Of Mood: A Talk by Mary Cappello

cappelloIf mood is something that is induced from the outside, then the performance on November 1st by author and Professor Mary Cappello of the English department and pianist Kirsten Volness, called the audience to participate in an event that could alter and influence mood.

The performance was not in the Hoffman Room of Swan Hall where we typically gather for the Read/Write series events, rather it was held in the Fine Arts Building Recital Hall. And so the very space of the occasion was responsible for creating mood.  As the audience entered, we were met with hues of violet and indigo and a soundscape of speech accompanied by a musical loop: “eyes remove themselves from your body…  and [become] a masterpiece, a work of art…” From the start, this performance rendered an overlapping of thought and mood and posited the necessary connection between our senses and our moods.

Reading from her latest book, Life Breaks In (A Mood Almanack), Professor Cappello gave the audience the opportunity to wonder where mood resides, and to sit with the idea that mood is both of and outside the body.

Professor Cappello brings to her students and the audience and readers of her work, an examination of and reflection on those elements in our lives that we often ignore, that we do not allow ourselves the time to pause and think about. Here we are called by the author to consider mood. This may seem a contradictory exercise, to use our minds to interpret what we feel when mood may be more visceral. For this reason a reading itself is not enough. The multimodal elements of the event created a space for listeners not merely to use their minds to think about what was being read, but color and images and sound, invited us to enter a mood—what Professor Cappello might have in mind when she refers to a mood room.

 

 

Words are one medium Professor Cappello uses to create mood. Words transmit to the audience Cappello’s childhood memories. Her mother’s words and sounds constitute a sonorous envelope—a term coined by Édith Lecourt, which Cappello builds off of, “a common zone…. created by the mother’s voice, which, though originally affiliated with contact, ‘will subsequently exist on its own, without the body contact that accompanies it’ ” (305).  These sounds surround us in our formative year and may continue to reside both in our memories and somewhere outside our bodies throughout our lives.  Words are also the tools of thinkers and writers such as Roland Barthes and William Gass that inform Cappello’s reflections on mood. Thus through the blending of all of these voices, we are left with the recognition that words are a fusion of sound and thought carrying with them the both meaning and mood.

The performance also included the work of Berlin based trumpeter and composer Paul Brody’s sound instillation, “Talking Melodies.” The piece overlays music with recordings from interviews Brody conducted, turning speech into something melodic and musical.  Words and tune combine again invoking thought and emotion to induce mood.

A little over a week after the performance, I am also left thinking of the ethereal nature of mood. By projecting images of clouds behind her as she read, Professor Cappello used these stunning visuals as a metaphor for the transitory and ethereal nature of mood. Clouds shape shift as we gaze at them, the air currents sculpting their form before our eyes. They change color when the angle of light changes.

We are invited into Professor Cappello’s mind by the words she shares with us to describe the studious mood.  We might assume such a mood is fixed. In one of the chapters from which she read, “In a Studious Mood,” we follow her from the initial proclamations of what mood is not, “It doesn’t begin: ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious by this sun of York,’ ” to the study of anatomy books furnished with intricate descriptions of the ear and precise scientific language. We are taken into Cappello’s study, designed to let in more light, imagining this will help in creating the studious mood, influenced as much by the outer as it is by interiority. But in this studying, this dismantling and excavating of ideas that Professor Cappello leads us through, as listeners it is possible that we do not remain in the studious mood. The reading closed with her reflections on three sounds made by her partner Jean: footsteps the “ ‘puh’ ” sound of a wooden door stuck to its frame,” and the laying of keys on a table. And though as she reads, it might be that like Cappello, it is our inhabitation of a studios mood that allows us to stumble upon unknown mysteries—including those related to the people we love—as a listener, hearing this recounting of sounds made by a loved one, I was transported from my own attempt to soak in ideas, to think in new ways, and be engaged in studious reflection, to a mood more akin to wonderment and reverence.  Which may indeed be essential to the studious mood. And so the cloud of mood continues to dance in the currents.

