English professor’s poetry garners recognition

Courtesy of J. Adam Fenster, UR Photographer

Poetry, one of the world’s leading poetry magazines, featured two poems by English Professor James Longenbach this month. Additionally, Slate, an online magazine with a focus on news, politics and poetry, selected Longenbach’s poem, “Cruise,” as its poem of the week this month.

Poetry is the oldest monthly publication dedicated to poetry in the English-speaking world. It was founded in Chicago in 1912 and describes its mission statement on its website as “to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre or approach.”

Publishers selected Longenbach’s poems “Opus Postumous” and “By the Same Author” to appear in the centennial celebration edition. Poetry is celebrating its centennial with an array of events, public art, online offerings and an exhibition this October.

Longenbach’s poem “Cruise” was chosen by Robert Pinsky, a friend of Longenbach and the 39th poet laureate of the Unites States. Pinsky founded the “Favorite Poem Project” upon his appointment to poet laureate in 1997; the project hosts a collection of poems “dedicated to celebrating, documenting, and encouraging poetry’s role in Americans’ lives.”

Like many students, Longenbach entered college not entirely sure of his intended career path. Although he wanted to study, and ultimately major in, English, he was unaware that poetry would become the “center of his life.”

After beginning to write in college, Longenbach went on to publish four books of original poetry in addition to essays and other books of literary criticism.

Besides this recent recognition, Longenbach has received several awards and accolades for his work: he was awarded the Goergen Award for Distinguished Achievement and Artistry in teaching in 2008, served as jury chair for the National Book Award in Poetry and received the Students’ Association Professor of the Year award two times.

Longenbach does not seem to have any magical methods to his success — he explained that he has “never been inspired.” Instead, he says that he draws upon the legacy and works left by other accomplished poets.

Longenbach also noted that poets must spend copious amounts of time revising their work.

“A good poem happens because it goes through dozens, sometimes hundreds of drafts,” he said.

This semester, Longenbach is teaching one course discussing and analyzing the works of William Butler Yeats, but Longenbach has taught several classes on contemporary and modern poetry, modern literature,  creative writing, James Joyce and Shakespeare in recent years.

Longenbach advises his students to “simply write, but perhaps, more importantly, simply read.”

“You must read hundreds of great poems to write one good one,” he said. How to write well is not inside of us, it’s outside of us — we learn it from great models.”

Graziano is a member of the class of 2016.



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