Vassar Today

Poets in Residence

By Molly Finkelstein ’08

It all began with Ted Kooser. In February 2006 the then-U.S. poet laureate gave a reading in Sanders Classroom, which I attended as part of Professor of English Patricia Wallace’s verse writing class. Afterward, the class thought, “Hey, if he can be Poet Laureate of the United States, why can’t we be poet laureates of… ACDC? or the Mug?”

The next Tuesday in class, Professor Wallace had an announcement. We would all get to be the “official” poet laureate of a place of our own choosing. Thus began the Poets in Residence program. Most of us chose places on campus — a tree near Sanders Classroom, the Old Observatory, Lathrop.

Right: “At Night,” a poem by Rob Voigt ’08, hangs in the window of Vassar's WVKR radio studio.

I became the official poet in residence of the mathematics and economics departments. My pantoum about the invisible hand that guides the market was posted on the third floor of Rockefeller Hall, for a little blast of poetry into these numerically minded departments. This year more students chose places in and around Poughkeepsie, including the Juliet and the train station.

Reactions to the poems have been overwhelmingly positive. “People tell me they love the idea of being surprised by…poems in different parts of the campus,” says Wallace. “One of the advantages of being surprised by a poem in a public space is that you don’t have any time to worry about your response; you are unguarded and open. And, since it isn’t a classroom, you don’t have to start thinking about what it ‘means’ before you let yourself experience the pleasure and mystery of reading it.”

Part of Wallace’s motivation for this program, which she plans to strengthen and make annual, is “to get poems into spaces beyond the classroom and get poets to think of poems as belonging to daily life.” However, the main goal of the program, much like the U.S. poet laureate’s, is to add a little more poetry to everyday life.