Professors in Public: Laurie Lamon at Auntie’s Bookstore

By: Emily Church

As hard as it might be to believe, professors do live in a world outside of Whitworth, especially English professors. Many of them publish research and different forms of writing and some go out and do readings for the general public.

A couple of weeks ago, Professor and published poet Laurie Lamon did a poetry reading alongside fiction writer Charley Henley. Although the reading was interrupted by the fire alarm going off, Lamon had the right amount of time to woo the crowd with her presence and poetry. After her reading, I asked if she would answer a few questions for me about her reading. I asked, “How do you decide what you want to read and how do you decide the order in which you will read your chosen poems?”

This was how she responded:

“The November 12 reading at Auntie’s fell right after the presidential election, and clearly it was a week of great, complex, and terrible pain. That is an understatement.  I wasn’t in an emotional place to give a reading, to be honest, that Saturday night. But the truth is that we need poetry more than we need the pain of isolation I myself feel, and know y colleagues and our students are feeling as we try to take in this outcome. Because we couldn’t believe it happened, because we believe in diversity, because we don’t feel the privilege of our white skin as we should, because we need art to make us better than we are, I tried to put together a reading that might offer something of a hand to whoever was hardy enough to show up on a cold Saturday night.

I started with two clearly political poems: “It was Hatred,” which I wrote as the U.S. – Iraq war began, and “The Man in the Guerrilla Suit.” I wanted to directly address issues of prejudice, and inhumanity.

At the center of the reading I placed “Thinking of the End of a Poem,” which I include below. I wrote this after the Easter season a few years ago. It was triggered by an occurrence in my neighborhood as I walked past one of the Hospice Houses in my area. I walk past this house many times a week and always look to see if there is anyone sitting on the patio, or if the “therapy dog” is out. Often the dog is there; I’ve never seen anyone on the patio. The poem ends with the crucifixion, and the darkness Christ endured. I wonder at that darkness. I wonder at the miracle of his humanity and suffering. This poem doesn’t then move to the resurrection. It wonders at the darkness.

I closed the reading with 2 poems that hopefully brought us to a place of quietness and ordinariness, which is to say, Joy.  In these dark weeks where we are heading into the season of Christ’s birth and presence on earth, we need to remember that, and let our fearful and aching hearts fill.”

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Laurie doing at poetry reading at Auntie’s Bookstore downtown

Laurie Lamon’s poem, “Thinking of the End of a Poem”

Thinking of the End of a Poem

The dogs pull toward the corner where the therapy dog

is loose, rubbing its face in new grass. The man on the sidewalk

will say yesterday was hard. We lost two last night in

hospice. Here, birdsong will open the trapdoor

of pines where light is always northern and follows the earth

west where I look when I can through the hum of green for more.

The man on the sidewalk finishes closing a car door, and leans toward Claire,

I will learn this is her name, who has a band aid on her forehead

and blood shot eyes. Her sweatpants are gray. The therapy dog’s age

is heart shaped from eyes to muzzle. In a moment

Claire will say she’s from South Carolina, and smoke her cigarette

to the butt and not drop it to the sidewalk.

At the end of the poem it is bedlam, as when there came

sudden darkness—no one prepared, foretold, no shadows telling

time, crossing tables, the beaten ground, no lamps smoking

and everyone still, not knowing this waiting and for what.

The body had been crucified and raised and for three hours

looked into darkness with the rest of us.

Updates from Alumni: Mary Schmick ’14

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By: Emily Church

There’s always a good reason to catch up with an alumni of Whitworth University. Not only are they great people, but they help remind students, like me, that there is a life after Whitworth and it can be pretty awesome. I got the chance to ask Mary Schmick, a Whitworth graduate from 2014, about her life beyond the pinecone curtain.

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So, what are you up to these days?

I am now a technical writer/technical editor for Mission Support Alliance, a company that supports the Hanford clean-up project in Richland, WA.  I edit environmental permitting and regulatory documents that will be submitted to the Department of Energy and other government agencies (EPA, Department of Ecology, etc.).  Editing a document involves fixing formatting and copy editing, as well as looking at sentence clarity.

