Widener English

The English Department at Widener University

End of Year Achievement: Humanities Awards and Student Project Day

Last week we were delighted to acknowledge the hard work and accomplishments of English and Creative Writing students and faculty at the annual Humanities Awards Ceremony and Student Project Day.

On April 27, English and Creative Writing students were recognized at the fourth annual Humanities Awards Ceremony.  This was a particularly special event for a number of reasons.  The very first Distinguished Alumnus Award was given, to Pat Manley (English, ’99).  The inaugural Susan Hastie Memorial Award was given to Evan Kramer, a double major in English and Creative Writing; this award recognizes a senior who has evinced a dedication to the study of literature and writing, a quiet seriousness, and a maturity that enhances the pursuits of the program.  The winner of the Allison Roelofs Award was Carlie Sisco, double major in English and Creative Writing; this award recognizes a freshman or sophomore who demonstrates great potential and early excellence in the major.

We were also pleased to present the first-ever Certificates in Textual Scholarship to Kimberlee Roberts and Taylor Brown.  Kim and Taylor have been working, under the direction of Dr. Daniel Robinson, on the production of scholarly editions of Romantic-period texts, have traveled to England to study original manuscripts, and have presented their work in multiple venues.  Kim will be attending graduate school for library and archival science at the University of Denver, and Taylor will be pursuing a masters degree in digital humanities at the Loyola University of Chicago.

As the winner of the first Distinguished Alumnus Award, Pat Manley spoke about the need for the humanities not only in the workforce but as a way to enrich our understanding of what it means to be human.  He was followed by Kelsey Styles, who gave remarks as a distinguished undergraduate Humanities major.  Kelsey offered a passionate and inspiring speech about the necessity of the humanities for empathy, particularly in our current moment.

Then, on April 28, the scholarship of English and Creative Writing students was featured at Student Project Day.  Taylor Brown, Emma Irving, and Christine Lombardo presented a panel on David Lynch, family dynamics, and the uncanny.  Students from Annalisa Castaldo’s course on Renaissance Literature spoke on gender and race and connections we might make to our own time.

Photos of the Humanities Awards Ceremony courtesy of Paul Goldberg

Celebrating Creative Writing at Widener

The last few weeks of the spring semester are always an exciting time for Creative Writing at Widener.

On April 20, seniors Evan Kramer, Kelsey Styles, Aly Amato, and David Kelly read their original works as part of their Creative Writing Senior Seminar Presentations.  Then, April 26 saw the drop party for this year’s publication of Widener Ink, led by Editor in Chief Haley Poluchuk.

At the Senior Seminar reading, Dr. Michael Cocchiarale gave the opening remarks and explained to the audience how his students made it to this point in their creative writing careers. He said, “The Seminar is the most challenging course, requiring the completion of two major writing projects. Students handed in a 10-page, source-based aesthetic, and an introduction to their creative work that grapples with such questions as: Why do you write? What are your preoccupations as a writer? What do you hope your writing does for others?  What are the special challenges for writers in twenty-first century America?”


Aly Amato

“I’m a writer who enjoys a lot of detail,” she says, “whether it’s background information or little pieces to set the scene.” Over her time at Widener, she’s used this eye for detail to stare down some difficult subjects—body image, unplanned pregnancy, unexpected death—in her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. By her own admission, she is quiet and reserved, but she possesses a strong voice on the page that needs to be heard.

David Kelly

…is interested in God and evolution and other big ideas. Whatever his topic, he writes with great conviction, showcasing what he calls his “logic-oriented edutainment” aesthetic. A recent Student Voices reading of his play about dinosaurs in the workplace reveals that this aesthetic approach can yield laugh-out-loud results.

Kelsey Styles

…is fearlessly inquisitive about the world. She’s not afraid to tackle issues of economic inequality. She’s not afraid to untether herself from realism and drift into the fantastical realm of slipstream, a genre that, as she explains, “has grown weary of . . . worn out rules, and has learned how to circumvent them for a better reading experience.” A winner of the Lowe Prize for poetry this year, Kelsey is an equally strong fiction writer. Whether a story is realist or not, she presents interesting, complex characters in conflict with their worlds.

Evan Kramer

By his own admission, Evan has “an obsession for observing and understanding human interaction.” With an incredible, almost obsessive eye for detail, especially the disturbing or darkly comic detail), Evan wants readers to “feel my writing crawling under their skin.” Evan’s fiction—not unlike the actual world we live in—is not the faint of heart. In short, Evan is like Poe and Flannery O’Connor . . . and then some.

