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Critically-Acclaimed Poets and Authors Visit Saint Peter’s

“A conscious mind does not write poetry, an unconscious mind does.”

These were some of the words of wisdom shared by acclaimed poet, Marie Howe, during the inaugural event of the poetry lecture series titled, “Valente and Blihar Families Poetry Series,” sponsored by Judy Valente Reynard ’76, a critically-acclaimed author and alumna of Saint Peter’s, on October 9.

The first event in the lecture series was a discussion with Howe on October 9, in which she conducted a poetry reading, answered questions from students and held a book signing. Howe is a poet, teacher and the New York State poet laureate from 2012-2014. She is the author of three volumes of poetry: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, The Good Thief and What the Living Do. She is also the co-editor of a book of essays titled, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic. She has been a fellow at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College and her poems have appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Harvard Review, among others.

During the lecture she shared the personal experiences behind some of her work, but most importantly, she stressed the fact that poetry is not meant to be analyzed, it is something that is experienced.

“What was most meaningful to me was that she compared poetry to a song,” said Fabrielly Martinez ’17. “I only thought about analyzing poetry.  I never thought about how I could let it speak to me, much like a song.”

Students thoroughly enjoyed the talk and asked questions about her life and other poets who influenced her.

“Oftentimes when you attend a book reading, the author only focuses on themselves,” said Rosemarie Freschi ’17. “It was wonderful that she read works by other poets and was open to sharing information about the writers who influenced her work.”

Later in the day, Valente addressed a group of students, faculty and staff on, “Contemplation in the Age of Twitter.” During the lecture she provided insight on how students, busy professionals, parents and others can integrate the monastic practices of silence, listening, hospitality, simplicity, prayer and praise into their daily lives. Valente was able to incorporate these practices into her own life following her pilgrimages to Mount St. Scholastica monastery in Atchinson, Kansas, which was the basis for her book, Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home and a Living Faith. The book was named the best spirituality book of the year in paperback by the Catholic Press Association and one of the three best spirituality books of 2014 by the Religion Newswriters Association.

During the lecture, Valente spoke about all of the valuable pieces of advice she learned from the nuns at the monastery in Atchinson, such as the importance of taking time to pray throughout the day in order to go to bed with a better sense of having lived the day. She also discussed the value of both contemplation and action.

Students asked questioned about how the monastery was sacred to her and what makes a place sacred. “Any place can be sacred. Saint Peter’s is sacred because it is filled with the memories of all of the souls who have passed through these walls,” Valente explained.

Valente currently serves as a correspondent for PBS’S Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and is the Midwest correspondent for the Jesuit magazine, America. Her reports have also appeared on The News Hour on PBS and on Chicago Public Radio and National Public Radio. She has worked as a news producer for WTTW/Chicago and is a former staff writer of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, where she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in in the feature writing category. She has won nine broadcast awards and was twice nominated for an Emmy.

The University community is looking forward to the next event in the Valente and Blihar Families Poetry Series. For more information about upcoming events, please contact Ana Cravo at acravo@saintpeters.edu or (201) 761-6104.