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Poetry Reimagined

What’s the use of poetry in the midst of the anxiety and promise of our times?

In February, the Department of English hosted a well-attended poetry symposium, cosponsored by the Kinsman Foundation, to explore the relevancy of poetry in today’s world. The symposium offered a unique blend of critical and creative perspectives. Speakers included poet Lyn Hejinian, professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley and chancellor of the Academy of American Poets; poet Joan Retallack, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Humanities at Bard College; and critic Marjorie Perloff, Sadie D. Patek Professor Emerita of Humanities at Stanford University and scholar in residence at the University of Southern California.

“All three speakers clearly believe that poetry is an intellectual activity, not just the expression of feelings,” says Mary Szybist, assistant professor of English at Lewis & Clark and an award-winning poet. “Each required us to think hard about the complex nature of language.”

Szybist feels fortunate to work on a campus where poetry continues to thrive. “I’ve been asked if it’s sometimes difficult to work in the long shadow of William Stafford [professor of English and poet laureate of Oregon],” says Szybist. “I’ve never felt anything but lucky to be working at a college where his presence is still felt. It is a testament to the liveliness and importance of poetry on our campus that, while Hejinian and Retallack write poems strikingly different from Stafford’s, they were welcomed and well-received here. Such occasions as the poetry symposium help us to think seriously about what poetry has been and what it might become.”

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