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(Editor's Note: The following article is featured in the spring issue of Bucknell Magazine.)
By Gigi Marino
LEWISBURG, Pa. -- On a blustery mid-winter night, a crowd gathers in Bucknell Hall to hear Eavan Boland, one of Ireland’s most distinguished poets, read her work.
She begins with an anecdote about Irish poetry — the problem is that while 10 percent of the population read poetry, 40 percent write it. The crowd laughs, as there’s a good chance that at least 40 percent of the people here have scribbled more than a few stanzas themselves.
But what is extraordinary about the audience that fills the aisles, easily more than 120 people, is the diversity of those in attendance. Creative writing students and English faculty occupy a fair number of seats, but professors of biology, engineering, and religion, as well as staff and community members, also are held sway by Boland’s exquisite words.
Richness of programs
Says Shara McCallum, director of the Stadler Center for Poetry, “It’s not only students, faculty, and staff at Bucknell who benefit from the center, but also individuals from local area middle schools, high schools, and colleges, along with working writers who come from across the country and across the world, who are visitors or in residence throughout the year. And many who come to our programs are unaffiliated with any institution of education or are not writers themselves. Because of the richness of our programs and populations we serve, we have the unique opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Shara McCallum, director of the Stadler Center for Poetry
This year, the Stadler Center marks 20 years of contributing to the literary arts through programs that nurture beginning and established writers and a reading series that has brought to Bucknell some of the world’s best writers — Seamus Heaney, Joy Harjo, Donald Justice, Sharon Olds, Cornelius Eady, Maxine Kumin, to name a very few.
One could think of the Stadler Center as “the house that the Jacks built,” although Jack Wheatcroft ’49, who founded the Poetry Center in 1988, demurs, saying that credit should go to Jack Stadler ’40 and his wife, Ralynn, who provided the initial funding. By the mid-1980s, the University was sponsoring a number of poetry programs, including the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, which provides three weeks of uninterrupted writing time for burgeoning writers nationwide.
“All of this took money,” says Wheatcroft, “and Jack Stadler generously provided all of it, and the University matched it with housing.”
Wheatcroft points out that further monies were donated by former student J. Phillip Citta ’66, a poetry-writing football player in his undergraduate days, and former Professor of English Mildred Martin.
“Happy coincidences” is how Wheatcroft describes the Stadler Center’s nascent years. In addition to the fortuitous funding, he notes that local printer Barnard Taylor published a series of fine books of visiting writers from his Press of Appletree Alley, which used handset type and original woodcuts.
In 1988, Bucknell Hall was renovated and rededicated as the Stadler Center for Poetry, which in the early years was fondly nicknamed the “Poetry Palace,” a place where words reign and writers find a home. “If you’re going to write poetry seriously,” says Wheatcroft, “it has to be the center of everything you do.”
Wheatcroft was the first director, followed by Cynthia Hogue, who served from 1996 to 2003, when McCallum began her directorship.
Although one of the oldest buildings on campus, Bucknell Hall contains many of its original features. Wheatcroft points out that at the time of the renovation, only four of the small stained-glass window panes needed to be replaced. He says that an artisan deliberately replaced them with a lighter blue color, so as not to duplicate the original but to signify that a change had been made with purpose and reason.
When Wheatcroft left his post as director (after a 47-year teaching career), he did so knowing that the Stadler Center would continue to breathe on in new rhythms.
Arts and culture
In her fifth year as director, McCallum says, “Arts like poetry, theatre, dance, painting, and other non-commercial forms of expression are under the constant threat of disappearing altogether from public life. Institutions like the Stadler Center have a responsibility to lead the way in promoting the reintegration of the arts into our culture.”
Until just a few years ago, when other universities started paying attention to undergraduate writing, Bucknell could claim the distinction of being the one place that operated a poetry center devoted to engaging and encouraging young writers at the undergraduate level.
Consider the progress of recent Stadler Center participants in the last year: Katie Hays ’03, Tyler Mills ’05, and Rebecca Wadlinger ’06 all appeared in Best New Poets 2007; Hays, also the Stadler Emerging Writer for 2007–08, just had her first books of poems, Dear Apocalypse, accepted at the Carnegie Mellon University Press. Paula Closson Buck, Stadler Center faculty member, won a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Individual Creative Artist Fellowship in Literature, and Erin Batykefer, Stadler Center Fellow 2007–08, won the Benjamin Saltman Award for a first book of poetry, Allegheny, Monongahela, partly written during her Bucknell residency.
Not that publications make the poet, but this list reflects a serious commitment on Bucknell’s part to providing its writers with the space to make their vision possible. The center also offers the Philip Roth Residence for fiction and poetry in alternate years.
According to Deirdre O’Connor ’85, associate director of the Seminar for Younger Poets and author of Before the Blue Hour, “The people and programs associated with the center help foster community, not only among poets and writers at Bucknell, but also by bringing to Bucknell all kinds of poets, from 19-year-olds to Pulitzer Prize winners, with a range of aesthetics and projects. Virtually everyone in the poetry world in this country has heard of Bucknell.”
Other Stadler Center staff members include fiction writer Robert Rosenberg, nonfiction writer Chris Camuto, and poet G.C.Waldrep, director of the summer seminar. McCallum says that the center’s mission is a shared one: “We bring poetry and the other literary arts to an audience that may not even initially realize how much their lives are lacking for its absence.”
Contact: Division of Communications
Posted May 5, 2008