Chilling words: Utah's Poet Laureate spends time in Antarctica

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 25 2011 1:00 a.m. MST

After a two-year hiatus, while she worked to establish a poetry think-tank (the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute at the Poetry Foundation) in Chicago, Coles is returning to full-time teaching at the U. this semester.

She is serving the final year of her five-year appointment as Utah's Poet Laureate. "That has really been one of the most rewarding kind of experiences you could imagine," she says. "It has caused me to stretch myself in how I think about my work, especially in relation to audiences."

As Laureate, she acts as an advocate for literature and arts throughout the state. She has given readings before all kinds of audiences, at all kinds of venues, from senior centers to elementary schools to art galleries, national parks, Rotary Clubs and more.

One of her special projects has been Bite-Size Poetry, which has involved asking other poets to submit a poem that could be read in a minute of less. She worked with KUED to get them videotaped, and they have run on television and radio, and have been archived on a website: arts.utah.gov/area_interest/literary_arts/poet/bite_size.html.

A lot of people are intimated by poetry, says Coles. "For many people, their only exposure was in school, so they think it is going to come with a quiz. We want them to find pleasure. They need to relax and know that their only job is to experience pleasure and nothing more."

For someone in her position nothing is as fun as "being engaged with words, as playing with words and language." Her very favorite words are actually the most ordinary nouns, she says. "I love how they can come together and illuminate each other. I love how they come together and play. Something happens that is magical."

Almost as magical as what happens when a penguin hops into your Zodiac for a ride across the Antarctic Sea. "They tell me that's extremely rare," she says, but it happened to her, not once but twice.

e-mail: carma@desnews.com

Antarctica: The cold, hard facts

Size: 5.4 million square miles, making it the 5th largest continent

Amount covered by ice: 98-99 percent, this represents 90 percent of the world's ice

Average depth of ice: 1 mile

Average temperature: -56 degrees F.; however, summer temperatures on the peninsula can reach 20s and 30s F.

Coldest temperature ever recorded: -128.6 degrees F., on July 21, 1983

Average precipitation: 6-8 inches of snow

First confirmed sighting: 1820, by Russian explorers Fabian Gottlieb von Bellinghausen and Mikhail Lazarev

Name: From the Greek, meaning "opposite to the north"

Permanent population: 0

Temporary population: between 1,000-4,000 at any given time

Vegetation: Mostly mosses, lichen, bryophytes, algae and fungi

Wildlife: Penguins (Emperor, King, Chinstrap, Gentoo, Adelie, Rockhopper), blue whales, orcas, colossal squids, fur seals, Snow Petrel

Time zone: goes by New Zealand time, as all time zones converge at the South Pole

Heights: South Pole sits 10,000 feet above sea level; highest mountain is 16,066 feet

Government: An international treaty signed by 46 countries prohibits development and military activity

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