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Robert Hayden Under a High Window of Angell Hall

Robert Hayden“Robert Hayden Under a High Window of Angell Hall,” by Frederick Glaysher. 

Read at the ROBERT HAYDEN CENTENNIAL CONFERENCE AND POETRY TRIBUTE, The University of Michigan, November 1, 2013. YouTube link at the end. 

“It is hard for a man to find one kindred spirit among thousands of his fellows, and if at last, softened by our prayers, fate grants one, there comes the unexpected day, the unlooked for hour, which snatches him away, leaving an eternal emptiness.” —John Milton’s Elegy for Damon (tr. Anna Beer)

As a young poet I had chosen not to go off to the university after high school, but followed what I thought of as the solitary examples of Robert Frost and E. A. Robinson and other writers. For a few years, living and writing on an old farm in Oakland Township, Michigan, I tried on the singing robes of Whitman and others, eventually moving to Detroit, near Seven Mile and John R, having been born at Deaconess Hospital on East Jefferson Avenue. More than one line of my family tree has roots extending into the neighborhoods near and of Jefferson Chalmers, some back into the 19th Century. One day at the Detroit Public Library, I noticed a placard that a librarian had posted about the poet Robert Hayden. I sought out his books and read and immersed myself in his poetry, deciding, in time, I would transfer to the University of Michigan in hope of studying with him. My dream came true more than I had ever expected, taking three classes with him, one in Recent Poetry, an independent study of Emily Dickinson, and a private tutorial in writing.

As I explain in my essay on Hayden in my book The Grove of the Eumenides, during the poetry class, he was diagnosed with cancer and was understandably devastated by the prognosis. Looking back I think my writing for him a paper on Countee Cullen brought me to his attention, or an office visit, before long in and out of class. His poetry had already worked its way deep into my consciousness. He knew I held him in high esteem and I felt it a duty to let him know it. In time he became not only older poet, master, mentor, but, I believe, mutually heart-felt friend, father, taking me increasingly into his confidence, hiring me as a secretary to help him get his papers somewhat in order, and allowing me entry into the private life of his home and family, often two or three afternoons a week for the last several months of his life. Robert Hayden is not merely a literary, academic subject to me but the pivotal personal relationship of my entire adult life….

Now available in an expanded, more detailed essay twice as long as what was delivered at the University of Michigan.

The Myth of the Enlightenment: Essays
Forthcoming, September, 2014.


In my epic poem, The Parliament of Poets, Apollo calls all the poets of the nations, ancient and modern, East and West, to assemble on the moon to consult on the meaning of modernity. On Earth and on the moon, the poets teach a new global, universal vision of life. In a 3-minute excerpt from a 12-minute canto, the Persona begins to recount how he traveled there with his guide, the poet Robert Hayden.

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Robert Hayden (Jay Semple)


Rackham Amphitheatre – Fourth Floor. The Rackham Graduate School. The University of Michigan. 10:00AM – 5:00PM. 915 E Washington St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

The Department of English at the University of Michigan has announced plans for a one-day conference on November 1, 2013 in honor of Robert Hayden, the distinguished poet and educator who received an M.A. degree from the University of Michigan in 1944 and returned to teach at the university in 1970 as Professor of English until his death in 1980.

Hayden has emerged as a major figure in American literary history. He is the leader, along with Gwendolyn Brooks, of the generation of African American poets that emerged in the 1940s to achieve widespread critical attention and a massive presence in anthologies and textbooks. He served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (the position now known as Poet Laureate of the United States) from 1976-1978. The U.S. Post Office issued a postage stamp in 2012 to honor his achievement.

The keynote address of the conference, to be held in the Rackham Amphitheater, will be delivered by Harryette Mullen, Professor of English and Creative Writing at UCLA, a Guggenheim Fellow (among other honors), and a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her volume of essays and interviews, The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be, appeared in 2012.

Professor Mullen will be introduced by A. Van Jordan of the U-M faculty. A panel discussion in early afternoon will include Mullen, Linda Gregerson (of the U-M faculty), Lawrence Joseph, a Detroit native and the preeminent Arab-American poet of our time, and Frederick Glaysher, editor of Hayden’s Collected Poems and Collected Prose. Robert Hayden is a character in Glaysher’s recently published epic poem, The Parliament of Poets. Laurence Goldstein, Professor of English and co-editor (with Robert Chrisman) of Robert Hayden: Essays on the Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2001), will serve as panel moderator.

In late afternoon, MFA students will read from and speak about Hayden’s poems, along with other participants in the conference.


10 a.m. Keynote address by Harryette Mullen
12-1:30 p.m. Lunch at various restaurants around campus
1:30-3:00 p.m. Panel discussion
3:00-5:00 p.m. Readings and remarks by audience members

After presenting some reflections on Hayden and his poetry on the panel, during the late afternoon, I’ll be reading a passage from my epic poem, The Parliament of Poems, from the Persona’s flight to the moon, with his guide, the poet Robert Hayden. Hope you can make it. The day promises to be a worthy tribute to a life well lived for the art of poetry. Please help spread the word far and wide.

UPDATE 9-22-2013: I attended and enjoyed a poetry reading yesterday, by Herbert Woodward Martin, at Wayne State University in Detroit. He’s of course the famous interpreter of Paul Laurence Dunbar. He gave a powerful reading of Hayden’s poem “Frederick Douglass,” among others… See the Calendar for other Centennial events honoring Hayden and Dudley Randall. Please help letting other people know about them by Sharing… Robert Hayden and Dudley Randall Centennial Calendar

Frederick Glaysher

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