Fan of Chris Gilbert at poetry celebration

Event Honors Chris Gilbert’s Impact on Worcester Poetry Scene

January 25, 2013
By: Guest Contributor

Local poets, students, and faculty gathered at Worcester State University Sunday, January 20 to celebrate the life and works of one-time Worcester poet Chris Gilbert.

Gilbert, who received a Ph.D. in psychology from Clark University in 1986, was a driving force in the Worcester poetic scene. During his time in Worcester, he took part in the historic Free People’s workshop, a poetic movement started by fellow poet Etheridge Knight.

His book Across the Mutual Landscape earned him the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets in 1983.

Gilbert died in 2007 at the age of 57.

David Williams, Mary Bonina, and John Hodgen ’68 made up a panel of local poets at the event. They answered questions about Gilbert and shared their personal experiences with him. To them, Gilbert was a mentor.

“He never just responded,” Bonina said. “Before he responded to anything, he digested it.”

The panel recalled Gilbert’s quiet forcefulness—in his guidance and in his poetry. His goal was to break free from what he referred to as “European tradition.”

Jean McCarthy of the Worcester County Poetry Association commented on the serious racial undertones of Gilbert’s poetry, which has been featured in African American anthologies.

“If you want to seriously consider his poetry, you must consider where he fits in with African American poets,” McCarthy said.

Gilbert’s widow Barbara Morin also attended the event. She explained the way his mind worked.

“I can remember the names of all 17 kids from my kindergarten class,” Morin recalls Gilbert as having said in the days before his death. He then suggested that they visit the Vietnam War Memorial to see if any of those names were listed.

For the most part, though, the mood was positive. The panel of poets joyfully recalled the rich poetic history of Worcester, which claims such esteemed poets as Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, Charles Olson, and Frank O’Hara.

The celebration was planned and hosted by Jonathan Blake of the WSU English Department, and co-hosted by the Worcester County Poetry Association. It was held in the Blue Lounge of the Student Center.

Joe Gullekson ’13 is an English major at WSU.

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