Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Thinking in Titles

Spent the day thinking in titles:
  • Ishq, Actually? Popular Culture at the Crossroads of Sacred and Secular Love
  • Dead Women are Not Romantic:“Popular Romance” Reads “Literature”
  • Hot Poems and Literary Curries: “Popular Romance” Reads “Literature"
  • Hot Poems and Curries of Convention: “Popular Romance” Reads “Literature”
  • Feeding a Fine, Stout, Healthy Love:When Poetry Meets Popular Romance
  • The Arts of Love:Lyric, Ekphrasis, and Popular Romance
  • Some Strange Music Draws Me In:When Lyric Love meets Popular Romance
  • Shapely Stories, Shards of Love:When Lyric Poetry Meets Popular Romance
  • Starved by Sonnets, Fed by Song:When Lyric Poetry meets Popular Romance
  • Extravagance and Convention:Love Poetry and Popular Romance
  • O Golden-Tongued Romance!Some Encounters of Lyric and Companionate Love
  • When Lyric Love Meets Companionate Marriage:On Poetry and Popular Romance
So, nu? Thoughts?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

This spring and summer I'll be heading off to a string of conferences: first to the ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association) conference in Vancouver, then to PCA in Texas, and then, in June, to New York City, for the the Third International Conference on Popular Romance. I need to decide what to speak about for each of these--which is to say, to plan my research and writing agenda for the rest of the school year.

Folks, I'm stumped. Let me list the parameters, and may be you can help.

My current project list Prof. H. M. Wogglebug’s Great Big List of Things to Do!") tells me that a few writing projects are already locked in, which might help shape my decisions.

First off, there's my current work in progress, an essay on poets Mike Heller, Harvey Shapiro, and Stanley Moss. Not much to be done with that for a panel about romantic love at ACLA, or at the popular culture conferences. On the other hand, the ACLA panel would be a good venue for me to revisit and build upon my work from the last piece I did for Parnassus, on three Palestinian poets. When I invited my colleague Nesreen to participate, I did so because I wanted to do more with Darwish for this next ACLA meeting: maybe something on Darwish as a love poet.

Now, though, I'm having second thoughts--that seems so far from everything else I'm working on these days (popular romance, Bollywood film, etc.) that I'm not sure it's the best, most focused use of my time. Not to be crass, but what does it get me to give that talk? No closer to a new book, or at least to any book that I know I'm already working on. (It could be the start of another book...but at this point, I need to finish up projects, not start entirely new ones!)

(It's also anxiety-provoking to give a professional talk on poetry that I can only read in translation, unless I'm specifically discussing the translations as poetry in English--for example, I could talk about Michael Sells little book of translations from Ibn 'Arabi, Stations of Desire, because it also includes original work by Sells, so there's some overlap. But again, that's not popular culture, or part of any project that I know I'm working on yet. So is it worth pursuing?)

What else am I up to?

There's a revision I have to do by December 31, turning my IASPR talk on shame and happy endings in romance fiction--the one I gave last summer--into a publishable essay for the conference proceedings. That has some application to a project I could work on for the PCA and IASPR conferences. At the moment, this piece ends by focusing on Jennifer Crusie's novel Welcome to Temptation, but I drafted a section on the ending of Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Natural Born Charmer, a book I know very well, having taught it several times in the last few years. I could easily talk about this book from a couple of perspectives: the complexity of its ending, which is what I've already drafted, and also its reflections on the aesthetics of popular romance vis a vis modernism and other forms of popular culture.

One thing I could do would be to decide, right now, that the PCA and IASPR talks will be about Natural Born Charmer, from one perspective or another. Hm. Maybe that's a good idea. Feels oddly limiting, but that's probably a good thing--my impulses are always to scatter myself, so if it feels wrong, it's probably right.

I know that I'll be turning a conference paper I did some years ago on Jennifer Crusie's mysteries into my contribution to the anthology that I'm co-editing on her work. I could revisit that paper for ACLA, and talk about the encounter of various genres in Fast Women: romance, noir detective fiction, even poetry. But that doesn't allow for much discussion of the international / comparative issue at the heart of the seminar. Or I could do a paper about poetry in popular romance more generally: how it's used, and what happens when it shows up. (How, though, to establish the corpus?) There's a Turkish bestseller that brings Rumi into a story about domestic love-life in 20th century America: Forty Rules of Love. It might be an interesting point of comparison to...something. Maybe to some other book that has love and poetry in it. If I'd read it. Which I haven't, yet.

Or, since I'm thinking about doing a book about Bollywood movies at some point, I could take advantage of ACLA to do another Bollywood talk. The one on Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na went very well, and turned into a couple of spin-off projects: a second talk, this one at the Film / Love conference next week; a summer research grant to revise and expand it for possible publication.

If I were to do something about Bollywood, I might focus on issues of sacred and secular love in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. That's a topic that interests me more generally. It could even be comparative: RNBDJ and Redeeming Love, for example: the Francine Rivers novel that I'll be teaching in the winter. Or maybe with that Forty Rules book in the mix. Or maybe add in Joey Hill, the BDSM romance author, since her work gives a slightly different twist to the whole notion of worshiping the beloved. (Heh.)

Or, since I have another paper on Sufi poetry in the ACLA seminar, I could do something on Jodhaa Akbar, although that film has already gotten some attention from scholars (unlike RNBDJ, whose status as romantic comedy has made it less appealing to serious critics). Or Sufi love in Darwish, where it also comes up as an anti-mono-cultural trope. Heck, I thought of doing something on Sufi love in the songs of Richard Thompson, but that's been discussed by others... and I'm not quite sure what I'd say about or do with it. (Thanks to Mark S, though, for putting that Frank Zappa song "Dirty Love" into my head with "Sufi Love" as the new lyric.)

Speaking of songs, I could do something on the intersections of high and low culture, Western and non-Western versions of love in Leonard Cohen songs. I've been struck by how the lay critical discourse about Cohen--on this or that on-line forum about his work, for example--marks an ongoing version in popular culture of the kinds of discussion that go on (or used to go on) about poets in academia. So there's another crossroads: academic and non-academic "scholarship."

And ACLA is in Canada. And he's a Jewish writer, and my department chair thinks I need to keep pushing the Jewish studies work.

Oh, I don't know, friends. I don't know. Help!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

RWA Research Grant Opportunity!

The Romance Writers of America have announced their seventh annual Research Grant competition, with a December 1, 2010 deadline for proposals. You can apply for up to $5,000 USD in support--that's a major grant, in my book: more than equal to what I'd make in a summer of teaching at DePaul.

This grant had a transformational effect on my own work, and on the current wave of contemporary romance scholarship. Sarah S. G. Frantz, founder of IASPR, was a previous recipient; Catherine Roach and Pam Regis, both of whom appear in the first issue of JPRS, have also received support. So did Jayashree Kamble, whose dissertation on popular romance is a tremendously useful resource--when my students ask about romance covers, I send them to her chapter!

You can find a full list of previous recipients on the RWA site, if you want a sense of just how varied the projects have been.

Here's a sample of the description at the RWA site:
Romance Writers of America announces the seventh annual Research Grant competition. The grant program seeks to develop and support academic research devoted to genre romance novels, writers, and readers. Appropriate fields of specialization include but are not limited to: anthropology, communications, cultural studies, education, English language and literature, gender studies, linguistics, literacy studies, psychology, rhetoric, and sociology. Proposals in interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary studies are welcome. The ultimate goal of proposals should be significant publication in major journals or as a monograph from an academic press. RWA does not fund creative work (such as novels or films).

RWA's review committee, which includes academics with doctorates, makes grant recipient recommendations to the RWA Board of Directors. RWA will fund one or more grants up to a total amount of $5,000. Funds will be calculated/awarded in U.S. dollars. Individual applicants may request up to the total amount. The research grant(s) are intended to support direct research costs associated with the project, including travel, but not equipment.

RWA retains the right to award less than a proposal’s budget, or less than the total amount designated for the competition, should the review committee so recommend.


The objectives of the program are:
  1. To support theoretical and substantive academic research about genre romance texts and literacy practices.
  2. To encourage a well-informed public discourse about genre romance texts and literacy practices.

The RWA Research Grant Program is open to faculty at accredited colleges and universities, independent scholars with significant publication records, and dissertation candidates who have completed all course work and qualifying exams. No candidate need be a member of the RWA.

