Leary talks to students, celebrates literary magazine

by Beacon Staff • November 17, 2011

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divstrongBeth Treffeisen, Beacon Correspondent/strong/div

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Alumnus Denis Leary couldn’t keep within the camera’s frame during a filmed interview with the Beacon Monday. His head was in constant motion, looking from side to side while answering his questions, as if distracted by something.

“I’m sorry, I have ADD,” he said, switching his position in his chair once again.

The animated actor and comedian spent Monday on the Emerson campus, first speaking to a group of students in the Bright Family Screening Room and then hosting the 40th anniversary event of Ploughshares, a literary magazine based at the college.

The show began with two of Leary’s poems, read by Ploughshares Poetry Editor John Skoyles.  Written when Leary was 19, and published in Ploughshares in 1979, the two short poems, “He weeds the clouds” and “the rabbits” spoke of Leary’s father and stressed how he smoked a lot cigarettes.

Embarrassed by the poems, Leary apologized to the audience, saying that they can’t even be compared to the works of the other writers at the event.

The varied lineup included readers such as Dennis Lehane, author of such Boston-centric novels as Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, and New York Times bestselling author Wally Lamb.

President Lee M. Pelton, a Harvard-educated poetry scholar, read a story excerpt by a close friend of his, professor Richard Yates.

“Many years ago, I was in a one-year creative writing class were we developed a friendship afterwards,” Pelton said. “It was nice to read his work.”

There were two awards presented including the Lifetime Achievement Award that went to Alice Hoffman, a two-time guest editor at Ploughshares, and the Literary Distinction Award, given to Robert Parker, an American crime writer who died in 2010.

President Lee M. Pelton, a Harvard-educated poetry scholar, read a story excerpt by a close friend of his, professor Richard Yates.

“Many years ago, I was in a one-year creative writing class were we developed a friendship afterwards,” Pelton said. “It was nice to read his work.”

There were two awards presented including the Lifetime Achievement Award that went to Alice Hoffman, a two-time guest editor at Ploughshares, and the Literary Distinction Award, given to Robert Parker, an American crime writer who died in 2010.

Joelle Jameson, a graduate student in poetry, said she was enthusiastic about Ploughshares’ success. “Literary magazines are under-read and unappreciated,” she said. “It’s good to see them leading in that way, heartening to see them thriving.”

Leary said he is indebted to Ploughshares, for without it he might not have ever met his wife. In 1982, Ann was attending Emerson College for writing and literature when James Randall, the head of the department who helped to found Ploughshares, told her to take a comedy writing class taught by Leary. As soon as the semester ended, they began seeing each other.

Denis has been published in the magazine for his poetry; Ann will see a short story published in the upcoming Winter 2011-2012 issue. The Learys continue to express their gratitude for Ploughshares through donations.

[caption id=attachment_3814017 align=aligncenter width=400 caption=Leary took the stage of the Ploughshares event after hearing readings of poems he wrote while a student. Courtney Tharp/Beacon Staff]a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/DSC_04781.jpgimg class=size-full wp-image-3814017 title=DSC_0478 src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/DSC_04781.jpg alt= width=400 height=268 //a[/caption]

During the question and answer session earlier in the day, Leary was a lot livelier, standing in front of the podium and walking back forth-answering questions enthusiastically and thoroughly.

Leary compared the kids that go to Emerson now to the ones that he went to school with as a student.

“Still, the kind of kids that go here are all [the ones] that don’t belong at a normal school,” he said. “Keep the weirdos coming.”

emBeth Treffeisen can be reached at beth_treffeisen@emerson.edu/em

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