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Poetry may not be the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of the University of Chicago. That's why, in 1999, a group of humanities faculty and graduate students founded "American Poetry at the Millennium: Lectures and Readings for 2000," a series of performances of and discussions about contemporary poetry. That's also why the organizers were pleasantly surprised when the series-originally scheduled for three events-expanded to nine presentations in 1999-2000 and is now an annual program.

After a year of presentations by authors from as far away as China and South Africa, the program's second incarnation, "Poem Present," ended its season in May with a reading and lecture by Susan Stewart, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. Like the other poets in the series, Stewart spent a Thursday evening reading selections of her work followed by a Friday afternoon lecture on an issue in contemporary poetry. "It gives the group a chance to hear the poet perform in his or her own voice, then return the following day to engage in a discussion at an entirely different level," says Danielle Allen, associate professor in classical languages and literatures and an organizer of the project.

"Poem Present" guests and their lectures included Fanny Howe, author of more than 20 books of fiction and poetry, with "Doubt"; Yang Lian, whose work is banned in his native China, with "Start from the Impossible"; and two-time Pushcart Prize-winner August Kleinzahler, with "The Woodthrush in the Burning Cineplex."

The series is accompanied by an eponymous two-quarter course in which undergraduates read the visiting authors' works. The class, offered through the English department, meets on Fridays preceding a presentation. "We don't focus on any particular form or school or type of poetry," says Scarlett B. Higgins, a graduate student in English language and literature who teaches the course. "Rather, we spend the time trying to get a sense of the breadth and diversity of the contemporary scene."

Although the class is restricted to Chicago students, the readings and lectures are free and open to the public. Plans are in progress for next year's program, which will include eight readings and four lectures through the academic year.-C.S.



 JUNE 2001

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