Prison Public Memory

English Professors Tobi Jacobi and Ed Lessor recently participated in the Prison Public Memory Project by helping to set up Pop Up Museums in three different locations in Hudson, NY on three different days in July (the 9th, 14th, and 24th). A Pop Up Museum is a temporary exhibit. Popping up in different locations, the community is invited to bring something on topic to share and to contribute to the community-wide story. Using history, art, and dialogue to engage people from all walks of life in conversation and learning about the role of prisons in society, the Prison Public Memory Project works with communities to discover, preserve, interpret, and honor the memories of those who worked at and were incarcerated in correctional facilities.

Prison Public Memory 2

Tobi Jacobi showing some of the artifacts she has collected and studied.

For almost 80 years between 1904 and 1975, Hudson was home to the New York State Training School for Girls, once the largest reform school for girls in the United States and one of the largest employers in Columbia County. Over the years, the school became an important site for new research in sociology and psychology, though there were accusations that the punishment practices — which included solitary confinement — were too harsh and that “colored girls”, like famous jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald who spent a year at the school, received unequal treatment and services.

Conceived by Tobi Jacobi and Ed Lessor, who have been exploring the Training School’s “hidden history,” these Pop-Ups invited the public to engage in conversation about the space, daily life, and residents of the Girls Training School during the 1920s/30s. Participants were able to interact with historical artifacts such as photographs, letters, and institutional records in a hands-on museum-like setting.

Prison Public Memory 3

A scene from one of the pop up museums.

Visitors were also able to engage with the Training School’s history in a variety of interactive drawing and writing activities led by Prison Public Memory Project staff and volunteers. Community members were invited to bring any of their own photos, documents, and other artifacts relating to the Training School or to the people who lived or worked there for temporary display on the museum tables.

For more information, here is the local paper’s coverage of the event: 


(The information above was taken from the event’s General Press Release)

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Today was Day 3 of the Crisis and Creativity Symposium, a gathering of scholars and artists from across the country discussing creative approaches to a society in crisis.

The morning began with a group discussion that mirrored the discussion from the first day. As Dan Beachy-Quick reflected, we’d come full cycle, as the end mimicked the beginning.

final group discussion

Our final group discussion.

The discussion explored various topics ranging from the unique experience of physically engaging with materials as a way to explore ideas to the way our ideas of home/house had become intensely complicated over the past few days. Several participants even reflected that the process of interacting and getting to share ideas with one another was a home-like activity itself. The morning ended with some free time to pursue individual art projects and plans to meet later in the afternoon to read poetry at the river.

clay creations

Some of our clay creations from the week.

Later in the afternoon, Brenda Hillman and three other participants met at the Lee Martinez Park and walked down to the river for a poetry reading. Each participant brought a poem and read it to the river. Despite a number of hungry mosquitoes, it was a beautiful and peaceful afternoon.

poetry reading at the river

Cedar Brant, Brenda Hillman, and Karin Anderson at the poetry reading at the river.

The day concluded with a panel discussion facilitated by Dan Beachy-Quick. Panelists included poet Brenda Hillman, scientist Diana Wall, and artist Michael Swaine. Common themes including wonderment, imagination, and collaboration emerged from the discussion; these elements seem to inform and drive both the arts and the sciences.


The evening panel. From left to right: Dan Beachy-Quick, Diana Wall, Brenda Hillman, and Michael Swaine.

The panel concluded with the distribution of a small, wallet-sized piece of art to each member of the audience. It had the word “otototoi,” Greek for grief, cut out of the paper. The audience uttered this word in unison, feeling its power and recognizing that language can’t always perfectly express our sentiments. It was a powerful conclusion to an amazing three days of collaborative art and discussion.

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Today was Day Two of the Crisis and Creativity Symposium, a gathering of scholars and artists from across the country discussing creative approaches to a society in crisis. After a moving poetry reading from Brenda Hillman the previous night, participants were eager to begin today’s morning workshop with her.