The evening’s performance ended with wordless sound—the music of Kirsten Volness. The audience entered into a space where the music, which lies outside of the body, travels to the body through the ear. We are reminded that our body functions as a type of interpreter. And as the evening’s presentation came to a close, Kirsten Volness’s piano composition with notes ethereal and rooted tones, provided a space in which to give ourselves up to mood—reflective, invigorating, studious, serene.

A Report from the Inaugural International Girls Studies Conference

This April, I attended the first International Girls Studies Association Conference (IGSA) in Norwich, UK. Having immersed myself in Girls Studies for the past several years as part of my dissertation research, this conference felt like academic paradise.

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The conference opened with a keynote by Catherine Driscoll, a leading scholar in the field who authored the book Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory. In her keynote “The Girl: Dynamics of Anxiety and Reassurance,” she discussed how the girl is both “fantasy” and “fact.” She noted how anxieties about girls are fixed within historical and cultural contexts. For example, she argued how she believes the current fourth-wave of feminism is nearly “an exclusively digital event.” Quite interestingly, Driscoll returned to Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex as a lens for re-thinking girlhood. What I was most excited to hear in Driscoll’s talk was her emphasis that “leaving the figure of the girl open to anxious irresolution may be more productive than….proliferating attempts to formulate reassuringly certain answers.”

In her talk, Driscoll also critiqued terms that are often employed in Girls Studies like neoliberalism and post-feminism, arguing that these words have simply come to mean something “bad” that “we don’t like” and that they have lost their specificity through overuse.  Of course, this comment resonated throughout the conference—and anyone who had used the words post-feminism or neoliberalism in their paper (or in some cases, their title) felt the need to defend or acknowledge the term. (I have to admit, I was glad to find neither of these words in my own paper when I went to check).

Although I attended three conferences in a month, the IGSA Conference was the only one I attended for the entire duration, due partially to a Richard Beaupre Hope & Heritage Fund grant and a travel grant from the Graduate Assistants Union. Over the course of the three-day conference, I went from panel to panel, hearing dozens of papers.

Some highlights included:

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Melinda Luisa de Jesús in her paper “Re/Constructing girlhood: Transgender girls in girls studies” posed the question, “What would a trans-inclusive non-binary girls’ studies look like?” She referenced several of her own students’ work making handmade ‘zines, which is something I will definitely be using in future classes. The link to her presentation is online (including some of the ‘zine samples) at http://prezi.com/ozfkvyqfxxlc/

New York school teacher Ileana Jimenez (feministteacher.com) spoke as part of the Plenary Session “Pedagogies of Girlhood: Schools, Feminism, and Media” calling the conference a “historic” moment, not only because of how it has brought together girl studies scholars, but how it integrated the conversation with university scholars with feminist educators of girls, like herself.

Since as Driscoll had noted girls are both ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’, both real girls and imagined girls were the subject of conference presentations. Media scholar Sarah Projansky presented her paper “Finding gender in media franchising,” in which she investigated what trends emerge by looking closely at the highest grossing franchise films between 1990 and 2015, while Rosemary Carlton, from the University of Montreal, presented her paper “Failing to self-protect: Responsibilsation for risk in child protection practice with sexually abused teenage girls,” which outlined some of the complexities of agency and coercion emerging from her conversations with sexually abused girls who live under the government’s child’s protection laws in Canada.

meek 3Several scholars pondered how media and merchandising specifically affects girls, like Halliday’s paper “My anaconda feminism: Nicki Minaj, consumption and Twitter/Instagram (re)production”; Jessalynn Keller’s “#CropTopDay: Girls’ media activism as a challenge to normative girlhoods”; and Emily Aguilo-Perez’s “I hated her, she loved her! Barbie in intergenerational Puerto Rican girlhoods and familial relationships.”Aria 

 

Others looked at girls’ production or critiques of media. Fiona Handyside, Danielle Hipkins and Alexandra Allan from the University of Exeter presented on a joint panel “What it feels like for a girl: Filming, girlhood and emotion,” in which they reported on their experiences encouraging girls to create their own media. They raised several important points, like the way that girlhood is “intensely local” while media is “transnational,” and key questions, 

such as, what should we do when we feel girls are making their films not for themselves 

