REVIEW: Turning the Field: The Poetry of Laurie Perry Vaughen


Editor Michael Theune is an active poet and critic.  He teaches English at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois.

I’ve recently had the exciting experience of encountering the work of poet Laurie Perry Vaughen via the online publication of her master’s thesis, “Artifacts: Selected Poems.” There’s much to admire in the work: its thoughtfulness, its sinewy use of narrative and sound, its palpable imagery. But (of course!) what especially caught my eye was the poet’s attention to the poetic turn.

Vaughen made use of Structure & Surprise to help create new work and/or to help articulate (often very movingly) what her work is doing. Very early on in her thesis’s introductory essay (the second section of which is called “Turning the Field: Structure and Surprise”), Vaughen clarifies the distinction between form and structure:

We may approach the field of a poem and immediately see patterns of rhyme scheme, repetition and the footprints of feet. However, many–perhaps most–contemporary poems require a different kind of field work, a deeper read, a deeper turning of the field. Any discussion of my work, of free verse poems, demands a look at the overall movement of the poem rather than noting couplets or beats. A formal poem such as a sonnet, pantoum or villanelle will also offer a structure of movement apart from its form, overall or within a line–if they are mature, polished, rich or ripe.

“Poetic structure is, simply, the pattern of a poem’s turning,” states Michael Theune… (2)

(I really like this idea of poems being “rich, or ripe“!)

Vaughen, though, also is aware of the larger significance and resonances of the act of turning:

Turning as the main movement of a poem is readily identified with nature. Maple leaves turn. Seasons turn. A chrysalis turns to a butterfly. A Jerusalem artichoke turns toward the sun. Evening turns to dusk before turning to morning. Man turns toward death, eventually, as a natural process. As the Catholics finally admitted, the horizon merely turns and the earth turns around the sun, not the other way around. The South African Zulu tribe and the Jew in his or her Diaspora turn to the ancestors for consultation. The structure, the turning in the poem, gives the art pulse, a life blood— and hopefully elevates our resting pulse as we write or read or listen. (6)

(Wow! I love that last sentence!)

Transitioning into her introduction’s third section, “Examining Shards: Emblematic Poems,” Vaughen explains her extra-poetic attraction to the emblem structure, noting,

My poems generally emerge from an emblematic structure. Perhaps this is because I was raised to be an observer of the small within the sublime since childhood and continued this with my undergraduate work in archaeology as an anthropology major. (7).

But, to her credit, for Vaughen poetic structure never ends up being an easy answer for some of poetry’s larger questions.

Taking up the issue of increased fragmentation in more recent poetry, Vaughen (in another formulation I greatly admire) states,

There’s no clear answer to…[such] important…concerns about the parts and the whole and the tensions between these. There is a demand on the writer, critic, publisher and reader to explore contemporary poetry with new understandings of how structure, tension as transformation through language can work as synergy (27).

Vaughen then turns to Rilke, who then, in Letters to a Young Poet, “turns the young poet’s attention to nature as the source of synergy” (27). She quotes:

If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable. No experience was too insignificant – the smallest happening unfolds like destiny. Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide tapestry in which every thread is guided by another thread, and held and carried by a hundred others. (New World Library, 1992 edition: 24)

(Ah! What beautiful weaving Rilke accomplishes even here, even in the rough cloth of prose! It’s no wonder that Vaughen, a maker of so many fine phrases, is drawn to Rilke’s lovely formulation–)

What all of this results in, then, is that while Vaughen still sees structure as a major component of her work, it’s an altered version of structure:

While my poems often hold an emblematic tension or use emblem as a generating pulse that rises to a pattern, the poems are not idea-driven, but language- driven. Lines, enjambment, breaks, stanzas and turns are generated by language, and not a prescribed theme or concrete image. The image serves the language, remember. The emblem I begin with may be a word, a shard of language, which gets associated with another image through sound or syntax rather than symbolic gesture. Though association holds images in tension, sound is also at play. For example, in my poem “Taking Turns,” a secondary turn in the poem’s structure is the language of pedals moving to petals. (36-7)

And, of course, all of this gets enacted in the poetry.

