One of America’s most celebrated poets discussed her craft during a recent Upper School Assembly as the next installment of the English Department’s annual Visiting Writers program.
Poet Marilyn Nelson read selections of her work, discussed elements of her personal story, and revealed her sources of inspiration to Upper School students. The assembly was followed by a 45-minute workshop for all junior English Honors students.
“The Visiting Writers program exposes students to writers directly to hear their voice and have a more direct connection to the writer. I think in this case, Ms. Nelson was pretty inspirational as both history and poetry come together in her work,” said English Dept. Chair Paul Gustafson.
Ms. Nelson is a highly acclaimed poet, a three-time finalist for the National Book award, and a former poet laureate of Connecticut. She is well-known for her poetry dealing with African American history.
In addition, she is the author or translator of 17 poetry books for adults and children and five chapbooks. In 2014 she published a memoir, named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014, entitled How I Discovered Poetry—a series of 50 poems about growing up in the 1950’s in a military family. Ms. Nelson is a professor emerita of English at the University of Connecticut.
Mr. Gustafson noted that his department has enhanced its poetry curriculum and added more of an emphasis on the genre.
“Poetry is a primary form of literary expression,” he said. “It’s a vehicle that can deliver meaning in a very direct way – especially depending on the poems you choose. It’s really an important thing to teach.”
Students approach subject matter in a deeper way, Mr. Gustafson said, as a result of reading and writing poetry. They learn that “every word needs to count” and they are perhaps encouraged to get a little more personal in what they’re writing, he said.
During the workshop portion of Ms. Nelson’s visit, Mr. Sabatelli's English students interacted one-on-one with the poet and were joined by former Hamden Hall English teacher Betty Lou Blumberg - who took notes, just like the students!
The Visiting Writers program is funded by the Betty Lou Blumberg Endowed Chair of English, which was established in Betty Lou's honor and allows the English Department to conduct workshops and lectures that make an impact on students and help the school maintain the standard of excellence that Betty Lou lived and taught by for three decades. This is the third installment of the program. Betty Lou’s 30-year teaching career at Hamden Hall spanned from 1971 to 2001. She continues to teach her beloved literary courses at Quinnipiac University.
“I’m looking for the students to feel the authenticity,” said Mr. Gustafson of the overall experience.