Friday, April 24, 2015

English Professor Daniel DeWispelare Reads a Poem

This Spring, Daniel DeWisepelare has been teaching Critical Methods (ENGL 2800W), and his students for this course will be presenting their work on critical theory and literature at "A Critical Methods Symposium and Party" today at 2pm in Rome Hall 771. The Symposium is in its second year and testifies to the thriving culture in the English Department.  It also speaks to Professor DeWispelare's abiding passion for language, discourse communities, and the life of literature. Scott Dillon, an ENGL 2470, recently asked the scholar of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries about the poems that matter to him. Among the poets he notes are Jack Gilbert, John Keats, and Mary Robinson, whose poem "January 1795" he shares at the end of the following interview.




What are some your experiences with poetry?


I will say that I have probably less experience with poetry than a lot of people. I came to poetry later in life than many. The thing that always got me into literature was prose, so let’s say, the desire vested in the unfolding arc of a novel. I have a kind of crude sense of what poetry does, but I think it communicates in very different ways.


Who are some your favorite poets?


I like this guy, Jack Gilbert and there are other poets I like that come from other traditions. I like this guy…..who is a Russian language poet. I do like John Keats and the Romantic poets, although sometimes I think, the Romantic poets are little over the edge for me. I look at the world, really different than they look at the world. But, that’s one of the reasons I find their poetry so interesting. I never got into the high Modernists. I had a really brief dalliance with liking T. S. Eliot or at least thinking that that kind of stuff T.S. Eliot was doing was the kind of intellectual work I thought literature could do. But I think I kind of moved on from that.


Eliot writes in a narrative way, so I would think that would be more approachable?


Absolutely. I would say Eliot writes in a more montage way, that would be my brief response to that as oppose to a narrative. Compare it to the narrative function of prose…


He’s getting the same affect with a different technique?


No way, but no means. I’m taking about dirty spy novel; a chaotic unfolding of weird events that are stitched together. I’m sure poetry can do analogous things, but not the same things. [slight pause] I’m trying to think…so some of my favorites of the romantic poems are Keats’ odes. I’ve never been into Blake, sorry Jennifer. I think Jennifer is into Blake, or maybe Jennifer and I agree on a dislike of Blake, maybe I’m misremembering this. But anyway, if you know William Blake’s weird poetic world, there’s this kind of genre of scholars in my field, that are absolutely obsessed with William Blake, and I’ve always had a hard time digesting it. [slight pause] Similarly, Byron, who is kind of central to my period…if anything, I suppose the person I feel closest to, even though he is kind of a strange individual is William Wordsworth, in this period.


Have you ever written any poetry of your own?


Infrequently. I’m quite interested in the poetic function vis-à-vis, Roman Jakobson, but I haven’t necessarily composed poetry. Although, I have from time to time, written poetry to people. But generally, in a more ironic voice, not as something serious…


Like in a card for a birthday?


Yeah sure, I’ll make a little poem. Definitely.

Critical Methods Symposium and Party TODAY! Rome 771, 2-5pm

Today is the Critical Methods Symposium and Party! Come and see students (many of them English majors) present their work integrating cultural studies, critical theory, and literary analysis.

This event was organized by Prof. Daniel DeWispelare, who (among other professors in the department) has taught our course on Critical Methods.

We hope this will be a stimulating venue for intellectual community and discussion -- plus food and socializing.

The provisional schedule of speakers is below (click the image to enlarge).

TODAY, Friday, April 24, in Rome 771 from 2-5pm!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mike Massaroli Reads a Poem

As President of the Residence Hall Association, Mike Massaroli is not only a junior studying Political Science, but he is a legitimate GW Celebrity.  AND, he cares about poetry.  Kenny Hoffman recently interviewed Mike about his favorite poem, Ernest Lawrence Thayer's "Casey at the Bat," and how poems figure into the life of the RHA.  




Why did you choose to read this poem in particular?


So, this was a poem that has always had a lot of meaning for me because, actually, back in middle school we had to do, basically, a poetry recital where we had to memorize an entire poem and deliver it to the whole class, and I was a big baseball fan then and now so, I thought, "Oh, I should memorize 'Casey at the Bat' and read that to everyone." And, I remember, you know, going through that poem over and over again, and sort of, like, spending so much time reading it and taking it in, just trying to get it all down, and I was so excited when I realized, "Wow, I can memorize, like, forty lines or something. That's crazy." And I read it, and I got an A, so I was pretty happy.