Criteria for Selection:

Preference will be given to scholars with a distinguished record of research and publication. In addition, criteria for evaluation are:
  1. The significance of the proposed research
  2. The definition, organization, clarity, and scope of the research proposal.
  3. The quality or promise of the candidate.
  4. Likelihood of timely completion of the proposed research
If you have any questions, you can ask the RWA or get in touch with us previous winners. We're a friendly bunch, as a rule.

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Course Correction?

My Modern American Poetry course isn't going as well as I'd like. In fact, I'm downright discouraged about it. The format--lots of poems, thematically organized, followed by a free-range, rambling discussion--worked wonderfully the last time that I did it, but with this group, and with me, this year, it seems haphazard and unsatisfying.

I just sent an email to the students, checking in with them. Often my sense of a course is darker than theirs. But when I look around the room and see the students who are, themselves, poets--the ones who know the most coming in--looking pained or bored, I get worried. Not what I'm used to, folks.

Here's what the email said:
Good morning, everyone! We're a few weeks into the quarter, and I wanted to write and check in with all of you about how the class is going.

Our current format--vast amounts of reading, arranged thematically; unpredictable and open-ended discussion--doesn't work every for every student or every group, and I want to give you the chance to give me feedback on it.

Would you prefer a smaller number of readings, or more explicit instructions in advance about which ones to focus on? Would you rather cover fewer themes, and spend more time on each? Would you like me to assign (or at least recommend) some secondary readings? Or is everything fine so far?

Please let me know what's going well, and what you'd like changed, as we head toward the middle of the term!
Two responses so far:
Good morning! Thanks for the check-in. The class is going really well for me at this point. I'm really enjoying the reading, and I like the format. The fact that there are so many readings assigned really opens things up, I think. (Not to mention the fact that it increases the likelihood that there'll be something in there that appeals to everyone in some way.)

The one thing I do think would be helpful though is if one or two secondary readings were assigned/recommended. I think it helps frame things out a little more, and also gets the wheels turning for final projects.
And this:
I appreciate the inquiry. I like the sort of open ended structure. I don't feel overwhelmed because I know we're not expected to be experts of every poem and I appreciate at least being exposed to them, especially thinking about them in a thematic context.

I would like some more suggestions/information about the "expectations" for the short papers . I know that too is also pretty open ended, but I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a long response to the reading and class discussion or involve research, etc.
I'll hear more tonight, I suspect, from students who work full time during the day. Will let you all know how it goes.


Today's song, a neotango from Italy, danced here by an unknown couple (unknown to me, anyway). Note to self: Romance Conference in Argentina--investigate!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Modern Poetry: Portraits & Ladies

Last night was the second meeting of my MA-level Modern American Poetry class--the first in which we've actually had some poems on the table to discuss. As we did, I noticed what might be a promising new unit tucked inside my syllabus, which I'm noting here for three reasons:
  1. so I don't forget it
  2. so other teachers can steal it
  3. so other poetry readers can suggest additional texts, contexts, and resources.
The reading assignment for the week was this:
In Vol. 1, read the selections from Whitman’s “Song of Myself”; also “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and “Calvary Crossing a Ford”; read Dickinson, poem 657 (“I dwell in Possibility”), Masters, “Petit, the Poet”; Stein, from “Tender Buttons,” read “A Carafe, That Is a Blind Glass,” the four poems called “Chicken,” and “Susie Asado”; Amy Lowell, “The Pike” and “Venus Transiens,” Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” Stevens “Thirteen Ways…” “The Poems of Our Climate,” “Of Modern Poetry,” Loy, “Songs to Joannes” parts 1 and 2; Williams, “The Young Housewife,” “Portrait of a Lady,” from Paterson (302-307), Pound, “The Return,” “A Pact,” “In a Station of the Metro,” Cantos I and II; H.D., “Epitaph”; Jeffers, “Ave Caesar” and “Carmel Point”; Moore, “To a Steam Roller,” “Critics and Connoisseurs,” “Poetry,” Eliot, “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Geronition,” The Waste Land, PART ONE; Reznikoff, “The Shopgirls Leave their Work,” “About an Excavation,” Niedecker, “New-Sawed,’ “Poet’s Work,” “Something in the Water,” “Popcorn-Can Cover”
That may seem like a crazy quantity of reading. OK, it is a crazy quantity of reading, deliberately so. I like to immerse my students in a lot of poetry right away, partly so that they can begin to find poets and poems that they like (Robinson Jeffers? Who knew?), and partly so that I can see, as this course goes on, which poems particularly jump out to me as interesting, teachable, and fun.

Two main topics framed our discussion: first, questions of form (i.e., organic and constructivist varieties of free verse, a first taste of collage poetics and other experimental forms, etc.); and, second, some of the modernist unsettlings of the lyric speaker, whether through irony and persona or through the fracturing of syntax and paraphrasable meaning.

These went...OK. What I need to do next time is group the poems with those goals in mind, and make them more explicit right from the get-go; also, I may need to sift out a secondary goal that I had in mind--namely, to introduce students to Imagism and some other literary schools--and do that on a separate night.

(NOTE TO READERS: what American poems would you suggest for teaching about Symbolism--the school, not the technique? When I'm doing an international class I can bring in early Yeats or French poets in translation; who among my compatriots, though?)

But I digress.

The little mini-unit that went best, and that might make for a fun assignment or lesson on its own, centered on three poems: Williams's "Portrait of a Lady," Amy Lowell's "Venus Transiens," and Gertrude Stein's "Susie Asado." All three are "portraits of ladies," but fractured and surprising. They let you talk about different sorts of free verse, about issues of gender and representation, about uses of allusion, about the lives and careers of the poets.

But why stop at three? If I were to do this again, I'd want to add, at the very least, Ezra Pound's "Portrait d'une Femme" (in the Norton already) and T. S. Eliot's "Portrait of a Lady" (not in the Norton, but readily available, thanks to the Poetry Foundation). What else is out there? I can think of others by men--say, Wallace Stevens's "So-and-So Reclining on Her Couch," although that's from several decades later, well into the '40s, if memory serves:
So-And-So Reclining on Her Couch

On her side, reclining on her elbow.
This mechanism, this apparition,
Suppose we call it Projection A.

She floats in air at the level of
The eye, completely anonymous,
Born, as she was, at twenty-one,

Without lineage or language, only
The curving of her hip, as motionless gesture,
Eyes dripping blue, so much to learn.

If just abover her head there hung,
Suspended in air, the slightest crown
Of Gothic prong and practick bright,

The suspension, as in solid space,
The suspending hand withdrawn, would be
An invisible gesture. Let this be called

Projection B. To get at the thing
Without gestures is to get at it as
Idea. She floats in the contention, the flux

Between the thing as idea and
The idea as thing. She is half who made her.
This is the final Projection C.

The arrangement contains the desire of
The artist. But one confides in what has no
Concealed creator. One walks easily

The unpainted shore, accepts the world
As anything but sculpture. Good-bye
Mrs. Pappadopoulos, and thanks.
Any other late-Victorian or early-modernist portrait-poems come to mind? Would love a few more by women, whether of women or of men. I think this has legs, as they say, as a teachable unit--especially since it gives me the chance to show some nifty slides of actual art if the conversation flags!


Since I'm writing a piece about Midrash and Mashups, here's an oldie but goodie from DJ Earworm. Enjoy!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Slumps & Silences (coda)

A kind note from a friend reminds me that brooding over the past isn't all that useful or interesting, ultimately. And a whisper from my subconscious reminds me that there's a poem I used to love that's all about such matters, at least in one of its echoes and allusions.

The poem is James Merrill's "Lost in Translation," which you can find here, with partial audio. the echo is of Paul Valery's "Palme," which comes up at several points in Merrill's narrative and reflections.

As my former Rebbe (i.e., dissertation director) Stephen Yenser explains:

Merrill has absorbed much of "Palme" in "Lost in Translation," and lines especially relevant to this constellation of puzzle pieces occur in Valery's seventh stanza:

Ces jours qui te semblent vides
Et perdus pour l'univers
Ont des racines avides
Qui travaillent les deserts.

Merrill quotes Rilke's translation as his epigraph:

Diese Tage, die leer dir scheinen
und wertlos fur das All,
haben Wurzeln zwischen den Steinen
und trinken dort uberall.

And here finally is Merrill's own rendering, published several years after "Lost in Translation":

These days which, like yourself,
Seem empty and effaced
Have avid roots that delve
To work deep in the waste.

More on what's now blossoming from those roots next week.

Slumps & Silences (SMT)

So I haven't posted in a week or so.

