2013 Plutzik Series – Featuring Three Incredible Poets

The Plutzik Memorial Reading Series is one of the most prestigious and longest-running reading series in the country. Over the years, the Series has featured a vast array of poets and fiction writers, the famous and not-yet famous. Originally established by Hyam Plutzik himself, the Series was named for the poet after his death in 1962. Readings have been held in at Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester since the series’ inception. The 52nd annual series welcomes three great poets in Fall 2013:

Louise Gluck, Aleksander Hemon, and Sally Keith

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October 12, 2013 – 3:30 PM

Louise Glück, Poet

Louis Glück is Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a former Poet Laureate of the United States, Glück is the author a dozen widely acclaimed books, most recently Poems 1962-2012.  Stephen Dobyns, writing in the New York Times Book Review, said “no American poet writes better than Louise Glück, perhaps none can leads us so deeply into our own nature.”  Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Hass has called her “one of the purest and most accomplished lyric poets now writing.”Glück is currently the Rosenkranz Writer-in-Residence at Yale University, having taught previously at Williams College for over twenty years.

     She is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and was in 1999 elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In the New York Times, critic William Logan described her work as “the logical outcome of a certain strain of confessional verse—starved of adjectives, thinned to a nervous set of verbs, intense almost past bearing, her poems have been dark, damaged and difficult to avert your gaze from.”

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October 29, 2013 – 5 PM

Aleksandar Hemon, Poet

Aleksandar Hemon is the author of The Lazarus Project, which was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, and three collections of short stories: The Question of Bruno; Nowhere Man, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Love and Obstacles, which will be published by Riverhead Books on May 14, 2009.

Born in Sarajevo, Hemon visited Chicago in 1992, intending to stay for a matter of months. While he was there, Sarajevo came under siege, and he was unable to return home. Hemon wrote his first story in English in 1995. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2003 and a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation in 2004.  He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.

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November 14, 2013 – 5 PM

Sally Keith, Poet

Sally Keith’s most recent book is The Fact of the Matter. Her previous collections of poetry: Design, winner of the 2000 Colorado Prize for Poetry, and Dwelling Song, winner of the University of Georgia’s Contemporary Poetry Series competition.

Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, A Public Space, Gulf Coast, New England Review, and elsewhere. Keith teaches at George Mason University.

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For up to date information on the readings, please contact the English Department at The University of Rochester – (585) 275- 4092. To interview the poets or learn more about the series, please contact the Public Relations office at The University of Rochester – (585) 276-3256, valerie.alhart@rochester.edu

 

“The Last Fisherman” Published in Best American Poetry Blog to Honor Hyam Plutzik’s 102nd Birthday

By Edward Moran

To mark what would have been Hyam Plutzik’s 102nd birthday on July 13th, poet David Lehman posted Plutzik’s “The Last Fisherman” on that day’s “Best American Poetry” blog. The poem originally appeared as the final poem in Plutzik’s acclaimed collection Apples from Shinar, published by Wesleyan University Press in 1959 and reprinted in 2011.  Its strategic placement as the envoi to this collection is a testament to the poem as a profound meditation on our endurance in the face of life’s transience.  Though a human’s life is ephemeral and short-lived, the fisher poet finds solace and significance in the elusive quest for his aquarian prey, as all “wait still for the wonder.”

Hyam Plutzik was no mere armchair abstractionist who wrote of nature from the comfortable confines of his study.  An avid angler for many years, he enjoyed rising in the pre-dawn hours to cast his line in one of the lakes or ponds around Rochester, New York, where he taught English for many years at the university. As a tribute to his devotion to fishing, the poet’s rod and reel is lovingly preserved along with his manuscripts, letters, and other artifacts in the Plutzik archives at the University of Rochester’s Rush-Rhees Library.

To Plutzik, this favorite pastime was not just “recreational”—it was profoundly “re-creational” in that it afforded him time to reflect on life and language in the solitude of his favorite fishing hole while crafting the images and tropes that teemed in his poetry like fish in a hatchery.  In “The Bass,” another poem from Apples from Shinar, Plutzik imagines them pleading, “We are the great fireflies,/Sweeter than soft minnows./Take us before we fade.”

David Lehman, the founding editor of Best American Poetry, has himself published several acclaimed collections of verse. He also edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry and Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present. For many years, he has taught poetry at the New School in New York City, where he serves as poetry coordinator.

