Local writer Margaret Pettis’s poetry is written to be approachable. That’s not to say unchallenging, but rather unpretentious and relatable for the reader.
“I don’t appreciate, when I’m reading poetry, being locked out,” Pettis said, explaining that sometimes poetry can be excessively abstract, which almost results in a shaming of the reader. “I would rather that you feel my poetry, and you relate to my language and my imagery.”
In October, Pettis released “In the Temple of the Stars,” her second book of poetry since she released “Chokecherry Rain” in 1993. Pettis said her latest release is a “scope of poetry,” accumulated over roughly 30 years.
Broadly speaking, Pettis draws inspiration from her experiences in the outdoors — backpacking in the High Uintas, treading Utah’s deserts and formerly working as a forest service ranger in the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho. However, the third section of Pettis’ book, entitled “Withers,” draws largely on her affinity for horses. Pettis said horses are a recurring theme in her work.
“I think they’re beautiful. And it still amazes me that a human can sit on an animal that will agree to carry you — in most cases — and not hurt you,” Pettis said with a laugh. “You can just travel quietly, you and that animal, and end up in beautiful places.”
One poem that stands out to Pettis is “Winter’s Mare,” which depicts her horse with icy fetlocks and steamy breath on a harsh winter morning. The horse in the poem is the last horse Pettis owned.
“I had the perfect horse,” Pettis said. “When she died, she was 28, I just didn’t try to replace her. I thought, ‘There’s nothing as good as she is.’”
While she personally relates deeply with the equine poems, Pettis said she hopes her writing resonates with readers either through shared experience or by showing different perspectives.
“I love to hear from people who have been moved by a poem or that it’s taken them into their own world,” Pettis said. “Poetry really does give you a chance to enter into another world seen by somebody else.”
Pettis said after enduring the “humiliating experience” of submitting other writing projects to agents for a shot at publication, she elected to publish her latest collection of poems herself. With publishers consolidating or going out of business, and 25 straight rejections from agents, Pettis took the do-it-yourself path and self-published her latest book through Amazon.
“I thought … ‘I want to get these poems out, I’m just going to take a different route,’” Pettis said.
Pettis taught Cache Valley youth for 30 years at South Cache Middle School before retiring in 2015. For a time, Pettis volunteered to teach English to inmates at the Cache County Jail after learning about women incarcerated in state prisons. Pettis said many of the women incarcerated were mothers, had dropped out of school and were serving sentences for nonviolent offenses. Pettis put herself in their shoes, she said, and started to relate to the group while teaching GED English, poetry and art.
“I love to teach,” Pettis said. “I should have paid to go there because I was having such a nice time — I really enjoyed it.”
In 1988 she was named Utah English Teacher of the year and in 2006 she won the Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education. Pettis retired from teaching in 2015. In 1993, Pettis was named the Utah Poet of the Year, after which she published the aforementioned “Chokecherry Rain.” Pettis also co-founded the Utah Wilderness Association and the High Uintas Preservation Council.
“In the Temple of the Stars” is available for purchase on Amazon.