Wednesday, April 30, 2008
A Yes-or-No Answer
Have you read The Story of O?
Will Buffalo sink under all that snow?
Do you double-dip your Oreo?
Please answer the question yes or no.
The surgery—was it touch-and-go?
Does a corpse’s hair continue to grow?
Remember when we were simpatico?
Answer my question: yes or no.
Do you want another cup of joe?
If I touch you, is it apropos?
Are you certain that you’re hetero?
Is your answer yes or no?
Did you lie to me, like Pinocchio?
Was forbidden fruit the cause of woe?
Did you ever sleep with that so-and-so?
Just answer the question: yes or no.
Did you nail her under the mistletoe?
Will you spare me the details, blow by blow?
Did she sing sweeter than a vireo?
I need an answer. Yes or no?
Are we still a dog-and-pony show?
Shall we change partners and do-si-do?
Are you planning on the old heave-ho?
Check an answer: Yes o No o.
Was something blue in my trousseau?
Do you take this man, this woman? Oh,
but that was very long ago.
Did we say yes? Did we say no?
For better or for worse? Ergo,
shall we play it over, in slow mo?
Do you love me? Do you know?
Maybe yes. Maybe no.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Listen to or read the full program here. Congratulations, Jane!
There's blooming out — and darkening in — in Jane Shore's collection, A Yes-Or-No Answer. This is a domestic book, filled with elegies about the writer's late parents, and hymns to the ambivalence of life. Take the simple cadence and serio-comic feel of the title poem:Do you double-dip your Oreo?
Please answer the question yes or no.
The surgery — was it touch and go?
Does a corpse's hair continue to grow?
Remember when we were simpatico?
Answer my question: yes or no.
Six more rhyming stanzas later, we get a less-than-reassuring answer to Shore's question.
Monday, April 28, 2008
In high school I worked one night a week—Saturday—bussing tables at a small diner-type place on Broadway and Twenty First Ave. in Nashville, Tennessee called Noshville. The place posed as a New York Jewish delicatessen—serving potato pancakes, sweet pickles, reubens, patty melts, dogs with kraut, matzah ball soup with matzah balls the size of your head—however to my knowledge nobody who worked or ate there was Jewish or from New York.
Noshville made its debut in Nashville in the spring of 1956. Today, inside the place, there’s a peculiar feeling of nostalgia, a certain longing that’s found on the walls and in the row of red swivel chairs at the counter or the ancient Pacific Rim jukebox in the corner next to the gumball dispenser. These things place upon you the sense that you’re out of synch with the current world, so when I worked there I’d often dream up what Nashville was like in ’56.
I imagined Governor Buford Ellington coming through the doors and taking a table by the window with his staff, all snappy-looking men donning dark wool suits and mustaches. I could even hear him ordering sweet tea in his slow Mississippi accent. Ellington would remain governor until 1968, and in the same year he would mobilize the National Guard to maintain law and order around the state in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King.
Hank Williams, with his Drifting Cowboys Band, graced the stage of the Grand Ole Opry—formerly the WSM Barn Dance—in 1956 and released their song, “Jambalaya.”
A customer of Noshville could enjoy a hot meal and then ride the city streetcar from the riverfront on Church Street all the way down West End Avenue to Centennial Park for a nickel, smelling the rising heat from the virgin asphalt all the way down.
Nashville was a burgeoning urban space in ’56. Approximately 175,000 people called it home, and in an impressive gesture the Nashville Parthenon was constructed, an exact replica of the Greek structure earning Nashville the nickname “Athens of the South”. I would go on to attend my high school senior prom at the Parthenon. I still have the photo of my date and me, pinned corsage and all, wrapped in rented elegance and stiff shoes, smiling widely for the man behind the black curtain.
Exactly forty-six years after its opening I took up employment at Noshville, a place known for its “We Dare Ya” breakfast—three eggs, three sausages, three strips of bacon, and three griddle cakes—something I would never touch now but enjoyed quite a number of times as a flowering young man.
The front of the house—servers, bussers, runners, take-out counters, hosts—were all white, while the back of the house—cooks, hot line preps, cold line preps, stockers, dish washers—were all black. The swinging doors of the kitchen separated two worlds from each other, taunting the other each time its hinges swung back and forth. Everything about these two worlds was different—the smells, the looks, the jargon, the jokes—and as a busser I was the only one in the place who crossed the threshold a million times each night, carrying dirtied dishes in tubs from the floor to the pit, as it was called. Even the music on the radios was different. Sinatra sang about women up front while “Jimmy Mack” by Martha Reeves and The Vandellas blazed the kitchen walls each week.
Frank, the dishwasher, a small wiry black man in his early thirties, called me nigga by name without exception every time we talked. He’d go, look nigga it’s about time you quit bringing these dishes back here to the pit so I can go home and see my wife and kids. Frank would say this, or something like it, every week and a month into the job I learned he didn’t even have a wife or kids. One day we were talking back there by the pit about the Titans and McNair’s hurt shoulder when I just flat out asked him. I said, Frank I’m not black so why do you call me nigga? When I said the word it sounded so obtrusively different than when Frank said it all the time. When it came out of my mouth I immediately wished it hadn’t because I didn’t feel entitled to it. It felt like I had cracked a dirty joke in church. Frank said, We’re friends right? I said, Yeah, Frank we’re friends. He said, Then don’t worry about it nigga.
