Taking the stage in blue jeans, a button-up shirt, tie, and brown New Balance shoes, Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair introduced his audience to an oft-neglected element of Longfellow's poetry.

He spoke of a "second" Longfellow—a voice the poet adopted to ask "questions about the country and its values... championing those who had been betrayed by America."

This "second" Longfellow's poems on war, slavery, and factory life undermined the "course of empire" by presenting a picture of men and women whose lives did not exactly line up with the idealized vision of the American Dream.

The lecture was part of last Thursday's "Heart's Delight Dinner," one event in the ninth annual Longfellow Days celebration.

McNair began by reading his own poems that draw upon his own life experience.

"How I Became a Poet" dealt with the departure of McNair's father and a wanted poster McNair made in response. "Blame" concerned McNair's stepfather, who McNair described as "a Mr. Fixit, who often couldn't."

In all of these poems, McNair responds to the "second" Longfellow's critique of American society by taking the perspective of individuals who had been marginalized by society.

Referring to "How I Became a Poet," one student and aspiring poet at the event, Ricardo Zarate '13, said, "It was poignant without being sentimental and clearly exemplified the rare talent McNair possesses with words."

In presenting poetry depicting his childhood as exemplary of the themes tackled by "the second Longfellow," McNair revealed quite a bit about his own work.

"I came to poetry to talk about a broken family, and a broken world," he said.

Poems like "The Last Time Shorty Towers Fetched the Cows"—inspired by a man's drunken walk off a roof—and "Making Things Clean," which tells the story of a high school shop teacher having his hair washed by his mother, are meditations on the sometimes bizarre nature of ordinary life. He noted that both such individuals came from a lower class, rural background.

Other poems of note were "November 22nd, 1963," set on the day of President John F. Kennedy's assassination and characterized by numb repetition; "An Executive's Afterlife", the story of a CEO's experience in hell (which he called his contribution to the protests against the "one percent"); and "The Abandonment," a rumination on the death of McNair's brother through the lens of a mother and her young son.

"McNair's poetry is deeply personal and his reading was a testament to the connection poetry draws between people," Zarate said.

Another attendee, Mark Hansen '14 said, "I thought he blended together poetry with his life and development as a poet into a very interesting presentation."

After the reading, McNair spoke further about the nature of his poetry. He referred to poets as "menders of broken things," and revealed that the poems he read were not necessarily emblematic of his larger work, but rather served as a specific slice of his work formulated in response to Longfellow's own.

McNair also explained that his career choice was not solely a product of his childhood, and that his later life experience also aids him in his writing.

"Without heartbreak, you don't get a chance to develop heartbreaking powers," he said.

Rather than writing poetry in reaction to his "broken" childhood, McNair let that childhood fuel a specific component of his work—a subtle, but important, difference.

He established himself as a poet for the public, saying that he "prefers an audience that is not literary."

McNair said he hopes his listeners had "done their homework by living a life."

"That's the homework I care most about," he added.