After a pleasant reception complete with cheese and crackers (honorary food for an honorary poet) the Connecticut College faculty shuffled eagerly toward the 1941 room to attend Professor Charles Hartman’s endowed chair lecture “The Re-Examined Life: Poetry as Memoir as Dialogue.” The lecture, which took place on Conn’s most recent Founder’s Day (April 5), detailed Hartman’s life as a poet, jazz guitarist, computer programmer and traveler. Hartman’s speech was preceded by an introduction by Dean of the Faculty Abigail Van Slyck and attended by most of the faculty, including President Katherine Bergeron, who honored Hartman’s 33 years of service to the College with the Lucy Marsh Heskel award. The lecture was followed by wine, steak and chocolate cake (more appropriate poetry food), during the enjoyment of which guests stood periodically and shared their thoughts on Professor Hartman’s life and work.
So who is Charles Hartman?
As the Poet in Residence at Connecticut College since 1984, Hartman has been teaching poetry to generations of students. His pedagogy is inclusive and nitpicky. A sardonic, biting humor accompanies his lessons. He encourages students to write down their thoughts “no matter how stupid” because they can always lead to something interesting, and if they stay stupid, “that’s ok too.” As a professor he welcomes creativity, spites the cliché and fosters a collaborative environment with his students, as all are allowed to share their opinions about their peers’ work.
A celebrated poet and scholar, Hartman has written nine volumes of poetry alongside four critical evaluations of poetry. His work has been published in notable magazines such as The New Yorker, Poetry, Carolina Quarterly, Poetry Northwest, Poetry Now, Antioch Review, Ploughshares, Yale Review and TriQuarterly. As a former computer programmer, Hartman combined his love of computer science with his adoration for poetry by creating a program called Prose, which creates random (yet grammatically correct) English sentences that contribute to the world of poetry. Hartman is also infatuated with Greece and has led a SATA trip there. His love for the Grecian language is evinced by his transition into writing poems in the Greek language. Along with his poetry, Hartman is also an avid musician and has composed two CDs: “Plumb” (2000) and “Beside the Point” (2008) that showcase his love for jazz and blues.
Hartman uses his poetry to understand himself. “I am not introspective,” he said in his lecture. “Most of what I know about myself, I know second hand, from what I’ve written.” Despite the value that poetry has in helping him understand himself, he nevertheless insists that poetry should not be confessional or autobiographical. “The last confession that impressed me with its originality and insight was St. Augustine’s,” Hartman joked during his speech. Instead, Hartman insists that poetry should be the language of a moment and a technique for understanding our lives. When language fails us in its most-needed moments, the poet is the one who can find the words. To Hartman, poetry acts as the purest essence of how humans understand their circumstances. “The universe dictates what we can measure; we just invent the units,” he mused toward the end of his speech. To conclude the his oration, Hartman read his poem “Lost On A Road I Know” in which he concluded, “To have come all this way to be lost, redeems the way.”
Charles Hartman will teach English 213: Bob Dylan and English 240: Reading and Writing Poems in Fall 2017 for any who are interested in getting to know the musician, poet, programmer and traveler more.