In part this is because my wife's been in Haiti, which means that I've been holding down the fort, domestically speaking: more a matter of extra schlepping (home, work, home) than extra work. I wanted to boast, at the end of the week, that I'd gotten all my work done AND taken care of the kids, but in fact I've been scatter-shot on both fronts. Particularly unimpressed by my cooking, or lack thereof, and by my flat-out forgetting my son's first guitar lesson of the season yesterday. Wasn't on the calendar, so it didn't happen. Ah, well.

I was struck, this morning, by a post at Stupid Motivational Tricks called "Slump." Here's how it begins:
I was in a bit of a slump between about 1998 and 2005 or so. You wouldn't really know it from looking at my cv, though. I continued to write and publish. There are no gaps, periods of more than 2 years without significant publications. From my perspective I was in a slump, because I was writing more than I was publishing and having a hard time putting together a book manuscript. I wasn't having a very good time in my job and suffered from mild to moderate depression. What I did, essentially, is write myself out of it. Now it is clear to me that the work I did during this period wasn't wasted in the least, but I went 15 years without publishing a book.

I still bear some ill effects from that period. It took me longer than it should have to become a full professor, and my salary is still far below where it should be in relation to my accomplishments and those of comparable people in my department. I was barely hanging on in terms of living a satisfactory life, but I was still able to write, somehow.
What interests me here is the fact that I went through a similar slump during those years, but handled it differently. Rather than keep writing and publishing, I gave a big push up through the tenure year (2000-2001), then stopped cold: no published essays, no conference papers, even. The gap shows up pretty vividly on my CV--there's activity, including all those NEH seminars, but there's no writing or publishing.

On the other hand, unlike Jonathan (at SMT), I was having a very good time at my job in those years. And not just at my job. At home, in my marriage, as a father, I used that time to go (slowly, slowly) from "barely hanging on in terms of living a satisfactory life" to having a very happy one, not least as I recovered from the sadness of my father's death and the worries involved in some other family medical stuff.

If I bear some ill effects from that period--certainly it's taking me longer than it should to become a full professor!--I also bear some very good effects. More good than bad, on the whole.

This makes me wonder. If it weren't for the money, could I go without writing and publishing entirely now, and just read, give papers, and teach?

Most of me says "yes," to be honest. But the flash of upset I felt in a conversation yesterday--someone said I was a major figure in popular romance studies, and I thought "no I'm not; I haven't published anything yet!"--suggests that maybe there's writing and publishing that I really want to do, now. Internally motivated, not externally, I mean.

And there may be some poetry work I really want to do as well. The poet's I've been reading recently--Lawrence Joseph, Mike Heller, Harvey Shapiro, Stanley Moss--are reaching me emotionally in a way that poetry hasn't for a while. Not sure what that shift will lead me to write about them, but it's interesting to observe.

When I think about those years and these questions, two songs come to mind. I'll put one in another post; with my wife coming home this evening, here's the one for today:

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

New Year

The new school year has begun, here at DePaul--just in time for the Jewish new year, which kicks off just after my first class, as it happens. My syllabi are ready, my assignments written and printed, and I have...what, five hours left before I get to the classroom? Hard to buckle down and get something done in that time; my inclination, I'm discovering, is to toss everything else to the wind and focus on my classes--just as, when I'm writing, I toss everything to the wind and do only that.

What to do? Stop, breathe, step away from the computer, look at my lists, get something done.

Sadly, I'll have to pass the picket line of a rather nasty organization to get to services tonight. They're protesting at a bunch of local synagogues (God hates us, for various reasons) as well as at the local Holocaust museum (God hated them, and the next one will be worse) and a local high school (God hates gays, whatever their religion). Sigh. At least these folks don't blow themselves up or kill anyone. They bring this little poem to mind, from Alicia Ostriker's the volcano sequence:
One of these days
oh one of these days
will be a festival and a judgment

and our enemies will be thrown
into the pit while we rejoice
and sing hymns

Some people actually think this way
Yup. Some of them do--and I'll be seeing a few, albeit briefly, tonight.

Today's song, in honor of the New Year, a hymn from Leonard Cohen. "There is a crack, a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Stupid Motivational Tricks (Ongoing Series?)

I've decided to browse old posts periodically at Stupid Motivational Tricks, both to get motivated and to find some provocations--ideas or tricks of the trade that I can use to put my writing back on track. When I have groups that interest me, I'll post them here, with or without commentary.

(The present / future tense is a Mayhew mode. It interests me.)

Since there are several clicks involved in linking each of these to its parent post, my inclination is to go without. If you want to track one down, go to the SMT blog and search for a phrase from the passage you like, or simply start at the top and scroll down. (I'm working my way backwards--am only around August 15 at the moment.)

I may change my mind about linkage as this goes on. And I may repost bits of these as questions I'll answer--writing prompts, in a sense--as the weeks go by.

Writing, unfortunately, is highly dependent on states of mind. That is kind of a curse, because having to be "in the mood" can eliminate 90% of times when you have a spare moment or a free afternoon to write. Moods can be triggered, however. The best way to enter a state conducive to writing is to begin writing. The right mood will kick in--or not--after you've started.
You want to seek out those flow states of intense concentration, cultivate that ability in yourself. But you don't want to be so dependent on those states that you can't work unless you are in the flow. The flow can't be your fetish. The flow comes more from habitual action than from random, muse-like inspiration. On days when the flow is completely absent, there is still plenty to do: correct format and bibliography, read over completed drafts of other chapters.
Do you want to be known as X's disciple, or as the Y's teacher? Do you see yourself as a theorist, a critic, or a scholar? Are you mainly an expert on Joyce or Twain, or on Ireland or Sweden? Do you define yourself by period or by theoretical approach?

In my case, I don't want disciples, nor to be known for whom I worked with. I'd like to be thought of as someone who defined the terms of the debate in my field, someone who raised the standard for what excellent work is in my subfield, and made this subfield relevant to those for whom it would otherwise not be so important.

I'm intrigued by this 16-Week Challenge, which was linked to on the SMT blog. It's designed to spur research and writing productivity, not least by making the progress systematic. Not sure the math is right for someone like me, on a quarter system. (10 week challenge?) Worth thinking about, however. What would my challenge parameters be?


If there's housework going on, I can't do academic work (writing, reading, you name it). When I hear housework, I stop what I'm doing and go clean, vacuum, tidy, scrub a bathroom, etc. This isn't a conscious decision; it's visceral. Years of training go into it, including a childhood of watching (and helping) my mother clean house while my father was off in his study, smoking and grading or reading.

This leaves me at the mercy of everyone else in the house, of course. But it's the bed I've made, and by god, I'm going to sleep in it. Or, in this case, go change the sheets.


Song o' the day? A lovely one by a short-lived "supergroup," Little Village:

Of Necks and Brows

As most of you know, I belong to a proudly stubborn and stiff-necked people, celebrated as such in Howard Nemerov's delightful "Debate with the Rabbi":
You've lost your religion, the Rabbi said.
It wasn't much to keep, said I.
You should affirm the spirit, said he,
and the communal solidarity.
I don't feel so solid, I said.

We the people of the Book, the rabbi said.
Not of the phone book, said I.
Ours is a great tradition, said he,
And a wonderful history.
But history's over, I said.

We Jews are creative people, the Rabbi said.
Make something, then said I.
In science and in art, said he,
Violinists and physicists have we.
Fiddle and Physic indeed, I said.

Stubborn and stiff-necked man! the Rabbi cried.
The pain you give me, said I.
Instead of bowing down, said he,
You go on in your obstinacy.
We Jews are that way, I replied.
Unfortunately, as of yesterday that metaphor has taken on a "stubbornly" literal meaning for me. Can't turn my head to the right, or lean my right ear down towards my shoulder. Not sure if this is from over-turning it at some point the day before, or from spending too much time looking to the left while typing up notes and quotes for an essay. In either case, it'll be a week or so before I have my range of motion back--and in the mean time, reading, writing, driving, web-surfing, etc., run the gamut from just-a-tad-awkward to sharply, gaspingly painful.

Ah, middle age!


If you're one of my handful of regular readers, you may have noticed a small change to the site two days ago. Under the picture of me getting hugged by Jeepers, Koala of Love (tm), I've added a tag line: "Proud Members of the Middlebrow Network."

What's the Middlebrow Network, you ask?

