Poet shares “Partial History of My Stupidity” and other works at Wick reading

Anna Duszkiewicz

Two students sat alone in the back of the auditorium in Chattanooga, Tenn., waiting for the renowned poet to begin his reading.

The rest of the audience sat up front.

The poet Edward Hirsch remembered he was getting ready for his reading when he noticed the students and found out they were there to get extra credit for a class.

When Hirsch asked them why they were sitting all the way in the back, he said one of them replied, “Oh, when this guy (Hirsch) starts, we’re going to sneak out.”

For this reason, Hirsch said jokingly that he wanted the audience of about 100 people at his reading at the Kiva last night to sit toward the front.

Hirsch, the author of seven books of poetry, continued joking throughout his reading and discussion of various poems.

“Because this is a college campus, I didn’t fill this with vodka as usual,” Hirsch said as he took a few sips from a bottle of Dasani between poems.

One of the poems he read, “Partial History of My Stupidity,” was inspired by a poem written by Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz in which the author said the history of his stupidity would fill many volumes.

“I could relate to that,” Hirsch said. “But it seems impossible to write all of that. I wrote like volume three, chapter five,” he said, describing the poem.

Another poem, “Man Without a Face,” described a man who was a stranger to himself.

When Hirsch finished reading it, a member of the audience left.

“Everytime I read that poem someone always leaves,” Hirsch said.

The reading was co-sponsored by the Wick Poetry Center and the Jewish Studies program.

Maggie Anderson, director of the Wick Poetry Center, introduced Hirsch before his reading, emphasizing the impact his poetry has had on her.

“His work has been on my ‘read often and carefully’ shelf, a small group of books I set aside for poetic and spiritual inspiration,” Anderson said.

Earlier in the afternoon, Hirsch read poems about the Holocaust written by various Jewish authors, himself included, to a group of about 50 people in the Wick Poetry Corner on the second floor of the University Library.

In addition to his works of poetry, Hirsch has also written various prose books, including his national bestseller How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry.

He is the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as a MacArthur fellowship.

Anderson said Hirsch has read, memorized, digested and written thousands of poems.

“He’s a man with a brain like a branch library,” she said.

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Anna Duszkiewicz at [email protected].