By Kate Pritchard, Interim Library Director
This past week, hundreds of USN High School students had the rare opportunity to hear from and talk with the poet Ed Roberson, whose many accolades include the Jackson Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and most recently, being named a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. At 83, Roberson has published more than a dozen books of poetry, taught at several universities, and led a life full of adventures, including journeys to Alaska, Bermuda, South America, and across the U.S. on a motorcycle.
Speaking with 12 English classes over two days, in addition to two lunch & learn opportunities, Roberson talked about not just his work but also the poetry of others who have influenced him. He spoke of themes and ideas that have come down through other poets over the 20th century, such as Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot, and how he has expressed those ideas in his own work, including a work in progress that he shared with each class. Then he challenged students to think about how they might continue exploring those themes with their own unique perspectives.
What makes the Author in Residence program different from a regular author visit is that both the students and the visiting authors are encouraged to engage more deeply with each other’s work and the craft of writing. In all of his interactions with our students, Roberson took them seriously as writers and asked them about their own work.
Lucy Cramer '24 appreciated that “when you asked a question, he made a conversation with it rather than just answering it.”
Cole Patterson '24 said, “Roberson was really good at drawing what I really meant out of me. He sort of took what I had to say and interpreted it for me. He saw us and he made us think better.”
Students also had the chance to ask Roberson about himself and his writing, which elicited detailed answers. He often described poetry as being a discussion between the poet and the reader, and spoke about how, for him, writing a poem is a way of finding answers to the questions raised by the data that he has gathered by way of experience and observation. High School English Teacher Michael Hansen, who was instrumental in bringing Roberson to campus, said: “Roberson's poems frequently meditate on the precariousness of life in our age of climate change. It was moving to see that his urgent interest in young people as writers stems from the belief that art is more necessary now than ever, not only to bear witness to ecological disaster but also, with luck, to help avert it.”
At his public reading on Monday night, Roberson shared the stories behind his poems and read from three of his recent books. More than 50 attendees from both USN and the wider Nashville community enjoyed hearing his poems and speaking with Roberson one-on-one afterward.
The English Department and Hassenfeld Library would like to thank the many people who helped to put this visit together, including USNA, the Operations staff, SAGE Dining, the USN Bookstore, the Communications Office, High School Art Teacher Chris Cheney for his help in making hand-printed broadsides, and above all, the many Fall Book Frenzy donors and shoppers whose generosity makes this program possible year after year.