Sheri-Marie Harrison on Lorna Goodison’s “For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength)”

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Professor Sheri-Marie Harrison


My name is Sheri-Marie Harrison, I teach in the English Department, and I’ve been at MU since 2008. I’m a prose fiction scholar who admires many poems, but has genuine fondness for only Lorna Goodison’s poems. My favorite Goodison poem is “For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength)”, which I hadn’t actually read since I taught it in my first course here at MU. When I went to read it for the task at hand, I noticed the page was marked with a rare book collection request form that dates back to my undergraduate days at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. Today, just under two decades since I worked on the poem for an assignment in Edward Baugh’s “Love Death and Poetry” course, its place continues to be marked with a relic from that time. Back then, I not only found pleasure in its story that resonated with my own experience, but found in these moments of pleasure my first inclination for further research and critical discovery. Continue reading “Sheri-Marie Harrison on Lorna Goodison’s “For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength)””

Michael Kardos talks Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain”

michael kardos
Michael Kardos, PhD 2007 (photo by Megan Bean / Mississippi State University)

On the first day of an M.F.A. fiction-writing workshop during my first year of graduate school, a professor handed out copies of Tobias Wolff’s short story “Bullet in the Brain” for everyone to read. This was in 2000, and Wolff’s story collection The Night in Question, in which this story appears, had been published just a few years earlier; consequently, the story was unfamiliar to most of us. A brief story, it took each of us just eight or ten minutes to read. As we read to ourselves, you knew where in the story each of us was by our similar reactions: the laughs (more accurately, the giggles) near the beginning, then the intake of breath halfway through the story, then some whoa-like utterance at the end. Whoa as in, That was not what I saw coming. Whoa as in, I didn’t know you were allowed to write a story that way. Continue reading “Michael Kardos talks Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain””

Sara Strong reflects on A.R. Ammon’s “Reflective”

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Sara Strong, BA 2011

I’ve been a collector of tchotchkes since I was a kid. My grandmothers are to blame for this. One had an upright piano with porcelain trinkets scattered over its lace-draped top; the other, a shadow-box overflowing with salt and pepper shakers. They converted me early, conspiring to fill what little shelf-space I could spare with an assortment of jewelry boxes, milk-glass, and dolphin figurines (it was the 90s). So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I, in turn, have come to collect poems that are formally compact—though the shelf-space they take up doesn’t always correspond to their heft.

A.R. Ammons, that inveterate master of both the extremely long and extremely short poem, is behind one of my favorite short poems, called “Reflective.” Its 12 tightly-cropped lines, minimalist diction, and proximity to tautology (say that 6 times fast) come together in a piece I have long since memorized, and continue to obsess over. With the tiniest of gestures, Ammons mirrors mirroring, finding the self in nature, and nature in the self. To me, it’s a kind of thesis for what it means to be human—one that is both a part of nature and a being removed from it, that can examine both self and environment. It’s a reminder that feeling as though you’re in some sort of zone between one state of being and another is a perfectly normal side-effect of existence. And for a person who has undergone transition after transition in the last few years, that is no small comfort.

from Reflective
A.R. Ammons

I found a
that had a

mirror in it

Read the whole poem online at The Poetry Foundation.

Sara Strong graduated with her BA in English from the University of Missouri in 2011, and completed her MFA in poetry at Vanderbilt University in 2014. She is currently the Assistant to the Director of Creative Writing in the MU Department of English and serves as the Literature Section Editor of The New Territory magazine.

Banner photo by Larry Strong.

Lynnanne Baumgardner wakes up to Mary Oliver’s “Morning Poem”

Lynnanne Baumgardner

I’m Lynnanne Welch Baumgardner. My English studies at Mizzou happened years ago but literature still enriches my life daily. A few years ago at an especially painful time in my life, a dear friend sent me two of Mary Oliver’s poems that were meaningful and comforting. That led me to read more of this prize-winning poet’s work and learn more about her life. Continue reading “Lynnanne Baumgardner wakes up to Mary Oliver’s “Morning Poem””

Brushing up on Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” with Jessica Garratt

Jessica Garratt, Ph.D. 2011

The story of my introduction to Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” begins with a moment of embarrassment in a University of Missouri classroom. I was a brand new PhD student in the Creative Writing program, a little unsure of myself, and sitting in my very first poetry workshop there. We’d just begun to discuss a poem I’d turned in called “Brooklyn, February,” when one of my classmates said, “I think we certainly need to start by considering this poem’s conversation with Whitman and ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’…” Oh, that dreadful moment!—when a chink in your knowledge threatens to be exposed, in the very worst of settings, and your heart begins to run. I had never read “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” and suddenly knew this meant I knew almost nothing. Luckily I wasn’t asked to speak about Whitman’s influence on my work. But later that night, you can be sure I read his poem!