Of particular interest:

  • “Taking Turns” (47). A lovely dialectical poem, with a radiant synthesis.
  • “Eye of the Needle” (55). A fine fantasia on sewing and the Christian idea of “passing through the eye of a needle.”
  • “Birds Audubon Never Painted” (58). A brief poem with a stunning arrival point.
  • “Ode to the Faulty Microphone” (80). In fact, a lovely homage to the power of great poetry.
  • “Emblematic,” which begins: “Any metaphor you elevate / has its scarred sense of place–” (81).
  • “After the Tornado” (118). A fascinating (if unintentional) study in endings. I’d thought the poem was a single-page poem–there, it has a tremendous ending, I think. But the poem continues for a half-page. Initially, I was surprised by this: I wondered if that second page should be cut. But the later part of the poem also contributes great power, including fascinating turns, to the poem.
  • “Photograph, 1944” (132-33). An ekphrastic poem that uncovers the image’s seductive, tensive mystery.
  • “Sweet like Funeral Cake” (134). A bittersweet elegy.

I encourage readers of this blog to check out Vaughen’s thesis, and to dive into her poetry. Treasures abound!



Poem ‘Taking Turns’ featured on Chapter 16, a Publication of Humanities Tennessee


Taking Turns

She’s wearing a shimmer of spokes,
silver shalwar kameez
the colors of summer, sliced melons.
She pedals by, is learning
to balance an American life.
At the edge of traffic
she stops, looks both ways.
She is taking turns.
I watch for her return, a sunset
caught mid-day amidst drab cars.
Her husband takes her place,
wears his white shirt tightly
buttoned at his throat.
He is learning
a vocabulary of trust,
a third or fourth language,
how two wheels carry him,
move together, separately.
They return to each other
more than once. Both unsteady
but orbiting the neighborhood.
The hand is reaching for the brake
when she arrives again
as the exact colors of lantana petals
near my porch, the marigolds,
the sleeping orange cat in the sun,
a pattern of blushing
pavers. The tight world,
the two-way street unfurls,
suddenly fluent, free.



‘Taking Turns’ on Chapter 16


Laurie Perry Vaughen is the author of two new poetry chapbooks: Fine Tuning and What Our Voices Carry, both from Wild Columbine Press. Her poems have also appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Laurel Review, Kalliope, and Cold Mountain Review, among other journals. Vaughen has won the James Dickey Award from Lullwater Review and the Amon Liner Award from The Greensboro Review. An M.F.A. candidate at Sewanee School of Letters, she lives in Chattanooga.

Backstory: ‘Billie Holiday on the Radio’ and Whitfield Lovell

Billie HolidayArtist Whitfield Lovell did an installation at the Hunter Museum of American Art that included a sculptural wall of vintage radios. The visual feast of iconic bakelite radios would have been compelling enough, but if you leaned in and turned the dial you would hear Lady Day singing ‘I Cover the Waterfront.’

“Whitfield Lovell’s works present nuanced portrayals of anonymous African-Americans by combining detailed drawings, based on old found photographs, with evocative vintage objects.” —Lilly Lampe, Art in America Magazine

Lovell’s lecture and the museum and his exhibit ‘Deep River’ stayed with me for days. My poem ‘Billie Holiday on the Radio’ as a response. I am glad through such ‘technologies’ we often take for granted, such as the radio, microphone, and recordings keep her voice alive, though she tragically died when she was only 44.

15822754_1342577209126863_8559107060665507081_nRadios always captured my attention, and held a sense of surprise I still enjoy. My father was a radio repairment, trained on the GI Bill after World War II. Our home and my father’s workshop had a similar stack of radios, some he saved to glean for parts. Others were tagged as ‘friends’ who had dropped them off to be restored.

The radio is always finding its way into my life and poems. I dedicated my first formal chapbook, Fine Tuning, to my father and found a Radiolo brand to photograph for the cover. I love the sounds of the word ‘radiola.’

The poem ‘Billie Holiday on the Radio’ is included in the collection and became the catalyst for composer Jeff Crompton to create dynamic interpretations of  ten or so of my poems. This was my first collaboration with musicians and it was thrilling. We’ve shared this performance set at Word of [South] Festival of Literature and Music last year in Tallahassee, and at Eyedrum and the Georgia Center for the Book in Atlanta. The poem begins, “She’s in the gallery show, Billie Holiday on the Bakelite radios.” The homage to Lovell’s exhibit as well as Lady Day is central to that poem.

