Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing Stephen Dunn is the author of sixteen books, including the just-published Here and Now (Norton). His book Different Hours was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2001. Among many other awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, and the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement.
His poem, "The Metaphysicians of South Jersey," is reprinted with his permission. Here's what Dunn had to say about the poem and his time as a Stockton professor:
"The 'Metaphysicians ...' started out, as I recall, as an ironic criticism of South Jersey, but then, as often happens in my poems, I began to say things that I didn't know I felt or even knew.
"I think of the poem now as a kind of paradigm of my complicated relationship with place and ideas that pertain to place. I made up the 'metaphysicians' (as a group) of course, but in a sense all thoughtful people are metaphysicians, and I liked inventing their gatherings and what they were interested in. I consider myself one of them, which is why, after many offers to teach elsewhere, I found myself staying at Stockton, and realizing what a good and rich place it was. Or, as I say in the poem, 'what a world it was.'
"In another poem, I say that (in a literary sense) South Jersey
'hadn't been invented yet.' I found myself involved in the process of inventing it. I felt lucky to live in a place and teach at a school that was in the process of becoming, lucky not to be living in Paris or Manhattan, or teach at Harvard. Stockton and South Jersey proved to be very good for me and my work."