Deep Song Poetry Reading: Matthew Guenette

By Victoria Pan

A lot of people think of poetry as something loftier and more inaccessible than prose. Despite its relative concision, it’s somehow still intimidating, with its stanzas and line breaks organized in a way that makes some feel like they need a cryptography degree just to figure out what’s going on. Matthew Guenette used to feel the same way before he got into writing, calling all the poetry he read in school “old” and “faraway”.

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Matthew Guenette

If that’s the case, then his poetry is modern and immediate, featuring everyday life in all of its questionable glory. Guenette’s first writing inspirations were comics, and it shows in his poetry. His is a humor that a more highbrow reviewer would call “earthy”, which really just means he’s not afraid to get elbows-deep into life’s sh*t, sometimes literally. Case in point: his new chapbook, American Busboy, is based on his experiences busing tables to get through college. It contains moments that personally, as someone currently working at a restaurant to get through college, made me say “Oh, my God” out loud.

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Ruta Sepetys Speaks to English Majors

On Tuesday, September 26, bestselling author and recent Carnegie Medal recipient Ruta Sepetys spoke to an intimate gathering of BU English majors. Over the course of ninety minutes, she regaled aspiring writers with inspiring stories of her transition from the music business into life as a hugely successful young adult novelist

Sepetys, the author of Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy, and Salt to the Sea, began by explaining how her 22 years in the music industry telling others’ stories through writing press releases and artist biographies led eventually to the realization that she had her own story to tell. As a child of a Lithuanian refugee who had fled from his home in 1940, she knew part of that story through her father, whose harrowing tales of last-minute escapes and of long years in refugee camps–and of their relatives who did not make it out alive–gave her a starting point for what eventually became her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, which has been translated into 37 languages and published in 53 countries.

The successful publication of her Between Shades of Gray, however, had its own long history, including the emotionally difficult research involving interviews with survivors of Stalin’s takeover; the 16 painstaking revisions she undertook before submission; the excruciating wait before hearing from publishers after submission; and the 4 year additional wait between selling the novel and its publication in 2011.

Sepetys also discussed the value of archives in historical research, but emphasized the importance in making human connections, like the garrulous retired New Orleans mobster she interviewed for her second novel, Out of the Easy. “Hunting for hidden histories,” as she termed it, also led her to the subject of her most recent novel, Salt to the Sea, which chronicles Germany’s Operation Hannibal during World War II and the single largest maritime disaster in human history.

For Ruta Sepetys, “telling stories for the true witnesses” has become her life’s calling. Throughout her talk and the question and answer session that followed, she emphasized finding her literary voice and rhythm; being open about what she is working on (it has helped her find people and resources she needed); revising continually, even while she is doing readings of her own work; and, most importantly of all for aspiring writers, “getting my butt in the chair” to produce good work.

 

 

 

Dead Poets Society Holds Inaugural Meeting

No, there was no secret cave, and no, it wasn’t just a bunch of sheltered prep school boys. But Whitman was read, and Lincoln was mentioned…

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Dr. Marcia McDonald reads from “The Wanderer”

Last Friday morning a group of students and faculty met to read poems related to the theme of “Home and Exile” in anticipation of the next week’s Humanities Symposium. After memorializing the building that used to sit on the site (our old home, Wheeler Humanities), Dr. David Curtis got the main event started by reading Edgar Albert Guest’s “Home.”

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Max Mason lays down some Blake

By the end of the 45-minute session, participants had read poems by William Blake, Edwin Arlington Robinson, William Butler Yeats, Claude McKay, Anne Sexton, Jack Gilbert, Emma Lazarus, Walt Whitman, Philip Larkin, Kenneth Burke, and even Abraham Lincoln.

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The next meeting of the Dead Poets Society will be in the old Aviary on October 20, when we’ll be celebrating the poetry of–and about–Edgar Allan Poe.

