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Vol 40  No 11
March 13, 2008



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Poetry is ‘language off the leash’ says Pratt lecturer
by Janet Harron

John Steffler

Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate, John Steffler, will deliver Memorial University’s 2008 Pratt Lecture on Saturday, March 15.

Mr. Steffler, who recently retired from teaching English and Creative Writing at Sir William Grenfell College, will explore the special value of poetry in contemporary society during this public lecture, titled The Uses of Poetry.

Ironically, it is the commercial uselessness of poetry, Mr. Steffler argues, that is the foundation of its value to human kind. Since poets are in no danger of making money for themselves or others, they can be as honest and natural as they please.

“Poetry really is able to express the state of our culture’s soul, our fears, desires, vanities, neuroses, nobilities, shames, obsessions, and wisdoms: the whole insides,” says Mr. Steffler. “Poetry brings out people’s private experience, puts people in touch with their inner selves, and refreshes their awareness of the outside world.”

Poetry, Mr. Steffler maintains, is the underpinning of all literature as it makes the most exact and intense use of language. He calls it “language off the leash” as compared to the practical, dull applications of language in the everyday, modern world. It also acts as an energy source that can rejuvenate individuals and keep them in touch with the life of the imagination.

Originally from Ontario, John Steffler has lived in Corner Brook since 1974, when he began teaching at Sir William Grenfell College. Since then he has been a vital contributor to the literary community of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is the author of several books of poetry and the novel The Afterlife of George Cartwright, which won the Smithbooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Thomas Raddall Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book.

Professor Andrew Loman, a member of the Pratt Committee along with Dr. Don Nichol, says that the Department of English Language and Literature is eagerly looking forward to Mr. Steffler’s visit.

“Mr. Steffler combines national stature with strong connections to Newfoundland, and he also has longstanding ties to our department,” says Dr. Loman. “We’ve been lucky enough to host some eminent lecturers in the 40 years since the Pratt Lecture was inaugurated; Mr. Steffler will be an excellent addition to this company.”

Mr. Steffler will deliver a reading in Corner Brook titled The Three-walled House: A Reading of Poems with Some Thoughts on Language and Literature.

The reading will take place on Thursday, March 13, 7:30 p.m., in FC2014 (Forest Centre lecture theatre, main floor) at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. A reception will follow.

He will then travel to St. John's for the Pratt Lecture.
Mr. Steffler will deliver the Pratt Lecture on Saturday, March15, at 8 p.m. in the Inco Innovation Building, IIC-2001. The lecture will be followed by a reception in the Beatrice Watts Board Room, also in the Inco building. In addition, Mr. Steffler will read from his poetry on Friday, March 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Petro-Canada Hall. Admission is free and parking is available in Lot 15.

The Pratt Lecture is sponsored by the Dean of Arts and the Department of English Language and Literature and is named for Newfoundland poet E. J. Pratt. Past Pratt lecturers include Northrop Frye, Ursula LeGuin and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney.


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