Known primarily for its proximity to the Fort Campbell military base, Austin Peay State University hardly seems a likely hotbed for the contemporary poetry scene. But its Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts has been attracting heavyweight poets for years noweveryone from Gwendolyn Brooks and Allen Ginsberg to Galway Kinnell and Eavan Boland. Just three weeks ago, Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Dunn delivered a masterful reading of his work to a packed auditorium. So it should come as no surprise that the Center for Excellence has another champion on its schedule: the extraordinary poet/novelist/essayist Michael Blumenthal.
Currently holding the Roy Acuff Chair of Excellence at Austin Peay, Blumenthal is a rare find these days: a true renaissance man. Majoring in philosophy and economics as an undergraduate, he went on to earn a master's in clinical psychology and then a law degree, even interning for future Supreme Court Justice David Souter. After several years as an attorney, Blumenthal opted out to write full-time. He has since published six exquisite books of poetry, the most recent of which was Dusty Angels; the novel Weinstock Among the Dying; the memoir All My Mothers and Fathers; and numerous essays, including the collection When History Enters the House: Central European Essays, 1992-1996.
A major American poet whose verse appears in every important anthology, Blumenthal's poems tackle literature's great themes: desire, love, faith, exile and death. His poems are finely wrought and often wondrous, as in these lines from the end of "For I Have Lived Like a Dusty Angel":
And what more can a man ask his body
but that it confess to everything? Sad bird,
this human one, but happy in exile: a confusion
of tongues, a mottle of trembling needs,
the dust still gathering on these broken wings
the darkness, the hunger, the flickering soot.
Blumenthal will continue to teach at Austin Peay until the semester is over, when he returns to his home in France. He will read from his work on Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. in Gentry Auditorium.
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