The work of David Whyte moves between literary, psychological, theological and vocational worlds. As Whyte explains, his poetry and philosophy comes from “the conversational nature of reality.”

Born in 1955 in Mirfield Yorkshire, his poetry was influenced by bother his mother’s Irish heritage and what he called his “Wordsworthian childhood” in West Yorkshire. But his early life didn’t reflect his passion for poetry and philosophy. Instead, he received a degree from Bangor University in Marine Zoology.

Following his undergrad, he lived in the Galapagos Islands, working as a naturalist. He became quite the world traveler, leading various anthropological and natural history expeditions through the Andes, the Amazon, and the Himalayas.

It wasn’t until after Whyte moved to the States in 1981 that he began his career as a poet. In 1987, he began to share both his philosophy and writing with larger audiences. In an interview with Spirituality Health, he reflects on the role poetry and philosophy have played in his life, explaining that “I felt it in my infancy and first started articulating it in my early teens, but I actually thought that everyone was like this. So it was quite a surprise when people would be taken aback by the insights in my thoughts or my poetry.”

His first poetry collection, Songs for Coming Home, was published in 1984. Now, he boasts 7 volumes of poetry and 4 books of prose. Whyte has received an honorary degree from Neuman College in Pennsylvania. In 1994, he topped the best-seller list in the United States for his book The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. Whyte is an associate fellow at both Templeton College and Saïd Business School in Oxford.

In 2014, he published his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. In an interview about this book, Whyte says that “there must be a place for everything in the human soul…it’s just a question of where they are in the hierarchy of experience.”

As human beings, it’s important to keep asking questions, and looking at the world around us. As Whyte reminds us, “you ask [a beautiful question] with your body. You ask it with your longing. And you can ask a beautiful question in complete silence with no verbalization whatsoever, just in the way you’re paying attention.”

 

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Mary Oliver and Percy. Photo by Rachel Giese Brown.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~Mary Oliver, from her poem “The Summer Day”

Mary Oliver is a prolific contemporary poet. Her work has received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Prize, and Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She has also been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Oliver was born Maple Heights, Ohio in 1935. As a teenager, she worked with Norma Millay, sister of Edna St. Vincent Millay, to organize St. Vincent Millay’s papers. St. Vincent Millay’s work was a major influence on Oliver, as well as other romantic nature poets such as Walt Whitman, John Muir, and Elizabeth Bishop.

Oliver lived much of her life in Provincetown, Massachusetts with her partner Molly Malone Cook. She published her first book of poetry, No Voyage, and Other Poems, in 1963. She began to receive attention in 1983 when her fifth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize. Since 1990, she has published collections of poetry every one to two years, as well as numerous works of prose. Her latest book, Blue Horses, came out in 2014.

Video: Mary Oliver reading her poem “Wild Geese” Full text of the poem:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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~from intern Joyce Bohling

The reading of creative writing master’s theses on March 30 featured creative nonfiction M.A. candidate Dana Chellman and poetry M.F.A. candidates Denise Jarrott and Kylan Rice. Each reading featured unique style and subject matter, showing the diversity and creativity of work produced by students in the English department.

Poet Denise Jarrott was the first to read selections from her M.F.A. thesis. “What is it to live and wonder what living is about?” asked Jarrott’s advisor, Dan Beachy-Quick, in his introduction. This, Beachy-Quick said, is the ambitious question which Jarrott’s work poses.

Jarrott began her reading with selections from her collection “Letter Sonnets”; each of the twenty-six sonnets in this collection is titled with a letter of the alphabet. I noticed, as Jarrott read, how embodied her poetry is. One of her sonnets included the passage, “I do not know what it means to have a mind, but I can guess what it is to have a body.” This seemed to describe a theme weaving through many of the poems she selected from this collection: the sonnets dwelt on the physical rather than the meta-physical. Jarrott’s second set of sonnets, all called “Closet,” imagined what she might have found in the pages of her great-great-grandfather’s journal, which was destroyed.

Next Dana Chellman read excerpts from her essay “How to Get to Heaven from Colorado,” which was recently awarded the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ Intro Journals Award and will be featured in the upcoming issue of the Iron Horse Review. The essay about her older brother with bipolar disorder uses the trope of maps. In her introduction, Chellman’s advisor Sarah Sloane said that “Dana’s maps are both anchor point and illusion.” These maps include scientists’ recent project to map the Milky Way galaxy, her brother’s treasured road atlas, and the MRI used to diagnose and identify a cause for his mental illness. Each of these maps is necessary as it is imperfect, full of unknowns and uncertainties.