How did you get to where you are now?

I had become interested in editing in college and also began to see technical writing as a possible career path when I spent a summer interning for a geologist at a research laboratory. There I got to help research and write scientific articles on topics like carbon sequestration. I graduated from Whitworth University in 2014 with an English degree on the writing track. After graduating, I moved to the Tri-Cities where there are several companies that need technical writers. I spent ten months working a part-time job and applying and interviewing for technical editing positions before I got my first technical editing job. The job was editing safety procedures on topics such as electrical safety and working with beryllium, which were used by workers for the different companies across the Hanford Site.  I was in this position for a year and a half. During this time, I started editing for a different organization within the company I worked for when their technical editor retired. When the position came open, I applied and got the job, which is the position I currently hold.

 How has your English degree from Whitworth served you since graduation?

My English degree has been so valuable to me since graduation from Whitworth. In terms of a career, strong writing skills have been very helpful. So many different types of work involve writing, which makes strong English skills indispensable. As an English major, writing was something I sometimes took for granted, but in the workforce it is viewed as being an area of expertise. Apart from my career, my English degree has also shaped my critical thinking and communication skills. Also, the things I have learned from reading and analyzing literature has had an impact on how I look at situations in life and has given me a better understanding of viewpoints different than my own.


Emily Church (’17) is an English Writing and Sociology major at Whitworth University from western Washington and dreams of one day traveling the world. She enjoys writing, reading, painting, collecting journals (not writing in them), fall leaves, summer warmth., and adventure.

Mindful of the Change

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By: Devon Clements

Exploring the traverses of the internal,

Like some long forgotten picaroon.

Delving into the abstractions,

Contrasting like the bloody snow.

One sunset is another, and who am I to stay between?

 

I thought one day perhaps I’d find it.

The search as fickle as our hearts.

Lost in the endless sea of time

Each day we yearn to break our backs,

For the sake of the forgotten dream.

 

As drink is to the alley dweller,

So too does it quench my thirst.

It leaves me yearning ever-after,

I’ve been stumbling since my birth.

 

I didn’t ask for what I’m given,

Never sure of what I’ve got.

The song, methinks is ending,

I only have one more shot.

 

Devon Clements. Class of 2018. English Philosophy major. Missouri. Soccer. Coffee. Historical Fiction. Edward Sharpe. Of Human Bondage. Travel. Moleskine. Pens. Vans. United Kingdom. Trees. Gym. Literature. Sour. Northwest. Theatre. Explore. Skateboard. Run. Cats. Blue. Finished.

The Harvest Party: Following Rule #4 of Being an English Major

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By: Jordin Connall fall-dog

I know, I know, you’re all wondering “but I don’t like going places” and I understand that really I do, but the things is, you will one hundred percent not remember that night you stayed home and got an early start on your weekend homework. Take, for example, the recent harvest party put on by Westminster Round. There was poetry and games and tons of random food stuffs to nibble on (and/or feed to the tiny wizard your have hidden in your hoodie pocket). Was it awkward at first, of course it was.

We’re English majors for crying out loud, we were born awkward and uncomfortable. But we do not stay that way, once we get enough sugar in us and someone breaks out spooky Halloween poetry, everyone loosens up and really interesting academic and non-college-student-fallacademic conversations occur. It’s very easy not to go anywhere on your friday night, but as I’ve said before you definitely did not stay up with your roommate talking about Advanced Calculus (or whatever horrid torture device you prefer).

English parties are relaxed and fun and give you the opportunity to meet new people with whom you will be sharing classes for the next four or so years. They are havens to develop and find your very own discourse communities of like-minded individuals. Even if you’re not an English major, and I pity those of you that aren’t, you can come and talk about books, or movies, or your secret desire to learn unicorn husbandry (see John Pell for more information). All I’m suggesting is that you try it a few times, you might like it.

Who knows, you could end up accidentally forming an English karaoke band an hour and a half after the party was supposed to be over.

Jordin Connall is a Senior English Major. Her hobbies include: long walks on the beach, making baked goods, taking long walks on the beach with baked goods, and interpretive macaroni art.