So I didn’t. Things continued per usual around the place and the worlds never collided. Customers continued to order ten-dollar slices of Carnegie’s Chocolate Mouse Pie or our Seven Layer Vanilla Cream Cake. The same old man continued to sit at the same table, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and read Rolling Stone magazine, making notes in the margins with a blue pen. His waiter, Julie Ann, who was beautiful and wore cat-eye glasses, continued to switch him to decaf after ten pm on the sly. The twenty-something artist at the counter continued to come in high and order a grilled cheese and a milkshake. Waiters continued to cut lemons slices. Hosts continued to sweep the entranceway. My boss, Tim, continued to worry.
I carried on and rid the plates of Vanderbilt surgeons, country music song writers, politicians, school teachers, single women with kids, families of ten, first dates, fiftieth dates, break ups, make ups, and Frank, back in the pit, continued to wash them all. I’d slop the plates, glasses, coffee cups, forks, spoons, sundae dishes and knives into big blue plastic tubs and whisk them back to Frank where he’d smile and say, thanks nigga.
My name is Rachael Baird, and I have been serving as the Communications Liaison this semester. As one of my farewell tasks, I am organizing an informal gathering on Monday, May 12 to celebrate our graduation. Hopefully by then everyone will have finished their exams, papers, thesis... college!
Though we'll be graduating soon, it's never too late to meet up and mingle with the classmates you've had in your English classes all these years. Join me at Tonic (21st and G) for Happy Hour from 5-7. If the company isn't tantalizing enough, Tonic offers half price draft beers and 50¢ wings.
Prof. Cohen insists I make clear that this event is not sponsored by the GW English Department and is 21+.
I hope to see you before we're all dressed in those robes!
- A lifetime of study of Middle English, that happy go lucky linguistic intermezzo when the rules of proper spelling hadn't been invented yet
- My own hastiness, prompted these days by having to answer so much email that to do so efficiently would prove only that I am an automoton
Those weren't typos in the subject line of yesterday's message. "English Deapartment Reeception" is the Middle English spelling. Those of you who have taken my Chaucer class will have realized that fact immediately; those who have not may now think I obtained my PhD from an online offshore institution.Back to grading those papers. And yes, I will be deducting points for misspelled words ... or, knowing me, words that are correctly spelled but do not seem so to my hasty, Middle English addled eyes.
Errors in typing or not, the reception for graduating seniors truly is on Saturday, 17 May from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in Rome Hall 771. The theme will be "Your BA in English Does Not Necessarily Make You an Able Speller." I look forward to meeting your families and friends then ... and I look forward to wishing you well at the CCAS Celebration immediately afterwards as well.
-- The Deapartment Chear
[cross-posted to In the Middle]
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Amy Katzel, editor of Wooden Teeth, has contributed descriptions of the others: Wooden Teeth, GW Review, and Mortar & Pestle.
Amy would also like to invite everyone to attend their Spring Launch Party on Thursday, May 1. Look for details below.
The GW creative writing community boasts several successful literary magazines that are all excited to release new spring issues! Wooden Teeth, GW Review, and Mortar & Pestle all produce collections of poetry, prose, and art.
Wooden Teeth, GW's longest-running student literary magazine, just celebrated its 30th anniversary. The bi-annual magazine showcases poetry, short fiction, art, and photography by GW students, faculty, and alumni. The all-student staff welcomes all members of the GW community to join its Editorial Board.
The GW Review is our university's only national literary review. Although undergraduates produce the magazine, the Review publishes non-student work from around the world. Several GW professors have appeared in past issues of the Review, and every spring, the magazine features poetry and fiction from two graduating seniors.
Mortar & Pestle is an online literary journal established in 2002. This magazine features the work of undergraduate writers and photographers from universities within the D.C. area. Mortar has also published spoken word in past issues.
These magazines invite you to come out Thursday, May 1, for their Spring Launch Party! Enjoy an open-mic reading and snacks while you pick up magazines hot off the press! Anyone is welcome to read. May 1, 7-9 pm, Marvin Center 404. Take a break from studying and join everyone for a great evening!
If you've never heard of BloomsDay before, examine Margaret Soltan's mania for the day.
There will be a reading of Highlights from Ulysses
At the Irish Channel Pub
Located at H and 5th Streets NW in the Capital City of the USA
At 7:00 PM On Monday, June 16, 2008
This Event is sponsored by The Harvard Club of Washington DC and Washington Independent Writers
It is open to the public – there is no admissions chargeJames Joyce has been invited and is expected to be present in spirit
At Le Culte, we pride ourselves on our exclusivity and the high quality of the works we publish. This year has been a rebuilding one for us, as many of our founding members have graduated. However, throughout this transition, we are confident this year's issue will be the best ever. Taking time to examine one's work and devise a plan that allows for positive growth has been an important process. The issue boasts over 20 poems, 9 experimental pieces, our first cover image and our first sponsorship by The Program Board and the SAC. In short, we're becoming a lot bigger and better. We encourage you to submit in the future.
We invite you to please come to our poetry reading and open-mic night on April 30th at 9:00pm in Marvin Center Room 308. It will also serve as the magazine release party and there will be plenty of French refreshments (i,e, Brie and Baguettes), following the tradition of Le Culte.
Feel free to send an e-mail if you have any questions or comments. Please do join us!
Editor-at-Large of Le Culte du Moi
We look forward to seeing you!
