The Philoctetes poetry program was inaugurated in January of 2007 when Michael Braziller, publisher of Persea books, invited Eamon Grennan to read and discuss the poems of Thomas Hardy. Since then, the Center has held over twenty poetry events, welcoming such guest poets as Andrew Motion, David Lehman, Alice Quinn, and Louise Glück to illuminate the work of poets spanning a range of styles, eras, and cultures. Three poets in particular have been exceptionally engaged in sharing their ideas and passions with our audiences, and in embracing the Center's unique approach to multidisciplinary inquiry.
When Braziller, who has moderated the poetry program since its inception, conceived of a poetry reading and benefit in response to the Center's current financial crisis, it was clear that the event should showcase the work of Grennan, Edward Hirsch, and Marie Ponsot. Grennan, after after serving as guest poet for the inaugural course on Hardy, returned for two sessions on the work of William Butler Yeats. He is Emeritus Professor of English at Vassar and the author of seven poetry collections, including The Quick of It and Still Life with Waterfall. Among other honors, he received the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.
Edward Hirsch participated in the Center's second poetry course, focussing on the work of Robert Frost, and went on to collaborate with Braziller on a course that addressed post-war Polish poets, including Czeslaw Milosz, Zbigniew Herbert, Wislawa Szymborska, and Teadeusz Rosewich. Hirsch is the author of seven books of poems and four books of prose, including the national bestseller How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry. He is a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, and is currently the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Marie Ponsot first appeared at the Center as guest poet for a course on John Donne, and returned to explore the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ponsot, Professor Emerita of Queens College and currently teaching at The New School, has received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Shaughnessy Medal of the Modern Language Association, and the Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement, among other honors. Her sixth book, Easy, will be published this fall.
On Thursday, May 21, the Center welcomed the return of these three esteemed poets for a special reading and benefit to raise money for the Philoctetes poetry program. Grennan engaged the audience with his Irish wit, reading from his latest collection, Matter of Fact, and sharing a poem, "Ladybird and Mother," from his forthcoming New and Selected Poems. Hirsch followed with funny and moving selections from his book Special Orders, among them "Cotton Candy" and "Green Couch." Ponsot read some of her most recent, unpublished poems, characterized by their brevity and use of rhyme. The reading was followed by a reception, giving the audience a chance to mingle with the poets and discuss their work.
Some people do what they like.
Some people like what they do.
The butcher bird's called shrike.
What shall I call you?
-Marie Ponsot, from Easy