Getting to Know Your Westwood Neighbor: Lynne Viti, Westwood's First Poet Laureate
Lynne Viti was recently selected as Westwood's first Poet Laureate. April marks National Poetry Month, and Westwood Minute takes this moment to pose some questions to Dr. Viti about her love of poetry, what inspires her, her goals and why poetry is important to the town.
Q: How long have you lived in Westwood? Where are you from originally?
Viti: I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland (hence the name of my first book, Baltimore Girls). I moved here for graduate school at Boston College, and have lived in Westwood for 32 years.
Q: When did you discover your love of poetry?
Viti: As a child—my mother often read poetry to me—nursery rhymes, Robert Louis Stevenson, Carl Sandburg, Ogden Nash, Edward Lear.
Q: What inspired you to bring poetry to Westwood schools?
Viti: First, let me say that poetry was already in the Westwood schools. Teachers and school librarians have made sure of that! But hearing a living poet recite their work helps form an even deeper connection between reader (or listener) and poet. That’s my purpose in the poets in the schools project.
Q: Can you briefly describe your career arc leading up to becoming Westwood Poet Laureate?
Viti: It’s been a winding path, often dictated by the need to earn a living while doing something socially productive--college, high school English and creative writing teacher, doctorate in English, college writing instructor, law degree, lawyering in the public sector (for the MBTA) and in a private law firm, part time teaching at Wellesley College that became full-time, and all along the way, writing poetry.
Q: You used to be an attorney, and legal writing is concrete, realistic, and meticulous. How easy or hard was it to adjust to the language of poetry?
Viti: Good writing is good writing. Legal writing follows a formula, but in pleadings and memoranda of law, must also tell a good story. Poetry does not necessarily follow a formula, but is, as Wordsworth famously said, emotion recollected in tranquility. Poetry must also be concrete, realistic and meticulous. It’s not just dashed off in the moment and sent to publication.
Q: Who are your influences?
Viti: This changes from time to time—at the moment: Mary Oliver, Richard Blanco, Seamus Heaney, Frank O’Hara Joy Harjo, Rita Dove, Natasha Trethewey, Patricia Smith; then the longstanding influences—the great poets of the English Language I’ve read for years—Sidney, Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Spender, Wordsworth, Keats, Larkin, Yeats, Frost, Eliot, Pound.
Q: Of your own works, which is your favorite and why? Which do you like least and why?
Viti: That’s like asking a mother which of her children is her favorite! I love all my poems, even the early ones from high school. My favorite poems are the ones I have been laboring over recently, the ones that will be in my next book, including “Elegy Written in a Soccer Field,”
published in January in America : The Jesuit Review.
Q: What is your goal as a poet? As Westwood’s first Poet Laureate?
Viti: To spread the joy of reading and writing poetry to all citizens of Westwood, of all ages and interests.
Q: You will be mentoring the first Westwood Teen Poet Laureate. Will you play a part in their selection? If so, what qualities are you looking for?
Viti: The Youth Poet Laureate Committee consist of myself, the library director, and a Friends of the Westwood Library member. We are seeking a rising 9th through 12th grader who lives or attends school in Westwood, writes poetry, likes to share their writing with others, and who will participate in poetry slams and readings through their year of service.
Q: Why is poetry important to the life of the town?
Viti: Poetry is the oldest form of human expression, back to the days before writing. Poetry allows us to express feelings and experiences and tell the truth. Poems make us listen closely, sometimes breaks our hearts, lets us record and confirm the experience of being human. It makes us feel less alone, it provides comfort. It helps us make sense of that which cannot be explained in any other way.
Q: Can you talk about the upcoming Town-Wide Poetry Reading & Open Mic that you are organizing for April 25th? What can an attendee expect?
Viti: They can expect to hear the Tuesday Workshop Poets read some humorous poetry, some deep and emotional poetry, some rhyming poetry, some unrhymed poetry. They can expect to hear some spoken word poetry that is performed as much as read, and some traditional poetry such as they may have studied in their school days. Audience members may want to go up to the mic and read a poem they wrote—or one by a favorite poet—if they wish. And they can expect lemonade and cookies.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Viti: Celebrate National Poetry Month. Read a poem a day!
Updated 4/10/2023 at 11:34 a.m. Typographical errors have been corrected.