According to their website, the Middlebrow Research Network is
an AHRC-funded project that provides a focus for research on the loaded and disreputable term 'middlebrow' and the areas of cultural production it purports to represent. The network is both transatlantic and interdisciplinary: we work to foster discussion and collaboration across geographical and disciplinary divides.
Their Very Useful Website offers a range of materials, including a database of researchers (you'll find me there), links to events and publications (which I've just begun to browse), and some handy descriptions of "middlebrow" art and its audience from critics past and present.

Several of those definitions quite struck home for me:
"The B.B.C. claim to have discovered a new type, the 'middlebrow'. It consists of people who are hoping that some day they will get used to the stuff they ought to like." Punch, 23 December 1925.
(Hey! That's my birthday. Kismet.)
"It is not true that men don't read novels, but it is true that there are whole branches of fiction that they avoid. Roughly speaking, what one might call the average novel - the ordinary, good-bad, Galsworthy-and-water stuff which is the norm of the English novel - seems to exist only for women." George Orwell, 'Bookshop Memories.' (The full citation is on their website.)
At this point, I mostly read a branch of fiction that men avoid. Not sure what "Galsworthy-and-water" means, but the rest seems apposite enough.
"The broad working definition I employ throughout this book is that the middlebrow novel is one that straddles the divide between the trashy romance or thriller on the one hand, and the philosophically or formally challenging novel on the other: offering narrative excitement without guilt, and intellectual stimulation without undue effort. It is an essentially parasitical form, dependent on the existence of both a high and a low brow for its identity, reworking their structures and aping their insights, while at the same time fastidiously holding its skirts away from lowbrow contamination, and gleefully mocking highbrow intellectual pretensions."Nicola Humble, The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 1920s to 1950s: Class, Domesticity, and Bohemianism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) p. 11-12.
There's something quite negative about the details of Humble's description ("parasitical"? "aping"?), but I don't know the texts she's discussing, and don't want to assume that she's wrong. By the late 20th century, however, in the texts I know and love, there's a lot less primness in the middlebrow, while its mix of "narrative excitement" and "intellectual stimulation" remains intact.

I have a hunch--and it's just a hunch, so far--that this network and this term of inquiry will be quite useful to me in the years ahead, not just for my work on American romance fiction (which is often considered "lowbrow," but includes a large number of middlebrow texts as well, at least by Nicola Humble's definition), but also for my work on the pleasures of poetry. On which note, I look forward to reading Jane Dowson's conference presentation on "Poetry and the Middlebrow" over at the Network's Resources page, and posting on that in the future.

What's the brow-line on that Nemerov poem, after all?


Today's song: a little Hebrew qawwali for you, by Shye Ben Tzur. The lyrics (translated by someone on YouTube, so these may not be quite right) suggest that it's a devotional love song: "The Rose of my heart has unfolded / To you I shall sing / When I sing to you / The Rose of my heart unfolds / On my breast you have struck one beat / And within it you have planted endless rhythms / On the sail of my lungs you blow your breath / And within infinite compositions echo," etc. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Taking Out the Garbage

Laura writes:
Have you re-read Crusie's essay about Taking Out the Garbage? That might give you some ideas for the longer term.

In the short term, I wonder if you could make sure you have a set length of time each day, towards the middle or end of the day, which you set aside for writing, and into which nothing else is allowed to encroach. Then, if you start the day with admin/more routine things, you'll be able to mull over the topic in the back of your mind for a lot of the day before your writing block of time arrives, so hopefully when it does arrive, your brain will be bursting with ideas and ready to get down to writing straight away.
Those are both good ideas, Laura. The Crusie essay, in particular, spoke to me when I re-read it--especially since I re-read it last night after spending twenty minutes or so writing a comment on Israeli / Palestinian politics over at my rabbi's blog. (And did so again--leave a comment, I mean--this morning.)

"I’m still honing the skill of figuring out what’s important to me and ignoring all the noise that doesn’t matter," Crusie writes, if you don't know the essay. "It’s a skill we all need to learn and relearn because until we understand what’s important, we’re not going to be able to protect our work or our lives." She goes on to explain that this "noise" is particularly problematic when you want to be a writer, which also applies to being an academic writer:
The problem with being a writer (one of many) is that it’s all in our heads. It’s not like ditch digging where you can fume all day and still have a perfectly good ditch when you break for dinner. The time-spent list for writers isn’t what we’re doing, it’s what we’re thinking. If we’re stirring spaghetti, for instance, we’re not cooking (unless we’re obsessing over al dente or worrying about salt); we’re doing whatever occupies our minds. If we’re thinking about why the heroine didn’t tell the hero about that secret baby, we’re thinking about writing. If we’re obsessing over RWA business or that lousy review or how unfair it is that a crummy writer just got a better contract than we did, we’re thinking about an organization or somebody else’s opinion, or somebody else’s career. If those things are high on our priority lists, then we can fume virtuously, knowing we’re putting our energies where we want them. If not, we need to do some reordering in our lives because we can’t do good work if we can’t give ourselves to the work, and we can’t give ourselves to the work if our heads are filled with this kind of noise.
This summer I ignored a lot of noise quite successfully: political noise, mostly, from home and abroad. I wonder whether I need to continue to do so, given how much of my time and mental energy can get sucked into that vortex. Supporting views I agree with has seemed important--actually, supporting a person whose views I agree with, since there are folks in the congregation who have been very unhappy with his very public positions, and I want him to know that he's got a few of us in his corner. But how to balance that with other priorities--well, that's a good, practical question, and I'm going to think about it.

"The time-spent list for writers isn’t what we’re doing, it’s what we’re thinking." That's the kicker, isn't it?

In terms of setting a time aside for writing, I'm going to try that--although given my troubled sleep schedule, I think I'll make that a morning ritual rather than an afternoon or evening one. Reading and writing are hard for me in the afternoon and evening: reading, because I tend to fall asleep; writing, because there's nothing like that first cup of coffee to get me humming with sentences. But the core idea--make this an appointment, part of the job, not an extra to be added when you can--seems very useful to me. Not sure if I can make any time sacrosanct here at home, but I can try.

More about motivation, Laura's other comment, in another post, probably tomorrow. Today's song, running through my head when I woke up, is an old one from Brazil--enjoy!

Monday, August 30, 2010

There was a time...

There was a time when I took a lot of pride in being more professional, organized, and productive than other graduate students. Once I was out of graduate school...no, once I was hired by DePaul, with a baby, then two children, that self-image fell by the wayside. Hoping to get it back.

First steps, for the brand new year? Well, I've put Jonathan Mayhew's Stupid Motivational Tricks as my home page, or one of my home pages. I'm going to try to stay off social media (Twitter, Facebook) between 9 and 5, just as though I were at a "real" job where that wasn't allowed. Got some action lists written, and I'm trying to work from them, rather than responding all day to the incoming email stream.

We'll see how it goes.

Today's song goes out to my Rabbi, Brant Rosen, in thanks for his blessedly skeptical blog posts about the current revival of the Mid-east "peace process." It's an oldie but goodie from Peter Tosh:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Writing; Mashrou' Leila

Writing's getting hard for me these days.

Not the word-smithery aspect: that comes as easily (and as painfully, sometimes) as ever.

No. The hard part for me now--and by "now," I guess I mean "in the last few years"--is the time-management aspect.

You see, when I write, I tend to get obsessed. I eat, sleep, breathe the piece, take hours on a sentence or a paragraph, getting the rhythm just so. I dodge email, drop other tasks, and focus. My shift this summer from blogging again (hurray!) to total silence? That was because I was writing--one conference paper, one thirty-page introduction to some essays. (Well, that and a LOT of editing.)

The trouble is, I can't sustain that sort of obsession. Especially when it's the school year, and I have to, you know, teach. Grade. Meet with colleagues and students. (Pesky things.)

Now, I have a lot of writing ahead of me this late summer and fall. A lot I want to do more generally. And if I'm going to get it done, I'm going to have to find a better rhythm for my days: one that incorporates the pesky stuff (students, teaching, colleagues), a lot of reading (poetry, fiction, scholarship), family duties (up at 6:30, makin' those breakfasts!), and somehow writing as well.

Haven't done that before, or at least, not in many years. Not well. And I'm not really sure how to start. Every time I think I should get started on an essay, there's something else that pops into my head: a grant application that's due soon; an essay to edit by someone else; another book I really ought to read.

What I need is some new rhythm to the day: a time for this, a time for that, in which writing takes its place w/o expanding to obsess me.

Any of you productive folks out there have any suggestions?