One of my favorite presentations was “The (Un-) Making of a feminist cool girl: A cross-generational dialogue,” a conversation between feminist scholar Annalie Branstrom-Ohman from Umeå University, Sweden and her fashion model/writer daughter Amanda 

Brohman. In their dialogue, mother and daughter presented their own unique views on what it means to be the ‘cool’ girl both in their own worlds—academia and fashion. Although their talk provided no pat answers, they raised crucial questions about if or how one can embody feminist choice.but for us? And Kirsten Pike in her paper “Complicating Second-Wave Feminist Media Histories: Girl writers and activists” looked closely at the diaries from 1968 to 1980 of feminist activist Trina Porte to show how we might sometimes overlook how girls are not only consumers but more consciously critics than we might suspect.

 

And then, of course, there was my own paper, “A Dangerous Girl or a Girl in Danger?: Shifting Sexual Agency of the ‘Long Island Lolita’” in which I look at the media narratives that emerged in the early 1990s about Amy Fisher, the seventeen-year-old girl who shot the wife of her lover Joey Buttafuoco. In the presentation, I show how narratives of the “dangerous girl” perpetrator or the “girl in danger” victim oversimplify the complexities of desire, consent and coercion embedded in Fisher’s story.

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Certainly one of the highlights for me was meeting Mary Celeste Kearney, author of the book Girls Make Media, and having the opportunity to hear her review the impact of her book and where we go from here in her closing keynote “Girls Make Media: Then, Now, and So What?” Kearney’s talk highlighted how technological changes have offered new opportunities for girls to make and distribute their own media, while acknowledging that there still exists a dearth of women and girl filmmakers in both mainstream and independent cinema. Certainly, for me, it felt like a call to action, and I was glad that I already have another film in post-production and have been helping my nine-year-old daughter to make her own media as well.

For more information about the International Girls Studies Association, visit www.girls-studies.org.

  Author Michele Meek’s most recent film Imagine Kolle 37 (www.kolle37.com) is in post-production, and she is finishing her dissertation Consent Puzzles: Locating Girls’ Sexual Agency in Narrative Ambiguities of Literature and Film of the 1990s. For more information about her, visit www.michelemeek.com.

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.

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.


Wendy Walters Lecture: A Quickly Approaching Horizon

Wwaltersendy Walters’ writing is a gift to multiple communities all at once: hopeful writers and students, literature fans, environmental activists, and anyone attentive to the state of human rights in our world.  By this measure, this is writing that should concern just about everyone on Earth.  She is widely published as a poet, but her selections at this lecture leaned towards prosody.  Her style remained unmistakably poetic, however.  This literary design allows her to blend scientific facts with metaphor and storytelling, which brings a beauty and relatable quality to what would normally be dry historic data.  She begins with an ear-catching specific, then moves towards more general truths.  By giving a melodic energy to factual evidence, she manages to convey vital messages without ever being dull.  This is not only admirable but essential in this age of short attention spans, self-interest, and instant gratification, where capturing the attention of the upcoming generations seems to be simultaneously more difficult and more crucially needed.

Her first reading came from her essay “When the Sea Comes for Us” and focused on the delicate balance of coastal communities and the surrounding ocean levels.  Specifically, it centered around her home in New York City not far from the famous New York Harbor.  She explored marine areas geographically, listing particular areas by name and then detailing their historical role in the human-ocean relationship.  This highlighted how dependent the human race has always been on the sea, and how we have always come for it, usually to use it to our advantage.  She spoke of our building upward as an “impulse to climb” that had a clear double-meaning, representing our physical topography of taller and taller buildings that was designed by an “economy of space,” but also of our apparently inextinguishable desire to accumulate wealth and prestige both individually and collectively (Walters).  She compared skyscrapers to masts, something I have personally never considered, and this could be argued to exemplify the enduring nature of humanity’s false idea that we can claim or tame anything by merely building upon it, raising ourselves above it.  A sentiment from this piece that effectively introduced her next reading was that “true sea change” will leave no territory unaffected (Walters).  It’s not just about New York, it’s not just about America; this is an issue that concerns the entire planet.  All of the major civilizations in our history have depended on the various benefits of the ocean.  We have come for the sea, unwilling to admit to ourselves that the sea could, in turn, come for us.

