Poetry Night 2024

Occurring annually on or around the GVSU Pew Campus in Grand Rapids, GVSU Poetry Night has a tradition of bringing some of the most celebrated and distinguished poets to enlighten and entertain. One of the largest poetry reading series in the state thanks to the generosity of donors and the university, Poetry Night events are always free and open to the public. This year, as part of the GVSU Arts Celebration, we are excited to have renowned poet and essayist Paisley Rekdal joining us for a poetry reading and conversation.

Paisley Rekdal

Poetry Reading & Conversation

Thursday, October 24, 2024
7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Wealthy Theatre
1130 Wealthy Street SE
Grand Rapids, Michigan

This event is free and open to the public.


Paisley Rekdal is the author of four books of nonfiction, and seven books of poetry, including Nightingale, Appropriate: A Provocation, and, most recently, West: A Translation, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the 2024 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. She is the editor and creator of the digital archive projects West, Mapping Literary Utah, and Mapping Salt Lake City. Her work has received the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, Pushcart Prizes, the Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and various state arts council awards. The former Utah poet laureate, she teaches at the University of Utah where she directs the American West Center.

Originally from Seattle, Rekdal earned a BA from the University of Washington, an MA from the University of Toronto Centre for Medieval Studies, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her work ranges widely in subject as her poems and essays tackle history, immigration, literature, pedagogy, and race, among many other things. In West: A Translation, Rekdal presents a hybrid collection of poems and essays that draw together the building of the transcontinental railroad and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1867, all through a character by character examination of a poem left anonymously by a Chinese immigrant on Angel Island. In her most recent book of nonfiction, Appropriate: A Provocation, Rekdal explores the notion of cultural appropriation and what it means for writers in terms of power, authorial provilege, and race. Her latest book, Real Toads, Imaginary Gardens: On Reading Poetry, is forthcoming from W.W. Norton in late 2024.

For more information about this event, email the GVSU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at [email protected]

Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal

Recommended Reading

Selected Poems by Paisley Rekdal Online

Books by Paisley Rekdal


  • West: A Translation (Copper Canyon 2023)
    Punctuated by historical images and told through multiple voices, languages, literary forms and documents, West: A Translation explores what unites and divides America, drawing a powerful, necessary connection between the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the Chinese Exclusion Act.
  • Nightingale (Copper Canyon 2019)
    Nightingale is a book about change. This collection radically rewrites and contemporizes many of the myths central to Ovid’s epic, The Metamorphoses, Rekdal’s characters changed not by divine intervention but by both ordinary and extraordinary human events. 
  • Imaginary Vessels (Copper Canyon 2016)
    Imaginary Vessels  contains monologues from past American celebrities such as the 19th Century ex-Mojave “captive” Olive Oatman, bawdy vaudevillian Mae West, the skulls of anonymous mental health patients unearthed in Colorado, and the iconic comedian W.C. Fields.  Through formally inventive lyrics and sonnet sequences, Rekdal's bold new collection investigates how public identities and monuments become sites for our emotional re-enactments of history.
  • Animal Eye (University of Pittsburgh Press 2012)
    Voted one of the five best poetry collections for 2012 by Publishers WeeklyAnimal Eye employs pastoral motifs to engage a discourse on life and love, as Coal Hill Review states "It is as if a scientist is at work in the basement of the museum of natural history, building a diorama of an entire ecosystem via words. She seem snot only interested in using the natural world as a metaphoric lens in her poems but is set on building them item by item into natural worlds themselves."
  • The Invention of the Kaleidoscope (University of Georgia Press 2007)
    The Invention of the Kaleidoscope is a book of poetic elegies that discuss failures: failures of love, both sexual and spiritual; failures of the body; failures of science, art and technology; failures of nature, imagination, memory and, most importantly, the failures inherent to elegiac narratives and our formal attempt to memoralize the lost. But the book also explores the necessity of such narratives, as well as the creative possibilities implicit within the “failed elegy,” all while examining the various ways that self-destruction can turn into self-preservation.
  • Six Girls without Pants (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2002)
    "Six Girls without Pants confronts the terror of sexuality, its economies of accident and control, vulnerability and power. Paisley Rekdal's edgy, intelligent poems muse upon our hapless wedding with the world, and in doing so, participate in the uncanny beauty of the 'strange conjunctions, uneasy / alliances' that are their subject. The intoxications of art, the heady pleasures of science, and the ecstasies of religion are part of this linguistic world—a world that shimmers with tactile and cerebral bliss, 'part animal, part elegance.'" (Alice Fulton)
  • A Crash of Rhinos (University of Georgia Press 2000)
    In these quizzically probing and provocative poems, atoms and torture, tattoos and laundromats, mug shots, the theory of light, and such personalities as Joe Louis and Bruce Lee join in shaping a simultaneously personal and historical narrative of love, family, and desire. The tension between the public and the private saturates these poems with a breathless energy that carries the reader through Rekdal’s self-aware depiction of American culture and romance, complete with Harlequin romance novels and an account of her parents’ courtship. 


