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Faculty Highlights - Steve Evans, Carla Billitteri, Benjamin Friedlander and Jennifer Moxley

Carla Billitteri

As an undergraduate in Italy, Carla Billitteri knew all about the National Poetry Foundation. She was studying 20th-century American and European poetics, and many of her critical sources were books published by NPF.

“If you do poetry or poetics, this is a place you want to be,” says Billitteri, a scholar, critic and translator of contemporary Italian poetry. Her most recent book, Language and the Renewal of Society in Walt Whitman, Laura (Riding) Jackson, and Charles Olson, was chosen as the inaugural text for a new series on modern and contemporary poetry and poetics.

Billitteri first came to UMaine for NPF conferences, then in 2001 as a professor. She not only found a community of like-minded academics, she found students who were eager to find their place in this avant-garde poetry tradition, much as she had years ago.

“The cultural legacy I’m carrying on is more of an attention to the place of poetry in cultural production, attention to the critical and historical discourse of poetry, attention to the work of rethinking the literary canon,” says Billitteri.

“Poetry has an immediate impact — on the psyche, on the ears, on the eyes.”

Billitteri and her colleagues have their eyes on the early 21st century, much as their predecessors looked to the early 20th century. They strive to find — and celebrate — the next H.D., Ezra Pound or William Carlos Williams.

“There is an incredible wealth of ideas, figures and poetic practices in the history of American poetry, but most of it is still not very well known,” she says. “Part of the legacy of the NPF is constantly revisiting our sense of the canon as it pertains to 20th-century American poetry. Constantly asking why is this poet not there — or not ‘visible’ — yet. We feel at this point it is our duty to be proactive.”

Originally published in UMaine Today Magazine, Fall 2009

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