Today's song is "Raski Leila," by the Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila. I think it's about eggplant. Enjoy, while I go do some reading, or editing, or...you know...that other thing.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Last Call, Film Lovers!

The last call is out--absolutely, positively, this time--for the 2010 Film & History Conference: Representations of Love in Film and Television. The conference runs November 11-14, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, and the Final Deadline for proposals is September 15, 2010.

I'm running an "area" at the conference: Global Perspectives on the Alpha Male in Love. So far we have enough papers for one panel, max, so there's plenty of opportunity here for you to speak on your favorite man's man, ladies' man, man about town--whatever that town may be!

Here's the Call:

Masterful, confident, erotically charged, the “Alpha Male” has been a cinematic icon from Rudolph Valentino’s Sheikh Ahmed ben Hassan (The Sheik, 1921) to Pierce Brosnan’s Thomas Crown (1999) and Hritik Roshan’s elusive criminal, “Mr. A” (Dhoom 2, 2006). As the hero in romantic films, this ideal of masculinity has proven enduringly popular with both male and female viewers, even as successive waves of feminism, in the West and around the globe, have challenged the sexual politics he implies.

How do representations of the Alpha Male in love differ across national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries? How have they changed across the past century, responding to historically- and regionally-specific shifts in gender roles and ideals? What happens to the Alpha Male hero when he stars in a romantic comedy, as opposed to a drama or melodrama? How much can we use this iconic figure to track the power of the female gaze or women’s desires, as has been done with the Alpha Male hero of popular romance fiction, given the fact that men continue to predominate in the writing and direction of the films (as opposed to the overwhelmingly female authorship and audience for romance novels)?

This area, comprising multiple panels, welcomes papers and panel proposals that examine all forms and genres of films featuring “Alpha” protagonists in love, as well as films which challenge, revise, or subvert the conventions surrounding this character. Possibilities include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

Sheiks, Captains, Emperors, (The Sheik, Persuasion, Jodhaa Akbar)

Alpha Male meets Alpha Female (The Thomas Crown Affair [1999], Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

Austen’s Alpha: Darcy and his Descendents (Pride and Prejudice)

Sink Me! He’s an Alpha in Disguse! (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro)

Alpha / Beta Reversals and Alter-Egos (Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na)

Suspicious Minds: the Alpha Criminal and Detective (Devil in a Blue Dress, The Big Sleep, Breathless)

Athlete Alphas (Love & Basketball, Bull Durham)

Alpha Lovers in Space (Han Solo, James T. Kirk)

You’ve Got Male: Alphas in “Chick Flicks”

Please send your 200-word proposal by e-mail to the area chair:

Eric Murphy Selinger
Associate Professor
Dept. of English
DePaul University
802 West Belden Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
eselinge@depaul.edu (email submissions preferred)

Panel proposals for up to four presenters are also welcome, but each presenter must submit his or her own paper proposal.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lucid as Euclid?

Ahoy all my Science & Math-minded friends!

Can you think of any available work--a book, a chapter, an essay, a website, a YouTube clip--that could introduce some more-or-less mathematically illiterate English majors to non-Euclidean geometry?

I don't care so much about their learning the geometry itself, or the various geometries. It's the intellectual adventure of the discovery that I need to communicate: the interest and excitement of it, and the worlds it opened up.

This will be a secondary source for my next interdisciplinary senior seminar on popular romance fiction, by the way. One of the novels I teach, Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm, features a mathematically-gifted 19th century hero who works on the problem. It's been hard for me to get students to focus on that aspect of the novel, or see its relevance to the other material in the book; I need something that will bring the topic to life for them.

By way of early payment, here's a musical tribute to the man behind the story in real life (well, one of them, anyway) from Tom Lehrer:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Help a Prof Out (2): Modern Poets?

Thanks to everyone who weighed in about my survey course ideas! A number of voices saying that they like the variety that a survey brings to the table, whether it's organized by theme (as in the syllabus I posted yesterday) or simply by the order that poems and poets appear in a book (as I mentioned in passing).

As my friend Sara put it, over on Facebook:

I'm answering as someone who could be one of your students. I've never taken a poetry class and would have a lot of trepidation about doing so. I really like the themes approach, because I feel that I'll probably like some of the poems in each section whereas with a chronological or authors approach I'd be very afraid of not liking or understanding whole sections of the course, and hence I wouldn't take such a course. Also as a very casual visitor to the world of poetry I'd want to be exposed to more than 8 or 9 poets.

That's a useful perspective, and a persuasive one--it's always a pleasure to watch students discover a poet or poem they love, and often those discoveries happen while splashing through the shoals of charming minor poets, rather than swimming with the big fish of the canon.

I use the phrase "charming minor poet" advisedly, thinking of the opening of an essay I once wrote about Hayden Carruth:

When Bantam books shipped Hayden Carruth's anthology The Voice That Is Great Within Us to likely reviewers, he got a bitter letter in reply. Its author, a friend of John Crowe Ransom, had looked in vain for the "tougher, more philosophical" work that made Ransom a "serious and important" figure. "He complained that I had used only the slighter poems, the elegiac and gently ironic poems," Carruth recalled in an essay the following year. In a word, "he accused me of turning Ransom into 'a charming minor poet.'"

"Well," Carruth muses in response, "charming minor poet is what we usually call Sir Thomas Wyatt, George Crabbe, John Clare, Padraic Colum, and many others, and personally I wouldn't mind belonging to that company at all, at all. What else is there, except oblivion on one hand and the fluke of greatness on the other?"

Before I commit to a survey course, though, let me say a word or two about the other kind of modern poetry course I've often taught, and see what you think about that.

The second model I've used is an author-based course. I choose some number of poets--8, 9, 10--and have students order either a Collected or Selected poems by each. We then read widely and variously across each poet's career.

The advantage of a course like this is that it enables both me and my students to read poems that never make it into the anthologies, either because they are (shall we say) charming minor work or because they're simply too long. The charming minor poems of Prufrock and Other Observations, for example, are my favorite part of the book. A handful of middle-aged poems by Allen Ginsberg (like the two called "Don't Get Old") are as good as Howl or Kaddish, maybe better, at least to my middle-aged ear. The experience of reading all of H. D.'s Trilogy is radically different from the experience of reading anthologized excerpts--it's much more fun, much closer to a fantasy novel, to my ear at least. Auden's "Letter to Lord Byron" is a joy, but nowhere in the Norton; poets like Stevie Smith, A. R. Ammons, and Robert Hayden come alive when read at length, but I'm not sure they have the same appeal in short bursts.

(The opposite is true of other poets, of course. Every time I teach the three or four poems by William Bronk in Cary Nelson's Modern American Poetry I fall in love with his work, but to read him at length, a book or more? Help!)

Author-based courses also let me hitch my teaching more closely to my scholarship. When I'm writing about poet X, I can simply order up a book by him or her; when I've spent years getting to know the whole career of poet Y, I can take my students on a guided tour.

Finally, the books for author based courses are more expensive--but they can be really lovely, a physical pleasure to hold and to read. There's something quite satisfying about working with a Library of America Collected Poems, or one of the slim, elegant American Poets Project volumes, or just a book of poems, rather than a Norton. Books designed for readers, not for students, I mean.

Why, then, don't I always teach an author-based course?

Because then--ah, then!--I have to choose. And, because I'm a liberal child of the '70s, I can't just choose blindly. No, I want to choose a proper mix of genders, races, aesthetics...and if it's the Modern Poetry course, a mix of US and non-US poets. And I can't have more than 9. And that, friends, is hard, for a ditherer like me. My desktop and notebooks are littered with lists of authors, sometimes gathered by theme, sometimes just by affection:
HD (f)
Moore (f)
Smith (f)
Rukeyser (f)
Nine poets: four women, five men, but only two and a half from outside the US (Eliot counts twice), and only one poet of color. Argh! And would I rather teach Moore than Niedecker? Or Millay, whom students often like? And what about Auden, and Ammons, and O'Hara, and Merrill (both of whom taught wonderfully last quarter)? What about Hugh MacDiarmid, whose little aubade "Morning" was a surprise hit back in May?
The Day loups up (for she kens richt weel
Owre lang wi' the Nicht she mauna lig)
And plunks the sun i' the lift aince mair
Like a paddle-doo i' the raim-pig.
Oh, I don't know, friends, I just don't know. Any thoughts? Any advice?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Help a Prof Out (1): Modern Poetry

Sixteen years ago, at a campus-visit interview somewhere in the Southwest, I found myself grilled by an English professor who wanted to know exactly who would be on my modern American poetry syllabus, were I to get hired.

