Monthly Archives: April 2016

URI GradCon 2016. Trans(forming) Directions

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On April, 9th, 2016 the Department of English hosted the 10th Annual URI Graduate Conference. This year’s theme was “Trans(form): New Insights and New Directions,” a topic chosen by the Conference Committee with the intent to highlight interdisciplinarity and encourage students from every research field to contribute. According to the co-chairs, PhD students Jenna Guitar and Serap Hidir, transdisciplinarity was utilized “to help us think beyond the borders of disciplines while also allowing graduate students from any discipline to participate.” That is exactly what happened this year, with the theme of transdiciplinarity explored through the lens of chemistry, engineering, sociology, geosciences, psychology, literature, philosophy, and media. Transcultural. Transect. Transition. Transcend. Translation. Transportation. Transfuse. Transplant. Transformation.

With more than 100 participants, over 30 panel sessions, 3 roundtables, and 15 posters presented, GradCon2016 can be defined as a huge success. Graduate students not only from Rhode Island but from the east coast to Canada reached URI to participate and present their research: 16 different universities were represented, Salve Regina University, University of New Hampshire, Hofstra University, Southern Connecticut State University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Toronto, and many others.

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Paul Bueno de Mesquita, professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island and director of the URI Center for Nonviolence & Peace, was the plenary speaker. His inspiring lecture titled “Eclectic Visionary Synthesis: The Transformative Power of Kingian Thinking,” opened the proceedings.

Paisley Currah, professor of political sciences and women’s & gender studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center at CUNY, concluded this year’s GradCon with a lecture titled “Transgender Beside Itself: Paradigms, Paradoxes, and Other Exemplary Subjects.” His lecture was the perfect conclusion for such an intense one-day conference. Professor Currah, who is also a co-founding editor of Transgender Studies Quarterly, discussed the notion of gender as a social, political construct, and described how apparent contradictions in sex classification policies reflect fragmented state projects.

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The poster sessions – with their “inventiveness and possibilities” according to the Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Jean Walton – highlighted the idea of transdisciplinary research, as presenters from humanities and sciences shared the same space and time, and used the same medium -the poster- to show the results of their academic work.

Participants reframed and reshaped the notion of transdisciplinarity by interacting, discussing, debating, and creating a vibrant exchange of ideas across disciplines in the spirit of what a graduate conference means. The presence of professors Stephen Barber, Peter Covino, and Jean Walton from URI’s Department of English strengthened the idea that URI GradCon is more than an occasion for presenting your work; it is the place for establishing an intellectual connection, and creating a positive, inspiring environment for the future of our research. Any research. In Biocultures Manifesto Davis and Morris made clear how interdisciplinarity has become a rule in academic research: sciences and humanities, biology and culture, have always interacted, interweaving their paths in many ways, but now –according to Davis and Morris – they are not considered as distant fields anymore. URI GradCon translated this concept into reality by creating an interdisciplinary

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Thinking, inspiring and being inspired, reflecting, dialoguing. Brainstorming around a prefix. Trans(forming). Moving into new directions. Moving forward. GradCon 2017.and transdisciplinary space and place for scholars.

Student Spotlight: Alyssa Taft

alyssaHello there! My name is Alyssa Taft and I am a second year masters student in both the English Department and the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. I am currently working towards my MA in English and my MLIS with a concentration in School Library Media and Youth Services. In spring of 2015 I was awarded a research assistantship with the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies to work on a grant-funded project titled Media Smart Libraries, in which we develop and implement continuing education programming for school and public librarians on media and digital literacy topics. I also work part time at the URI Carothers Library in the Curriculum Materials Library where I teach URI 101, co-teach EDC 102, and provide reference services to URI’s education department.

My professional interests include media and digital literacy, contemporary fiction, genre studies, creative writing, children’s literature, library advocacy, censorship, intellectual freedom, and collection development. My time in the English department has been spent working on sharpening my creative writing and exploring intersections between literature and education, and literature and adolescence. I complete my English coursework this coming spring and next fall I will be putting together my portfolio. This will be followed by a semester of student teaching in two of Rhode Island’s public schools as a school librarian before graduation in May 2017.   

In addition to my studies, I am also the School Librarians of Rhode Island (SLRI) student board member, co-chair of the English Department’s graduate social committee, a member of the English Department’s graduate writing group, and a member of the Middletown Author’s Circle. I am involved in a number of professional organizations and committees including URI’s chapter of Student ALA, URI’s Graduate Student Conference, the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators, and SLRI’s advocacy committee. In Fall 2015 I was awarded the RI Coalition of Library Advocates Scholarship.  

When I’m not working or studying, I can be found reading for (gasp!) fun, playing with my rescue pup Bernie, or spending time with my husband Lee.

Somewhere in Space: A Reading with Talvikki Ansel

Talvikki Ansel’s third collection of poems, Somewhere in Space (The Ohio State University

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Press, 2015), explores such disparate themes as nature, ecology, how our individualities crisscross with those both living and dead, and history’s tangential relationship to our lives, to name only a few. Through Ansel’s layered reading, the poems accrued weight, their multifold lenses jutting in and out of various landscapes, with the underlying thread, Ansel noted, of an attempt “to figure out.”

