Phillis Wheatley. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Emily Dickinson. Robert Frost. Those names give you some idea of the enormous contribution New England poets have made to shaping American poetry.
Tonight that rich history is being celebrated on campus as BU hosts Poets of New England, 1910-2010, at the Tsai Performance Center. The event marks the centennial of the Poetry Society of America, the nation’s oldest poetry organization, established to create “a public forum for the advancement, enjoyment, and understanding of poetry.”
PSA has invited nine contemporary New England writers to read from their own poems, as well as from the work of famous New Englanders of the past century. Among the poets reading tonight are Pulitzer Prize–winners Mary Oliver, James Tate, and Franz Wright, as well as Gail Mazur, Frank Bidart, X. J. Kennedy, and Major Jackson.
Also reading tonight are David Ferry, Sophie Chantal Hart Professor Emeritus of English at Wellesley College and a College of Arts & Sciences lecturer in creative writing, and Rosanna Warren, BU’s Emma Ann MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities.
“PSA is hugely fruitful,” says Warren. “It encourages young poets across the country with prizes and awards; it places poetry in the streets, on trains and buses, anywhere the citizen might stumble upon a song unawares, and be startled into awareness.”
Ferry, too, is an enthusiastic supporter of PSA’s work. “The Poetry Society of America has historically played a big part in the supporting of American poetry. It’s a great institution.”
Warren, the daughter of former U.S. poet laureate Robert Penn Warren, was born in Connecticut, and she says that New England has influenced and inspired her work throughout her career. “New England has shaped me by its lights and darks; its heats and colds; its definite seasons; its stony yet leafy landscape; its restricted horizons,” she says. She plans to read new poems at tonight’s event, including “Northeast Corridor,” which, she says, “brings to light a New England landscape.”
Each of the poets participating was asked to select and read poems from a favorite New England predecessor. Warren will read “The Sheaves,” a sonnet by Edwin Arlington Robinson. “I love its combination of toughness and lyrical tenderness,” she says. “It’s about a kind of gold that can be neither bought nor sold. These days, it’s good to remember there are such values.”
Ferry will read two poems by Robert Frost, “Acceptance” and “A Bird Singing in Its Sleep,” as well as a passage from Virgil’s Georgics or Aeneid, which the Frost poems recall. He will also read his poem “The Birds,” based both on the Frost poems and the Virgil passage.
Poets of New England, 1910-2010, is tonight, September 23, at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave., at 7 p.m. Admission is free. The event is cosponsored by the BU Creative Writing Program and the Boston Review. A private, ticketed reception with the poets follows the reading. Tickets for the reception are $75 per person, $100 per couple. Purchase tickets by calling 212-254-9628. More information is available at the Creative Writing Program, 617-353-2510.
John O’Rourke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.