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Award-winning poet to speak at Davidson

Posted: Thursday, Mar. 08, 2012

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John Syme

John Syme graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor of arts degree in French in 1985. He worked as a general-assignment reporter at The Winston-Salem Journal, where he later wrote freelance travel stories during his first solo cross-country road trip in the summer of 1989. He worked as a copywriter at a Charlotte advertising agency, as a research translator at a French nutrition center outside Paris, and as a politics and education newspaper reporter in Charlotte. He returned in 2001 to Davidson, where he is senior writer, alumni editor and instigator of the "Road Trip 2009" blog, which evolved into his current blog, "Daybook Davidson."

Even though I’d studied poetry off and on along my educational way up to and including 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, where each word, each letter, each space carries infinite intention and allows for unlimited inference?

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

And now I’ll get to hear him and meet him in person!

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.

Hirsch’s presentation “Reading Poetry, Poetry Reading” will focus on ideas discussed in his 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:

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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