Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I love being surrounded by books. Words in profusion provide both insulation from the mean streets and transport to distant lands. Students sometimes scan the shelves of my office library and ask, "Have you read all of these?" Of course I haven't, though I've read most of them--some of them multiple times. I have referred to every one of them at least once, and I have a familiarity with all of them. My office book collection is dominated by volumes about composition, works of literary nonfiction, textbooks of all types, and books of poetry/about poetry. One shelf contains most of the books and magazines I published in. Another contains 5 or more copies of each issue of Snow Island Review, our student literary magazine, going back to 1991 when David Starkey and I established it. In the photo above, the two shelves below the back issues of journals contain the Steve Jonas collection--the books of poetry Steve sent me when he and Fran were divesting themselves of stuff before moving to Sicily a few years ago.
My current reading is, as usual, diverse. I've recently finished Edward Docx's The Calligrapher, one of the best novels I've read in years. The narrator, Jasper Jackson, is a calligrapher in London painstakingly copying a series of John Donne's poems for a rich buyer in the U.S. Each chapter is keyed to a different poem, and each contains an epigraph from Donne. The book is about Jackson's craft and about his relationships with women--one in particular. It's a stunning book, and one side effect is that it has sent me back to Donne's poems, urging me to read them in a different way. I've also recently read Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do; I liked that one well enough to arrange for all new faculty members to have a copy. I've been dabbling in Ellen Gilchrist's stories because she'll be visiting FMU in a couple weeks, as will Andre Dubus III, which explains my immersion in House of Sand and Fog (assigned for my English 200 Honors students). I'm reading Fathom, a recent collection of poetry by Melissa Morphew, who was in my writing group in Columbia before moving to Texas. Also Chinese Architecture, by Aleda Shirley, a poet Beckie Flannagan has recently introduced me to. The John Ciardi translation of Dante's Inferno is on my desk because I recently brought Dante up in my poetry class as a master of terza rima, a form so difficult in rhyme-poor English, that many translations of Dante (including Ciardi's) do not attempt it. I wanted my poets to hear a little of Dante in translation before experimenting with three-line forms, including the villanelle, on their own.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Twice a week I drive from Columbia to Florence: east on I-20 to I-95 and then south on 327 to Francis Marion University. It takes about 90 minutes door to door. Thursday the blue sky was furled with rippling clouds, formations in giant Vs narrowing eastward. In this season the route takes me past vast stretches of unpicked cotton, boles exagerratedly bright against the brown shriveled stalks, seemingly reflected in the bleached sky. I wore a black shirt over a white undershirt. I listened to Uncle Tom's Cabin, the section in which Tom, in shackles is being taken down the river by the cruel slave trader Haley, who sells a young child belonging to the slave Lucy. Just before I reach campus, the despairing Lucy hurls herself overboard in the early morning. Meanwhile, Eliza and her child are for now safe in Ohio, having crossed the icy river to at least temporary freedom.
"Forget all the posturing--the poetry industry is made of regular folks like you and me. Get your poems off the page and in the mouth, ear, and body. Know your voice will change and that this is no cause for embarrassment. Support your fellow poets in any way you can. Wait. Know that persistence is the truest form of art."
-- Susan B. A. Sommers-Willett, author of Roam, quoted in Poets and Writers (Nov-Dec 2006)
Friday, October 27, 2006
I ask her to sit down, suggest that she needn't be in a hurry to select a major, and get her to sign up for a conference next week on a day when freshman are allowed to preregister. She shakes my hand before leaving.