Monthly Archives: April 2011

Slash Pine Poetry Festival: Day #2

Matt Mullins reading, photo courtesy of Layne Ransom

I was most excited for the second day of the Slash Pine Poetry Festival. My nerves were operating at a low hum, as I didn’t have to read, and had logged a day’s worth of experience in Alabama, so I could operate the whole day with just my wonder gaze on. The belly full of fried catfish, collard greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread didn’t hurt, either. Cornbread everywhere you go—how hospitable, how comfy.

The first reading I attended was at the Green Bar. The area of the bar was somewhat narrow, but stretched far into a dark space that ended at a raised stage. Green Bar’s scene was reminiscent of the local Be Here Now readings—cramped, dusky—and while BHN readings tend to have a fair attendance, the Green Bar’s reading was brimming with people. By the time us Ball State visitors arrived, it was standing room only, save for a few seats sparsely dotted throughout, and only visible seconds before someone else smoothed into them.

Michael Martone and Abe Smith, two University of Alabama writers and teachers in attendance, had quickly become iconic in my mind. I remembered Martone’s Blue Guide to Indiana only somewhat from Professor Sean Lovelace’s fiction class, and I’d only discovered Smith’s work the night before. Still, they each had a quality about them that made me glad to inhabit their vicinities. Almost as if the genuine and original quality their writing held was also something they exuded—something you could inhale and catch.

I hoped there would be some happenstance, some alignment of supernatural elements that would result in Martone and Smith reading at the festival, but it must not have been in the cards. I didn’t leave Alabama feeling literarily deprived, though. There were too many good writers, and if anyone left with that feeling, they didn’t pay attention well enough. Some highlights from the Green Bar readers were Brandi Wells and Oliver de la Paz. Wells read from her Worst Times series. Something about her, and her writing, seemed genuinely tough. And in a room full of writers—a group generally thought to bruise easy and over think making a fist instead of blocking a right hook—Wells’ writing aesthetic was refreshing. Oliver de la Paz was one of those readers that maintains a gentle cadence and looks to be talking in a somewhat hushed tone, but you realize you can hear him clear as day because he’s mind-controlling the entire room. You realize he’s doing something with a combination of mood, sound, and vocabulary that hooks into everyone in the audience. Just after he read, I found myself bobbing my head up and down, saying, “Mhmm, good stuff, good stuff.”

The next reading was at the Bama Theatre. It was a weird environment: a production of The Wizard of Oz letting out scattered munchkins, Wicked Witch of the West guards, and flying monkeys, while throughout the reading gussied-up kids passed by the wall-sized windows on their way to the prom. Ellie Isenhart, who graduated from Ball State’s M.A. Creative Writing program in 2010 and is now part of the University of Alabama’s M.F.A. Creative Writing program, read from a letters series with a bite. Christopher DeWeese put me back in my too-baggy clothes and heavily gelled hair with his collection of poems inspired by 90’s alternative music (nobody talks about the song “Lightning Crashes” anymore, and I’ve been waiting for this a long time—thanks, DeWeese). When Matt Mullins started on the mic, I felt pretty proud to be affiliated. Just as Lovelace had one of the best crowd responses at his reading, Mullins got to the audience. In his reading style, you can tell he has a good grasp of rhythm and sound; that he revels in that locus where the oral and written aspects of literature hold equal importance.

The Slash Pine Poetry Festival was a lit dog race, a lit endurance trial. But I imagine most of the readers have sat through long, dry, odyssean readings themselves, though. They seemed to make effort to keep things lively. It’s a great thing to be surrounded by people that share your passions and are excited by the same things you are. You’re great hosts/hostesses, U of A people. Thank you kindly for an awesome experience.

Signed,

Jeremy Bauer

Guest Post: Debate! by Shawna Vertrees

Shawna Vertrees

So there we were, two English Education majors in the national tournament for the NEDA organization. Granted, we were in the novice round, which means our opponents had been debating for less then a year, but these were communications majors, political science majors, future lawyers and lobbyists. I imagined these students would be using glib tongues, in-class debates, and well-honed arguments the way we use thesis statements, essays, and critical research.

