Feb. 1, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 9

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    ‘Poem Present’ part of ongoing poetry project

    “Poem Present,” the 2000-2001 incarnation of an ongoing contemporary poetry project at the University, continues this month with events that will bring four authors to campus. Visitors this month will range from members of a younger generation of contemporary writers in Chicago to well-known poets from the United States and abroad.

    Danielle Allen, Associate Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures and a co-organizer of the project, said that although “Poem Present” is more experimental than last year’s “American Poetry at the Millennium” series, it retains a format similar to that of its predecessor. Poets taking part in the forum present a reading on a Thursday and return Friday to discuss the work or another issue relevant to contemporary poetry. The Thursday readings take place at 5:30 p.m. in Room 10 of the Classics Building, 1010 E. 59th St., and lectures on Fridays begin at 3:30 p.m. in Room 408 of Wieboldt Hall, 1050 E. 59th St.

    The two-fold structure encourages multiple levels of interaction with the visiting writers. “It gives the group a chance to hear a poet perform in his or her own voice, then return the following day to engage in a discussion at an entirely different level,” Allen explained. She pointed to a lecture last year by Frank Bidart, “Pre-Existing Forms: We Fill Them, and When We Fill Them, We Change Them and Are Changed,” as a memorable example. “The talk coupled with his reading opened up the entire process of his production and provided insight into the different ways that poets can approach their material.”

    Today, Christine Hume and Joshua Weiner will read jointly from their recent work. The two also will take part in “Misgivings: A Conversation about History, Experiment and Generation,” a public exchange on Friday, Feb. 2, which will highlight questions central to the practices of younger poets working today.

    Chinese poet Yang Lian, currently visiting the United States for six months to perform readings and give presentations, has agreed to join the forum the following week. Yang, whose poetry is widely published in the United Kingdom but presently banned in China, will read on Thursday, Feb. 8, and return Friday, Feb. 9, to discuss his work.

    The most widely known of the visiting poets, Fanny Howe, will read from her poems on Thursday, Feb. 22. During her talk on Friday, Feb. 23, Howe, who is the author of more than 20 books of fiction and poetry, will address the subject of “doubt.”

    “Poem Present” is accompanied by a two-quarter course of the same name that offers students an additional venue to engage works by authors in the series. The class, which is offered in the College through the Department of English, meets on Fridays prior to the week of a scheduled reading to discuss a recent book by the visiting poet. Led by Scarlett Higgins, a graduate student in English Language & Literature, the sequence also is meant to present students with a more general exploration of contemporary poetry. “We don’t focus on any particular school, group or type of poetry,” explained Higgins. “Rather, we spend time together trying to get a sense of the breadth and diversity of the contemporary scene.”

    Allen added, “It’s a real opportunity for students who are curious about contemporary poetry to dive into the material. Over the course of the year, students in the course have a chance to get to know each other through their reactions to the work and develop a nuanced conversation.”

    Allen noted that “Poem Present” readings and lectures are free and open to all members of the University community interested in broadening their experience of contemporary poetic writing. “The project grew very naturally out of a common desire–shared by a wide group of faculty and students across departments–to create a more extensive environment for the campus poetry community,” she explained.

    “Two years ago, beyond the occasional post-performance conversation, it seemed to us that there really wasn’t a good forum for people interested in discussing new work or sharing in the experience of poetry in academic or artistic ways. ‘American Poetry at the Millennium’ had the effect of changing that picture,” she added.

    Allen credits “Poem Present” faculty committee members Deborah Nelson, Assistant Professor in English Language & Literature, Robert von Hallberg, Professor in Germanic Studies, and Richard Strier, Professor in English Language & Literature, as well as graduate students Higgins, Matthias Regan and Matthew Hofer with the continuing success of the series.

    “I can say that we’ve worked together quite seriously to meld the energies of critical engagement and artistic production with the pleasures to be taken in listening,” she said.

    The events this month follow visits in October by South African lyric poet Ingrid de Kok and American poet Jay Wright. “Poem Presents” is sponsored in part by the Division of the Humanities, the Office of the Provost, the Departments of English and Classical Languages & Literatures, and the Illinois Arts Council. More information is available from Allen at (773) 834-8934 or Higgins at s-higgins@uchicago.edu.