Mind of winter (not)

For me, midwinter is a time of introversion. I’m three weeks into my university’s winter term, so I’m planning and leading discussions and meetings constantly, but they’re usually based on study and solitary thinking–not extroverted stuff, even though there’s a social, performative aspect to the work.

The class based on NEW reading and thinking is an upper-level seminar on Contemporary Poetry. I think of it as a spiral: we start locally, broaden out to work from other countries, and finally cut back to North America again to end with Joy Harjo. The first four weeks are based on books I’ve never taught before: the anthologies Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia and CounterDesecration: A Glossary for Writing Within the Anthropocene, and the very new individual collections White Blood by Kiki Petrosino and The Adjacent Possible by my near neighbor, Julie Phillips Brown. (You’ll see below a poster for a reading this week pairing Julie with my colleague Brenna Womer; February readings are only advisable in iffy winter weather when the authors are REALLY local!) All this was a little ambitious: 10-20% revision of a syllabus is advisable to keep things fresh, but 50% means a lot of work, and it’s not like there’s criticism yet to guide my thinking. Teaching White Blood last week, I didn’t find any reviews that extended my ideas, although they were good. There was, however, an interview with Petrosino in The Adroit that helped enormously. Since the book contains three erasure poems based on an ancestry test, I also had my class try their hands at erasure based on a segment of the university’s website explaining why Washington and Lee is still named after the leader of the Confederate army. One of my students created a particular cutting one, implying that the decision was all about money. His was much better than mine!

For The Adjacent Possible, a philosophical book structured around a seasonal progression, we’re starting with Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man.” I don’t have a coolly objective mind of winter, really–the forthcoming Poetry’s Possible Worlds is a blend of criticism and theory with memoir, for heaven’s sake–but I love the poem, and Julie’s book refracts its ideas.

Last week also saw the publication of a co-interview Ashley M. Jones and I conducted on our most recent poetry books, also in The Adroit. It ranges over place, politics, sonnets, music, and grief. I really like interviews, both reading and participating in them, and I was so glad to see this one find such a fine home.

I’ll see you next as we tick into February. The reading is on St. Brigid’s Day or Imbolc–a word which may mean “in the belly,” as in pregnant ewes–a season that still feels wintry where I live but is, by some reckonings, the beginning of spring. (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s also Groundhog Day, but that holiday has always felt flimsy to me.) I have my mother’s birthday to mark, the first since her death, which is a looking-backward time. I think, though, that I will have news of future emergence as my book enters the design phase, and I start to turn away from all this intensely pensive indoorness.

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