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Reflection on the Class
This course was amazing. It provided a unique opportunity for me as an English major to learn about contemporary literature. I think that one of the things that I was lacking was an awareness of talented writers in my own time, especially international ones. The fact that this course not only featured contemporary authors but was taught by one made it really valuable
One thing that was really special about the course was that it asked us to look at literature from the writer’s point of view. Often I hear that someone is a “writer’s writer” in class and I am never really sure what that means. This class acknowledged that we are writers as well as readers, and asked us to look at and appreciate how certain authors approach their art. A really helpful thing that Professor Aslam asked us to do was underline passages that grabbed our attention, and then to share them in class. Often we had all underlined the same ones, so it was interesting to see how and why the author focused our attention on these parts of the novel.
I really loved that we were able to just appreciate literature in this class. Often the focus is analytical for classes, and it was wonderful to be able to express in class an appreciation for how beautiful the prose is or how reading the book was a pleasure. Another question that we were asked was “is this believable?” I thought that this question made us focus on our roles not only as writers but also readers. Sometimes the answer was no. Professor Aslam told us about how he would research thoroughly so that his readers would not always be asking themselves this question. So even when we read from a reader’s perspective, there were writing lessons embedded in what we learned.
The course materials were well chosen because they were varied and featured very strong writing. Morvern Callar showed us how writers are experimenting with voice and consciousness in writing. Geoff Dyer’s book was also experimental, in that it was a book about not being able to write a book. The final novel was Japanese, and written by a notable author. Each novel was unique and I felt that they offered a broad range of international writers.
I think that the teacher’s experience as a writer taught us more than the actual books. His stories, from how he became published to his troubles in trying to research in Afghanistan, were fascinating and instructive. As someone who just received her first job as an editorial assistant, his insight into the publishing world was very helpful. Also, his reassurance to the class that writing is not as scary as people often make it out to be was great. He pointed out that his book was accepted by the first publisher who received it, for example. It was also really great to meet a writer who has been published and is contemporary and young enough to relate to the class. When we study Shakespeare, it is often hard to escape from the myth and adulation that surround his name. Professor Aslam was really down-to-earth and approachable, and I think this allowed us to escape the tradition that puts writers up on a pedestal as “geniuses,” so that we could see who they are as ordinary people.
The small size of the class was crucial to making it a success, as was Professor Aslam’s focus on discussion. By allowing everyone to speak and give an opinion, Professor Aslam included the entire class so that we were able to have good debates. The fact that there was not a test relaxed the class, so that the focus was less on taking notes and more on thinking about the books and expressing our ideas. This was really a great opportunity, especially when other classes are stressful. If something like this is done again, I think that keeping it small would be a really good idea. I have noticed that my best educational experiences at GW have been inside English classes (I’m also in the Elliot school) because it allows for smaller classrooms and more time with the professors. This experience was comparable to Eng. 195, and I really enjoyed it. The people who had signed up for the class were very engaged, intelligent, and had really interesting ideas. So it wasn’t only the teacher who made the class enjoyable, but the students who signed up, because they all had a love of reading literature and writing.
Overall, it was a really great class. I only wished that it had lasted all semester, instead of only a month. It was great to meet the writers that GW hosts in a classroom and on a personal level. One thing that I had regretted about GW was the lack of writers in residence who teach classes. I think that this program was a step in uniting students with professionals in the field, and I would highly recommend this experience to any English major.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Usually, two people would have to stay in the shop late to close up, but today, Jack had been left alone. Everyone else was helping unload tents, tables, and chairs at a county fair that would open later that week. Jack had drawn the short straw at lunch and ended up staying behind without the possibility of quitting early once the delivery was complete. He sighed and looked up at the clock hanging from a rusty nail above the foreman's office. Almost there, he thought.
Jack spent the next 30 minutes sweeping dirt on the cement floor of the warehouse into little piles. He pushed the piles into a line with a big broom then split the line in half and moved the two new piles around. He checked the clock and, seeing that it was finally almost quitting time, swept the dirt out the big loading door and locked it. Jack slowly made his way out of the warehouse, through the showroom and into the store up front. He put his time card in the machine at exactly 5:31. Slapping off the lights, he hustled out to his car.
The beat up burgundy Explorer was hardly something he was proud of but it had four wheels and ran pretty good most of the time. Jack's uncle had sold it to him for next to nothing as a wedding present last fall. It was all the young couple had been able to afford at the time - and now - so they made due. The car lacked a CD player, one hubcap, and working air conditioning, but it wasn't without amenities. Their first addition to it had been a second hand child's-seat, purchased only a few weeks after the wedding.
Jack unlocked the door and pulled himself up into the stale air of the cab. It hinted at cigarettes and spit-up. He winced when his thighs touched the hot vinyl seat and squirmed in the hopes of finding a cooler position. While the pain dropped to a more tolerable level he sifted through his keys and slid the one with a big Ford logo into the ignition. Getting the old truck to turn on was always a mix of brute force and seduction but after a moment Jack felt it come to life. He jammed the stick into first and headed out of the gravel parking lot towards US-12.
Forty-five minutes later he walked up the cracked cement path towards his house. He struggled to pull the front screen door free from its swollen frame and cringed as it screeched loudly in protest. A moment later, a second screech joined in: baby Danny was up and ornery.
"I told you not to use that door!" a voice called out from the gloomy interior of the house. "It frightens him. And where the hell have you been? Jenny's coming to pick me up for the airport any minute!"
"Sorry honey," Jack apologized. He stepped through the small living room and emerged into their pea-green kitchen. His wife was standing over Danny's bassinet on the table, cooing at him and slowly quieting his screams. A backpack and overnight bag were at her feet.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Jennifer Green-Lewis and Margaret Soltan's Teaching Beauty in DeLillo, Woolf, and Merrill was recently published by Palgrave Macmillan. The book argues for the return of aesthetics to the literature classroom. As you will see from the piece at Inside HigherEd, the volume is at once eloquently written and trenchant. A short excerpt follows; the link will take you to the rest.
