What Poetry Can Tell Us about Pain, and What It Can’t – An Interdisciplinary Discussion

Speaking Pain_v2Pain is personal, yet it constantly speaks. Professor Willard Spiegelman, Hughes Distinguished Professor of English, will lecture on the ways that poets have articulated the inexpressible dimensions of pain, demonstrating the power of the poetic idiom to say what those in pain cannot. Professor Spiegelman will be joined by Thomas Mayo (Law), Robert Howell (Philosophy), and Rhonda Blair (Theater) who will place the poetic against the linguistic and performative demands of their own disciplines. How do actors, lawyers, and philosophers work with the inexpressible quality of pain? How does pain function in a court of law or on a stage?

Join us for an interdisciplinary discussion of the languages of pain.

Willard Spiegelman is the Hughes Professor of English at SMU, the longtime editor-in-chief of Southwest Review, the author or editor of ten books and hundreds of essays and reviews, and a contributor to the Leisure and Arts pages of The Wall Street Journal. He grew up in a medical family. His focus in this seminar will be on the way poets try to capture and communicate—through metaphor and indirection—the essential incommunicability of physical and mental pain.


Thursday, April 11, 2013 4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Fondren Science, Room 133

Organized by the Medicine & Humanities Fellows Seminar

For more information, visit www.smu.edu/Dedman.dcii


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News and Notes

newsnotes1Kenneth Brewer, Lecturer, read a paper, “Interrogating Autobiographical Art: Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale” at the Southwest/Texas Popular and American Cultures Association Regional Meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, February 13-16, 2013. He also chaired the session “Biography, Autobiography, Memoir, and Personal Narrative: Critical Analysis.”

Southern Illinois UP is reissuing a revised paperback edition of Aristotle’s Voice by Professor Jasper Neel.

Assistant Professor Jayson Gonzale Sae-Saue has an article forthcoming from American Literature: “Aztlán’s Asians: Forging and Forgetting Crossracial Relations in the Chicana/o Literary Imagination.”

Associate Professor Lisa Siraganian has won the award for the best essay published in the Williams Review (issue 28, 1-2) for her essay entitled “Modern Glass: How Williams Reframed Duchamp’s Window.”

Professor Willard Spiegelman published several essays in the Yale Review and the Virginia Quarterly Review: “Has Poetry Changed: The View from the Editor’s Desk” and “Kay Ryan’s Delicate Strength” (VQR), both picked up by the on-line “Poetry Daily”; “Some Words on Silence” and a long review of Timothy Donnelly’s The Cloud Corporation (Yale Review). He writes regularly for Opera News and The Wall Street Journal, and he serves as a judge for the Christian Gauss Prize of Phi Beta Kappa. He is also on the advisory board of the Guggenheim and Bogliasco Foundations.

newsnotes2Lori Ann Stevens, Lecturer, was invited to write a libretto for a commissioned opera. After some research, she chose to recount the life of Evariste Galois, a 19th century mathematician who died in a duel at the age of twenty. The evening before his death, he revised a math proof, essentially creating group theory, which fundamentally changed the field of mathematics. Composer Helgi Ingvarrson will complete the score, and the opera will be performed in London at the Courtauld Gallery Museum later this year.

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LitFest 2013 Schedule

WordSpace Student Readings at LitFest

Wednesday, March 20th McCord Auditorium in Dallas Hall, 6:30pm

Student Writers will read their work from Greenhill School, Hockaday School, Prometheus Academy, Dallas Poetry Youth Slam, Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet, Yavneh Academy, and Texans CAN Academy.


Thursday, March 21st

Readings by Debra Spark

DeGolyer Library, 6pm

Debra Spark has authored four books of fiction, including The Pretty Girl, a collection of stories, and Good for the Jews,and the non-fiction collection Curious Attractions: Essays on Fiction Writing. She is a professor atColby College and teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Friday, March 22nd

Readings by Alix Ohlin and Alan Michael Parker

DeGolyer Library, 3pm

Alan Michael Parker has authored seven collections of poetry, including Long Division, which won the 2012 North Carolina Book Award. He teaches at Davidson College and the Queens University low-residency M.F.A. program. Alix Ohlin is the author of The Missing Person, and Babylon and Other Stories. Her latest collection, Signs and Wonders, and a novel, Inside, were published on June 5, 2012. Alix lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, teaching at Lafayette College and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.


Friday, March 22nd

Readings by Vievee Francis

DeGolyer Library, 6pm

Honors for Tatjana Soli’s bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, include New York Times Notable Book, finalist for the LA Times Book Award, and winner of the James Tait Black Prize. Her second book, The Forgetting Tree, is a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Vievee Francis is the author of two books of poetry, Blue-Tail Fly and Horse in the Dark. Her work appears in Best American Poetry 2010, and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. She is associate editor for Callaloo: A Journal of African Diasporic Arts & Letters.

