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Lahiri, Warren, and Ricks Lead Tribute to Lacerda

Memorial for Portuguese poet and BU prof tonight

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Alberto de Lacerda, who taught at BU for 24 years, will be remembered tonight in a memorial tribute at CGS.

Former three-time U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, Lamont Prize–winner Rosanna Warren: BU has no shortage of renowned poets among its faculty. Yet one name has seemed to slip off many students’ and even professors’ lists over time — Alberto de Lacerda.

Lacerda, widely considered one of the 20th century’s most important Portuguese poets, taught modern foreign languages and literatures at BU for 24 years. By the time he arrived at the University, in 1972, his reputation as a poet had preceded him — while relatively obscure in the United States, he was widely admired in Europe and was a national hero in Portugal. Lacerda retired from BU as a University Professor in 1996 and returned to London, his adopted home, to live out the rest of his life in near-solitude. He died in August of last year.

The University Professors Program is commemorating him tonight at Remembering Alberto de Lacerda, a celebration of the poet’s artistic achievements and a tribute to his time at BU. The event takes place at 6 p.m. in the Katzenberg Center at the College of General Studies. Some of BU’s best-known writers, all Lacerda’s former colleagues and students, will participate, paying homage to Lacerda with poetry readings and personal stories.

“His death, and the conditions of his life in old age, shocked me. I didn’t know how he was living,” says Rosanna Warren, a University Professor and BU’s Emma Ann MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities. “I think among a number of people who cared about him and his work, there was a rising feeling of wanting to honor him.”

The event was proposed by Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri (GRS’93, UNI’95,’97), who will be reading at the memorial along with Christopher Ricks, BU’s William M. and Sara B. Warren Professor of the Humanities and a codirector of the Editorial Institute; Isabel Pinto-Franco, a Portuguese poet and interpreter; and William Corbett, MIT’s writer-in-residence.

At BU, Lacerda earned a reputation for his refusal to compromise, in the classroom or in his art. In a tribute published in Poetry Magazine, Lahiri recalls that he “lectured without notes, an intense, virtuosic delivery peppered with occasionally condescending asides.”

“He was an intense and, perhaps, even tempestuous teacher who demanded a lot of his students,” says Warren. “But I have a feeling that for some of his more literary students, like Jhumpa, he was a tremendous resource.”

Lacerda was as steadfastly devoted to his own work as he was to his students’. Although he published the last of his 12 volumes of poetry in 2001, he continued to write until his death; according to a London Independent obituary, scraps of paper bearing unfinished poems peppered his London flat.

“Writing, for Alberto, was not part-time, it was full-time,” Warren says. “His whole life was organized around the art. Alberto could give his students who sought to be writers a model of a very uncompromising life with art at the center.”

Remembering Alberto de Lacerda begins at 6 p.m. tonight, March 3, at the Katzenberg Center, third floor, College of General Studies, 871 Commonwealth Ave. A reception will follow.

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