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Carl Dennis: Another Reason

Buffalo’s own Pulitzer Prize winner to read from his latest book

No doubt you’ve seen him walking the streets of Elmwood on one of his morning constitutionals, or maybe you’ve stood in line behind him at the Lexington Co-op and noticed his gentle manner with the cashier. But it’s highly unlikely that you suspected from his unassuming manner that standing in front of you is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet.

On Wednesday, May 21, Western New Yorkers will have the opportunity to hear Carl Dennis read from his newest book of poems, Another Reason (Penguin Books). His twelfth book of poetry follows previous collections such as Callings, New and Selected Poems, 1974-2004, and Practical Gods—the book which earned him the Pulitzer.

Among the ranks of fellow Pulitzer winners—John Ashbery, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Robert Frost, among others—it’s nearly impossible to identify any shared poetic style. The one commonality seems to be prestige.

And yet Dennis—the man as much as his poems—resists any such description suggesting exclusive status. Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1939, Dennis received his BA from the University of Minnesota in 1961 and a PhD from the University of California Berkeley in 1966. That same year Dennis moved to Buffalo to join the English faculty at the University at Buffalo, where he remained until his retirement in 2001. Even then, Dennis did not stop working with students; for many years he continued to serve as artist-in-residence and conducted the occasional independent study with an eager student.

His poetry is most often described as addressing middle-class themes in an everyday vernacular. Though Dennis often tackles metaphysical themes and complex questions regarding grief, religion, loss, or nostalgia, his meditative style is marked by an accessibility that offers both consolation and contemplation.

Graham Hammill, the chair of the English Department at UB, notes that “Carl is in many ways a master of lyric voice. His poetry focuses on the everyday, and he writes in a style that is almost conversational. But beneath the plain speech of his poems you often discover a depth of emotional complexity that is simply stunning.”

Or, as Dennis’s long-time friend and colleague, the late Martin Pops, once commented: “Carl speaks the same language as we do. The only difference is, he speaks it better.”

The reading takes place at 7pm at the Jacobs Executive Development Center (672 Delaware Avenue). This event is free and open to the public.

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