What do you think the importance of poetry is? Do you think it is important?


I think it's important because I think it gives us the chance to sort of see the deeper meaning behind things we experience in our everyday lives. And, whereas, like, obviously there's all sorts of great value in, like, a flat piece of prose, but poetry sort of gives you a chance to dig deeper into what you're experiencing and to what others experienced and sort of see the symbolism behind a lot of that and see the beauty in a lot of things in the everyday world.


As a public student leader—you're the president of RHA—how does your private experience with  poetry, or, more broadly, your private experience with art, effect your public performance?


Honestly, my experience with this poetry recital in, like, seventh grade, when I was like, "I don't think I can memorize, like, a giant poem, I think this is going to be too hard," and I just sat and I worked on it and, like, really absorbed it for a long time and then found that I was able to deliver it pretty well and, like, pretty effectively and sort of, I hope, convey what the poet was trying to convey—it sort of gave me an increased confidence in, like, my ability to speak and my ability to deliver things, which I think has stuck with me ever since. I think that this poetry recital in seventh grade sort of, like, spiraled into something that still sticks with me today.

Professors Jennifer James and Jennifer C. Nash on Ferguson

GW Professors Jennifer James and Jennifer C. Nash are part of a forum accessible online this month in Feminist Studies.  The forum is on "Teaching about Ferguson," with six professors reflecting on the pedagogical challenges of teaching about state-sanctioned violence against people of color in the United States.  There is direct access to Feminist Studies online for the whole month of April.

Direct Access for the month of April to
Feminist Studies forum
Teaching about Ferguson
 Access the forum now
Access the forum through your university library 
Six professors reflect on the pedagogical challenges of teaching about state-sanctioned violence against people of color in the United States:
  • Jennifer C. NashTeaching about Ferguson: An Introduction 
  • Jennifer JamesLooking
  • Sylvanna M. FalcónThe Globalization of Ferguson: Pedagogical Matters about Racial Violence 
  • Sarah Jane CervenakOn Not Teaching about Violence: Being in the Classroom After Ferguson 
  • Rebecca Wanzo, The Deadly Fight Over Feelings 
  • Treva B. Lindsey, Post-Ferguson: A "Herstorical" Approach to Black Violability
To "speak about Ferguson is always to speak about more than Ferguson," as Jennifer C. Nashnotes. "Ferguson" has become shorthand for the legal murder and devaluation of racially marked bodies. Nash reflects on teaching about racial violence in the midst of racial violence. Jennifer James argues that we must "accept the unleashing of historical mourning as part of what we do." Sylvanna M. Falcón connects racialized police violence within the United States with state violence outside the United States. Sarah Jane Cervenak builds on Trinh T. Minh-ha's documentary concept of "speaking nearby" to teach "near" racial and sexual violenceRebecca Wanzo analyzes anger over Mary Engelbreit's transgressive portrayal of a mother crying in the wake of Michael Brown's death. Treva B. Lindsey reminds us of the role of trans* and queer people in racial justice movements, and counters narratives about racial violence that center only on Black men.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Music Professor Steve Hilmy Reads a Poem

Steve Hilmy is a rare breed of professor—insanely knowledgeable and the type that you’d want to go get a beer with because he’s so cool. If you speak to him for one second you realize this guy has more knowledge than you could potentially absorb in a lifetime. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, Steve was then sent to a British boarding school at the tender age of 7. He went to GW for undergrad, and has been the Director of the Electronic and Computer Music Studio since 1992. Before heading into the electronic realm of music, Steve was a symphonic composer. Now, most of his work combines performance, dance, and electronic music. As a composer, a main source of his inspiration is poetry. Here, he reads the third poem in Samuel Beckett’s “Quartre Poèmes.”

- Maggie Koons, Alaina Noronha, & Hannah Spector




What connection do you think there is between music and poetry, the biggest connection?

