Below are the remarks delivered by President Porterfield at the Poetry Paths celebration event on October 5, 2012.
Thank you to Rick Gray, a mayor who never forgets that public service is about people; to Franklin & Marshall College’s Philadelphia Alumni Writing House Director Kerry Sherin Wright, who knows that poetry is about people; and to all poets, educators, students, and funders who join us tonight, who know that communities are about people.
As he lamented the approach of world war, the poet W.H. Auden famously wrote, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” I don’t think Auden believed that; rather, he was goading poets and all who cherish creativity to prove him wrong.
Seven decades later, that’s just what the F&M Writer’s House has been doing with distinction. Since 2004, the Writers House, Professor Wright and our students have been making a great deal happen through genuine collaborations with partners like Domestic Violence Services, Milagro House, Central Market, and the Susquehanna Sustainable Business Network.
Tonight, we recognize one of our greatest partnerships—the Poetry Paths project, through which Lancaster residents and visitors get to contemplate poetry, view art, and think aesthetically while walking to work or visiting friends or attending a ball game or enjoying a lovely fall day. Our inspiring outdoor kiosks remind us that poetry is a public art—a democratic art—that poetry is not a genre set apart, but is and should be a nutrient of our everyday lives. Anyone can write and enjoy poetry, whatever one’s age, wherever one’s from, whatever one’s amount of schooling. The thoughts, feelings, experiences, observations, anger and hope that the genre calls up remind us that poetry is a people’s art. Our Poetry Paths demonstrate the civic strength of Lancaster and tell all who are listening in a divisive national election year that we Americans are partners in our shared humanity.
Poetry makes a great deal happen. Through Poetry Paths, F&M has enhanced strong relationships with the School District of Lancaster, the Public Library, Bright Side Opportunities Center, and other community hubs. This year, two F&M students have founded a Creative Writers Corps, and beginning this week we're sending about forty students into schools and community centers to lead writing workshops for people of all ages.
A big thank you to the fifteen student interns from F&M and Millersville, most of whom join us this evening. These students have selected poems for the Paths, led workshops, published our spectacular Kids Poetry Journals, collected public comments about the artwork at Central Market and Clipper Stadium, communicated with our artists and poets, organized contracts, written marketing materials, developed an enrichment curriculum for the project for the schools, and, most recently, created a series of games as part of our Kids Poetry Paths Kit.
I’d also like to thank my F&M colleagues who Professor Wright enlisted in this project and who helped us navigate the various twists and turns of doing something big the right way—including Ann Steiner, Alan Caniglia, Greg Fulmer, Carmen Tisnado, and Ryan Sauder.
Poetry Paths is a truly distinct project; no place else in the country has a city-wide public art project like this, or draws on and draws out the resources of a great college like this. In fact, a few years ago, the project won a national James Patterson Award for innovative community programming—the only winner affiliated with a college or university. We at Franklin & Marshall College are very grateful and very proud.
I think it’s fair to say that while many people have contributed, one has led—and that’s Kerry Sherin Wright. With vision, brilliance, energy, and wit, Kerry has proved Auden wrong and proved another poet right, the romantic poet Percy Blythe Shelley, who wrote, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” So, tonight, we acknowledge our poet-legislator and say thank you to Professor Wright and celebrate the work she and many others have contributed to our community.