Like all right-thinking people, you're wondering what's going on Tuesday night in Poughkeepsie. An excellent question! And I have the answer: I'll be giving the George L. Sommer Lecture on Literature at Marist College at 7:30 in the Nelly Goletti Theater. It's called "When Poetry Matters," and it will begin something like this:
The title of this talk, which I hope will only detain you for 45 or 50 minutes, is "When Poetry Matters," but since, like most people who've written poems, all I really want to talk about is myself, I've given it a subtitle, so the full, double-barreled name for what follows is "Why Poetry Matters, or: My Slide Down the Slopes of Parnassus." I think I can get away with this, because one way to talk about the conditions under which poetry matters (whatever "mattering" may mean") is to talk about how I became less of a poet and more of a literary critic — how I slid off the slopes of Mount Parnassus, where poets commune with the true, the good, the eternal, and the beautiful, and landed in a research library, where critics push little carts of footnotes and citations around under the dim and flickering light cast by fluorescent tubes, refreshing themselves only with little plastic wrapped sandwiches and paper cups of terrible coffee from the commissary. It was better on Parnassus, where we poets lived only on the nectar of the gods.
Don't get me wrong: I haven't given up on poetry. Far from it. It's just that, back when I was writing poetry full time, without the shadow of scholarship looming over me, I began to wonder whether, and how, and to whom, and under what circumstances, poetry actually mattered. So I decided to investigate the question from a historical, and to some degree sociological, perspective. Well, the muses are intolerant of this sort of thing, and kicked me down the mountainside. A decade passed, and here I am with my report...
Hope to see you there! I mean, a bunch of you. It's a big theater.