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Widener English

The English Department and the English Club at Widener University

Literature and the Environment and Linvalla

This is a guest post by Professor Tara Friedman, Senior Lecturer in English.  Professor Friedman is ABD at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; she teaches a wide range of courses in Widener’s English department, and specializes in American literature.  

On Tuesday, May 2, I had the opportunity to bring 32 students, all of whom were enrolled in English 124: Literature and Environment, to Linvilla Orchards thanks in part to a Faculty Mini-Grant. These students participated in a Hayride Tour geared toward the topics of sustainable agriculture, deep ecology, and the history of farming and its practices in Pennsylvania.

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After the tour, students took part in a Q&A while making their own biodegradable lettuce pots and sampling apples and cider from the orchards. They were then asked to each write a 1-2-page SOA (Summary, Observation, and Analysis) essay connecting what they learned at Linvilla Orchards to our class. It was such a joy to have students engage with the natural world outside of the classroom and our course readings – they didn’t even mind the light drizzle!

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Editor’s Note:

ENGL 124 is offered regularly in the fall and spring.  Here is the course description:

The literary imagination has depicted the natural world in varied ways—as untamed wilderness, pastoral ideal, scenic and sublime landscapes, and the damaged and threatened environment of industrialized society.  Whenever human impact on the non-human environment has changed, authors have continued re-imagining nature’s significance and rethinking relationships between environment, self, and society.  In this course, students explore how the natural environment gets mythologized, celebrated, altered, lost, lamented, and recovered in works of classic and contemporary literature.  The course investigates the work of nature writing as a genre—its common tropes, archetypes, and aesthetic strategies.  Students use literary interpretation as a lens for seeing and reflecting on a range of environmental issues such as sustainability, ecology, urbanization, pollution, overpopulation, consumerism, tourism, climate change, animal rights, and land stewardship.  They are also asked to situate their own experience of nature into environmental discourse.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

The second-to-last week of the spring semester is one of the most joyful and rewarding times of the academic year.  This is when we celebrate the academic excellence of our English and Creative Writing students, when we recognize the commitment, passion, and accomplishments of those students and their faculty.

On Wednesday, we gathered in the Drost Room of Wolfgram Library to hear senior Creative Writing majors (and a minor) read from their portfolios:  the culmination of a semester-long senior seminar, and of four years’ worth of writing and revising.  Megan Lewis read from a series of episodic flash fiction pieces, and Sierra Offutt read from the first chapter of her YA novel in progress.  Minor Monica Colwell (who is a Political Science major) read a creative nonfiction piece about a moving encounter with an Alzheimer’s patient.  The students were advised by Professor Ken Pobo, who opened the event with a generous introduction and facilitated a post-reading Q & A about the students’ aesthetics.

l-r: Professor Ken Pobo, Monica Colwell, Megan Lewis, Sierra Offutt
l-r: Professor Ken Pobo, Monica Colwell, Megan Lewis, Sierra Offutt

Then, on Thursday evening, Humanities faculty gathered with students and their families for the annual Humanities Awards Ceremony.  This wonderful event, organized by the Committee on Recruitment and Retention and the Office of the Associate Dean, recognizes students with majors in the Humanities Division who have achieved a cumulative average of 3.5 or higher.  Nicole Crossey, a double History/Political Science major, gave the Distinguished Graduating Senior remarks, sharing reflections on how the study of History can help us understand our own turbulent times.  The Featured Alumni Speaker, Daniel DiPrinzio (’00), offered humorous and generous comments on the possibilities Humanities students can look forward to after graduation.  DiPrinzio, who is Director of Communications at Arcadia University and the author of several books, is well-positioned to share thoughts on success.

We were also pleased to present the two special awards given at the Humanities Awards Ceremony:  the winner of this year’s Allison Roelofs Award, given to an excellent early-career English major, was Emma Irving, and the winner of this year’s inaugural Justinian Society Award, given to a Humanities senior who plans to attend law school, was Christopher Ross, a History major.

Dan DiPrinzio and senior English major Christian Scittina, who introduced our speaker
Dan DiPrinzio and senior English major Christian Scittina, who introduced our speaker
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Emma Irving, recipient of this year’s Allison Roelofs Award, and Professor Michael Cocchiarale, Co-Director of Creative Writing and Chair of the Humanities Recruitment and Retention Committee

Finally, today we celebrate Student Project Day, the annual showcase of undergraduate research.  Students working with Professor Daniel Robinson in Textual Scholarship shared their study of the history, theory, and practice of textual editing, their work preparing a text of William Wordsworth’s two-part Prelude, and their time at the Wordsworth Trust over spring break.  The students closed their presentation by reflecting on how much their work in English and Creative Writing means to them — we couldn’t agree more!

