Literary Stars Shine Bright at Boston University

Last night at Boston University, the Creative Writing Program held its annual evening of faculty author readings. The high caliber departmentincluding two Poet Laureates, a Nobel Prize winner, several PEN/Faulkner Award winners, a Rhodes Scholar, a T.S. Elliot Award winner, a National Book Award recipientspeaks of BU's consistent effort to woo big names to their faculty. At least in the case of the creative writing department, these writers are not just well known, they are producing some of the country's most original and inspiring work.

The evening began with the valedictory reading of poet Geoffrey Hill, who will retire from BU at the end of this academic year. With gravitas befitting a man who has been called "the strongest and most original English poet of the second half of our fading century" (John Hollander, The Los Angeles Times), Hill made everyone laughing at his self-depracating humor, commenting on how competetive he can be. He tossed off a couple of free translations of two Italian poems before reading of Shakespeare's Sonnet 66, which may have been the most poignant moment of the evening.

Jennifer Haigh, the young novelist whose Mrs. Kimble won the Pen/Faulkner prize, took the stage after Geoffrey Hill, obviously having drawn the short straw. She held her own, sharing a scence from her first novel. Birdie, the first Mrs. Kimble of the novel, Haigh describes as having developed "quite a fondness for cheap wine." Her descriptions of ruddy and alive, and her inflected reading was the same.

Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky next shared his "Poem of Disconnected Parts," which should be included in his forthcoming volume. As its title implies, the poem ranged all over the place, including several stops at Camp X-Ray at Guantanomo Bay, Cuba. Pinsky is capitavting in person, just like his writing. In addition to his poem, Pinsky shared with his favorite prose line from his recently published The Life of David: "They were polygamists those monotheists."

Student-cum-professor Ha Jin, whose autobiographical novel Waiting, about his five teenaged years in Mao Tse-Tung's People's Liberation Army won the National Book Award, next read from his new novel War Trash. Almost timid in approaching the podium, Ha Jin is a literary lion in sheep's clothing. His prose sing like poetry, which may explain why his next novel includes a volume of poetry as well.

Louise Gl
ück, BU's second former Poet Laureate, shared from her soon to be published volume Averno. "Landscape," a poem in five parts, is a multi-voiced journey between the the world of the living and that of the dead. Glück crafts her evocative images with care, no more so than when she described the past, present, and future as the sun and the moon, the earth, and the frozen water below her feet. BU is determined to add Professor Glück permanently to their most vaunted collection.

As the long-time Director of the Creative Writing Program, Leslie Epstein is singularly responsible for its success. What became obvious last night was that Epstein has been able to assemble his prize-winning stable to writer professors because he is one of them. Sharing from the semi-autobigraphical San Remo Drive, Epstein related how the experience of his mother's death and burial and a visit to his childhood home all ended up in the novel. My only complaint of the night was Epstein's need to stop and explain his writing instead of just reading it.

Finally, saving what very well may have been the best for last, Nobel Prize Winner Derek Wolcott came to the podium. A native of the West Indies, Walcott's calypso intonations revived the flagging crowd. He read his much loved poem "Spoiler's Return," which make specific reference to Lord Rochester, whom Johnny Depp plays in the movie The Libertine. Walcott's cadences ebb and flow like the Carribean tides he's known since childhood, and every word evokes just the right image or emotion.

If you are looking for a good read, check out these writers; they are simply some of the best. If, on the other hand, you want to be one of these writers, then the place to start is BU.