Dr. Cocchiarale concluded by saying what a joy it was to get to know each of his students. He said that he enjoyed watching them emerge as careful thinkers, committed writers, and wonderful human beings, and took great pleasure in sharing with them the love of the written word.

(l-r) Aly Amato, Kelsey Styles, Evan Kramer, David Kelly, Michael Cocchiarale

The publication of our print literary magazine Widener Ink is the culmination of a year’s worth of work, ably led by Haley Poluchuk.  This year’s drop party also featured an open mic, where the authors published in this year’s issue read their original work.  (Photos courtesy of Jenn Rohrbach.)

Dr. Robinson’s President’s Lecture

On Monday, April 17th, Dr. Daniel Robinson delivered the Spring President’s Lecture, “What is a Romantic Poet Anyway?:  Editing the Romantics.”  This lecture was open to the entire university community.

The Spring President’s Lecture is for the winner of the Faculty Award for Outstanding Researcher from the previous semester. This award is a University-wide award given to a faculty member, after a lengthy and rigorous peer review process, who demonstrates excellence in research and scholarship in their field, particularly if that work involves student research and scholarship.  This past Fall Dr. Robinson won this award.

Dr. Robinson devoted some of the lecture to orienting the audience to aspects of English literature about which they might not be familiar, which in this case regarded the Romantic period.  He also discussed the theory and methodology of textual scholarship, with a particular focus on Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley.  He says,

The Romantic Period is unique in literary history in that its parameters traditionally have been established by the lives, careers—indeed, the personalities—of six writers, all men, all English, all poets. For much of the twentieth century, academic study of British literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has centered on two generations: the first generation—Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge—who lived too long, and the second generation—Byron, Shelley, Keats—who died too soon. Feminist literary studies of the 1970s and ’80s would challenge the masculine monoliths; by the end of the century Romanticists were involved in a massive recovery of writers very different from the so-called Big Six: women writers, working-class writers, and writers who lived beyond the borders of England and who wrote beyond the borders of poetry. However, now that the dust has settled, the evidence suggests that, while scholars, instructors, students of Romanticism know about many more writers than the Big Six, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats continue to be the most studied, most read, most beloved writers of the period. In this lecture, I will discuss the challenges, questions, and issues involved in my preparation of the first wholly new anthology of Romantic poetry to be produced taking into account this new landscape. I also will discuss the ways I have involved my students in conducting the textual research and in making the editorial decisions that will result in the publication of The Bloomsbury Anthology of Romantic Poetry next year.

Dr. Robinson is Homer C. Nearing Jr. Distinguished Professor of English; at Widener University he teaches courses on British Romanticism, poetry and poetic form, Milton, and the rise of the British novel. He also recently created a certificate in Textual Scholarship—the only such program for undergraduates in the country—during the completion of which students work on scholarly editions of literary works for publication. Dr. Robinson is co-editor of A Century of Sonnets: The Romantic-Era Revival, 1750–1850 (Oxford UP, 1999); Lyrical Ballads and Related Writings (Houghton Mifflin, 2001); and, most recently, The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth (Oxford UP, 2015). He is the textual editor of Poems, The Works of Mary Robinson (2 vols, Pickering and Chatto, 2009) and author of Myself and Some Other Being: Wordsworth and the Life Writing (U of Iowa P, 2014), William Wordsworth’s Poetry: A Reader’s Guide (Bloomsbury, 2010) and The Poetry of Mary Robinson: Form and Fame (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). He also is series editor for Engagements with Literature (Routledge) and Bloomsbury Editions (Bloomsbury). He is currently working on The Bloomsbury Anthology of Romantic Poetry, a new edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and an innovative edition of Wordsworth and Coleridge—all of which involve the work of his Textual Scholarship students.


Lowe Creative Writing Prize Winners Announced!

Congratulations to this year’s winners of the Lowe Creative Writing Prizes in poetry, fiction, and drama:

Poetry:  “Sonnet for the Modern Soul,” Kelsey Styles

Fiction:  “In Dedication To…,” Taylor Blum

Drama:  “The Evening Shift,” Taylor Blum

(No prize was given for nonfiction this year.)

Ken Pobo’s New Chapbook: Calligraphy with Ball

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new chapbook by Professor Ken Pobo:  Calligraphy with Ball.  Calligraphy with Ball, published by Encircle Publications, was a finalist in that press’s Annual Chapbook Contest.

