The Unexpectedness of Beauty

In this fascinating and wonderfully candid audio discussion, URI Professors Mary Cappello and Peter Covino discuss the complex, philosophical notion of “beauty” from a variety of intermingled perspectives: the artistic, the pedagogical and the personal. Cappello, a well-known writer of literary nonfiction, and Covino, an accomplished poet, describe ways in which “unexpected beauty” surfaces in and informs their own creative projects. Sometimes in life this “unexpectedness” presents as a form of, what Peter Covino calls, “dark energy”: things like trauma, abuse, violence. Yet this “dark energy” can provide the opportunity for a cathartic form of beauty to surface. Professor Covino goes on to describe writing poetry as a challenge toward self-recognition and “self-soothing” — what he describes in a one of his poems as the “soothe-less tangle” of language. He views language as offering a medium of solace: “you’re not sure how terrible your pain is, you’re not sure how difficult your challenges are, until you start to write them down, until you start to share your stories.” This translation of struggle, the articulation and expression of it, can be beautiful.

Mary Cappello describes her aesthetic at one point as a form of “disruptive beauty.” She is interested in “jaggedness” and “interruptive beauty”: an idea she defines as emerging “out of confrontation, over and against a determination to aestheticize experience.” Further, Professor Cappello offers a very interesting way of thinking about “ugliness” less binaristically with respect to beauty; she invites us to think of it as a differential, the space between the lyrical and the jagged: “I was thinking of a beauty not opposed to ugliness…can we talk about anti-beauty, unbeauty, or create a new term altogether?” She encourages the artist to be alive to the “availability of beauty,” and to be on the lookout for “beauty in unexpected places.”

Throughout this rich and in-depth conversation on beauty, both Cappello and Covino share interesting details of their lives, their creative process, as well as read from each other’s (and their students’) work. The full audio conversation can be found here. Some shorter snippets of their conversation are also available from the links below.

Big Names Visit A Small State

June 19-21 marked the 8th annual Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. Annually, the University of Rhode Island’s Department of English brings together writers from across the spectrum of place and profession for three electric days of learning, networking and practice. From Harvard to UPenn, from RIC to Brown, from California to Florida, from Providence to Bristol, writers of all walks of life enjoy workshops, craft sessions and readings.

Besides the tremendously popular keynotes at this year’s gathering, from Alison Bechdel, Charles Bernstein and Percival Everett, certain events stood out as participant favorites.

Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar returned to the conference (after being a keynote speaker at the 2013 conference) and was met with great enthusiasm. One of his events was a conversation with Guggenheim Fellow and Professor Mary Cappello, where they addressed the “turning points” of their careers, their drive and their practice–to a standing room-only group of attendees. Of his former professor from his time as an undergraduate at SUNY/Buffalo, Akhtar has said that Cappello played a key role in shaping him as a writer.

Elaine Sexton and Kristin Prevallet also made a tremendous impact on their attendees. A conversation between the two during the penultimate time slot of the conference addressed a subject on the mind of anyone who has attended a conference before: “What now?” Sexton and Prevallet conversed on subjects like community building, networking, getting published, being employed–important questions, especially to poets. Their insight impacted the group as they both have worked extensively in a variety of fields.

National Book Award nominee and Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, Jody Lisberger had one of the most well-attended events. Her craft session, “Writing or Wanting to Write a Novel or Book-Length Memoir–Strategies for Success” was held in the Agnes G. Doody Auditorium to a group of more than 70.

There were many talented and accomplished writers at the conference in June, and whether they were familiar with the conference from previous years or new to the University of Rhode Island, they contributed to a terrific experience for many of Rhode Island’s writers.

 

Alumnus Thomas Barkman Writes Poetry at Bryant

This past spring, I was invited to Bryant University in Boston as part of the school’s events for National Poetry Month. With the help of another creative writer, Maria Anderson, I provided poems for any passer-by with the gumption to request one— they submitted a topic and I generated material. Poetry on demand: sitting at a typewriter, which was projected on a television screen, I cranked out poems (in triplicate) for four hours, with the clatter of keys resounding in the rotunda. Passing periods between classes were exceptionally busy and some of what was written includes: poems on dogs and sports; love poems for sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and lovers; and a sonnet on the subject of Greek Week. Bryant University was exceptionally hospitable and continued events through April (National Poetry Month), gearing up for a celebration of the 15th anniversary of The Bryant Literary Review, an annual publication of poetry and fiction. The Bryant Literary Review was founded by poet, Dean David Lux. I wrote on a Smith-Corona.