The reading returned to poetry with the evening’s final reader, Kylan Rice. Dan Beachy-Quick, also Rice’s advisor, praised Rice’s poetry: “These poems…realize the world, but also live in it.” Many of Rice’s poems dwelt on images from his childhood. “There are certain images I can’t let go of,” especially images of fruit, he said, laughing. But while these childhood poems were light and uplifting, Rice’s reading took a turn for the darker as he transitioned to grim subjects, especially in his final set, a series of poems on enucleation, the removal of the eye from its socket. I was startled by the gruesome theme, but when Rice read the line, “All that are left to me are my eyes,” I began to think through the idea of enucleation and what it means for a poet to lose the ability to see, both literally and as a metaphor for the many ways that poets and poems themselves witness the world.

The next graduate thesis reading will be this Thursday, April 13 at 7:30 pm in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art.

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Photo by: Larry Moyer, from http://www.shelsilverstein.com/

Some poetry connects generations together, drawing them in at an early age through fun rhymes and silly images. Shel Silverstein has become synonymous with children’s poetry, the type of poetry that sticks with its readers well into adulthood.

Most children are familiar with poet Shel Silverstein’s work and the fun pen drawings that often accompany his poems. Silverstein’s poetry has been translated into over 30 languages and sold over 20 million copies. Probably one of his best known poems is “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” which was also the name of one of his poetry collections.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1930, he began his career as a cartoonist at the age of 7 by tracing over Al Capp’s cartoons. Silverstein attended Roosevelt High School and got expelled from the University of Illinois which lead him to enroll in the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Drafted by the United States Army before completing his degree, he served in Japan and Korea.

Silverstein then studied English at Roosevelt University where he got his first cartoon published in the student newspaper, Roosevelt Torch. From there, his career skyrocketed with cartoons published in Look, Sports Illustrated, and This Week. In 1957, he was a leading cartoonist for Playboy, a role which sent him around the world creating a travel journal.

His children’s books have gained popularity among young (and older) readers. His most notable collections include The Giving Tree (1964), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974), and A Light in the Attic (1981). A Boy Named Sue won the 1970 Grammy and Silverstein was inducted in the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame in 2014, after his death in 1999.

Silverstein is known for not giving interviews, but was passionate about his work. In a 1975 interview with Publisher’s Weekly, he said “I have an ego, I have ideas, I want to articulate, to communicate but in my own way. People say they create only for themselves and don’t care if they’re published…I hate to hear talk like that. If it’s good, it’s too good not to share. That’s the way I feel about my work.”

But he also ended this interview explaining that “I’m not going to give any more interviews.” As readers, we will just have to let Silverstein’s work speak for itself.

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Image by Jill Salahub

  • Next Wednesday, Doug Cloud will be giving a workshop for the School of Global Environmental Sustainability (SoGES) Sustainability Fellows titled “Talking Science with Conservative, Religious and Other Potentially Skeptical Audiences.”
  • Tobi Jacobi participated at the recent Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) through a panel presentation entitled, “Not “All Ellas”: Risking Exploitation in a Prison Public Memory Project,” and a preconference prison teaching workshop (“The Prison Next Door: What Types of Connections Do We Want to Cultivate?”).
  • Michael Knisely’s Boulder’s Rocky Ridge Music Academy photography exhibit runs through April, he will also showcase additional photographs as part of the Month of Photography exhibit at the ACE Storage gallery on north Broadway also in Boulder. A collaboration of poets and visual artist’s exhibit at the First Congregational Church at Broadway and Spruce Streets in Boulder will feature two of his poems. He will also be reading from his poetry work as part of a large poetry reading this Friday for the First Friday Arts event at the First Congregational Church, which runs from 6:30 – 8:00 this Friday evening.
  • Dan Robinson’s paper, The Second Battle of the Champagne & the Inexpressibility Topos, has been accepted for the XVIII International Hemingway Conference in Paris next summer.
  • Morgan Riedl (MA in CNF, 2017) has a piece up on Brevity’s blog.  It’s a hermit crab essay in the form of a workshop critique of Sean Spicer’s press conferences.  You can read it here: https://brevity.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/workshop-comments-for-sean-spicer/
  • Catie Young’s poem “Merrily Merrily M​errily Merrily” is in the new issue of The Volta: ​http://www.thevolta.org/twstbs-poem185-cyoung.html
  • On April 21, John Calderazzo will read an essay at the Sacred Mountains and Landscapes conference at The New School.  The essay will discuss a centuries-old agricultural ritual in the Peruvian Andes he attended in which Quechua people have recently changed their behavior because of the climate change induced shrinking of their glaciers.
  • Felicia Zamora’s (MFA ’12) first book, Of Form & Gather, winner of the 2016 Andrès Montoya Poetry Prize, was released on February 28 from the University of Notre Dame Press. Of Form & Gather is listed as one of the “9 Outstanding Latino Books Recently Published by Independent and University Presses” by NBC News. Her manuscript Galaxy Inside Your Inadequately Small Heart was selected as a finalist in the 2017 Alice James Award and the 2017 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry. Her poem “In all the pretty roam” was featured on Zòcalo Public Square on Friday, March 17 and her poem “Virgule” was selected by The Georgia Review for publication. Zamora read her poetry for the AKO Collective’s Day Without A Woman recognition event on March 8.
  • Kathleen Willard will be the BreckCreate Breckenridge Creative Arts Tin Shop Guest Artist in Residence for the month of April. In addition to working on her new poetry manuscript, she will give a poetry reading, conduct four poetry workshops, and host a community poetry reading. She hosts Open Studio Hours at the Tin Shop Thursday through Sunday to talk about poetry and share her process. The BreckCreate website has details of her events.

