2013 Alumni Guest
Boston College Arts Council
Poet & Scholar Robert Polito '73
Recipient of 2013 Arts Council Alumni Award
At the Arts Council, we couldn’t be more proud of our 2013 Alumni Award recipient. Poet, essayist, and biographer Robert Polito graduated summa cum laude from Boston College in 1973 with a degree in English. Since graduation, he has built a distinguished career at the intersection of poetry and scholarly literary and cultural studies.
Born in 1951 in Boston, Massachusetts, Polito went on to Harvard University after his time at BC, earning an MA in 1975 and a PhD in 1981. After serving as Assistant Director and Acting Director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at New York University, Polito joined the New School in 1992. In 1994, he became Director and Nonfiction Coordinator of the New School’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing. Building on his already burgeoning record of publications, awards, honors, and grants, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1997, he will become the second president of the Poetry Foundation in July 2013 (Poetry Foundation).
A respected poet and scholar, Polito is perhaps best known for his work in midcentury American literature and culture, particularly film noir and crime fiction. His editing projects in those genres include Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber (2009); The Selected Poems of Kenneth Fearing (2004);Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 1940s (1997) andCrime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s (1997). His 1995 bookSavage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson received the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award in Criticism. The biography explores the life and work of the pulp crime fiction writer, particularly his mid-career crime novels.
Polito’s poetry reads as the cornerstone of his scholarly and nonfiction pursuits. “Poetry—and what I’ve learned through reading and writing it,” says Polito, “is at the center of everything I do. This is true of my nonfiction as well as my teaching.”
Polito’s collections of poetry include Hollywood & God (2009) andDoubles (1995). In Hollywood & God, his poems exist at the intersection of narrative and lyric, pop culture and literary tradition (Poetry Foundation). “You open your mouth and a tradition dribbles out,” he says in “Hollywood & God,” “But that’s mimesis.” His poems confront popular culture’s influence on contemporary poetry and intellectual thinking. In “Please Refrain from Talking During the Movie,” he expresses a contemporary experience of a barrage of stimuli with intellectual yearnings for making meaning and creating:
Leave a message if you can’t reach me
To exit press enter and don’t forget your receipt
When I think I read new things I want
A life where I read and think new things
Please refrain from talking during the movie
“For me,” says Polito, “and many other poets in my generation, popular music provided the education in sensibility that high culture offered to previous writers.” Indeed, Polito is invested in the future of poetry in America. For him, American poetry is in “a fascinating moment,” as poetry has grown up around local cultures, “each with its own magazines, presses, websites, blogs, and reading series, almost along the indie rock model.”
Before taking over as president of the Poetry Foundation last summer, Polito spent time at his alma mater, participating in special programming in the annual Arts Festival and in the English Department.