‘Fine tuning’ is a metaphor that I will continue to explore. My father explained to me that delicate things like tuning knobs are the first things that wear out on a radio. He kept a drawer full of replacements because he loved the verb ‘mend.’

My poem ‘Radio Repair’ about my father was selected for publication in an upcoming issue of Crab Orchard Review (2017).

The influence of the ubiquitous radio fascinates my research in sociology, my undergraduate studies. I dare say the radio helped desegregate the South, or at least it did in my rooms. The radio is a technology that changed our consciousness and made ‘for whites only’ irrelevant to an audience, which was significant. The radio also offers a degree of intimacy beyond its content. The radios I listened to with my father pulled me into broader worlds I did not recognize from my parent’s rural music.

In college I took a Survey of Jazz by Walker Breland, a man who played the organ for a Methodist church downtown and looked a bit like Faulkner. I began to understand what I had long internalized from listening to Billie Holiday or Louis Armstrong. As I survey my life with music, my parents long passed, I elevate the radio as not merely artifact but catalyst.

I am pleased to share ‘Billie Holiday on the Radio’ with Jeff Crompton and Three Way Mirror on April 30 at Jazzanooga Art Space in Chattanooga, in celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month.

“Embracing Billy Holiday,” By Ernie Paik, The Pulse

Billie Holiday tribute at Jazzanooga JAM FEST

April 30, 2017
Billie Holiday Tribute: JAM Fest 2017 

Presented by Jazzanooga

‘Billie Holiday on the Radio’
a performance collaboration
with Chattanooga poet Laurie Perry Vaughen
and Atlanta’s Three Way Mirror trio 

Enjoy original jazz compositions by Jeff Crompton.
Three Way Mirror includes Jeff Crompton (sax), John Arthur (congas), and Bill Pritchard (tuba), who all met as part of The Fourth Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra.

Jazzanooga Art Space, 321 East MLK Blvd.
$10 + cash bar. Doors open at 4:30. Performance at 5 p.m.

Books and recordings available for purchase at the event.

Read the backstory of our ‘Billie Holiday on the Radio’ show.
 Read Ernie Paik’s feature. 

EyeDrum image of LPV and Three Way Mirror_Jeff Crompton, Yaya Brown, Bill Pritchard
John Arthur, Laurie Perry Vaughen, Bill Pritchard, Jeff Crompton

More about JAM FEST 2017: 
JAM Fest is a month-long series of music and poetry performances in April, Jazz Appreciation Month. The series, presented by Shane Morrow and the Jazzanooga team, includes tributes to jazz artists such as Clyde Stubblefield, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith.

Visit Jazzanooga online.


Purchase your tickets through Eventbrite:

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More about Atlanta composer and jazz historian Jeff Crompton.

Jeff’s recent ‘King Oliver in Savannah’ release
Jeff’s compositions ‘Tutwiler Depot’ and ‘King Oliver in Savannah’ now recorded!

StarLine Books hosts poetry reading by Laurie Perry Vaughen

Artist Hollie Berry sketched the poet during StarLine Books’ poetry reading

June 10, 2016 
Poetry reading by Laurie Perry Vaughen
from her new chapbook, What Our Voices Carry
1467 Market St., 6 p.m.
Free and open to the public


“Taking Turns by Laurie Perry Vaughen” Chapter 16, Humanities Tennessee

It’s always wonderful to visit with old friends at a reading in my hometown.

‘Billie Holiday on the Radio’ set for the 2016 Word of [South] Festival of Literature and Music

download (1)April 9, 2016

Word of [South] Festival of Literature and Music 2016 (April 8-10)

“Billie Holiday on the Radio”
featuring Chattanooga poet Laurie Perry Vaughen
with Atlanta’s Three Way Mirror

Word of South, a festival celebrating literature and music, returns to Cascades Park in Tallahassee, Florida for its second year on Friday. Founded by novelist Mark Mustian in 2015, the festival “pair[s] books with music—authors who have written about music, musicians who have written books and everything in between.”

The festival is unique in that, in addition to boasting an eclectic lineup of artists hailing from diverse genres, it features joint appearances of musicians and authors. “The results [in 2015] were without exception so fabulous we decided to keep going and do it again.” 

