performance of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. I have done other such readings.

Check out the tab Selection of Writings to read a sample of poems.
To review other blogs about Nil Peterson, see links in the menu.