Two Exciting Hyam Plutzik Centennial Events in April!

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We’re sharing two great events this month that bring the formal part of the HP Centennial to a close. It’s been an incredible two years (2011-12, 2012-13)!

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Hyam Plutzik (Trinity ’32)– Connecticut and Beyond – an Exhibition and Reading

Opening April 9, 2013 through May 31, 2013

First in Connecticut at Trinity College, an incredible reading and exhibition, done by the Watkinson Library (Richard Ring) in tandem with the Rush Rhees Library Department of Rare Books (Phyllis Andrews), and our very own Edward Moran (literary advisor to the Centennial and Hyam Plutzik Scholar). Guest readers included the poet laureate of Connecticut, Dick Allen. See blog entry below borrowed from Richard Ring’s Blog – at the Watkinson.

Check out the link here to a listening station created for this event, that features Hyam Plutzik reading his own poem, as well as a reading by Poet James Longenbach (Trininty ’1981′). You’ll also hear a musical setting of HP’s Sprig of Lilac with music by Robert Cohen: http://jvillafont.wix.com/hyamplutzikpoetry

Hyam Plutzik’s Horatio – at the Helen Mills Theater in New York City 

Featuring Nigel Maister - April 18, 2013

Rosanna Warren and the Poetry of Translation

The poet and scholar Rosanna Warren delivered a lecture on Poetry and Translation at the University of Rochester on April 24th as part the Plutzik Centennial Series–reviewed here by Jenny Boyar.

Rosanna Warren

From the outset, Rosanna Warren admitted that her profession is one of “smoke and mirrors.” It seems like an image out of that final scene in The Wizard of Oz—the translator frantically conjuring false images from behind a curtain. Yet as a description of Warren’s talk this scene is inaccurate: her discussion brought the oft-overlooked issue of translation out into the open, and Warren—with her numerous fellowships, award-winning poetry, and lauded translations—certainly does not need to feign her success, and delivered her insights with endearing humility.

In fact, Warren’s work proves that the most successful translations are the ones that don’t announce themselves. She shared several of her translations of Latin and French authors: Catullus, Horace, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore and Michael Glück. Each piece was unique, which is surely a testament to Warren’s ability to inhabit and then carry over varying voices. Some of the authors had been translated numerous times before; others, Warren brought into English for the first time. Warren said that regardless of the project her goal is to “make an illusion” that captures what she sees in the poem. And in translating poetry, it seems that seeing necessarily encompasses hearing—that a translator must hold an image before her eyes while also listening for a sort of music.

Warren prefaced almost every reading by plainly stating, “I have failed.” It was less of an apology than a calm acceptance that every translation will fail inasmuch as it will never replicate its original; something will always be lost and no translation will escape the mediation of interpretation. Translating, according to Warren, always involves “determining what will be your own particular heartbreak.” Warren described, for example, how, in Catullus’ poetry, a character’s appetite is enhanced by Latin words that phonetically “gobble each other up” in ways English renders impossible. But with every heartbreak comes some kind of restoration. In one example from Michael Gluck’s “Thirteen Poems,” the English word “rest” and its multiple meanings, unavailable in the French, only enhanced the way the poem inscribed deep remembrance into the ordinary day. All of these instances of triumph and defeat make translation difficult to theorize (Warren spoke at several moments of the divide between translation in theory and in practice) but they are also a testament to translation’s virtues.

Three times during the lecture Warren remarked that when it comes to translating poetry, there is “more than one way to skin a cat” (I counted only because I, as a loyal cat owner, shirked every time). It seems like a crude analogy, especially for a process that has brought us some of our most cherished pieces of literature. But when I wasn’t thinking protectively of my own cat, I was thinking of the (translated) Greek myth of the Nemean lion and how Heracles discovers, in his attempt to fight the lion, that he will not be able to skin the cat—in any way—without using the animal’s own claws. Although this brings even more brutality to Warren’s analogy, it speaks to the fact that translating necessarily involves taking, or trying to inhabit, the very work that is being shaped. The product will never be returned to its original form, and might always be slightly exposed (and I’m sure violence, too, is in some cases a part of the game). But in the hands of an artist like Warren, it will always be something to be valued and worth complete visibility.

