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USF Home > College of Arts and Sciences > Humanities Institute - Poetry Month

Sunday, April 22nd: USF System Senior Vice President for Global Affairs and International Research, Dr. Karen Holbrook

Karen Holbrook is USF System Senior Vice President for Global Affairs and International Research, and is a Professor of Molecular Medicine. She came to USF after serving as president of The Ohio State University, and has also held positions at the University of Florida and University of Washington, School of Medicine. She chose “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley.

I like it because of the conclusion. So often we think that others chart our course, and in many ways they do, but in the end you are the only person who can make the decisions for the outcome of your life.

Invictus,by William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1902)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Listen to a reading of this poem.

Monday, April 23rd: Former Mayor of Tampa and USF Alumna, Pam Iorio

Pam Iorio was Mayor of Tampa from 2003-11, and is a proud alumna of USF, graduating with a Master’s Degree in History in 2001. As Mayor, she developed a reputation as a consensus builder, respected by people from all political backgrounds. Her successes included re-energizing downtown Tampa, working to make Tampa a major arts center, and significantly reducing major crimes. She chose “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost.

My favorite poet is Robert Frost and this poem I like the best. It reminds me of the importance of each day, to think of our time here on Earth as a gift that should be meaningful; that death and life are not so very far apart.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Listen to a reading of this poem.

Tuesday, April 24th: Dr. Brian Connolly

Brian Connolly is Assistant Professor in History, and a member of the Humanities Institute Faculty Advisory Board. His Ph.D. is from Rutgers University, and he teaches courses on the nineteenth-century United States, history of sexuality, sentimentalism and families, and U.S. literary history. His research interests include historiography, and he is completing a book on incest and liberalism in the nineteenth-century United States. He chose “I sing the Body Electric,” by Walt Whitman.

In choosing a favorite poem, I find myself thinking about what speaks to me, aesthetically and politically, right now. And in a moment when tired and trite political discourse lacks any imagination, when we are told, in fits of repetition that tell us more than was intended, that the humanities are irrelevant, that the future is tied to the most quotidian and banal visions, I find the aesthetic democracy that Walt Whitman professed as one of the great resources for a political praxis of the future. While this may come off as overly academic, it is precisely the passionate embodiment of the quotidian in Whitman’s poetry, the celebration of the everyday embodiment of democracy, that is precisely what is so powerful.

Of course, naming Whitman is easy; choosing one poem is the hard part. But for today I would go with “I Sing the Body Electric,” which in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass was without title. The opening lines evoke aesthetically evoke the passions of democracy: “The bodies of men and women engirth me, and I engirth/them/They will not let me off nor I them till I go with them and/respond to them and love them.” If this is not a vision of democracy that speaks to us now, then I don’t know what is. The democracy as undifferentiated mass, this opening infuses the democratic mass with an erotic drive, an impassioned embodiment that is all too often excluded in contemporary debates that ask us to move so-called cultural concerns to the side in favor of pressing economic matters.

And those lists, so common in Whitman’s poetry, could, even now, vivify an ailing democratic project. “The sprawl and fulness of babes…The swimmer naked in the swimmingbath…Framers bare-armed framing a house…The bending forward and backward of rowers in rowboats…Girls and mothers…The group of laborers…The female soothing a child…the wood man rapidly swinging his axe in the woods…The wrestle of wrestlers…The coats vests and caps thrown down… the embrace of love and resistance…The march of firemen…” It is in our particularities and abstractions, our lives and labors, that democracy lives for Whitman.

And finally, this compelling vision of what we might see as democratic life.
         I have perceived to be with those I like is enough,
         To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
         To be surrounded by beautiful curious breathing laughing
                flesh is enough,
         To pass among them…to touch any one….to rest my
                Arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment
                ….what is this then?
         I do not ask any more delight….I swim in it as a sea.

I could go on, but I won’t – just read the poem for yourself. Whitman says it better than I ever could.

I Sing the Body Electric, by Walt Whitman (1819 -1892)

I sing the Body electric;
The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them;
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the
And if the body does not do as much as the Soul?
And if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?