 

Professor Robinson introduces the Textual Scholarship students
Professor Robinson introduces the Textual Scholarship students
l-r: Ashley DiRienzo, Kimberlee Roberts, Emma Irving, Victoria Giansante, Jeannie McGuire, Taylor Brown
l-r: Ashley DiRienzo, Kimberlee Roberts, Emma Irving, Victoria Giansante, Jeannie McGuire, Taylor Brown

 

Hot Pepper Shakespeare!

Come to the Drost Room on May 6 for Hot Pepper Shakespeare!

Not sure what it’s all about?  Check out these classically trained British Shakespearean actors try to recite some of the most amazing lines in all the English language…after eating entire handfuls of hot peppers.

 

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Congratulations to Our Creative Writers!

We are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Mervin R. Lowe Prizes for Creative Writing:

  • Poetry:  “Handsewn,” by Jennifer Rohrbach
  • Fiction:  “Dirt,” by Katherine Rogan
  • Creative Nonfiction: “Hollow Bones,” by Jennifer Rohrbach

We would also like to extend special congratulations to Jennifer for the publication of her essay, “Cycle of Living in ‘Some Cool Heaven’,” at FlashFiction.Net, one of the premier venues for this genre.  Her Rohrbach Headshotthoughtful analysis of technique and symbolism in Emma Smith-Stevens’ flash fiction shows the kind of power the form can achieve in its compression and focus—and it shows the mind of a great critic at work.  Read Jennifer’s piece here.

In addition to her own writing, Jennifer devotes time to working as the Managing Editor for News for the Blue & Gold and as an editor for The Blue Route and Widener Ink literary journals.  Her previous post for Widener English shared her thoughts on attending the 2014 Liberty Medal ceremony in Philadelphia, where Malala Yousafzai was honored.

Ken Pobo: Reading on the Road for Poetry Spring

Our regular readers know that Widener English is home to an abundance of talent.  In addition to hosting distinguished visiting writers each semester, including our most recent guest Iain Haley Pollock, our own faculty are themselves distinguished visiting writers in other places.

This spring the University of Tennessee hosted Ken Pobo as part of their Poetry Spring.  In addition to reading from his own work, Professor Pobo shared his thoughts on the publishing of poetry, particularly the role of the chapbook.  Fans of Professor Pobo’s work are probably familiar with his chapbook, When the Light Turns Green, and he has won numerous chapbook awards, including the 2009 Main Street Rag Poetry Chapbook Contest, the 2011 Qarrtsiluni Poetry Chapbook Contest and the 2013 Eastern Point Press Chapbook Award.

You can experience Professor Pobo’s reading for yourself here.  And check out his newest publication:  “Cardboard Jeff,” in The Citron Review.

Ken Pobo reading at Poetry Spring at the University of Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Kallet.
Ken Pobo reading at Poetry Spring at the University of Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Kallet.

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Congratulations to 2016 Sigma Tau Delta Inductees

Honors Week is a celebration of academic excellence at Widener, and always one of the high points of our spring semester.  As in years past, on Monday afternoon we held our induction ceremony for the English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta (ably led by Professors Ken Pobo and Patricia Dyer).

We were pleased to welcome seven new students to Sigma Tau Delta:  Taylor Brown, Ashley DiRienzo, Evan Kramer, Jeannette McGuire, Kelsey Styles, Emma Irving, and Jennifer Rohrbach.

Sigma Tau Delta President Kimberlee Roberts was the keynote speaker.  Her themes were the importance of curiosity and finding a community of thinkers, writers, and scholars who support and share our curiosity.  She urged audience members to think of the English and Creative Writing major as a platform for finding and sharing their passion, and to see it as a place to find and give support for the identity we are all trying to forge through our love of literature and writing.  She called upon the inductees to “keep doing what you love,” a sentiment echoed by Professor Ken Pobo when he thanked Kimberlee for reminding us that we can find “joy in a common interest.”

