Tag Archives: Joyce Bohling

The Creative Writing Reading Series ended with this semester’s second, and final, thesis reading in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art. The space was filled with family, peers and faculty members eager to hear the accomplishments of these three students: Joyce Bohling (MA in Creative Nonfiction), KT Heins (MFA in Fiction), and Cedar Brant (MFA in Poetry).

Camille Dungy opened the evening with an introduction, both excited and sad to begin the last event in the Creative Writing Reading Series of the school year.

As my fellow English department intern, I was excited to hear Joyce Bohling read an excerpt from her nonfiction graduate thesis. Associate Professor E. J. Levy introduced Bohling, describing her as a writer marked for a literary life. Bohling’s small, soft spoken demeanor is largely contrasted with her fierce words on the page.

Bohling’s thesis builds on her personal journey with anorexia, moving through the science and cultural history of eating disorders and the modern fad of dieting. As she began her piece, a stark silence settled over the group. Her cultural criticism targeted professionals in the field who combine dieting with extreme exercise as the perfect (“healthy”) duo for weight-loss maintenance.

As Bohling presented fact after fact, her powerful voice permeated the room. The weight of her evidence piled against the alleged success of dieting, moving from a satirical to an outright dismissive tone as we learned more about her personal experiences with dieting. We were left with an important explanation surrounding the reality of Health at Every Size, a lasting message that will still resonate long after the reading.

Levy took the time to also introduce MFA fiction student KT Heins, who shared the first chapter of her novel. As Levy explained, Heins’ violent and eerie prose was something that was both haunting and haunted. The story revolved around a lesbian who lost her lover one year ago to anorexia, an unplanned but recurring topic for the evening.

As she began, Heins’ words were filled with intense imagery that worked to describe the vivid scenery of the world within her novel. We followed her characters as they built a life together, a life before loss. Through her descriptions and narration, I could picture the glass house they bought in Aspen, and the way each character moved in that space, in sync with one another.

A feeling of cold, and loss, carried throughout the reading. I could almost feel the cold surround me, mimicking Heins’ tone as the ghost of the lost partner appeared, followed by the absolute weight of the memory. Her first chapter left me wanting more of this story, a haunting reflection on love and loss.

Finally, Cedar Brant read an excerpt from her MFA poetry collection. While Associate Professor and poet Dan Beachy-Quick was unable to attend the event, he sent a speech introducing Brant’s poetry which Associate Professor Sasha Steensen read.

Through Beachy-Quick’s well-formulated words, we learned of the elegant and philosophical nature of Brant’s poetry. Her deeply vulnerable poetry allows us to “see how she is of and in the world.”

Before beginning her reading, Brant explained that the inspiration for her collection, and the focus on fire, came from the experience she had when her house burned down. Unsurprisingly, her poems are themed around these powerful images and memories of fire. These poems, according to Brant, are a “space where more parts of myself can be contained.”

Brant’s voice was calm and steady as she moved through each poem, delicately circling around the theme of fire. As an audience, we moved through her painful memories and her fluctuating relationship with her sister. Each poem took these smaller memories and expanded into larger ideals and reflections. With Brant, we experienced her giving parts of herself back to the earth, allowing us to dwell on our own relationship with the earth.

When the reading ended, I found myself wanting more. This past year, each graduating MA and MFA student has worked tirelessly on completing their final thesis project. I feel privileged to have shared in this part of their process, hearing just a portion of the work that Joyce Bohling, KT Heins, and Cedar Brant put into these creative projects. I can’t help but think about the small pieces of themselves they will leave behind, pieces that have forever become a part of their work and of us.

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Image by Marcelo Noah

John Updike described Billy Collins’s poems as “more serious than they seem.” And indeed, while Collins’ poems are often laugh-out-loud funny, many end on a touching, sometimes somber note.

Billy Collins is one of the most well-known and financially successful poets in the United States. He was the United States poet laureate from 2001 to 2003 and the New York State poet laureate from 2004 to 2006. On the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he was asked to write a commemorative poem, which he read to both houses of Congress. (See him read the poem on 9-11-2011).

Billy Collins has published fourteen collections of poetry to date. He has received the Mark Twain Prize for Humor Poetry and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. His work has appealed numerous times in the Best American Poetry, and he edited the 2006 edition of this series.

Video: 3-year-old recites poem, “Litany” by Billy Collins. The little boy eventually got to meet the poet.

You also might enjoy this interview with Billy Collins from The Writer’s Almanac Bookshelf.

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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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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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Poet Emily Dickinson was born in 1930 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Although she was not famous during her lifetime—only seven of her almost 1800 poems were published while she lived, all heavily edited—she became known after her death as one of the most influential American poets.

Dickinson grew up in a large Amherst home called the Homestead. The family was well-known and influential in the area; Dickinson’s grandfather founded Amherst College and her father was a state legislator. Dickinson had an older brother and a younger sister, and all three siblings lived their whole lives at or near the Homestead.

