Grad Research: Julie Kantor in the LARB

Congratulations to UT AMS graduate student Julie Kantor, who recently had some of the poems from her chapbook Land published in the “No Crisis” issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly. We spoke to Julie about her work when Land came out last spring, and we’re excited to able to share a selection with you, below.

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Happy holidays to all!

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“Sneeuw2” by Dick Mudde – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The AMS :: ATX blog will be going dark for a few weeks for winter break, so we hope everyone has a restful and relaxing holiday season.

The Snowfall is So Silent

The snowfall is so silent,
so slow,
bit by bit, with delicacy
it settles down on the earth
and covers over the fields.
The silent snow comes down
white and weightless;
snowfall makes no noise,
falls as forgetting falls,
flake after flake.
It covers the fields gently
while frost attacks them
with its sudden flashes of white;
covers everything with its pure
and silent covering;
not one thing on the ground
anywhere escapes it.
And wherever it falls it stays,
content and gay,
for snow does not slip off
as rain does,
but it stays and sinks in.
The flakes are skyflowers,
pale lilies from the clouds,
that wither on earth.
They come down blossoming
but then so quickly
they are gone;
they bloom only on the peak,
above the mountains,
and make the earth feel heavier
when they die inside.
Snow, delicate snow,
that falls with such lightness
on the head,
on the feelings,
come and cover over the sadness
that lies always in my reason.

Miguel de Unamuno

Announcement: Salman Rushdie at the Harry Ransom Center, 10/28!

Salman Rushdie in New York City 2008

What an event: novelist Salman Rushdie will be at the Harry Ransom Center, delivering the keynote address for the symposium Gabriel García Márquez: His Life and Legacy.

Registrants for the symposium have reserved seating, and while all other free tickets have been claimed, there will be a standby line at the Hogg Memorial Auditorium should any seats become available last minute. The event happens on Wednesday, October 28; doors will open at 5:00pm and the talk will begin at 6:00pm.

Announcement: MALS department and SSW hosts Luis Zayas and Kane Smego

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You’re in for a treat this afternoon, everyone: the MALS department and School of Social Work will be hosting School of Social Work Dean Luis Zayas and hip hop/spoken word artist Kane Smego for a conversation about immigration, social justice, marginalized communities, and art from 4:00 – 6:00pm today (Thursday, September 24) in the Santa Rita Suite in the Union (UNB 3.502).

But wait, there’s more: our own Dr. Nicole Guidotti-Hernández will discuss Zayas’s new book, Forgotten Citizens, the most complete picture yet of how immigration policy subverts children’s rights, harms their mental health, and leaves lasting psychological traumas.

For more information, see COLA’s event listing and the poster above.

Grad Research: Julie Kantor publishes chapbook, LAND

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Exciting news: Ph.D. student Julie Kantor has published a new chapbook of poetry, LAND, with Dikembe Press, and will be reading and signing copies of the book at Farewell Books on Friday, May 15 at 7:00pm.

We asked Julie about her process and the themes of the chapbook:

I wrote the first two poems of LAND in a BART from San Francisco’s airport to the Mission. Reviewing the photographs of the bird’s eye view captured on my phone from the flight from New York, the lines that carved mountains served purpose other than to demarcate peaks & their inclines; these were the mappings of my veins, of my (then) partners’, those living at the heels to follow in—the way earth comes toward & falls away in the cragged valleys is the way we become, or unbecome, together in what is lost, in what is yet to come into existence. There is more than we can see or feel.

The “we” of LAND, the story of their travels, seek a way to continue through means that are in excess of the actual, of and beyond it. LAND infolds within it many worlds–no one is dominate over another; the distinguishing qualities that tell us when we don’t belong somewhere we inhabit, atmospheres that tell stories, leaving us uncomfortable aren’t present; there are no caution signs. “We” roam to find a place that can hold, sustain them, but every thing is tenuous. Attempting to understand the world one way doesn’t work out, because living in the world only one way is untenable.

Julie’s poetry has also been published in Boston Review, A Public Space, Maggy, and Foothill. Her work is being translated into Ukrainian for a new modern American poetry anthology, and she is a poetry reader and writes microreviews for Boston Review. LAND, published by Dikembe Press, is her first chapbook.

