Professor Christopher Ricks began his lecture last Tuesday by reciting a poem by William Barnes, “The Hill-Shade”, in memory of the recent loss of his friend, former student and colleague, Jennifer Formichelli. Formichelli, a Boston University graduate and BU Academy teacher, was hit and killed by a bus earlier today in Mattapan.
Ricks, William M. and Sara B. Warren Professor of Humanities at BU and co-founder of the Editorial Institute, presented his lecture titled “The Best Words in the Best Order” on October 26 as part of BU Poetry Reading series. He focused on the difference between prose and poetry in literary criticism.
Prior to BU, he was a professor at many other institutions, such as Oxford University and Cambridge University. The lecture he presented on Tuesday was also his inaugural lecture at Oxford as a professor of poetry, Ricks said. He explored the perception that prose is inferior to poetry.
The poem was then followed by a recording of American poet David Ferry reading translated poems by French poets Pierre de Ronsard and Charles Baudelaire.
“Literature should include everything,” Ricks said in an interview. “Great prose writers like Jane Austen or Samuel Beckett or Mark Twain or Henry James, they’re just as great writers as they are poets.”
Meg Tyler, an associate professor of humanities at the College of General Studies and director of the Poetry Reading Series at BU, wanted this talk to help people “think more carefully about categories of writing and genres of literature.”
“I just hope he challenges all of our assumptions,” she said ahead of Tuesday’s conference.
By analyzing poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and TS Eliot, Ricks illustrates how we should be more critical in how we understand and analyze poetry. During the lecture, Ricks said in poetry, “meaning alone does not determine the sentence”.
Zoe Rice, a sophomore at CGS, said the lecture gave her a new perspective on prose.
“He argues that poetry is not just a superior version of prose,” Rice said. “The prose itself can stand and be profound just by the words and the message it says.”
Additionally, in the age of misinformation and digital media where fake news overwhelms people, Ricks pointed out the difference between manipulation and art.
“Art is imagining the real thing,” he said.
Tyler said Ricks’ lecture reminded him of how the political divide has influenced literature and the humanities. She said it shows why the sentence structure and diction used is more important than ever.
“Every sentence we speak or write should have meaning and impact,” Tyler said. “I always tell my students, ‘I just want to get back to the sentence level. How to make the best sentence possible? »
Likewise, Rice said she thinks she can implement what Ricks talked about regarding the distinction between poetry and prose in her writing. She said that instead of trying to be poetic in her writing, she could embrace prose.
“It doesn’t have to be rhythmic or anything, but it can be perfect in a narrower sense,” she said.
Although Ricks distinguished between poetry and prose in this lecture, he was not trying to show that one is better than the other. He doesn’t have a specific position on this because it’s not about something political like “union bargaining” or “boundary disputes”.
Ricks said in an interview that his lecture made others better understand the importance of prose.
“I would like people to enjoy, appreciate and enjoy the artwork,” Ricks said. “There are a lot of very important old things that are true and in danger of being forgotten. I want people to see how works of art, works of literature to me, are wise and insightful and beautiful.