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Distinguished poet visits USF

TAMPA, Fla. — Poetry fans were poised for a rare treat Tuesday evening. Jorie Graham, one of America’s premiere poets would read from her latest work and autograph their books.

To a hushed and appreciative audience Graham delivered selections from her critically acclaimed PLACE accentuating her words and phrases with graceful yet emphatic hand gestures -- the urgency in her voice conveying the gentle command to pay attention to the details in her stream of imagery. She transported her listeners into as many emotions and time periods as geographic places and left them deeply moved.

“A poem is a private story, after all, no matter how apparently public,” Graham told the Paris Review. “The reader is always overhearing a confession.”

With each of her poems, she set the context for its creation, letting listeners in on the deeper levels of her private stories that were inspired by the important people and places in her life.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet is the USF Humanities Institute’s second distinguished scholar-in-residence and will devote the rest of her week to spending time in English honors and graduate classes and conducting graduate workshops. She will present a lecture, “Why Poetry Matters,” at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 4, at the Marshall Student Center in room 2708. The event is free and open to the public.

As Elizabeth Bird, Humanities Institute director pointed out, Graham’s reading of her work showed quite well why poetry matters best of all, but encouraged the audience to hear what more she has to say.

“When she introduced her beautiful and complex poems with stories about how the poems came to be written, the audience was spell-bound as I’m sure they will be on Thursday,” Bird said. “Her visit, and the whole Scholar-in-Residence program, is important because it offers the opportunity for our students, faculty and staff to interact directly with inspiring humanities scholars and artists. They may have read their work before, but the personal insight and engagement are priceless. In addition, the program helps put USF on the map as a university where the humanities are valued and supported, as they are at all truly great institutions.”

Graham set the tone for National Poetry Month’s celebration at USF -- a profound appreciation for words and imagination -- as soon as she arrived in Tampa. She visited a Modern and Contemporary Anglo-American Poetry class taught by English Department Chair Hunt Hawkins before her reading.

She was gracious enough to start the program by presenting awards to the winners of the Humanities Institute first ever poetry contest. High school students and USF students, faculty and staff submitted more than 100 poems on this year's theme "Florida 2013." The top three poets in both the High School and USF categories received special awards.

The 15 high school poets and five USF poets selected as finalists are being featured throughout the month of April on the institute’s NPM@USF website. An additional 12 high school students and two USF poets received honorable mentions and will be featured on the website as well.

Graham’s global background blends well with USF’s emphasis on preparing students for global leadership. Born in New York City, raised in Rome and educated in French schools, she studied at the Sorbonne before attending New York University and then the University of Iowa for her undergraduate and master’s degrees.

Her book “The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994” won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In addition to her critically-acclaimed works, notably Sea Change (2008), Never (2002) and Swarm (2000), Graham has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990.

Described by the U.S. Poetry Foundation as “perhaps the most celebrated poet of the American post-war generation.” Graham is the Boylston Professor of Poetry at Harvard and the first woman to be awarded this position, following in the footsteps of the renowned Irish poet Seamus Heaney and all the way back to John Quincy Adams.

Her many honors include a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She was the first American woman to receive the prestigious British 2012 Forward Prize for her critically acclaimed PLACES.

National Poetry Month’s Top Poets

High School Winners
First: “Promenade” by Evelyn Diaz. 12th grade at Howard W. Blake High School
Second: “Warmth” by Sadie Briguglio. 11th grade at Howard W. Blake High School
Third: “The Place of Flowers” by Shelby Brown. 10th grade at Howard W. Blake High School

USF Winners
First: “Unlock the Door, Let the Moon Come in” by Ryan Cheng English Graduate Student
Second: “Your Biome Has Found You” by Gloria Muñoz. English Graduate Student
Third: “Florida Ghazal Laid Back” by Brook Sadler, Associate Professor in Humanities & Cultural Studies


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Humanities and Cultural Studies Humanities Institute   
Author: Barbara Melendez