A Lesson in the Ambiguous

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A short story by: Devon Clements

The sun had set long ago and the city now stirred as a dark and bleary shadow of its former self. The roads were empty, save for the occasional passing car, on some journey of their own and the two men glided through the intersections, guided by the green lights and a mixture equal parts fear and adrenaline. Inside the cab of the 98’ Ford F-150 the tinkling sounds of broken glass rattling against a metallic baseball bat emanated from the floorboard, filling the air with the auditory notion of violence. The driver was focused but looked shaken, his eyes pointed straight ahead never once leaving the road, but perspiration stood out on his forehead magnifying each passing street light. His hands gripped the steering wheel causing his knuckles to stand out, white as marble in the dark space of the truck. Between him and the passenger sat a faded and worn green Jansport backpack, its irregular bumps and angles suggesting its contents had been haphazardly shoved inside. The two didn’t talk, nothing could be heard except the steady and repeated rhythm of tire on wet pavement, the gentle whish whish creating a soundtrack to each of their racing thoughts.

A light ahead caused the driver to start and he motioned to the passenger with a quick nod as he flicked on the turn signal and began to decrease in speed. The gas station and liquor mart parking lot was empty except for a single beat-up Dodge Neon and this satisfied the anxiety of the men as they slid into a parking spot and cut the engine. The break in constant movement gave them a reassuring and removed sensation which neither could pinpoint. The passenger opened the truck door and nimbly hopped out, turning around to make eye contact with the driver before firmly closing it behind him. The driver saw him disappear into the sickeningly illuminated store and then lost sight of him amidst racks of cheap packaged food and oil cans.

He now sat alone in the cab, his hands still unconsciously on the wheel and absently staring at the reflection of bottles caught in the large plexi-glass windows in front of him. After a few minutes the passenger reemerged from inside and jumped back in the cab, a single plastic bag clutched in his left hand. He pulled out a bottle and handed it to the driver as he took one for himself. The iconic gold and maroon lettering sent a wave of nostalgic energy through them both, as they twisted the lids off the triangular glass cylinders of Olde English. The driver took a large swig, the tang of malt liquor coating his mouth, as he started the engine and pulled back onto the street. He glanced to the passenger and breaking their long held silence asked, “Are we gonna make it?” The passenger’s lips curled into a sardonic smile as he turned, a glint of some forgotten youth in his eye, and he answered, “Does anyone?” The road stretched out wide and free before them and the night promised shelter, at least for a few more hours.

Devon Clements. Class of 2018. English Philosophy major. Missouri. Soccer. Coffee. Historical Fiction. Edward Sharpe. Of Human Bondage. Travel. Moleskine. Pens. Vans. United Kingdom. Trees. Gym. Literature. Sour. Northwest. Theatre. Explore. Skateboard. Run. Cats. Blue. Finished.

Pursuing Interest: A Conversation with Dr. Solveig Robinson

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By Kristin Bertsch

I hoped that the large cup of coffee in front of me on the lounge table would be a casual excuse for my jitters. I waited for Dr. Robinson to come from her hotel to our little interview room, and every minute past 10:45 was a reassurance that maybe I wouldn’t embarrass myself in this interview. Maybe a department professor had detained her, or maybe she was caught up in preparing for one of her presentations on campus. After two minutes, Dr. Robinson came in, and after introductions shuffled her backpack onto the floor across from mine, and sat tall on the couch opposite me. She cupped her hands in her lap and leaned forward, and we both shifted a little in our seats. Then she gave me earnest eyes and said:

“I’m really glad there aren’t lights and cameras in here. I was so scared. This was the most intimidating thing on my schedule today.”

I was both relieved and amused to know that I was not alone in my anxious anticipation of our conversation. Dr. Robinson had come to Whitworth to give a lecture on her work in publishing and Victorian women’s literature, which culminated most recently in her project on “Victorian Women’s (Publishing) House work: Gender and Cultural Authority in Nineteenth Century Britain.” She had been visiting classes and giving presentation about her areas of expertise. She is an expert in her field, and a highlight of her department at PLU. But sitting across from me talking about the process of research and writing, she was speaking as a student immersed in the thrills and anxieties of a new intellectual pursuit.

