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John Donne, Re-done


June 20, 2013

Program Locations:

Why does John Donne continue to excite readers nearly four centuries after his death? Contemporary poets read their work and Donne’s, commenting on how he influenced them, and an actress will also perform some of his poems.  

Although close to four centuries have passed since his death, John Donne (1572-1631) remains as engaging, exciting, challenging, and controversial as he was in his own day.  His work includes some of the greatest love poetry ever written.  Often conversational and intensely dramatic, these poems, published after his death under the title Songs and Sonets, daringly juxtapose very erotic language with religious references.  His tone varies from poem to poem and often within the same poem, merging exalted celebration, bawdy innuendo, and the so-called metaphysical wit for which he is well known.  Donne’s life exemplifies the religious turmoil that England endured as one official religion, Catholicism, was replaced by another, the type of Protestantism known today as Anglicanism.  Born into a Catholic family, Donne not only converted to Protestantism but became a distinguished and eloquent preacher and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, as well as the author of extraordinary religious poetry, notably his famous Holy Sonnets.  But was that conversion motivated by religious faith, pragmatism driven by his culture’s prejudices against Catholicism, or some volatile mixture of motives?  He was also involved the tense political events of his day, going on political missions, fighting in a war, and delivering  sermons to the king himself.


Timothy Donnelly is the author of Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit  (Grove, 2003) and The Cloud Corporation (Wave, 2010; Picador, 2011), winner of the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.  He is the poetry editor of Boston Review, a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow, and an associate professor in the Writing Program at ColumbiaUniversity.  Among the journals where his work has appeared are Harper’s, jubilat, The Nation, and The Paris Review. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Phillis Levin is the author of four collections of poetry, Temples and Fields  (University of Georgia Press, 1988), The Afterimage  (Copper Beech Press, 1995), Mercury  (Penguin, 2001), and May Day  (Penguin, 2008). She is the editor of The Penguin Book of the Sonnet: 500 Years of a Classic Tradition in English  (Penguin, 2001).  Her honors include the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award, an Ingram Merrill Grant, a Fulbright Scholar Award to Slovenia, the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Manhattan and teaches at HofstraUniversity.

Helen Cespedes is an actress, writer, and reader living in New York City.  She is currently performing off-broadway as Felicity in The Mint Theater's production of A Picture of Autumn.  Regional: Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest (Williamstown), The Princess of France in Love's Labour's Lost  (Chautauqua), Romeo and JulietThe Clean House, Williams in TransitIvanovAfter the RevolutionHenry V.  She holds a BFA in Comparative Literature from BarnardCollege and is a recent graduate of The Juilliard School's Drama Division.  She is the 2012-2013 recipient of the John Houseman Prize.

Heather Dubrow, John D. Boyd, SJ, Chair in the Poetic Imagination at Fordham University, is the author of a collection of poems entitled Forms and Hollows and two chapbooks; her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Yale Review. Wearing her other hat as a literary critic, she has published six scholarly books, which include many discussions of Donne, and an edition of As You Like It. She is director of Fordham's Poets Out Loud reading series and the initiator and coordinator of Donne and Contemporary Poetry.

This is the first event in Donne and Contemporary Poetry.  Others include

November 21, 2013 : Women Poets at Barnard.  7 PM. Sulzberger Parlor, 3rd floor Barnard Hall, BarnardCollege, Broadway at 117th St.  Free and open to the public. Kimberly Johnson will read her poetry.

February 13, 2014 : Poets Out Loud, FordhamUniversity.  7 PM.  113 West 60 Street, 12th floor lounge.  Free and open to the public.  Molly Peacock will read and Nigel Smith will perform settings of lyrics by John Donne and Paul Muldoon.

April 15, 2014 : Helix, an interdisciplinary organization in the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, 247 East 82nd Street.  Free and open to the public.  Poets and times TBA.


February 20-22, 2014 : Annual meeting of the John Donne Society. Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Linda Gregerson will present a keynote address on Donne and Contemporary Poetry; the conference will conclude with a roundtable of poet/critics discussing that topic, participants to include Heather Dubrow, Kimberly Johnson, others TBA.