Hillman introduced four concepts that she finds particularly helpful when thinking about how to write poetry. The first concept focused on her belief in the importance of multiple levels of experience, an idea inspired by her background in hypnotherapy. Using these ideas she has developed what she calls “trance-poetics,” a practice that is focused on finding the place where the unconscious self meets the unconscious of the culture. This is the place where healing and understanding can happen.

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman leading a poetry workshop.

In order to demonstrate how to access this place, Hillman asked participants to go into a trance-like state for a couple of minutes and to revisit their childhood room in their minds. Participants were then asked to leave their room and to describe what they encountered. This meditative practice was relaxing and beautiful, a unique experience for each individual.

The second practice Hillman focused on was the idea of being aware of one’s relationship to words and phrases. She celebrates the words she is drawn to and picks apart the words that have become problematic in our society, words that have “betrayed” us. Having that acute awareness of how language shapes our perceptions and our reality is key to poetry.

The third concept Hillman discussed was the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to one’s work. This is a concept that will “leave you less isolated,” and is a practice that is fully being employed at the symposium as scientists, sociologists, poets, anthropologists, and artists are coming together to share ideas and create art.

Hillman’s last concept was the importance of taking direct action. As a social activist, this is something that Hillman finds essential to her art; she cannot separate the two. She called upon participants to become actively involved in creating social change by doing things that might make them uncomfortable. This might simply be calling a local representative or attending a city council meeting, but regardless, Hillman thinks these “uncomfortable” actions can help to destabilize the status quo.

Hillman ended the morning with a “field trip” to look at lichen growing on some rocks on campus. Hillman has always had a fascination with lichen. It is often ignored, but its abstract patterning is actually very beautiful and inspiring. Participants were all given an opportunity to view its beauty up close with a little magnifying glass provided by Hillman.

examining lichen

Brenda Hillman examining some lichen up close!


The afternoon Maker’s Space started with a partner activity using clay. Partners worked together to create representations of some of the problematic words that were discussed in the morning session. The creations were remarkable.

partner clay activity

Starting off the Maker’s Space with a partnership project.

After this activity, participants were set loose to pursue whatever project struck their fancy. Some people sat in the shade and wrote. Others used the clay to create whatever came to their minds. Still others used lichen (from Hillman’s morning session) as their inspiration. It was a creative and productive afternoon.

a sculptor hard at work

Katie Naughton working on a sculpture.

a representation of lichen

A participant creating a representation of lichen.

Following the Maker’s Space session, there was a “field trip” to the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) on campus. Associated with the Federal Department of Agriculture, the NCGRP’s mission is “to acquire, evaluate, preserve and provide a national collection of genetic resources to secure the biological diversity that underpins a sustainable U.S. agricultural economy.” Participants were able to see some of the storage vaults where thousands of seeds are stored and preserved in case of an agricultural crisis. One way that the NCGRP stores these seeds is in cryogenic storage containers, which use liquid nitrogen (-321°F/ -196°C) to preserve germplasm. In fact, the NCGRP is well known for pioneering the use of cryogenic technologies for agricultural genebanks.

liquid nitrogen

Participants reach their hands into a container full of vaporized nitrogen that is used to preserve germplasm.

The field trip to the NGCRP was an interesting contrast to the more artistic activities of the morning and a great way to integrate an interdisciplinary approach to the idea of crisis.

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The Crisis and Creativity Symposium, designed “to reinvigorate the conversation between the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences,” started today (Wednesday July 22nd) as guests from around the country gathered at CSU. Organized by CSU professor Dan Beachy-Quick and made possible with funds from the Monfort Professorship generously awarded to Beachy-Quick, the symposium is focused on bringing together artists, writers, scientists, and scholars from multiple fields, not simply to present ideas already formed, but to gather together and consider new approaches to dealing with today’s most pressing difficulties. Of the symposium, Dan Beachy-Quick says, “Our hope is to re-integrate the Arts into the largest concerns facing us today, from ecological disaster to social injustice, holding to the old belief that in the arts we have the longest, most comprehensive record of what it is to be human and face situations where our humanity is threatened—often by our own hands. We’re concerned with the ways in which creativity, be it in words or in making, experiment in lab or on page, are required to have an open, honest, attentive engagement with the world.”

feeling the clay

Participants enjoying the feel of clay at the Maker’s Space afternoon session.