“Research is always overwhelming, until something clicks. I try to show my students by example how to channel their own curiosity and interest into materials and topics. It may not be apparent that things connect or even really matter until you approach a topic as a matter of your own interest.”

And Dr. Robinson knows how to explore and make things connect. Her two areas of expertise, the history of the book and Victorian literature, seem to be placed along parallel but separate tracks of English. But during her 36 years in academia, she found a way to intertwine and give direction to both of her academic interests.

“I’m interested in the way books work as a way of giving voices, and how the publishing and print culture works as a way of mediating and curating those voices.”

That sort of intersectionality of interests in something Whitworth English majors recognize and aspire to. Choosing a track and curating a class schedule inevitably means that certain classes are left out, certain projects left undone, certain interests negotiated out of the plan to make room for others. Saying yes to one direction often means saying no to valuable others. And this is something Dr. Robinson sees as a problem for young scholars.

“Among my students, I see this paralyzing fear of specialization. They worry that by choosing to pursue one interest or project, they are forced to give up their curiosity and interest in other things. And that is really counterintuitive to what a liberal arts education is meant to be.”

I asked Dr. Robinson what she saw as being the most valuable asset of a liberal arts education from a university like Whitworth or PLU.

“I knew I wanted to work at a small liberal arts institution because that would be a place where I could explore. The faculty and the students embrace intersecting interests and interaction among projects, and I knew I wanted that freedom.”

Dr. Robinson’s advice for students is to feed as many interests as they can, and to let their interests feed each other.

 

Kristin Bertsch (’17) is a Senior English major at Whitworth. Kristin has studied English abroad in Britain and Ireland, most recently for a semester at Oxford University in spring of 2016. In addition to her studies and contributions to the English Department blog, Kristin works as research assistant to English faculty, as a conference assistant to Communications faculty, and as archiving assistant to Library Director and Art Professor Dr. Amanda Clark. Kristin is an active supporter of local art and theater and a frequenter of Spokane Poetry Slam.

How to Survive Being an English Major: Some Unsolicited Advice

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By: Jordin Connall

Step 1: Accept that tears are part of the gig for any college student and buy stock in Kleenex while you can. Similarly, accept that at some point(s) in your English career you will need to sit by and pretend to study while your table-mate quietly sobs, it is imperative that you stay cool and for the love of all that is holy never mention this occurrence upon seeing them again.

Step 2: Switch arms please, the Norton is heavy. No one wants to see a hundred pound waif-like sophomore with one arm like a toothpick and the other the width of a goal post. I also suggest something more suitable than a book-bag for day-to-day readings, perhaps a children’s wagon, or maybe even a miniature plow horse? Think about it.

Step 3: Realize that the Norton can be used for a number of different things, some of which include: a step stool, a paper weight, backpack theft-deterrent [see suggestion 2], a pillow if you don’t mind being uncomfortable, substitute for a Kevlar vest, and if you’re absolutely desperate. . .reading material.

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 Step 4: Go to the book sales, BBQs, and whiffle ball games, to name a few. I know it’s a lot to ask when season five of Sherlock has just aired (Speaking to you Class of 2020), and the most sentient beings you intended to speak to were your laptop and that latte you’ve been stroking lovingly like a newborn baby, but trust me the outside can be fun sometimes. I personally didn’t go to any of these events until my Junior year, and I missed out on meeting an entirely new group of nerd friends (Nriends? Ferds? I’m working on it). Professors will be at these gatherings too, giving you a chance to meet them outside of class and see them change from scary scholarly folks into people that will help you grow and transform in your academic career. Plus you can find out if it’s true that Doug drains the blood of a randomly selected freshman in a Viking ritual sacrifice (don’t worry I won’t ruin the surprise, you’ll have to go to find out for yourself).

Step 5: Never stop reading, even in the summer. Despite how appealing sleep may sound, and trust me it’s not all that your non-collegiate housemates try and claim it is, read all the time. Read, read, read, read. “It will make you a better writer and a better person,” (A Really Credible Source, Wikipedia) reading has the sole ability to transform your grammar and communication skills all without seeming heavy-handed. Read for the rest of your life, and then after that read to other ghosts (pro tip: ghosts seem to really love Poe).

