Naming Right | Alice Major’s Anne Szumigalski lecture

How do you think up the title for a lecture—especially after you’ve given it? This is the challenge facing UAP author Alice Major, who was invited to give the prestigious Anne Szumigalski lecture in June, at the Canadian Writers Summit.

“The title can be the toughest line to write in a poem,” says Alice. “Or in a lecture. You’re trying to give a sense of what you’re writing about and what its context is, all in a few snappy words.”

“It’s like the whole challenge of poetry—squared!” she adds.

She gave her untitled talk to acclaim, but the challenge has not gone away. The lecture will be published in an upcoming issue of Prairie Fire, and as she prepares the print version, she’s still wondering what to call it.

The Szumigalski lecture is sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets, in memory of the celebrated poet, a founder of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. Over the years, the annual talks have had titles like “Every Exit is an Entrance (A Praise of Sleep)” by Anne Carson, or “Why Poetry?” by Margaret Atwood.

“Titles like that are intriguing or magisterial and they set the bar pretty high,” says Alice. “You feel you have to live up to them.”

Her talk concerns poetry and science—not surprising, given her long engagement with these activities as humans try to find meaning in the universe in books like Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science or her newest collection, Welcome to the Anthropocene.

However, as a label, “poetry and science is rather broad and blah,” she says.

“I’m talking about ideas like truth, and whether it matters that a poet gets the facts right, and where can a poet situate herself if she brings science into a poem. But just try boiling all that down to a catchy tag!”

Suggestions welcome!