Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summer Kudos

It's that lazy time of the summer--the spring semester has ended and the humidity is high. But we won't let humidity get in the way of expressing our pride in our faculty and students. For your summer reading pleasure, three kudos:

Prof. Jonathan's Hsy's book, Trading Tongues: Merchants, Multilingualism, and Medieval Literature (Ohio State University Press, 2013) has made Library Journal's list of recent scholarly bestsellers in Language Arts.

Prof. Hsy

M.A. student Paula Mejia's master's thesis, a look at the dialectics of pop in Scottish band The Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy LP, is slated for publication in Bloomsbury's 
33-1/3 series of books on noteworthy record albums. She is completing her thesis under the direction of Prof. Gayle Wald, with Prof. Tom Mallon as reader.

M.A. student Paula Mejia

Prof. Jeffery Cohen has received an inaugural Dean's Research Chair from Columbian College to pursue work on his forthcoming monograph, Stories of Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman. The award includes research support and release from teaching. You can see Prof. Cohen interviewed for the new Showtime series Penny Dreadful here.

Prof. Cohen


Monday, May 19, 2014

Congratulations 2014 Graduates!

Congratulations to all members of the Class of 2014. This spring, GW English graduated 5 Ph.D. students, 5 M.A. students, and 84 B.A. students. We are proud of all of your hard work and your many accomplishments!

Ph.D. students were "hooded" at a ceremony in the Smith Center on Thursday evening. The dark blue color on the hood signifies the doctorate. The pocket in the hood is good for cell phones, lipsticks, and keys.

Although it rained on the Graduate Celebration on Friday, the weather did not dampen the spirits of M.A. recipients Lubaaba Al Azami or Elisa Valero, who braved the downpour for their CCAS medallions! Lubaaba now goes on to Ph.D. work in England.

M.A. recipients Lubaaba Al Azami and Elisa Valero.

Finally, on Saturday we honored our graduating seniors of the Class of 2014. Students, their professors, and their families mingled at Saturday's departmental party. After, students and faculty made their way to the Smith Center for the official Celebration, which included an address by CCAS Dean Ben Vinson, III.

Prof. Wald welcomes graduates and their families.

This year's recipients of English honors and special awards.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2013-14 Student Poetry Prize Winner: Melissa Mogollon

The English department is delighted to announce that Melissa Mogollon is the winner of this year's Student Poetry Prize for her poem "Salon." David Meni is the winner of this year's Academy of American Poets Prize for his set of poems titled "Intermezzo."
There was a robust set of entries for both prizes this year, and the judges--Profs. David McAleavey, Fred Pollack, Jennifer Chang, and Jessica Garratt--had a very hard, rich task to perform.
Below we are very happy to publish Melissa's poem, as well as a brief narrative of its emergence in an Intermediate Poetry course taught by Prof. McAleavey.
The woman cutting my hair asks where I’m from.
She asks if the rain feels different there. Chunks of
hair fall on the floor. She tells me the rain is naked
here. Back home there is wet clay. Rain seeps through
roof cracks. Chunks of wet hair. Where am I from?
Rain feels different here. Chunks of wet clay. Woman
cuts hair. Bloated rain drops at home. She swivels
my chair towards her. The rain falls lightly here.
I’m from wet clay.  She’s from poor roofs. Charged
raindrops. Hair falls. She puts down her scissors.
Chair swivels. Asks where I’m from. Asks if it’s too short.
Hair falls. Rain falls. Asks if my roof lets the rain in here.
She tells me she’s done. Charges me. We both walk to
our new homes. With solid roofs. Through naked rain.

About the poem:

This poem was written in Professor MacAleavey’s Intermediate poetry class in Spring of 2014. We were reading Joshua Beckman’s work and I wrote Salon as a reaction to Beckman’s [The dead girl by the beautiful Bartlett]. I was scared of the poem at first because of its repetitive style. I was a very structured poet who loved stanzas and ends-stopped lines. Reading Beckman and being prompted by Professor MacAleavey to explore this modern chopped form of a sonnet ultimately led me to write this piece. I wasn’t confident in its abilities at first and wouldn’t have followed through with the editing without the encouragement of my peers during workshop.
I was lucky enough that this mysterious little woman washing my hair during a haircut last summer realized I was Latina and decided to pursue her interrogation of my heritage through rain. The events and conversations taking place in the poem are a dramatized slowed-down replica of our 30-second interaction. I chose to have her character cutting my hair in the poem vs. washing it to play off the notion of things “falling.” Modeled after Beckman, the words I chose to repeat were: rain, hair, chunks, fall and wet clay.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Student Spotlight: Katherine Bradshaw

This semester honors student Katherine Bradshaw took home first prize at GW Humanities Day for her work on Shakespeare's King Lear

Katherine is majoring in English as well as Classics and has been working on her Luther Rice Fellowship project, which focuses on another Shakespearean work, Coriolanus. Professor Alexa Huang was Katherine's mentor for her successful project and continues to aid her as she delves into Coriolanus
Prof. Huang & K. Bradshaw
I was able to sit down with Katherine and discuss her research project as well as some of plans for the future.

