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  • Barbara Stark-Nemon

Poets at Michigan- A Kaleidoscope of Literary History


Walking home from an all-day symposium “Poets at Michigan” on a stunningly beautiful April afternoon, I thought of the word “Dayenu” which will be sung by families all over the world next week in a song at the end of the Passover Seder meal. Dayenu means, “it would have been enough,” and each of the three parts of today’s fine symposium, would have indeed been enough. The program traced the presence of poets and creative writing at the University of Michigan, from Robert Frost’s appearance in the 1920s through the creation of the Hopwood awards and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, all interspersed with a roster of talented writers and teachers. Not only did the symposium feature a fascinating survey of the historical development of poets and writing at the University, but it featured current and past works and readings of and by some of the finest poets in the country. For me personally, the day brought together many of the influences that formed me as a student, teacher, and author. I attended this event at the invitation of Ann Arbor attorney, businessman, and author, Paul R. Dimond, whose historical novel, The Belle of Two Arbors, had its Michigan launch today. I have had the privilege of being a beta reader of Belle and subsequent cheerleader as this wonderful book makes its way into the world. From my advance review…

Donald Sheehy, co-editor of The Letters of Robert Frost read from letters and articles about the appointment of Frost to the first ever position of fellow of creative arts. Then, Nicholas Delbanco, former director of Michigan’s Fine Arts Masters program and the Hopwood Awards spoke about Avery Hopwood, his career as a playwright and his visionary endowment of what have become premier university literary awards. Weaving the appearance and influence of significant poets, programs and politics at Michigan, Delbanco paved the way for the second panel, which covered the middle years of poetry and creative writing at Michigan. Professor emeritus John Knott ably traced the history through the rest of the 20th century and the famous poets – Auden, Roethke, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Robert Hayden, Alice Fulton, Linda Gregerson, Charles Baxter, and Stephen Dunning, to name a few- who taught or attended Michigan. I had classes or attended readings of many of these poets and authors, and their teachings and inspiration were instrumental in my becoming an author myself. The last session of the day featured poets reading their own work, including Laura Kasischke, who along with Thomas Lynch and Keith Taylor, taught at my very first Bear River Writer’s Conference, where I wrote Even in Darkness’s first words. In the audience around me, I saw neighbors, friends, long lost people from the past, and colleagues whose book clubs had read my book and invited me to speak. Today was a kaleidoscope of memory and appreciation, a literary feast in my hometown and alma mater, and a treasure of a trip into my own formative influences at Michigan. Dayenu!