When his turn came to speak at Norman Mailer’s recent memorial service in New York, the novelist Don DeLillo began by simply holding up his creased and worn 50-year-old copy of Mailer’s first novel, The Naked and the Dead.
All lovers of literature understand the nature of DeLillo’s gesture; they understand that behind the little paperback that he lifted for the audience to see lay years of private aesthetic pleasure in its pages — from the college student marveling at its prose to the venerated author of Underworld marveling at the same thumbed passages. That’s the sort of writer Mailer was, DeLillo meant to say: He wrote novels you’re never finished with; and the scuffs and scratches and stains you put in them over the years add up to the archaeology of your own literary life.
Alexander Nehamas says that beauty of any kind is “a call to look more attentively.” Readers of poetry, lovers of music, gardeners gardening — all people who engage actively with beauty by paying close and lasting attention to it know this to be true. Yet because, in recent decades, we have misperceived the value of beauty, literary scholars have neglected the crucial work of thinking through our relationship with beautiful forms, and have failed to teach our students about the way that relationship sustains and enlightens us...
Friday, April 18, 2008
When did you graduate GW? What was your major?
I graduated from GW in the Spring of 2007. I double majored in Women's Studies and English & Creative Writing.
Do any GW professors stand out as strong influences for you?
Professor Jane Shore strongly encouraged me to first apply for the creative writing major and then for MFA programs. Without her encouragement I don't think I would even believe that what I'm doing is possible. Tammy Greenwood-Stewart also really helped me believe that poetry could be a part of my future and was a huge support.
A favorite GW moment or experience?
I liked a lot of things about GW, but the moment that will always be in my memory is getting the call that confirmed my acceptance at ASU's MFA program in Kogan Plaza. It was a beautiful April day and I had some poetry workshop friends with me. I think I almost passed out by the giant clock.
What have you been doing since you left GW? How have you benefited from a degree in English?
ASU's MFA program is three years (not the usual two), which means more time to write and learn, and of course escape the real world. Part of my acceptance package was a Teaching Assistantship, which means that I teach two courses per semester entirely on my own. So far, I've been teaching Freshman Composition, but next year I'll get to try my hand at an undergrad poetry workshop! Without my English degree, I wouldn't have even been eligible to apply for these programs.
How do you anticipate keeping writing in your life since leaving the workshop environment?
The workshop environment is still with me! But even when I'm finished with this degree, I know I'll always write. I write everywhere already. Airports, buses...but I hope to eventually teach writing classes and maybe even go for a PhD.
If you were at a poetry reading and read "Odessa, Odessos" aloud, what introduction would you give?
My Odessa poem germinated in the car, with my father, when he was confessing to me that he had just purchased a rare coin online. He was really excited about it, getting a money order (I didn't know people still did that!) and explaining it to me. We were driving to his mother's grave. It all sort of fit together for me. The two of them immigrated to the US from the USSR in 1980. Their story has often played a role in my work; I'm fascinated by it.
Here is a copy of Rachel's poem.
In the car my father turns and asks, “Do you know
where I was born?” I hate these questions.
Odessa. He knows I know. Answering, deadpan
to the windshield, the edges still curl in anger.
The coin he bought is from the ancient Greek city
that thrived in the same place. “Odessos,” he says.
I am filled with a slow, heavy sadness,
and wish the air was something other than our silence.
We drive into the cemetery and walk through
the snow to his mother’s grave. It is covered
with a thick layer of ice, and if I step lightly enough,
I can slide across without breaking it. My father falls through.
The sound from beneath our feet is the only one we hear.
“This place brings you back to earth,” he whispers to me.
He slips two smooth rocks into my hand. Their warmth
is eerie and fluid between my fingers, stiffened with cold.
The engraving is written in both English and Cyrillic,
and the coin is for his mother as much as his collection.
The branches shine with frost.
In the wind, they make no sound.
He brushes away dried pollen from invisible blooms
and finds a spot to place his stones. They are pink,
veined with blue, just bigger than pebbles. He has
had these in a little dish on his dresser for months.
Somehow, I knew not to ask what he was saving
them for. Back in the car, my hands are empty.
My father takes the handkerchief that had carried the stones
in his pocket, and lifts it to his face.
Best of luck with everything, Rachel!
Thursday, April 17, 2008
GW ENGLISH DEPARTMENTAL HONORS SYMPOSIUM
Friday, May 2, 2008
1:00 OPENING REMARKS
Professor Jonathan Gil Harris, Director of Undergraduate Studies
1:10-2:10 SESSION I. PERFORMING SEXUALITY & GENDER
Presiding: Professor Holly Dugan
Lisa Francavilla, “Virgin, Mother, and Whore: Appropriating Female Bodily Agency in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying” (dir. Professor Evelyn Schreiber)
Catlan McCurdy, “Investigating the Decline of Edna St. Vincent Millay Through Form and Gender” (dir. Professor David McAleavey and Professor Holly Dugan)
Alex Frank, “Fantasy and Resistance in Sun Ra” (dir. Professor Gayle Wald)
2:15-3:15 SESSION II. NARRATING ETHNICITY
Presiding: Professor Antonio López
Sarah Whittemore, “The Importance of Being English: Anxiety of Englishness in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea” (dir. Professor Tara Wallace)
Nada Shawish, “Writing Backwards: Translation, Time, and Identity in the Arab-American Memoir” (dir. Professor Patty Chu)
Lizzie Wozobski, “Insider/Outsider: Reexamining Jewish Identity in Contemporary America” (dir. Professor Andrea Levine)
3:30-4:30 SESSION III. EARLY MODERN CROSSINGS
Presiding: Professor Jonathan Hsy
Roxie Maisel, “Skeltonics: John Skelton and Presentism” (dir. Professor Kathleen Lawrence)
Taylor Kate Brown, “Rihla: Translating Europe in 17th-Century Arabic Travel Narratives” (dir. Professor Jonathan Gil Harris)
Chris Pugh, “The Whorish, the Objectified, and The Transgendered: Spenser’s Female Others and The Drive of Jouissance” (dir. Professor Patrick Cook)
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
the night is strung
with storm clouds,
dark stained black in blots,
edges dissolving into the wet.
