Horizon Lines article --May 2002
Jamie Parsley - North Dakota Poet and Priest

by Carla Smith

Sitting in a sophomore English class in West Fargo, a teacher with a passion for Emily
Dickinson reads to her class. A young student listens intently and his own passion for
poetry is ignited.

Jamie Parsley began reading poetry intensely after his teacher inspired him to delve
deeper into the art form. His reading led to writing poetry, which ultimately led to his
being published in several journals and magazines. His continued efforts brought his
poetry to a larger venue in 1995, when his first collection of poems, “The Loneliness of
Blizzards,” was published. Many poems and stories later, Parsley has traveled an
interesting and, at times, harrowing path to where he is today.

After graduating from high school, Jamie focused on writing until Concordia College
professor Barb Olive, a friend and mentor of Parsley, encouraged him to enroll in a master’
s program. Jamie’s work and his commitment to his craft landed him a place at Vermont
College, where he completed an Master of Fine Arts in poetry and fiction in 1999.
Parsley’s path was still moving forward. Parsley had used poetry to search for meaning in
religion and life since his early days. He studied different religions with the same zeal that
he studied poetry. After much research and a lot of church services, Parsley found his
calling in the Episcopal Church.

He began his work toward becoming a priest and will earn his liturgical collar in a year.
Through out his life, Parsley has blended these two essential ingredients of life in a unique

Parsley speaks of his poetry as an extension of his life. Parsley tells of how he goes through
periods when he won’t write at all, but rather will just live life, filing experiences for those
moments that come from his muse. Parsley, who writes in free hand, explains how his
verse begins with a first line and “grows from there.” He will finish a piece and then read it
out loud.

“Poetry is so oral, such an audible art,” Parsley says.
As for inspiration, Parsley shares that at times, “the poetry is just there.” He’s written
hundreds of poems and explains how “somewhere in the middle between the soft, easy
pieces and the out-there, abstract stuff is the work that is hard to write and satisfying.”

Parsley also believes in experimentation in his work. He enjoys trying his hand at styles
that don’t necessarily come naturally to him. Parsley says: “Experimenting is very
important. It gives your work a new dimension.”

Longtime friend and fellow writer Brother Benet Tvedten describes Parsley’s poetry as
being “brief and to the point.”

“The reader is never lost in abstractions,” Tvedten says. He also notes how Parsley’s
environment comes through in his writing. “A native of the Dakota wind-swept prairie, he
often employs the wind in his poems,” Tvedten says, “the violent wind creating angst and
light breezes that represent the lyrical.”

Brother Tvedten also notes the spirituality that is evident in some of Parsley’s work. When
asked what the central theme of Parsley’s work seems to be, his response is simple and
clear, much like Parsley’s work: “Looking at life’s absurdities as well as its marvels and
finding the spiritual in both.”

Parsley has dedicated much of his learning experience to religion and poetry. While he
allows that his work with poetry “ebbs and flows” and that he often takes a break from
writing, he also feels that his religious experience is similar. He describes how some poems
are “just there, staring at you, and you’re prepared to write that poem, to put it down on
the page and you, as the poet, feel good about having taken this experience and given it
life,” Parsley says. “You feel alive because you’ve created something. The same sort of
thing happens with religion,” he says. “There are moments you know,” he says. “You know
that God exists without a doubt, you know that what you are feeling is peaceful and good
and pure. To come to these moments in life, one must simply wait them out. They don’t
come daily….They come when we least expect them. We, as poets, as religious seekers, are
simply there waiting for them.”

The poetry of liturgy is also something that Parsley appreciates. Parsley shares how he
“loves the liturgy and the poetry contained in it.” Parsley, who is in the candidacy stage of
priesthood in the Episcopal Church, enjoys the poetry of scripture. He says that one of the
things that attracted him to the Episcopal Church was the use of psalms that are either
recited or sung during services.

Parsley also points out that as his spirituality has grown and changed, so has his poetry. In
his early work, Parsley grappled more openly with the questions that religion raised in
him. Now he feels that “as writers, we need to be honest with the experiences of our lives,
and, if we are compelled to write about our spirituality, then certainly we should.”

Poetry and the priesthood aren’t the only things that intertwine. An active writer in the
area, he also makes his relationships with friends and family a priority. Though few of his
family or friends are writers, he enjoys sharing that side with those who are interested. A
close friend shared that Parsley’s work “shows a side that doesn’t come out in casual
conversation or in day-to-day interactions.” The friend also said that “Jamie’s poetic work
is a new dimension of who he is.”

Parsley continues to find out more about his path and how his poetry will come from those
places he travels. Recently diagnosed with cancer, Parsley is focusing on his health and
recovery. But, as he says, “When the big things come, that is when you use your poetry.”

Staff photo by Carla Smith
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