The guiding metaphor for the symposium is the idea of the home:

“Begin with the house. The idea of it and its basic elements: foundation, threshold, wall, roof. Within the shelter of the home our most basic human dramas—from the philosophical to the personal, from the social to the private—unfold. The house shelters us from the wilderness of the world, refuge from those brute forces whose vitality we depend upon even as we shrink back from their power. Against, or within, the large social structures by which civilization functions, the house provides a sanctuary of more fundamental laws, those of family, and of the privacy of one’s own life separate from the larger concern: place of thought, creativity, procreativity, sleep, and the thousand daily cares that make up the mingled yarn of human life.

But the house is also that symbol that hovers between our private selves and all that exceeds us. And when crisis occurs—“crises” being those events that obliterate the opposition between myself and others, the private and the public, and in which every distinction socially, politically, environmentally, is threatened and begins to break down—the home is also the symbol of that damage. One might say: the walls also come asunder, and where the refuge of home once was, a strange light leaks through the cracks, and others can peer in, just as you can peer out.”

Debby Thompson

Debby Thompson creating her version of “shelter.”

The day’s activities were centered around this symbol of the house and its many meanings. The morning session introduced participants to some of these ideas and was followed by a “Maker’s Space” session in the afternoon. This session was led by Michael Swaine, a core member of an artist collective called Futurefarmers, and Del Harrow, a sculptor and Assistant Professor of Art at CSU.

Participants were first asked to grab a clump of clay and to start thinking about the physical act of touching it and molding it. Del explained that the use of materials and the actual bodily experience of creating something can aid in thinking through things; the material becomes an extension of the mind.

spontaneous poem

A spontaneous poem emerges!

Participants were then asked to design something to represent their idea of “shelter” or “home” using their clay. The range of creations was truly astounding from beehives to trees to strings of clay woven together. Each participant was also asked to come up with one word that would represent his or her creation. After everyone was done, participants stood in a circle with their creations and sequentially stated their word. A spontaneous poem emerged.


The process of printmaking involves a giant group hug as participants all stand on the board to make the imprint.

This poem was then translated onto the sidewalk using chalk after the participants rearranged themselves into relational clusters. Later this sidewalk poetry was translated once again into another format using printmaking. Swaine and Harrow were able to use computer technology to create a giant stamp of the sidewalk poetry. Ink was rolled over the stamp, and about 10 people had to stand on the stamp to press the ink onto the page. It was truly a collaborative creation!

print of sidewalk art

A print version of the sidewalk poetry.

Much of the afternoon was also spent in collaboration with smaller groups as people worked together to synthesize their ideas about what home or shelter meant to them. Participants were given sticks, tape, cardboard and clay to build their visions, and the creations were even more spectacular this time. With two more “Maker’s Spaces” in the coming days, it will be fascinating to see what more will happen!

Click the following link to listen to an audio package featuring Michael Swaine and other participants at the first Maker’s Space session: (the audio clip was compiled by Kylan Rice).

a shelter

Participants creating a collaborative version of “shelter.”

