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The Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy

The Political Life of Poetry


Thursday, November 13, 2014
6:00 p.m.
Devlin Hall, Room 101


  • Edward Hirsch
  • Eavan Boland
  • Kevin Young

Part of "The Arts and the Culture of Democracy" Series.

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about the event


It is sometimes said that American poets speak narcissistically or solipsistically, with little sense of history or political engagement of the sort that characterizes Eastern European or Latin American poetic traditions. Others have argued that all poetry is a political act, and in this sense American poets are enacting democratic freedoms by not overtly engaging with political issues. How might American poetry potentially give meaning to events, locating them in a larger context and story, shuttling back and forth in time, and including all the riches of its institutional memory?


about the speakers


Edward Hirsch, Poet. Photo by Julie Dermansky.

Edward Hirsch is an American poet and critic. He was born in Chicago in 1950 and was educated at Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Ph.D. in Folklore. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Pablo Neruda Presidential Medal of Honor, the Prix de Rome, and an Academy of Arts and Letters Award. In 2008, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Edward Hirsch’s first collection of poems, For the Sleepwalkers (1981), received the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University and the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (1986), won the National Book Critics Award. Since then, he has published six additional books of poems: The Night Parade (1989), Earthly Measures (1994), On Love (1998), Lay Back the Darkness (2003), Special Orders (2008), and The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (2010), which brings together thirty-five years of poems. Hirsch is also the author of five prose books, including A Poet’s Glossary (2014), Poet’s Choice (2006), How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (1999), and is the editor of Theodore Roethke’s Selected Poems (2005) and co-editor of The Making of a Sonnet: A Norton Anthology (2008).

Edward Hirsch is the recipient of an Academy of Arts and Letters Award, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and was awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Hirsch taught for six years in the English department at Wayne State University and seventeen years in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. He is now president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.


Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland is an Irish poet, author of ten volumes of poetry. Born in Dublin, Ireland, she spent her childhood in London and New York, returning to Ireland to attend secondary school in Killiney and university at Trinity College Dublin. Her poetry has been influenced by her experiences as a young wife and mother and her growing awareness of the troubled role of women in Irish history and culture. Over the course of her long career, Boland emerged as one of the foremost female voices in Irish literature. Boland has taught at Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, Bowdoin College, and was a member of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

Boland’s books of poetry include Domestic Violence (2007), Against Love Poetry (2001), The Lost Land (1998), An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967–1987 (1996), In a Time of Violence (1994), Outside History: Selected Poems 1980–1990 (1990), The Journey and Other Poems (1986), Night Feed (1982), and In Her Own Image (1980). In addition to her books of poetry, Boland is also the author of Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time (1995), a volume of prose, and is the co-editor of The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms (2000). Her most recent prose book is A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet (2011). A new volume of poetry, A Woman Without a Country, is due to be published by W. W. Norton in November 2014.

Boland has received the Lannan Award for Poetry and an American Ireland Fund Literary Award. She was poet-in-residence at the National Maternity Hospital during its 1994 Centenary and has also been the Hurst Professor at Washington University and Regent’s Lecturer at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She is a tenured Professor of English at Stanford University where she is the Director of the Creative Writing Program.


Kvin Young. Photo by Kevin Young.

Kevin Young is an American poet, essayist and editor. He is a graduate of Harvard University, where he obtained an A.B. in English and American Literature, and Brown University, where he obtained his MFA. Young’s poetry and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Callaloo, and many other journals and anthologies. He is also a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, a NEA Literature Fellow in Poetry, a United States Artists James Baldwin Fellow, and was a Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University.

Young is the author of eight books of poetry and editor of seven other collections, including Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels (2011), winner of an American Book Award, and Jelly Roll (2003), a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize. He most recently edited The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 and The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink. His non-fiction book, The Grey Album: Music, Shadows, Lies (2012) won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize. Young’s other poetry collections include Books of Hours (2014), Dear Darkness (2008), and For The Confederate Dead (2007).

In addition to the Paterson Poetry Prize, Young has been the recipient of the PEN Open Award and the 2012 American Book Award. Young is currently the Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English and curator of Literary Collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University in Atlanta.