within four walls,
the closeness of
contraction of muscle, the
flushing of Mars reddened,
your fingers kissed
with familiar swirls: the
Milky Way printed,
pressed against me.
the universe is expanding, thunder
loafs beyond the muggy tree line,
the stars revolve
with stunted breaths, your body’s
the galaxy twists,
an alien echo,
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
“Shut up,” grunted Cathy, trying to push herself up onto the checkout counter. She kicked a carton of cigarettes out from under the register, stepped onto its flimsy cardboard, and clambered onto the red Formica surface, scraping her shins as she hoisted herself up. Rocky, startled, started laughing, allowing Cathy to snatch the cool, wet plastic of the soda bottle from his fingers.
“Got it!” she crowed victoriously. She unscrewed the cap, closed her eyes, and took a long pull of chemical-tasting bubbles, savoring the coldness against her dry throat.
“Cathy!” boomed a voice in the darkness. She choked on the soda and wrenched her eyes open to see Jeremiah standing feet away, staring up at her as she knelt on the counter.
Rocky backed away quickly, folding his hands innocently behind his back. Cathy fumbled with the soda bottle, coughing and trying to dismount from her perch.
“Jeremiah, I—” she said, and dropped the bottle. The slick plastic slid swiftly from her hands and exploded in a syrupy, carbonated mess at Jeremiah’s loafered feet.
Rocky yelped and took another generous step back. Jeremiah jumped back too, then glared up at Cathy, his chapped lips pursed in disgust. For a moment, he seemed speechless.
“This,” he said finally, “is unbelievable.” He picked up the gurgling soda bottle with his fingertips and slammed it down on the counter, next to Cathy’s knee. “First,” he said, “first, I see you ringing yourself up for store merchandise, which you know is against Drug-Mart rules, Cath. Then I turn around and you’re climbing on the counter like it’s a jungle gym! What are customers gonna think, Cathy? And now you go pouring soda all over the place—it’s gonna take forever to clean this up! And I just got these shoes!”
Cathy, bewildered, looked down at Jeremiah’s loafers. The right one did indeed still have a Payless size sticker on the side. She said, “I—I’m sorry, Jeremiah. The soda—it’s really hot in—”
“I don’t care how hot it is, Cathy!” bellowed Jeremiah. “You kids, all of you spoiled brat kids that come in here day after day—you and you and the stock guys and even Connie—all of you, you all walk in here and never once do you take this job seriously—”
“I don’t work here,” Rocky pointed out. Jeremiah threw his hands into the air.
“I am the general manager of this store,” he growled. “I’m here all day, every day, and you know what I do when I get home? I play in my band.”
He paused, smirking at Rocky and Cathy, clearly waiting for the impressiveness of this statement to sink in. “Yeah, that’s right,” he said. “My band. ‘Price Check.’” He looked at both of them, clearly hoping the name would ring a bell. Getting no reaction, he continued, “So not only do I have to open and close and run this godforsaken store, I gotta balance it with my band. My music. And every time one of you little punks reads a magazine on the job, or steals a bag of gummy worms, or spills soda, it just makes things harder for me. You kids got a lot to learn about being successful, both of you. Well, here’s your first lesson.”
He turned to Cathy. “You’re fired, Cathy. Go on, get out of here.”
Cathy felt suddenly cold; there was a stunned buzzing in her head, like an air-conditioner with a blown fuse. She knelt there mutely for a minute, and then Rocky leapt forward violently.
“Hey, you listen,” he barked at Jeremiah. “You listen to me for a second. Don’t you push her around like that! You can’t just fire her! She’s the best damn person you got at this place. You know why she’s working at your store all day, every day? Not because she loves freaking drug stores so much, and definitely not because of you, jackhole.”
The sheer volume of Rocky’s voice sparked something inside Cathy, igniting an energy that pulsed forcefully through her veins; she heard herself shout, “Yeah!” in answer to his words. Both men turned to look at her. Her face burned, but she felt her mind clouding over in a haze of heat and anger. She leapt to her feet atop the counter. Rocky and Jeremiah titled their heads back to look at her as she towered above them. She could see the whole store, its pristine aisles stretched out neatly before her like the grid of a city; tiny, scattered customers looked up at her in shock.
“I work eight hours a day at this pointless job so I can make some money,” she said. She could see only Jeremiah’s puckered, wrinkled face, could hear only Rocky’s impassioned voice. “So I can buy myself a car and get away from you, and this town, and this damn store!”
“Hell, yeah!” said Rocky, nodding. “She does everything you ask her to. I’ve seen it, I come in here all the time. You’re always yelling at her, man. And how do you thank her?"