—Paste Magazine

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We performed in the lovely auditorium in the restored Edison Innovation Center
Jeff Crompton and poet Laurie Perry Vaughen
Thrift store beadwork blouse
Cascades Park in Tallahassee where Word of [South] is held

Georgia Center for the Book Performance with Atlanta trio Three Way Mirror at Decatur Library

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February 16, 2016
Georgia Center for the Book
Decatur Library, 7 p.m.
“Billie Holiday on the Radio”
Chattanooga poet Laurie Perry Vaughen
with Atlanta’s Three Way Mirror


Jeff Crompton, John Arthur, Laurie Perry Vaughen, Bill Pritchard






The Georgia Center for the Book has become the largest non-profit literary presenting organization in the Southeast and one of the largest in the nation. The Center helped create and remains a major sponsor of the AJC Decatur Book Festival that draws 60,000 people to the city every Labor Day weekend.

EyeDrum Art & Music Gallery presents debut of ‘Billie Holiday on the Radio’ in Atlanta

11291840_1032816906728372_1423053810_nJuly 10, 2015
Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery
‘Billie Holiday on the Radio’ with poetry & music

Chattanooga poet Laurie Perry Vaughen collaborates with Atlanta’s Three Way Mirror to present a musical program directed by composer Jeff Crompton 

Read the backstory of ‘Billie Holiday on the Radio’ 

MEDIA: 11352254_1054827361193993_1044010005_n
Creative Loafing Atlanta
: ‘Laurie Perry Vaughen Looks into Three Way Mirror’
ARTS Atlanta: ‘Laurie Vaughen and Three Way Mirror Use Poetry to Evoke Lady Day and the South’

Three Way Mirror: Jeff Crompton, John Arthur, and Bill Pritchard


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Haiku, fabric, and clay collaboration receives first prize at Gallery Exhibit

Feb. 5, 2016
Haiku, fabric, and clay were the elements of a collaborative work of art presented at the Charit-a-Bowl gallery show at Chattanooga Work Space.

Visual artists Susan Parks and Lolly Durant invited poet Laurie Perry Vaughen to write original haikus, a Japanese form of poetry, to complement their work.
Susan transformed vintage kimono fabric into an origami fold for chopstick holders, and Lolly use a raku poetry process to create delicate rice bowls. The sets were sold as a fundraiser for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank’s Charit-A-Bowl 2016 held at Track 29.

The collaborative effort offering a ‘food’ theme, won first prize in the gallery exhibit held Feb. 5 at Chattanooga Work Space in conjunction with the food bank through an Arts Build Grant.

“Haiku has universal appeal. Haiku is poetry of the moment with a nod to nature.” —Laurie Perry Vaughen 

Artists Jessie Bean Bailey, Anderson Bailey, and Lolly Durant at the gallery event
Laurie Vaughen’s haiku poetry elevated food and fulfillment as a meditation
Lolly Durant’s raku pottery rice bowl and Susan Park’s fabric origami
Laurie Vaughen at Chattanooga Workspace Gallery Exhibit
Susan and Lolly applied great detail to their work
A great cause funded by ARTS Build
‘We unfold conversation’
Artist and educator Susan Parks hosted our project meets where we shared winter soups
Poetry and the arts build community

‘Fine Silver’ poem presented at Barking Legs Theater 20th Anniversary Events

November 7, 8, 9, 2013
Barking Legs Theater 20th Anniversary Celebration: ‘Come on in to My Kitchen’
‘Fine Silver’ by Poet Laurie Perry Vaughen

Other spoken word performers include Erika Blackmon, Christian Collier, Janelle Jackson, Ginnie Sams, and Marcus Ellsworth.

Dance performers include Ann Law, Cinamon Smith, Elizabeth Longphre, Angela Sweet, Mait Bou, Mary Sartain, Jessica Kitchens and Monica Ellison.

Music by Milele Roots, Laura Walker with Lon Eldridge, and Tim Hinck.

Laurie with poet and event MC Marcus Ellsworth at Barking Legs

Laurie Vaughen reads ‘Fine Silver’

Chattanooga Times Free Press:
‘Come on in to My Kitchen’