Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
March 20, 1997
Poets Laureate Reunion, Milosz, and Christian Poetry Highlight National Poetry Month
In celebration of National Poetry Month, the Library of Congress will hold three poetry programs of special interest in April. On Thursday, April 3, at 6:45 p.m. in the Montpelier Room, Czeslaw Milosz, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, will read his poetry and converse with Poet Laureate Robert Hass. On Thursday, April 17, at 6:45 p.m. in the Mumford Room, poets Scott Cairns, Geoffrey Hill, Andrew Hudgins, and Kathleen Norris will read from a new anthology of contemporary Christian poetry. On Thursday, April 24, at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building, 12 former Poetry Consultants and Poets Laureate will read in two groups of six. At 4:30 p.m., the readers will be Robert Hass, Mark Strand, Mona Van Duyn, Josephine Jacobsen, Anthony Hecht, and Reed Whittemore. At 8 p.m., the readers will be Rita Dove, William Jay Smith, Maxine Kumin, Daniel Hoffman, William Meredith, and Stanley Kunitz. Admission to all these events is free. No tickets are required. Details of each program are given below.
Thursday, April 3, 6:45 p.m.
Czeslaw Milosz, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, will read his poetry and converse with the current Poet Laureate, Robert Hass, who has translated much of the poetry in Milosz's volumes Unattainable Earth (1986), Provinces (1991), and Facing the River (1995). This will be a conversation between two poets who, although a generation apart, have probed the nature of poetry and translation. Born in Lithuania in 1911, Czeslaw Milosz began his writing career when his first works were published in Poland in the 1930s, where he lived during the Nazi occupation. Disillusioned with the new Polish regime, he defected to the West in 1951 and spent a decade in Paris as a freelance writer. In 1961 he accepted a position at the University of California at Berkeley, where he spent 20 years teaching and writing, primarily in Polish, in the department of Slavic languages and literatures. Robert Hass is completing his second year as Poet Laureate, and has recently published his fourth book of poems, Sun Under Wood (1996). The program will be held in the Montpelier Room on the sixth floor of the Library's Madison Building.
Thursday, April 17, 6:45 p.m.
On the evening of Thursday, April 17, four noted poets -- Kathleen Norris, Geoffrey Hill, Andrew Hudgins, and Scott Cairns--will read some of their poems from a new anthology of contemporary Christian poetry entitled Upholding Mystery (Oxford, 1997), edited by David Impastato. The evening will be co-sponsored by Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion. Each of these poets has made a distinctive mark on our literary landscape. Kathleen Norris burst onto the literary scene with her 1993 memoir Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, which became a surprise national best-seller. The book told the story of her move from the artistic community of New York City to the prairies of South Dakota and her simultaneous inner pilgrimage to Christian faith. She has published another memoir, The Cloister Walk (1996) and three volumes of poetry, of which the most recent is Little Girls at Church (1995). Geoffrey Hill, an Englishman who currently teaches at Boston University, has been called "the best poet writing in England" by the Guardian, "among our finest poets" by critic George Steiner, and "the strongest British poet now alive" by America's Harold Bloom. Mr. Hill has earned this superlative estimate by half a dozen volumes of poetry over a 40-year span. Andrew Hudgins's first book of poetry, Saints and Strangers (1985) was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize; his second, After the Lost War (1988), which dramatizes the Civil War through Southern eyes, won the prestigious Poets' Prize; and his third, The Never-Ending (1991), was a finalist for the National Book Award. Critics including the late James Dickey, author of Deliverance, and Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides (1991), have called Mr. Hudgins one of the finest poets writing today. His lyric poems are by turns violent, religious, and erotic. Scott Cairns's poetry is collected in three critically acclaimed volumes: The Theology of Doubt (1985), The Translation of Babel (1990), and Figures for the Ghost (1994). He teaches at Old Dominion University. His poetry is noted for its humor and its playful openness to mystery.
"Poetry's 'Catbird Seat' at 60"
60th Anniversary Reunion
Thursday, April 24, 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
On Thursday, April 24 the Library will celebrate the 60th year of its Poetry Program in "Poetry's 'Catbird Seat' at 60." In a gathering that will bring together a number of the country's best-known poets, 12 of the former Poetry Consultants and Poets Laureate are planning to participate in the program to be held in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building. Six will read at 4:30 p.m., and the other six at 8 p.m. The program is co-sponsored by the Academy of American Poets and the Library's Gertrude Clark Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund.
The title of this program was inspired by the book Poetry's Catbird Seat: The Consultantship in Poetry in the English Language at the Library of Congress, 1937-1987, by William McGuire. Mr. McGuire's title came from a statement by Reed Whittemore: "The job is such a rare and special one in the library world and the federal bureaucracy, as well as within the world of poetry, that it is a job of opportunity, a catbird seat."
The original chair of poetry (1937) was converted to an annually appointed Consultantship in 1943 by Archibald MacLeish when he was Librarian of Congress. Consultants served through 1986, when the title of the position was changed by congressional legislation to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Eight poets have served as Laureates since 1986-87, when Robert Penn Warren was the first to be designated Poet Laureate. The full list of Consultants and Laureates follows:
|Robert Penn Warren||1944-45|
| Conrad Aiken
(First to serve two terms)
| William Carlos Williams
(Appointed in 1952 but did not serve)
|William Jay Smith||1968-70|
(Appointed and served in a health-limited capacity, but did not come to LC)
(Interim Consultant in Poetry)
|Robert Penn Warren
(First to be designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry)
|Mona Van Duyn||1992-93|
The poetry and literature reading series at the Library of Congress is the oldest in the Washington area, and one of the oldest in the United States. This annual series of public poetry and fiction readings, lectures, symposia, and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s and has the late Gertrude Clarke Whittall, who wanted to bring the enjoyment and appreciation of good literature to a larger audience. The Poetry and Literature Center, which administers the series, is also the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when the late philanthropist Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Since then, many of the nation's most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 in 1985, as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Poet Laureate suggests authors to read in the literary series, plans other special literary events during the reading season, and usually introduces the programs.
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