Mary Jo Salter

Citation for 2004 Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

Can one member of the Mount Holyoke faculty produce nine volumes of poetry, six novels, a collection of essays, four editions, countless reviews and readings, and two accomplished daughters, all before turning fifty? In truth, no: we are an energetic faculty, but even one person of prodigious gifts couldn't combine such productivity with full-time teaching. Mary Jo Salter and Brad Leithauser share a single unusual full-time lectureship; each teaches half time; each writes continually; each wins international recognition for extraordinary achievement; and both bring a powerful intellectual and literary presence to our students and substantial glory to our College. So far as the present speaker knows, despite their joint appointment, their only collaborative production is the two daughters.

Brad Leithauser is polymathic and omnigeneric. Trained as a lawyer at Harvard, he turned to a different kind of writing, and has thus far published six novels and four collections of poems, all from Knopf. Among his awards have been an Ingram Merrill fellowship in poetry, an Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, a Guggenheim and a Macarthur Foundation "genius grant." Brad's poems, novels and essays reveal some quirky obsessions-Iceland, light verse, American popular music, ghost stories-as well as his deep engagement with natural history. Darlington's Fall (2002), a verse novel about an entomologist, won high praise from such pulpits as the "New York Review of Books" and "The New York Times" which selected it as one of the year's notable books. Brad's preface gives the flavor both of the book and of his mind:

I looked for dailiness and rootedness-for verse with the firm calendars and solid place names, the ingrained habits and incremental persuasions and erosions, which the novel has typically found congenial. I wanted specificity. Although the characters within these pages-including the narrator-are fictions, in nearly every case I've tried to get the science right. (If the people are fabricated, I'd like to think the insects are genuine.)

Mary Jo Salter focuses simultaneously on poetry and on Mount Holyoke. She teaches a range of courses including (naturally) verse writing, but also Pasts and Presences, courses on contemporary poetry and a seminar on the plays of Tom Stoppard. Her honors students have produced work of great distinction for which she should take some credit. In Open Shutters, her most recent collection of poems, she writes,

What a strange job I have-supplying
people with meter and metaphors!
I could be trying to write poems.
Instead, I've tried improving yours-
the ones about your grandmothers dying,
your cats, your broken homes,

your clueless junior years in Europe;
vainly I've tried to quash the onset
of another sonnet on a sunset.

But once past its wry beginning, the poem, called "Office Hours," goes on to celebrate her students, Amanda and Diane, as her "buddies" in the common enterprise of taking pains to write well. Co-editor of the "Norton Anthology of Poetry," sometime poetry editor of "The New Republic," winner of Ingram Merrill, Guggenheim and Amy Lowell Fellowships, regular fellow at the MacDowell Colony, author of five volumes of poetry and a book for children, Mary Jo enacts an extraordinary fusion of professional celebrity and on-campus commitment. Joyfully wedded, and jointly appointed, she and Brad Leithauser enrich the artistic and intellectual life of the Mount Holyoke community.