UPDATED TO ADD: Read a brilliant review of another of Professor Pobo’s forthcoming titles, Loplop in a Red City, a collection of ekphrastic poems, here.

Congratulations, Professor Pobo!  Here’s a sample (and you can buy a copy here):


I dash back the long path
over 700 years. Would Botox
hide how dead I look? Your world

is crummier than mine despite
Emperors who kept me hopping.
Tu Fu told me he visited last year.
When you arrive, try
the tanning salon. It’s strange.

He’s never steered me wrong—
while in the bed I remember a night
I spent alone on a mountain
with the moon. Or
was I on the moon dreaming

of a mountain? I’m pretty
sure I was crocked and
in love. With everything from
a grass blade to a ripple.
Not many open areas here—

mostly drug stores, fast food
joints, and parking lots.
This tan will surprise
the ghosts back in China.
I’ll send you a poem. By

the time you get it, you’ll
be dead too. No problem.
Poems travel forever.

Distinguished Visiting Writer: Christine Butterworth-McDermott

This past Wednesday, poet Christine Butterworth-McDermott gave a reading at Widener.  Butterworth-McDermott, who teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, is this spring’s Distinguished Visiting Writer.  She is the author of the collection Woods & Water, Wolves & Women, and has published a chapbook, Tales on Tales:  Sestinas.  You can read some of her poetry here.

English and Creative Writing junior Jennifer Rohrbach gave the introduction; we’ll let her take it from here:

Christine Butterworth-McDermott is a master of transformation. In her book of poetry, Woods & Water, Wolves & Women, she transforms fantastic tales into anecdotal quips that comment on the humanity in the supernatural, the extraordinary in the everyday. She reveals new sides of characters we know and love, and gives voice to characters from whom we’ve never heard: the Ogre’s wife, the Frog Prince’s secret lover, the Prince Charming of shoe-makers. Her fairy-tale characters could pass for a next-door neighbor. In the poem “Snow Speaks,” Snow White says, “Let me tell you what I’ve learned. ‘You don’t know / what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ and all that crap / happens to be true, especially when you wind up / the housemaid for seven tiny men / whose bathroom etiquette leaves much to be desired” (1-5, p. 19).

Butterworth-McDermott’s literary charm has earned her poetry and fiction spots in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Bellowing Ark, Cabinet de Fees, California Quarterly, Magazine of Speculative Poetry, North Atlantic Review, Portland Review, RATTLE, and Tales of the Unanticipated. She also teaches poetry, literature, and fairy-tales as an Associate Professor of English at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. In addition, she is the poetry editor of the literary journal REAL and the founder and co-editor of the literary magazine, Gingerbread House, which publishes quality poetry and fiction with magical elements. In 2010, her chapbook Tales on Tales: Sestinas, was published by Finishing Line Press, followed by Woods & Water, Wolves & Women, published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2011.

Butterworth-McDermott talks with Jenn Rohrbach

Perhaps one of the most important things about her work is that it is accessible. Her poetry, while maintaining a high literary quality, is fun. It’s exciting. It’s inviting. And yes, sometimes it’s sad. In the poem “Rose,” Briar Rose laments her inability to have children after her cursed sleep. “In this war of my own,” she says, “nothing accounts / for bleeding, some endless punishment / for stopping blood and breath with / a spindle’s prick—that hundred years / of aborted life claims this payback” (26).

Growing up as a lover of Disney movies, it never occurred to me to wonder what happens after the happily ever after. What do the prince and princess say to one another after they ride off into the sunset? What happens to those left behind? Of course, I was like 5 when those movies came out, so I wasn’t exactly thinking analytically. It seems perfect, then, that we get to read these poems, experience these tales again, as adults. It gives us the opportunity to become re-enchanted with the stories we once loved, but to bring our own realities to the myths. Christine Butterworth-McDermott is a master of transformation, not only of fairy-tales and the fantastic, but of our means of perception. And through her work, tales as old as time become new.


Reading for Unity at Widener

On Saturday, April 1, Widener students gathered with undergraduate writers from other colleges in the Philadelphia region to read works inspired by the call for social justice and the power of writing.

