Time Well Spent, Literally: Poet Edward Hirsch to Deliver Joel O. Conarroe Lecture on Tuesday, March 13!

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Even though I’d studied poetry off and on along my educational way up to and including here at Davidson College, poetry as a literary form continued to hold an aura of inaccessibility for me well into adulthood.

I was just too literal, too impatient, I thought.

Well, too impatient, probably that much was true. Reading, studying, truly mining good poetry for its full potential does require an investment of time. But how can one be too “literal”—too “to the letter”—for poetry? Poetry, for pity’s sakes, where each word, each letter, each space carries infinite intention and allows for unlimited inference?

Edward Hirsch

Edward Hirsch’s How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry was instrumental in my shift in attitude toward poetry about a decade ago. I didn’t even know who he was at the time, just some critic maybe, but remember thinking while reading his prose about poetry, “This guy is a poet himself.” Neat.

And now I’ll get to hear him and meet Hirsch in person, right here at Davidson.

Hirsch, award-winning poet, literary critic, MacArthur Fellow and president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, will present Davidson College’s annual Conarroe Lecture at 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 13, in the Duke Family Performance Hall in Knobloch Campus Center. The lecture is free and open to the public; tickets are required. Free tickets are available for pickup at the box office in Knobloch Campus Center, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mon.–Fri., (beginning Monday, Mar. 12) or by contacting Jessica Olson at jeolson@davidson.edu or 704-894-2106.

The Conarroe Lecture is named for Joel O. Conarroe, Davidson Class of 1965 and president of the Guggenheim Foundation from 1985 to 2002. The lectureship has brought a host of luminaries to the Davidson stage alongside the irrepressible Conarroe himself since its founding in 2003. These include Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Cunningham, Salman Rushdie, Michael Chabon, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Annie Proulx, Russell Banks and W.S. Merwin.

Hirsch’s presentation “Reading Poetry, Poetry Reading” will focus on ideas discussed in his 2000 bestseller How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry. Hirsch will discuss the particular nature of reading poetry—how it works, what it entails, and the intimacy it establishes through language.

Hirsch will also read some of his own works including poems from his book The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems.

“Two principles of Ed Hirsch’s work impress me the most,” said Professor and Chair of English Zoran Kuzmanovich. “He has always insisted that poetry is a calling, not a career, and that good poetry is written from the body as well as the mind.

“The words of the well-written poem feel right because they bear the traces of the world that entered the poet’s sensibility in invoking only those precise words and not some other ones. Poetry transcribes the way the world felt to the poet. In so doing, it preserves both the world and the poet. In practice, these principles translate into Hirsch’s willingness to risk the immediacy of emotions in his poems. Just read the jubilant celebration of human love in ‘A New Theology,’ the fragility of our sense of self in ‘To My Shadow’ or the tangible mourning in the poem ‘On the Anniversary of Joseph Brodsky’s Death.’

“The undisguised emotion is not just emotion for its own sake. For example, the Brodsky poem mourns Joseph Brodsky, the great exiled Russian poet who became an American one. But there is also the witty layer of the poem moving beyond personal mourning to meditate on the situation of the poet [excerpt]:

At the dimly lit Museum of the Far North

The subject was the poet’s internal exile,

Metaphysics versus History, and the fateful

Struggle between Poetry and Time,

A Cold War that will never end.”



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