Announcement: Interview with Timothy Donnelly, Reading on April 25

The Department of American Studies, in collaboration with the Department of English and the Michener Center for Writers, will host “The Art of Constraint and the Poetics of Surveillance,” an interdisciplinary conversation about the interaction between literature and the contemporary police state, on Friday, April 25 at 6 PM in the AVAYA Auditorium (POB 2.302). As part of this event, we are incredibly excited to feature award-winning poet Timothy Donnelly, author of The Cloud Corporation (2010), who will be reading new work.  Last week, we had the chance to speak to Donnelly about his work, his teaching, and the role and responsibility of literature in the post-9/11 world.

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Your book The Cloud Corporation borrows language from the Patriot Act and the 9/11 Commission Report.  How did this idea come to you?

Thanks for asking! There are a few poems in The Cloud Corporation that were constructed exclusively from language taken from sources such as those you mention. To write the first of the poems this way, “The Last Dream of Light Released from Seaports,” was proposed to me by my friend the poet Geoffrey G. O’Brien. He suggested I should let 19 pages of the Patriot Act provide me with my vocabulary, since it had in mind to take things away from me, partly. The first page would supply the words I had to choose from in the making of a poem’s first tercet, the second page would give me the words I had to choose from for the second, and so on. Also, once per line I was allowed a word from a second source text, and I had to use the same second source throughout the poem. I chose Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” I liked the idea of doing a mash-up of language from a document designed to compromise civil liberties with that of a big fat freedom anthem—plus, I love the song and listened to it over and over while writing the poem, which took several long days to write. That was way back in 2004.

Then I wrote “Dream of a Poetry of Defense,” which used language from Shelley’s “Defense of Poetry” and the 9/11 Commission Report, in 2005. In this one I reversed my allegiances—it was the prime text, the Shelley, I sympathized with, while the second source text I held in suspicion. First and foremost these poems are formal experiments, attempts to see what can be done with a limited and unlikely lexicon. But they can also be approached as attempts to reclaim the language of power and domination and convert it into a language of freedom and play. They are both at once, I suppose. But I wouldn’t want to overemphasize the political import of all this industry, although I can’t pretend not to have chosen my source texts for their political character, for their rhetorical designs—I just don’t like the idea of making inflated claims for my poetry. And the truth is, I think some purer-minded readers might even consider them misguided and irresponsible, too mongrel and ambiguous, messed-up in their message delivery system. A few people have cited one of them, “The Dream of Arabian Hillbillies,” which uses language from Osama bin Laden’s fatwa against the United States and Israel and from the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies, as the book’s most tacky moment. And I’m okay with that. I want my work to have all the messiness of life, wrestled into art. I don’t want my poems to be platforms for performing the awesome rightness of my political sensitivity. I don’t like piety in any of its forms.

 

Do you see your work as engaging politically with—for lack of a better term—the post-9/11 world? How so?

Ah. Well, I feel like it would be self-aggrandizing and even a little untrue to say yes, so I’ll say…sort of. I feel insincere confusing my work with full-blown, position-taking political engagement, which is of course something I endorse per se and undertake in my fashion. But that’s not what I do in my poetry. What I do is more concerned with the psychological or, say, the personal experience of political and social realities, the sorrows, the guilts and grotesqueries of our culture. Like emanations of what it feels like to be alive now. A now that, yes, after 9/11, has seemed different from what it was before. Not only because of the shifts in consciousness in the aftermath of the attacks but also because war, economic collapse, environmental crisis, etc., had or have become more pressing realities than they appeared to be before.

But again, I think of the poems as dealing with these realities not directly but as they impinge upon an individual consciousness—but maybe you wouldn’t exclude that from what you mean by “political engagement.” It is a way, I guess, of implying a value. For example, if I refer to capitalism as “the circuitry that suffers me to crave // what I know I’ll never need, or what I need but have / in abundance already,” perhaps that’s critique enough to say that the poem is political. But if I suggest I used to think about falling in front of a train so my family could live off the insurance money because I just wasn’t earning enough of it the traditional way to keep us afloat—is that political? I’m not so sure. By “political” I assume we mean, to quote the OED, “involved, employed, or interested in politics; that takes a side, promotes, or follows a particular party line in political debate.” I don’t think I’m doing that, or maybe everyone is, to some degree? Oh, I think underneath it all there might be something I’m trying to get to, or at, that I haven’t quite formulated.

