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Poetry center uses cancellation as an opportunity for community expression

By Jessica Suarez

Wednesday September 19, 2001

Ellen Bryant Voigt, the next poet in the Poetry Center's Visiting Poets and Writers Reading Series, has cancelled her appearance due to the recent terrorist attacks and difficulty in airline travel.

However, instead of canceling this week's installment entirely, the Poetry Center decided to present "Birdsong in Hour of War: an offering of literary works to nourish collective human spirit."

Readers are faculty members who will read either their own work or a piece of work they feel holds particular relevance considering the events of last week - events that have inspired many forms of expression across campus, from the visual and emotional to the literary.

The title for the series comes from the poetry Odysseus Elytis. Elytis, a Greek Nobel Prize winner, was an apt choice as the inspiration for the name of the program as well as a featured poet. "Fear, the physical fear of war, the material fear of bombs and shells, annihilated within me all aspects of false literature and left naked the meaning of a true need for poetry," Elytis said about the need to write poetry during times of crisis.

Jane Miller, director of creative writing, decided to read from some of Elytis' work tonight.

"I'll be reading a poem he wrote during his own time of war," Miller said. "I wanted to participate in the readings because I wanted to remind the community of how important the arts are. I think that forms of expression are crucial to locating our humanity. People have an urge and a need to express their humanity rather than be depressed."

Miller had already shown some concern for the mood of those around her over the last week.

"I sent out a note saying how difficult it was to focus on one's work in time of crisis," said Miller, whose note reached students and colleagues in the creative writing department. Alison Deming, Poetry Center director, asked Miller to read.

Frances Shoberg, events coordinator for the Poetry Center, found out Monday that Voigt would not be able to fly into Tucson for her reading and colloquium. It was decided then that the vacant time slot would be an opportunity to let faculty members express their feelings through their work and the works of others.

"Each poet is deciding for his or herself," Shoberg said. "They're reading works they find to be nourishing in the light of the events of the past few days."

While the reasons each reader chose to read a particular piece may be intensely personal, the goal of the reading is to connect over a common experience that others have been through before.

The other readers include Richard Shelton, Luci Tapahonso, Susan Aiken, Fenton Johnson, Eliana Rivero and Lana Moussa.

The readings will begin at 8 p.m. in the Modern Languages auditorium with an informal reception to follow. All readings in the series are free. Mary Leader is scheduled for the next installment of the series on Oct. 9. The Center is hoping to reschedule Voigt to be a part of next year's Visiting Poets and Writers Reading series. Call 626-1185 for more information.


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