You might be wondering why we were even there. We are both enrolled in Comm. 220, and our teacher, Ms. Jenkins, gave us the option to forgo debating later in the semester for a weekend spent debating in this tournament. Considering that we would have to research and prepare for two more debates during the time of year when our most important papers would also be coming due, we opted to get this out of the way early and sacrificed our weekend to the NEDA tournament.

I had never debated academically before. I had done some impromptu speeches during high school, but that was ages ago. I am a non-traditional student and I’ve aged considerably since my high school career in the 90’s. The tournament lasted two days and we debated a total of nine times. In the end, we won first place in what is called “Novice Crossfire.” After the debate, as we were basking in the glow of our win, I mentioned how I thought English 230 was a class I was glad to be taking, as it required critical thinking and analysis that was easily applicable to the debate. It turns out that Kassie Markovich, my partner, was in another section of the same course and agreed that the skills we were learning in the class had given us an edge. In my estimation, the pressure to suss out what a critic is saying about a work and then apply this point as support for my essay’s thesis made me into a more articulate debater.

Another element of English 230 that I found extremely helpful is the idea of templates. I gather that these are not tools employed by every professor, however Dr. Collier has provided us with a book of templates to use as support for our essays in English 230. While they are by no means required, or even made the focus of a lesson, perusing and adapting them has made me a better writer. Because of this comfort with the adaptation and use of a literary template, I was able to understand advice from the debate coach, Ms. Jenkins, as templates for use in the debate. She advised that I begin each refutation of a point with, “Judge my opponents have said______.”  I cannot count how many times I would look the judge in the eye and say “Judge my opponents have said  _______ but the evidence says  ______.” Anyone who has had English 230 with Dr. Collier will recognize this as a variation on the formula for framing an argument with an opposing critical quote. I credit Dr. Collier’s templates and Ms. Jenkins advice for the other award I won at that tournament: I was the fifth best speaker out of 20 or so, despite the fact that I was unpolished and made numerous, blatant fumbles.

It was a great experience and I highly recommend both classes to students both in the English department, and in other disciplines. Seeing the application of critical thinking skills learned for writing in the realm of policy debating was really something. If you have a chance to do what Kassie and I did, I suggest you take it. And thanks again to the Ball State Debate Team for being so welcoming and helpful. Special thanks for Dr. Collier and Ms. Johnson for running some extremely useful classes. And of course, a great big huge thank you to my partner Kassie.

J.D. Mitchell’s Journey into the Peace Corps, Part II

Photo courtesy of Peace Corps.gov

“I leap over the moon.

And then, Heather tells me that my nominated assignment in Asia is still available, or, and she assures me this is rare, there is an English-teaching position available in East Africa that leaves at the end of May. She is leaving the decision to me: Asia or Africa?” – from “…Part I

*****

I leap over the moon a second time.

And then I say, “Africa sounds great.”

March 23, 2011: It’s mid-afternoon and I’m trying to convince myself to do some homework. There’s a succession of three hard knocks at the front door, the sound I’ve been waiting for. When I open the door, a large white envelope slumps against my foot and inside is a large blue folder, containing all of the information pertaining to my assignment. The first thing I see is a letter that begins, “Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that we invite you to begin training in Ethiopia for Peace Corps service.”

I didn’t decide to join the Peace Corps on a whim. There’s a lot to consider, especially the time commitment and the lack of modern amenities (running water, electricity, internet). There are vast cultural differences and a new language to contend with. For more than two years, I’ll wash my clothes in a river and my drinking water will come from a well, and it will need to be boiled. There’s new food. There’s not a Taco Bell. But, somehow, each of these challenges and obstacles is something I’m looking forward to. Ethiopia will offer a new way of life and I imagine my Peace Corps service will be an opportunity to learn as much as I have in the past four years.