How would you summarize the point of your Research Day project?

For this project, I looked at the anonymous 16th Century play King Leir, William Shakespeare’s King Lear, and Sir Trevor Nunn’s 2008 filmed adaptation of King Lear starring Sir Ian McKellen in the title role. I focused on the character of the Leir/Lear’s loving youngest daughter Cordella/Cordelia to explore each work’s perspective on the nature and motivation of a daughter’s duty (responsibility) to her father. I had the opportunity to conduct archival and textual research both here at GW and at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive in England. My study concluded that, taken together, the three works form a trans-temporal arc from gratitude-based obligation, through unconditional love, and finally to emotional pity, showcasing the changes in notions of filial duty over time. 

I have to ask, what particularly drew you to Shakespeare?

Wow! There are so many things. Just to give a bit of context, I’ve been a Shakespeare enthusiast since age seven, so my reasons have changed over the years. Back then, I enjoyed his comedies, and I think I was subconsciously drawn to the sound of his language. I still love the auditory beauty and intricacy of how he strings words together. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more and more interested in his compelling portrayals of human nature and human struggles. Using often extreme representations and circumstances, Shakespeare’s plays and poetry explore themes that apply to each of our lives in their own way, and that’s why I like to study his works.

How did you come up with your idea for Research Day? Did it stem at all from your Luther Rice Fellowship work on Shakespeare's Coriolanus? 

I’ve been fascinated by the topic of duty and responsibility ever since I read Vergil’s Aeneid in my high school Latin class, because that poem is basically an exploration of duty – pietas in Latin. This Research Days project grew out of a combination of my interest in duty and a desire to study Cordelia’s character. During freshman year, I created a term project on how Shakespeare adapted the character of Cordella/Cordelia to question early modern standards of daughterly duty. This year, with the support of my faculty mentor Dr. Alexa Huang, I wanted to expand on that research to understand the connections that the early modern plays have with a modern adaptation. Nunn’s King Lear is quite captivating because it emphasizes the complexity of Shakespeare’s characters, so that production was an easy choice. The Research Days project flowed from there.

Are you hoping to continue your work on King Lear

Definitely. I focused on the character of Cordella/Cordelia in this project, and I’d like to more closely examine the characters of her older sisters, Gonoril/Goneril and Ragan/Regan as examples of duty (or rather lack thereof).

What are you hoping to work on in the future? Are you brainstorming any new projects?

Well, my Luther Rice Fellowship on Coriolanus will be my main focus in the coming months. For the long term, since I’m a Classics and English double major, I’d like to continue combining my two fields of interest, analyzing each of Shakespeare’s Greco-Roman plays and poems in depth. I’m still trying to decide which ones to study next. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Poem of the Day: Ogden Nash's "Giant Baby Giant Panda"

I first encountered Ogden Nash’s Giant Baby Panda poem settled like a gem in Marianne Moore’s 1944 essay “Feeling in Precision.” In the essay, Moore writes:

"Voltaire objected to those who said in enigmas what others had said naturally, and we agree; yet we must have the courage of our peculiarities. What would become of Ogden Nash, his benign vocabulary and fearless rhymes, if he wrote only in accordance with the principles set forth by our manuals of composition?

I love the Baby Giant Panda
I'd welcome one to my veranda.
I never worry, wondering maybe
Whether it isn't Giant Baby;
I leave such matters to the scientists—
The Giant Baby—and Baby Giantists.
I simply want a veranda, and a
Giant Baby Giant Panda.

This, it seems to me, is not so far removed from George Wither's motto: "I grow and wither both together.""

What immediately charmed me about this poem was the way it thwarts traditional analysis. This kind of literary subversion is, of course, par for the course with Nash, but (believe it or not) I’d never actually read an Ogden Nash poem before this one. We could ask what the panda poem means or what it’s about, but there’s no grand aphorism to be culled from the panda, nor is any particular story being told. Those means of assigning value to the poem are ultimately beside the point. We could say that this poem is about a person who loves baby pandas and would like to have one over to his veranda for a visit, but on closer inspection, the second to last line suggests that this speaker doesn’t even have a veranda in the first place. If anything at all, this poem is simply about the fact that the word panda rhymes with the word veranda, which is a delightful observation.