Checkout the English Department’s new lunch counter!  In response to our See Change 2 request for more common space for faculty and staff, we have put the west end of Eddy to work. Two lunch counters are open and ready to entice you out of your offices for lunch and conversation. We will devote the exhibit space above each counter to departmental work on diversity and inclusion for at least the first year.

  • The northwest corner launches this new “Counter Talk” space with an exhibit featuring the 1960 Greensboro lunch counter sit-in and additional images — including two from the Smithsonian’s 2010 50th anniversary celebration.  Look here for some interesting ways to incorporate such moments into your courses: http://americanhistory.si.edu/freedomandjustice.

Stay tuned: Jaime Jordan’s exhibit featuring a moment in her CO150 course will be added next week to the southwest counter.

 

The English department has FOUR different writing contests running right now. Check out the details here, and submit something!

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Image by Rajah Bose / Flickr

Naomi Shihab Nye is the author of numerous books of poems, as well as the author of several books of poetry and fiction for children. Born to a Palestinian father and an American mother, she spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. Her experience of difference has influenced much of her work, and she’s called herself a “wandering poet.”

Her poetry is known for looking at the ordinary, deeply and with fresh eyes. Poet William Stafford said of Shihab Nye, “her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life.”

Naomi Shihab Nye told Contemporary Authors: “I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime…Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.”

Burning the Old Year
By Naomi Shihab Nye

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

~“Burning the Old Year” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

Video: Naomi Shihab Nye reads and talks about her poem “Kindness”

Also, you might want to list to this really great interview with Naomi Shihab Nye on On Being, Your Life Is a Poem.

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David Shields is a controversial figure in the creative nonfiction world: someone who pushes the boundaries of genre and sometimes inspires strong reactions in his readers.

In his introduction to Shields’ reading at the Lory Student Center, first-year M.A. student Caleb Gonzalez emphasized how Shields challenges the conventions of literary nonfiction. After reading Reality Hunger in Harrison Candelaria Fletcher’s nonfiction workshop, Gonzalez said, “I am now summoned – as David Shields frequently summons his readers to do – to question what I write, how I write it, and why I write it. He invited me to question what fiction and nonfiction really is. He invited me to think about the idea that if the genres of literature are never to be questioned and challenged, they could not stand the test of time.”

Shields is the author of over twenty publications. Reality Hunger, a collage manifesto, explores the possibilities of creative nonfiction and the notion of “truth” while challenging and questioning some of the criticisms and limitations often placed on nonfiction as a genre. Over thirty publications named Reality Hunger as among the best books of 2010. Shields’ other critically-acclaimed publications include New York Times bestseller The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead and a National Critics Circle Award finalist, Black Planet. In February of this year, Shields published his most recent work, Other People: Takes and Mistakes.

At CSU the day before, Shields had showed his film I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. The film, directed by James Franco and released this year, is based on a book of the same name published by Shields and his former student Caleb Powell in 2015.

Like Reality Hunger, I Think You’re Totally Wrong is meta-art. Shields and Powell hold contrasting views about the role an artist’s life should play in his or her art. Does an artist have an obligation to expose his or her own weaknesses and shortcomings through art? Is an artist obliged to protect other people in his or her life or to obtain permission before writing about others? These difficult questions come to a head in I Think You’re Totally Wrong in raw and uncomfortable ways, as the artists break the fourth wall and debate about what to share and what to keep private in the film itself.

At his reading, Shields read a number of essays from the recently published Other People: Takes and Mistakes. These included an essay about former president George W. Bush. Shields opposed many of Bush’s policies, yet the essay empathetically emphasizes those character traits with which the author himself identifies. He also read essays about a cruel joke his middle school classmates played on one another, an uncomfortable encounter with OJ Simpson in a Häagen-Dazs ice cream store, and a thoughtful response to Shields’ own most critical reviews.