Steve Hilmy:

The biggest connection is the sound. The sort of poetry I’m interested in is the sort of poetry that has to be read aloud. I think you can read it and you can hear that voice in your head, but reading it aloud brings it to life—same with music. In another way, music is on a score, it’s a set of directions for musicians, and the poem is on a piece of paper, but the expression of both of these, I believe, is the actual performance of the poem or the music. I think music and poetry are meant to be ephemeral, meant to be out, delivered, and swept by you and how you perceive them is associated with where you are, what is going, whether you hear all the words, whether you hear all the score—it’s all a big part of what music and poetry magical.


Do you write poetry?

Steve Hilmy:

I’ve written very bad poems, that I’ve never deemed to submit them to anybody except for my diary. So, not really.


How often does poetry factor into your music making process?


 For the first ten years of my compositional life, I didn’t do a single piece that wasn’t either inspired by a poem or used a poem—usually in a singing voice, a soprano or mezzo-soprano, really a woman actually. I wrote one piece for a baritone on an Emily Dickinson poem.

Avra Bossov Reads a Poem

Avra Bossov is a senior in GW's School of Media and Public Affairs, majoring in Political Communications with minors in Sustainability and Mind-Brain Studies. In addition to her past involvement with House Staff, APO, and Alternative Breaks, Avra currently serves as the Executive Vice President of GW’s Student Association. In honor of National Poetry Month, Avra recited e.e. cummings’ “[i carry your heart with me (i carry it in]” and responded to some of our questions about poetry.

The Recitation

The Interview
interviewed by Sarah Costello, Kenny Hoffman, and Jasmine Baker.

Poets: Why did you choose "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]?"

Avra: ​I chose this e. e. cummings' poem because it has always been one of those poems that you just go back to and read over and over and you still find certain lines beautiful.

Poets: How does poetry play a part in your everyday life?

Avra: That’s an interesting question because sometimes I actually think in poetic phrases! When I was a kid I used to carry around a journal and would just journal all the time and write poetry and everything, but then I got busy and everything like that. But this year, because of everything going on in my life, with the uncertainty of the future, I have taken to journaling again. So poetry, I would say, plays an interesting role in my life.

Poets: Why do you think the arts are important?

Avra: I think the arts are important because in our society in general we don’t necessarily express ourselves all the time, and it’s just important to reflect and be able to express yourself in a lot of different ways - not necessarily in words, although you could in poetry, but also in music and acting and dancing and other artsy things. But I think it’s important to always take some time to really think about your life experience and take the time to put your life experience in a different form for other people to see, too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

TODAY: Shakespeare's Birthday! Starting 2pm at Gelman terrace

 Shakespeare's Birthday 2015 GW Bardians Poster

Come celebrate Shakespeare's birthday TODAY with GW English students and faculty. This birthday bash (with food, poetry readings, crafts, and more) starts at 2pm on the Gelman Library terrace (overlooking Kogan Plaza) and is co-organized by the GW Bardians, English, Gelman Library, and the Dean's Scholars in Shakespeare Program. #WillsBDay

A message from the GW Bardians:

Greetings, GW Bardians and Friends!

" were born in a merry hour." (Much Ado About Nothing)

Event: Shakespeare's Birthday Party
Time/Date: 2:00-5:00pm, TODAY (Tues, Apr 21)
Location: Gelman Library terrace overlooking Kogan Plaza 
Price: FREE! 

Today's the day! We're celebrating Shakespeare's 451st birthday with FREE cupcakes, tea, crafts, Shakespeare selfies, contests, and cool prizes. This afternoon you can "party Bard-y" with GW Libraries, GW English, and - of course - your very own GW Bardians! We know it's a couple days early for his birthday (Apr 23rd), but you won't tell, right? So take a study break, come on over to Gelman this afternoon, and wish the Bard a happy birthday!

See you there! 


- GW Bardians

Saturday, April 18, 2015

GW Alum Elizabeth Stevens Publishes Population, a Novel

"Sharing my work [at GW], and reading the work of others, critiquing and being constructively critiqued, got me thinking about aspects of writing fiction that I had never thought of before.” – An interview with GW grad Elizabeth Stephens.

Elizabeth Stevens has just published her
first novel, Population
1. I'm as intrigued by your life story as I am by your just-published novel, Population, so let's start there.  You're currently living, I think, in South Africa. How did that come about?