The day ended with a poetry reading by Brenda Hillman in the Morgan Library Courtyard. Brenda is the author of nine collections of poetry: White Dress, Fortress, Death Tractates, Bright Existence, Loose Sugar, Cascadia, Pieces of Air in the Epic, Practical Water, and Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire. Hillman read poems from her “Air,” “Water,” and “Fire” books and also some poems that were inspired by her activism. Part of Hillman’s activism included attending sessions of Congress and doing things to make the senators and representatives uncomfortable as a way to bring attention to the unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although she has lost much faith in our legislative system and no longer makes these excursions to the capitol, she does use “moaning” as another form of protest. (Yes, moaning). For instance, she publicly moans every time she fills her gas tank as a way to make people uncomfortable and to make them think about their choices.

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman reading her poetry.

Hillman’s poetry was lyrically charged, inspiring, and simultaneously sad and humorous. More than anything, she offered a very interesting perspective on creative approaches to a society in crisis, and it was the perfect way to wrap up the first day of the symposium.

For more information on upcoming events in the symposium please visit the symposium’s website:


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Hiking in Gateway Natural Area

Hiking in Gateway Natural Area in the Poudre Canyon Valley

Amanda Memoli recently graduated from the English Education M.A. program at CSU and was hired to teach College Composition (CO150) this coming fall. We are excited to have her!


What are you most excited about for teaching at CSU?

I’m sure this sounds cliché, but I am most excited about getting to know the students. Every class is different, and it’s fun to get to know the personality of each group. I haven’t taught CO 150 for a year, so I’m also excited to try out new strategies and activities. 


What do you like most about teaching in general? 

I enjoy helping students move forward with their writing. When I can see them improve from paper to paper, when I can see the work that they put into this class pay off, it’s a good feeling. I appreciate when students seek me out for support, and I enjoy that the small class atmosphere allows me to form relationships with them.


“I enjoy helping students move forward with their writing. When I can see them improve from paper to paper, when I can see the work that they put into this class pay off, it’s a good feeling.”

Canoeing in Rocky Mt National Park

Canoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park


How would you describe your teaching philosophy?

My teaching style is very student centered. I like to draw on student knowledge and student interests and let that inform my pedagogy and planning of the content. Formative assessment is also a big part of my teaching philosophy. I use a lot of low-stakes assignments to help me assess where my students are and where they need to go. I also think that it’s important for teachers to be reflective of their practice, so I am constantly evaluating how a lesson went and what I can do to improve. 


When you’re not working or teaching what do you like to do? 

In my spare time, I like to run, hike, and practice yoga. Other than that, I love travel, spending time with friends and family, writing and reading. 


What are you doing with your summer before you start teaching? 

I just defended my thesis a week ago, so up until now, I’ve been doing that!  Right now, I’m backpacking through Guatemala for 2.5 weeks. (I´m writing this from a hostel in Santa Cruz.) Other than that, I’ll be visiting family, seeing friends, and catching up on reading. 

Hiking in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan

Hiking in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala



What is something most people at CSU do not know about you? 

In 2011, I walked the Camino de Santiago, a trail that runs 500 miles through northern Spain. 


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When first walking into Swamp Gas and Gossamer: Lost and Found Emporium, my initial reaction was of being transported into some kind of alternate universe, a universe full of quirky creatures and extraordinary machines. And that is exactly the kind of place that the owner and designer, Les Sunde, wants it to be.


Les Sunde in front of Swamp Gas and Gossamer


Swamp Gas and Gossamer is an art installation in Old Town Fort Collins that has been in place for roughly six years. The statement on the front window encapsulates the general feel of the place: “Strange things for strange people. Strangers Welcome.”


When asked why he decided to transform this little shop into a world of wacky creations, Sunde grabbed a giant pole with a net on the end and clamped it over a crystal that was hanging from the ceiling. He explained that this was how he went around ‘catching’ stories and that he wanted to create the things that went along with his stories.

“Strange Things for Strange People. Strangers Welcome.”


One of the many strange pieces inside Swamp Gas and Gossamer

Sunde also explains that his shop has no purpose other than to inspire people and instill them with a sense of childlike wonder and awe. Furthermore, it allows him to build genuine connections and have honest conversations with people who are not motivated by money or self-interest. He wants to show that art is meant to be a way to live and not necessarily a way to make a living.

