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February 05, 2011, 2:30 PM

Poetry and Narrative

Poetry Reading & Discussion
Participants: Jonathan Culler, Heather Dubrow (moderator), Marilyn Nelson, Willie Perdomo, James Phelan

This discussion will explore the relationship between poetry and narrative from two different angles. The first concerns the central role of storytelling in many types of poetry, notably epics and ballads, as well as recent redefinitions of the idea of a poetry collection. What are the distinctive challenges and problems of telling tales in the form of, say, a sonnet sequence? Why do so many poets and publishers today favor collections that form a narrative sequence, rather than juxtapositions of totally discrete poems? The second avenue for exploration concerns the tension between narrative and poetry assumed by many critics, especially when lyric is seen as the prototypical form of poetry. Are the two in fact opposite poles? The panel brings together practicing poets and critics, as well as those who wear both hats.

Jonathan Culler is Class of 1916 Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cornell University. He has worked on 19th century French literature (especially Flaubert and Baudelaire) and on contemporary literary theory and criticism (especially structuralism, deconstruction, and French theory). His best-known works are Structuralist Poetics, Saussure, On Deconstruction, and Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, which has been translated into some twenty languages. In recent years he has been working especially on lyric poetry and is completing a book on Baudelaire and another on the theory of the lyric.

Heather Dubrow is John D. Boyd, S.J., Chair in the Poetic Imagination at Fordham University and director of the Poets Out Loud reading series. She is the author of six scholarly books, most recently The Challenges of Orpheus: Lyric Poetry and Early Modern England. A collection of poetry, Forms and Hollows, has just been published by Cherry Grove Collections. Other publications include a co-edited collection of essays, two chapbooks of poetry, and articles on early modern literature and on teaching, as well as poems in numerous journals. Current projects include a book on the academic profession and a revisionist study of immediacy in lyric poetry, focusing especially on spatiality and temporality.

Marilyn Nelson's books of poetry for adults, young adults, and children have won many awards, including three finalist medals for the National Book Award, a Newbery Honor, three Coretta Scott King Honors, a Michael L. Printz Honor, and a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor. Recent books include The Cachoiera Tales and Other Poems, A Wreath for Emmett Till, and Fortune's Bones. Nelson's newest book of poetry, Sweethearts of Rhythm, was released in 2009, with illustrations by Caldecott Award winner Jerry Pinkney.

Willie Perdomo is the author of Where a Nickel Costs a Dime and Smoking Lovely, which received a PEN America Beyond Margins Award. His children's book, Visiting Langston, received a Coretta Scott King Honor, and his follow-up, Clemente!, was published in 2010. He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Woolrich Fellow in Creative Writing at Columbia University, and a 2009 fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is co-founder/publisher of Cypher Books.

James Phelan is Distinguished University Professor of English at the Ohio State University. He has written extensively about narrative theory, and his five books—Worlds from Words; Reading People, Reading Plots; Narrative as Rhetoric; Living to Tell About It; and Experiencing Fiction—develop a comprehensive rhetorical theory of narrative. Phelan is a founding member of Project Narrative at Ohio State, and the editor of the journal Narrative.

This program is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts, celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State's 62 counties. Additional support was provided by the New York Council for the Humanities.


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