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Dan Curley (PhD ’99):  a poetic journey to Rome, an in memoriam for MacKay

Submitted by Stephen E Hinds on December 10, 2019 - 10:12am
Dan Curley poetry book cover by S.L. Johnson

In 2013 Dan Curley (PhD ’99), Associate Professor of Classics at Skidmore, published Tragedy in Ovid: Theater, Metatheater, and the Transformation of a Genre with Cambridge University Press.  Now he is in print again, this time as the author of a neoterically crafted book of verse (his first), Conditional Future Perfect, published by Wolfson Press, an imprint of Indiana University.  In the words of two poet-critics on the cover: ‘Dan Curley’s poetry collection abounds with deeply reverent irreverence and a rollicking, wry melancholy (Francesca Bell);’ ‘The infectiously chatty speaker of this poetry confronts death and environmental crises that jeopardize existence, scrutinizes the difference between truth and veracity, sympathizes with Roman fountains, finds wonder in the everyday (James Bradley Wells).’  Veterans of Rome programs at UW and at Skidmore, whether Dan was their guide or not, will gravitate toward the volume’s luminous midsection, including ‘Transitory’, on Fiumicino (‘To be in the Roman airport is not to be / In Rome ...’), and ‘La Pietà’, an extraordinary moment of epiphany found ‘in the wake of the number 280 bus’.  But for many of our older alums the poem that will linger longest in the mind is Dan’s in memoriam ‘For Pierre MacKay’, which, with his permission, we quote in full: 


This, Pierre, was not what I wanted: pithy,

Elegiac sentiment, clipped and mannered.

You’re too big for that. You were always too big,

            Bursting with data,


Like the office that barely held your projects,

Which I helped you clear. In a nondescript box

Was the world’s first Arabic font on punch cards,

            Tossed in the trash bag


With a shrug: Oh, well. When we made papyrus

And arrayed the strips perpendicularly,

We concealed them under the heavy plaster

            Venus de Milo,


Inattentive to the Seattle climate

And the reek. They say you went gently, eyes closed

Over Sunday’s crossword, without so much as

            Dropping your pencil.


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