Dim light washed over the faces of murmuring Shippensburg University faculty, students and community members in the Old Main Chapel on Thursday night as they waited in anticipation to hear the words of a Guggenheim Award recipient.
SU’s Office of Social Equity, the Commission on Human Understanding, English Department and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences sponsored the reading of poet David Lehman’s 6:30 p.m. poetry reading.
Lehman is the series editor of “The Best American Poet(ry)” and is the editor and author of several nonfiction and poetry books. English professor Nicole Santalucia discussed Lehman’s influence on her as a reader and mentee.
“[Lehman] has guided and nurtured poets as they’ve made their way into the poetry world,” Santalucia said. “He’s influenced poets through his contribution as an artist, teacher, critic, editor, anthologist, poet and much more.”
Political science and English major Luke Smith introduced Lehman by reading a poem with an observational form structure.
Lehman ascended to the podium with his books, where he took requests and read his most popular poems.
He read the poems “The Story of My Life,” “The Real Thing,” “Pepsi versus Coke,” and several poems from his book “Poems in the Manner of…” in which he writes using the techniques of various famed poets.
“I wrote a book of poems, each one in the manner of another’s poems, with poets like Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Mayakovsky all the way to the present,” Lehman said.
Lehman’s most recent publication is ”Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World.”
An audience member asked how Lehman was able to make his Sinatra book unique when it has been done so many times. “With Sinatra, I had to figure out a way of being interesting, and I wrote a book in 100 parts knowing that his 100th birthday was coming up called it ‘Sinatra’s Century,’” Lehman said. “In a way, the 20th century in the United States coincided with this particular crooner and his relationships with politicians, celebrities and organizations.”
He mentioned that Sinatra sang for three presidents in the White House and his name was associated with the Rat Pack, Las Vegas, Marilyn Monroe and, allegedly, the Italian Mafia. Lehman attributes his broad range of work to just being curious.
“Having an intellectual curiosity is one of the great things in life, particularly if you can’t play right field for the Dodgers,” Lehman said. “That’s why you’re in college — you can cultivate many interests, and even if they don’t result in making a living maybe one of them will.”