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Jellema on Tap for April 12 Wiersma Lecture
March 2, 2005

The 16th annual Wiersma Memorial Lecture will bring an alumnus back to the Calvin College campus who is familiar to the college not only as a poet, but also as a friend of the late Stanley Wiersma (the Calvin English professor for whom the series is named).

Rod Jellema, emeritus professor of English at the University of Maryland and founder of that school's creative writing program, will deliver the lecture, speaking and reading from his poetry, at 7:30 p.m. on April 12 at the Calvin College Chapel.

A 1951 Calvin graduate (as was Wiersma) Jellema is a poet whose latest volume, A Slender Grace: Poems, was named 2004 Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature. The author of three books of poems, Jellema also is the recipient of the Hart Crane Memorial Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Prize.

The lecture's organizers are enjoying the resonances between this year's speaker and Wiersma.

"It's really extraordinary," says Jerry Fondse, chairman of the Wiersma Memorial Lecture Committee, "Rod Jellema’s poetry is very much like Stan Wiersma’s poetry."

Wiersma's work in such volumes as Purpleanie and Style and Class celebrated stolid Dutch rural life in Iowa.

"But there are also a lot of issues that involve the church and faith and daily life," says Fondse, "and how those things have to come together in a coherent, righteous way."

Similarly, Jellema's poetry celebrates "slender moments, fragments of the lost Eden" in everyday life, according to one reviewer.

"He's a well-known poet," says George Harper, Calvin emeritus professor of English, adding that he looks forward to Jellema's reading. "It's good stuff aloud. It's poetry that's easy on the ear."

Jellema began working as a poet in the middle of his career as a teacher of modern literature. He subsequently produced four books of poems, the latest of which, A Slender Grace, a post-retirement come-back, was published in September of 2004. The three earlier books are Something Tugging the Line, The Lost Faces, and The Eighth Day: New and Selected Poems.

He was twice awarded poetry writing fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts, and was many times a resident fellow at Yaddo. He also edited and translated two books of poetry from the North Sea language of Frisian: Country Fair: Poems from Friesland Since 1945 and The Sound that Remains: a Historical Collection of Frisian Poetry. For this work he was awarded Friesland's highest literary honor, the Pieter Jelles prize, and the Columbia University Translation Prize, 1986.

Wiersma, who was known for his poetry, and for his encouragement of young Christian authors, died suddenly in 1986 while on sabbatical in the Netherlands. The Wiersma Literary Endowment, which supports the lecture series, was established by Wiersma family and friends in 1988 to encourage Christians in the reading, writing and publication of excellent literature.

"The endowment is set up not only to honor Stan," says Fondse, "but also to perpetuate the kind of conversation Stan would have enjoyed."