On an abnormally sweltering spring day, one would expect to see patches of Harvard students sunbathing in the Yard, not reading poetry inside Lamont Library. But a throng of students, faculty, and staff gathered inside the modest-sized Woodberry Poetry Room on a sultry Tuesday (April 28) evening to celebrate the release of Poetry@Harvard, a new Web site dedicated to all things poetry.
Curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room Christina Davis mingled with the crowd and snapped photographs of David Wallace ’11, one of the event’s student readers, who was slunk on a couch penciling last-minute edits and enjambments on a scrap of notebook paper.
“I’m just copying it over,” Wallace said of his poem, before bowing his head again to the task at hand.
Poetry@Harvard is a “collaborative interchange,” as the Web site explains, an intensive portal that chronicles poets who visit the Woodberry Poetry Room with a virtual “listening booth,” and a page devoted to Harvard’s vast lineage of poets. The site’s “Poetry Classroom” is a space for current Harvard faculty to air their thoughts on poets, pedagogy, theory, and more; “Poetry in the Languages” highlights French, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Welsh poets who may otherwise be lost. “The Writing Life” points to literary journals at Harvard (the Harvard Review) and includes the student-run journals Dudley Review, the Gamut, and Tuesday Magazine. An updated calendar lists poetry events at Harvard and in the Boston area.
“Students at Harvard are surprisingly excited about poetry,” says Odile Joly, a presidential instruction technology fellow, in a brief film on the making of Poetry@Harvard. Joly recollects how more than 30 students showed up at dawn to recite John Milton’s “Hymn on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” — in December. “Now that’s passion about poetry,” she says.
“Poetry … is performative. It’s a happening art,” says Dean of Arts and Humanities Diana Sorensen. “I hope that visitors … will find their passion for poetry sustained, reignited, and that they will have a sense of community.”
“Community” was the word during a poetry reading featuring Stephen Burt, associate professor of English; Tom Conley, Abbott Lawrence Lowell Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of Visual and Environmental Studies; Luis M. Girón Negrón, professor of comparative literature and of Romance languages and literatures; Jorie Graham, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory; Virginie Greene, professor of Romance languages and literatures; Stephen Owen, James Bryant Conant University Professor; and Peter Sacks, John P. Marquand Professor of English.
The motley and entertaining spectacle showcased original poetry by Burt and Sacks, an anonymous Navaho chant read by Graham, and several foreign-language poems.
“Today, the end of our celebration is also our beginning,” said Davis, who introduced student readers Wallace, Liza Flum ’10, and Jack Jung ’11.
“Avert thy judging eyes,” joked Jung on the imposing presence of three professors whose courses he’s currently enrolled in.
Undaunted, Jung read, and the student readers captivated the audience with poems that reveal just a glimmer of Harvard’s poetic talent — perhaps names to someday add to Poetry@Harvard.