Ph.D. Student Rachel May Publishes Quilting Book

image-1 This past January, Ph.D. candidate Rachel May celebrated the publication of her first book, Quilting with a Modern Slant: People, Patterns, and Techniques Inspiring the Modern Quilting Community.

An exciting and valuable resource for quilters and potential quilters alike, Rachel’s book opens with instructions for making a quilt that even beginners will feel confident following. An illustrated, easy-to-follow, how-to guide, “Six Steps to a Quilt” introduces many tips, tutorials, and offers advice for quilters of all skill levels. Sections of the book discuss quilting in connection to history, politics, and sociopolitical issues surrounding a number of topics, such as domesticity and quilting’s gendered history.

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Tim Amidon Shares His Research on Firefighters’ Multi-modal Literacies

On December 6th, Tim Amidon (PhD candidate, Rhetoric and Composition) gave a Brown Tim basket_tendingBag talk in which he presented work from his dissertation, “‘You Can’t Just Learn That Knowledge—That Unspoken Knowledge’: Firefighters’ Multi-modal Literacies.”

Tim, who has been a firefighter for fifteen years, began his talk by explaining that firefighters are too often considered to be “people who do, not people who think.” The research he conducted—which included interviews and field observations—challenges that assumption, and it also challenges our understanding of literacy practices and knowledge work.

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Beazley Kanost’s “Whose Cool? The Direction Truth Takes in Portrait of Jason”

What is cool? Used so frequently in everyday vernacular, the “cool” has acquired various ambiguous shades of meaning. In a talk on December 4, Beazley Kanost (PhD candidate, Beazley cropped 3English) challenged our ordinary notions of the cool, taking up and carefully theorizing both the idea of the “cool” in 60s counter culture and the implications of the political stance that lies behind our assumptions about the “cool.” Kanost’s “Whose Cool? The Direction Truth Takes in Portrait of Jason” draws from her work on experimental film of the 60s, particularly material from her visit to the Shirley Clarke Papers archive at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in Madison, Wisconsin, funded by a graduate research grant from the University of Rhode Island Center for the Humanities. Central to Kanost’s argument is the way in which the subject of Clarke’s film projects is often the “cool man.”

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Writing and Rhetoric Students and Faculty Organize Interdisciplinary Humor Symposium

Comedy is no laughing matter, or at least, it’s not just a laughing matter. This year scholars and students at URI set out to afford humor the attention and respect it deserves through a series of events that will culminate in an all-day, interdisciplinary symposium on Saturday, March 22nd entitled “Open Mic, Open Minds: An Exploration of Social Issues Through Stand-up.”  Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Dr. Jeremiah Dyehouse is the faculty advisor to the committee, which includes Writing and Rhetoric Ph.D. students Krysten Manke and Jillian Belanger.

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Night of Poetry at the Wickford Art Association

On December 12th, 2013, students from Professor Peter Covino’s creative writing class held a public poetry reading at the Wickford Art Association. Students delighted a packed room of listeners as they read from chapbooks they created during the semester. The nine graduate students participating in the reading (calling themselves The Thunder Room Collective) were: Jenna Morton-Aiken, Derick Ariyam, Jessica Brigges, Julie Hassett, Mark Hinkley, Charles Kell, Danielle Sanfilippo, Rhiannon Sorrell, and Hillary Trimbach.

Charles       Rhiannon

 

PhD Student Beth Anish Chairs ACIS New England

The weekend of Nov. 1-2 was hectic yet exhilarating for Beth Anish, a PhD student in English at URI and an Assistant Professor at CCRI. Beth hosted the 2013 New England Regional Meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies, which drew scholars from the entire eastern seaboard to the CCRI venue in Warwick, RI. As the conference theme Beth chose “the hybridity of Irish culture in Ireland or in diaspora.”

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