Local Event Highlight: 2017 Tennessee Writing Workshop

By Charlsie Johnson

On Saturday, July 22nd, Writing Day Workshops hosted the annual Tennessee Writing Workshop at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Nashville Cool Springs. The summer 2017 event’s focus: “How to Get Published,” consisted of a full day of instructional meetings, pitch schedules, personal critiques with literary agents or editors, and an opportunity to not only ask questions about writing and publication, but also to communicate with 150 fellow writing peers.

The writing day was organized into five, one and a half hour sessions, split between three different conference rooms at the hotel. During these meetings, attendees were able to come and go in accordance to their personal pitch or critique schedules that they registered for online before the event. General admission includes attendance at any of the instructional meetings with the opportunity to pay extra for a 10 minute, one-on-one meeting with a literary agent to pitch original work, an in-depth critique of a one page query letter, or an in-depth personal critique of the first 10 pages of an original novel. All registration and pricing information can be found on the website, as well as an explanation for each critique option.

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The 2017 schedule was jam-packed with very helpful and interesting sessions including: “An Overview of Your Publishing Options Today,” “The Art of Voice: How to Make Your Writing Come to Life,” “Writer’s Got Talent: A Page One Critique Fest,” and “Ten Keys to Writing Success.” Each session was led by a notable writer or representative from a publishing house that spoke about topics related to their experience with a specific aspect of craft or genre. Some of the speakers included freelance editor and author, Chuck Sambuchino, speculative fiction author, C. J. Redwine, and editor, author, publisher, Madeline Smoot.

The sessions covered many genres such as, Young Adult/Middle Grade Fiction, Memoir, Fantasy/Science Fiction, and Romance, while also instructing on helpful topics like, Self-Publishing, Agents and Query Letters, Revision/Self-Editing, and Self-Marketing your original writing. Participating in the event’s headline and most popular session, “A Page One Critique Fest,” were: Beth Phelan from The Bent Agency, Cate Hart from Corvisiero Literary, Mike Parker from WordCrafts Press, Lauren MacLeod from The Strothman Agency, and several other literary agents and editors. In this session, attendees were encouraged to print and anonymously submit multiple copies of the first page of an original novel they are currently working on, in order to receive conference-style feedback, without the pressure of a one-on-one meeting. This was an invaluable experience for those attendees that are seeking an honest critique from a number of literary agents and editors who represent literary agencies with different content focuses. Continue reading “Local Event Highlight: 2017 Tennessee Writing Workshop”

Dr. McDowell Delivers Simmons Lecture

by Amanda Nicklaus

On Monday, April 17, students and faculty gathered in the Massey Boardroom to listen to Dr. Gary McDowell speak as part of the Robert E. Simmons Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series. The Series, named in memory of the former Dean of the School of Humanities and Education, provides faculty members in the College of Arts & Sciences an opportunity to share significant research with colleagues. Simmons Lecturers are chosen based on a “high level of teaching and level of accomplishments,” according to current Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Bryce Sullivan. McDowell certainly fits this description. Holding a Ph.D. in American literature, creative writing, and poetry, he is an accomplished author, with publications including seven books, 150 poems, six critical essays, and eleven interviews, as well as having over fifty awards to his name.

Dr. Gary McDowell speaks in Simmons Lecture Series
Dr. Gary McDowell (photo credit: Sam Simpkins)

His lecture, titled “On Being One on Whom Nothing is Lost: A Writer in Search of a Genre,” outlined McDowell’s writing journey as he tried his hand at several different genres. He knew he wanted to tell stories, he said, but a professor in grad school, upon reading one of his short stories, told him bluntly, “You’re not good at this.” She did, however, suggest trying poetry, and McDowell’s love of language moved him forward, this time satisfying his affinity for storytelling through the intentional, colorful language of poetry. Continue reading “Dr. McDowell Delivers Simmons Lecture”

Dr. Pinter Talks Fantasy Tropes, Concludes Spring Speakers Series

By Jacqueline Karneth

Last Friday, April 7th, Dr. Robbie Pinter gave a presentation entitled “Thresholds, Portals, and Crossovers: Fantasy Tropes in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia and George MacDonald’s Lilith.” In this final installment of the Spring Speakers series, students were grabbing every seat available, anxiously awaiting a discussion of a genre sometimes forgotten in academic literature: fantasy.

