February 2, 2004

Carpenter opens week of events

By Eric Rangus

Emory’s weeklong Charter Celebration began with a poetry reading by Charles Howard Candler Professor of English Lucas Carpenter, Monday, Jan. 26, in the Dobbs Center’s Winship Ballroom.

In “A Few Poems for Now,” Carpenter, the University’s 2003 Scholar-Teacher Award winner, gave a brief address then read 10 poems, several of them from his most recent published work, ‘Perils of the Affect’ and Other Poems (2002, Mellen Poetry Press).

“When I agreed to speak on Charter Day, I, of course, then had to find something to say,” Carpenter began, first making wry political statements, then riffing on the trips to Ecuador he takes with Oxford students as part of a class he team-teaches with sociology Professor Mike McQuaide.

“Then it occurred to me that several of my poems might not have been written were it not for Emory,” Carpenter said. It was that theme—of Emory experiences and travel related to the University—that formed the center of Carpenter’s reading.

“Commencement” was a subtly humorous look at every University’s annual year-end student send-off. “The religion professor in recovery/says he’s honored/by the teaching-service award/most of his colleagues/will eventually receive/if they live long enough.”

The passage is made only funnier by the fact Carpenter, an Oxford professor, has won most every teaching award Emory offers, some of them more than once.

“Fourth of July,” Carpenter said, was written after staying in a motel in Scottsbluff, Neb., on a cross-country trip with his family. “Interstateland where addresses are exits/and lodging is the result/of marketing research, giving us/what we should want: two double beds/nightstand, bathroom, bureau, table-desk/two chairs, two trashcans, three/sources of light, the centerpiece/a color TV with bedside remote control,/both bolted down to encourage morality.”

Travel images were common as Carpenter chose to read three poems he wrote after visiting England, and others about visits to France and Luxembourg. He closed with “To the Whitby Women’s Walking Club,” written after ascending Mt. Helvellyn in England with McQuaide and his wife. The title club was a group of English women who were making much better time up the mountain than the author.

“…But I had miscalculated/(in the numerology of blind soothsaying),/thinking that because Wordsworth and Scott/climbed it/when both were in their seventies and without/things/made of nylon and Velcro, surely my comparable/youth/and idealized ambition would carry me to the top./Never mind,” he read.

Carpenter’s reading, which took place at 4 p.m. on a cold, rainy afternoon, was the first event of the new Charter Celebration—the annual Charter Day banquet was the same evening. Planners thought it would be appropriate for the current Scholar-Teacher to deliver the celebration’s first presentation. As a poet, it was only natural that Carpenter’s lecture be a reading.