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Poetry readings celebrate the Near East and New York

New York book cover
 

“Poetry & Pastry: an elegant soiree of Near Eastern & New York Poetry" on April 16 at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art will form part of a Cornell sesquicentennial celebration during National Poetry Month.

It will combine literature, art, pastry and a launch of “The City That Never Sleeps: Poems of New York” (SUNY Press, 2015). The event will feature readings of poems in the anthology, poems read in their original Near Eastern languages by students, staff and faculty, poems by Cornell poets, and readings by two invited guest poets, Iman Mersal and Anne Pierson Wiese. Attendees are invited to honor Cornell’s sesquicentennial by dressing in elegant evening attire; the 5 to 8 p.m. event is free and open to the public.

“The City That Never Sleeps,” edited by Shawkat Toorawa, associate professor of Arabic literature in the department of Near Eastern studies, College of Arts and Sciences, was inspired by “New York, Paris, Baghdad: Poetry of the City,” a seminar he taught in 2010.

Students created their own anthology of New York poetry for the class, which Toorawa then turned into the 2011 "New York, New York… It’s a Hell of a Town" Johnson Museum installation, in which each poem was displayed side by side with artwork selected from the museum's collections. The installation will be rehung for the “Poetry & Pastry” event and will be on display April 16-26.

Toorawa’s poetry anthology showcases not only New York poems, but also Cornell’s rich poetic life. Participant Meredith Shepard ‘11 was a student in Toorawa’s seminar in 2010; Luis Cabalquinto was a student of legendary Cornell professor and poet A.R. Ammons; Kenneth McClane is W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Literature Emeritus and was also a student of Ammons; Valzhyna Mort teaches in Cornell’s Creative Writing Program. Translators of the many international poets in the anthology include Toorawa and Professor of Linguistics Wayles Brown.

As Toorawa writes in the introduction, his goal for “The City That Never Sleeps” is for its poems to interact aesthetically just as the poems and paintings and photographs in the museum installation did. To that end, he organized the collection in four sections, following a New York day: Morning, Day, Evening and Night.

“The collection is greater than the sum of its parts,” says Toorawa, “and the parts are pretty amazing.”

The book’s cover art, by Philip Lawrence Sherrod, is from the Johnson Museum’s collections, as are three of the book’s five inside illustrations.

In honor of the event and of National Poetry Month, the Cornell Store will carry collections of many of the poets featured in “The City That Never Sleeps,” as well as collections by Cornell and Ithaca poets.

“Poetry & Pastry” is co-sponsored by the Department of Near Eastern Studies and the Johnson Museum and is receiving support from the Society for the Humanities and the Creative Writing Program.

Linda B. Glaser is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Joe Schwartz