In poetry and politics, Fairfield professors rise to the occasion

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For Fairfield University’s Kim Bridgford, the act of writing is the most rewarding part of her profession. So, when she was named the 2007 Connecticut Poetry Circuit Poet, she felt “like a dream had come true.”

Bridgford, who has taught in the University’s English department since 1989, said Fairfield has always felt like home to her.

As this year’s representative, Bridgford will tour various schools throughout Connecticut discussing her new collection, “In the Extreme: Sonnets about World Records,” which includes 44 original poems based on “Guinness Book of World Records” record holders.

Bridgford’s inspiration for this particular collection came from her 11-year-old son’s interest in the record book.

Upon seeing the picture of the world’s longest fingernails, “I thought, ‘I’ve got to write about this!’” she said.

While 37 poems are about single records, seven are based solely on “Mike the Chicken,” the chicken who survived with its head cut off the longest.

She did extensive research on each record, and achieved what poet and judge R.S. Gwynn called “a flawlessly realized sonnet sequence” that “climbs to the level of tour de force,” according to a press release.

“Even though they’re based on records, they’re also my own take,” Bridgford said.

Each year, the Connecticut Poetry Circuit chooses an outstanding poet to tour colleges, reciting excerpts of his or her work and meeting with poetry students. A committee of in-state poets nominates a number of poets, and co-directors James Gentile and Mariana DiRaimo narrow down the nominees to one final recipient. The entire judging process is completed within a few months.

According to DiRaimo, the judges were impressed with Bridgford’s accomplishments, including both her reputation as a writer and as an excellent teacher.

“We’ve been eager to have her,” she said of Bridgford on behalf of the Circuit.

The entire judging process is completed within a few months.

Bridgford is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and has written three books of poetry: “Undone,” which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; “Instead of Maps,” which was nominated for the Poets’ Prize; and this year’s “In the Extreme: Sonnets about World Records,” for which she received the 2007 Donald Justice Poetry Award from the West Chester University Poetry Center in Pennsylvania.

Bridgford knew she wanted to be a writer since she learned to read at a young age – an activity she said she found “magical.” During her early years of writing, she “often failed and succeeded,” she said. Yet, “sometimes I learned even more from my failures.”

Among Bridgford’s inspirations are Robert Frost, Sylvia Platt and her own mentor Donald Justice.

She is also “very inspired by all people who are passionate about what they do,” she said, recognizing Fairfield University students as profound writers and artists.

Besides teaching poetry classes at Fairfield, Bridgford is an editor of Fairfield University’s literary magazine “Dogwood” along with English professor Michael White, and also oversees independent writing projects.

“Despite her fantastic accomplishments, there is a great camaraderie and mutual respect between her and the students she mentors,” said Molly Mellinger ’09, a creative writing/poetry major who works under Bridgford in an independent study.

“Studying with her is like studying heliocentrics under Copernicus; her kindness and wisdom are equally striking.”

Bridgford can be counted among Jane Smiley, Philip Roth and Tracy Kidder as an alumna of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she received her M.F.A. She also earned a doctorate from the University of Illinois.

Her favorite project usually tends to be her most current project, she explained. Right now that is the Perennial Postcard Project, in which writers send a poem on the back of a postcard to other writers, who then do the same, creating an ongoing chain of poetry.

She is also busy writing “Take-Out: Sonnets about Fortune Cookies,” and working on a three-book project with Kathryn Jo Yarrington, professor of visual and performing arts at Fairfield. The project features photographs and sonnets based on Iceland, Venezuela and Bhutan.

A tour date at Fairfield University has not been scheduled yet, but will occur sometime in October or November.

Other stops include the University of Hartford, Tunxis Community College, Middlesex Community College, Western Connecticut State University, Wesleyan University, Trinity College, Manchester Community College, Central Connecticut State University, and Southern Connecticut State University.

Click to read the Fairfield U Press Release and to see tour dates

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