Yes! I am currently living in Johannesburg. The road was long from GWU to Jozi, but I’ll do my best to give you the shorten version. At GWU I studied international affairs with a concentration in the Middle East. My sophomore year I studied abroad in Cairo, but was evacuated in 2011 to Amman at the onset of the Egyptian Revolution.  I completed the scholastic year there. In 2012, I spent another semester studying abroad in Paris, but my real passion was and still is for the Middle East, so upon graduation I returned to the region with an internship at the UNRWA (the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees) in Beirut, Lebanon. Given the spillover from the conflict in Syria, and the fact that I was living in the Shia, Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs, I was forced out due to violence. At this point I had nowhere to go, and rather than return to the States, I decided to move in with my boyfriend, who was then completing his masters degree at the IHEID in Geneva.

Moving to Geneva, I found a position as communications officer within a human rights organization, Future of Human Rights Forum. Over the course of the next year, I started managing some of their communications assistance projects targeting youth in underserved regions. While the experience was an unforgettable one, after a year I was ready to move on and when my boyfriend’s company opened an office in Johannesburg, I figured, why not? 

So that’s what brought me to Johannesburg, where I currently work for JvO Consulting, a firm that specializes in strategic communications. Our clients are mostly mining related and range from big intergovernmental organizations to independent governments to private sector mining companies. The work I do now is much different from what I was doing before, but also so much fun! Working as an independent consultant also affords me time to work on my book(s), so I really couldn’t be happier.

2.  You've also traveled the world a good deal as, I gather, a journalist.  Tell me something about that.  Did your background as a literature student at GW inspire/enable that in any way?

Absolutely! My entire academic career at GWU has helped me invaluably throughout the course of my career. Being a journalist in the Middle East would not have been possible without the knowledge I gained throughout my international relations coursework and my early writing classes helped me identify the differences among research, literary, and journalistic forms of content. My coursework at GWU helped me become a more concise writer. As I moved across the Middle East from Cairo to Beirut to Tunis, where I did some consulting work with the OECD, I was able to translate that knowledge into freelance journalism. From there, I had political articles on the Middle East published in a number of online magazines across Europe and Africa. I also hosted a travel column in a UK-based magazine by and for women.
3.  I've read the first couple of chapters of  Population.  It's a dystopian story of women trying to survive in a lawless post-apocalyptic America.  Talk a little more about its plot, and about your long-established interest in the horror-story mode.

Horror and romance are strangely enough my two favorite genres and I absolutely adore any artistic work that combines both. My favorite authors and titles includeThe Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, Hellbound HeartAbarat and Mister B. Goneby Clive Barker and pretty much everything ever written by Stephen King. I have previously published short stories in the horror genre, almost all of which are touched with elements of fantasy.

I like to consider Population a horror-meets-romance, action-adventure fest. Abel, my protagonist, is a young woman struggling to keep herself and her family alive in world run by beings from another planet, the Others. The Others hunger for power and also for the taste of human flesh.  All but extinct, Abel is one of the last humans left alive in the desolate and harsh landscape that survivors have come to call Population.  She is calculating and keeps a list of rules to live by that guarantee her survival, but when her best friend’s daughter is taken she has to make a choice: risk her own life, or leave a young girl to die. 

Choosing to abandon her list of rules and defy all her better instincts, Abel embarks on a dangerous quest across Population.  Along the way, she finds herself in an unlikely alliance with one of the things she hates and fears most -- one of the Others. In order to rescue her best friend’s daughter she’ll have to delve further into his world than she could have ever imagined. In doing so, she’ll also have to learn how to trust as he offers her something utterly foreign in Population: hope.

I’d also like to add that I really love Abel as a main character.  She’s a strong female protagonist of color. In my opinion, even though the market has recently opened up for women with an increased number of female leads in popular fiction, there is still an annoying shortage of characters of color. I have one white parent of European ancestry, one black parent of African descent. As a mixed race child, I remember how difficult it was to identify with the characters in the books I read because none of them ever looked like me. They were all white and most of them were also male. So when I first wrote my very first story -- a science fiction saga that I drafted at the age of 11 -- I made sure to include a diverse range of characters. I’ve stuck to this trend ever since.

