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UCLA Magazine Fall 2002
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Fall 2002
The Scholar & the Poet
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TODAY, YENSER IS A UCLA PROFESSOR of English and director of the undergraduate Creative Writing Program. His own work has won him national and international recognition — the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for his 1993 collection The Fire in All Things and the B.F. Connors Prize for Poetry from the Paris Review — and has been included in two volumes of The Best American Poems series. His poetry and essays have been published in the Partisan Review, Poetry, The Nation, The New Yorker and The Yale Review, and he regularly is a judge in poetry competitions ranging from the University of California's Poet Laureate Prize to the Pulitzer. As curator of the UCLA Hammer Museum Poetry Series, Yenser has brought some of the nation's most influential poets to campus — U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jorie Graham and Bollingen Prize-winner Anthony Hecht have appeared — and the series is considered to be one of the West's premiere forums for poetry.

Throughout his career, Yenser has established himself as a trustworthy ambassador from a literary realm that strikes many readers as remote and impenetrable. "In his generation, Stephen has emerged as the best critic of contemporary poetry in the nation," says J.D. McClatchy, editor of The Yale Review.

He also has emerged as a gifted teacher, earning the respect and accolades of colleagues and students alike who praise him for his modest, self-effacing style, sterling credentials and genuine warmth and desire to nurture young talent — a characteristic born, perhaps, from that first meeting with Merrill.

"He treated me like a fellow poet from our first interaction," recalls Maggi Michele, a Ph.D. candidate who first took a course from Yenser while an undergraduate. "It was like, 'I'm a poet, and you're a poet. Why are we just standing here? We should get to work.' "

Says English Department Chair Thomas Wortham: "I sometimes want to walk behind him and put a sign on him that says 'Great Poet.' "

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