Department of English: March 2016

in this issue

Interview with Jeff Morgan /Faculty Notes/Past Faculty: Lemuel Potwin/ Alumni News/England’s Impact on a Major/ Schedule of Events

March 2016

Interview with Jeff Morgan (American Comic Poetry)

CWRU: Why does comic poetry make people uncomfortable? If someone says comic poetry to me, I think of something like “jest ‘fore Christmas I’m as good as I kin be!” by Eugene Field, a 19th-century author best known for his children’s poetry. Do you think this point of introduction and association with childhood reading contributes to people’s dismissal or devaluing of comic poetry? Is it poets that feel this way or the general public?

Morgan: I find comic poetry makes people comfortable. I hear them laugh. I see their smiling faces. There is a psychological side to a lot of comic poetry that stems from degradation. The superior laugh at the degraded. If one happens to be either the one degraded or in a degraded group, comic poetry can make such a person uncomfortable.

Dismissing or devaluing comic poetry may stem from the holiday it give us from reason. In a practical society, that which devalues reason may have a tough go of it. Individuals may have loved poems in childhood that as an adult they dismiss. In my book I emphasize that comic poetry appeals to our reason if we take the time to analyze it once we’re done laughing.

We’ve probably all found ourselves falling into the abyss while explaining a joke. Comedy is hard. Comic theory is harder. The more, though, that one knows about comic theory, the greater respect that person will have for the sophistication of comedy. There don’t seem to be a lot of people out there who know comic theory. Comic poetry certainly doesn’t get a lot of scholarly attention, which may be why Thomas Lux has repeatedly warned me that my work in this vein will get me fired.

Continue reading this interview here.


Five members of our department have been nominated for the 2016 Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching: David Lucas, Brad Ricca, Jim Sheeler, Robert Spadoni, and Athena Vrettos. This prestigious award is presented each year during Commencement. The nominations themselves, by current undergraduates and recent alums, are an important recognition of teaching excellence.

Mary Assad will be presenting a paper at the College English Association conference this week in Denver. The paper is called “Illness Narratives in the Writing Classroom: Creating a Compassionate Space for Rhetorical and Literary Analysis.”

On March 29th, Michael Clune read in the Literary Series at Pomona College.

Ray Horton presented “Religion as Device: Marilynne Robinson and the Contemporary Novel” as part of a seminar titled “Secularization and the Novel” at the 2016 meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association at Harvard University.

Dave Lucas presented “Attempt at a Mythology,” part of Baker-Nord’s “Faculty Work-in-Progress” series.


Faculty of the Past: Lemuel S. Potwin (1871—1906)

Lemuel Stoughton Potwin
b. 11 August 1832, Hartford, East Windsor, Connecticut
d. 9 January 1907, at home at 1621 E.115 St., Cleveland

Lemuel S. Potwin graduated from Yale College in 1854 with a Bachelor of Arts. Potwin attended Yale with Carroll Cutler and they graduated in the same class. Potwin went on to receive his Master of Arts in 1857 from Yale. Potwin and Cutler also tutored together at Yale, Potwin from 1858 to 1860, before both moved to Western Reserve. Cutler would later become Western Reserve University President.

Potwin was Professor of Latin at Western Reserve (Hudson, Ohio) and Adelbert College (Cleveland, Ohio) and concurrently earned his Doctor of Divinity at Yale in 1886. For most of his teaching career, Potwin held joint titles of Latin Professor and Instructor of English Literature (1871-77) and Instructor of English Philology (1877-1892). On June 21, 1892, he was named Western Reserve’s inaugural Chair of English Language and Literature during an Alumni Meeting, Oration, and Memorial Service. In 1906, the Western Reserve Board of Trustees nominated him for a retirement allowance. The Carnegie Foundation approved their nomination and Potwin subsequently retired.

Potwin was a pastor for three years at the Bridgewater Congressional Church (Conn.).  Members of the Church affectionately knew him as “Pottie.” Potwin also took part in the American Tract Society in Boston for six years as a secretary and editor. He was a contributor to the Bibliotheca Sacra and acted as the editor of the The Congressionalist, the leading religious weekly in Boston.

His publications include “An Article” (JBL, 1893 No. 1, Vol. 12); “Shall we adhere to the English method of pronouncing Latin” (The New Englander and Yale Review, 1878); Here and There in the Greek New Testament (Fleming H. Revel, 1898); and Selections from the Editorial Essays of Lemuel S. Potwin (The Burrows Brothers Company, 1907).

