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Poetic Gifts for the Soul
By Mark Dagostino '92

When UNH celebrated National Poetry Month on April 22 with a day of readings of 20th-century Polish poetry, they came to listen.

The purple-shirted, grayhaired woman who sat with her arms flung back over two chairs beside her in the Elliott Alumni Center's 1925 Room, waiting to embrace the words of the world-class panel seemingly flown in to satisfy her mind's desires, obviously knew what she was in for.

But the bevy of teenage and 20-something students who also packed the room seemed to come without pretext. Hearing that poetry was going to be read, they came, simple as that.

In the dimly-lit surroundings, through bursts of laughter, sighs of sympathy and spontaneous fits of applause, it was clear they were moved by the poems themselves, "foreign" or not. They were moved as Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, a Guggenheim Fellow, spoke in his lyrical, musical, native tongue, and as two top translators of Polish poetry, Northwestern University professor Clare Cavanagh and University of Michigan professor Bogdana Carpenter, turned those poems into little word-symphonies.

Post-World War II Polish poetry was a poetry that mattered, the new audience discovered. Poetry of politics, freedom—issues that strike the soul; but also imaginative, evocative poetry that moved the spirit of writers an ocean away.

UNH's Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Charles Simic, who sat on the panel, talked of being influenced by Polish poets in the mid-1960s, and read a few lines from an American compilation of the same era: "How foolishly I loved..." he began, smiling at the sheer boredom such poetry conjured.

To solidify the point, Simic turned to Polish poetry of the same generation. He read the line, "A green lowland of pianos," and the title, "The Pencil's Dream," wrapping his voice lovingly around each word, smiling broadly at their sheer inventiveness.

"Polish poetry was original, and fun to read," Simic told the crowd, which swelled to more than 100 by evening's end. "I cannot imagine anyone who dislikes poetry failing to be amused, at least, by this poetry."

Many of those in the room were more than amused: they were already anxiously awaiting the next on-campus poetry slam; the next Sunday poetry show on WUNH radio; and for the fall semester to begin so they could plunk down in classrooms with Simic or any one of the other poetry professors whose rosters are always full.

Thanks to this event, these lovers of poetry left with something for the long summer break: inspiration in words from a far-off land, brought right there and laid at their feet—a gift for their souls.

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