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Linda Leavell on fact, fiction and space between

November 12th, 2014 No comments

Linda LeavellThe softspoken Linda Leavell is fascinated by artists caught between worlds. In nearly three decades, she has authored two books about poet Marianne Moore, one of which – Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore – she’ll be presenting highlights of at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13 in Houghton Library. In the years surrounding and between her study of Moore, she has also studied the poetry of William Carlos Williams and the painters of the Stieglitz Circle, drawn to the intersection of modern poetry and modern art.

Now retired from teaching American literature at Oklahoma State University, Leavell is focused on artistic pursuits: writing, and volunteering as an art museum guide. This transition is ostensibly strange, knowing how much of Leavell’s career has been shaped by her academic pursuits. She traced her interest in visual art back to a fifth grade report on Michelangelo, and stumbled upon Marianne Moore while looking for a dissertation topic. After that, a revised version of her dissertation on Moore’s relationship with the visual arts became her first book, and she’s been delving ever deeper since.

The methodology with which she wrote her books aligns with historical research and literary analysis. Looking through archived letters between Moore’s mother and her children, Leavell noted “an interesting family dynamic, a correspondence marked by animal nicknames, private mythologies, private baby-talk languages” that hinted at a mother’s attempt to “keep her children children.” This dynamic was reflected in Moore’s poetry: Her art became an “outlet for individuality in an oppressive family environment.” And as Leavell has studied Moore’s poems over time, she says Read more…

The Poetry Room

O'Hara & Ashbery

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…