walters 3     The next piece she read from was “You Are Pip.”  This was a much longer essay, which she hesitated to call an essay as it seems to bridge the spaces between poem, essay, and monologue.  Several in the audience said that they felt it was a performance piece after the reading, and I believe this came from the repetition of several lines such as the ever-present reminder that “you are Pip” as well as the subtle urgency of the writing.  This piece still deals with the unbreakable yet dangerous bond human beings have with the sea, but it is more deeply focused on human-to-human interaction, specifically interaction modified by racism.  Pip is a seemingly minor character of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a young African-American boy who works under the notorious Captain Ahab.  However, Walters shows that he holds an importance far greater than it first appears.  His character’s initial purpose seems to be comic relief, but that is cut short by his untimely drowning later in the novel.  This indicates a purposeful earnestness expressed by Melville when penning his unexpected demise.  Pip can, and perhaps should, be totally removed from the context of his tale and represent a bigger issue in our society, past and present.  Walters seems to think this is necessary, that we are all Pip: nervous yet in awe, humorous yet serious, corporeal yet fleeting.  Regardless of skin color, the work demonstrates that the tumultuous range of human emotion and the unpredictability of human experience are universal factors in our lives.

As the reading began to wind down, it became clear that another interpretation could be drawn: Pip could also be the sea.  Some lines that triggered this association were “you have died, not we have killed you”, “fears born from uncertainty”, and “may you never sacrifice yourself to progress (Walters).”  These thoughts can all be easily related to our relationship with the ocean.  Many people refuse to admit their part in the destruction of the marine ecosystem, certainly much of the population has fears of the ocean based on a lack of knowledge or uncertainty, and those who care about the sea of course wish that it walters 2would not become sacrificed to progress.  Now, if we are Pip, and Pip is the ocean, WE are the ocean.  Our tie to water is scientific, unavoidable, and unique.  The ocean sustains us, heals us, transports us, and amuses us.  Therefore, why should we not protect it as one of our own?  We are not just saving a remarkable, ancient world, but ourselves as well.  As Walters so eloquently put, the world will end just as it always was going to; what changes and what matters is the speed of that demise.

 

Looking at Faulkner Through Doorways with Amy Foley

Last week, as a part of the URI Department of English Graduate Student Colloquium Series, Amy Foley, a Ph.D. candidate in English, gave a fascinating talk entitled “’That Strange Threshold’: Faulkner’s Doorways to Being.” Her talk focused on the research she has done as part of her fulfillment of the fellowship she received by the Center for the Humanities.

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Amy’s admiring undergraduate and fellow graduate students, proud faculty, and loving family listened in anticipation as Professor Barber, in his usual compassionate manner, introduced his esteemed advisee Amy.

The first time I met Amy she was presenting at the 2014 URI Graduate Student Conference. I thought I could listen to her for days. Seeing her share her insights about Faulkner’s philosophy of built environments at the colloquium, I was again struck by the same welcoming tone, confidence, and melodious voice that makes her presentations enjoyably unique. When it was time to take questions from the audience, even the most mundane questions became compelling with her careful engagement and appreciation

amy 2Her equally accommodating work synthesizes eclectic philosophers, such as Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Gaston Bachelard, into a unifying theme of ontological existence and their relation to the doorways and thresholds within Faulkner’s writings. She questions the fine line between the door as the sanctuary, as well as the ostensibly sharp oppositions between the interior and exterior, culture and nature through the architectural structures.

Overall, Amy’s presentation and her fine work reveals her wisdom: she has the unique ability to listen to others—philosophers, writers, peers, and professors—taking their work and insights and expanding the conversation, applying her own critical view to create something truly captivating. We wish her the best as she continues to work on the rest of her dissertation and look forward to hearing more from her exciting project.

Spring 2016 Welcome Back!

