Marilyn Nelson Presents Wolf Lecture

April 13, 2010

Poet Laureate Marilyn Nelson presented the Eleanor Mincks Wolf Lecture April 2 at Mount Union College.

In honor of the NCAA Men's Basketball Finals, Nelson opened with a poem called 'Slam, Dunk, and Hook' from the book Magic City by Yusef Komunyakaa.

Following a brief introduction, Nelson read selected poems from her upcoming book The Freedom Business, which is due out next spring. The Freedom Business is based on A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa.

Venture Smith was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a young boy. He purchased his freedom while in his thirties. After working to save money, he purchased the freedom of his wife, four daughters and a few other slaves.

The poems read by Nelson about Smith's life were 'Witness,' 'Pestilence,' 'Farmed Garden' and 'December Moon Rise,' which is an imitation of Robert Frost's 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.' Nelson said the sonnets in this book are not of typical form.

'In this book, I tried to write sonnets somewhat backwards because the form needed to reflect the pain,' Nelson said.

Other poems recited were from her book Fortune's Bones. This collection is about a slave named Fortune whose bones became famous for documenting his life.

The first poem, 'Dinah's Lament,' is written in the voice of Dinah, Fortune's wife who spent the rest of her life in slavery after Fortune passed away. The poem, 'On Abrigador Hill,' is written in the voice of Dr. Porter, Fortune's owner and 'Not My Bones' is in the voice of Fortune himself.

The last few poems Nelson recited were 'Epithalamium and Chiverie,' 'Minor Miracle' and 'The Cachoeria Tales.' 'Minor Miracles,' which has been in many anthologies, is based on a piece in Nelson's life that she never considered to be a poem at first. 'My friends asked me if I wrote a poem about it because it sounded like it should be a poem,' Nelson said.

'The Cachoeria Tales' was written imitating Geoffery Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales.' 'I don't know how Chaucer wrote such tales,' Nelson said. 'Mine are more anecdotes than tales.'

After the lecture, Nelson held a book signing and answered questions.

Born in Cleveland in 1946, Nelson earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of California-Davis, a master of arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota.

Nelson has earned over 15 awards, honors and grants since 1976 for her published works and has written many books including 'Magnificat' in 1995 and 'Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem' in 2005. She was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2001, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the PEN Winship Award. Her poetry collection for The Fields of Praise won the 1998 Poet's Prize. Nelson has also written two collections of poetry for children.

Nelson received the honor of being named Poet Laureate for the State of Connecticut in 2001. Nelson was recommended to the Connecticut Commission on the Arts by a panel of five literary professionals who considered several dozen nominations of poets submitted by the public. She served her five-year term in the honorary position, which was created by the General Assembly to recognize a Connecticut poet of the highest distinction.

The Eleanor Mincks Wolf Lecture was established by John L. Wolf of Medina in memory of his wife Eleanor. A 1939 graduate of Mount Union College, she was a former teacher of English and Latin in Richfield and Highland school districts. The Wolf Lecture is free and open to the public.

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