Jenny Boyar is a first-year Ph.D. student in Medieval Literature at UR and a regular contributor to a fistful of words, having previously reviewed lectures by Susan Stewart and Christopher Ricks.

Three Generations/Three Poets: a literary evening at The Betsy, Apr 29

The Betsy Hotel in South Beach, Florida, one of our partners in the Hyam Plutzik Centennial, has been celebrating this National Poetry Month with aplomb, breaking in its brand new Writers Room with residencies and readings by the poets Melissa Broder, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Malachi Black, and Ariana Reines, as well as a community reading featuring Billy Collins–all in partnership with the University of Wynwood Poetry Series.

On April 29, The Betsy will round out the month’s festivities with an evening of readings by the poets Daniel Halpern, founder and editor of Ecco; Campbell McGrath, Professor at Florida International University and winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant; and P. Scott Cunningham, founder of the University of Wynwood and O, Miami, a local poetry festival. After the readings, award-winning writer Les Standiford, Chair of the Creative Writing Program at FIU, will lead a discussion exploring the inextricable link between writing and teaching that is a reality for writers in our time and of all time.

The evening will also include a screening of the last interview the poet Stanley Kunitz gave before his death in 2006, originally shot for the documentary film Hyam Plutzik: American Poet.

The program will begin at 7pm, with a reception to follow at 9pm. The event is free and open to the public. View the full press release and invitation for additional information.

Philip Levine’s world of sound and memory

On April 10, 2012, US Poet Laureate Philip Levine appeared in the Plutzik Reading Series at the University of Rochester. David Krinick, a recent UR graduate, returns to a fistful of words to share his reflections on the reading.

Philip Levine, Poet Laureate

April 10’s Plutzik Series Reading diverged from its standard fare, opting out of the intimate Welles-Brown Room’s fifty-person capacity for a mostly-filled Hubbell Auditorium, which can accommodate over four hundred and fifty people. That is the draw Philip Levine is able to produce, and yet, his frank speech and quick wit kept the afternoon’s proceedings free from any over- bearing gravitas that one might expect from our nation’s Poet Laureate. Interspersed between readings of “Soloing,” “The Mercy,” “The Poem of Chalk,” “Ode for Mrs. William Settle” and “Gospel,” Levine drew laughs from us all with candid remarks such as recalling his son asking him, “Hey pop, so how many poems do you have out there working for you?”

His speech, however, seemed a foil when compared with his poetry. What was candid in conversation became simple truths and meaningful observations; what was humorous was spread out into a range of human experience: visceral pleasures, misery and being subject to grinding work. Levine’s work is historical, capturing and reviving fragments of American history through studies of the millions that helped build this country.

You know what work is – if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother…
“What Work is”

It is this unblushing free verse and an early life filled with labor in Motor City that earned Levine the title of “working class poet.” He admitted however he is not completely comfortable with the epithet, saying “I stopped doing heavy work when I was twenty-seven,” though playfully adding “I feel comfortable with the middle class, especially when they grab the bill.” Levine’s discomfort may arise from the fact that while his poetry is indelibly stamped with the effects of an industrial world, he has other facets: music, rural contemplation, and as one of his favorite poets, Federico García Lorca, said, “the constant baptism of newly created things” all run though his work.

Before reading “Gospel” he quipped, “I had a cat that was more spiritual than me, had more character than me too.” But regardless of intent or the source of the poem, its isolation and meditative quality speak to another side of Levine’s work.

…So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before
first light. “Soughing” we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.
“Gospel”

Here is a world of sound and memory. This experience speaks to no one group, but as a sensory experience is open to all.

Finally, one of Levine’s poem’s that struck me most was his “Soloing:”

What a world – when I
arrived the great bowl of mountains
was hidden in a cloud of exhaust,
the sea spread out like a carpet
of oil, the roses I had brought
from Fresno browned on the seat
besides me…
“Soloing”

What a world indeed… The perilous beauty of the Tejon Pass choked with fumes, smog stained roses. What today is commonplace pollution was transformed for me, transfixed by his words.

