Alumni Update: Dr. Jeremiah Webster (’01)

You must imagine me writing this with a copy of David H. Richter’s The Critical Tradition sitting on my desk. It is the same copy I used to study literary criticism with Dr. Sugano at Whitworth in the pre-autumnal-Y2K-9/11-smartphone (yes, that long ago) days of my youth. Fourteen years later, I now teach Literary Theory at Northwest University. Richter’s tome remains the standard for any critical survey, and is one of the few texts whose intellectual demands can inspire a student to drop a course outright. Paradise Lost and Ulysses vie for second place. The dust jacket photo alone inhabits a melancholia one expects from Edward Gorey or The Sorrows of Young Werther. I wish I could report that my students receive as positive an experience as I did at Whitworth, but there is no way I understand Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as well as Doug Sugano. He is one of the best professors at Whitworth, a professor who provides first-tier preparation for graduate school.

I’ve been asked to respond to the prompt, “What have you been up to lately?” Beyond the usual, “getting older not wiser” bit, beyond the Charon riverboat crossing from cultured hipster to thirty-something in tweed, I’ve been at the work I love, the work that being an English major at Whitworth allowed me to pursue. In his book, Life Work, Donald Hall remarks that, “Work is my obsession, but it is also my devotion.” In a very real sense, this is how I would describe the work I am privileged to do. Obsessive. Demanding. A way to inhabit the sacred. A work of devotion. A work of love.

One extravagance of teaching is that with discipline (and Vic Bobb ACME-grade coffee), a person can synthesize the work of the classroom with the work of writing. When I began teaching twelve years ago, I would not have believed such a claim. To my mind, writing and teaching were the oil and water, 16th Century Protestant vs. Roman Catholic oppositions of academic life. No longer. Two years ago I taught British Literature and an essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight emerged from the experience. Last year, I wrote a critical introduction for an anthology of T.S. Eliot’s poetry in preparation for a class called T.S. Eliot and the Moderns. This spring, I plan to present a paper at Seattle University that examines the theological implications of Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and Cuarón’s Gravity (2013), an idea that was born out of a Faith in Film course I taught last year. More often than not, the dialogue of the classroom inspires the thesis, encourages the research, and revises my presuppositions. The dynamism of this exchange is exhilarating and serves as the primary inspiration for my artistic and scholarly endeavors. Parenting two children with my wife Kristin and taking long walks in the woods of Western Washington doesn’t hurt either.

And then there is the poetry: the blue Proteus. There is no more reliable bulwark against the tedium of institutional life, the noonday demon Acedia, than the work of composing a poem, submitting it to strangers, and receiving the all too common, “We’re sorry, but your work does not fulfill our present needs” rejection in the mail. Kidding aside, poetry is indeed how I keep my bearings, keep my vision of the soul in a world given over to materialism and status. It is my sense of how language might approach a fruitful silence. My work has appeared in several journals, including Rock and Sling (Thanks, Tom!), and is interested in how individuals can preserve their humanity in a world of webpage logins, buzzing phones, and “that guy” at Starbucks complaining that his triple shot caramel macchiato lacks a true grace note and is the wrong temperature.

Ultimately, the work I do is an act of faith. Faith that this is the best time in American history to be an English Major. Faith that what we need most in an age of terror and triviality is to sit quietly in a classroom with Laurie Lamon and read everything Emily Dickinson ever wrote. Faith that, in the words of T.S. Eliot (shamelessly ripping off Julian of Norwich): “All manner of thing shall be well.” I think we need more of this kind of faith. It is why I can still call myself a Christian post-graduate school and mean it. It is the apprehension of dappled things. It is a faith that might inspire students to give Richter a second try.

 

 

Jeremiah Webster is Assistant Professor and Chair of English at Northwest University. His poetry has appeared in North American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Creek Review, Floating Bridge Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Dappled Things, Euonia Review, and Rock and Sling. He wrote a critical introduction for Paradise in The Waste Land (Wiseblood Books), an anthology of poems by T.S. Eliot. He also served as contributor / co-editor for The Spirit of Adoption (Cascade Books) slated for publication this fall.

You can find his work here:

Paradise in The Waste LandWebsterParadiseintheWasteLand

North American Review

Dappled Things

Beloit Poetry Journal

 

Batman-Bono-Colbert: Serious Scholarship About Popular Culture

What style of printing makes those little dots on classic comic books? How is U2 still a band? What exactly is the appeal of Stephen Colbert? Colbert

If you’ve ever thought about these questions, then we’ve got an event for you. Professors Fred Johnson and John Pell will be discussing their scholarship on pop culture during a forum next Tuesday (Oct. 14) at the Lied Center for the Visual Arts (Room 102). The event is free, meaning that you can bring as many people as you want. Also, it starts at seven. 

