Poetry Friday: Paul Legault, 2012 Festival Poet

Posted on by Rebecca Gambale, Program Associate

“A Little Boy ran away from Amherst a few Days ago, and when asked where he was going, replied, ‘Vermont or Asia.’ Many of us go farther. My pathetic Crusoe.”
-Emily Dickinson in a letter to a relative

In an interview with BOMBlog, Paul Legault talks about selecting the last two sentences of the above excerpt as the epigraph for his first book, The Madeleine Poems. This sense of adventure and flexibility is recurrent in his work, and infuses Legault’s work with playfulness. In The Madeleine Poems, each poem in the collection is titled “Madeleine as ____”, with the exception of the opening poem, which is titled “Madeleine” and welcomes you to the book: “Open The Book of Take and leave / open the book of your arrival.” From this poem, we as readers are on a journey with the shape-shifting Madeleine, who acts as an opportunity for Legault to illustrate his creativity and range in voice and structure.

Legault leaves room to breathe and to interpret lines through adept use of the page and punctuation, often allowing for significant white space and often interrupting one thought with another with his careful use of dashes. From “Madeleine as Crusoe”:

Take a sign
like paradise—every little bird

atop its very own
tree in paradise—and be

given by it.

Legault’s use of white space encourages you to slow your reading, giving space for breath, and allowing the dash-flanked sub-thoughts to come through.

This fondness for the dash may be correlated to his fondness of Emily Dickinson, whose work he “translated” to what he refers to as “basic English” in his newest work, The Emily Dickinson Reader.

Just as in real adventure and travel, the poems often explore the “otherness”, and sometimes loneliness, of being so independent. From “Madeleine as James Dean and the Whale”:

The whale holds its blue saw against
———the Pacific Drift.
Wishing to be a held thing, whale.
How many knots was it
tightened to make you,
———pulled to the pull
in the water—against, and you against it, and the water, and sounding—

This is the risk that Legault, and Madeleine, encourage us to take. There is a camaraderie in this shared journey. In his poem “In the Zone”, Legault invites us:

Let’s get on a boat with our friends from everywhere,

despite the giant squids,
and hunt the imaginary fish.

These invitations are sure to be well-received by students during his readings on Student Day, and throughout the Festival. We look forward to welcoming him in the fall!


Please use the “Comments” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet.  In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2012 Festival Poets.

For more information on the 2012 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
visit our website dodgepoetry.org

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