Poet Marilyn Nelson at PSU October 13

September 27th, 2011 by Elizabeth

Marilyn Nelson

Presented by Eagle Pond Authors’ Series at Plymouth State University

PLYMOUTH, NH—The Eagle Pond Authors’ Series at Plymouth State University will present former Connecticut poet laureate Marilyn Nelson at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, at the Silver Center for the Arts. New Hampshire poet Donald Hall will introduce Nelson.

Marilyn Nelson is a three-time finalist for the National Book Award and an accomplished poet, children’s verse author and translator. She has won two Pushcart Prizes, two Yaddo residencies and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. She is professor emeritus of English at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, and was Connecticut poet laureate from 2001 to 2006.

The Poetry Foundation reported that three of Nelson’s collections have been finalists for the National Book Award: The Homeplace, The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems and Carver: a Life in PoemsThe Homeplace is a family history that begins when Nelson’s great-great-grandmother was sold into slavery.

Christian Wiman says, “The sheer range of Nelson’s voice is one of the book’s greatest strengths, varying not only from poem to poem, but within individual poems as well.”  Suzanne Gardinier wrote in Parnassus that Nelson’s poetry “reaches back through generations hemmed in on all sides by slavery and its antecedents; all along the way she finds sweetness and humor, and more complicated truth than its disguises have revealed.”

Among Nelson’s many awards are: Finalist in Poetry for 1997 National Book Award; 1999 Poets’ Prize; 2000 Contemplative Practices Fellow; 2001 Individual Artist Grant, Connecticut Commission for the Arts; Commander’s Award for Public Service, Department of the Army Flora Stieglitz Straus Award; Finalist in Children’s Literature for 2001 National Book Award, Newbery Honor Award and Coretta Scott King Honor Award.

Nelson’s father was a Tuskegee Airman, and she grew up moving from military base to military base, often in segregated areas of the U.S.  She talked about the inspiration for her famous poem, “How I Discovered Poetry,” in an interview for the “How I Discovered Poetry” Series by Dustin Brookshire.

Responding to a question about the nature of the experience that inspired this poem, and an item referenced in the poem, Nelson wrote:
The event happened in about 1958, in a small town near a military base in Oklahoma. I was one of 2 (sic) black students in the school, and I was very smart. This was when the school integration movement was going on, fire hoses, police dogs, white adults yelling obscenities at black children in Little Rock, etc. Teacher was a middle-aged racist Okie; poem was selected purposely to humiliate me. …

She reflected the incident in this excerpt from the poem:

…The next day
She gave me a poem she’d chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. …

Now in its 14th year, the Eagle Pond Authors’ Series is a tribute to Donald Hall, one of the nation’s most beloved poets and authors. Hall remains the heart and soul of this series and is instrumental in bringing nationally and internationally revered poets to the PSU campus.  Following the reading, Hall will join Nelson at a table in the lobby to sign copies of his just-released book of poems, The Back Chamber, which he has declared, at 83, will be his last book.

Information about the Eagle Pond Authors’ Series at Plymouth State University is available from series director Diane Jeffrey, djeffrey@plymouth.edu.

General information about events at PSU is available at ThisWeek@PSU, http://thisweek.blogs.plymouth.edu.