These images left me in a bleak mood, but also flooded me with memories from hearing of this phenomenon before: Snowboarding in Park City, Utah my friends Chris, Amanda and I were stranded in a yurt while a frozen ski lift forced hundreds to pool into a isolated valley basin. There we met a well-weathered, hard-working couple of Jack Mormons, sipping on Budweiser. After brief introductions, after we shocked them merely by dint of atheism and after complimenting our speech and openness, the husband told us of the unglamorous side of the very resort we were enjoying. Being a child of nearby Pleasant Grove, he was a testament to the birth and growth of the oil sea above his small mountain town. Like the rose in Levine’s poem, he recalled how cars driving through the exhaust clouds would emerge layered in a membrane of soot, how bikers diving through would hold their breath but could not avoid being coated.

Levine revived this memory, not only acting as a confirmation of a phenomenon I have only heard of, but managed to have it grip me through its great and terrible imagery. The poem seems to say, “Look, pay attention.” Levine shows this world is wrought with unending problems, but the love we bear allows us to drive hours through miasma to share in the dreams of others.

David Krinick also reviewed a reading by Eavan Boland last November.

Plutzik Readers Past: Howard Nemerov

Anticipating the Plutzik Series’ 50th Anniversary Exhibition at the U of R, which will open in Fall 2012–over the coming months, we’ll occasionally discuss the work of a Reader from the Series’ roster of nearly 300 acclaimed and award-winning poets, novelists, playwrights, and essayists. This week’s poet is Howard Nemerov, who gave a reading in the Plutzik Series in 1963. Both the Exhibition project AND this blog series are open to creative contributions by UR students and alumni—visit the Exhibition page for more information.

According to many critics, Howard Nemerov (1920-1991) is a prime example of that mid-to-late-century generation of American poets who had to contend with the ecliptic influence of the Moderns.* For much of his early work, wrote Peter Meinke in his study Howard Nemerov, the poet was “writing Eliot, Yeats, and Stevens out of his system” in order to find his own voice, which manifests in the contemplative, quiet lyricism of his later verse. Reviewing his Collected Poems (1977), Helen Vendler wrote that as “the echoes of the grand maitres fade, the poems get steadily better,” and in a review of Nemerov’s third collection, Hayden Carruth declared that “steady improvement, I take it, is one sign of formidable ability.” Nemerov’s ability was well-recognized: The Collected Poems won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and Nemerov served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1988 to 1990.

Some of Nemerov’s early poems strike me as moments of promise for their deadly serious humor, if nothing else. I especially like this one, from his first book, The Image and the Law (1947):

A Chromium-plated Hat: Inlaid with Scenes from Siegfried

           Choreography by the New York Times Book Review

Greatness. Warmth, and human insight. Music.
But greatness. The greatness of Socrates
And Dante and Alexander Woollcott, and the
True charm of Horatio Alger, Jr. Also,
The greatness of eighteen-year-old-girls,
The warmth of retired corporation lawyers,
The impossibility of having enough books
About truth. The important thing is
The relation of truth to our time to Kitty Foyle.
In addition, music. It is good to have music,
But not at the expense of greatness:
Better to be truly great and unmusical.
If you are merely musical you are probably
Not one of the great authors. The place
Of the glorious few is in that case
Not for you, but for Thomas B. Costain,
Who is welcome here almost any time.

To sum up, the truth of the matter is,
Quoting William Lyon Phelps, “There is
No masterpiece like Lohengrin, that
Masterpiece,” and it may be better anyhow
To have human warmth than greatness:
Like Grandpa, who sat by the fire all
Winter long, in a buffalo rug with fleas.

Here, in parodying the popular literary critique of his day, Nemerov is playing the terribly serious humorist, a role which he continues to develop throughout his career into late poems such as the incisive “Learning the Trees.” He holds up the vanity of assessments of greatness, when that term can as easily be applied to Dante, the great medieval Italian poet and author of the Divine Comedy; Alexander Woollcott, a vituperative radio personality renowned in the 1920s and 30s; or “eighteen-year-old-girls”–wait, what kind of greatness are we talking about, here?

The opening laundry list of general, abstract terms (“Greatness. Warmth, and human insight. Music”) has no specific context, only the general smorgasbord of Humanities offered by the title and epigraph: decorative arts (an “inlaid,” “chromium-plated hat”), opera (“scenes from Siegfried”), dance (“Choreography”) and literary discourse (“The New York Times Book Review”). After a few lines of random, abstract iteration, the poem shifts into stilted, arbitrary formulations of those abstracts, and further name-dropping: “The place / Of the glorious few is in that case / Not for you, but for Thomas B. Costain, / Who is welcome here almost any time.” The genial tone here is an instance of Nemerov’s early penchant for irony: it is at once honest and inviting in its “welcome,” yet as holier-than-thou as the ivory tower in its deftly qualifying “almost.” His irony is especially acute because Nemerov is a sympathetic satirist, an unabashed participant in the conversation he lampoons.