4.  Do you have other novels brewing?  Are they in the same genre?

Always. I must have two dozen stories that are in varying stages of completion -- or incompletion in most cases -- on the backburner.  The one I’m most excited about at the moment is Population, part two -- don’t worry that won’t be the final title. ***Spoiler alert*** Population ends on a cliff hanger so a second part is absolutely necessary to continue Kane and Abel’s saga.

Population part one is quite graphic, particularly in how it deals with being a woman in violent environments. I wrote the novel this way because I feel that these are realities faced by real women living in war zones and conflict environments. As I mentioned, a good portion of my undergraduate career at GWU was spent studying human rights in the Middle East. Living in Cairo during the Egyptian Revolution also showed me how desperate the plight for women can be when law and order collapses. Abel’s experiences in Population have been largely shaped by my own experiences in and study of conflict and post-conflict areas. Unfortunately for those weak of heart -- or stomach -- the second part ofPopulation will continue to pick up on these issues, many of which we don’t discuss or talk about in our society.

You can expect to see the second part to Abel’s journey hit the shelves in April 2016. As for my other works, they are generally of the same genre -- that grey area where horror and romance may meet.  Some are more fantasy driven while others stick to the real world, and others are other worlds altogether! Whether I’m working on a long or short work, or an adult or young adult manuscript, one thing that remains consistent is my strong lead characters. That, and the fact that most of my books are pretty insane.

5.  Tell us something about your GW experience.  Did you take literature as well as creative writing courses?  Were there professors who had a special impact on you?

One of my biggest undergraduate regrets is that I did not get a chance to take as many writing courses as I would have liked. I took the required writing courses and though I was loath to do it, they helped me invaluably in determining how to write research reports and journalistic pieces. As someone who has previously worked as a journalist and who is now working in communications -- and loving it! -- these courses have had an immense and positive influence on my professional success.

One of my favorite courses I took at GWU however, was a fiction workshop with Tim Johnston. I hadn’t had much experience in writing shorter works and was nervous to share my writing with my peers, as I am also an extremely private person when it comes to my artistry. This class changed all that. Sharing my work and reading the work of others, critiquing and being constructively critiqued, got me thinking about aspects of writing fiction that I had never thought of before. I learned to pay more attention to mechanics and structure so that now when I write I avoid simple yet damaging mistakes. Several of the works I wrote for that class I later went on to publish.

6.  Do you have any advice for current students who might want to pursue a writing career something like yours?

I have three main pieces of advice for students of literature: the first is to always say yes! Don’t let opportunities slip by, because you never know how they may help you in the future. Though I was only ever paid for one piece of writing before I published my book -- a short horror story that placed 5th in an online competition -- every single article or story that I put out there strengthened my foundations as an author, and gave increased credibility to my later works.

My second piece of advice would be to network, network, network! Things are changing rapidly in the world. Access to technology and global consumerism have lowered the barriers to entry into many industries, making being an author more accessible in some ways, but in others, significantly more difficult. While it’s easier now than ever to publish a book, it’s also harder to find a publisher or literary agent to represent you.

My freshman year in college was the first time I completed a full-length manuscript. I spent years afterwards trying to find an agent to take on this young adult book. I wrote query after query and received rejection after rejection.  Don’t get me wrong, I had some bites in the beginning and enough encouragement from publishers to keep me going, but nothing concrete ever came of it. But one day -- the day that I finished writing draft one of Population -- my mom met a woman who just happened to be opening a publishing company and who just happened to be focusing on authors and characters of color. She read my novel that evening and loved it so much that six months later I’m looking my own book up on Amazon.

My final piece of advice to new and aspiring authors would be to never give up, never surrender! I think the hardest part about being an author is finding the time and the will to continue in such a competitive (and sometimes less than lucrative) industry. However, my books arrived today in paperback and I can tell you that there is no better feeling than holding a physical copy of your own book in your hands. It makes every moment of writer’s block and disappointment and rejection worth it a thousand times over. So don’t ever give up on your passion and don’t ever stop writing. For me, I can tell you that it doesn’t even feel like an option. Writing has been stitched into my skin and into my soul.

Congratulations Elizabeth!

Population can be found via: