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Wesley McNair Presents 'My Life as a Poet, a Multimedia Memoir' and First Reading from 'Lovers of the Lost: New & Selected Poems'

NEW LONDON, N.H. - Colby-Sawyer College will host renowned New England poet and former faculty member Wesley McNair for a presentation on his life as a poet and the first ever reading from his latest book, Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems.

This Poetry Month event takes place on Monday, April 5, at 7 p.m. in Wheeler Hall at the Ware Campus Center. The event is sponsored by the Cultural Events Committee and the Gibney Fund. Community members are encouraged to attend and admission is free.

Following this event, the Books Sandwiched In Spring 2010 series in April will also celebrate Poetry Month with readings by poets Cynthia Huntington (April 7), Ewa Chrusciel (April 14) and Maxine Kumin. Visit

The recipient of numerous awards in poetry, McNair has held grants from the Fulbright and Guggenheim Foundations, two Rockefeller fellowships, and two grants in creative writing from the National Endowment for the Arts. He recently read his poems at the U.S. Library of Congress and was selected for a United States Artists Fellowship as one of “America's finest living artists.” McNair has served four times on the nominating jury for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and has published 18 books, including poetry, essays and anthologies.

In his presentation of “My Life as a Poet, a Multimedia Memoir,” McNair will show slides derived from his archive at Colby College in Maine, using photographs, report cards, early poems, letters from mentors, and drafts from notebooks to illustrate the story of his life as a poet. His themes include his hardscrabble early life in New Hampshire; his long struggle to balance work, family and the writing life; and the support he received from friends and mentors in times of discouragement. His talk will conclude with images from manuscripts that reveal his creative method as a poet. Intended for a general audience, this presentation will particularly inspire those interested in the writing life.

McNair will then read several poems from his latest collection, Lovers of the Lost: New & Selected Poems, including several poems drawn from his life in New Hampshire. Praised by poets Maxine Kumin as a “master craftsman,” Donald Hall as “a true poet,” and Philip Levine as “one of the great storytellers of contemporary poetry,” McNair has selected for this volume a wide range of narratives, lyrics and meditations.

In these poems he recounts the struggles and small triumphs of his own life and the lives of others—misfits, dreamers, sufferers and loners—seeking insights into New England, America and the more obscure geography of the human heart. McNair's verse, whether about the trauma of family conflict, the perseverance of those around him, or the solace of place, represents a singular achievement, described by the Ruminator Review as “one of the most individual and original bodies of work by a poet of his generation.”

For more than 40 years McNair has been writing poems that have drawn praise from reviewers and fellow poets alike. Lovers of the Lost displays some of his best poetry from six previous volumes, incorporating it with a sampling of new work. The selections and new poems gathered here explore personal experiences and the experience of others with curiosity, humor and deep feeling, which ranges from sorrow to joy. They reveal the formal variety that has always been evident in McNair's free verse, as well as his trademark craftsmanship. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, McNair's aim as a poet is to be “both accessible and complex.” Drawn from life, his poems find their truths in the small, often overlooked events of our common existence.

McNair's other collections of verse include Talking in the Dark (1998); Fire (2002); and The Ghosts of You and Me, published in 2006. He is the editor of four anthologies of contemporary Maine writing: The Quotable Moose: A Contemporary Maine Reader; The Maine Poets; Contemporary Maine Fiction (which won the 2006 Independent Publishers Award for the anthology category); and A Place Called Maine.

McNair is currently professor emeritus and writer in residence at the University of Maine at Farmington, where he directed the creative writing program and received the Distinguished Faculty Award and the Libra Professorship. Early in his career, from 1968 to 1987, McNair taught English and writing in the Humanities Department at Colby-Sawyer College. In 2002, Colby-Sawyer presented him with a Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

McNair's other honors include a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship in literature, Devins Award for Poetry, Jane Kenyon Award, Robert Frost Award, Theodore Roethke Prize and the Eunice Tietjens Prize from Poetry magazine, as well as an Emmy Award and the Sarah Josepha Hale Medal. His work has appeared in more than 50 anthologies, on NPR's “Weekend Edition” and “The Writer's Almanac” with Garrison Keillor, and in two editions of The Best American Poetry.

-Kimberly Swick Slover