Welcome back! We hope everyone is excited for a new year and a new semester! As always, URI’s English Department has some amazing events, both official and through our amazing student-led groups, that are happening in the next few months. From professionalization meetings to get you ready for your next grant proposal or job interview, to bowling and beer tasting, to the amazing speakers that present their work, here’s just a glimpse of some of the things happening in the first half of 2016. Now let’s just all hope that the weather is a bit more cooperative than last year.

From the Professionalization Committee:

We will be collaborating with Jean Walton’s 511 course on a Job Market Event where a mix of successful alumni, recent hires, and faculty with hiring committee experience will all speak to the various facets of the job market. There will also be a discussion of Job Materials and search strategies. This will be Monday April 11th at 7pm in the Hoffmann Room. In mid-March we will also be holding an interdisciplinary panel on getting funding as a grad student, with a focus on outside funding sources and why that is important. It will be open to all grad-students at URI, though will be humanities-centered. Several experienced grant writers and fellowship winners will be speaking at this workshop.

From the Social Committee:

The social committee has a lot of great events coming up this semester. Our first event will be at Lang’s Bowlarama on February 19th at 5pm for an evening of bowling, craft beers, and catching up after winter break. The rest of the semester you will see a craft brewery tour, a happy hour, and an end of semester nature hike. Details of each event will be finalized approximately two weeks before each event occurs. Keep a look out for informational flyers around Swan Hall and posts on the English Party People Facebook. Our goal is to provide English department graduate students with one event per month this Spring to encourage camaraderie, relaxation, and fun!

Department Events:

February

17th 5:00pm Hoffman Room – Graduate Student Colloquium: Amy Foley

18th 2:00pm Hoffman Room – Rumowicz Lecture Series: “You are Pip” by Wendy S. Walters

24th 5:00pm Hoffman Room –  Guest Speaker: Grant Farred

March

8th 5:00pm Hoffman Room – Read/Write: Talvikki Ansel

18th – Essay in Public Conference, CCE

April

7th 5:00pm Hoffman Room – Graduate Student Colloquium: Brittany Hirth

11th 5:00pm Hoffman Room – Guest Speaker: Marta Werner

20th 5:00pm Hoffman Room – Read/Write: Lynn Emanuel

28th 2:00pm Gender and Sexuality Center – Annual Rumowicz Awards Ceremony

More info about all these events can be found here: http://events.uri.edu/search/events?search=english+department+of

If You Write, You’re a Writer: An Evening of Poetry

In a small library near the Bay Campus, the poets of the URI graduate program shared their work of the last semester on Wednesday, Dec. 9. As I settled in to my child-sized chair, I was just glad that I had gotten a seat, because other attendees were left to find seating between book shelves and mill around counters. The Willet Free library was packed with both books and people and the cozy atmosphere was just right for this reading organized by Alyssa Taft and Laura Marciano, featuring the nine students of Peter Covino’s seminar this fall.

After Peter thanked all the attendees for coming, the reading got started with Alyssa Taft, who gave a short presentation. Rather than sharing poetry, Alyssa, who worked on a seminar paper for the course, introduced us to how poetry and children intersect, and in particular the benefits of poetry in education. Poetry, besides increasing reading fluency and encouraging reluctant readers, creates mindfulness in children. It gives readers silence and space in which to interpret and allows them to read into others and the world, promoting a “wide awake-ness.”

Though Alyssa was talking about the benefits for children, the eight poets who shared their work after her certainly encouraged this feeling of being awake to the world for the audience. The array of poetry was vast, even within one poet’s reading. Julie Hassett started with “Forest,” which was connected to local food banks, and ended with a poem that attempted to capture the feeling of numbness after being told her sister had died, and in between were poems written in response to art, such as “Procrastination Has Already Been Sold.” Elizabeth Folke wanted to focus on the intersection of humanity and technology, how science and invention has changed our lives. Her poems, which sometimes included a bit of a science fiction flair, asked us to probe our own lives. Others, like “Creature” which considered the situation of the burn victim who was recently the first recipient of a full-face transplant, asked us to inhabit others’. We were also asked just to listen. Francesca Borrione read two of her poems in the Italian they were originally written in, sharing the translations of more. In the Italian, I could catch a word here or there, but beautiful in both languages was her line, “I inhabited the cartography of my imagination.”

