Notes on Robert Pinsky’s Visit to CWRU
By Thom Dawkins
On April 8th, the English Department at Case Western Reserve University welcomed Robert Pinsky, the former Unites States Poet Laureate and founder of the very popular Favorite Poems Project, which has been “dedicated to celebrating, documenting and encouraging poetry’s role in Americans’ lives.” Joined by CWRU faculty, students, and community members, Pinsky spoke candidly about the legacy of American poetry and about his own career as a poet.
What was most surprising to many of those in attendance was not Pinsky’s deep knowledge of American poetry, which I’m sure would be expected of any poet laureate. Instead, it was a kind of subtle wisdom, an almost bold humility in Pinsky’s recognition of his indebtedness to those whose work he admires, as well as a supreme confidence that the work of poetry remains both exciting and necessary. In the poem “Ode to Meaning,” which he deemed his own “confession of faith” in poetry, Pinsky writes that imagination is the “lost child born to give birth to you,” signaling a further recognition that poetry is always with us, waiting to be spoken in the voices we hear around us.This seemed to be on his mind as he spoke with us in Guilford House.
Pinsky was formed as a poet, he says, at a time when Modernism was “getting rid of diction,” so the former laureate had much to say about the way a poem speaks, and how American poetry often has much in common with popular music and song. “I compose in my voice for your voice,” Pinsky said, but that voice often reflects dialects and influences as far afield as his native New Jersey (Pinsky mentioned his admiration for Bruce Springsteen’s “all-purpose, working-class voice”), to country-western songs, to the “impeccable diction” of Ella Fitzgerald and other jazz vocalists.
It was clear to those in attendance that Pinsky embodied a broad poetic heritage as well, reciting lines of William Carlos Williams’s poetry from memory, and discussing poets from Dante to T.S. Eliot to the Beats, and many in between. When asked what he considered to be his life’s work, Pinsky said, “I inherit everything from my ancestors, my immunities and susceptibilities. And I pass it on to you.”
Composer Christopher Trapani debuted his new musical composition, “Writing Against Time,” inspired by Michael Clune’s book of the same name. Michael gave a pre-concert talk in New York City for the premiere.
T. Kenny Fountain’s Rhetoric in the Flesh: Trained Vision, Technical Expertise, and the Gross Anatomy Lab Is now out from Routledge (ATTW Series in Technical and Professional Communication).
John Orlock is a recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in 2014.
Mark Pedretti discussed “Cartography as Memory in Hiroshima Literature” at Kelvin Smith Library in April.
Congratulations to Brad Ricca who has been awarded a Cleveland Arts Prize, the Emerging Artist Award.
Brad also received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in 2014.
Jim Sheeler participated as a panelist on “Literary Journalism: Flourishing in the Digital Age?” at the International Association for Literary Journalism Studies annual conference May 15-17 at the American University of Paris, France.
Rob Spadoni‘s A Pocket Guide to Analyzing Films is due out September 1st.
Kurt Koenigsberger was awarded the 2014 Diekhoff Award for Mentoring.
Adventures at the Intersection
by Brandy Schillace
In 2010, I defended my dissertation on 18th-century women’s education and rhetoric, The Alphabet of Sense, under the tutelage of Dr. Christopher Flint. One of the chapters, dealing primarily with reproduction, appeared in Feminist Formations last year. At the time, I anticipated turning it into a monograph right after moving into my tenure-track position at Winona State University.
Funny how things change, isn’t it? After three years as Assistant Engish Professor, I found myself researching and publishing almost entirely about the history of medicine. I’d always thought of myself as a medical humanities scholar; after all, I edit for Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.And in 2013, I made that career leap official. I now work at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History—but I’ve never given up my abiding interest in intersections, particularly between medicine and gothic literature.
If you are a fan of the original Dracula, you won’t be surprised to see gothic tradition linked to medical and scientific discovery. My chapter in an upcoming collection—Unnatural Reproductions and Monstrosity: The Birth of the Monster in Literature, Film, and Media—talks about vampires as representations of syphilis, for instance.
In many ways, I have CWRU to thank for making these connections clear. Late fall, 2005… the trees were bare, a perfect setting for Dr. Athena Vrettos’s course on the gothic novel. We were discussing vampire tales (as you do), and a friend nudged me: why don’t you write one? The challenge? I had to include Cleveland, a professor, and at least one graduate student. To this I added my own requirement: it must intersect with medicine. I was so taken with the concept that I dreamed of it—entirely appropriate, as we were also discussing psychology. From those fractured thoughts came an idea and a name: Jacob Maresbeth. In April 2013, I published book one of The Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles with Cooperative Press.
The trilogy begins with High Stakes. “I’m not a vampire,” insists Jacob, teenage journalist. But what is a vampire, really? Diagnosed with a rare blood disease, Jake can’t help but wonder. High Stakes records Jake’s summer vacation with his maiden aunt from Cleveland, the bangled and be-spectacled Professor Sylvia. That’s bad enough, but Jake must also keep the “unofficial” details of his disorder a secret from Syl’s seductively beautiful graduate student. Will Jake survive a whole month pretending to be an invalid? Will Zsófia weaken his resolve with her flirtatious Hungarian accent? Will Jake lose his heart–in more ways than one?
Ah, the things you learn in graduate school!
Alum (’02) Gerry Canavan’s book Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction is now out from Wesleyan.
Shelley Costa (’83) and Brad Ricca (’03) both appeared at the Western Reserve Literary Festival on Saturday, June 21st.
Hallie Dolin (2014) has been accepted into the University of Toledo’s MD/PhD program, which “trains physician-scientists, a unique breed of doctors who complement the clinical practice of medicine with active research in basic and/or clinical science.”
Ronald Tulley (’10) has been named the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Findlay.
Summer 2014: EVIL Conference
Manifestations of Villains and Villainy is an interdisciplinary conference at Case Western Reserve University, July 11-13, 2014.
For more info, click here.
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