Sunde truly does live by this statement. His residence in Bellevue, an old school bus, has been converted into a wondrous world full of his many creations. There are even brass horns and whistles and bells on top of the bus that continually play a stream of music for people who pass by.



Inside Swamp Gas and Gossamer

When asked what advice he has for aspiring artists and writers, Sunde said, “Be comfortable enough to be you.” Sunde understands that many people see him as simply “an old kook,” but he reflected that if he had listened to all the things other people told him, he wouldn’t have gotten to where he is today. Sunde also spoke of writing in layers, of building stories that aren’t just surface level, but that have depth and meaning in the details.


If you are experiencing writer’s block or if you feel like you need a bit of wonderment in your life, I recommend heading down to Swamp Gas and Gossamer (located at 218 Pine Street) on a Friday or Saturday night for an experience you won’t forget!





You're never too old to get your letter from Hogwart's

Dr. Pam Coke Running into Platform 9 3/4!

“For me, summer always inflicts an urge to travel. As a young girl, I would help my parents plan our summer vacations, mapping out routes, selecting sites to see. I truly believe that travel is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. It instilled in me a love of learning and a love of exploring.  As a family, we traveled domestically, branching out from Iowa to wherever the open road could take us. I love the United States, but I always wondered what else was out there to see. Over my 13 years at CSU, I have helped numerous students plan study abroad and other international experiences, but I had never experienced those places for myself. Until now.

“I always tell students that in order to be an interesting teacher, you need to be an interesting person, so be sure to make time for yourself and your interests. Hopefully, what I did on my summer vacation will help me be an even more interesting teacher.”

In June 2015, my husband, Ken, and our 11-year-old-son, Rikky, and I took the [first] trip of a lifetime to England and to France, complete with an afternoon in Scotland. For three years, we hosted British soccer coaches in the summer while our son participated in Challenger Soccer Camps (an experience we highly recommend). Each year, the coaches would say, “You should come and visit us sometime.”  Sometime was here.  We began our trip by staying with one of our soccer families (Jim, Sue, and Tom Cosgrove) in Bury, England, just outside of Manchester. We had hosted Tom in August 2013, and we had kept in touch over the years. Their family showed us what England is like from the inside. We toured Ramsbottom by foot. We traveled Bury on bicycles. Rikky had a kickabout with local soccer fans. The Cosgroves threw us a huge party, where their family and friends came to meet “the Americans.” In England, we got to see four soccer venues (Bury stadium, Old Trafford/Manchester United, Stamford Bridge/Chelsea, Emirates/Arsenal). Another of Rikky’s former coaches drove three hours to have lunch with us at one of my tennis pilgrimage sites: Wimbledon, where we enjoyed the coveted strawberries and cream.

As our fellow Harry Potter fans out there can appreciate, we took broomstick flying lessons at Alnwick Castle in North Umberland and we attempted to push a tram through Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station in London. It was a magical trip, indeed.

Dr. Pam Coke Takes Flying Lessons at  Alnwic Castle

Dr. Pam Coke Takes Flying Lessons at Alnwick Castle

For over 40 years, I have dreamed of going to Paris. As an undergraduate student, I earned degrees in both English and French. As an Associate Professor of English Education, I get to speak and write in English every day. At CSU, I am fortunate to get to serve on graduate student committees for French, so I have the occasional opportunity to speak and write in French, but I had never been immersed in the language. As part of our trip, we took the Chunnel from London to Paris. We walked approximately 15 miles per day, seeing Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. We savored ice cream at Berthillon, rumored–and proven–to serve the best ice cream in the world. We got to see one more soccer venue: Parc des Princes/Paris Saint-Germain, and we got to sit centre court at Roland Garros.