Dickinson was very social and active as a child. She excelled at school and went on to complete one year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. She never returned to the seminary after the first year, however; scholars don’t know exactly why, but many point to her poor physical or emotional health. Indeed, Dickinson continued to have health problems throughout her life and became increasingly secluded in her family home, dedicating most of her time to writing, gardening, and caring for her elderly mother.

Despite her poor health, Dickinson kept lively correspondence with many friends and several writers, including literary critic T.W. Higginson, editor Samuel Bowles, and Reverend Charles Wadsworth.

Although she sent out her poetry for publication, its experimental syntax and off-rhymes were rejected by most publishers. Those who did publish her work edited it heavily to reflect literary standards of the time. However, she continued to write prolifically and meticulously stored her poems in a box.

Dickinson’s sister Lavinia discovered the work after her death in 1886 and published many of them in a book in 1890. Dickinson’s complete works were not published in a single collection, however, until 1955. Her work is considered highly influential in shaping the direction of twentieth-century poetry.


Sadly, this is the final Women’s History Month post. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the influence women, authors and educators, have had on the literary and academic community, on the human experience. However, we won’t have much time to be sad, because April is National Poetry Month! Get ready to enjoy some amazing poems and poets with us here on the blog. To give you a glimmer of what that will be like, here’s one of our favorite Emily Dickinson poems:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

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~from intern Joyce Bohling

What brought you to CSU? The short answer is that I got the job! The position I applied for (American literature with a specialization in multi-ethnic writing and a side interest in modernist studies) seemed to me like a perfect fit and I was happy that the screening committee was interested in my work.

What made you want to stay? Immediately before coming to CSU I taught at a highly selective private liberal arts college and I was actually relieved to return to a public institution since my pre-doctoral education took place in public universities and I am committed to the idea that education should be accessible to a broad range of students.

What do you enjoy most about your work? I love hearing how my students work with texts that I am passionate about and learning different ways to approach texts from them. I also really enjoy my research, sharing it with friends and colleagues at conferences and informal conversations, and thinking about ways to incorporate it into my classes.

Why are the Humanities important? Because they provide ways of thinking that are open to possibilities beyond the purely instrumental purposes (how will this make money, how can this be used) and that therefore often drive truly transformational changes in society.

What inspired you to pursue a degree in English, the Humanities? I began my educational career thinking that I would become an astrophysicist. During my freshman year in college I realized both that I was not as drawn to the topic as I had thought and that my rural high school had not prepared me for the advanced physics and math courses I was struggling with. During the following summer I worked on my parents’ farm and spent a large amount of my time reading (I particularly remember working through several Toni Morrison and Dostoyevsky novels). Sometime during this process I realized that there was a major where reading and thinking about what I was reading would be my primary job so I decided to try that.

What special project are you working on right now? Right now I’m in the middle of writing a book about race, ethnicity, and world building in 20th and 21st century science fiction.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? An astronomer.

What is your favorite thing to teach? Favorite thing about teaching? One of my favorite works of literature to teach is Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. My favorite thing about teaching is seeing how texts change depending on who is reading them and what’s going on in the world around us.

What advice would you give to a student taking a class in the English department? Talk to your professors outside of the classroom. It’s the best way to drive your learning forward.

What’s the best advice you ever received? My dad, who dropped out of college, always encouraged me to be willing to be flexible instead of thinking that if my plan A didn’t work (studying astrophysics) then I should just quit.

What’s your favorite word? I don’t play favorites…

What are you currently reading? I always have multiple books going so the current list includes: Viet Than Nguyen’s recent novel The Sympathizer, an ethnography of the Runa people in Ecuador called How Forest’s Think by Eduardo Kohn, and, two novels for the classes I’m teaching: John Edgar Wideman’s Philadelphia Fire and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.

What don’t your colleagues know about you? How much time I spend talking to my cats.

What accomplishments are you most proud of? Publishing my first academic book last year was a milestone.

When you’re not working, what do you do? Visit with family and friends. I read for fun still and I also love cooking, listening to a wide range of music, and watching frequently awful TV and movies. I also play poker with a group of friends at a weekly game that I’ve been part of since I came to Fort Collins in 2009.

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~from intern Joyce Bohling

I was raised on Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My mother would read the books to me each evening at bedtime. I had the Little House paper dolls and even, once, picked up the Little House cookbook in the children’s section of my local library. When I was getting into my “tween” years, I read Farmer Boy, an account of childhood stories about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s husband, Alamanzo. Of all of Wilder’s books, Farmer Boy sticks most clearly in my memory.

As those who read the books growing up will know, Wilder was born Laura Ingalls in Pepin, Wisconsin in 1867. She had an older sister, Mary, and later two younger sisters, Carrie and Grace. Wilder also had a younger brother, Charles Jr., who died at 9 months of age. Wilder chose to omit her younger brother from her autobiographical Little House series, perhaps because she wrote for a young audience and focused on joyful tales with happy endings.

