Mary Barnard ’32: found in translation


Sweep the mind


like a field of dry stubble

when the constellations

of daisies have been mown

–Mary Barnard

Mary Barnard ’32 is arguably Reed’s most prominent creative artist. Her original poetry and translations of classic poetry influenced generations, including the Beat poets who followed her by one generation. Her 100th birthday was celebrated in 2009, so it is appropriate that the Reed Centennial honor her with a full day of lectures about her life, her work, and her influence (see “Alumni College: Letters 100: Experiencing Mary Barnard ’32” on Thursday, June 9).

It is also fitting that pre-eminent Barnard scholar, our own Sarah Barnsley ’95, should return to lead this seminar. Sarah was an exchange student from University of East Anglia for one year, and she now teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her other research interests include American literature, poetry and poetics, modernism, gender and queer theory. Following her tenure as H.D. Fellow in American Literature at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, Sarah has completed a book manuscript, “‘A bright, particular excellence’: Mary Barnard, American Imagist.” She is also a poet in her own right.

Mary Barnard ’32 was born in Vancouver, Washington, and attended Reed College, where she discovered modernist poetry and Ezra Pound; she later initiated a long-distance correspondence with Pound that was to last nearly 40 years.

As noted by the Beinecke Library, “With Pound’s encouragement, Barnard began translating Sappho’s poetry from the Greek. Her translation, published in 1958, has never been out of print. Barnard’s own poems won her Poetry magazine’s Levinson Award when she was only 26 years old. Her shorter fiction was published in Harper’s Bazaar, The Yale Review, and The Kenyon Review. She later composed a book-length essay in verse entitled Time and the White Tigress and researched and published her own genealogy and various essays on mythology.”

The delightful and spirited memoir of her school days, Erato agonistes: Writing a creative thesis at Reed College in “The Golden Age”, is available in the bookstore.

Other speakers in the seminar will include Professor Anita Helle, Oregon State University, on Mary Barnard’s original poetry, and Professor Ellen K. Stauder, dean of the faculty and David Eddings Professor of English & Humanities, on Mary Barnard’s Sappho, in the morning sessions.  Afternoon conference leaders will include, in addition, Elizabeth J. Bell ’87 MALS, Mary Barnard’s literary executor; and Anita Bigelow ’67, illustrator of Mary Barnard’s work.

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