Poet-in-Residence Talks on Epics

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The Irish have Ulysses. The French have Les Misérables. The Russians have War and Peace and Crime and Punishment. The Spanish have Don Quixote. The Greeks have the Iliad and the Odyssey.

But what is America’s national epic? Does it even have one?

Week Eight’s poet-in-residence Kent Gramm will discuss those questions with his lecture, “The American Epic,” which will be at 12:15 p.m. today on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

Gramm is the author of multiple works of prose and poetry, including Gettysburg: A Meditation on War and Values and Psalms for the Poor.

He said the lecture is inspired by his own interest in the conversation about epics as well as a project of his own.

“The topic is on my mind, because I’m actually working on something of that nature,” Gramm said. “And regardless of how poorly it may turn out, it’s something of that nature.”

Gramm said he wants to discuss what constitutes an epic, going back to its most basic definition. He’ll also explore what it means for an epic to be a national epic and whether or not the United States has a model already for the national epic.

He thinks there is a model, Gramm said, but he doesn’t want to give it away yet.

“I will give you a big clue: it’s the most influential work in the Western literary tradition, and I’m not talking about the Bible here,” Gramm said.

America’s national epic might already exist, Gramm said.

“Is it something like the movie ‘Gone with the Wind?’ ” Gramm said. “Is it ‘John Brown’s Body?’ Is it Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself?’ Or is it Longfellow’s ‘Evangeline?’ Or do we still await the national epic? What would it have to look like to be the national epic, the American epic?”

Gramm said he has a very specific wish for his Brown Bag audience: that they go away questioning what it means to them to be “essentially American.”

It’s an idea that becomes more and more complex as time goes on, Gramm said, and it’s especially relevant in today’s political climate.

“I think in terms of the election, which is a very important point in our history right now, I think it’s important for us all to consider what it means to be American, what is the essence of being American?” Gramm said.


The author Ryan Pait

Ryan Pait gets a different haircut every summer to keep the people of Chautauqua guessing. This is his fourth summer at The Chautauquan Daily, so if you’re tired of him, that’s OK. He recently graduated with his master’s degree in literature from Western Kentucky University. Don’t ask him about what he’s doing after this summer, but do ask him about the Nicole Kidman renaissance, the return of “Game of Thrones” and what he’s reading.