There was no arm twisting involved to get Father Jamie Parsley to agree to teach poetry at Concordia College in Spring 2022.
“I wish I could say that because it would make it a lot more dramatic,” Parsley says.
It was quite the opposite for the rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fargo. When the idea was proposed, his response: “I’m very, very, very interested.” The poet showed no poker face.
Concordia English professor W. Scott Olsen also has no poker face over his excitement. Olsen was the one who approached Parsley about becoming an adjunct, poet-in-residence for the college.
“He is remarkable in the way he can connect regional geography and regional history with really important, deep core ideas,” Olsen says. “You read his work and you say at the same time, ‘I recognize this, and it's brand new.’”
Parsley has published a dozen collections of poetry and a fiction book. Perhaps his most notable work is “Fargo, 1957” about a deadly tornado that ripped through the city. He is an associate poet laureate for the state of North Dakota.
His love for poetry began in high school. It continued to call him while he obtained his Master of Fine Arts degree before he got another calling – to join the seminary. Now, 35 years later, he calls teaching poetry at Concordia a dream come true.
“It's been a fire that sort of burned through the core of my life in many ways – a consuming flame that has meant so much to me,” Parsley says. “I love to be able to share that passion with other people. That's kind of what I've always seen myself doing in many ways.”
Olsen stresses the importance of poetry as a part of the writing curriculum for a variety of majors since it teaches “attention to the line and the word.” He hopes Parsley will bring adrenaline to the teaching of poetry.
“He is personally dynamic,” Olsen says. “To talk with him, you feel uplifted. You feel alive. You feel like the world is vibrating a little bit more than it did before you talked to him.”
Parsley previously taught at the University of Mary in Fargo.
Dr. Bill Snyder, who taught poetry at Concordia for 24 years, retired earlier this year.
Photo courtesy of W. Scott Olsen