This Friday don’t miss English major/Creative Writing minor Jen Rohrbach speak at noon in the Webb Room as part of Honors Week student presentations: her talk is entitled  “The Evolution of the Unreliable Narrator in The Bell Jar.”

Distinguished Visiting Writers Series: Iain Haley Pollock Reads at Widener

Last week we had the honor of hosting Iain Haley Pollock at Widener as part of the Distinguished Visiting Writer Series.  Pollock won the Cave Canem Prize in 2010 for his collection Spit Back a Boy; the prize honors first books by African American poets.  His work, heavily influenced by jazz and blues, speaks to race in America past and

Iain Haley Pollock reads at Widener
Iain Haley Pollock reads at Widener

present, fatherhood, and violence, among other themes.  In his poems, the streets and scenes of Philadelphia come alive, from Fairmount to Fishtown.  In addition to giving a reading of new and published poems, Pollock met with Widener Creative Writing students in one-on-one tutorials, providing feedback and an invaluable opportunity to meet with a gifted and generous writer.

One of Pollock’s poems:

Brewerytown

This morning, the lovers—
who last night were slurring and stumbling
and when I looked out, each gripping
the other’s taut throat in a clench of callous
and nail—sit on their front steps. The woman
smokes an idle cigarette. The man lounges
two steps down from her and leans his head
into her lap. Beer cans and husks of blue crab
from their cookout scuttle by in languid breeze.
The woman flicks the stub of her cigarette
into the street and kisses her man on his forehead.
In the kitchen behind me, Naomi
turns on the coffee grinder. I look back at her
but don’t bother to complain about the racket
this time. I’m more interested in the lovers.
Or, I was—they’re boring me now.
I liked them better when the radio was pumping
from their open window, and they were clawing out,
under the streetlight, the terms of their love.

Listen to Pollock with Marty Moss-Coane on WHYY’s Radio Times here.

Wordsworth and the Lake District: Spring Break Scholarship for Widener English Students

During spring break a few weeks ago, a group of Widener English students had the opportunity to travel to the Lake District in England.  Sponsored by Professor Daniel Robinson, these students have been studying Romantic-period poetry, and some of them have been deeply involved in undergraduate research as part of our Textual Scholarship program, led by Professor Robinson.  (We’d like to acknowledge that this outstanding experience for our students is made possible by the Homer C. Nearing, Jr. Distinguished Professorship, held by Professor Robinson.)

While in England they spent several days at the Jerwood Centre, home to William Wordsworth’s archive, and under the expert guidance of Jeff Cowton, Curator, they studied the poet’s manuscripts, learned about papermaking and printing, and explored the landscape that formed Wordsworth’s imagination.  In a post for our national online undergraduate literary magazine, The Blue Route, Emma Irving talks about this transformative experience.  I’ll let her take it from here:

I cannot stop gushing about my trip; it was life-changing in so many respects, and I’ll take as much time out of my day as you want to show you my pictures and tell you my stories. But one of the greatest things I got out of this trip as an English major was the opportunity to truly connect with an author, to really get to know William Wordsworth as a human being who wrote poetry.

Hop over to The Blue Route to read the whole post, and check out this gallery of photos, courtesy of Professor Robinson.

Andrea Zittlau Brings Poetry Performance to the Art Gallery

Before midterm break, English and Creative Writing faculty, students, and friends were treated to a poetry performance by Dr. Andrea Zittlau, visiting professor from the University of Rostock in Germany.

Dr. Zittlau’s poetry performance is meant to show the ways writing is embodied, and the ways poetry creates a space in which we can all be vulnerable.  She believes that in theorizing the writing process and the text, we have gotten too far away from the reality of the body.  So, as she read her poetry, she had assistants wrap her in bandages—a way to make real the vulnerability of the body, as well as to provide a canvas for the audience.  As she concluded with each poem, she tore the paper into pieces, put them in a bowl, and then invited the audience to pick pieces out.  The words on the torn pieces were then written on the bandages in black marker by members of the audience.

In this way, the audience became part of the poetry performance.  Each person contributed to transforming the poet herself into text, and each person was made more aware of the physicality of the poet, her vulnerability, and our human connection.  A stillness held over the audience as Dr. Zittlau walked through the group gathered in the Art Gallery and individuals came forward to write on her.  Then audience members came forward at the end to take pictures of what they had helped to make.  Here are some of these images, courtesy of English alum and instructor Chris Murphy.

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