Saturday, March 23rd

Readings by Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Natalie Serber

DeGolyer Library, 2pm

Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s The Last Time I saw Amelia Earhart won the 2006 Connecticut Book Award in Poetry and was shortlisted for the Northern California Book Award. Her second collection, Apocalyptic Swing, was a finalist for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. An instructor at the California College of Arts and Warren Wilson College, Gabrielle also runs the Best American Poetry Blog. Natalie Serber’s work was shortlisted for Best American Short Stories. She teaches writing in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her family. Natalie’s new book is Shout Her Lovely Name.

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Curricular Changes Aid Student Achievement

curriculumThis fall 2012, incoming first-year, first-semester students began enjoying a new curriculum designed to help them achieve the most during their time at SMU. Driven by a yearlong university-wide review by faculty and staff, the English Department’s implementation began with the First-Year Writing Program’s transformation into “Discernment and Discourse” and within the creative writing specialization.

Other changes in the specialization, according to David Haynes, director of the program, include the addition of an Introduction to Creative Writing course that devotes equal time to the theory and writing of fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction, and the availability of themed courses, such as speculative fiction. Field experience that might include research, teaching, or an internship is also being offered.

All students pursuing the specialization will complete a culminating project that they may submit for consideration of “Distinction” or graduation with Honors in English. Other curricular changes include a new requirement and a new innovation: all students, regardless of incoming high school AP credit, must take at least one course in D & D and two other writing intensive courses beyond the first year; and in some instances, courses may “double count.” A course taught in the English Department might, for example, simultaneously satisfy requirements for both “Creativity and Aesthetics” and “Historical Contexts.”

“We’re keeping an open mind,” says Department Chair Nina Schwartz. “We’ll make changes if and when they are necessary. But for right now, we are pleased with the new offerings and are excited by the participation of our faculty and the response of our students.”

Charlie Lewis

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An English Major, Unmasked

For most of my time as a first year student, I was an English major in hiding. Occasionally when a classmate or friend had the audacity to ask something like, “Why are you in an English class; I thought you had AP credit?” or “Isn’t that for English majors??” I would then proudly produce my fool proof reply, something to the tune of “Well I’m Pre-Law, and everyone knows that English is good preparation for law school, with the reading and writing and all that.” This was enough to satisfy even the most persistent questioners, be they parents or students. As my college journey continued though, the “reading and writing and all that” became more and more important to me, while becoming a lawyer became less so; perhaps it had never been important at all. Today I tell people my major is English, with no qualifier. And no, I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to “do with it.” It’s a great department with top-notch professors and fascinating classes that I truly enjoy – let that be explanation enough for now.

-Preston Hutcherson

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Weisenburger Relishes a Much Darker Rainbow

WeisenburgerBring together two for whom Thomas Pynchon is both preoccupation and occupation, and what ensues is a creative and intellectual production that evidences two heads being better than one. Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination & Freedom, co-authored by Steven Weisenburger, Mossiker Chair in Humanities and Professor of English at SMU, and Luc Herman, Professor of American Literature and Narrative Theory of the University of Antwerp, Belgium, studies the place in American cultural and political history of the novel many critics regard as one of the 20th century’s greatest. Published forty years ago this February, Gravity’s Rainbow challenged readers

with extensive references to modern science, history, and culture while bending the rules for narrative art and, as Herman and Weisenburger show, satirically taunting U.S. obscenity and pornography statutes. “Pynchon expanded our sense of what the novel could be,” says Weisenburger. He and co-author Herman situate Pynchon’s work in “Long Sixties” history—anti-war efforts, freedom struggles, free speech crusades, and critiques of late-modern forms of domination—and offer a theoretically and historically informed approach to the novel’s main characters and storylines. “This study realizes a much darker Gravity’s Rainbow than critics have been willing to see,” Weisenburger says. While solidly grounded in relevant scholarship, Weisenburger and Herman have written for both scholars and Pynchon’s worldwide audience, including users of Weisenburger’s previous book: A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon’s Novel. Weisenburger says, “Luc and I wanted to produce a strong, new critical study—and relish Pynchon’s dark humor.”

Charlie Lewis

Prof. Weisenburger thanks Dedman College for its support during his Fall 2012 research leave and for funding provided by the Mossiker Chair in Humanities, which enabled work in the Huntington Library (San Marino, CA), the Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley), and the Ransom Library (at UT-Austin).

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2nd Annual English Graduate Student Conference

March 23, 2013 – “The Place of Literature: Fictional Geographies and Literary Constructions of Space.”

Participants at this conference will explore the significance of space, place, and geography in literature. Dorsey Armstrong, Associate Professor of English at Purdue University, will serve as the conference’s keynote speaker.


Sponsored by the Department of English and Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute.