Let me try to put it this way. At its root, my impulse to write is more or less physical, a drive to create and give shape and organization to material. That material “happens to be,” for lack of a better verb, language, but it might have been something else. I love to cook and often feel that cooking is, for me, another manifestation of the same impulse. There’s also evidence that I might have been a carpenter in another life. But it’s language that’s the medium I work in. And that medium is, as we know, double-natured—physical, or a thing per se, but also significatory. To fully realize the medium, to use it to its fullest, you can’t leave the signification half out of it. Nonsemantic word paintings might catch one’s eye, but in the end, they would be of limited interest. Not that anything is of unlimited interest. Except, of course, the sea. But I know that my impulse is that of a builder first and foremost, and then that of an expresser.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t care about “content.” Because the content of my poems is taken from, or chosen by, my brain, so I feel pretty close to it. It’s just that my impulse to make it into a poem isn’t political. It’s physical, mechanical. Like a bird that makes another nest, just for the sake of it. If it makes it out of shredded tax forms, is that political? Is this making any sense? Like others, I make my poems out of words. The words are like the clay. The clay is quickened into bricks by thought, memory, imagination, feeling—the work of my brain, which sometimes has to do with politics or things of a political character. Which is probably always informed by political realities, and probably reality itself is political. But the poem is the ziggurat I am given to build.

But all that said, the truth is, the most moving responses to the book, to me, have come from people, including those who tell me they don’t ordinarily read poetry, who say it has helped them to articulate how they have been feeling, that it has made them feel accompanied and spoken for. This has been very gratifying. And also a little surprising. Because I would never have dared let myself hope for that. But I also remember that, when The Cloud Corporation came out, there was a review in a Harvard undergraduate literary review that faulted the book for not offering solutions to the problems it confronted. I suppose it’s my sense that if my poems were products of political engagement in the truest sense, then they would have done that. But I really don’t think poetry or any art has to do that. Then again, I’m not a Harvard undergraduate in 2010. Certainly I think it’s enough to have articulated the confusion, even the futility—to give form to how it feels, how it felt, what it was like, to be a human through the times. But in the end the comment that has meant most to me came from my father, who said after reading my poem “Globus Hystericus” in The Paris Review, “I don’t know what it means, but reading it felt like listening to classical music.”

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5 Questions with Affiliate Faculty Member Dr. Coleman Hutchison

Happy Monday! Today we bring you an interview with associate professor of English Coleman Hutchison, an affiliate faculty member of the American Studies department.

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What has been your favorite project to work on and why?

I have a healthy dose of the presentist in me: I really like whatever I’m working on right now. For instance, I’m really excited about a collection I’m pulling together for Cambridge University Press, the first omnibus history of American Civil War literature. As editor I’ve been able to draw on a number of disciplines—literary studies, yes, but also, history, cultural studies, musicology, art and art history—and draw together a truly international roster of scholars. Together we’ll be addressing a literature that emerges in response to a very specific historical drama and then continues to develop across both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Needless to say, this is a much more collaborative project than my first book, and it’s been hugely gratifying.

Of course intellectual pleasure can also come from unexpected and somewhat awkward sources. My first book offered a literary history of the Confederate States of America. It may have been about the “bad guys,” but there was immense pleasure in getting to work with archival material that people either didn’t know existed or didn’t want to deal with. The extraordinary historical interest and extraordinary political problems of that material were really exciting and daunting and uncomfortable for me. That project pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone, the edge of what I thought I could do as a responsible critic. There was, then, a strange intellectual pleasure in that sort of “recovery work.”

How do you see your work fitting in with broader conversations within academia or within society as a whole?

Because I’m a first-generation college student—because this life was never a given for me—it’s always been important for me to make my writing and research available to as many people as possible. Part of that has to do with style—with writing in a clear, cogent, and concise way that doesn’t involve a lot of jargon. The work may be theoretically rich and complex, but it is, I hope, delivered in a way that’s accessible. I think that scholarly knowledge production is increasingly important in a moment of intense information overload. Just because everyone has a blog or a Tumblr or a Twitter feed doesn’t mean that the knowledge we produce in the academy is less necessary, less urgent.  The glacial pace of academic publishing and knowledge production is in some ways an advantage, because we can take a more considered, more careful argumentative tacks and engage in longer, older, maybe even slower critical conversations. This is not to say that we should return to a closed circuit wherein academics produce work only for other academics, but we should continue to do what we do best, which is produce careful, well-researched critiques, and then put those critiques into new and interesting forms. For instance, I’ve done a good bit of work for Southern Spaces online, and I love the idea that careful, considered scholarship can engage a broader, open source community.

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