The Ingalls moved around frequently, migrating to Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota. When her family settled near De Smet, South Dakota, Wilder, age 15, received her teaching certificate and began to teach in a one-room schoolhouse. A family friend named Alamanzo Wilder often gave her rides to and from her family home and the school 12 miles away. Alamanzo and Laura courted and were married in 1885, after which they moved to Missouri to start their own homestead, which they named Rocky Ridge.

In the 1920s, the Wilders’ only surviving daughter, Rose, encouraged her mother to write about her early life. Wilder’s first-person account of her childhood between the ages of three and eighteen, Prairie Girl, was repeatedly rejected by publishers. Wilder, though, didn’t give up. She changed the point of view of the narration to third person, referring to herself as “Laura” and telling the story of the whole family in a way that would be relatable and entertaining to young children.

Wilder’s first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was published in 1932 when Wilder was 65. She went on to publish many more books about her childhood, including Little House on the Prairie (1935), On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937), By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939), The Long Winter (1940), Little Town on the Prairie (1941), and These Happy Golden Years (1943). The story of her husband’s childhood, Farmer Boy, was published in 1933.

Wilder died in 1957 at the age of 90. Her books continued to gain popularity long after her death. They were re-issued with illustrations from Garth Williams in 1953 (the illustrations after which my paper dolls were modeled). A television show based on Wilder’s work called Little House on the Prairie ran from 1974 to 1982, creating interest in the books among my parents’ generation, who, in turn, shared them with me and many children in my generation.

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Caleb Gonzalez
First Year M.A. Student, Creative Nonfiction
Graduate Teaching Assistant for CO150

How do you spend most of your time in Eddy Hall? I spend my time in the computer lab on the third floor, doing my homework, printing out stories for my classes and getting ready for my CO150 classes.

What’s your favorite English class or teacher? Debby Thompson. It’s really fun to go to her office and gripe about the current political situation with her, as we have very similar views about the world. She just gives really good feedback, especially on the current “Cheese” essay that I wrote for workshop.

Tell us about the “Cheese” essay. I’m very excited about it! It’s my newest essay that I wrote based on a prompt in Debby’s class. Cheese is a metaphor for identity, class, race, and individual growth as a person.

Describe Eddy Hall in one word. Unpredictable. Also, my favorite word is “whimsical.”

What’s your favorite author or work of literature? One of them is Russian Journal by Andrea Lee. It’s a creative nonfiction book about her and her husband living in Russia as academics. She uses her experiences to make sense of the former Society Union and its relationship to the United States, as well, which is interesting. She was a staff writer for The New Yorker and has done a lot for the New York Times Magazine. Russian Journal was published in 1981.

If you were to give advice to incoming CSU grad students, what would it be? Trust yourself. Have confidence in your own writing. As hard as it might be, learn to be a part of the community.

Caleb’s mug says “I’m not saying I’m Batman, I’m just saying nobody has ever seen me and Batman in a room together.”

What’s your biggest goal or priority right now? I’m going to be facilitating Rekindle the Classics, and it will be on Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. So my biggest goal is to read that work and do a good job facilitating that work.

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Margaret Sanger was a feminist, nurse, activist, writer, and national and international advocate for women’s access to contraception.

Sanger was born Margaret Higgins to an Irish-American family in 1879; she had ten siblings. She studied to become a nurse practitioner and began working toward a registered nursing degree at White Plains Hospital, but her education ended when she was married in 1902. She and William Sanger had three children but later separated, and Sanger remarried James Noah H. Slee in 1922.

While living in New York City with her first husband and children, Sanger became very interested in living conditions for working-class women and particularly the burden of frequent pregnancies and large families on these women.

At that time, a federal law called the Comstock law forbade the distribution of information about sexual health and contraception, which was considered obscene. Sanger repeatedly disobeyed this law, first publishing a column about sexual health in the New York Call titled “What Every Girl Should Know” and later publishing and distributing a periodical titled The Woman Rebel. It was this publication which coined the term “birth control.” In 1914, Sanger was indicted for violating the Comstock law.

To evade imprisonment, Sanger lived in England for about a year until charges against her were dropped. After returning to the United States, she continued to resist the law, opening a birth control clinic. Police shut the clinic down after 9 days, and Sanger was arrested and imprisoned for thirty days.

Despite these setbacks, Sanger’s work was gaining increasing attention and support. Sanger went on to found a medical journal called the Birth Control Review and later the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau. Because even the words “birth control” were considered too explicit at the time, the organization later changed its name to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Sanger continued to advocate for birth control throughout her life. In the 1950s, she worked with the International Planned Parenthood Federation and was a primary advocate for the development of the first birth control pill. Sanger died at 86 years of age in 1966.

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