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IAP series opens book on poetry

Now in its ninth consecutive season, the IAP series called Pleasures of Poetry offers a varied literary feast this year, with poetry by classic figures such as Milton, Keats and Tennyson, a sampling of Vietnamese poetry, contemporary work by John Ashbery and Jack Gilbert, biblical songs of liberation and the Kaddish for reading and discussion.

Literature Professor David Thorburn, director of the MIT Communications Forum, is the series founder and organizer.

"I'm always surprised and inspired by the diversity and aesthetic energy of the poems our moderators choose. We're all volunteers, and each discussion leader selects poems that are personal favorites. This year the range of contemporary poetry is especially notable, but there is also a good selection of canonical English poems, as well as several provocative, unexpected texts. Our audiences are always a wonderful mix of students, faculty and staff from all parts of the Institute. I love the core message this activity sends every January: Poetry thrives at MIT," Thorburn said.

Mary Fuller, associate professor of literature, will open the series on Jan. 9 with a reading and discussion of the first 75 lines of "Paradise Lost" by John Milton.

Noting with enthusiasm the "density of Milton's style and the rigor of his thinking," Fuller said of her selection, "Behind the fall of humanity from paradise, Milton finds a cause in the prior fall of Satan and by line 75 we are within Satan's mind, looking out at hell."

Who could resist?

The poetry series meets weekdays throughout IAP for one-hour sessions. All are free and open to the public; they are held in Room 14E-304 from 1 to 2 p.m. through Feb. 3.

In the first week of IAP, Fuller's session on Milton will be followed by sessions led by literature faculty Howard Eiland, on John Keats's "Ode to Melancholy" (Jan. 10); Stephen Tapscott, on works by Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop (Jan. 11); Wyn Kelley on Aphra Behn and Jonathan Swift (Jan. 12); and James Buzard leading a session on Alfred Lord Tennyson's poems, "Ulysses" and "Tithonus" (Jan. 13).

Literature faculty set to moderate other sessions include Thorburn on works by Linda Gregerson (Jan. 20); John Hildebidle on Billy Collins (Jan. 24); Anthony Lioi on Galway Kinnell (Jan. 26), and James Cain on Italian sonnets (Feb. 2).

For more information or to receive a packet of the poems, please e-mail Julie Saunders at

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 21, 2005 (download PDF).

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