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Literary March Madness: Festival and Awards

litfestThis spring, the Department of English brings together students, faculty, and the Dallas community-at-large in a literary version of March Madness. Its annual three-day SMU Literary Festival and celebration of Creative Writing Awards begins Thursday, March 21, and runs through Saturday, March 23. A complete schedule is available on page 2 and online at smu.edu/litfest.

For the second consecutive year, DFW area high schoolers participating in WordSpace Student Readings will open the festivities. The students, from public, private, parochial, home-schooled or out of school programs at Hockaday, Yavneh Academy, Greenhill School, Texans CAN Academies,

Prometheus Academy, Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts, and Dallas Poetry Youth Slam, will deliver their readings in McCord Auditorium in Dallas Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20. After the readings, the students will discover which two individuals, selected by a panel of SMU professors, will win the $500 first prize and $250 runner-up scholarships funded by Big iDeas at SMU. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend. After the energy and excitement of the opening festivities, the three-day SMU Literary Festival is a guaranteed slam-dunk, with author receptions and readings that are also free and open to the public and held in the Stanley Marcus reading room of DeGolyer Library. SMU creative writing students will enjoy three days of workshops and opportunities to meet oneon- one with the festival’s lineup of award-winning poets and prose writers.

On Saturday, at a luncheon prior to the festival’s final reading, the Department will honor the SMU student writing contest winners and award The David R. Russell Poetry Award and The SMU Prize for Prose, and will announce those selected by faculty for The Margaret Terry Crooks Award for outstanding creative writing student and The Lon Tinkle Scholarship awarded to a rising senior.

Charlie Lewis

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NoViolet Bulawayo

Check out this fascinating interview with award-winning author NoViolet Bulawayo, who will be speaking at SMU on April 4th!


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Reyna Grande: The Other Side of Immigration

Reyna Grande

Reyna Grande, finalist for the National Critics Circle Book Award for her poignant memoir The Distance Between Us (Atria Books, 2012), will discuss “The Price of Being an American” — bearing witness to illegal immigration from an emotional and psychological perspective — at SMU at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, in Dallas Hall’s McCord Auditorium. The event will be free and open to the public.

Department of English Professor Martha Satz recently reviewed Grande’s work for The El Paso Times. Following is an excerpt from that review.

By Martha Satz

Reyna Grande recounts a heartbreakingly sad account of her childhood in her memoir, The Distance Between Us, the anguish of which is magnified because she shares her fate with millions of other Mexican children.

Grande details a new contemporary psychological mythology, an inversion of the ancient Hispanic tale of La Llorana, the figure who steals children from their parents. In contrast, she catalogues the inverted dynamics of “El Otro Lado” (“The Other Side”), a villainous force that lures parents to desert their children. However, Reyna’s sad story is not only typical but also unique because she and her siblings are abandoned not only once, but sequentially—her parents leave and return only to leave again. And the children have been forsaken emotionally as well as physically.

The Distance Between Us by Reyna GrandeAfter the parents leave, they seemingly have forgotten the ages or sizes of their son and daughters—sending clothes too small and toys too babyish, an occurrence that leads to the poignant scene of children curling up their toes so that they may wear the new shoes their parents have sent without it hurting so much.

Grande interweaves her tales with the fairytales she reads as a child to make sense of her life, “Hansel and Gretel” and “The Three Little Pigs.” She feels as alone and helpless as Gretel wandering in the forest and wonders if unlike the three little pigs she will have to face the wolf alone without the strong brick house and her father shielding her. Indeed, her life has an archetypal fairy tale quality of suffering. She and her brother and sister are left with a harsh and unloving grandmother, who indulges the other child living in the household, her cousin, while inflicting such harsh treatment on her and her siblings as dousing their hair with kerosene to rid them of lice.

This book is painful to read. It is full of the longing and desperation of the abandoned child for her parents’ love, denied her because of her parents’ ambitions to have a better life and because of their emotional and psychological inadequacies. Her father is an alcoholic, and her mother, left by her husband in the United States for a woman who is an American citizen, returns an emotionally depleted woman unable to love her own children.

Reyna Grande has proved herself to be a talented and poetic writer in her two published and critically acclaimed novels, Dancing with Butterflies, and Across a Hundred Mountains, but in this memoir she writes in a simpler and more straightforward way, evincing the language and viewpoint of the child. The emotional toll proves more exacting for the reader for its stark and limited childish perspective. Her words bore straight into the childhood self of the reader, eliciting an empathetic throb for an unanswered cry for love.

Discussions and headlines concerning illegal immigrants pervade our sensibilities. However, politicians and the public grapple with the issue on a macro level, discussing such things as economics and the labor force. But Grande gives her readers a different lens with which to view these matters, the very personal and familial one. Reading this book complicates and deepens our understanding of what immigration entails for all involved, and we can only be grateful for this writer who is willing to candidly reveal her grief, preserve an openness and acceptance of her parents, and graphically paint a picture of material and emotional poverty so devastating that it cries for our understanding and empathy.


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