2007 Poetry Contest Reading
Opening remarks by Rachel Hadas
Hi, I’m Rachael Hadas and I’m really happy to be here on the Sarah Lawrence campus at an event that honors the connection between Poetry and Philosophy. The connection between poetry and philosophy is something I’ve been enjoying and exploring ever since I read Lucretius as an undergraduate and I wanted to say a few words about my feeling about the poems sent to me over the past two years as a judge for the Campbell Corner Poetry Contest. In brief:
One way of linking all six of the poets whose work we’ll be hearing tonight is to note that their work, in its different ways, does have the piercing specificity of lyric without shrinking into solipsism, and without being claustrophobically bounded by the self. Or we could sort of turn that around and say that all of this work in its fascinatingly different ways reaches broadly through space and time without becoming generically global, whatever that might mean, or fuzzy, or flat. And those two poles of specificity and “flat global-ness” are some of the challenges that face a poet working in this country now, and these poets have all surmounted this challenge working independently of one another in wonderful ways. All of these poems had for me superior craft, but craft in the service of a heightened and vigilant and, frankly, uneasy sense of reality. We could say maybe that all of these poets’ work, in its different ways again, is the twenty-first century version of what Wallace Stephens memorably called the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality, exerting its counter-pressure, helping us to survive. Except that we should not think of the imagination as a sheltered garden or some kind of pastoral enclave, but, to go back to where I started, as a piercing, and distinctly edgy vision. There’s a lot of sense of danger and vigilance about all of these poets’ work. And, having said that, I think I’m echoing not only Vijay Seshadri but really the mission of the Campbell Corner prize – which is a wonderful prize – because without dictating a style or a subject matter, I think it sets the bar quite high for the poetic enterprise.