“You fire me!” answered Cathy, shouting down into Jeremiah’s wide glassy eyes. “Well, guess what, Jeremiah? You can’t fire me. I quit.”
She pulled off her nametag and spiked it down at Jeremiah’s feet, loving the dramatic bounce it achieved as it hit the gray carpet, watching it splash down and stick in the soda.
Rocky grinned up at her and reached out his wide, tanned hand. Cathy felt her smile light up as well; she slapped her palm against Rocky’s and leapt down next to him.
“Oh, and Jeremiah?” she said, straightening up. “‘Price Check’ is really the stupidest band name ever.”
“See ya, man,” said Rocky, tugging gently on Cathy’s sweaty fingers. She turned away from Jeremiah, keeping her hand firmly in Rocky’s as they marched towards the exit. The doors flew open respectfully before them as they approached, and together, they crossed triumphantly onto the sprawling blacktop, the infinite freedom of the Drug-Mart parking lot.
"The Political Theology of the Archive: Reflections on a Project"
The author of The Shock of Medievalism (Duke 1998) and The Typological Imaginary: Circumcision, History, Technology (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), Kathleen Biddick is professor of history at Temple University.
The talk takes place at 4 PM in the English Department seminar room, Rome Hall 771 (Academic Center, 801 22nd St NW; Foggy Bottom metro stop). All are welcome.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Prof. Gil Harris will be doing research at the Folger for his new book Shakespeare and Literary Theory, which has already been commissioned by Oxford University Press for its Oxford Shakespeare Topics series. In his project proposal, Gil Harris writes, "The book will consider the four centuries-long relation between Shakespeare and theories of literary production and critical analysis." His new research at the Folger's impressive collection will focus on early modern critical works as well as the Folger's archived periodicals from 1800 to present. Different from other scholars' work that applies theory to Shakespeare, Prof. Gil Harris's book will "tease out the ways in which modern theory has always been 'Shakespearean' and Shakespeare's writing had always been 'theoretical.'"
Although GW will miss having Prof. Gil Harris teaching full-time, his book and fellowship bring great pride to the University. Plus, he won't be too far away.
Friday, April 11, 2008
What happened to beauty? How did the university literature classroom turn into a seminar on politics? Focusing on such writers as Don DeLillo, Virginia Woolf, and James Merrill, this book examines what has been lost to literature as a discipline, and to literary criticism as a practice, as a result of efforts to reduce the aesthetic to the ideological. Green-Lewis and Soltan celebrate the return of beauty as a subject in its own right to literary studies, a return all the more urgent given beauty’s ability to provide not merely consolation but a sense of order and control in the context of a threatening political world.
If that paragraph does not sufficiently whet your appetite, we offer the preface to the volume below.
“How shall the heart be reconciled/ to its feast of losses?” asks Stanley Kunitz in his poem “The Layers.”[i] As Kunitz clearly knew, there are actually a few things available to us in a time of grief that, if they cannot reconcile the heart, at least may turn the shapelessness of loss into the consolation of elegy. This book is about one of them. It is intended, first and foremost, for our students who, after their early morning encounters with the world via CNN, appear in our classrooms to talk about Ruskin or Thackeray or Nabokov. How shall their hearts be “reconciled” to the world in which they find themselves? Why, they might well ask, should they study literature, amid the ongoing global feast of losses?
Our response to that question, and the starting point for this book, is our belief that beauty, and specifically, the beauty to be experienced in literature, is one of the things that can offer our students consolation, can give them forms in which to shape their own present and future grief and joy. There have been times--on September 12, 2001, for example, while the sky visible from our classroom still bore traces of smoke over the Pentagon--when as teachers of literature we have felt ourselves at an almost grotesque remove from the misfortunes of the world. But our recognition of that remove also recharges our daily awareness of the extraordinary privilege that it is to be in the classroom with our students. As teachers of literature, we are not only intellectually excited but also ethically obliged to make the beauty of literature--the reconciliation to our world that a written work may offer--a part of our discussion of a work.
And certainly there is plenty of thinking about beauty going on, unfashionable as it has been in recent years to acknowledge it. Notwithstanding the shifting tastes of literature departments, beauty has never abandoned the province of literature, nor have readers failed over past decades to appreciate it. Our argument in this book, however, is that in its evolution into literary and cultural studies, what used to be called Literary Criticism failed to bring along with it what was once also part of its purview: namely, an appreciation of, and the skills to describe, the aesthetic life of a work. As teachers of literature started to move beyond the textually prescribed boundaries of close literary analysis to pursue historical, political, and theoretical approaches to literary works, we stopped making time to let our students talk about beauty, and we failed to teach them a formal vocabulary with which to do it.
The conclusions we draw in this book result from our own experience as teachers of literature; as people, that is, who like to read, and who teach other people how to read, and how to write about what they read. In another age, we might have said that we were literary critics, but in academia today that term has a quaintness about it that brings to mind worthy but impossibly tweedy figures such as the Leavises. Today’s successful literary critic writes for a periodical, such as the New York Review of Books, and is rarely found in the halls of the English department.[ii] We don’t often teach literary criticism at universities any more; at least, not the kind of literary criticism involving the kind of close reading, evaluation, and judgment which are required for writing a decent book review.
This may be because, as with so many things in America, the thing that once was literary criticism has grown much larger in the past twenty-five years; while, paradoxically, in their various conceptual expansions, English departments have simultaneously made less and less space available for serious study of aesthetic questions --those questions pertaining, that is, to questions of beauty. We believe that a relentless focus in the college classroom on the work of art as cultural production, or on the creation of its readership, and an emphasis on what or whom a text may represent and whose rights or interests are slighted by it, have led to a culture of criticism full of its own special interests; while its neediest practitioners–our students—have been too often starved of the pleasures--the reconciliations--of the work itself.