Dr. Robbie Pinter
Dr. Robbie Pinter

In a room full of Narnia fans, Dr. Pinter began her speech by describing her own experience with liminal spaces. She recalled driving to work one day when she noticed something en route that disrupted her usual routine. She saw three men sitting by a gas station, staring into the distance as if they knew something that she didn’t. She thought they were seeing something that her eyes could not access, or her brain could not process. Pinter remembers this experience as a liminal one: not entirely other-worldly, but as a point of crossover between this world and another one.

While most Millennials are familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia, not too many are aware of one of the inspirations for the iconic wardrobe. Dr. Pinter enriched the minds of Belmont’s fantasy fans with her discussion of MacDonald’s Lilith, a novel that C.S. Lewis recognized as having influenced his Narnia series. Pinter noted that although Lilith is lesser known in modern culture, it holds a symbolic weight in fantasy fiction that deserves our attention. MacDonald’s novel uses liminal spaces such as those that we see permeating our favorite fantasy tales today in The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Doctor Who, and even the Netflix original, Stranger Things. Continue reading “Dr. Pinter Talks Fantasy Tropes, Concludes Spring Speakers Series”

Tiana Clark Reads From First Chapbook

by Max Mason
“What is left whispering in us when we have stopped trying to become the other?” is the last line of “Equilibrium,” the eponymous poem of Tiana Clark’s 2016 chapbook, which she read from during Belmont’s second Deep Song Reading Series this semester. On Thursday, April 6th, in the Janet Ayers Conference Room, Tiana shared her stories, answered questions from the audience, and asked questions of her own. Extra chairs were provided to accommodate the crowd, which was deathly silent as she read her work.
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Tiana Clark
Professor Gary McDowell gave an introduction, which he started by claiming something he knew: among them that evening was “one of the brightest lights in contemporary American poetry.” McDowell mentioned that April is National Poetry Month and that in spirit of that, the selfless act of “championing each other’s work” could be considered one of the most difficult things that poets do for each other. He then complimented Tiana for being such a positive influence on those who know her, and described her as “a marvel of both as a poet and as a literary citizen.” After reading through her bio, he repeated his point: “Like I said, a marvel of literary citizenship.”
True to herself on the mic, Tiana was honest and made the crowd laugh when she asked, “So how many of you came for the convocation credit?” When one girl raised her hand, Tiana said she appreciated her honesty. Later on during the reading, she asked another honest question: “So does anyone have daddy issues in the audience?” When one girl raised her hand, she dedicated her next poem, “A Blue Note for Father’s Day,” to her.
She started the reading with a “brand-spanking” new poem called “Eight-hundred Days in Claymation,” about a young man, Kalief Browder, who was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack that he didn’t steal and who was sent to Rikers Island where he stayed for three years without trial. He spent about eight-hundred days in solitary confinement, and whenever he was taken out, he was severely beaten. Starting with the line, “it rained inside me,” she wrote her poem about Kalief’s suicide and her reluctance
to watch the documentary of his story.
The next poem she read came from Equilibrium, called “Broken Ghazal for Walter Scott.” She explained that a ghazal is an ancient Persian poem that comes in many forms, but can function as a kind of prayer. She calls her poem a broken Ghazal because she likes to deviate from form in her poems. The poem is about Walter Scott, who was shot by a police man who lied on his police report when he claimed that Scott reached for his taser. She said the poem was also about how social media affects our brain. “We can see what someone ate yesterday, we can see a beautiful baby, and then we see these youtube videos now where we see people dying, and sometimes it’s all at one time,” she said.

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