EN228 The Experience of Poetry: Poetry and Spirituality
The Literature and Languages Department has been working extra hard to offer their students many new opportunities to tailor their education to individual interests. For the Spring 2021 semester, Dr. Holly Karapetkova, Arlington’s current Poet Laureate has designed a new course, EN228 The Experience of Poetry: Poetry and Spirituality. You may have seen it advertised on our social media pages! In this course, she will guide her students through an introduction to the formal, stylistic, and thematic elements of poetry. This new year will be incredible for many students, and we are so excited to see everyone returning to classes, however you may choose. The only requirement you’ll need for this LT1 core course is EN102. Register promptly and secure your seat!
For many of us who are new to poetry, its power can seem beyond our reach. At least that’s how I felt until I learned how to navigate the emotion in a poem. See, poetry is not just words structured a certain way on a page. Poetry is a being of sorts, and the words we read become its pulse. It can be happy and make us weep with joy, or it can shatter our minds with pain. Poetry, perhaps, has a bigger job than most literary texts we study because of those reasons. In poetry, we uncover many meanings and face harsh truths about the world it shares with us. Sometimes we even discover new things about ourselves. Learning to experience poetry opens doors into another’s world, and into our own.
Along with the experience of reading poetry, Dr. Karapetkova will help students understand the connection between poetry, reflection, and spirituality. Students will learn how to define poetry, discover new aspects of spirituality, and investigate why poetry and spirituality have been such natural partners across diverse time periods, locations, and faith traditions. We are so proud to have Dr. Karapetkova teaching this class and sharing her specialty with our students!
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In October, Marymount Literature & Languages welcomed Tony Medina–poet and Howard University professor–to campus as our Fall Visiting Poet. We were very excited to welcome him to a virtual event open to everyone. Medina talked about poetry as a means of empowerment and a tool to combat racism. His reading and the Q&A with MU students is hosted on our YouTube channel for the next three months only!
Welcome to our annual Spring Celebration! I’m Dr. Howe, chair of the Department of Literature & Languages, and I’m really proud to be hosting this unconventional celebration of you, your accomplishments, and your bright futures. In normal years—whatever that means… we’re currently recognizing the contingency of “normal”—we do this in person, and we have food, free books, flowers, awards, personalized gifts, and lots of great conversation, including the opportunity to grill an alum who has returned from the field filled with experience and advice. This year, we’re going online (and we’re supporting the US Postal System while we do—so expect happy things in the mail, chosen especially for each of you by your faculty)!
I know this isn’t a great substitute for walking across the stage in your cap and gown, but I hope you find it meaningful. When I put out the call for celebratory videos to our alumni, I was deeply moved to see the results. It reminds me that we are a community, even in—maybe especially in—times of crisis. Several of your faculty have put together congratulatory videos for you, too, and our featured alumni speaker, Ashley Tucker (class of 2016) is here in electronic form to share her wisdom about life after graduation.
It feels like you’re alone on this journey now, but you really do have a network of support in us. I hope you’ll follow the department on social media, where you can find images and snippets from other alums and grads, and generally keep in touch with us.
It has been an interesting year, to say the least. In the fall, we couldn’t have imagined what was in store for us this term. We welcomed spoken word artist and public storyteller Regie Cabico to campus as our Bisson Lecturer in the Humanities; faculty took students to a number of plays and other events; we had two students—including one of our 2020 grads!—attend the inaugural Women’s Leadership Summit in Richmond; former creative writing faculty Katherine Zlabek returned for a reading from her new book of short stories; and so much more. Dr. K live recorded a talk on poetry of witness for the DelMarVa Public Radio; Dr. Rippy was honored with a research stipend for her work on Orson Welles; and Caren Colley-Trowbridge, who teaches French for us, earned an excellence in teaching award from the School of Design, Arts, and Humanities.
Since the COVID-19 lockdown, we’ve all learned a ton about time management, digital literacy, remote teamwork, and those key skills and attitudes about grit and persistence. We’ve also learned so much about the value of creativity and communication—in isolation, we come face to face with the work that art does. I hope you all continue to read, write, and explore, this summer and beyond. This is a challenging time to graduate, and it’s not what you expected; our economy today makes the prospect of entering the workforce even more daunting.
But, you have everything you need to flourish in the new world we’re entering. You’re curious, and you don’t take the party line at face value. You can write, you can research and distinguish good information from bad, you see the need we have for thoughtful, empathetic communication, you’re flexible and critical, and you can look at the world in creative, unconventional ways.
I won’t go into that all, though, because I really can’t do it any better than the alumni you’ll see tonight. So instead, I’ll get our unconventional Spring Celebration started with a poem, an example of the value of looking closely and finding just the right words to untangle the complexities of human experience.
This is a poem by Mary Oliver, an American poet who died in January of 2019, called “Starlings in Winter.” I chose it because it speaks to our reality now. We are individuals on our own, but also essential parts of a larger whole—the poem has a message of deep hope and resilience and taking inspiration from dark things into an unknown future.
Starlings in Winter
Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
Congratulations, Class of 2020. May you be improbable, beautiful, and afraid of nothing—may you go forth and think of dangerous and noble things.
On March 2, 2020, fiction writer Katherine Zlabek joined us in the Barry Gallery to read from her new collection of short stories and discuss fiction and the writing life with Marymount students.
A native of rural Wisconsin, Zlabek holds an MFA from Western Michigan University and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati, where she was a Taft Dissertation Fellow and a recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award. Her story collection, WHEN, winner of The Journal’s 2018 Non/Fiction Collection Prize, is now out from The Ohio State University Press. Her stories and essays have appeared in Boulevard,The Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, and other journals. Ricochet Editions published her chapbook, LET THE RIVERS CLAP THEIR HANDS, in 2015. She currently teaches writing and literature at Gannon University in Pennsylvania.
Zlabek’s writing is tender and haunting, wonderful and strange. She brings the Midwest, a section of the country often overlooked and underestimated, onto the page with dignity and wonder. The stories are full of surprises that make us question everything we thought we knew. A bull’s heart cooking in a crockpot, the head of a black bear cub wrapped up in a crate in an abandoned house, images that seem magical but that are utterly grounded in the real world of her characters’ fascinating lives. The normal here is anything but normal, and as we move through their various stories we find ourselves drawn into the mystery and beauty that is our shared humanity.
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Spring 2020 fittingly witnessed the 20th anniversary of the Shades of Blue student-faculty poetry reading! On February 19th, we were very proud to showcase work by poets, scholars, and students from the Marymount community, including Holly Karapetkova, Michael Boylan, Caroline Bock, Christina Clark, Phineas Anaba, Veda Frye, Kembry McNeil-Thompson, Hanan Seid, Kimbily Warner, and Susan Mockler. Congratulations to all our poets and readers!
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