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Pictured is a woman holding open a poetry book. After a two-year hiatus, the Wallace Stevens Poetry Program’s poetry reading with D.A. Powell happened on March 31st via Zoom. Photo courtesy of Ena Marinkovic

Returning after a two-year hiatus, the Wallace Stevens Poetry Program’s first reading was held via Zoom on March 31. 

First beginning in 1964, the program was named for local modernist poet Wallace Stevens who spent many years working at The Hartford.  

Each year, two poetry contests are held: one for high school students participating in UConn’s ECE program, and another for students at the university. Winners are recognized at the program’s readings while a renowned poet is brought in to share their own work and engage with students.  

“IT’S HARD TO FIND ANYTHING LIKE THE WALLACE STEVENS POETRY PROGRAM IN THIS COUNTRY…IT HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR LONGER THAN I’VE BEEN ALIVE, THIS PROJECT OF INVITING ONE GREAT POET TO UCONN EACH SPRING. WHEN I LOOK AT THE LIST OF POETS WHO HAVE COME HERE THROUGH THE YEARS, I SHAKE MY HEAD IN WONDER.

Darcie Dennigan

The contest received 198 submissions this year; UConn student Rylee Thomas placed first for her piece “Electrified in Water,” Lauren Young second for “Tonight, in the Northeast” and Sophie Archambault third for “Selective Memory.” 

“It’s hard to find anything like the Wallace Stevens Poetry Program in this country… It has been going on for longer than I’ve been alive, this project of inviting one great poet to UConn each spring. When I look at the list of poets who have come here through the years, I shake my head in wonder,” said Darcie Dennigan, program committee member and associate professor of English at UConn.  

In the past, the Wallace Stevens Poetry Program has hosted Allen Ginsberg, Claudia Rankine and Elizabeth Bishop, just to name a few.  

Adrienne Rich visited UConn a year after winning the National Book Award, having refused to accept it on her own. Instead, she brought Alice Walker and Audre Lorde to the stage, where the three of them accepted the prize on behalf of writers “whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world.”  

“To have that kind of poet and her energy here at UConn must have been no small thing in 1975. Each year when I listen to the Wallace Stevens poet, I know that I am listening to the history and future of poetry,” Dennigan continued.  

“WE ESCAPE OUR PTSD LEAST WHEN WE TRY TO EVADE PTSD. WITH POWELL’S POETRY, THERE IS NO EVASION.”

Thomas Long

This year, UConn welcomed esteemed American poet D.A. Powell, author of several books including “Useless Landscapes or a Guide for Boys.” 

Professor-in-Residence Thomas Long introduced the poet, commending Powell for his work, especially in regards to the AIDS epidemic.  

“We escape our PTSD least when we try to evade PTSD. With Powell’s poetry, there is no evasion,” Long said.  

Long ended his speech with a brief rendition of “Someday My Prince Will Come,” blowing a kiss at the poet.  

Powell shared several of his poems, all of which were simultaneously presented by ASL interpreters. Much of his work was inspired by his identity, nature and life in California. He also cited his past in theater as having significantly shaped his writing — teaching him how to be open and vulnerable.  

“I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT THE CREATION AS WE LIVE AND EXPERIENCE IT, AND I FEEL THAT THE GREATEST GIFT THAT WE HAVE IS LOVE. AND IF WE CELEBRATE IT, ALL ELSE IS SECONDARY.”

D.A. Powell

“I am passionate about the creation as we live and experience it, and I feel that the greatest gift that we have is love. And if we celebrate it, all else is secondary,” Powell explained. 

After his readings, the program opened up to take questions from the audience.  

In response to a question about his expansive vocabulary, Powell said, “I would flip through the dictionary looking for words I didn’t know and would collect them. It’s fascinating to me that there is a word for nearly anything, and if there isn’t you can make one up.” 

When asked to recommend up-and-coming poets, Powell pointed toward A.A. Vincent and Devon Walker-Figueroa.  

In their work “Person, Perceived Girl,” Vincent discusses queer identity and gender nonconformity, along with their experience as a Black child with White parents.  

Walker-Figueroa’s book “Philomath” tackles life in rural America and other topics including fertility and grief.  

The Wallace Stevens Poetry Program’s second reading, traditionally held in Hartford, will be conducted virtually on Tuesday, April 5. For more information about the program, visit their website.  

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