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

Monday, April 2nd: USF President, Judy Genshaft

Dr. Judy Genshaft has been President of USF since 2000, after previously serving as Provost at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She holds a doctorate in counseling psychology from Kent State. She chose "The Moment" by Margaret Atwood.

I respond to poetry more on an emotional, rather than an intellectual basis. For me, "The Moment" is a poem of humility. It says to “keep your perspective.” No matter your position or your title, or how hard you work, you must always remember that the world is large and many accomplishments are transitory in the great scheme of things. This poem also reflects the power of nature, and how you have to keep in mind the universe around us, and not take it for granted.

The Moment, by Margaret Atwood (b. 1939)

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.


Lisen to Margaret Atwood read the poem.

Tuesday, April 3rd: Khalid Hassouneh

Khalid Hassouneh is USF Student Government Senate President, and a Senior majoring in Economics with a minor in Public Health. He expects to graduate in December and pursue a master’s degree in economics. He chose “When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer” by Walt Whitman.

The reason I choose this poem as a favorite is because it highlights the importance of real life educational experiences. It challenges us to question things on our own, to escape the confines of theory and expand our horizons beyond the limited classroom. I personally agree with the author's conclusion that an individual's thirst for knowledge can only really be satisfied through experience. After all, life is the greatest classroom and it is but a series of lessons learned.

When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer, by Walt Whitman (1819–1892)

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Listen to one of many readings of this poems.

Wednesday, April 4th: CAS Dean, Eric Eisenberg

Eric Eisenberg is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Professor in the Department of Communication. He earned his doctorate at Michigan State University, and came to USF in 1993. He chose “Out Beyond Ideas,” by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi.

I was a poetry major for a while in college and have loved poetry my whole life. While I enjoy all of the great poets, I am especially moved by attempts to express the unexpressable, to use language to point to the real and important connections among people that cannot be put into words. I find the thought of these connections a fitting counterpoint to the polarizing quality of contemporary discourse.

Out Beyond Ideas, by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.

Watch Coleman Barks perform "Out Beyond Ideas"

Thursday, April 5th: Dr. Cheryl Rodriguez

Cheryl Rodriguez is Associate Professor and Chair of Africana Studies at USF, Director of the Institute for Black Life, and a member of the Humanities Institute Advisory Board. Her Ph.D. is from USF; her work focuses on poverty and urban development, among other themes. She recently started working with colleagues in Ghana. She chose "The Women," by Alice Walker.

This poem is a part of a powerful essay, entitled “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”. In the essay, Alice Walker writes about the pain of unexplored creativity. In particular, she tries to understand the depths of the “numb and bleeding madness..” of Black women whose creativity is silenced by overburdened and work-worn lives. Of these women, Walker writes, “They waited for a day when the unknown thing that was in them would be made known…” The poem is also about the sacrifices these women made for the next generation whom they knew must be free.

I see many familiar images from my childhood in this poem. The most vivid image is that of my grandmother, a very proud and dignified woman who cleaned houses during the day and tended her beautiful flower garden every evening. She taught me the names of all the flowers and plants that grew in her yard. Sitting beside her on a cement step, I learned about the serenity and artistry of gardening. My grandmother lived most of her life in the Jim Crow south but she would not be robbed of her gentle spirit. She had a fifth grade education but she dared to dream that her grandchildren would all go to college. When she died at the age of 93, most of us had done that and more, always remembering what she had endured for us.

The Women, by Alice Walker (b. 1944)

They were women then
My mama’s generation
Husky of voice—Stout of
With fists as well as
How they battered down
And ironed
Starched white
How they led
Headragged Generals
Across mined
To discover books
A place for us
How they knew what we
Must know
Without knowing a page
Of it

Friday, April 6th: Dr. Pritish Mukherjee

Pritish Mukherjee is Professor and Chair of Physics at USF. His Ph.D. is from the State University of New York, Buffalo, and his research focuses on solid state and materials physics, picosecond lasers and applications, and laser-assisted materials processing. He chose "Revelation," by William Soutar.

As scientists we seek absolute truths that are unchanged in space and time, and whose discoveries by particular humans are historical happenstance. These truths abound without the necessity for human existence, but their discoveries transform us. Poetry, like other art and music, allows us to look within and find ourselves. The arts and the sciences thus complement each other. Together, they make us whole. Each poem owes its existence to a unique individual, but as in science, the most remarkable revelations are often universal and transformational.

During the India-Pakistan wars, as a little child, I have a vivid recollection of hiding apprehensively in the dark of “black-outs” in Delhi after multiple air-raid sirens. I remember hearing planes in the air and wondering whether it was one of “them” ready to bomb us, or one of “ours” intercepting them in the darkness of night. Fortunately, we were never bombed – but I remember the fear, and I know that for many others it was all too real. Shortly thereafter, my English teacher introduced me to this poem written, I believe, by William Soutar, a leading poet of the Scottish literary renaissance in the early to mid-20th century. Soutar is known to have said: “My life's purpose is to write poetry — but behind the poetry must be the vision of a fresh revelation for men.” This poem made an impression on me then, and I remember it still.

Revelation, by William Soutar (1898-1943)

Machines of death from East to West
Drone through the darkened sky;
Machines of death from West to East
Through the same darkness fly

They pass; and on the foredoomed towns
Loosen their slaughtering load;
They see no faces in the stone;
They hear no cries of blood

They leave a ruin; and they meet
A ruin on return;
The mourners on the alien street
At their own doorways mourn.

Saturday, April 7th: Dr. Bob Sullins

Bob Sullins is Dean for Undergraduate Studies at USF. His doctorate is from the University of Florida, and his research covers topics such as college and university organization, administration, governance and curriculum; advising and retention; faculty and staff development; planning and institutional effectiveness. He chose “No Man is an Island,” by John Donne.

I have a number of favorite poems, most of which I remember from studies in high school with the “world’s best English teachers” in the 11th and 12th grade. The poems that remain most close in my memories and my everyday thoughts are those that are most inspiring, including “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley and “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. But my choice is a poem that is most important today as we think of ourselves as global citizens with clear responsibilities to work to make the world a better place for others.

No Man is an Island, by John Donne (1572-1631)

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Listen to a reading of this poem.