Dr. Ken Pobo performed some of his original poetry as the keynote.  The full program was:

Iyanna Rosado, Widener University, “What Does an Illegal Immigrant Look Like?” by Christy Namee Eriksen

Maya Arthur, University of Pennsylvania, Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

Andrew Nguyen, Haverford College, “where you are planted” by Evie Shockley and “Ka ‘Ba” by Amiri Baraka

Kelsey Styles, Widener University, “Mimesis” and “Scarecrow” by Fady Joudah and “Things that Have Been Lost” and “Wildpeace” by Yehuda Amichai

Jennifer Rohrbach, Widener University, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Michaela Kotziers, University of Pennsylvania, “Poetry is Not a Luxury” by Audre Lord

Jasmine Kouyate, Widener University, “Dancing with Strom” by Nikky Finney

Natalie Kawam, Bryn Mawr College, the Nobel Lecture of Toni Morrison

Photos courtesy of Professor Michael Cocchiarale

Save the Dates: English and Creative Writing Events

The next few weeks are BUSY here at Widener English and Creative Writing.  Save the dates!

  • The Reading for Unity is being held tomorrow, Saturday, April 1, at 2pm in the Webb Room in University Center.  Widener students along with undergraduate writers from other colleges in the Philly region read works inspired by the call for social justice.
  • The Distinguished Visiting Writer, poet Christine Butterworth-McDermott, will be reading Wednesday, April 5, at 4pm in LC 1.
  • Dr. Daniel Robinson will be giving this spring’s President’s Lecture on his scholarship in the editing of Romantic-period texts.  This takes place on Monday, April 17 at noon in Lathem Hall.
  • The Creative Writing Senior Seminar reading will take place on Thursday, April 20 at 4pm in the Drost Room of the Library.  Kelsey Styles, Evan Kramer, David Kelly, and Aly Amato will be reading their original work.
  • Our annual Humanities Award ceremony will take place on Thursday, April 27—we will be recognizing the winner of the Roelofs Award at this event, as well as our first recipient of the Hastie Award.
  • The final reading for the 2016–2017 season of the State Street Series will take place on May 18 at 7pm in the Media Arts Gallery.  Come here the work of Sham-e Ali Nayeem and Curtis Smith.

    Carla Spataro performing at the March State Street Reading
Rahul Mehta performing at the March State Street Reading

English and Creative Writing Celebrate Honors Week

This week is Honors Week at Widener—our annual celebration of academic excellence.  Every year, we kick off the festivities with the induction of new members into Sigma Tau Delta.  This year, six new members were inducted:  Michael Brant, Dana Schweizer, Carlie Sisco, Taylor Blum, Nicholas Demkin, and Haley Poluchuk.

The keynote was delivered by Chapter Vice President Taylor Brown.  Her remarks were a stirring call to action for students in English and Creative Writing, and the humanities more broadly.  She said that those who love literature have found “the code for honest, loving, fulfilled lives,” and that we have a responsibility to show the value of what we know and love about literature, to be “warriors” for the humanities.

The induction was followed in the evening by the Honors Week open mic, hosted by Kelsey Styles (Creative Writing and Communication Studies, ’17) and Evan Kramer (English and Creative Writing, ’17).  Students and faculty read original work, as well as pieces by others that have inspired them.


Here’s the full text of Taylor’s remarks:

Four years. Four years to catch it, read it, learn it, bring it inside of you, and spit out something new. Four years is enough time to change the world—for better or for worse. Four years is enough time to meet yourself hundreds of times over. Four years is all it takes to become a completely new person, watching the world open up around you. The truth is, four years is an eternity and a second, and what you do with it is completely up to you.

The Humanities are going to see some impacts within the next four years, and I fear that it will become our responsibility as students of literature, history, language, and art to stay focused and resolved against those who feel our knowledge is not valuable. It isn’t news to many of you sitting before me that a degree in English is not exactly considered fool proof by the American public, but in my eyes I can’t see a better way to spend four years. I have gained access into every point of view imaginable, every consciousness, every culture, every family, every life, and it is all thanks to my education in English. I think humans have unlocked the code for an honest, loving, infallible life and we’ve hidden it away in books. When you make a habit of reading, you make a habit of knowing how it feels to be something or someone else. Willingly leaving yourself behind to experience the life of another—a state of true imaginative empathy. This is something the world needs more of, and I hate to tell you guys, but it’s kind of up to you to remind everyone what we’re here for. In the meantime, take these four years and turn them into greatness. Become the best version of yourself so that others can learn from your example. Most of all, spend this four years surrounding yourself with people that know your mission and see the impact a life of books can have on the soul because these are the warriors and they will know the fight when they see it.

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