In 1962, the English Department at UR began the Plutzik Memorial Reading Series to honor the life and career of poet and UR English professor Hyam Plutzik. The series, which features readings by contemporary literary artists, continues to this day as one of the longest-running reading series in the country. This year’s reading season began on Monday night, when UR alumnus David Mason spoke in the Welles-Brown room in Rush Rhees Library.
While David Mason never taught at UR, he was a graduate student in the English department. Mason is a former Fulbright scholar to Greece. He has written a number of books of poems, including “The Buried Houses,” which received the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize. He also wrote the poetry collections “The Country I Remember” and “Arrivals.” He recently published his first verse novel, entitled “Ludlow.”
Mason began his lecture by honoring the late Michael Donaghy, reciting his poem “Remembering Steps to Dances I Learned Last Night.” He then read a selection of his own poems, including “The Song of the Powers” and an acrostic poem about his wife. He followed that with two lengthy excerpts from “Ludlow.” Attendance for the event numbered in the forties.
Plutzik was an English professor at UR from 1945 to his death in 1962, according to the Reading Series’ Web site. He led a busy life, going from Yale to the army and finally ending up as a professor at UR in 1945. After an illustrious career in 1961, he was appointed to the newly created position of Dean Professor of Rhetoric and Poetry.
As a teacher, Plutzik continued to write, putting out books of short stories, science fiction, fantasy and children’s literature. He would hold weekly poetry readings on campus. After his death, the Plutzik family endowed a fund for the Reading Series. According to the Web site, the Series keeps with his spirit by remaining open to the public and free of charge.
The series has attracted writers both famous and obscure. The very first poet scheduled for the Series was e.e. cummings, according to Administrative Assistant for Publicity Lon Bailey. However, cummings died before he was scheduled to speak.
Since those formative days, speakers have included such celebrities as Edward Albee, Alan Ginsberg, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Erica Jong and John Updike. However, the series also often features local talent, including a number of UR faculty, such as current English professors Joanna Scott and James Longenbach.
The series has four more dates scheduled for this season, which goes on for the rest of the semester. The speakers this season include David Leavitt, Tom Sleigh, Anthony Giardina and Robert and Peg Boyers. According to Bailey, the spring season will feature five additional speakers, including a current English professor.
Bailey noted that English professors strongly encourage the students in their classes to attend the Plutzik readings. In addition, students often get a chance to meet the speakers outside of the public sessions. He said that many authors hold colloquiums for graduate students and make an effort to meet with undergraduates.
Bailey believes that public readings such as these are important in teaching young writers how to hone their craft.
“For students that are interested in poetry, it’s essential to hear other poets read,” he said. “This is definitely something they need to hear. You can’t write poetry in a vacuum.”
Wrobel is a member of the class of 2010.