Center Celebrates First Ten
When President Ruth Simmons
challenged those at Smith to "dream big dreams," Annie Boutelle,
senior lecturer in English language and literature, heeded
the call. It was ten years ago that Boutelle proposed
the idea to establish a program at Smith that would host
an ongoing stream of distinguished poets. With an enthusiastic
response from the college community, the was
This year, the Poetry Center
with a year-long series
of readings and events, beginning October 2 and 3 with a
visit by United States Poet Laureate Robert Hass. Dec. 11.
Meanwhile, Boutelle offers:
By Annie Boutelle
Poetry is one of the most
intimate arts, but also a public one. We turn to it at
crucial moments: in the turmoil of September 11, at funerals
or weddings, at times of emotional crisis. We humans know
that poetry is mystery, that it speaks what cannot otherwise
be spoken, and that it connects to our deepest selves.
The Poetry Center audiences demonstrate our human thirst
for "the clear water of words," to
use a phrase from poet Abe Louise Young ’99.
It's wonderful to meet
incoming students who already know all about the Poetry
Center and who have chosen Smith because of the center’s reputation. Our website, plus our high
standing in the poetry world, have combined to make a strong
connection between Smith College and poetry. It's fitting
that this vital program has its roots in the early years
of the college, when a stream of distinguished poets visited
Smith. The "god-eyed, tall-minded ones," to use
Sylvia Plath's phrase, continue to inspire students and faculty.
The afternoon Q&As
are a highlight of our program. Only Smith students are
offered the exceptional opportunity of being up close and
personal with the visiting poet. Students often talk about
the unique value of being exposed so intimately to a poet's
mindset and character, of recognizing that the poet is
in some ways a human being, too, and of being inspired
to write that next poem.
I had not foreseen that audiences would come from both near
and far. Particularly if the poet is famous, fans will drive
from Burlington, Boston, New Haven, Albany. My favorite example
is a Connecticut man who had to be in Florida on business
when Lawrence Ferlinghetti visited. The man flew from Florida
to Bradley, rented a car, drove to Smith for the reading,
volunteered to carry Ferlinghetti's briefcase for a few minutes
as they walked on campus, then hopped back into his rental
car and returned to Bradley and Florida, a happy man.
I love the extent to which
our student interns have put their mark on the Poetry Center—advising
at committee meetings, designing the posters and the incredibly
beautiful poetry postcards, and supervising many of the
details of the readings.
I love the fact that our archive of videos will be available
in Neilson Library for hundreds of years to come. Future
scholars will come to Smith to find out what poetry was like
in the late 20th century.
I am filled with gratitude
to Carol Christ and Ruth Simmons for their strong support. And to the two amazing directors,
Elizabeth Alexander (1997-99) and Ellen Doré Watson
(1999-present), who have created a 10-year celebration of
poetry at Smith.
I'm delighted with how far we've come, and I can't wait
to see what the next decade will bring.