Insofar as it exists for the sake of reveling in sound play, Nash’s poem is a right, welcoming choice for Moore in her discussion of enigma versus “the courage of our peculiarities.” Moore locates Nash’s peculiar courage in his “fearless rhymes.” I still wonder whether Moore meant to say that our peculiarities give us courage or that it takes courage to express our peculiarities to the world, undisguised by enigma. Either way, Nash’s “Giant Baby Giant Panda” fits the bill.  

                                                                                    —Thea Brown

Thea Brown teaches in the creative writing program at George Washington University.   

Monday, April 28, 2014

Azar Nafisi reading: TUESDAY, April 29, 7:30 p.m.

Writer Azar Nafisi will read from her work on Tuesday, April 29th at 7:30 pm as part of the Jenny McKean Moore series. The talk is in the Marvin Center, Room 407.

Ms. Nafisi is the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I've Been Silent About.  Her talk will focus on her new book, Republic of the Imagination.  

Here is her description of the new work:

"The book focuses on the question: can we have a democracy without a democratic imagination?  It is also about my experiences of 'becoming an American citizen,' of how before coming to America I had traveled to the imaginary America through its fiction, and it is through the lens of that fiction that I now encounter the real America.  My focus is on the vagrant and homeless characters of American fiction, who I believe are also its moral guardians. I begin with Huck Finn as the parent to many other protagonists of American fiction, go on to Babbitt, a critique of current utilitarianism and Ayn Randian individualism, with focus on the education system and its sorry state, then to Heart is a Lonely Hunter, where all the marginal descendants of Huck are gathered, and the Epilogue is on Baldwin.  He as you know has a great deal to say about the intersections between history and fiction, personal and public, and I will draw on that and his definition of the writer as witness."

Poem of the Day: Elaine Kahn's "Name Like an Empty Bag"

Name Like an Empty Bag

My house is a mess. Fuck. Fuck. I burned my 
sweater on the stove. The smell of melted 
acetate, of reading. What if I hate 
it just because she does a better job 
of being me than I do? Too familiar,
the sound of keeping my mouth closed.

I am wearing cycling gloves. I’d like everyone 
to put down their bran muffin for a 
moment and consider the peace that comes 
from staring into the eyes of dog. 
Everybody needs someone to be themselves 
around. But the moonlight is not the moon.

Better people buck the sentimental 
fake of body I’m no rust or green me 
gulp, I gotta. I will let my hair grow 
greasy, I am just a woman with her
arms crossed. Feeling better than I was more 
quickly than expected. That is usual.

How you come up from a nap and fear
that you will never truly be awake 
again. Bed sheets, blankets, Joan-of-Arc-like 
clothing, lamp, a ring. The material 
fishhook does not cease to be a sex act 
don’t be foolish when I tell you

I have loved you just the way you are. 
I always wanted to die of consumption. 
Nothing truer than a McRib or a 
double rainbow. I put garbage in my pockets. 
Read a book. Write a letter. Thank you for 
the object, for the attitude of grace.

The world is much more tolerant of the 
anorectic female head-case. Bravery, 
O boring masochism. I will beg 
you for your patience, trust, my weirdness 
is a side-effect of trying to be 
normal, swear, I do my best, loins, 
I’ve grown tired of girding you.

Despite I
Empty out I 
Sleeping out I

I am attracted to me? 
It is fun to sit in me?

I finish the book. 
I throw the book away.

"Name Like an Empty Bag" by Elaine Kahn is a touching poem about a woman who is frustrated with the life she is living. She calls herself and her house a mess. She calls for peace in her world and the world of others. Kahn calls for a suspension of appearances. She goes on to point out that she won't shower and she feels great not having to look good for others. At a certain point in the poem she begins to talk to herself as if she were a separate entity, She talks about how she (herself) needs to wake up and love herself for who she is. In doing that she needs to love what she does, whether it be eating or collecting scraps or reading and writing. She tells herself that the real world is much more appreciative of who she is now, but if she loved herself the world may not accept that. She finishes the poem with a series of questions about herself. Having transitioned back into her being, she is asking these questions to herself. Is she attracted to herself? Is it fun to be her?

Kahn's writing style is very refreshing. She is very quick to use enjambment so that the first words and the last words on each line have their own punch to them. Also very interesting is her use of questions throughout the poem. The questions are concentrated around the beginning and end of the poem where she is switching persons. She is switching out of her body and talking about herself from outside herself. The poem proceeds in free verse; there is no rhyme scheme or constant meter. The poem flows in a different way. The enjambment, while still having the effects mentioned above, aids the flow of the poem in such a way that each sentence leads into the other. While reading this over and over again, I found myself noticing when sentences ended at the end of a line. These lines were usually the most impactful.