On May 23, I will travel to Atlanta, where I’ll meet the other 70 volunteers who will be serving in Ethiopia. After two days of staging, where we’ll get to know each other, review pertinent information and receive a few more vaccinations, we will travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Through eight weeks of PST, I will receive training to become an English Language Teacher Trainer. In this role, my primary duties will be teaching in conjunction with my Ethiopian counterparts. I will collaborate with primary schools, colleges of teacher education, regional and state education bureaus, and education offices to produce creative methodology that will emphasize critical thinking and language mastery. Additionally, I will lead and partake in a significant amount of HIV/AIDS education and awareness programs throughout my community and region. I will also initiate a number of secondary projects to improve the conditions of my community. Through these experiences, I expect to broaden greatly my world perspective and not only leave my comfort zone, but annihilate it. After 17 years of organized education, I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned and to continue my education in a radical way.

For anyone interested in learning more about the Peace Corps, I offer this advice:

  • Educate yourself. Visit the Peace Corps website. It’s excellent and comprehensive. There’s information about what volunteers do, where they go, and what it’s like. They explicate the benefits of serving. Besides the obvious cultural and personal experiences, there are graduate school opportunities, transition funds, health insurance, and the potential for partial cancellation or deferment of student loans. There are videos, webinars and stories. Before you consider applying, you should know as much as possible.
  • Talk about your decision with friends and family members. They’ll be curious and will ask you questions, and you’ll see how much you actually know. Plus, it’s a big decision and it helps to talk about it.
  • Try to find someone who’s been in the Peace Corps. Ask about their experiences, the challenges, the rewards. First-hand accounts can be very helpful and informative.
  • Sit and think. Two years is a long time, especially in a developing country. Lay around and think about it. Make a list of the pros and cons. The application process takes between nine months and a year, so you have to apply well in advance of when you would expect to go.

If anyone is thinking about applying or has questions I may be able to answer regarding the application process, or anything else, please email me. The above information is only a fraction of what I’d like to say about the Peace Corps and if you want more details, don’t hesitate to contact me. My email address is jdmitchell@bsu.edu.

Reading tonight!

Tonight, there will be a reading at Village Green Records at 7:30 PM to announce the release of the chapbook How to Get a Job as a Mermaid. The chapbook was written as a collaboration between Ashley Ford, Abby Hines, Lindsey LaVal, Layne Ransom, Elysia Smith, and Lora Thompson, all of whom will be reading from their works tonight. The chapbook will be available for $3.

After the reading, there will be a special showing of the film An Island—a short documentary about indie rock band Efterklang from Copenhagen, Denmark. Both events could take place either inside or outside the record store, depending on weather.

J.D. Mitchell’s Journey into the Peace Corps, Part I

JD Mitchell

I’m cautious about deleting emails without reading them first, especially emails with a teasing subject line like “Ready to change your life?” Because usually I am. Or, “How far are you willing to go?” Because running a marathon is on my bucket list. And, “Want to make a difference?” Because my embarrassing obsession with reality television isn’t accomplishing much. I first heard about the Peace Corps when I was a freshman; I had twenty minutes before Survivor started and I checked my email. The subject line got me. The email promised travel, experience, and adventure. The next week, I attended a presentation at the study abroad center, and throughout the next three years, the idea coagulated in my head. I thought about it. I read about it. I thought some more.

The Peace Corps was conceived by John F. Kennedy in 1960 and began sending volunteers to developing countries only a year later. The mission of the Peace Corps is three-fold:

  • Help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  • Help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  • Help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

To accomplish these objectives, American men and women apply to serve a 27 month commitment in a variety of fields, including: Education, Health, Environment, and Business and Information & Communication Technology. The first eight to twelve weeks of a volunteer’s commitment are Pre-Service Training (PST), which takes place in the volunteer’s country of service. The emphasis is the acquisition of language and the skills necessary to each volunteer’s assignment. After PST, each volunteer is relocated to their community, where they will begin their assignment and receive on-going education. The PST and assignment are rewarding but rigorous, and this is emphasized from the very beginning of the application process. Below is a timeline of my application from beginning to end, which spanned a little more than a year:

March 20, 2010: I begin my Peace Corps application.

