Conversing with Greatness

The poetry craft talks so far have been broad and encompassing in their scope, and, true-to-form, Sandra Alcosser’s talk this afternoon was no exception. She spoke of the 4,000-year-old wisdom tradition that is literature, as the room filled up with the white Northern light of a solstice afternoon. She cited Shakespeare’s education in reading, translating, and memorizing the rhymed iambics of Ovid, and Whitman’s conversion from disdain of “un-American” opera to his assertion later that he could not have written Leaves Of Grass without having heard Bellini’s “Norma.”

In contrast to all the academic banter (especially among Americans) about eschewing received forms, Alcosser cited example after example of how genius in art consists not only, as Bell stated earlier, in getting in touch with one’s own “wiring”–but also in synthesizing tradition with newness. In fitting parallel with the theme of the talk, the question-and-answer session afterward opened out into a dialog among journeyman and accomplished writers alike about the remarkable and necessary tradition of literature, and the courage it takes to enter such a conversation with greatness.