Why does a work move us? How do we explain the pleasure, or discomfort, given us by a particular couplet, or arrangement of words, or indeed any literary device? What is the nature of our aesthetic response and can we identify what has elicited it? Open questions such as these that offer a grounded point of entry into the discussion of a work of literature or art have been asked far too rarely over the past thirty years, while other questions have become, as a result, burdened with complexity and often regarded as off limits. For example: How do we justify the choices we make when we judge between works, as judge we must?[iii] What does it mean to say that something is well or poorly written? How can students of literature and art--how can anyone--identify any artwork as definitively bad--or good?
[ii] There are, happily, exceptions. James Wood, senior editor of The New Republic and chief literary critic for The Guardian, currently teaches in the English Department at Harvard, and continues to write informed, accessible, and widely-read literary criticism. Louis Menand, also of Harvard, and Michael Wood at Princeton are, similarly, “cross-overs” whose work reaches a wide audience and remains fully identifiable as literary criticism.
[iii] If we are teachers we must judge what is worth teaching; and as readers we must presumably decide what is worth our time. Why should a class on British Literature make space for Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster but none for the far more widely read Marie Corelli? One obvious answer: life is short.
----------------------Margaret Soltan also gave a talk to the GW Undergraduate Philosophy Club on the evening of April 7. Titled Better Living Through Consciousness: Why You Should Take Your College Education Seriously, it can be read at her blog, University Diaries, at Inside Higher Education.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Here is the official accolade I put together for Maxine Clair. President Knapp will read it at the luncheon in her honor later this month.
A native of Kansas, Professor Maxine Clair has been teaching at the George Washington University since 1989, and has been tenured in the English Department since 1996.
Professor Clair did not begin life as a writer, but had a successful career as chief medical technologist at the Children's Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She attributes her life change to a George Washington University Community workshop sponsored by the Jenny McKean Moore Fund for Writers. Her instructor, the poet Carol Muskie, recognized her gifts and encouraged her writing. Professor Clair went on then to complete a Masters in Fine Arts at American University.
Professor Clair is well known for her poetry, short stories, and novel. She is the author of Rattlebone, a collection of short stories about the African-American community in Kansas City in the 1950s. The volume won the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize for fiction. She has also published a collection of poems, Coping With Gravity. Her lyrical novel October Suite returns to the heroine of one of her short stories and won Baltimore's Artscape Prize. Professor Clair's work is as beautiful as it is emotionally wrenching. In stories and in poems she is always able to capture the perfect image with the perfect feeling. Professor Clair is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship.
A fantastically effective teacher and a valued colleague, Professor Clair has given the university years of excellent service. Her creative writing classes are legendary for the caliber of work they have inspired and for the humane way she treats her students.
In this seminar, which meets once weekly for 2_ hours, we will read all of Lorraine Hansberry’s work (published and unpublished), view various versions of her plays, read the plays of affiliated playwrights (including Jean Genet, LeRoi Jones, and Adrienne Kennedy), and explore cultural theory and intellectual history related to her plays and their various thematic and political trajectories (texts might include: George G.M. James’s Stolen Legacy, Nina Simone, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual).
The class will be discussion-based and will involve students in research related to Hansberry’s life and career. There will also be a performance component.
Taught by Prof. Gayle Wald
Meets once a week, Wednesdays, 9:30 a.m. to noon.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Three students from this year’s Folger-GW seminar will be giving presentations on their research. The event is open to everyone, including folks who are not readers at the Library. Please pass the invitation on to others! Sarah.
Please come to a presentation by students from the
Folger-GW Undergraduate Research Seminar
Philip Getz on Maimonides’s Canones Poenitentiae
Chris Pugh on The Faerie Queene
Marissa Rohrbach on Catherine de Medici
Friday, May 2, 2008
Board Room, Folger Shakespeare Library
201 East Capitol Street, SE
The colloquium is free and open to the public.
Attendees are welcome to bring their bag lunches to the presentation.
Coffee, tea, and cookies will be provided.
send questions to Sarah Werner, Undergraduate Program Director
(202) 608-1703 or email@example.com
Monday, April 7, 2008
He loved pulled goat over rice and beans and she loved to see him love. They would sit in the overstuffed chairs on the 14th floor of an academic building that was part of a world that belonged to her, while they looked down on the city he was a small part of. He offered stories of Jamaica, lazy, smoke-filled days of reggae and juices too sweet for her tongue, while she shared stories of the Atlantic Ocean, Connecticut, and the family that was perplexed and frustrated by her decision to date a man so different from herself.
Rachael needed someone, someone to need her in return. It was more than a want; it became a yearning, an obsession. Her body ached to hold another, her mind made room for the routine that would have been carried out by this imaginary child. She woke up in the middle of the night to check on it, bought books to one day read to it. She incorporated that child into her being. Winston was the one she wanted this with.
But this new child was not Jaden. It did not come from a relationship that had ended, it did not come from a woman who knew that Winston spent nights in Brooklyn, and it did not come from Rachael. The first nine months his lie held true, but as the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth brought with them the cold truth and the answer to an equation that put infidelity on her watch, she had nothing to do but knit. The Hester Prynne of Sunset Park, she was not ashamed of the “L” corner that draped further over her legs as her blanket grew, marking her the victim of loss, loneliness. She could make room for this child.
