Graveyards are an iconic part of the New Orleans landscape and are often visited by tourists and locals alike, but it's not every day that students use these spaces as a place to contemplate mortality and enjoy poetry. Dr. Mike Kuczynski, Professor of English, has taken advantage of the rich history of New Orleans’ cemeteries and his own knowledge of poetry to provide the members of his Books and Reading Wall Society with a unique opportunity to explore the city and build a community with fellow Wall residents.
Professor Kuczynski has been leading the Graveyard Poets event since he first became a Faculty Fellow for the Honors Program almost ten years ago. The idea came to him when he was “brainstorming book-related events that might be of interest to first-year students who were new to the city and who had some interest in learning about book culture in the city”. He had just been on a graveyard tour himself and it occurred to him visiting a graveyard would allow students to go off campus while building on his own interest in poetry written from the middle ages through the eighteenth century that has to do with death, dying, and graveyards.
Every year around Halloween, Professor Kuczynski and members of his Wall Society meet in front of Tilton Memorial to travel to Washington Avenue together on the St. Charles streetcar. They then walk to Lafayette Cemetery #1, where they travel around the gravesites and recite the poems aloud. This act reflects the meditative purpose of graveyard poetry. Professor Kuczynski explains that “reading these poems, especially in connection with a certain object or setting, was used by people during the Renaissance to meditate on their own mortality.” In the past, tourists in the cemetery have noticed the students reading poetry, and Professor Kuczynski says “they’re sometimes drawn in by the atmosphere of contemplation that passes over everyone.”
After reciting the selected poems, the group goes to Still Perkin’ for a light lunch and then to the Garden District Book Shop to bond by browsing titles together. Professor Kuczynski says that the experience of reading poetry in the cemetery gives students a “different attitude toward these places and their significance in the city.” He also believes that the Wall Society helps students deal with adjusting to life at Tulane and in New Orleans by helping students bond through shared meaningful experiences.