Distinguished Poet

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jorie Graham read from her critically-acclaimed work “PLACE” as part of her week-long visit to USF.


Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham with USF President Judy Genshaft looking at the work “Artists book” by Graham’s mother, artist Beverly Pepper, that was created at USF Graphicstudio. It was on display during Graham’s poetry reading at the Patel Center Tuesday evening.  Photos: Barbara Melendez | USF News


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (April 3, 2013) – Poetry fans were poised for a rare treat Tuesday evening. Jorie Graham, one of America’s premiere poets would read from her latest work and autograph their books.


To a hushed and appreciative audience she delivered selections from her critically-acclaimed “PLACE (2012),” accentuating her words and phrases with graceful yet emphatic hand gestures – the urgency in her voice conveying the gentle command to pay attention to the details in her stream of imagery. She transported her listeners into as many emotions and time periods as geographic places and left them deeply moved. 


She once told the Paris Review, ““A poem is a private story, after all, no matter how apparently public. The reader is always overhearing a confession.” With each of her poems, she set the context for its creation, letting listeners in on the deeper levels of her private stories that were inspired by the important people and places in her life.


The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet is the USF Humanities Institute‘s second distinguished scholar-in-residence and will devote the rest of her week to spending time in English honors and graduate classes and conducting graduate workshops. She will present a lecture on Thursday at 6 p.m., “Why Poetry Matters.,” an event that is free and open to the public at the Marshall Student Center Room 2708.


As Elizabeth Bird, Humanities Institute director pointed out, Graham’s reading of her work showed quite well why poetry matters best of all, but encouraged the audience to hear what more she has to say.


“When she introduced her beautiful and complex poems with stories about how the poems came to be written, the audience was spell-bound as I’m sure they will be on Thursday,” she said. “Her visit, and the whole Scholar-in-Residence program, is important because it offers the opportunity for our students, faculty, and staff to interact directly with inspiring humanities scholars and artists. They may have read their work before, but the personal insight and engagement are priceless. In addition, the program helps put USF on the map as a university where the humanities are valued and supported, as they are at all truly great institutions.”

Graham set the tone for National Poetry Month’s celebration at USF – a profound appreciation for words and imagination – as soon as she arrived in Tampa. She visited a Modern and Contemporary Anglo-American Poetry class taught by English Department Chair Hunt Hawkins a few hours before her reading.   


She was gracious enough to start the program by presenting awards to the winners of the Humanities Institute first ever poetry contest. High school students and USF students, faculty, and staff submitted over 100 poems on this year's theme: "Florida 2013." The top three poets in both the High School and USF categories received special awards (winners listed below).


The 15 high school poets and five USF poets selected as finalists are being featured throughout the month of April on the institute’s NPM@USF website. An additional 12 high school students and two additional USF poets received honorable mentions and will be featured on the website as well.


Graham’s global background blends well with USF’s emphasis on preparing students for global leadership. Born in New York City, raised in Rome and educated in French schools, she studied at the Sorbonne before attending New York University and then the University of Iowa for her undergraduate and master’s degrees.


Her book “The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994” won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  In addition to her critically-acclaimed works, notably "Sea Change" (2008), "Never" (2002) and "Swarm" (2000), Graham has also edited two anthologies, "Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language" (1996) and "The Best American Poetry 1990."

Described by the U.S. Poetry Foundation as “perhaps the most celebrated poet of the American post-war generation,” Graham is the Boylston Professor of Poetry at Harvard. She was the first woman to be awarded this position, following in the footsteps of the renowned Irish poet Seamus Heaney and all the way back to John Quincy Adams.  Seamus Heaney and a chair whose occupants date back to John Quincy Adams. She was the first woman to be awarded this position. Seamus Heaney and a chair whose occupants date back to John Quincy Adams. She was the first woman to be awarded this position.


Her many honors include a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She was the first American woman to receive the prestigious British 2012 Forward Prize for “Places (2012).”


a position previously held by Seamus Heaney and a chair whose occupants date back to John Quincy Adams. She was the first woman to be awarded this position. a position previously held by Seamus Heaney and a chair whose occupants date back to John Quincy Adams. She was the first woman to be awarded this position. She has also taught at the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003. 


National Poetry Month’s Top Poets


High School Winners

·         First: “Promenade” by Evelyn Diaz. 12th grade at Howard W. Blake High School

·         Second: “Warmth” by Sadie Briguglio. 11th grade at Howard W. Blake High School

·         Third: “The Place of Flowers” by Shelby Brown. 10th grade at Howard W. Blake High School


USF Winners

·         First: “Unlock the Door, Let the Moon Come in” by Ryan Cheng English Graduate Student

·         Second: “Your Biome Has Found You” by Gloria Muñoz. English Graduate Student

·         Third: “Florida Ghazal Laid Back” by Brook Sadler, Associate Professor in Humanities & Cultural Studies



USF’s first poetry contest winners with Distinguished-Scholar-in-Residence Jorie Graham (center) l-r: Gloria Muñoz (graduate student, English Department), second place (USF); Shelby Brown, 10th grader, Howard W. Blake High School, third place (high school); Evelyn Diaz, 12th grader, Blake H. S., first place (high School); Graham; Sadie Briguglio, 11th grader, Blake H. S., second place (high school) and Ryan Cheng (USF graduate student, English Department), first place (USF). Absent, Associate Professor Brook Sadler, Humanities and Cultural Studies/Philosophy, third place (USF).


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.