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>  News Releases >   2003 >   April

Poets and poetry thriving at Dartmouth

Posted 04/07/03, by Doug Wilhelm


Next generation poets (L-R) Nancy Lai, Bill Carty, and Nomi Stone, all '03s
(photo by Joe Mehling '69)

Poets are individuals-iconoclasts, notes poet Cynthia Huntington, professor of English and this year's chair of the department's creative writing program. In its 21st year on campus, the program is thriving, with course waitlists common and poetry-reading series spilling out of their spaces. Many who study writing at Dartmouth come from other majors, but each year the College's five creative-writing professors also nurture some serious young poets. And, as individuals immersed in an often mysterious process, these different poets work in their own personal ways.

Nomi Stone '03, for example, takes the time to make notes and take things in-then poems come through her in a rush to the page. That happened last December when she found impressions and emotions from an internship in NYC and study abroad in Morocco pouring into new poems-about 40 in two weeks-which she is now shaping into her senior project.

"I want to publish it. I want it to be a book," she says of the collection. "I'm not going to do that until it's ready, but it will be ready by the end of the year."

Bill Carty '03 tends to draw from his time growing up in a quiet little coastal town in Maine. But his writing is sparked by reading other poets. "I'll often come across something that gets me going-a word or a phrase or an emotion," he says. "I'll read for an hour or so before I really start to write."

"There are people who come here because they know we have a strong creative writing program."

-Cleopatra Mathis

For her senior project, Nancy Lai '03, who came to this country from Taiwan as a little girl, has pushed beyond her own experience. She's been digging up source material about people whose struggles and losses are all but forgotten by history, and striving to write in their voices. Lai has poems now about gay victims of the Holocaust, African mothers working from dark to dark, and female Chinese immigrants to California in the 1880s.

"I feel like speaking for these people through my poetry," Lai explains. "I guess it centers on the fact that I am a woman of color, and issues of justice are really important to me."

To concentrate in creative writing at Dartmouth, a student must fulfill the requirements for an English major and take about four additional writing courses. "So it's almost an honors situation," says professor of English Cleopatra Mathis, who came to campus to start the creative writing program in 1982.

Still, the program doesn't lack for writers, and Mathis says she sees a growing diversity in their backgrounds. "We now have some really wonderful Asian and Native American writers. There are people who come here because they know we have a strong creative writing program," she says.

Nomi Stone was already submitting her poetry to journals and magazines in high school. When she told one editor she'd been accepted at Dartmouth, he advised her to "knock on Cleopatra's door. Tell her I sent you."

She did-the first week she was here-and Mathis has become a mentor. "Whenever I wasn't taking a class, I was bringing her my work," says Stone, who became poetry editor and editor-in-chief of The Stonefence Review, the College literary and art magazine.

As is common among those who study writing at Dartmouth, Stone, Carty, and Lai are looking in different directions for the future. Stone is a French major who hopes to be a journalist. Carty is an English major with a creative writing concentration; he wants to explore some options before deciding on a career. Lai, a dual major in writing and studio art, hopes to earn a master's degree in teaching.

Although poetry may not be a lucrative endeavor for many, those who find a way to stick with it may someday experience the very deep thrill of having their own published book.

"Suddenly, it's something that you hold in your hands," says Huntington, who last winter was waiting for her fourth book, The Radiant, to arrive from the University Press of New England. "You never get over the excitement of that."

- Doug Wilhelm

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