Literary Society’s Favorite Poem Reading brings Poet Laureate’s project to Williams

Tuesday evening, the student-run Williams Literary Society held a Favorite Poem Reading in Goodrich Hall’s Great Room. The reading was held in connection with Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project, a nationwide effort to foster interest in poetic endeavors. The event attracted Williams faculty from Dean of Faculty D. L. Smith to Director of Athletics Bob Peck, community members, grade and high school teachers and students and Williams students. The Record spoke with Lit Society President Tami Thompson ’01 about the reading and the goals of the Lit Society in general.

Is the Pinsky Project reaching out to colleges, or did you take the initiative on this?

Over the summer, I attended the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College, where Robert Pinsky was a member of the visiting faculty. One night, after he gave a poetry reading, he spoke to the audience about the Favorite Poem Project. I thought it sounded like a great thing for the Lit Society to sponsor, so I met with Pinsky afterwards and he agreed that having a Favorite Poem Reading at Williams would be a great idea. He was not particularly reaching out to colleges, but once I took the initiative in this respect he was very supportive. The English department was also extremely supportive of the FPP.

In September, Lia Amakawa ’01and I met with Professor Pye, the chair of the English department, to talk about the Lit Society and our goals for this year, and when we told him about the FPP he became as excited about it as we were. Though the Lit Society completely organized this event, the English department funded it.

How many people read?

Over 50 people (a combination of students, faculty, staff and community members) responded to our ads for featured readers. The FPP guidelines suggest that each reading feature only 15-20 readers, but because of our overwhelming response, we decided to have 25 featured readers. In addition, we said that anyone who wanted to stay after the reading and recite their favorite poem for the remaining audience and the video camera, which was filming the event for the Williams archive collection, was welcome to do so. Five people took advantage of this opportunity.

What were the highlights? Any particulary surprising or impressive choices?

I thought the highlight was Nalo Jackson ’02’s reading of “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou. She was amazing! It was as if she had the audience under a spell. She read with such attitude and obvious love for the poem – it was really inspiring. When she finished, the reader after her, Dr. Elpern, expressed the awe of the entire audience when he got up there, shook his head, looked at Nalo and said “Wow.”

In general, the Society seems to be doing an impressive job in focusing not just on publications, but on events. Was this a conscious response to a campus void or a pleasant but unexpected evolution?

This was definitely a conscious goal of the Lit Society. We wanted to create a relaxed atmosphere at Williams outside of the classroom where people could share and appreciate writing done by both Williams students and by famous authors. We felt that their was a definite absence of that here.

I thought the attendance at the first poetry reading was promising. Have events since then been well attended?

Yes, we have gotten a lot of support this year. At the Purple Key Fair, 80 students signed up to be part of the Lit Society. Of course not nearly 80 show up to our weekly meetings, but at each meeting we have had around 10-15 people, generally a different 10-15 at each meeting. This is really encouraging.

How can interested parties get involved in the Society?

Anyone and everyone is welcome to come to a Lit Society meeting. We hold them every Tuesday night from 9 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. in Goodrich Living Room. People can come and go as they please. Students can bring their own writing or work of a favorite author to share with the group, or they can just come to listen. I would suggest to people who are really interested that they subscribe to our listserver: literary.society@wso.williams.edu. Since we are very busy right now working on putting together our literary magazine, dewdrops, we may not have ordinary meetings for the next two weeks. In December we will be holding First Night, a reading of dewdrops literary magazine by its authors on the night that we receive the magazine back from the printers. Everyone is encouraged to attend this event, which is tentatively scheduled for December 9th at 8 p.m. in Goodrich Great Room.