Richard Blanco came to Lewis yesterday (Sep. 19) and he addressed an audience of some 250 Lewis students. His presentation was part of the Celebration of the Humanities, this semester’s programming umbrella for over forty events. But, wait: Richard Blanco is an engineer and an architect. Does he have the right credentials to speak poetry?
Richard Blanco told us that his professional life constantly demanded that he be able to write, clearly and persuasively. Over time he recognized that he had more to say than was demanded of him professionally and his poetry was born.
If we understand the “humanities” as a set of courses in a specific set of disciplines or majors then it doesn’t make sense to have an engineer speak in poetry. What our celebration is about, however, is to say, it is perfectly natural to have poetry, literature, history, art or drama in your life no matter what your professional or work life entails. Humanities is a way of looking and perceiving.
Our colleague in the English department celebrates how our lives are entangled with the humanities.. Valerie Rendel told us the following: “The humanities recognize that history sings, that philosophy is theatrical, that art is persuasive and the literature is the reading of people, not books.” Humanities celebrate the complexity of what we see and perceive.
Seamus Heaney, the Nobel prize winning poet, grew up on a hard-scrabble Irish farm. Both his life in a farming family and as an Irishman in the violent era of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s infuse his poetry. It is the poet who speak when he describes the period between 1968 and 1974 as a violent era bringing about long overdue changes in Ireland. He stated in his Nobel Speech: “the eggs of danger which were always incubating got hatched out very quickly.” (NYT, 31 August 2013.)
I, as a historian, listen as this poet speaks. I study violent events, their causes and their resolutions. Seamus Heaney’s image of incubation and hatching perfectly captures what I know about a social and political process. Ah, but the poet says it so beautifully, with such insight, and such elegance!