"Clearing the Sill of the World," the 28th annual Key West Literary Seminar, was an extraordinary event. Seven U.S. Poets Laureate joined as many winners of the Pulitzer Prize, along with up-and-coming poetic talents and a truly remarkable audience of readers, writers, teachers, and poetry lovers of all stripe. Unseasonal rain and record low (sub-50°!) temperatures kept everyone away from the beach but it was just as well. This was an event you didn’t want to miss a moment of. Some highlights:
Pulitzer Prize winners James Tate and Yusef Komunyakaa, along with Rita Dove, Maxine Kumin, and Robert Pinsky, took part in a panel discussion on Saturday morning entitled “A Poet’s View: My Life in Poetry.”
Tate and Komunyakaa had each other and the house laughing, as they discussed the perils of identifying one’s self as a poet.
Komunyakaa: “Gender plays a part in it. You get these weird looks from other guys, you know, ‘You write poetry!?’"
Tate: “I got to a certain point in life where I finally just said, ‘Yeah, why not? I’m a poet.”
New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon delivered a lecture and reading on the subject of "The Borderline." The moving account touched on Muldoon’s boyhood in divided Ireland, the plight of a troubled schoolmate-turned-soldier, and Muldoon’s appreciation for poetry that brings one up to and across borders.
On Sunday morning, Erica Dawson read a number of poems from her Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize-winning debut collection, Big-Eyed Afraid.
Fellow Poets Laureate Mark Strand and Richard Wilbur discussed the art of translation on Saturday afternoon with Rachel Hadas, Rhina Espaillat, and Robert Casper.
This year’s named scholarships went to (from left to right), fiction writer Andrew Alexander, poet George Green, and poet Will Dowd.
A highlight for many in the audience was former Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin’s "The Long Approach." The Sunday-morning lecture recounted the trials she and other women writers faced early in her career, explored the influences behind her long career as a formalist poet, and expounded on the joys of a life raising horses on a farm in New Hampshire.
Three-time Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky delivered Thursday night’s keynote address, given each year in honor of noted novelist and World War II correspondent John Hersey.
Saturday afternoon saw Harvey Shapiro reading from his body of work, and talking about his poetic upbringing alongside the likes of George Oppen and Louis Zukofsky.
Todd Boss moderated a number of panels, led a writers’ workshop, and read a selection of his work on Sunday.
Billy Collins gave a stellar early Saturday-morning reading of old favorites and unpublished work, including a new piece tentatively titled "The Hangover."
Kirby Congdon talked about his life and work.
Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey read movingly from her work on Saturday, and participated in the final panel Sunday afternoon
Rita Dove’s stunning "How Does a Shadow Shine" weaved several poems from her latest Sonata Mulattica together with accounts of the real life of its protagonist, the 18th-century black violin prodigy George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower.
Photos by Sharon McGauley.
Thanks to Bonnie Obremski for the quotes from Tate and Komunyakaa.