June 29, 2010: I submit my Peace Corps application. The application, despite its thoroughness, can be completed much sooner, depending on the applicant’s schedule and time constraints.

July 7, 2010: The Chicago Regional Recruiting Office receives my application and sends additional materials to be completed: two fingerprint cards and the National Agency Check card that authorizes a background check.

August 18, 2010: I drive to Chicago for my interview. It goes well, and Betsy, my recruiter, tells me she will nominate me for service. A nomination is like saying, “Hey, we think you’d make a good volunteer so we’re moving you forward to the next phase.” A nomination doesn’t guarantee an invitation. A nomination is tentative but includes a region of service, job and departure date. Betsy tells me it could take up to two weeks to receive a nomination.

August 19, 2010: Betsy calls with a nomination. This. Is. Very exciting. Although I specified Africa as my primary region of interest, I am nominated for an English-teaching position in Asia (country unknown) that would leave in mid-June 2011. I happily accept my nomination, but my recruiter tells me a nomination is provisional and could change.

August 24, 2010: I receive my medical packet, which includes dental and (very thorough) physical forms. The medical phase is infamously regarded as the longest phase of the application process and it is the phase that often leads to disqualification. The Peace Corps requires such a thorough medical check because volunteers are placed in rural communities of developing countries, where medical supplies and provisions cannot be guaranteed for certain conditions. The Peace Corps makes each volunteer’s health a priority and wants to take as few risks as possible in that regard.

October 26, 2010: After eight weeks, I complete the medical forms. I make a copy of all of the forms, seal the originals in an envelope and take it to the post office, where I see it placed in the appropriate bin. I experience a sense of accomplishment never before felt by completing paperwork.

October 28, 2010: My medical information is received. Since the Peace Corps does not impose an application deadline, there are thousands of applicants at each stage of the process. Each volunteer’s medical kit is prioritized according to his nominated departure date and medical kits are not usually reviewed until four months prior to that departure date. Translation: the waiting game begins.

About a week later: I receive dental clearance.

February 25, 2011: I received a letter from Peace Corps Headquarters informing me that I am medically qualified for service and that my application has been forwarded to the Office of Placement. I change my Facebook status. I tweet. I call my mom.

March 11, 2011: A Placement Assistant sends me an email requesting an updated resume, among other materials.

March 18, 2011 – almost a year after I started the application: I have my final assessment interview via telephone. Heather, my Placement Officer, tells me the interview is intended to gauge each applicant’s mental and emotional maturity as well as receive any relevant updates. The interview lasts about half an hour and I think it goes well. At the end, Heather says, “Ok, JD. I’ll issue you your Peace Corps invitation this afternoon.”

I leap over the moon.

And then, Heather tells me that my nominated assignment in Asia is still available, or, and she assures me this is rare, there is an English-teaching position available in East Africa that leaves at the end of May. She is leaving the decision to me: Asia or Africa?

*****

This is the first of a two-part post series by J.D. Mitchell, which chronicles his application process and admission into the Peace Corps. If you, or anyone you know, is considering applying to the Peace Corps, I’d recommend reading this series. We would like to thank J.D. for his wonderful and informative piece.

Signed,

 

Jeremy Bauer

Slash Pine Poetry Festival: Day #1

Photo courtesy of Sean Lovelace. Left to right: Jeremy Bauer, Elysia Smith, Layne Ransom, Tyler Gobble

The Slash Pine Poetry Festival is organized and executed by a mix of University of Alabama faculty, interns, and students. On March 31st of this year, four creative writing undergraduate students, including myself, descended on Tuscaloosa, Alabama to fulfill our part of a literary exchange with the University of Alabama. We were chaperoned by creative writing faculty Sean Lovelace and Matt Mullins. We were in a van for eight to ten hours—time was hazy, so goes the road. We may have passed through the Midwestern Bermuda Triangle as well. When we arrived, we were greeted by sunshine and warm, complimentary cookies and milk. This boded well for our Southern literary adventure.

