Poetry by James DePreist

As we celebrate the life of former Oregon Symphony director James DePreist, let’s note that in addition to all his incredible work with orchestras around the world, and a 2005 National Medal of Arts, he also wrote two books of poetry!

William Stafford contributed the afterword to DePreist’s first book, This Precipice Garden (1986). He describes DePreist’s confident presence as conductor, and compares this with the voice of the poems: “When he turns to the different rhythm of his poems, it is as if James DePreist puts that hovering attention to a parallel task; again the inner light finds which way to go amid infinite, shifting possibilities. Here, however, there is a record in language of the course taken. The reader can follow in slow motion and see how the self proceeds along a tangled path.”

Maya Angelou writes of DePreist, in her foreword to his book The Distant Siren (1989), “There is obviously poetry in the orchestral conducting of James DePreist and audible musicality in the poetry of James DePreist. His second collection of poetry has the tautness of a perfectly pitched viola and much of its resonance.”

These succinct, meticulously paced poems sometimes root us to an image or an idea, and sometimes launch us into surprising, soaring openness.

Beyond me
    came the meanings.

Meanings beyond words,
    long held from view
now lovingly decanted
    into prisms.

Meanings beyond words,
    multiplied beyond me
in transit
    to their source.

(from This Precipice Garden, page 7)

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