Poetry may seem a stagnant medium to some — a long-winded use of language well past its heyday. But poet Cole Swensen is hoping to bring poetry back as a relevant force in modern culture.

Cole Swenson

Tomorrow at 5:15 p.m.
Helmut Stern Auditorium
free

Tomorrow, Swensen visits the University of Michigan Museum of Art to conduct an open-ended discussion with students about the future of poetry.

“I’m interested in finding out how (the students) see poetry fitting into contemporary culture and where they would like it to go,” Swensen wrote in an e-mail interview with the Michigan Daily.

Swensen is a part of the Zell Visiting Writers Series. Hosted by the Department of English, the series brings notable writers to the University each semester.

Linda Gregerson, the Caroline Walker Bynum Distinguished University Professor of English and professor of creative writing and Renaissance literature, has a perceptive appreciation for the series.

“Our own faculty is remarkably distinguished and diverse,” Gregerson wrote in an e-mail interview, “but we cannot of course comprehend all the important developments in contemporary prose and poetry writing.”

“So we use the Visiting Writers Series to augment our roster, sharing with writing students, the University at large, and the wider community, a vital array of writers, both new and established,” she added.

Swensen’s work is diverse and nationally recognized. She thrives in the realm of literature. As the author of 12 books of poetry and a translator of French poetry, prose and art criticism, Swenson has won of several awards, including the National Poetry Series and the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award.

Swensen has always dedicated herself to poetry. She grew up in an environment that allowed for artistic expression, as her mother was a painter.

“I wrote stories as a young child, but by the time I was 11 or 12, I knew it was poetry that I wanted to write,” Swensen wrote. “Fortunately, I got a lot of support from teachers and family, and I just kept writing.”

Swensen’s dedication to her work has resulted in her continued success. Her most recent book, “Ours,” was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.

“Ours” has resonated with Gregerson, in particular.

“Cole Swensen’s most recent book, ‘Ours,’ is one of the most thrilling books of poetry I know: beautifully cadenced, lucid, and intellectually resonant,” Gregerson wrote.

“It’s based on the work of 17th-century landscape architect Andre Le Notre, who designed, among many others, the gardens at Versailles,” Gregerson added. “Swensen brings beautifully to life the personal, cultural, and philosophical context in which Le Notre worked.”

Although Swensen did not specify any overall themes that apply to her work, she did acknowledge her focus on a specific type of poetry.

“I’m interested in what’s called ‘ekphrasis,’ poetry written about art. I’m interested in how the tradition of the subgenre can be changed, augmented,” Swensen wrote.

With ekphrasis as her inspiration, Swensen has been able to explore a variety of subjects in her poetry.

“The themes keep changing, but they often have something to do with the arts, gardens, opera, landscape painting, and illuminated manuscripts are all subjects I’ve used in my work,” she wrote.

“I like to use poetry as a mode of research,” she added. “It seems to me that poetry can get to aspects of subjects that prose writing can’t, so to pick a subject that is usually approached by prose can be very rewarding.”

Through her poetry, Swensen hopes her audience will be able to vicariously experience the intended emotions.

“I hope to evoke in readers the same feeling that I have in response to these arts, instances, and objects, and that feeling is usually wonder, awe, hope,” she wrote.

As for her goals for the future, Swensen expressed an interest in continuing to expand the use of poetry.

“I’d like to improve the use of poetry as an investigative tool,” she added.

Swensen has managed to utilize poetry in a way that, according to Gregerson, is “immediate and brilliantly accessible” in today’s world. Her versatility and passion have made her a distinguished and well established poet who will be able to provide valuable insight to students interested in careers associated with literature.

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