The University of Alabama campus was well groomed. It looked as if it had just gotten a haircut to ready for a big date—and we were happy to court. Pink, white, and yellow flowers added to a genial atmosphere, along with a mid-60’s sun. This made things comfortable and cradled any anxious nerves anticipating the undergraduate reading.

The Undergraduate Exchange Reading featured students from the U of A, Flagler College, a private four-year liberal arts college in St. Augustine, Florida, and us BSU undergraduates. We read in front of the Gorgas House, the first structure built on the U of A campus with an abundance history behind it (relating to the Civil War and otherwise). It was great seeing our exchange friends from U of A read again, and fun seeing what a new group of peers, those from Flagler, were writing.

The reading was scheduled to last three hours, as were all the festival’s readings. Even to those who love literary readings, this is one petrifying block of time. Mercifully, none of the readings took the full amount, and our Undergraduate Exchange Reading even had an intermission that included four or five different kinds of pie and apple cider. I don’t know if this is a common Southern custom, but a pie and cider break definitely keeps a reading lively.

The next reading was at the Children’s Hands-On Museum, where Lovelace would read. There were stuffed bears frozen in funny faces, an artificial Mission Control that took my retinal scan (I believe a blue light just clicked on and off, but it seemed legit), funhouse mirrors, and an old drugstore. Lovelace considered reading from an American wilderness scene with some critter pelt on his head. He tested it, and he really had something there, but we eventually found a stairwell leading to the actual reading space, so we conformed.

As I haven’t been to many readings outside of the BSU area, besides Vouched Presents, I was really interested to witness different reading styles and to see what writers brought to the performance aspect of literary readings. The first reader, T.J. Beitelman, made apparent his technical poetry style with a soft voice and careful pauses. Occasionally, he would put a tape recorder up to the microphone and play songs and outtakes from Bob Dylan sessions. Overall, his performance seemed very practiced and fluent.

Lovelace read various works from his chapbook How Some People Like Their Eggs, and a new series he’s been working on with the central theme of Velveeta. By far, he had the best audience reaction of any of the readers. His work also seemed the most contemporary, greatly regarding the now rather than discarding it, which many writers seem to do. BSU affiliations aside, he was my favorite reader, and if you have the opportunity to take a writing class with him, do it. Lovelace’s work was funny and vibrant, and every word seemed as deliberate and careful as Beitelman’s.

Some ending highlights of day one: Shook hands with Michael Martone after Lovelace’s reading, who was uniquely styled in his appearance and reminded me of Albert Grossman. Watched a video of an Abe Smith reading on Lovelace’s iPhone—even through the internet and small screen, it grabbed and shook the viewer with Smith’s attention to sound and performance. Smith wasn’t featured as a reader at the festival, but he could be seen slinking around at the different readings. I sincerely hope I get the chance to see him read live someday.

In Alabama, there are signs everywhere saying not to litter and “Keep Us Beautiful.” The hotel floor mat said, “we love that you’re here,” and the doors and walls simply said, “thank you.” Sorry you get so stuffed with tornadoes, Alabama (tenfold what Indiana experiences). You seem like a nice place.

Signed,

Jeremy Bauer

P.S. Still have one more day of the Slash Pine Poetry Festival to report on, so keep watching, BSU!

Good News #2

This is the second post of our “Good News” series—a series to highlight the accomplishments of the English Department’s graduate students and faculty. Here’s what they’ve been up to:

Adam R. Beach’s essay “Global Slavery, Old World Bondage, and Aphra Behn’s Abdelazer,” was accepted for publication in Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, and will appear in their Winter 2012 issue.