The Coke Family underneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris

The Coke Family Underneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris

We came home with our suitcases filled with books and memories. We are already plotting our next adventure, which involves reuniting with the Cosgrove family to visit soccer venues in Spain (Camp Nou/Barcelona!) and Italy. I always tell students that in order to be an interesting teacher, you need to be an interesting person, so be sure to make time for yourself and your interests. Hopefully, what I did on my summer vacation will help me be an even more interesting teacher.”

Dr. Pam Coke visits Roland Garros in Paris

Dr. Pam Coke and her son Rikky Visiting Roland Garros in Paris


Neil FitzPatrick recently graduated from the MFA Fiction Program at CSU and was hired to teach College Composition (CO150) this coming fall. We are excited to have him!


What are you most excited about for teaching at CSU?

I’m just excited about being in the classroom again. I’m feeling a bit rusty from the off-season, so to speak. Plus I taught beginning creative writing last semester (as a graduate student), and I’m looking forward to applying some of the techniques I developed in that class to the CO150 curriculum.

What do you like most about teaching in general?

There are few greater feelings than watching a student or group of students become engaged with a subject and learn/improve over time. I love the feeling of reading a student paper and being surprised or challenged by something that’s on the page. And of course I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the captive audience aspect, the ability to point to something that’s made me think or that I’m excited about and say, “Look! This is great!” or, “This is important!”


“I love the feeling of reading a student paper and being surprised or challenged by something that’s on the page.”


How would you describe your teaching style, your philosophy?

I won’t presume to be able to answer this question yet, especially not in a few sentences. I do believe that students need to be challenged. There’s no quicker way to alienate a classroom than to condescend.

When you’re not working or teaching what do you like to do?

Teaching takes up a lot of time. This will be my first time teaching four sections of CO150, and I’m not optimistic about the amount of free time I’ll have. Some of the time I do have will hopefully be spent writing and reading. I’ve been building up a daily habit this summer. Other than that I’ll be hanging out with friends, cooking with my girlfriend, running, watching too much television/going to movies. I moved here from New York three years ago and discovered pretty quickly that I’m not much for the mountains. I’m working on it.

leslee and neil

Neil FitzPatrick and CSU English Professor Leslee Becker

What are you doing with your summer before you start teaching?

I spent a month this summer taking advantage of a Brooklyn office space that I had as part of A Public Space‘s Emerging Writer Fellowship. I sublet a room in Fort Greene and wrote (or read/researched/submitted/tried to avoid Facebook) for a few hours every day at a desk in the magazine’s offices. I’m trying to finish the collection I started for my MFA thesis. The last couple weeks I spent traveling in the Northeast visiting family and friends. I got back to Colorado yesterday/am looking forward to spending the month writing and prepping for the semester. This rain is bumming me out.

What is something most people at CSU do not know about you?

I think a lot of people know this by now, but I have a twin brother. He’s getting his biology PhD at Columbia. Don’t believe anything he tells you about me.

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The Tenth International Melville Conference recently took place at Keio University (Mita Campus, Tokyo) from June 25 to June 29. The five-day conference (including a day-trip to cities by the sea in Kanagawa Prefecture, reminiscent of the days of Commodore Perry’s Black Ship) invited participants to consider Melville’s deep interest in globalism, the many contexts in which his work has been and continues to be read, and the range of uses to which his writings have been put.

CSU’s own Kylan Rice (pictured below) presented his research, “Knotted Up in Place: Melville and the American Spatial Subject,” and was asked to do a write-up on the conference for the journal Leviathan (which will likely be published in the fall issue).

kylan presenting

CSU Assistant Professor Zach Hutchins (pictured below, second from the left) also presented a piece titled “‘Kith and Kin to Noble Benjamin’: Imitation and the Autobiography of Ishmael,” an extract from one of his current book projects, Melville’s Representative Men. Hutchins also chaired a panel on “Capitalism.”


Hutchins reflected that the most valuable part of his time in Tokyo was the opportunity to meet with likeminded scholars and to make personal connections that will persist beyond the conference.

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