On Tuesday evening (which was, incidentally, a very lovely Spring evening) we opened our doors to a full house of local poetry lovers for our first-ever Great American Poems event. Each of our presenters, all scholars from UEA, introduced and read a favourite American poem to our eager audience. This was the line-up:
‘Safe in their alabaster chambers’ by Emily Dickinson, presented by Kate Anderson
‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost, presented by Philip Wilson
‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by T.S. Eliot, presented by Gareth Jones
‘If We Must Die’ by Claude McKay, presented by Christopher Astwood
‘I Am Vertical’ by Sylvia Plath, presented by Silvia Panizza
Although isolating just five of the vast canon of American verse works is a fundamentally frustrating project, we all enjoyed hearing a chronologically and aesthetically diverse range of poets, pulled together into one communal space for the evening.
The assortment presented several interesting topics for further contemplation/discussion. Presenting Eliot’s ‘Prufrock’, Gareth Jones admitted his hesitation at first: do we consider a poem written in Europe by an ardent expatriate an American work? I suppose either side of the pond would be silly not to claim a masterpiece like ‘Prufrock’ as their own!
Christopher Astwood highlighted Claude McKay’s Jamaican heritage which, when balanced against his significance in New York’s Harlem Renaissance, makes him a kind of reverse Eliot.
Under Philip Wilson’s instruction, we considered how our chance decisions throughout the day had led us to the Memorial Library to the event, which had ‘made all the difference’. So true.
Let us not forget Dickinson and Plath, who through the voices of Kate Anderson and Silvia Panizza provided dazzling female book-ends to the night.
The audience provided resoundingly positive feedback, urging us to host more poetry events in the future. We’ll see you next time!