Meg was infuriated, ranting to her sister halfway around the world, she was exasperated. “Jesus Christ, hasn’t he ever heard of a condom? Wrap before you tap. Why is this okay with you?” She did not know why it was okay, nor did she know why she unlocked the door for him to return each night after he stormed out leaving behind him a trail of swears and purple smoke.
Two other women had sweated and pushed out children that were his. Two other women had carried for nine months something that he had given them. Despite her attempts to botch her birth control and ignore condoms, she had not been able to hold him. She had never really been able to have a part of him.
The two months of solitude she had asked him for made her strong. Meg had taken her dancing, they took the train home to apple pick, they allowed their mother to make them 4 o’clock tea and stroke the legs of her most marvelous creations the way she had as their five and seven-year-old bodies drifted to sleep years before.
Now it was morning in her 1100 square-foot Sunset Park apartment that has room for kids that are not her own. She is alone. Dust dances in the rays of sunlight that seep through the slats of her Venetian blinds. The lines of light create a cell in which she lies, knees to chest, clutching close to her heart the knotted truth.
Kathleen Rooney is proof that there are plenty of jobs out of college. She is also proof that someone with a major in English and creative writing can turn nude modeling into a book.
Rooney, who is also an aide in the U.S. Senate, began nude modeling for drawing and sculpture classes in 2002, her senior year at GW. "Live Nude Girl," her first book set for release this spring, is a memoir about her experiences as a model.
The tale won't come as a surprise for most of her friends, who she told about the hobby.
"You never know how people are going to react to it," Rooney said. "Our society has a backwards and juvenile second grader reaction: oohh naked lady."
Her parents, however, had a more difficult time dealing with it.
"When people who I have chosen not to tell find out, they sometimes make assumptions that I'm not very smart or modest. They think if I get paid to do something with my body, what else would I get paid to do," she said.
Author John Berger, who Rooney frequently cites in "Live Nude Girl," said people make pictures to remind themselves of what is absent because people and things that we love die.
"It is sad and thrilling that these images and sculptures will last longer than you. As a writer myself, I have a sympathy and I understand what it is like to devote yourself to your work," Rooney said.
Models often develop a deep connection with the artist that is not typically physical or sexual, Rooney said. Throughout her time modeling, Rooney has never had a sexual relationship with an artist.
"Some models say it is the safest sex of all. It is super thrilling and the actual sex is constantly deferred. The anticipation is much better, and you constantly get to imagine what it would be like, which is in other words, hot," Rooney said.
Rooney said the use of both caution and common sense is necessary for anyone that wants to try nude modeling. Rooney says she has only encountered one "pervert" during her modeling career.
"I have heard many stories which usually start, 'Well, I was on Craigslist, and…' from models who have been in difficult situations with artists," Rooney said.
The first time Rooney posed as a nude model was the toughest, she said.
"The first 30 seconds were intensely weird," Rooney said. "It's a shock for model and the class because many artists are students who have never done it, then everyone realizes it's just a body, and it's just art."
She added that there is a big difference between being naked for artists and making pornography.
"I'm not sure I believe it when I hear Girls Gone Wild girls say flashing their tits makes them feel liberated. Art modeling is a different sphere," Rooney said.
In addition to "Live Nude Girl," Rooney has also published "Reading with Oprah," a book about participating in Oprah's Book Club. Rooney also plans to write more books and poetry in the future and to continue nude modeling.
She said, "One of the many appealing aspects of art modeling is that one doesn't have to be a conventionally 'beautiful' looking person to do it. In its own small way, art modeling carves out a space in which beauty can mean and be signified by more than one highly-doctored, media-packaged, easily consumable concept of Paris Hiltonian hotness."
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Jane Shore recommended this poem by W. D. Snodgrass, written in 1959.
The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blossoms once more.
In one whole year I haven't learned
A blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.
The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every year,
Bloom gradually out of reach.
The pear tree lets its petals drop
Like dandruff on a tabletop.
The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
This year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.
The tenth time, just a year ago,
I made myself a little list
Of all the things I'd ought to know,
Then told my parents, analyst,
And everyone who's trusted me
I'd be substantial, presently.
I haven't read one book about
A book or memorized one plot.
Or found a mind I did not doubt.
I learned one date. And then forgot.
And one by one the solid scholars
Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars.
And smile above their starchy collars.
I taught my classes Whitehead's notions;
One lovely girl, a song of Mahler's.
Lacking a source-book or promotions,
I showed one child the colors of
A luna moth and how to love.
I taught myself to name my name,
To bark back, loosen love and crying;
To ease my woman so she came,
To ease an old man who was dying.
I have not learned how often I
Can win, can love, but choose to die.
I have not learned there is a lie
Love shall be blonder, slimmer, younger;
That my equivocating eye
Loves only by my body's hunger;
That I have forces, true to feel,
Or that the lovely world is real.
While scholars speak authority
And wear their ulcers on their sleeves,
My eyes in the spectacles shall see
These trees procure and spend their leaves.
There is a value underneath
The gold and silver in my teeth.
Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,
We shall afford our costly seasons;
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Drawing a Line
He had to crouch to sniff white.
It took a toll on his posture,
As if pulling him to the ground
Where he went after.
His fingers, once colorful,
Now pale from powder,
Forgot all the notes they had played.
Silence was louder.
He picked at the strings to make tunes,
Drew lines that muffled laughter
On the back of the onyx wood
That used to make him prouder.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Well done, everyone!
Tara Ghoshal Wallace
Associate Professor of English
Director of Graduate Studies