Ansel opened with the first poem from her collection, “Leap Years,” reading in a measured, assured voice which delicately yet forcefully carried each word: “The hippo of patience / but not complacency / stares out over the frozen / landscape, icicles on the willow, / sharp sun.” The opening depicts a miniature figurine, which once “was a tree but now / am a palm-sized hippo / in a country of snow.” There is so much work being done in these first few lines that they are worth lingering over, as they set the mood of the entire text. The figure is one of patience “but not of complacency” which depicts Ansel’s searching, rigorously penetrating poetics perfectly. The hippo further muses “My descendants (there were flowers, there were / seeds) will become / the decks of a boat / exposed to sun / and molecules of light, / will travel to secluded coves, / night, planets, the milky way.” Here is the infinitesimal in all its multiform guises reaching out to touch and encompass time and space. “Leap Years” illustrates the leaping nature of Ansel’s project; a project, though, that is always both anchored in the ephemera of the day-to-day, while also reaching toward nature, objects and the past.

“How it Sounds,” locates the various calls of birds, using Bird Sounds and Their Meaning (1977) by Rosemary Jellis and Roger F. Pasquier’s Watching Birds (1977) as points of departure. Here, the speaker wonders “What did she hear who first lived / at the P.O.—crows, the gray-white shorebird’s / piercing loud, obvious whistles, / song versus call—” that quickly moves from the exterior, nature’s noises and moods, to the interior: “Clatter of kerosene tins, afternoon fog / blowing in—fog horn, door slam, / letters dropped on the counter for sorting, clang of metal swing door on the mail slot, / mallet’s crack, lunge and splash”—where the accumulation of sounds allows the speaker to move toward the

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commingling with another, and a further move outdoors, where the speaker wonders if both will now hear what their ancestors heard: “the Bulwer’s croon, / eider’s groan and mutter, wind-shift / in the spruce boughs / and depth to sound?” Time, in these few lines, is both expanded and contracted. The reader’s attention is minutely drawn to the various sounds of wildlife happening, but is connected to the larger, weightier notion, that these noises were once heard by not just others, but by ancestors. This is an extremely difficult thing to do: connect the present moment with the past, while all the while delicately balancing the two, before, like the various birds mentioned in the poem, they disappear.

The wild, unsettled, yet always controlled aspects of Ansel’s poems were illustrated in her reading of the title poem, a dazzling ten-part excavation, centering around feral cats, and the Finnish poet, Edith Södergran, who died at the age of 31. “Somewhere in Space,” opens with a “Calico gray, rag-tag she chose our crawl space, / pile of insulation unmoored to the floor / or ceiling, entry above the plywood / tacked there, temporary cover for the hole / beneath the house.” The opening, and its winding, delicate rhythms show the cat making its way. The word “chose” is a careful and important moment. This shows the purpose behind the searching, the looking while moving. The final poem in the cycle depicts Edith Södergran “holding the leash / of a Karelian bear dog (“a hunter / of unyielding bravery and determination”)” and quotes the poet: “‘somewhere in space hangs my heart’ and / ‘sparks fly from it, shaking the air.’” Ansel’s speakers channel past writers, past lives, while always moving, making their way in the present. History is worn and carried but it does not weigh down the present. It is a thing always here, even when one is not aware. It is in both the habitus of one’s being, and when every individual thinks of her or his place in the world. These things seethe and blur, are both almost within our grip yet a breath out of reach. Ansel has already carved out a stunning poetic career. She was chosen by James Dickey for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, for her first collection, My Shining Archipelago (1996). Her second book, Jetty and Other Poems (2003), explores myriad notions of transformation, and the intersection of the human with the natural world. With Somewhere in Space, Ansel continues this journey, while creating new and searching art, poetry, burning like Edith Södergran’s, shaking in the air.

 

 

Stephen Henderson: Examining the Power of Writing Recursively to Face 21st-Century Challenges

On March 18th, a group of writers considered the audience they write for and the varying purposes the essayist entertains when she sits down to write. The question was posed: Do we write for those who want to know, for those who want to care, for those who want to feel? The venue provoking this dialogue is the Essay in Public Conference funded by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and organized by professors (Martha Elena Rojas (URI), Wendy S. Walters (The New School), and Patricia Ybarra (Brown University).The conference is part of an ongoing discourse on and collaboration of folks who are examining the role of the essay in the ever-changing landscape of journalism and politics while considering its place in academia as well as in more visible platforms such as blogs for outlets like Slate, Quartz, Gawker, and Buzzfeed News.

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Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Stephen Henderson was this year’s afternoon keynote speaker. Henderson is currently the editor for the editorial page of the Detroit Free Press, worked for the Baltimore Sun, and hosts the radio program, “Detroit Today,” and the television show, “American Black Journal.” Henderson’s talk centered on the idea of recursivity. He postulated that recursivity may be a means to “confront the challenges of the 21st century.” Turning to Picasso’s Guernica, Hamilton’s Federalist Papers, and a personal example of how recursivity has, of late, emerged in Henderson’s own life and work in his hometown, Detroit, the audience was called to reflect on what occurs when we think and write recursively.