Potwin died one year after retirement in 1907. He was married to Julia Hedges Crane and they enjoyed travelling together. Potwin’s great-grandfather and brother both graduated from Yale, in 1751 and 1851 respectively. His older brother Thomas was also a Latin tutor at Yale from 1854-1858. Potwin’s gift of $12,659.08 from his meager earnings was the greatest monetary contribution to the Hatch Library (Western Reserve University’s Library from 1896 to 1943) up to that time. Potwin’s own papers were given to Yale, however.

Entry by Aaron Perine, from records in University Archives, CWRU, and from public documents.
Photo courtesy University Archives, CWRU.


Gerry Canavan (’02) reviewed Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Jason Carney (’15) reviewed The Bloomsbury Introduction to Popular Fiction.

On Thursday, March 24th: Iris Dunkle (’10) discussed “The Art and Science of the Environment” with Jonah Raskin and Laura Watt at the Art Museum of Sonoma County.

Eileen Sabrina Herman (’12) wrote the introductory essay to Mandrake the Magician: The Complete King Years Volume 1.

Alum (’63) Raymond Keen‘s play,The Private and Public Life of King Able, was reviewed by Kirkus Reviews.

Alum (’10) Brandi Schillace‘s book, Death’s Summer Coat was reviewed in the New York Times.


England’s Impact on an English Major

by Sierra Blanton

As students of English literature, we try to study writers and their world to further interpret and understand their literary work. Knowing this, when I decided to study abroad I chose to go to the University of  Manchester, England, to try to catch a glimpse of what our celebrated writers saw and to gain another perspective on their work.

Manchester has been a wonderful spot for attending class because of all the resources like libraries and museums. The university is great as well with professors that are passionate about their topics (like our own) and the discussions with the students are beyond incredible with the new ideas they bring to the table (much like Case as well).

I especially enjoyed going to Haworth to see Brontë’s Parsonage and to Ambleside to see Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount cottage. To walk through their homes was quite nice, but the land around their homes had the largest impact for me. So much of the atmosphere of the landscape around their homes influenced their work and while I understood what they were describing, it was not until I was there that I finally was able to feel a bit of the power of the landscape. The moon sliding in and out behind clouds with the whistling wind over the moors and the snowdrops glowing amidst the brown underbrush in the middle of a light snow fall was exhilaratingly peaceful. I have a higher enjoyment for the Romantics now, that’s for sure.

I was also surprised by just how many remnants of the Roman Empire have survived. The forts and the influenced architecture are cool, but the Roman Baths and Hadrian’s Wall were specially incredible with the views and the history they keep alive.

And Stonehenge left me speechless.

I am having a wonderfully fun time with all of the exploration opportunities and have many more things planned. Traveling is very impactful in so many ways and I highly recommend it. I know I won’t ever understand completely the world and mind of the writers of the works that have inspired so many to study literature, but I do know that I am grateful for this experience that allowed me to see a glimmer of that world.


Schedule of Events

Friday, April 1st
“Mirror and Muse: Julia Margaret Cameron’s Portraits of Julia Jackson,” a lecture by Andrea Rager. Bellflower 102. 3:00 p.m.

Friday, April 8th
“Ecopoetics,” a talk with some poems by Brenda Hillman. Clark 206. 3:00 p.m.

Monday, April 11th
“Sexual Discretion: Black Masculinity and the Politics of Passing,” a lecture by Jeffrey Q. McCune, Jr. Clark 309. 4:30 p.m.

Friday, April 15th
“Current Trends in Book History,” a lecture by Greg Barnhisel. KSL Dampeer Room. 10:00 a.m.

Friday, April 15th
Celebration of Student Writing. Veale Athletic Center. 12:00 to 2:45 p.m.

Friday, April 15th
“Norman Holmes Pearson: Rewriting America for a Cold War World,” a lecture by Greg Barnhisel. Bellflower 102. 3:00 p.m.

Friday, April 15th
Unveiling Ceremony for Ben’s Writing Room. Bellflower Hall Foyer. 4:00 p.m.

Friday, April 22nd
A Reading by Tao Lin. Clark 309. 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, April 27th
Writing Program Awards Ceremony. Guilford Parlor. 3:00 p.m.

Friday, April 29th
Adrian Salomon Event. Bellflower 102. 3:00 p.m.

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