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)””

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

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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
weed
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”

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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

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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”