The love of the Body of man or woman balks account--the body itself
balks account;
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.
Continue reading…

Wednesday, April 25th: Graduating Senior and Marshall Scholar, Jean Weatherwax

Jean Weatherwax is a USF senior who will be graduating this year with honors, with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a minor in music performance. She is USF’s first ever recipient of the prestigious Marshall Scholarship. Her curiosity and interest in research led her to participate in several undergraduate research experiences, including current research on bioelectronic neural prosthetics. She is a NASA MUST scholar and intern at Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion lab at Caltech, as well as Goldwater Scholar. As a Marshall Scholar, she will be attending Imperial College London in the Fall to pursue electrical engineering graduate studies. She chose “Days,” by Billy Collins.

I like this because sometimes in the rush of a busy life, we don't notice the passage of time. It is sometimes easier to look at things one day at a time, sometimes harder. Either way, it is always reassuring to remember that we are very small but precious little specks of life on a spinning blue marble in space, so tiny and yet sometimes so comically concerned with ourselves as our lifetimes pass so quickly. It is important to remember the passage of time. And of course, I love tea, and appreciate this metaphor.

Days, by Billy Collins (b. 1941)

Each one is a gift, no doubt,
mysteriously placed in your waking hand
or set upon your forehead
moments before you open your eyes.

Today begins cold and bright,
the ground heavy with snow
and the thick masonry of ice,
the sun glinting off the turrets of clouds.

Through the calm eye of the window
everything is in its place
but so precariously
this day might be resting somehow

on the one before it,
all the days of the past stacked high
like the impossible tower of dishes
entertainers used to build on stage.

No wonder you find yourself
perched on the top of a tall ladder
hoping to add one more.
Just another Wednesday

you whisper,
then holding your breath,
place this cup on yesterday's saucer
without the slightest clink.

Thursday, April 26th: Business leader and philanthropist, Carol Morsani

Carol and Frank Morsani are among the Tampa Bay region’s most prominent business leaders and philanthropists, who have donated millions of dollars to the community, especially in education, the arts, and healthcare. Most recently, they made a major donation to the USF College of Medicine, which now bears their name. Mrs. Morsani is a long-time supporter of humanities initiatives at USF; she chose “An Irish Blessing," by an unknown author.

I found this among my mother’s belongings after her passing. She was a wonderful mother. Taught my sister and I to be independent, work hard, strive for the best, be creative , be kind and giving, and I could go on and on. As you can tell I greatly admired her.

When it was not done, in early 1900's she left home to put herself through University, participated in the Women's Suffrage Movement, worked in the Department of the Navy in Washington D.C. She moved to where the work was, as the saying was: "Go west young man." She did so around 1925.

An Irish Blessing (Anonymous)

"May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back;

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again, May God hold

you in the palm of His hand."

Listen to a choral version of this poem.

Friday, April 27th: Chair of the Department of Women's and Gender Studies, Dr. Elizabeth Bell

Elizabeth Bell is Professor of Communication and Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies. Her Ph.D. is from the University of Texas, Austin, and she came to USF in 1988. Her research interests include performance studies, feminist theory and pedagogy. She enjoys cross-stitching historical samplers, replacing biblical verses with feminist slogans. She chose “the Bustle in a House,” by Emily Dickinson.

Alice Walker writes that poems should be “of use.” We should post them on our refrigerators, recall lines and phrases throughout the day, hear their echoes when we need them. When my father died on July 1, 1987, Emily Dickinson’s “The Bustle in a House” played over and over in my head.

And Dickinson is absolutely right about that morning: beat for beat, image for image.

The day after my father died, we straightened and dusted and swept, making the house presentable after a week in the Intensive Care waiting room. Our neighbors and friends appeared in a steady stream, bringing food and hugs and tears. The mundane “Bustle” of women’s domestic life—at once solemn and industrious that day—was preparation for greeting the living and living our lives without him.

Yet Dickinson also offers hope in that feminine domesticity, with the Heart swept up and Love put away, for a time when we might need them again. While I have no distinct belief in an afterlife, Dickinson’s prediction comforts me. I like to think there will be the need and the time to retrieve that Love and use it again.

The Bustle in a House, by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth—

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity.

Saturday, April 28th: Director of the USF Office of Sustainability, Dr. Christian Wells

Christian Wells is Director of the USF Office of Sustainability, and Associate Professor in Anthropology. His Ph.D. is from Arizona State University, and his research interests include applied archaeology, economic anthropology, theory of ritual economy, and the prehistory of Mesoamerica and Central America. He chose “One’s Self I Sing,” by Walt Whitman.

