Tulane professor receives well-deserved recognition


Professor Peter Cooley shows off a copy of his latest collection of poems, “Night Bus to the Afterlife.” He was appointed as Louisiana State Poet Laureate last fall. 

Adding to an ever-growing heap of accomplishments, Director of Creative Writing and English Professor Peter Cooley was chosen as a Louisianian of the Year by “Louisiana Life” magazine.

Repeatedly recognized as an outstanding professor and scholar, Cooley has received Tulane’s Inspirational Professor Award, Newcomb Professor of the Year Award and the Mellon Professorship. His work has been published in an enormous range of notable publications, from magazines such as “The New Yorker” and “The Atlantic,” to anthologies like “Best American Poetry” and “Poets on Place.” Cooley’s recognition as Louisiana State Poet Laureate last fall tops his list of accolades.

Though Cooley is originally from Detroit, living in the New Orleans influenced his poetry substantially.

“New Orleans would have to affect my poetry,” Cooley said. “I’ve lived here for over half my life and I’m not from here so I’m always aware of it being weird and interesting.”

In his most recent published collection, “Night Bus to the Afterlife,” Cooley threaded the vivid emotions and devastation witnessed during Hurricane Katrina into poetic verse.

“My wife and I stayed here for [Hurricane] Katrina, so we had the strange experience of living here for that time,” Cooley said. “The poems are a kind of spiritual exploration of the aftermath of Katrina, rather than a documentary approach to the whole thing.”

Cooley has been planning for numerous events and readings for poets and students of poetry alike, as well as adhering to the responsibilities of a poet laureate by giving an annual reading sponsored by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities for the duration of his two-year term.

“I’m doing a number of readings around the state in the springtime, and then I’m going to host a poetry reading in Baton Rouge for ten or twelve Louisiana poets,” Cooley said. “I’ve been here for 39 years, so I know a lot of different poets to invite.”

Outside of his other duties, Cooley is also currently working on his tenth formal publication of poems in a growing collection that spans back to 1975. While “Night Bus to the Afterlife” contained a more spiritual take on poetry, his style is never set into a specific genre. Cooley exercises total autonomy over the layout and rhythm of his work.

“My favorite kind of poetry would be poems on which I can make up my own form,” Cooley said. “I’ve always said to my students that free-verse is the most formal form of poetry. If you’re making up the form instead of writing a sonnet with 14 lines, it’s a formal poem. Even if it’s all over the page, it’s a formal poem. It’s your form.”