Last month, the Poetry in America team headed to Washington DC for one of our most exciting conversations yet: a discussion with Vice President Joe Biden on Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays.”
Robert Hayden, a Detroit poet, wrote poetry that often contemplated the black working-class experience in the Rust Belt of mid-century America. We were eager to hear the Vice President’s reflections on the father/son relationship in Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays,” and the commentary on labor and love latent in its lines.
We arrived at the White House lugging tons of equipment through the security checkpoint, and met our collaborators for this shoot: David Grubin Productions and The Atlantic.
After managing to alienate the Secret Service and various other White House security personnel– (note to self: “about the shape of a bow and arrow case” is not a good way to describe the size of audio equipment unless you’re Catniss Everdeen, and even then, not if you’re trying to gain access to the Vice President and the Eisenhoweer Executive Office Building)– we made it into the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office. Among other vice presidential ephemera, we explored the desk at which Vice Presidents since the early 20th century have sat, signed their names in the top drawer, and even, it’s rumored, where Nixon hid the infamous Watergate tapes. Pretty cool.
The Vice President was impressively prepared, thoughtful, introspective, and acute in his observations of language, historical context, emotion, masculinity, family dynamics, and love-- all through the lens of Hayden’s poem.”
Before long, Vice President Joe Biden entered the room. I won’t spoil the conversation, but suffice it to say that the Vice President was impressively prepared, thoughtful, introspective, and acute in his observations of language, historical context, emotion, masculinity, family dynamics, and love– all through the lens of Hayden’s poem.
As the Vice President left the room, he shook my hand and looked me in the eye, and I felt– just for a moment– that I was the best person in the world. Well done, Mr. Vice President.
We can’t wait to share the conversation with you on our many platforms: first on The Atlantic (our special partners for this segment), then on TV, and eventually in Poetry of the City, our online professional development course for teachers offered through Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education.
But meanwhile: what do you think about Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”? What questions would you have asked the Vice President about this poem? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.