  • Real Toads, Imaginary Gardens: On Reading and Writing Poetry Forensically (WW Norton 2024)
    An illuminating exploration of how to read and understand poetry, and how reading critically can teach us to write. What makes reading a poem unlike reading anything else? While there are as many ways to read a poem as there are types of poetry, every poem demands a conscious attention to language. Reading poems forensically helps us bring that attention to our own writing

  • Appropriate: A Provocation (WW Norton 2021)
    How do we properly define cultural appropriation, and is it always wrong? If we can write in the voice of another, should we? And if so, what questions do we need to consider first? Appropriate: A Provocation is a penetrating exploration of fluctuating literary power and authorial privilege, about whiteness and what we really mean by the term "empathy." Lucid, reflective, and astute, Appropriate: A Provocation presents a generous new framework for one of the most controversial subjects in contemporary literature. 

  • The Broken Country (University of Georgia Press 2017)
    The Broken Country uses a violent incident that took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2012 as a springboard for examining the long-term cultural and psychological effects of the Vietnam War. To make sense of the shocking and baffling incident―in which a young homeless man born in Vietnam stabbed a number of white men purportedly in retribution for the war―Paisley Rekdal draws on a remarkable range of material and fashions it into a compelling account of the dislocations suffered by the Vietnamese and also by American-born veterans over the past decades. She interweaves a narrative about the crime with information collected in interviews, historical examination of the arrival of Vietnamese immigrants in the 1970s, a critique of portrayals of Vietnam in American popular culture, and discussions of the psychological consequences of trauma. 
  • Intimate: An American Family Photo Album (Tupelo 2012)
    Intimate: An American Family Photo Album is a hybrid memoir and "photo album" that blends personal essay, historical documentary, and poetry to examine the tense relationship between self, society, and familial legacy in contemporary America. Typographically innovative, Intimate creates parallel streams, narrating the stories of Rekdal's Norwegian-American father and his mixed-race marriage, the photographer Edward S. Curtis, and Curtis's murdered Apsaroke guide, Alexander Upshaw. The result is panoramic, a completely original literary encounter with intimacy, identity, family relations, and race.
  • The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In (Pantheon 2000) 
    When you come from a mixed race background as Paisley Rekdal does — her mother is Chinese American and her father is Norwegian– thorny issues of identity politics, and interracial desire are never far from the surface. Here in this hypnotic blend of personal essay and travelogue, Rekdal journeys throughout Asia to explore her place in a world where one’s “appearance is the deciding factor of one’s ethnicity.”

Selected Media about Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal Reading "Once" for the Academy of American Poets

Paisley Rekdal: Dear Poet 2020 (2:33)

Art Elevated with Paisley Rekdal on PBS Utah

Paisley Rekdal on PBS Utah (7:28)

Line / Break Interview with Paisley Rekdal for Copper Canyon Press

Paisley Rekdal Interview (53:00)

Past Poetry Nights

2023: Kimiko Hahn

2022/23: Juan Felipe Herrera

2021/22: Danez Smith, Marcel "Fable" Price, and Ericka "Kyd Kane" Thompson

2019: Ellen Bass and Kevin Young

2018: Carl Phillips and Ada Limón

2017: Jane Hirshfield and Dan Gerber

2016: Tracy K. Smith and Oliver de la Paz

2015: Kwame Dawes and Aimee Nezhukumatathil

2014: Mark Doty and Dorianne Laux

2013: Li-Young Lee and Pattiann Rogers

2012: Nikky Finney and B.H. Fairchild

2011: Ted Kooser and Terrance Hayes

2010: Carolyn Forché and Bob Hicok

2009: Tony Hoagland and Patricia Smith

2008: Paul Muldoon and Natasha Trethewey

2007: Gary Snyder and Stanley Plumly

2006: Sharon Olds and Sonia Sanchez

2005: C.K. Williams and Philip Levine

2004: Rita Dove and Charles Wright

2003: Jim Harrison, Galway Kinnell, and Dan Gerber

2002: Billy Collins, Robert Hass, and Naomi Shihab Nye

2000: Robert Pinsky

About Poetry Night and the GVSU Arts Celebration

Hosted by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Department of Writing, Poetry Night is part of the GVSU Arts Celebration, which provides free art events for our campus and local communities. These curated events explore and promote the written, visual, and performing arts. At Grand Valley State University, the arts are a vital part of our curriculum, providing experiential and high impact learning across the university. The GVSU Arts Celebration strives to provide free, impactful, art-related programming for the university and surrounding community. 

See the GVSU Arts Celebration webpage for more information about Arts Celebration programming.

Page last modified May 9, 2024