Arts & Culture

Lecture honors late professor, poet

Feinsod ’04 discusses C.D. Wright’s use of poetry to address societal issues

By
Staff Writer
Thursday, October 31, 2019

Feinsod, a professor of comparative literature at Northwestern, spoke on how poetry can give voice to common crises of our time.

Each year since the unexpected passing of C.D. Wright in 2016, the late professor of literary arts has been honored through a lecture in her name. On Tuesday, Harris Feinsod ’04, associate professor of English and comparative literary studies at Northwestern University, delivered the third annual C.D. Wright Lecture, titled “Fifth and Final Cycle: C.D. Wright’s Americas.”

The lecture series was established by Wright’s husband, Forrest Gander, professor emeritus of literary arts and comparative literature.

It was “really important to (commemorate her) at Brown, where she gave much of her life to students who came to the University,” Gander said. Wright taught at Brown for 33 years. While at the University, she received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in 2011, among other honors.

Gander told The Herald that the lecture series was inspired by the annual reading of George Oppen’s poetry at San Francisco State University. “I really admired how a place where he lived for much of his life honored him and remembered him. And that was kind of a good model for this lecture,” Gander said.

Through the lecture series, Gander hopes to introduce students to Wright’s poetry and address how her decades of work relate to themes of contemporary poetry at large.

Gander and faculty from the Department of Literary Arts unanimously chose Feinsod to deliver this year’s lecture. Feinsod’s writing focuses on the Atlantic region, and his latest book, “The Poetry of the Americas,” details the relationship between Latin American and North American poets.

“C.D. was very interested in Latin American poetry,” Gander said. “In fact, the last trip that she came back from was to Chile.” Gander described Feinsod as a poet and scholar who is “smart, but unpretentious.”

In an email to The Herald, Feinsod called Wright one of the most inimitable poets. Ahead of his lecture, he hoped that all attendants would gain an appreciation for her love of the written and spoken word. Feinsod was the first speaker in the series to come from outside Wright’s intimate circle — instead, he considers himself a student of Wright.

“I heard her read her poems on several occasions,” he wrote, recalling an event in downtown Providence where Wright read her poems to an audience.

Feinsod admitted that he was incapable of reading Wright’s poems as she would herself. “I’m glad there are recordings of C.D. reading, because once you hear her intonation you’ll read her poems with an unforgettable hill country voice in your head,” Feinsod wrote.

A recording of Wright reading her work is available on the literary arts website, according to Gale Nelson, academic program director and senior lecturer for literary arts and the lecture’s host. Nelson called Wright’s poetry “timeless,” noting that he is “hopeful that the community at Brown is reading Wright’s work.”

In his lecture, Feinsod highlighted how Wright used poetry to address topics like economic globalization. Feinsod analyzed Wright’s works that addressed problems relating to “the U.S.’s manufactured imperial crises.” For example, he noted how Walmart had become a particular source of frustration for Wright — a topic she continued to address in her poetry. In the 1980s, Walmart was expanding rapidly, following Wright all the way from San Francisco to Providence. Wright responded with “an autobiographical solidarity with (the) Walmart worker,” emphasizing the wisdom of the working class in her writing, Feinsod said.

“‘He suctioned every nickel from every small town pocket and he sewed / it under his lids, a veritable sheik from Arkansas,’” Feinsod read from Wright’s “Deepstep Come Shining.’” Feinsod speculated that the lines came from a 1996 correspondence between Wright and poet W.S. Merwin, who had been a mentor to Wright.

“I hope we all come away with a feeling for how even an experimental poem can give voice to what Wright called the ‘common crises’ of our time. Poetry can shine that light more than we might admit,” Feinsod wrote.

In addition to addressing societal issues, poetry gives insight into how “people speak and voice their inner thoughts,” Gander said.

Wright, too, saw the beauty of expression through poetry, describing it in her book, “Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil.”

“Poetry is the language of intensity. Because we are going to die, an expression of intensity is justified,” she wrote.

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