I tossed out a few different models that came to mind: I might teach it this way, with this focus; maybe that way, with another. He was unimpressed. "You're the professor now," he said. "You have to decide!"

Did I? I've now taught a dozen or so sections of DePaul's Modern American Poetry (and Modern Poetry) courses, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but I've never taught the course the same way twice.

Some years I've focused the course on a particular theme ("Faith, Doubt, and Myth" last fall; "Long and Longer Poems" a few years back). Other years I've chosen an anthology or two and had the students read every page, cover to cover, without organizing the poets into schools or movements or ranking them in importance. Last quarter I planned to do the "read every page" approach at the undergraduate level, for the first time--then balked, realizing that it wouldn't work, since the reading just wouldn't get done. Instead, I sorted the poets into loosely organized groups and worked through those, more or less chronologically, first on one side of the Atlantic and then on the other. (My anthologies were Cary Nelson's Modern American Poetry and the Bloodaxe book of 20th Century British and Irish poetry.) It worked pretty well, except for the fact that I'd assigned a lot of poems which I'd never taught or even read before--and I didn't have nearly as much time as I'd hoped to get them prepped.

So: here's my dilemma.

To simplify my life in the next four years (my countdown to 50--and to my son's departure for college), I'd like to design one Modern American Poetry syllabus and one Modern Poetry syllabus and then stick with them, teaching them over and over again. What, though, should they look like?

The simplest solution would be for me to narrow the scope of the course to the first half of the 20th century, and teach it from an anthology that includes both modern American and modern non-American poetry. Three come to mind:
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry, which includes about 900 pages of 20th century poetry, along with plenty of older poems, from Caedmon's Hymn onward.
  • Poems for the Millennium, the Jerome Rothenberg / Pierre Joris-edited anthology of international modernist poetry, much of it in translation.
  • The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, which runs from Whitman to Stephen Spender and Keith Douglas, and includes a bunch of manifestos and other ancillary documents at the end.
Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages. Consider the Norton Anthology of Poetry (or NAP, for short):
  • It would give the students plenty of context for any given modern poem, which is a plus. I can't assume they've read anything prior to my classes--so if I want them to think about, say, Stevens and Keats, it might be useful to have the Keats right there at hand.
  • The NAP is also a book I could use for my Introduction to Poetry course, so that students could go from one to the other without buying a new textbook.
  • On the other hand, the NAP offers essentially no biographical or other contextual information for any of its poets, and it necessarily includes fewer poems by its modern folks than an anthology just of modern poetry will give.
What about Poems for the Millennium?
  • Having taught from it before, I can testify that its description of modernism--overall, and as a group of related 20th century -isms--has the most potential to excite and seduce students.
  • On the other hand, that excitement tends to come, for my students, as much from the headnotes and afterwords supplied by the editors as it does from the poems they choose. In fact, it may come more from those notes than from the poems, which are sometimes more fun to read about than they are for my students to read.
  • Obviously the scope of this anthology goes well beyond the Modern American purview, which means that I'd really have to use it only for the Modern Poetry survey, and work up a separate syllabus, with a separate book, for the other. Not the most efficient approach.
That leaves the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (NAMP). How does it measure up?
  • I don't love some of the inclusions--the older versions of early Yeats poems, for example, that this edition uses instead of the superior later revisions, or the particular selections of Stevie Smith. I could, of course, supplement these with handouts or links.
  • I find it annoying that this "modern" anthology includes poems from the 1960s and later (all of the George Oppen offerings, for example), while shunting modern poems from the 1930s into a second, separate anthology of Contemporary Poetry (e.g. Muriel Rukeyser's The Book of the Dead). Would I make my students buy both for a handful of poems? Use some second text or on-line links? Not ideal, but doable, I suppose.
Of these three, I suppose I like NAMP the most, and I have taught with it more or less successfully before, structuring my course around a series of topics and themes, rather than authors. (As you'll see below, I used both volumes of the Norton that quarter, the Modern and the Contemporary.) Here's what I did that last time; after I post it, I'll publish this, take a break, and come back to the question of whether I should teach a survey or a course on particular authors (say, 8 or 9 of them) later.

What’s a Poem? What’s a Poet?
In Vol. 1, read the selections from Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” Yeats, “The Fisherman,” “Adam’s Curse,” “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”; Masters, “Petit, the Poet”; Stein, from “Tender Buttons,” read “A Carafe, That Is a Blind Glass,” the four poems called “Chicken,” and the selection from “Rooms,” also “Susie Asado”; Amy Lowell, “The Pike” and “Venus Transiens,” Stevens “Thirteen Ways…” “The Poems of Our Climate,” “Of Modern Poetry,” Loy, “Songs to Joannes” parts 1 and 2; Williams, “The Young Housewife,” “Portrait of a Lady,” from Paterson (302-307), Pound, “The Return,” “A Pact,” “In a Station of the Metro,” Cantos I and II; H.D., “Epitaph,” Moore, “To a Steam Roller,” “Critics and Connoisseurs,” “Poetry,” Eliot, “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Geronition,” The Waste Land, Reznikoff, “The Shopgirls Leave their Work,” “About an Excavation,” Toomer, “Gum,” Bunting, “What the Chairman told Tom,” Niedecker, “New-Sawed,’ “Poet’s Work,” “Something in the Water,” “Popcorn-Can Cover,” Zukofsky, “From Poem Beginning ‘The’”; read the manifestoes from pp. 895-925 and Pound’s “A Retrospect” (929-938).

In Vol. 2, read Thomas, “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” Lowell, “Epilogue,” Koch, from Days and Nights, “One Train May Hide Another,” Ammons, “Corson’s Inlet,” “from Garbage,” Ginsberg, “Howl,” “Sunflower Sutra,” O’Hara, “A Step Away from Them,” “A True Account of Talking to the Sun…,” Ashbery, “the Instruction Manual,” “Farm Implements and Rutabegas in a Landscape,” Howe, “from Thorow,” Ali, “Ghazal,” Bernstein, “Autonomy is Jeopardy,” and “from The Lives of the Toll Takers.”
Gender and Sexuality
In Vol. 1, read Robinson, “Miniver Cheevy” (166), Stevens, “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock,” Williams, “The Young Housewife,” “Danse Russe,” “Portrait of a Lady,” Pound, “Portrait d’une Femme,” “The Temperaments,” “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” part I, Canto VII, H.D., “Sea Rose,” “Garden,” Eliot, “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Whispers of Immortality,” “The Waste Land,” Millay, “First Fig,” “I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed,” Bogan, “Women,” Smith, “This Englishwoman,” Niedecker, “Well, Spring Overflows the Land,” “What Horror to Awake at Night.”

In Vol. 2, read Swenson, “A Couple,” Rukeyser, “The Conjugation of the Paramecium,” Jarrell, “Next Day,” Berryman, “Dream Song 4,” Levertov, “Song for Ishtar,” Ginsberg, “Sphincter,” “Personals Ad,” Sexton, “Her Kind,” Rich, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” “Orion,” “Planetarium,” “Power,” Plath, “The Arrival of the Bee Box,” Clifton, “homage to my hips,” “poem to my uterus,” “to my last period,” Atwood, “from Circe / Mud Poems,” “Manet’s Olympia,” Boland, “Mise Eire,” “The Pomegranate,” Goodison, “Nanny,” Nichols, “Invitation,” Doty, “Homo Will Not Inherit.”
Faith, Doubt, Myth:
In Vol 1, read Dickinson, “Brain is Wider” 38; Hardy, “Hap” (44); Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” “As Kingfishers,” “Spring,” “The Windhover,” “Hosting of the Sidhe,” “The Magi,” “Dialogue of Self and Soul,” Frost, “Design,” “Directive,” Stevens, “Sunday Morning,” from “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” (on-line; Google it); Pound, “The Return,” HD, “from The Walls Do Not Fall” and “From Tribute to the Angels,” Eliot, “Preludes,” “The Waste Land,” “Journey of the Magi,” “Little Gidding,” Graves, “To Juan at the Winter Solstice,” Smith, “Our Bog is Dood,” “God the Eater,” Kavanagh, “Canal Bank Walk,” Auden, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” “In Praise of Limestone,” Oppen, “Psalm,” “from Of Being Numerous.”