Peter Bethanis’ short story “Poet and Clown” was accepted for publication in Art Times.

Cathy Day has received a Beatrice, Benjamin and Richard Bader Fellowship in the Visual Arts of the Theatre from Harvard University’s Houghton Library. Each fellow is expected to be in residence at Houghton for at least four weeks during the period from July 2011, through June 2012. Her project for the fellowship is entitled, “Looking for Linda: The Scrapbooks of Mrs. Cole Porter.”

Tiffany Ellis delivered a presentation of her paper, entitled “Cohort-Oriented Project-Based Learning in ESL Teaching,” at the meeting of the Indiana Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (INTESOL). The meeting took place in Indianapolis, in November of 2010.

Ashley Ellison’s essay “Connecting Memory and Research Through Eco-Composition,” is forthcoming in Indiana English. She will give a presentation with the same title in June at The Association for the Study of Literature & Environment’s conference, in Bloomington, Indiana. In March, Ellison presented a workshop with Elmar Hashimov at the East Central Writing Centers Association conference. The conference was titled “Communicating Across Cultures: The Role of Culture in the Tutoring Session,” and took place in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Robert Habich’s book, Building Their Own Waldos: Emerson’s First Biographers and the Politics of Life-Writing in the Gilded Age, has been published by University of Iowa Press. His coauthored 2010 book, Romanticism and Transcendentalism, 1820-1865, which is part of the seven-volume Research Guide to American Literature, has been named an Outstanding Reference Book for 2011 by Library Journal.

Joyce Huff has joined the editorial board for Fat Studies, a new journal from the Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Erin Banks Kirkham’s essay, “Catherine, Crispin, and the Midwife’s Apprentice: Names and Identity in Children’s Literature,” was published in International Congress on Medieval Studies, in May 2010.

Sean Lovelace’s short story collection, Fog Gorgeous Stag, is scheduled for release on July 12th of this year by Publishing Genius.

Michael Meyerhofer’s third full-length book of poems, Damnatio Memoriae, won the Brick Road Poetry Book Contest, and will be published in April/May of this year. His fifth chapbook, Pure Elysium, won the Palettes and Quills 2nd Biennial Chapbook contest, and is scheduled to be published this month. Meyerhofer also had two prose poem/flash pieces, “Ode to Dead Batteries” and “The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic, 1962,” place as finalists for Mid-American Review’s Fineline Competition, and both were published as Editor’s Choices. He had another poem, “The Stuttering Headsman,” published by Hayden’s Ferry Review in their 2010-2011 issue. He has poems forthcoming in North American Review, African American Review, Southern Indiana Review, New York Quarterly, Hobble Creek Review, and others, as well.

Matt Mullins’ short story collection, Three Ways of the Saw, is scheduled for release in spring 2012 by Atticus Books.

Miranda Nesler’s article, “Closeted Authority in The Tragedy of Mariam,” is forthcoming in Studies in English Literature, 2012.

Chaehee Park co-authored an essay with Megumi Hamada, entitled “Word-Meaning Inference: A Longitudinal Investigation of Inference, Accuracy, and Strategy Use,” which was accepted for publication by Asian EFL Journal. Park and Hamada both presented “Using Think-Aloud as a Metacognitive Strategy in L2 Lexical Inference Instruction,” at the meeting of the INTESOL in Indianapolis, in November 2010. Park also presented “L2 Spelling Investigation: A Comparison of English Learners of Korean and Native English Speaking Children,” at the meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics in Chicago, in March of 2011.

Martha Payne presented a lecture entitled, “The Reality of Myth,” as part of the Nick Smyrnis AHEPA Lecture Series at the University of Indianapolis, in March 2011.

Monica Robison’s article, “The Power of Words: Othello as Storyteller,” was published in Storytelling, Self, Society, in January 2011.

Andrew Scott’s collection of short stories, Naked Summer, will be published in June 2011 by Press 53.

Congrats to all our grad students and professors!