Can you name 10 famous poets who attended Harvard? Christina Davis can (and does at the end of this post). Two of those famous poets will be the focus of the Woodberry Poetry Room’s Oral History Initiative program, a series of conversations about New England poets and poetry communities, 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 5 at the Graduate School of Education’s Askwith Lecture Hall. The coming discussion, co-sponsored by OFA’s Learning from Performers and Lamont’s Woodberry Poetry Room, honors poet Frank O’Hara ’50. (Here’s “Why I Am Not a Painter” — my favorite O’Hara poem.) The conversation will feature fellow poet and classmate John Ashbery ’49 and author Ron Padgett. Facts about the event are here. More insightful information about the event, poetry rooms and poetry — as well as the promised list of Harvard poets — follow in my interview with Davis, curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room. And don’t forget: April is National Poetry Month. The Academy of American Poets offers 30 ways to celebrate poetry this month. We suggest you start by going to Tuesday’s event.
What exactly is a poetry room? What makes the Woodberry Poetry Room so special?
Poetry is an essentially structural (in some cases, formal) enterprise, so it makes sense that it should inspire the creation of rooms (the very word “stanza” means “standing place” or “room”) dedicated to the genre. I came to Harvard from a place called “Poets House.” So I’ve moved from a house to a room, a very poetic promotion!
The Woodberry Poetry Room—which is both a reading room and an audio archive—celebrates poetry’s double life as both a textual (book-bound, quietly read, academically analyzed) and oral (vocalized, recited, slammed, chanted, communally encountered) phenomenon. The Room celebrates poetry as an intellectual pursuit and poetry as a sensory experience; poetry as a textual encounter and poetry as an auditory performance, poetry as a solitary meditation and poetry as the source of solidarity and social life. Read more…