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.
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.
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."
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
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.