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Distinguished poets' visit, Dante marathon, all part of U. of I. conference


Melissa Mitchell, News Editor

Rick Partin, coordinator of outreach and external relations,
School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics,

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Photo by Mark Hanauer
W.S. Merwin
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Photo by Emma Dodge Hanson
Robert Pinsky

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin and three-term U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky will visit the University of Illinois campus on Oct. 28 in conjunction with the conference “Translating the Middle Ages.”

The conference, free and open to the public, will take place Oct. 28-29 in Room 210 of the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana. Sponsored by the U. of I.’s Program in Medieval Studies and the Center for Translation Studies, the conference will feature medievalists from throughout North America and Europe.

“This event is distinctive in that it invites medievalists and modernists, scholars and artists to engage in creative dialogue that will draw the interest of both the campus and the broader community,” said organizer Karen Fresco, the director of the Program in Medieval Studies at the U. of I. “It will showcase the new Center for Translation Studies and the interdisciplinary work that is the hallmark of Medieval Studies.”

Also distinctive will be a pre-conference “Dante Marathon” on Oct. 23. The event, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. just outside the Foreign Languages Building, 707 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, will feature a collective public reading of “Inferno,” the first canticle of Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy.” In case of rain, the marathon will be moved inside to the Lucy Ellis Lounge.

Event organizer Eleonora Stoppino, a U. of I. professor of Italian who teaches a course on “Divine Comedy,” said students, faculty members and community members will take turns reading – in several different languages – the 34 cantos that make up “Inferno.”

Participants in the “Translating the Middle Ages” conference will include medievalists who work in various disciplines – from literature and language to history and art history – and in national traditions from Scandinavia to Greece, focusing on the movement among vernacular languages Arab and Latin.

Twenty-two distinguished scholars are scheduled to read original papers during the conference. According to Fresco, several of the participants have “helped shape the field of medieval translation studies, are making transformative interventions in the field, and are conducting innovative research.”

Among the scholars presenting at the conference, four have translated or are preparing translations of medieval texts, and two are contributors to the Worldwide Universities Network collaborative project “Multilingualism in the Middle Ages.” This project’s aim is to further research into the cultural consequences and manifestations of multilingualism in the medieval west.

Merwin and Pinsky will read from and discuss their translations of “Divine Comedy” during a CultureTalk event at the Colwell Playhouse in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 28. The conversation will be moderated by author Richard Powers, the Swanlund Chair in English at Illinois who won a National Book Award in 2006 and received a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 2007 for his book “The Echo Maker.”

Tickets for the CultureTalk event are free but are no longer available. Persons interested in attending may submit a request to Krannert Center’s online wait list. To inquire about ticket availability, call the arts center at 217-333-6280 or 1-800-527-2849. Patrons who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or speech-impaired may also obtain tickets by TTY at 217-333-9714.

An exhibit of Merwin’s papers titled “Multiple Merwins: Poet, Translator and Environmental Activist” is on view in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Room 346 Library, 149 Gregory Drive, Urbana. The poet will make informal remarks at a reception in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library from 1-2 p.m. on Oct. 28. The event is free and open to the public.

Merwin has published more than a dozen books of poetry, including “The Carrier of Ladders” and “The River Sound,” which have evolved from a medieval formality –echoed in his translation of Dante’s “Purgatorio”– into a more distinctly American voice.

Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project, an online video database of ordinary people reading their most-cherished poems, and created the anthology “Americans’ Favorite Poems,” now in its 18th printing. He also earned the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in poetry and the Howard Morton Landon Translation Award for “The Inferno of Dante.”

Editor’s note: To reach Karen Fresco, call 217-244-2716; e-mail:
To reach Eleonora Stoppino, e-mail: