Braniff Graduate Student Association president Rhett Forman and the English and politics departments came together over the weekend to co-sponsor the Second Annual Braniff Conference in the Liberal Arts for a forum of dialogue with scholars from around the world.
The conference welcomed an international group of alumni and professors from the University of Auckland, Aix-Marseille University, the University of Padua and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
Other schools represented included the University of Chicago, St. John’s College, the University of Kentucky, Thomas Aquinas College, Hillsdale College, Grand Valley State University, Wyoming Catholic College, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and the University of Dallas.
The topic of this year’s conference was “On Philosophy and Poetry.”
Discussion centered on the relationship between the two throughout the entire history of philosophy starting with the pre-modern period until present time.
Institute of Philosophic Studies (IPS) students presented responses to papers given by visiting scholars. They offered advice to authors before their papers were submitted for final review.
Dr. Joshua Parens, dean of the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts, asked the underlying rhetorical question that occupied much of the conference’s debate: “Is poetry a way of life, like the contemplative life, or simply a display?”
Michael Bolin, professor at the Wyoming Catholic College, described the relationship between philosophy and poetry as symbiotic, even co-dependent.
“Philosophers rely on poetic thought, while poetic thought is more quickly grasped through philosophic thought,” Bolin said. “Poetry extends our understanding beyond particulars, toward a new human particular. Poetry gives a new, perhaps better, insight into our human nature.”
The conference started with a poetry reading on Friday, Jan. 29 featuring University of Dallas English professor Dr. Andrew Osborn and the Oxford-educated poet laureate of Virginia, Ron Smith.
Smith is the author of several poetry books and is a recipient and current curator of the Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize. He was a runner-up for both the National Poetry Series Open Competition and the Samuel French Morse Prize. He is currently the writer-in-residence and the George O. Squires Chair of Distinguished Teaching at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Va.
In his concluding address, Smith discussed the relationship from both a philosophic perspective and a poetic perspective.
“Some would say philosophy makes things difficult to define, and those impatient with philosophy do say that,” Smith said. “Philosophy is hard because it is so precise, and some say poetry is hard, because it is so imprecise.”
Smith refuses to accept this view as valid. “I reject this view of poetry completely,” Smith said. “I am drawn to poetry that contains forms and precision, even if I do not know what it is being precise about.”
Smith believes that poetry and philosophy are different languages and should be judged by different standards.
“I’m drawn to analytic and linguistic philosophy whose aim is clarity. Poetry is not to be measured by clarity,” Smith said. “It is to be measured by power and memorability. If the philosophy I love delivers an adventure into truth and clarity, then the poetry I love delivers an adventure into language and language’s ability to reveal and compel.”
Poets, unlike philosophers, he said, must subconsciously stop rationalizing.
“Poets say to themselves, ‘Stop thinking and write,’ because the intellect and consciousness can get in the way of intuition and discovery.”
Smith stated that poetry is the first liberal art, appearing even before philosophy.
“You probably know people, like I do, that don’t like poetry and don’t read it, or perhaps even are afraid of poetry,” Smith said. “They see poetry as philosophy, you could say. It combines the complexity of thinking with linguistic tricks. [For them], it’s the worst of both worlds. This is odd because poetry is of the most primitive of literary forms. Poetry comes first in every language and every culture.”