The title is a very key operator in the poem. The title "Name Like an Empty Bag" sets a lens through which the reader has to read the poem. The poem never provides the reader with a name to this character that is so thoroughly discussed. That is reflective of the title. The title equates a name to an empty paper bag; a worthless object with no meaning and next to no use. It's just used to carry things in and to give other objects to other people. There is no lasting meaning to a paper bag and that is how the reader is to perceive this speaker's view of herself.

                                                                                                     -- Nelo Keith Lang

Nelo Keith Lang is a freshman in the Columbian College who aspires to become a high school teacher. He hails from the and only Brooklyn, New Yor

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Poem of the Day: Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise"

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

*Today we feature TWO introductions to the Poem of the Day!*

Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” poem is one of my favorite pieces. The poem speaks to overcoming oppression and resilience with a confident and sassy tone. I chose this poem because I admire the speaker’s confidence throughout it with her rhetorical questions (“Does my sassiness upset you?”), her bold and direct references, and just how clear it is to the speaker and the reader that the oppressors can’t hold her back. She directly references the oppressors, calling them out on their “bitter, twisted lies,” amongst other wrongdoings, and using their wealth to mock them.

Angelou also has vivid images throughout the poem. One that stands out the most is “I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide / Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.” Oceans are seen as free, lasting forever, and she shows that regardless of what oppression she experienced (“shoot me with your words,” “cut me with your eyes,” “kill me with your hatefulness”) she still rises, she’s still here, and she perseveres.

“Still I Rise” directly addresses the oppression of African Americans throughout history, and the speaker even refers to herself as “the hope of the slave.” The poem serves as a tribute to the African American race for experiencing the worst circumstances—slavery, discrimination, segregation, and more—and still persevering, serving as an inspiration and instilling confidence in African Americans.
She also addresses women’s issues in the poem and boldly states, “Does my sexiness upset you? / Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?” This stanza exudes confidence, with her bluntly mentioning the diamonds between her thighs, which many might see as taboo. However, the poem does not speak to only African Americans or women, but to anyone who has been oppressed in some way. Her beautiful references to race and gender do not dominate the poem, making it easier for others to understand the meaning.

The final two stanzas not only have great imagery, but also have a great tempo for the reader to follow. Angelou shows what she’s rising from and then repeats “I rise.” For example, she writes, “Out of the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain / I rise,” and then she creates the image of a black ocean “leaving behind nights of terror and fear.” As the poem takes a more positive perspective, Angelou ends with “I rise / I rise / I rise.” This repetition really helps the message resonate with the reader and gave me goose bumps when I read it.

--Ashlynn Profit

Ashlynn Profit is a senior from Dover, DE majoring in Communication and minoring in Journalism. She enjoys writing, service and all things Beyonce.


This poem was published in 1978 during one of the most productive periods in Angelou’s career. The poem’s theme focuses on how to rise above difficulty and discouragement. Listening to Angelou read her poetry touches me every time, but when I see her perform her poem I feel as if she is talking directly into my soul. She speaks in the present about having to overcome all of the hardships of her past and knowing how now she is a strong African American woman. She repeats “I rise” numerous times in the poem to show her ability to overcome oppression by staying prideful and having confidence.
Angelou paints powerful images in her readers’ minds based on metaphors such as “Shoulders falling down like teardrops / Weakened by my soulful cries” and “‘Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines / Diggin’ in my own back yard.” The way she uses tears and soulful cries immediately makes me think on sadness. She doesn’t deliberately say she is crying and hurt but through her metaphors and similes I get a clear association with sorrow.

The main symbol in the poem is the continuous rising above all those dreadful moments. Angelou, from what I see, was once on the ground and struggled getting up because of the negativity keeping her grounded. Later she realized that she had to pick herself, she had to believe in herself. She is confident and she does have pride, and with that image in her head she was able to rise.

I will always have a strong connection to this poem because, like Angelou, as an African American woman I struggle on a daily basis with negativity surrounding me but I do not stay down. I repeat to myself every day, “You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I'll rise.”

Maya Angelou has taught me to not hold back my words when writing because when others read my work they might also by enlightened. Angelou did it all as a poet, civil rights activist, dancer, author, and actress, and she gives me the drive to not only become a journalist but to pursue all my dreams to their fullest extent.

--Nana Agyemang

Nana is currently a sophomore in the School of Media and Public Affairs at GW.  Although she aspires to be a TV broadcast journalist, her real dreams lie in her love for poetry. She enjoys writing to music by artists such as Toro Y Moi and Lauryn Hill because they allow her to dig into her deeper thoughts and take her into another place.