Recursivity might work in multiple ways. As we return to a theme at different points in our lives, our thinking about topic may evolve as the natural result of our own life experiences.  So too, coming back to a topic, idea or issue in a way that is public—by writing or engaging in some other form of creation—one is also allowing for her audience to interact in multiple and potentially more profound ways with the same topic. Henderson turned to Picasso’s work to demonstrate how this occurs. Henderson’s talk centered on the idea of recursivity.

By using Guernica as one example of an artist who returns to certain images and themes, Henderson makes a case for the role of the essay to not only report but to induce emotion. He invited us to look, as he does, at “Guernica as an essay, an editorial, a

guernica3commentary,  someone reacting to the news and rendering his opinion about it; trying to convey his emotion but also the emotion his country should feel about it and damning the people who perpetrate this.” Through his art, Picasso questioned the brutal and violent regime that held power. Henderson showed sketches from Picasso’s notebook and other works where, over the years, Picasso continued to draw similar images. The horse, nostrils aflare; the woman wailing over the death of her child; the nearly-cyclopean bull. Could it be that a returning to these images aided in Picasso’s ability to create something for the public that would speak out against a fascist regime? Could our repeated study of the painting influence our political actions, our own writing and art? Recursivity may impact both audience and artist.

Henderson next brought our attention to Alexander Hamilton’s contributions to the Federalist Papers. What’s particularly interesting about this example is the timeframe in which Hamilton was working through his ideas. Henderson notes, “Hamilton wrote 51 of Federalist essays in 6 months. Each essay is distinct in that it is trying to do something different and discreet, but even in this exercise there is recursivity.” Henderson highlighted two of Hamilton’s papers, 66 and 76, which were written within roughly three weeks of one another. Each essay is examining the different powers that the separate branches of government will hold—specifically these essays look at the relationship and balance between the executive and legislative branches.  We see that by returning to a theme, Hamilton worked out or thought through an idea over time.

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Recalling Henderson’s musing that recursivity may help us to face 21st century problems, we might ask how sticking with the same subject can prove more beneficial than placing our attention in myriad areas as one might be wont to do given the glut of easily accessible, ready-to-Google information. We too are not fixed. We come to the topics that hold sway on us as different people than we were years or months or weeks ago when we last encountered the same subject. We write about the federal government differently, we change the lines or the size of the horse’s shoulders to depict more strength and agility, or perhaps when we next conceive of the same image it appears vulnerable. Our childhood home is still well cared for; others are creating memories in the same space. Or it slowly falls into disrepair, stripped of pipes for scrap metal, lawn overgrown with weeds. The home represents something about our foundational years, but it also represents something about a place that is larger than we are. In his final example, Henderson demonstrated what it is to disallow a place to go untended.

Henderson ended his presentation by sharing the subject that continues to call him to reflect, examine, act. In 2007, Henderson returned to Detroit despite the fact that his own mother questioned the rationale of one who would return to a city that was on the brink of bankruptcy and decay. Nevertheless, as Henderson reminded us, “emotion does carry our decision making in some very important ways.” Upon his return, he went back to his old neighborhood and was relieved to find his childhood home was still in decent shape. He expressed that it helped him feel anchored and that it even helped his writing to sit in his car outside of the house. Yet as the city bore the effects of the economic downturn, more houses became abandoned including his old house. His home served as a symbol for the city which, by 2012 had 70,000 abandoned houses.

At some point, thinking makes itself manifest in the material world. For Henderson, a reporter, it is logical that this thinking takes the form of writing. He wrote autobiographically about the house, the neighborhood, the sense of loss. Making his thoughts public through the medium of personal essay prompted others to engage in dialogue and also to take action. Old high school friends read his pieces, contacted him and are now working with him to buy houses on this block, spending time and money to rebuild. As Henderson wrote about his house, it prompted him to think about what his ideal vision for the space is. He settled on the idea of turning his old house in to a type of literary center with book readings and signings. It may function as a home for college professors who receive fellowships at the local universities. I suppose the city of Detroit could have, at some point, conceived of a valuable use for the block Henderson grew up on. But there is something to be said for the fixation he had on his house, the continued interest in it that serves as a catalyst for this revitalization.

What calls us to act? Emotion or reason? We can assume that at different times we are motivated by various different forces. By placing work in the context of its tendency towards recursivity, Henderson gave the conference participants cause to reflect on what it means to look at the same topic at different points in one’s life. Not only do we, the subject, change but it’s quite possible that the subject matter that’s the focus of one’s art and writing changes over time. This was certainly the case for Picasso who witnessed increasingly totalitarian policies under Franco. This was the case for Hamilton who was writing as the country was working to craft its government and identity. This is also the case for Henderson who has witnessed the changing landscape of the city where he grew up. The writer and artist are called to and charged with deepening or complicating our understanding of complex issues like war and political systems and the lives of cities. This they do by refusing to be satisfied with writing about issues once. No “one and done” for the essayist.