In Vol. 2, read Bishop, “At the Fishhouses,” “Over 2000 Illustrations…,” Duncan, “Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow,” Larkin, “Water,” “Church Going,” “Faith Healing,” “High Windows,” Kumin, “In the Absence of Bliss,” Merrill, “b o d y,” Ali, “Ghazal.”
War and Genocide:
In Vol. 1, read Hardy “Drummer Hodge” (47), “In Time of ‘the Breaking of Nations’” (59), Kipling, “Shillin’ a Day,” “Recessional,” “Epitaphs of the War” (150), Yeats, “Easter, 1916,” “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” “The Second Coming,” “Leda and the Swan,” “Politics”; Sandburg, “Grass,” Thomas, “Rain,” Loy, “Der Blinde Junge,” Pound, “Lament of the Frontier Guard,” Hugh Selwyn Mauberly, parts IV and V, Canto LXXXI, Sassoon, “Dreamers,” “The General,” H.D., “from The Walls Do Not Fall,” McKay, “If We Must Die,” Rosenberg, “Break of Day in the Trenches,” “Louse Hunting,” Owen, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” “Strange Meeting,” “S.I.W.,” Reznikoff, from Holocaust; “I sing of Olaf glad and big,” Jones, “In Parenthesis,” Auden, “Spain,” from “In Time of War,” “September 1, 1939,” “The Shield of Achilles.”

In Vol. 2, read Olson, “Pacific Lament,” Rukeyser, “Poem”; Jarrell, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” Duncan, “Up Rising / Passages 25,” Larkin, “MCMXIV,” Hecht, “The Book of Yolek”; Hill, “Ovid in the Third Reich,” “September Song”; Simic, “Prodigy,” “Eastern European Cooking,” “Cameo Appearance,” Palmer, “Sun,” Komunyakaa, “Starlight Scope Myopia,” “Facing It,” Fenton, “Dead Soldiers,” Forche, “The Colonel”
A Botched Civilization?
In Vol. 1, read Yeats, “Meru,” “Long-Legged Fly,” Williams, “To Elsie,” “The Yachts,” Pound, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly,” from Canto XIV, XLV, Jeffers, “Shine, Perishing Republic,” “Ave Caesar,” “The Purse-Seine,” “Carmel Point,” cummings “the Cambridge ladies,” “next to of course god America I,” Brown, “Sporting Beasley,” Hughes, “from Montage of a Dream Deferred,” Auden, “The Unknown Citizen.”

In Vol. 2, read Olson, from “The Maximus Poems” (6-11, 12-14); Hayden, “Middle Passage,”; Rukeyser, “from The Book of the Dead: Absalom; Alloy,” Lowell, “For the Union Dead,” Brooks, “Vacant Lot,” Larkin, “Homage to a Government,” Creeley, “I Know a Man,” Ginsberg, “Howl,” “America,” “Mugging,” Levine, “They Feed They Lion,” Gunn, “The Missing”; Harper, “American History,” Cervantes, “Poema para los Californios Muertos.”
Against Empire as Such:
In Vol. 1, read Yeats, “September, 1913,” “Easter, 1916,” Johnson, “O Black and Unknown Bards,” “The Creation,” Loy, “English Rose,” Moore, “England,” “A Midnight Woman to the Bobby,” “The Harlem Dancer,” “If We Must Die,” MacDiarmid, “O Wha’s the Bride?” Reznikoff, “It Had Long Been Dark,” Tolson, “from Harlem Gallery,” Bunting, from Briggflatts, Brown, “Memphis Blues,” “Slim in Atlanta,” Hughes, “Weary Blues,” “Madam and Her Madam,” Cullen, “Heritage,” Kavanagh, “from The Great Hunger,” “Epic.”

In Vol. 2, read Bishop, “Brazil, January 1, 1502,” Hayden, “Witch Doctor,” “Night, Death, Mississippi,” some Louise Bennett?, Ginsberg, “from Kaddish,” Walcott, “A Far Cry from Africa,” “The Sea is History,” “The Schooner Flight,” Brathwaite, “From The Arrivants,” “Calypso,” “Ogun,”; James Wright, “A Centenary Ode: Inscribed to Little Crow…”; Baraka, “Poem for Black Hearts,” “A New Reality is Better than a New Movie!” Clifton, “I am accused of tending to the past,” “at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation,” Heaney, “Punishment,” “Casualty,” “Terminus,” de Souza, “De Souza Prabhu,” “Conversation Piece,” Goodison, “Guinea Woman,” Ali, “Ghazal,” Nichols, “Wherever I hang,” Marilyn Chin, “How I Got That Name,” “Autumn Leaves,” Alexie, “On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City,” “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel,” “Crow Testament”
Birds, Beasts, and Flowers:
In Vol. 1, read Frost, “The Most of It,” Williams, “Spring and All,” DHL, “Medlars and Sorb-Apples,” “Southern Cyclamens,” “Snake,” “Lui et Elle,” “Bavarian Gentians,” Jeffers, “Fawn’s Foster Mother,” Hurt Hawks,” “Vulture,” Moore, “To a Snail,” “The Pangolin,” “He ‘Digesteth Harde Yron,” Auden, “In Praise of Limestone.”

In Vol. 2, read Bishop, “Roosters,” Swenson, “Unconscious, Came a Beauty,” “Strawberrying,” Duncan, “A Little Language,” Ammons, “Gravelly Run,” “Small Song,” “The City Limits,’ Merrill, “Self-Portrait in Tyvek™Windbreaker,” Merwin, “For a Coming Extinction,” Snyder, “Milton by Firelight,” “Above Pate Valley”; Hughes, “The Horses,” “Pike,” “Second Glance at a Jaguar,” Oliver, “The Black Snake,” “Hawk,” Heaney, “Death of a Naturalist.”
Modern Love:
In vol. 1, read “Poems of 1912-13” (54-57, up through “The Voice”); “Adam’s Curse” 100, “No Second Troy” (101), “Eros Turannos” (167), Lowell, “A Decade,” “From Songs to Joannes,” WCW, “This Is Just to Say,” “The Ivy Crown,” DHL, “You,” Pound, “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter,” HD, “Fragment Sixty-Eight,” Parker, “One Perfect Rose,” Crane, “Voyages,” Hughes, “Lament Over Love,” Reznikoff, “from Love Poems of Marichiko,” Auden, “This Lunar Beauty,” “Lullaby,” “As I Walked Out One Evening.”

In Vol. 2, read Swenson, “A Couple,” “In Love Made Visible,” Larkin, “An Arundel Tomb,” Levertov, “The Ache of Marriage,” Merrill, “Days of 1964,” Creeley, “For Love,” O’Hara, “Les Luths,” Rich, “Twenty-One Love Poems,” Snyder, “The Bath,” Plath, “The Applicant,” Lorde, “Love Poem,” Atwood, “[You fit into me].”

A Tiny Test

Just to see whether my new (repaired) link between this blog and my other social media (Facebook / Twitter) is live, here's a one-line poem by Harvey Shapiro, from A Day's Portion (1994):

His liver-spotted hand on hers.
If this works, I should be able to see the post on Facebook, and a link should be posted to Twitter. If not--well, we'll see. It's hardly a priority, but would be nice.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Alpha Males in Love

The call for papers has been extended one last time (last call!) for the big Film / Love conference next November in Milwaukee.

The final-but-final deadline is now September 15, 2010, and although I have a handful of papers already accepted, I’d love to have some more proposals for my panel, International Perspectives on the Alpha Male in Love. (As you'll see below, this includes films that challenge, revise, or subvert the conventions surrounding this figure.)

Here's the formal CFP, one last time:

2010 Film & History Conference: Representations of Love in Film and Television

November 11-14, 2010
Hyatt Regency Milwaukee
Deadline: September 15, 2010

Masterful, confident, erotically charged, the “Alpha Male” has been a cinematic icon from Rudolph Valentino’s Sheik Ahmed ben Hassan (The Sheik, 1921) to Pierce Brosnan’s Thomas Crown (1999) and Hritik Roshan’s elusive criminal, “Mr. A” (Dhoom 2, 2006). As the hero in romantic films, this ideal of masculinity has proven enduringly popular with both male and female viewers, even as successive waves of feminism, in the West and around the globe, have challenged the sexual politics he implies.

How do representations of the Alpha Male in love differ across national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries? How have they changed across the past century, responding to historically- and regionally-specific shifts in gender roles and ideals? What happens to the Alpha Male hero when he stars in a romantic comedy, as opposed to a drama or melodrama? How much can we use this iconic figure to track the power of the female gaze or women’s desires, as has been done with the Alpha Male hero of popular romance fiction, given the fact that men continue to predominate in the writing and direction of the films (as opposed to the overwhelmingly female authorship and audience for romance novels)?

