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Poetry Palooza to feature visit by top American culture historian

January 16, 2009

Rob Enslin
(315) 443-3403

Rob Enslin

The English department at Syracuse University is partnering with CNY Reads, the YMCA's Downtown Writer's Center and the Onondaga County Public Library to present two events that promote the public discussion and enjoyment of poetry.

The first, Poetry Palooza, is Saturday, Jan. 24, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on the Commons Level, near the Center Atrium, of Carousel Center (9000 Carousel Center Dr., Syracuse). In addition to a magnetic poetry competition, the celebration includes open-mic readings of works by Charles Simic, outgoing poet laureate of the Library of Congress and featured author of CNY Reads' current "One City, One Book" campaign. Interactive games, prizes and snacks will also be provided.

The second event is a lecture by Joan Shelley Rubin (pictured), professor of history at the University of Rochester, on Wednesday, Jan. 28, at 4 p.m. in Curtin Auditorium of the downtown branch of the Onondaga County Public Library (447 S. Salina St., Syracuse). Her lecture is titled "Songs of Ourselves: The Uses of Poetry in America," based on her recent critically acclaimed book of the same name (Belknap Press, 2007).

Both events, which are free and open to the public, are largely organized by Harvey Teres. An associate professor of English at SU, Teres is a longtime participant in CNY Reads and a proponent of linking the academy with the common reader. "Poetry is not a luxury, but a necessity," he says. "By highlighting the spoken word within the written word, poetry sheds light on how people embedded in different cultures write, talk and think. There's not a better instrument for publicly engaged scholarship."

Hundreds of people are expected to turn out for Poetry Palooza, where word magnets will be used to form original verse on 10 refrigerators provided by Best Buy. Contestants will be grouped according to age (children, young adult and adult) and will compete for various prizes, including a $100 gift certificate from Borders. "The whole idea is to have fun, while getting people excited about poetry," says Teres, whose students organized a similar event this past fall at SU. "We want to inspire people to be as creative and as original as possible." Poetry Palooza also pays homage to Simic, whose "60 Poems" (Harvest Books, 2008) is CNY Reads' current shared reading selection. "We're pretty sure that it's the first time poetry has been picked anywhere for one of these [shared reading programs], which is why we think it's so cool," Philip Memmer told The Post-Standard last spring. Memmer is director of the Downtown Writer's Center, co-sponsor of Poetry Palooza and a consortium member of CNY Reads.

Simic is a Serbian-American poet, noted for his tightly constructed observations about jazz, art and philosophy. He is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize (1990) and Wallace Stevens Award (2007), co-poetry editor of the Paris Review, and professor emeritus of English at the University of New Hampshire. "The range of his imagination is incredible," says Teres.

The SU professor is also excited about Joan Shelley Rubin's lecture, four days later. A cultural and intellectual historian, Rubin is concerned with the values, assumptions and anxieties that have shaped American life from the late 19th century to the present. "Songs of Ourselves: The Uses of Poetry in America" reflects her interest in the history of books and of reading in the United States. Rubin is also author of "The Making of Middlebrow Culture" (The University of North Carolina Press, 1992)-about the rise of the Book-of-the-Month Club and the "great books" movement, in general-and is co-editor of the "History of the Book in America, Vol. Five: The Enduring Book: Print Culture in Postwar America" (UNC Press, 2009).

"Rubin is one of the most highly respected scholars in her field," says Teres, himself an expert in 20th-century American literature and culture, as well as Jewish-American fiction and literary anthropology. "The depth of her scholarship and her attention to detail are unparalleled."

CNY Reads is a consortium of more than 50 organizations that is coordinated by the Onondaga County Public Library and promotes reading, research and discovery among local citizens. More information is available at

The English department is one of the crown jewels of SU's College of Arts and Sciences. The department offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs, taught by some of today's leading creative writers and literary scholars. For more information, visit

For more information about Poetry Palooza and the Rubin lecture, contact Teres at (315) 443-4891.

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