In high school and college, I read a lot of Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman, always interested in how these authors studied the human condition and our relationship with Nature. I like all of Whitman’s work, but this one—from my 1900 edition of Leaves of Grass—tidily sums up his views on freedom, equality, individuality, and the unity of body and mind.

One’s-Self I Sing, by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

One’s-Self I sing—a simple, separate Person;
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-masse.

Of Physiology from top to toe, I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse—I say
the Form complete is worthier far;
The Female equally with the male I sing.

Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful—for freest action form’d, under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.

Sunday, April 29th: Humanities Institute Director, Dr. Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Humanities Institute. Her Ph.D. is from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, and she has been at USF since 1996. Her research interests include media studies, collective memory, and cultural heritage, most currently in Nigeria. She chose “Adlestrop,” by Edward Thomas.

My first encounter with the poems of Edward Thomas was in high school in England, where he was required reading for my English “A-Level” (national exam taken for college entrance). I grew to love his work, and today his poems evoke a deep sense of the country I left years ago. “Adlestrop” is one of his best-known poems; for me, his spare, simple language lets me almost smell the scent of an English summer.

One of my earliest memories is of a journey by steam train from Scotland to England with my mother. As any middle child knows, time spent alone with a parent is a rare gift, and that memory has stayed fresh and precious. Thomas’s picture of the hissing steam train on the country station somehow reminds me of that trip, and of my mother, who has been dead for almost 30 years. She loved books, and enjoyed talking with my sister and me about what we were reading, both in and out of school. So for me, this poem captures a sense of place, of time, and of family.

Adlestrop, by Edward Thomas, 1878-1917

Yes, I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Listen to Richard Burton read this poem.

Monday, April 30th: Dr. Jay Hopler

Jay Hopler is associate professor of English at USF, and a key organizer for NPM@USF. Author of the award-winning book of poetry Green Squall, Hopler teaches courses in creative writing and poetry and is the 2010-2011 recipient of a Rome Fellowship in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters/the American Academy in Rome and the 2009 Whiting Writers’ Award. He chose “Pink Hydrangea,” by Rainer Maria Rilke.

In combat it’s known as “situational awareness,” and whether one has it or not often determines whether one lives or dies. On the playing field, it’s called “keeping your head in the game,” and it’s a skill more indicative of victory than is talent. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing—whether you’re running a company, trying a court case, writing a poem, painting a picture, operating machines on a shop floor, conducting experiments in a laboratory or treating patients in a hospital—nothing is more crucial to success than the ability to pay attention.

But paying attention is difficult. No one is born knowing how to do it; like rewiring a house or cutting a board to exactly the required length (not one millimeter too long or one millimeter too short), it’s a skill that must be learned and practiced. This is one of the reasons why the study of art of all kinds is important not only to those pursuing a liberal or a fine arts education, but also to those working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Paying attention is the artist’s stock in trade and the best place to learn the art of paying attention is in the creative writer’s classroom, the painter’s studio, the musician’s conservatory.

“Pink Hydrangea,” one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s most beautiful and accomplished Dinggedichte (object poems), is the result of the years the poet spent at the feet of Rodin and Cezanne learning how to see, not just look at, the world—the difference between looking and seeing, of course, being that looking is a passive endeavor that leads rarely to anything more than the superficial appreciation of a thing, while seeing is a transformative act that leads, ultimately, to mastery: of the observed thing, of the self, of the world. And while the ability to focus on something so intensely as to render meaningless the distance between the observer and the observed, the internal and the external, the self and the other, is perhaps an achievement to which most can only aspire, being more present in the world, in one’s own personal and professional life, is something that is well within everyone’s grasp. Paying attention, that’s the key. Poems like “Pink Hydrangea” show us how to do that.

Pink Hydrangea by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated from the German by Jay Hopler

Who knew this pink existed, that it clustered
in these umbels? Like gilded things
their golden layers lose, they shed their red
so gently, it is as if from use the color dims.
That for such pink they desire nothing.
Does it hover above them, laughing from the air?
Are there angels to receive it tenderly
when it passes on, selfless…essential?
Or maybe they just let it float upward
to its just reward, that it might not yet
ever know its withering. But beneath this pink
a green has heeded; it fades now and knows all.