Continue reading “Brushing up on Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” with Jessica Garratt”

Susan Bentzinger on Elephants, Apples, and Sylvia Plath

Susan Bentzinger
Susan Bentzinger; BA 1972, MA 1973, Ph.D. (Medieval Lit) 1979

I came to Mizzou in 1968, and earned an AB in English in 1972. I then stayed on for an MA (1973) and PhD (Medieval Lit, 1979). I live in Cincinnati, and am currently Steering Committee Chair for the Mizzou English Department Leaders Board.

It’s hard to claim that this poem, Sylvia Plath’s “Metaphors,” is my “favorite.” It was, however, my favorite one to teach in Intro to Poetry, back in the day. Continue reading “Susan Bentzinger on Elephants, Apples, and Sylvia Plath”

William Kerwin on “Who Goes with Fergus” by William Butler Yeats

Professor Bill Kerwin
Professor Bill Kerwin

My name is William Kerwin, and I currently teach in the English Department at MU; I’ve been teaching here since 1997.

The poem below is not one of my favorite poems. Not now, anyway—it seems a little melodramatic. But it probably drew me into poetry, and I still like it. I think I read this first when I was a political science major at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass, feeling not attached enough to that discipline. Literature was my other pull; I had long had a strong connection with fiction and drama, but poetry, especially modern poetry, seemed out of reach. I couldn’t go there. Continue reading “William Kerwin on “Who Goes with Fergus” by William Butler Yeats”

Penelope Pelizzon on Marianne Moore’s “Dock Rats”

V. Penelope Pelizzon is the author of two books of poetry: Whose Flesh Is Flame, Whose Bone Is Time (2014) and Nostos (2000), which won the Hollis Summers Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. She is also the co-author, with Nancy M. West, of Tabloid, Inc.: Crimes, Newspapers, Narratives (2010). Pelizzon’s writing has received awards including an Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, a Lannan Foundation Writing Residency Fellowship, and a
V. Penelope Pelizzon, Ph.D. 1998

In 1998, I finished my Ph.D. at MU. My husband also did his MA (1996) in the English Department, and it’s hard to believe it was pushing twenty years ago that we flirted with each other from our separate TA cubicles in the basement of Tate Hall. Few days pass in which we don’t use something we learned there, whether it’s in my work as a poet and professor at the University of Connecticut, or his as a poet-diplomat posted over the last decade in Italy, Syria, Namibia, and now at the UN.

The Marianne Moore poem I’m sharing isn’t one of her most famous; in fact, the poet cut it from her publications after 1924. Moore had fascinated me for a long time, but I’d found her work overly cerebral, as chilly as it was alluring. Then, a few years ago, something changed. Continue reading “Penelope Pelizzon on Marianne Moore’s “Dock Rats””

Emily Friedman writes about “The Writer” by Richard Wilbur

Emily Friedman received her PhD from the University of Missouri in 2009. She is now an assistant professor of English at Auburn University.
Emily Friedman, Ph.D. 2009. Currently assistant professor of English at Auburn University.

On the occasion of my college graduation, my thesis advisor Peter Briggs was asked to speak, and he read this poem.  Somewhere on an ancient hard drive, there is a tiny blurry video of him reading the poem, and his voice cracks as he reads the final stanza, and while the video file has been all-but-lost, the sound of the first and last lines echo in my memory vividly.  As it turns out, the poem also resonated with many of my classmates, who often reproduce lines at different points during the year.

This year, I was in charge of my first clutch of senior capstone-writers at my job here in Auburn.  On the last day, I brought them kolaches, the sausage-filled sweet dough that I grew up on in East Texas.  They called them “galoshes” and ate their fill of brightly colored cupcakes and popcorn and large bottles of soda.  At the end of a sugar-fueled hour of chatter and final reflective writing, I stood in their midst, showed them a photograph of Peter and I from when I graduated, and read them this poem.   Continue reading “Emily Friedman writes about “The Writer” by Richard Wilbur”

John Shaw writes about “My Achilles Heart” by Andrei Voznesensky

John Shaw
John W. Shaw received his B.A., M.A., and J.D. from the University of Missouri. He is a partner in the law firm of Berkowitz Oliver Williams Shaw & Eisenbrandt in Kansas City.

I started at Mizzou in 1969, became an English major in 1971 and have never gotten over the  love of literature that was inspired by our great English department. I moved from undergraduate to graduate studies, but then changed directions and enrolled in law school in 1974.

When I was in my first year of law school and suffering withdrawal symptoms from abandoning graduate studies in literature, I used to divert myself from the drudgery of torts and contracts by going to the stacks in Ellis Library and pawing through the shelves laden with volumes with Dewey Decimal designation in the 800’s for poetry. Continue reading “John Shaw writes about “My Achilles Heart” by Andrei Voznesensky”