This area, comprising multiple panels, welcomes papers and panel proposals that examine all forms and genres of films featuring “Alpha” protagonists in love, as well as films which challenge, revise, or subvert the conventions surrounding this character. Possibilities include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Sheiks, Captains, Emperors, (The Sheik, Persuasion, Jodhaa Akbar)
  • Alpha Male meets Alpha Female (The Thomas Crown Affair [1999], Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
  • Austen’s Alpha: Darcy and his Descendents (Pride and Prejudice)
  • Sink Me! He’s an Alpha in Disguse! (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro)
  • Alpha / Beta Reversals and Alter-Egos (Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na)
  • Suspicious Minds: the Alpha Criminal and Detective (Devil in a Blue Dress, The Big Sleep, Breathless)
  • Athlete Alphas (Love & Basketball, Bull Durham)
  • Alpha Lovers in Space (Han Solo, James T. Kirk)
  • You’ve Got Male: Alphas in “Chick Flicks”
Please send your 200-word proposal by e-mail to the area chair (me!)

Eric Murphy Selinger
Associate Professor
Dept. of English
DePaul University
802 West Belden Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614

eselinge at depaul dot edu

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers' Day

Happy Fathers' Day (or is it "Father's Day"?) to any fellow fathers who happen to read this.

I'll be honest--I miss my father terribly this morning, and think of him daily. He'd have loved, I think, how my children are growing up, and hopefully how I have been as well. I spent a lot of years rebelling against him, but with his death, that changed--I might be closer to him now (in behavior, attitude, habits) than I'd be were he still alive.

In particular, I've found myself embracing his cosmopolitanism. Dad had little use for anything "tribal," as he saw it; the world was so vast and various and interesting that to focus only on one's own little slice of it seemed perverse at best. When I was a boy, he and my mother went to India for a summer, and they took us kids to Israel, Greece, Jamaica, the Bahamas (or was it Bermuda? I can never remember), and of course Hawai'i, where we lived for four years. He kept a list of places around the world he wanted to visit--it was taped inside a kitchen cupboard, where he'd see it frequently. And, indeed, he worked his way down through it over the years. Only a few lines left, there, at the end.

(When my wife and I put up maps in our kitchen, of the US and the world, he loved it; he'd be even happier to hear the kids debating where they'd like to go for the next big family trip, once we get the money. My son likes Spain, or Chile, or Argentina--somewhere he can use his burgeoning Spanish. For my daughter, it's New Zealand. Vancouver seems the compromise; certainly it's the most affordable!)

He told me before he died that he'd always figured he'd die young, like his father and grandfather before him, which was why he did his best to get to all those places on summer breaks and such. "I didn't save anything for retirement," he said, "because I never expected to have one." And he was right.

Dad died shortly before the 9/11 attacks, at a time when the Bush presidency seemed a temporary annoyance, the country was at peace, the economy was strong, and his children (and grandchildren) were all settled, secure, and comfortable. I'm glad he missed the years that followed, although he'd have loved the Obama campaign and victory--and the fact that my older brother was an Obama delegate to the Democratic convention, as he had been for Michael Dukakis back in '88. (Dukakis? Yes--history repeating itself, the second time as farce: years before he had worked on the JFK and RFK campaigns, and we grew up in the '70s with a huge RFK poster on the wall.)

I don't think he'd appreciate my plan to stop reading the news all summer, but given how upset and obsessive I get about it, especially news from the Middle East, perhaps he'd understand. More on that in another post, perhaps.

For now...well, Dad was also a sports fan, which suggests to me that if he were alive this morning, he'd be watching the World Cup. So that's what I'm going to do, with a second cup of sweet black coffee and some rye toast. The kids are already downstairs watching, and once my wife finds out that the Scottish announcer is on, she'll probably join us. (Something about that accent she seems to like. All those years working on my Irish brogue, only to discover it was the wrong accent! Ah, well--something to work on in the next two decades of the marriage, eh?)

Zichron l'vracha--to remember him is a blessing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Easy to think...

Easy to think of low points from today, what with the computer crash, a bill situation, classroom flashbacks, etc. Also realized, as I graded, that I've fallen into a new, glum habit of thought: when my students do well, I credit them or their prior teachers; when they do badly, it's my fault--a badly-designed assignment or lousy lecture, or something like that.

On the other hand--what? High points:

1) Watching R handle the computer crash w/o losing her cool. Lucky man, I am.

2) Giving a well-deserved "A" to a student who'd struggled with depression early in the quarter, then came back to write three elegant, thoughtful, witty papers for me. I didn't teach her to write like that, but I did keep her engaged with the course through emails and conferences, as well as the lectures themselves. If I'd really done as bad a job this quarter as I keep thinking, she'd have failed or dropped the class; instead, she aced it.

3) Cleaning the main floor of our house in time for R to meet with a prospective client--one who showed up at the house an hour early. Ha!

4) Hitting the "Post" button with those grades--a quick tap with the finger, before I could stop and second-guess (OK, fifth-or-sixth-guess) them any more. When I started at DePaul I had to drive to the office to file the grades; that's an hour of driving I didn't have to do, and a lot less worry, after.

5) Curling up in the afternoon and again after dinner with Steven Moore's The Novel: an Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600, while a line of thunderstorms swept through. Found that by accident at the public library...what, yesterday? The day before? Lively book, and part of the "scholarly base" I need (and want) to lay down this summer. More on both, anon.

And that, friends, makes five things that made me happy today.


Degrading is almost done!

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

One snag: my "User Profile" is evidently corrupt, which means my computer can't load up my files, bookmarks, email archive...anything.

Thanks to Rosalie, I have backups for all of this, and at some point can create a new User Profile with the old data. Until I do, though, I'm going to stay off the computer, wrap up the grades, and clean house.

New living room setup, new family room setup, soon a new User Profile--if this were a novel, I'd groan at the symbolism. As it is, I'm going to log off, tidy up, and bid farewell to a tough spring quarter.

Summer is i-cumen in, folks. See you soon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Unexpected Letter

I hadn't expected to get so many kind messages in response to my last post! Laura here; private notes by email; and, of course, many comments from Facebook friends--I'd forgotten that the blog was hitched to my Facebook account, but I'm glad now that I made that move last spring, or whenever it was. You've made me glad I posted. Thank you all.


Another pleasant surprise in the email box: a message from one of my Say Something Wonderful seminar alumni, linking to some student work.

Hey Eric!

I hope you're doing well. Just want to share some cool poetry video essays my students created using Vendler's framework. You can view them at the school Web site in The Sound of the Page section. They'll be available as Podcasts on iTunes in a few days, too.

Also, I used the Humament strategy again this year and got some pretty cool stuff from students.

Thanks for your guidance!

On another note, I'll be moving to a new high school on the southwest side in the fall. The name of the school is Zaragoza. I'm really looking forward to this new opportunity.



If you click over to the video essays you'll hear (with some text on the screen) some of R's students reading poems, then giving close readings of them based on a couple of chapters from Helen Vendler's Poems, Poets, Poetry, notably the chapter on "Poems as Pleasure." I've found my own students, at college, hear their own prose much better when they have to read it aloud; I suspect that's the case for R's as well, so there's a good lesson in expository prose tucked inside each explication.

The "Humament" exercise comes from Tom Philips' ongoing art project, A Humument, in which each page of a Victorian novel is turned into an artwork, with bits of text still showing. Here's an example:

As you can see from that final phrase-- "that / which / he / hid / I / reveal," or maybe "reveal / I"--this is a way to make one text say a second, preferably a counter-text or unspoken set of desires. R's students took on Luis Urrea's The Devil's Highway, "which tells the true story," he writes,
of 26 Mexican men who attempted to cross the US / Mexico border in 2001. They were abandoned by their guide and left to die in the desert.

We used the Humament activity to examine subtext. The assignment asked students to consider what these men wished they could have said. What they produced became long-term displays in our classroom. Many of the students said this was one of the 'coolest' activities they'd ever done.
I'm delighted to know that our seminar discussion of the Philips, and of Ronald Johnson's Radi Os, which led us to A Humament, continues to ripple out into the pedagogical pond.


Mood-wise, a little down this morning again--this on a beautiful clear day, too. Logging off to grade a while, on the theory that wrapping something up (as I did yesterday) will give me a boost. If not, there's always the local pool!