The line, “The impossibility of having enough books / about truth” reminds me of a line from Moby-Dick: “Though of real knowledge there be little, yet of books there are a plenty,” which seems a fair account of Nemerov’s view in this poem; the talkers are talking, and what they say is sweeping, redundant, useless: “No masterpiece like Lohengrin, that / Masterpiece.” The poem’s brilliance lies in its sudden turn, in the last two lines, to a deeply human and compelling image: “Like Grandpa, who sat by the fire all / Winter long, in a buffalo rug with fleas.” In this image the poem is looking for the aforementioned “human warmth” which, the poem concedes, “it may be better anyhow / To have…than greatness”. In that image the “human warmth” is again ambiguous—not morally or politically so, as it was of “retired corporation lawyers;” here the ambiguity involves the difference between figurative and literal senses of human warmth. “Grandpa” is a term of endearment: so it is the warmth of human affection, the warmth of love for another; “the fire,” the “buffalo rug,” even the “fleas” convey the second sense, that of actual, bodily warmth as an independent need.

This kind of ambiguity is Nemerov’s forte. Both are meant, and both reinforce the point; in a discussion of what is important, “human warmth” will always win over artistic “greatness,” which by comparison seems an utterly useless and vain conversation. But the finally disturbing and seemingly irremediable dilemma is that the point has been the stuff of a poem, the very thing about whose greatness we are (says Nemerov, the poet himself) being so vain. And that, I think, is precisely why the poem is so damn funny.

Phillip A. Witte

*For an insightful biography and survey of criticism, visit the Poetry Foundation’s Howard Nemerov page.

The art of Kenneth Patchen: Photos by Samantha Miller

From September 2011 to January 2012, the Department of Rare Books at Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester held an exhibition called An Astonished Eye: The Art of Kenneth Patchen. The aggressive colors and broad-brushed calligraphy of Patchen’s picture-poems drew a stark contrast to the austere papers of the Hyam Plutzik exhibits which were on view in the adjacent space.

Photographer Samantha Miller (University of Rochester Take Five/2012) made these images, below, of several items in the Patchen exhibit. Bushes can seen in the background of a few of the images: part of the display was mounted directly on the courtyard-facing windows of the Rare Books Room.

Miller’s photographs faithfully represent the vivid colors of Patchen’s exhibit, yet she uses rhythmic composition and a slight soft focus to create artworks of her own.

Paintings by Kenneth Patchen; photos by Samantha Miller

Ruth Stone Dies at 96

One of Two Surviving Poets Who Read with Hyam Plutzik at 1960 Wesleyan Festival

On November 19, poet Ruth Stone died at the age of 96 in Ripton, Vermont. She and David Ferry, now 87, were the last two surviving poets who read with Hyam Plutzik at the Spring Poetry Festival at Wesleyan College in April of 1960. Stone received much acclaim later in life for her poetry: she won a National Book Award at 87 for her collection In the Next Galaxy (2002) and was named Poet Laureate of Vermont in 2007, at the age of 92. Her collection What Love Comes To was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.

When she read at the Wesleyan Spring Festival in 1960, the 44-year-old Stone had just published her first collection, In an Iridescent Time, published a year earlier. Hyam Plutzik’s collection, Apples from Shinar, had just been published by Wesleyan, one of the first books in its acclaimed Poetry Series (the book was reprinted this year to mark his centennial). Plutzik and Stone were part of an august gathering of writers at the Festival, with readings by some of the leading lights in American poetry at mid-century: Robert Frost, Stanley Kunitz, Charles Olson, Theodore Roethke, and William Carlos Williams, among others.

The Festival program printed one poem by Ruth Stone (“The Captive”) and two by Hyam Plutzik (“Man and Tree” and “The Bass”), both of which had appeared in Apples from Shinar. The last lines of Plutzik’s “Man and Tree” seem an appropriate tribute to Stone: “She cannot reach your leaves, but she will return / When they are ready to fall to her. / Her feet will rustle among them, and I shall be waiting. / But she will already be in yesterday.”