Step 6: This is going to be a doozie, but bare with me. Relax. I know it sounds irritatingly simple and prosaic, but really, take a chill pill. Every time you are about to panic about that really long paper that is due in exactly seven hours, take a deep breath and relax. You will not remember this paper in five years, five hours, minutes, whatever. Don’t slack off and forget your responsibilities in some made-for-TV-movie depiction of college, but realize that your life is defined by so many other things than that one paper or that one class.

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Step 6: Look over everything before you turn it in. It’s astounding the dumb mistakes people make and don’t correct before turning them in, even for really important papers that everyone will get to see. Some people, I tell ya.

Step 7: Come up with snappy responses as to your chosen career for well-intentioned family members ahead of time. These will come in handy around any major holiday. Examples include: homelessness, a professional clown, beat boxing, correcting grammatical errors in the YouTube comments section, or becoming a teacher.

Step 8: But most of all, give yourself a pat on the back for choosing the area of study superior to all others (like anyone uses math anymore right?). English is the area of study that connects us to one another and the world. We are the group of people that can read something and glean meaning from it. This power is fundamental to what makes us human, our ability to communicate with one another in complex and constantly evolving ways. John 1:1 tells us that in the beginning there was the word. Take your words and change the world.

Jordin Connall is a Senior English Major. Her hobbies include: long walks on the beach, making baked goods, taking long walks on the beach with baked goods, and interpretive macaroni art.

A Reflection on the Faculty Research Presentations of Fall 2016

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By: Emily Church

To start off the academic year, Professor Casey Andrews and Thom Caraway invited faculty, students, and community members to share in their excitement over the current research projects.

Professor Andrews presentation, “Writing Against War: Literature as Peace Activism,” gave us a sneak-peak into his upcoming book (the cover of which his wife painted) about the ways in which British novelists like Virginia Woolf and Aldous Huxley wrote peace activist fiction in the 1930s.”His research dives into the question of “How can art be clearly political and also “artful”?” Virginia Woolf, who is the center piece of the book, criticized all writers who wrote books that were composed of endings that made the reader feel like they had to act by doing a certain service or by writing a check. She instead vouched for the type of writing that had politics in it, since you can’t avoid politics or social issues, but not a clear message. This is what, in Woolf’s opinion allowed it to still function as art. Another one of the points in the presentation looked at literature as “peace witness.” British author Vera Brittan, and her novel Testament of Youth, thought of war literature as a way of preserving the memory of our suffering so that successors may understand it. Andrews expressed a clear excitement over his topic, which was expected as this is within his area of expertise and Virginia Woolf is among his favorite writers.    (Andrew’s book cover can be view here)

Professor Thom Caraway’s presentation and research, titled “Poesis: The Language of Creation” did not emerge from a past interest in the subject. Instead, his path towards the topic began with a simple text message from a college and friend that said, “Theopoetics?” to which Caraway eventually replied back “Yes.” He began his talk with the disclaimer of “I am not a theologian,” in order to make it clear that he is still in the learning process. While most approach the topic of theopoetics with a theological background, Caraway comes from the expertise of poetry, which allowed him to focus on the use of the word “poetics.” The goal of theopoetics is to see both scripture and God with fresh eyes, recontextualize our understanding of faith, and demytholize scripture; all through the use of poetry, which for Caraway is perfect because according to him, “poetry is the purest kind of literary writing.” He connected Theopoetics to specifically poetry of witness, defined as poetry speaking to the truth of experience and the realization of God’s revelation. In both contexts, Caraway made clear, it is the responsibility of the reader to witness to the text and they therefore cannot remain passive. It is only in this way that theopoetics and poetry of witness can be successful.

If you wish to learn more about either of the topics presented during the Faculty Research Presentations, I’m sure they would be happy to share more.

Emily Church (’17) is an English Writing and Sociology major at Whitworth University from western Washington and dreams of one day traveling the world. She enjoys writing, reading, painting, collecting journals (not writing in them), fall leaves, summer warmth., and adventure.