Campus News

Game-changing scholar to deliver Creeley Lecture


Published March 16, 2017

“Galvanizing is a great word to describe McGann because his mind works in ways that constantly bring diverse elements together.”
Cristanne Miller, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Edward H. Butler Professor
Department of English
headshot of Jerome McGann.

Jerome McGann

Jerome McGann, one of the founders of the field of digital humanities, will be the featured speaker for UB’s second annual Robert Creeley Lecture on Poetry and Poetics on March 30.

The lecture will take place at 4 p.m. in Baird Recital Hall, 250 Baird Hall, North Campus.

McGann is John Stewart Bryan Professor in the University of Virginia’s Department of English and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. The author of 24 books, he has revolutionized the way poetry is discussed, read, written, edited and taught.

McGann is a scholar who is always pushing, extending and breaking boundaries, according to Cristanne Miller, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Edward H. Butler Professor of English, and Myung Mi Kim, the James H. McNulty Chair in the Department of English and director of the UB Poetics Program.

“McGann’s work has foundationally changed how we think about poetry,” says Kim. “He is a galvanizing figure, at the forefront of the field in very specific and unique ways.”

“Galvanizing is a great word to describe McGann because his mind works in ways that constantly bring diverse elements together,” Miller notes. “He started as a critic of Byron’s poetry, but questions about Byron brought in so many other questions that he was soon writing about things that few would have predicted.”

The afternoon also will feature a conversation with and an excerpt from SUNY Distinguished Professor David Felder’s concert film, “Les Quartre Temps Cardinaux,” a complex song cycle written in part as a response to Creeley’s poems “Spring Light” and “Buffalo Evening.”

“We’re trying every year to bring more than one kind of artistic expression into play to show ways how, not just Bob’s work, but poetry generally enters a variety of artistic fields,” Miller says.

A roundtable response to McGann’s lecture, moderated by James Maynard, curator of the UB Poetry Collection, will follow on March 31 at 3 p.m. in the UB Poetry Collection, 420 Capen Hall, also on the North Campus.

All events surrounding the Creeley lecture are free and open to the public.

Creeley (1926-2005) was a former SUNY Distinguished Professor and author of more than 60 books of poetry and criticism. He served as Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetics at UB and was a faculty member for 37 years, beginning in 1966. He left UB in 2003 to become a Distinguished Professor at Brown University.

His legacy, however, remains as much about community as poetry, and his namesake lecture series is designed purposefully as an energizing public celebration of poetry, say Miller and Kim.

“That spirit is so important,” says Kim. “Creeley bridged many pockets of readers and makers of poetry. He showed how poetry can be manifest in everyday pursuits as much as it can be part of a literary life.”

Creeley’s footprint in Western New York remains profoundly visible today and can be seen in such local institutions as Just Buffalo Literary Center, founded by Debora Ott, a former student of Creeley who inspired her to establish the organization and take poetry into the community. Jonathan Welch, owner and founder of Talking Leaves, Buffalo’s venerable independent bookstore, was an admirer of Creeley and lists him among the lures that attracted him to Western New York.

“When we thought about the lecture series we wanted to involve the community in some way to mark that this is not just about Robert Creeley’s academic legacy,” Miller adds. “McGann’s lecture is called, ‘Reading Poetry.’ What a welcoming title!”

The roundtable discussion on the second day is open to anyone who wants to further explore issues raised by McGann’s lecture. There will also be an opportunity for anyone to read a poem, either their own work or a personal favorite.

“We also built in a high school poetry contest to the lecture and celebration,” says Kim. “The winner and runners up, as well as their classmates and families in the audience, will be further exposed to the poetry community at large.”

Miller and Kim say SUNY Press has agreed to publish a volume of successive Creeley lectures and their responses every other year.

Last year’s Creeley Lecture coincided with the 25th anniversary of the UB Poetics Program. The coordinators collected remembrances of Robert Creeley, and Kim and Miller have edited a forthcoming stand-alone volume including that lecture, responses to it and essays developed from the conference. The volume, titled “Poetics and Precarity” (SUNY Press), is expected to appear in January 2018.