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A Legacy Stretching More Than 100 Years

Sidebar: Air on Campus Filled With the Sound of Poetry All Around

Sidebar: This Spring at the Poetry Center

Sidebar: The Poetry Center Counts The Ways

Literary gatherings have long been a part of the Smith culture, and the college continues to celebrate the legacy of poet Sylvia Plath, who graduated from Smith in 1955. In addition to Plath, however, a long and distinguished procession of poets has trod the paths of the Smith campus over the years.

  • English poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold reads his poems in an assembly hall in 1883.
  • William Butler Yeats visits in 1903.
  • In 1916, Robert Frost makes his first trip to campus. He is a frequent visitor until 1961. He tells his students that “The Road Not Taken” was written at Smith while he was a guest of President William Allan Neilson.
  • The 1930s see visits from Archibald MacLeish and T.S. Eliot.
  • W. H. Auden first comes to Smith in 1940, and in 1953 he holds a semester’s Neilson professorship, inspiring the undergraduate Plath with his “burlap-textured voice and crackling brilliant utterances.” In a lighter vein, that year Auden also participates in the faculty show, rising from a rocking chair to sing dramatically and sarcastically, “Books may seem quite nice, but they are full of vice.”
  • Paul Roche, noted English poet in the Bloomsbury Group, teaches for two years in the late 1950s and befriends Plath, who is also teaching at Smith at the time.
  • Richard Wilbur, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and second poet laureate of the United States, is a poet-in-residence on the Smith campus from 1977 to 1986 and still retains the title of poet emeritus.
  • In recent years the Grace Hazard Conkling Fund has underwritten the annual presence at Smith of a nationally known poet as a writer-in-residence. Among those who have been on campus under the auspices of this program are Elizabeth Alexander, who also served the first director of the poetry center during her two-year stint at Smith; Amy Clampitt; Jack Gilbert; Eleanor Wilner; Henri Cole; Daisy Fried; and, currently, Nikky Finney.
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