For more information, email Annie Stillar (astillar@whitworth.edu).

In Response to Dave Harrity’s Reading September 19 by Audrey Strohm (’16)

01Dave1

Dave Harrity read at Indaba Coffee on September 19.

Walking into Indaba, I was overwhelmed with the sheer number of Writing Track English Majors. Yes, I had come to the event with some Writing-Trackers and I have taken Writing-Track classes— but this was different. I felt like the awkward kid at a soccer-themed birthday party who had never touched a ball and is expected to play nice and play well with the other kids. I mean, I wrote my first poem ever two days prior to attending this event. Who am I becoming?

All things aside, this event was extremely beneficial for both my understanding of creative writing and my confidence as a writer. The poems Dave Harrity read aloud were unlike anything I have really heard before, and even he— this poet who has been published, this poet whose reading made a few listeners cry— expressed a sort of ambivalence or even apprehension before diving into his work. This isn’t to say that I belong to the Dave Harrity class of poets, but I now know that it is okay to feel uneasy about what you’ve written, even if you really like what you’ve produced. Hopefully I can mount this newly found creative courage when I share my poem in class on Monday (if we are going to end up sharing them).

For the sake of this reflection, I have to pare down my commentary of Dave Harrity’s work. So, the main thing I want to share is the inclusion of the Christian perspective of his work. I was caught by surprise when he began to share the context of his first series of poems. The major theme to note was lycanthropy. Yes, that’s right. Werewolves. And Christianity. I grew up around Stephen Curtis Chapman and Reliant K, and as a result have come to intensely dread any sort of Christian-inspired art. I have begun to trust in the Christian perspective again through Rock and Sling and other artists sponsored by Whitworth. And although Dave Harrity did not explicitly discuss his religion during his comments or works, I could see how his faith underlies his poetry. If I ever am inspired to write about my faith, I will use him and others as inspiration; faith based writing doesn’t need to be a kumbaya circle praising Jesus. It is an opportunity to express how faith has touched and influenced the human experience, however good or bad, explicit or innocent, taboo or accepted.

 

Audrey Strohm (’16) is an English Literature and Philosophy student at Whitworth University and a  Contemporary Rhetoric and Composition theory enthusiast.

Chapbook Contest 2015!

Chapbook Contest 2015 is underway. This is an excellent time to relax and write 10- 20 pages of prose, poetry or a hybrid.
The Chapbook Champion will receive $100, have a small print run of your book and be the featured reader at the annual Script reading. Last year’s champion will not be considered in the competition this year.
Deadline is Monday, December 8 at 5 p.m.
When submitting to the English front desk, please don’t put your name on the manuscript, rather attach name, major and contact info on a separate sheet. There is no entry fee and multiple entries are permitted.
This year’s guest judge will be Daniel Bowman Jr., author and Associate Professor of English at Taylor University.
Daniel_Bowman_Jr_author_photo - large

Daniel Bowman Jr. is the author A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country (virtual artists collective, 2012) and Beggars in Heaven: A Novel (forthcoming 2015). His work has appeared in The Adirondack Review, Books and Culture, The Cresset, The Midwest Quarterly, Rio Grande Review, Saint Katherine Review, Seneca Review, and many other journals. A native of the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York, he lives in Hartford City, Indiana and is Associate Professor of English at Taylor University.


For more information, contact Annie Stillar [astillar@whitworth.edu].

Postcard from Iceland by Kirsten Bleeker (’15)

The air in Iceland smells of waffles, the sea, and the eternal threat of volcanic eruptions. This is everything I have been looking for. This is a country where fish is the prominent menu item, the way to say goodbye is “bless bless,” and both men and women sport top knots and tight pants. Many of the university buildings are absurdly modern. I don’t start my classes for a few more days, but they range from Italian fashion (the only art history course offered in English) and Japanese literature. I’m hoping to introduce the importance of setting up a snack and tea roster on the first day of class. Although dried cod and beer might be the Icelandic equivalent of comfort food. All is well here in Iceland, and I wish a wonderful Fall semester upon you all in Westminster! I will be updating my blog from time to time: http://www.icelandisreal.wordpress.com.

iceland1  iceland2

Kirsten Bleeker is spending her last semester of undergrad at the University of Iceland, and will be graduating with a BA in English Literature and a minor in Art History.

Song Of My Shelf

 

westminster book shelf

When you return to the hallowed halls of Westminster this fall, you’ll notice a fetching display of literary journals in the second-floor lounge.

Tin House, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, Ninth Letter, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and other titles await you. Imagine drinking a cup of tea or a mason jar full of kombucha, sitting in one of those leather-ish chairs, reading some new poetry and prose. As if you needed another reason to be excited for the new academic year!

Coming soon: on the corkboard above the journals, we’ll have copies of recent publications by our own illustrious faculty! Good reads abound.