After the reading, Shields answered a number of questions from the audience. MFA student Meghan Pipe wondered whether Shields ever feels the need to revise a piece after it is published, especially given that creative nonfiction often comments on events or topics that continue to develop, such as Shields’ essay about OJ Simpson, which describes events which took place before Simpson’s famous trial. Shields agreed that it’s very tempting to continue tinkering with a piece after it’s published, but he has never re-written a previously published work.

MFA student Yash Seyedbagheri asked a challenging question about Reality Hunger and its exploration of truth. Given the recent concern about “fake news,” as well as accusations made against the Trump administration of falsifying information, Yash Seyedbagheri asked whether Shields still stands by what he wrote in 2010 about the difficulty of determining what is “true.”

Shields conceded that he has also thought about this question and wonders whether his approach to creative nonfiction could be used to validate fake news. Shields nonetheless defended his assertion that nonfiction should question what is true in a thoughtful and intentional way. “What we’re doing in our form is trying to investigate truth and acknowledge our deep flawedness, and that seems very different from what Donald Trump seems to be doing.”

Caleb Gonzalez had ended his introduction to the reading with a prediction of what the reading had in store: “Without a doubt,” he said, “what David Shields has to say will be interesting, stimulating, absorbing, gripping, and let us not forget challenging.” Gonzalez’s prediction was certainly true for me; I left the reading still wrestling with the difficult questions Shields’ work posed.


There are two more readings in the Creative Writing Series this semester. We’d love to see you there.

 

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Canadian author Margaret Atwood in Toronto, 2012. (Image credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch)

Margaret Atwood is probably best known for her novel, A Handmaid’s Tale, often referred to as a work of “speculative fiction.” However, what many people may not know about her is she’s also an accomplished poet, having published 15 collections of poetry. Margaret Atwood is a poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist, and the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. She’s internationally acclaimed and awarded, with her work being translated into French, German, Italian, Urdu, Estonian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Catalan, Turkish, Russian, Finnish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Portuguese, Greek, Polish, Japanese, Icelandic, Spanish, Hebrew, and several other languages. All of the fiction is available in paperback in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.

The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart
Margaret Atwood

I do not mean the symbol
of love, a candy shape
to decorate cakes with,
the heart that is supposed
to belong or break;

I mean this lump of muscle
that contracts like a flayed biceps,
purple-blue, with its skin of suet,
its skin of gristle, this isolate,
this caved hermit, unshelled
turtle, this one lungful of blood,
no happy plateful.

All hearts float in their own
deep oceans of no light,
wetblack and glimmering,
their four mouths gulping like fish.
Hearts are said to pound:
this is to be expected, the heart’s
regular struggle against being drowned.

But most hearts say, I want, I want,
I want, I want. My heart
is more duplicitous,
though to twin as I once thought.
It says, I want, I don’t want, I
want, and then a pause.
It forces me to listen,

and at night it is the infra-red
third eye that remains open
while the other two are sleeping
but refuses to say what it has seen.

It is a constant pestering
in my ears, a caught moth, limping drum,
a child’s fist beating
itself against the bedsprings:
I want, I don’t want.
How can one live with such a heart?

Long ago I gave up singing
to it, it will never be satisfied or lulled.
One night I will say to it:
Heart, be still,
and it will.

~From Selected Poems II (1976-1986) by Margaret Atwood, 1987.


Video: Margaret Atwood reads “Night Poem”

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giovanni singleton, (image from Harriet: a poetry blog)

The beauty of poetry is that is can exist outside conventional form, instead twisting and moving to a poet’s intent. The avant-garde poem below by giovanni singleton transformed words into images, created a cage made out of birds, the “caged bird.”

singleton received her BA from American University in Washington, D.C. She found her interest in form as art during her time at the New College of California where she earned her MFA. As she explains in a 2011 Pen America interview, she views the page as a blank, or borderless, canvas she can fill.

Her collection Ascension was published in 2011, winning the California Book Award for Poetry. Fellow poet Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon said that her “poems are minimalist…ascension is process. The buildup is slow, and culminates as play, in the clear space left as we literally watch an I disappear. Thereafter, we find the blank page again. And time to make another poem.”

Her most recent collection, American Letters: works on paper, came out in 2017. She is also the founding editor of nocturnes (re)view of the literary arts, an annual publication through Small Press Distribution. As described, “the journal serves as a forum for examining and celebrating the natural connections between diverse artistic mediums as expressed through visual and written language.”

singleton ended a 2011 interview with a simple question, “Why do you still write?” As she explained, “at this point, I write out of habit-a wish to be free…Poetry is a way of developing, of cultivating, fearlessness. Writing and working with language makes the world, makes life, for me anyway, more tolerable and more true.”

Video: giovanni singleton reading for the Lunch Poems series, the first time she publicly read from her Ascension collection.

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