Edward Moran

Additional information about Stone, as well as several of her poems, can be found here.

Christopher Ricks’ Luminous Imagination

On November 30, Professor Christopher Ricks of Boston University delivered his lecture “T.S. Eliot and the Auditory Imagination,” part of the Plutzik Centennial and the George Ford Memorial Lecture Series at the University of Rochester. Jenny Boyar, a first year Ph.D. student in Medieval literature at the U of R, offers her reflections.

In one of many thoughtful digressions to his talk, Christopher Ricks drew a distinction between the critic and the scholar; the latter, he claimed (somewhat in jest) has a habit of assuming or feigning knowledge. Of course, Ricks himself is a contradiction to his own classification: he has been referred to as both critic and scholar in equal measures of high praise, and it takes only minutes of listening to him speak to recognize that his knowledge, conveyed with the ease of true brilliance, is no pretense. Indeed it seems that for Ricks, the scholar-critic pair must naturally expand to include the poet. Not just the poet as subject–which Ricks illuminates with a lyricism that penetrates words to access soul–but also Ricks himself, in whom the roles of scholar and critic are seamlessly tied to a profound poetry of observation and insight.

In keeping with his written work, which ranges from editions of Paradise Lost and Tristram Shandy to criticism on blushing and the atrocities of the tongue, Ricks’ talk was less a driving argument about T.S. Eliot than a sweeping meditation on poetry, prose, scholarship, and, occasionally, Bob Dylan. Ricks took Eliot’s concept of the “auditory imagination” and described its manifestations, or reverberations, in a range of poetic devices: the way meaning can exist in a network of rhythms, the way a phrase can change dramatically by a simple alteration of its words, or the way words can reflect not necessarily the thing to which they refer but the sensation of that thing. These larger claims were supplemented by equally enlightening close readings, as when Ricks described the -ing endings that shape the meaning of Eliot’s “Little Gidding,” or when he observed how Milton in Paradise Lost takes the “h” sound and aligns it with words like “hail holy” and “hell” as a subtle implication that the damning can become, in the breath of an utterance, devastatingly attractive. It’s common to conceive of poetry as being governed by image, but what Ricks seemed to be arguing was that the music of the word itself is image. To imagine, then, is to both see and hear in the mind. The auditory resides not in the conscious but in its underlying sense, what resonates across authors and beneath the surface of their words. Ricks’ ideas can get involved, but they work in the same, intuitive way poetry is often read and understood.

Ricks’ points about pronunciation—important to any consideration of the auditory–were especially fascinating. A modern and unknowing ear would not, for example, catch how Eliot’s choice in “The Dry Salvages” to rhyme “salvages” with “assuages” situates the poem in Cape Ann, Massachusetts during the time of Eliot’s childhood. Something that Ricks did not address, but what seems like a natural consequence of his point, is how pronunciation can render a poem transient, its auditory force inextricably bound by time and place. This is of course frustrating, but also part of poetry’s allure. As readers we are left only with the sense of what a poem might have been, and so we seek to recapture that memory as if it were ours to inhabit, to discover what was lost.

Still, Ricks repeatedly returned to the idea that the reader is in a much greater position to find than to lose. There were several times Ricks claimed that we as readers have the capacity to grasp more about a poem–or prose–than the author (a point that was supported with Dylan’s quote, “I’m the first person who’ll put it to you and the last person who’ll explain it”). To rely on an author’s description alone can be futile, perhaps muffling what we ought to be hearing for ourselves. Ricks’ talk, then, was just as much a celebration of the reader as it was the author and critic.

One of Ricks’ concluding points was that the word “auditory” lacks a suitable verb; to “hear” misses something and “auditorialize” is not even a word, and sounds like an especially vindictive form of tax collection (my comparison, not Ricks’). But based on Ricks’ discussion, it seems the verb for “auditory” would be found not in a phonetic derivative but rather the space of the word “imagine:” the sense of seeing and hearing that is perhaps best described as feeling, which is–as Wordsworth once observed–the province of poetry. And if poetry is by means of the auditory endowed with authority, then it is something Christopher Ricks makes us all feel like we inherently possess.

Jenny Boyar