2010 Festival Poet: Rachel Hadas

Posted on by Dodge

Stacey Balkun, Festival Assistant

HadasPhotoOn the faculty of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Rutgers University in Newark, Rachel Hadas has a long history of deep immersion in poetry from all eras.  Hadas received her baccalaureate in classics from Radcliffe College before studying poetry at Johns Hopkins University and receiving a doctorate at Princeton in comparative literature.  Her studies are complimented by her time studying abroad in Greece, which has strongly influenced her poetry.

Poems such as “Modern Greek 101” blend experience with language, mythology with reality.  The speaker of the poem takes the stance of a teacher explaining vocabulary to the reader, but speaks instead of a philosophy.  Hadas’s formal style accents the poem with a certain meter and rhyme.  Known as a poet of the new formalism movement, Hadas’s work was published in Rebel Angels, a collection of late twentieth century verse poetry written by poets born since 1940.  The work in this anthology curiously rebels against the “rebellious” poetry of the 1960s and 1970s, which denounced formal verse.  “New formalists” utilized rhyme, meter, and narrative while other poets of their generation strove for an informal style.

Another example of formal verse in Hadas’s work is her poem “The End of Summer.” This rhyming poem exemplifies Hadas’s style of form as well as the sort of content readers can expect to find in her work.  Hadas is skilled at finding eternal truth in everyday events.  Hadas’ work resonates with philosophy and experience, both of which she shares with the reader through an honest and mellow voice which often reminds the reader that it is only recalling memories, not creating moments.  In an interview with Gloria Glickstein Brame, Hadas says “poetry enables [her] to face up to changes,” such as the inevitable change of seasons found in “The End of Summer.”

Similarly, poems like “Bath” use ordinary experiences as the basis of a deeper narrative.  “Bath” ruminates on memories and illness, both of which are “portable, inconspicuous.”  Humans are often unconsciously submerged in both.  Hadas’ poetry shares such wisdom in a nonchalant manner, as if the speaker does not believe the reader will find the recalled experiences useful.  The speaker is often engaged in human experiences: teaching, remembering, and often trying to make sense of memories.  Hadas examines the uncertainty of recollection, as in “Samian Morning, 1971” (scroll to bottom) while capturing the experiences that make us all human. For text and audio of more poems by Rachel Hadas, visit Slate Magazine.

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Return in the weeks ahead as we continue to profile the 2010 Festival Poets.

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