After a short break, Andrew Merecicky declared that his chapbook was entitled “Pornography of Light and Flood,” and that was “all the explanation I’m doing.” With a forceful reading voice, Andrew let the poetry linger, keeping true to his opening declaration. Susan Munson offered more context, happily as her first poem was about Bob Leuci, who once asked her “Are you a writer?” Susan used her reading style to emphasize the content of another poem “Hypervent” which was about OCD and social anxiety. Alex Trubia’s poetry included sly humor in lines such as “I’ll keep it for the sequel, something holy part II,” along with more haunting lines such as “when the winters at their frigid worst draw moisture from the timber.” Laura Marciano followed with poems that had a bitingly smart feminist viewpoint, asking the important questions like “If I sleep with myself, will I be famous?” The reading ended with Luisa Murillo, who addressed domestic violence in Bolivia in her opening poem “She Never Took Back the Night.” Luisa also included more personal poems, such as about moving to Queens from Bolivia, and poems which mixed myth with reality, putting a finishing touch on the night.

The readers also shared their experiences in the class and preparing for the reading, some at the reading and others with me afterwards. Julie Hassett gave an anecdote during her reading about wanting a heart from Alyssa on her paper during critique, apparently these hearts were a hot commodity. Alyssa saw her presentation as a “mini-conference paper” and later told me that she was glad that the audience connected to her research and understood her ideas. Susan shared that poetry has made her who she is, and that the semester was more about taking herself seriously as a poet. For her, preparing included getting ready for her “Lady Gaga moment,” as Peter calls it, by singing along to the radio on her way to the reading. Elizabeth thought about reading as a different skill than writing, and tried to consider the rhythm and inflection she would use. She shared that the class had given her space to access her creativity. Andrew, of course after the reading, told me that Peter emphasized performative reading this semester and that practice had helped him, as well as a glass of wine and some deep breaths. I think the others would agree with Andrew on this as well, “the fact that a few dozen or so people showed up to listen to poetry is always a special experience,” which this reading definitely was.

Paranoid Reading: Barber’s Exploration of Psyche and Politics in Woolf and Sedgwick

There wasn’t an inch of space left as Associate Professor Stephen Barber walked into the Hoffmann room in Swan Hall Thursday, November 5, 2015. Sharing salutations with old friends, faculty, and students, Barber received spectators with open arms. As part of the English Department’s Faculty Speaker Series, spectators eagerly awaited the talk “Psyche and Politics: Virginia Woolf’s Final Writings.”

Developing the history of Barber’s pedagogy and interpersonal relationships with students and individuals in general, Ph.D candidate Amy Foley informed the crowd that “no one knows Virginia Woolf like Stephen.” Influenced by the work of Woolf,  Gayatri Spivak, Eve Sedgwick, and Michel Foucault among others, Barber has inspired scholars for over twenty years, writing on these authors with a particular interest in their later works.

Barber revealed that he lived under the same roof as Sedgwick as she composed some of her critical works.  Her essay, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You,” he reveals, was dedicated to colleagues of Sedgwick, including himself. In the tradition of genuine scholarship, Barber noted the challenge of reading Sedwick’s late works, in comparison to Woolf’s own struggle reading Freud. Woolf, according to Barber, did not claim to start reading Freud until 1939. Although she “never becomes a Freudian” for Barber, Woolf began to “forge a radical psychology, and gives herself fully to thinking about political agency.”

Political agency was an issue of concern for both Woolf and Sedgwick according to his work; however, Sedgwick’s interest in political agency revolved around paranoia. For Sedgwick, according to Barber, paranoia involves bad news that is always already known. Sedgwick’s notion of paranoia also included the mantra, “anything that you can do to me, I can do worse.”

The paranoid reading became more intense in the late 60s as particular American events such as the Watergate scandal prompted the agenda of conspiracy theories. Barber suggests that when Sedwick encountered D.A. Miller’s “The Novel and The Police” (1989) she had trouble finding connections with the novel through the paranoid mode of reading. The barrier that arose in the encounter with Miller’s work inspired Sedgwick to revisit the hermeneutics of suspicion— the mode of theory that had been dominant prior to her propositions for paranoid and reparative readings.

