Emory Report
April 3, 2006
Volume 58, Number 25


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April 3, 2006
Wit author’s lecture random, but not senseless

BY Stacey jones

Although she has received the Pulitzer Prize and many other accolades, Margaret Edson is not interested in writing another play. She is, however, interested in “jails, boxes, dungeons, balls, chains, leashes and extra large ideas in extremely small spaces.”

The author of Wit, later made into an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning HBO film, entertained an overflow crowd with her Women’s History Month keynote lecture, titled “Random, Senseless Acts” and held March 29 in Cannon Chapel, with recitations of sonnets (of her own and others’ making) and evocations of popular culture, ranging from Shakespeare to Drumline.

In fact, Drumline, a 2002 movie about college marching bands, provided Edson with her most amusing routine. At the movie’s end, the dueling bands exchange a series of oneupsman-like riffs that culminate in a drummer dropping his stick as if to say, “We’re done. There’s nothing left to do.”

Edson unleashed a series of “drumsticks” (namely, pens), reaching her long arms into her pants pocket and dropping them one by one on the floor as she progressed through her talk, which gave an interesting peek into a mind from which very complicated ideas flow in spare but compelling language.

Perhaps that’s because in her day job, Edson is a kindergarten teacher at Atlanta’s John Hope Elementary and has become accustomed to expressing big ideas in small, carefully chosen words. She wrote Wit after a series of post-college jobs. And, more than 11 years after the play’s acclaimed debut, she has stuck to her original promise not to write another.

Although Edson’s Emory audience might have expected it, she didn’t talk directly about Wit until asked. Instead she first read and spoke about a sonnet she’d written (in Italian) some 20 years ago, which took a year to complete. “The gift of the sonnet to world literature is that it’s ... a way of walking around something, of seeing all four sides,” she said.

With her arms elegantly swooping and dipping like the birds she unleashed in her long-ago sonnet, Edson said that poetry form, when she first tried to tackle it, felt like a prison. But then she discovered that “walking on a tightrope isn’t that difficult if you let your rope fall to the ground.” Mounting the untitled poems about which she spoke on placards, at times she balanced precariously on one long leg, at others she whirled across the Cannon Chapel floor to make her point.

She read a poem by Louise Bogan, poetry editor for The New Yorker from 1931–1969. Bogan wrote the poem while hospitalized for depression. Edson said Bogan made “a brave choice,” for a woman who’d “gone crazy, screaming,” to write in the sonnet form. Life, said Edson, is all about the boxes we all find ourselves in, but also about “negotiating parameters through which to express ourselves as truly as we can within the confines of the box.” Edson said she is interested in poetry just like Bogan’s: “Poetry that walks right up the edge of the box.”

Edson’s appearance also served as the ninth annual Jessica Glasser Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Center for Women and the Department of Women’s Studies.