Petrie, Paul (James)

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PETRIE, Paul (James)

Nationality: American. Born: Detroit, Michigan, 1 July 1928. Education: Wayne State University, Detroit, 1946–51, B.A. 1950, M.A. 1951; University of Iowa, Iowa City, Ph.D. 1957. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1951–53. Family: Married Sylvia Spencer in 1954; two daughters and one son. Career: Instructor, 1959–62, assistant professor, 1962–66, associate professor, 1966–69, professor of English, 1969–90, University of Rhode Island, Kingston. Awards: Capricorn Book award, 1984. Address: 200 Dendron Road, Wakefield, Rhode Island 02879, U.S.A.



Confessions of a Non-Conformist. Mount Vernon, Iowa, Hillside Press, 1963.

The Race with Time and the Devil. Francestown, New Hampshire, Golden Quill Press, 1965.

The Leader: For Martin Luther King, Jr. Providence, Rhode Island, Hellcoal Press, 1968.

From under the Hill of Night. Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University Press, 1969.

The Idol. Kingston, Rhode Island, Biscuit City Press, 1973.

The Academy of Goodbye. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press of New England, 1974.

Light from the Furnace Rising. Providence, Rhode Island, Copper Beech Press, 1978.

Time Songs. Kingston, Rhode Island, Biscuit City Press, 1979.

Not Seeing Is Believing. Lacrosse, Wisconsin, Juniper Press, 1983.

Strange Gravity: Songs, Physical and Metaphysical. Cranberry Isles, Maine, Tidal Press, 1984.

The Runners. Pittsburgh. Slow Loris Press, 1988.


Critical Study: In The Literary Review, 38(2), winter 1995.

Paul Petrie comments:

My whole approach to poetry, both thematic and technical, is governed by a hatred of dogmatic theorizing, and since the twentieth century represents the very apotheosis of theorizing, a paradise for half-baked creeds and countercreeds, I find myself in a school of one. If there is any critical notion that I find appealing, it is Keats's idea of negative capability, but even that has its limitations. In short, I believe that there is nothing that cannot be said in poetry and that there is no limitation on the way it can or should be said. A poem need not be new or old, in free verse or meter, understated or overstated; all that it must be is a good poem.

As for my own work, I would describe it as lyrical, relatively emotional, dramatic in its inclusion of opposites and with a stronger current of movement than is common in verse today, and perhaps with an overindulgence in the doctrine of statement through images. My major strengths are rhythm and organization; my major weaknesses are a lack of exact detail and firm diction. I have a personal notion of the poem as an act of praise, be it positive or negative in theme and tone, and I tend to regard poetry as a semireligious vocation. But I do not demand that others share these attitudes, and I can think of excellent poems that would stretch these terms to the breaking point. The poems will remain; the theory will go.

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Paul Petrie is well known to students of contemporary American poetry. For more than three decades his poems have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals and magazines and in several volumes. A sense of death in life and of fragile mortality seems to be the exclusive concern of the books. Haunted by death in his dreams and plagued by it in his waking life, Petrie, in an intense and passionate creative act, transforms his fear and dread into art. As The Race with Time and the Devil suggests, such an act is not an easy or an unambiguous triumph. His best poems are alive with the sense of a real person's struggle to achieve an elemental relationship with and understanding of the natural cycles of life and death.

There is in Petrie a clear movement toward concentration, sharpness, and mastery of medium. Confessions of a Non-Conformist is an adequate work, though not particularly original. The Race with Time and the Devil is a marked improvement and contains a number of fine poems, especially the five-poem sequence "Pictures of Departure"—"The Last Words of Frederick II," "Chain," "The Church of San Antonio de la Florida," "Morning Psalm," and "In Defense of Colds." From under the Hill of Night deserves the most praise. Poems such as "Under the Hill of Night," "The Party," "Mark Twain," "Kindertoten," and "Notes of a Would-Be Traveler" are excellent. In them Petrie has achieved fully the desire to articulate his organic sense of the world.

—Richard Damashek