Cheered by the presence of students, cherished colleagues, and visitors, Barber concludes with the notion that criticism for Sedgwick is still an invasive form of social interpretation. Opening the conversation to a friendly question and answer session, Barber reveals, “Nothing about the book (he is currently completing) is autobiographical.” His interest in Sedgwick, Foucault, and Spivak contributes to his reading of the final work of Woolf, Between the Acts (1941) a text which he believes Woolf uses as a medium to theorize her own reading of Freud. Woolf would not necessarily follow Freud, especially in the boiling down of individual’s affective states (love and hate according to Freud) but this tour de force work established the last prodigious testimony of the author’s philosophical and psychological explorations.

Feature: Literary Treasure Waiting To Be Discovered

Graduate students long to find a treasure of original writings that may inspire a topic for a research paper, a thesis or a publication.  I was recently blessed to experience three treasures just miles away from the University of Rhode Island: the North Kingstown Free Library, Susan Aylward, and the David Plante Collection.

The North Kingstown Free Library (NKFL) is nestled just miles away from URI and kingstown libraryprovides a beautiful, scenic location for students to study and utilize numerous resources including the David Plante Collection.  A student may easily obtain a library card and have access to the incredible collection by making an appointment with the library by calling 401-294-3306 For more information about the library, please visit their web site at http://www.nklibrary.org/

Susan Aylward is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island where she completed her Ph.D. in English and wrote her doctoral dissertation on David Plante.  Susan retired after 35 years of devoted service as a Librarian and Administrator at the North Kingstown Free Library.  Due to her friendship with David Plante, he donated a collection of his aylwardwritings and books to the library.  Susan believes that this important collection “would be of interest to scholars and students focusing their research on Rhode Island Fiction Writers, French Canadian Writers, Writers with an artistic influence, LGBT Writers and Library Science.”  She is willing to share her expertise with students interested in conducting research about this important writer.  She may be reached by email at slaylward@cox.net

Susan Aylward provided personal and professional insight about David Plante’s life and writings.  She believes that David Plante, “is one of our most important contemporary American writers and has not had the critical attention he deserves.  He deals with darkness in his writings but there is hope.  His work is complicated but it deals with humanity.”  Susan shared that, “David Plante was born in Providence, Rhode Islaplantend and his writings are informed by his French-Canadian, Catholic upbringing in the working class landscape of Providence.  Seven of his fifteen novels are semi-autobiographical in nature and are largely set in and around the Providence parish where he was raised.  His writings include novels, short stories, essays, biographical profiles, memoirs, poetry, and plays.  The themes of his writings are the power of love, death, grief, longing, despair, faith, and imagination.  His life partner was Nikos Stangos, a Greek writer who influenced the artistic side of Plante’s writings.  They were known for their achievements but also for their commitment to each other as partners.”

As part of the interview with Susan Aylward, I had the honor to see the entire David Plante Collection and was completely in awe of its size and beauty.  The Collection is comprised of Part One which is housed in the South County Room at the NKFL and consisfamily plantets of his manuscripts and papers which are meticulously organized into 70 boxes containing 389 folders.  Part two is housed in the library’s Conference Room and consists of 146 books that include 21 books by David Plante, 2 books about Plante, 7 books written/edited by Nikos Stangos, 100 books from Plante’s personal library and numerous other books that influenced his writings.  Susan Aylward’s organization of this collection is literally a treasure for scholars and students.  She expressed that it is a unique opportunity for graduate students to review published materials, unpublished materials, original manuscripts,  revisions, artistic images and signed book dedications.  She passionately states, “it is an amazing and varied collection of manuscripts, notes, some correspondence and books from the shelves in his New York apartment when he was teaching in the Writing Division of the School of the Arts at Columbia.  Some of the books he wrote, some he used to research his novels, many are signed editions from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.  As a whole, the collection represents the life of the mind of this particular writer. In parts, it is a scholar’s treasure trove.”