Oct. 7, 1999
Vol. 19 No. 2

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    American poetry series: Where the languages of artists, scholars meet

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    Danielle Allen, Assistant Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures, and her University colleagues hope to share their passion for poetry with campus academics and aesthetes alike.

    “American Poetry at the Millennium: Lecture and Reading Series” was organized by Allen and the American Poetry Committee and begins next week when award-winning poet Frank Bidart will read from his poems and deliver a lecture on his craft.

    One of seven appearances by award-winning poets, Bidart’s visit will be followed by poet and University alumnus John Taggart’s visit (see related story below). All seven poets participating in the series during the 1999-00 academic year will read from their own works one day and deliver a lecture on their craft the next.

    Adding the lecture component makes this series significant, said Robert von Hallberg, Professor in English Language & Literature and Germanic Studies and a member of the committee that organized the series. He noted that poets do not usually discuss their craft at universities, limiting their visits to readings.

    “This series brings poets to campus a bit more on the University’s terms. We are an ‘explainers’ institution not an ‘artists’ institution. We can engage with the poets as explainers on one day and as artists on another––which makes for an intellectual and artistic experience,” said von Hallberg.

    Allen agreed, adding, “This series creates a forum where the languages of artists and scholars meet, so we hope to generate widespread interest from both a critical, academic perspective and a creative perspective.”

    Allen said the committee hopes to encourage more creative writing in addition to academic writing on campus. “We want to examine the role of art in our lives and to understand it not merely as historical artifact but also as lived experience,” said Allen.

    The Visiting Committee to the Division of the Humanities is sponsoring the series with support from the Classics, English Language & Literature and East Asian Languages & Civilizations departments, the Chicago Review, The Franke Institute for the Humanities and the College. The Department of English Language & Literature also is instituting a College course to accompany the series.

    Philip Gossett, Professor in Music and former Dean of the Division of the Humanities, said, “We decided to support the poetry series because it was so beautifully organized and conceived, because the support of activities pertaining to poetry seems to me an essential part of our activities as humanists, and because I was impressed with the cooperation Danielle was able to generate from faculty in a number of different departments.”

    Gossett added that while the University offers programs such as musical composition, poetry and fiction writing, more support of the creative arts is needed. “We need to do more to support serious proposals of this kind, particularly those that promise to generate broad interest among students,” said Gossett.

    In addition to Allen and von Hallberg, organizing committee members are Scarlett Higgins, a graduate student in the Humanities; Maureen McLane, a former Harper Instructor; and Deborah Nelson, Assistant Professor in English Language & Literature.

    “Creating a series instead of hosting individual poets allows us to have an ongoing conversation about aesthetics, which episodic programs don’t offer,” said Nelson.

    In addition to Bidart and Taggart, the “American Poetry at the Millennium” series also will sponsor visits by Korean poet Ko Un in November; Pultizer Prize winner Jorie Graham in January; poet David Ferry in February; Eleanor Wilner, the 1999-00 University of Chicago Sherry Poet, in April; and Pultizer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa in May.

    “So much of our academic life is devoted to historical, analytical and critical approaches to literature that we sometimes forget our approach to language also can be a pleasure,” said Nelson, who hopes people will attend the series even if they are unfamiliar with poetry. “People who attend the lectures are going to see that poetry is more diverse than they ever imagined.”

    More on Frank Bidart and John Taggart