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Alexander's poetry explores multiple voices


Bartos Theater, Thursday, December 7.

Part of the Poetry at

the Media Lab Series.


THE MIT POETRY AT THE MEDIA LAB Series concluded its fall schedule Thursday night with a recital by Pamela Alexander. The Media Lab, known more for its research than its involvement in the arts, has become the site of a formidable series of Thursday night poetry recitals. After a year in existence the series boasts a list of accomplished poets among its guest speakers.

Pamela Alexander's first book, Navigable Waterways, was published by Yale University Press in 1985 following its selection as the winner of the prestigious Yale Younger Poets competition by James Merrill. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Field, Poetry, and other magazines and anthologies. She is currently teaching in the Department of Humanities as a visiting writer.

Alexander began, as the series calls for, with the writings of a few poets who have influenced her. She then read a few selections from Navigable Waterways before going on to read from her forthcoming book, a sequence of personal poems based on the life of John James Audubon.

Among the selections from Navigable Waterways was "The Dog at the Center of the Universe," a heartening description of Pfoxer, a "Husky-masked, bologna-tongued" mutt with more than her share of personality. Pfoxer examines a universe "created expressly for her perusal" and somehow manages to beg without sacrificing dignity.

In the Audubon sequence, Alexander took on the voice of Audubon himself and tracked the artist/taxonomer through his travels and experiences. From the beginning, she established a nearness to the subject by maintaining not only his viewpoint and the context of his times, but his language as well. Having learned English from Quakers, Audubon's diction, according to Alexander, probably "seemed a bit antiquated even during his lifetime." Reading much like an actual collection of journal entries and correspondences from Audubon to his wife, the poems avoided praising or judging their subject. The result is a series whose realism leads the audience to experience, as Audubon did, the difficulties of trying to gain acceptance for his work and the joy of returning home after three years away from his family.

Alexander demonstrates an enviable amount of adaptability, taking the audience from the world as seen by Pfoxer to the world through the eyes of John James Audubon. If Pfoxer could write and if Audubon were a poet, these are the things that I'd like to think they would express.

The MIT Poetry at the Media Lab Series will continue in February with five more recitals by published poets and another by a group of poets from the MIT community to be selected sometime in early February.