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The Lowell House Poemical Society held its annual May Day Poetry Reading in Lowell’s Senior Common Room on the evening of May 1. A group of about 30 masters, deans, and other affiliates of Lowell House, as well as College and graduate students, gathered for about 20 recitations, ranging from Sanskrit verse to e.e. cummings, from Keats to student compositions. The reading forms part of Lowell’s traditional May Day celebrations, which include the house formal, Bacchanalia, on the evening of April 30, a sunrise waltz with champagne and strawberries on the Weeks Bridge the following morning, and a small exhibition of paintings in the dining hall.
Lowell House tutor Ari R. Hoffman, a co-chair of the Poemical Society and a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department, says that the event is a valuable part of campus life. “I’m a strong believer in the arts and in the humanities, and specifically that those things should happen in the house, that they should happen where people live, and that they should happen as part of a community initiative, so that people are learning from and teaching one another,” he says. “It’s important that people be there just because they want to be there, rather than the way you’d approach these sorts of things in a section or in a class.”
The Poemical Society traces its history to the late 1950s, during poet Marianne Moore's affiliation with the house. Cecil Day-Lewis, who would later be named Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, later revived the society in the 1960s when he stayed in the house while serving as Harvard’s Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry. Under co-chairs Hoffman and Kevin McGrath, an associate of the Department of South Asian Studies and Lowell’s poet-in-residence, the Society meets every Tuesday during the term at 6:30 in the evening in Lowell’s Senior Common Room to read and discuss poetry. McGrath spoke to the reading’s audience about the historic group’s continuing relevance. “It’s wonderful to realize that poetry is not marginalized and lost in this postmodern world,” he said. “It’s very alive in individual lives.”
The reading largely attracted affiliates of Lowell House. Tyler T. Jankauskas ’16, who attends Poemical Society meetings and who recited James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” says that the event takes much of its character from the Lowell community. “Because it’s a house and you know everyone, it’s interesting to see what kind of poems people pick, because it reflects their personality or something they’d like to say with someone else’s words,” he says.
House Master Diana L. Eck, who recited and translated two Sanskrit verses, spoke to the group gathered for the reading about the event’s place within the community. “House life and our life together should speak to every season of the soul: joy and sadness and inspiration,” she said.
Hoffman also spoke to the group about the reading’s connection to the Lowell community. “Why this event makes me so happy is hearing and looking at so many people I care about in one room,” he said.
While the event was undeniably centered around the Lowell community, it was open to all students and attracted a few student readers from other houses. Among them was Kirkland resident Isaac C. Dayno ’15, who met Hoffman when he served as Kirkland’s acting resident dean last semester. Dayno, who recited e.e. cummings’s “somewhere I have travelled, gladly beyond,” said that events such as the Lowell reading are an important part of the arts scene on campus. “There’s a lot to be said to be said for these wonderful, kind of impromptu spaces for art that we create at Harvard, that don’t necessarily have to come from the Office for the Arts...or from a classroom,” he says. “When they take place in the spaces we live in every day, I think that’s something really special. I don’t think that we really interact with that much poetry on a day-to-day level, and it just seems neat that we’ll take some time to do this together.”
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