UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Christopher Kempf

Christopher Kempf is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of English, where he teaches in the MFA Program. He is the author of the poetry collections What Though the Field Be Lost (LSU, 2021) and Late in the Empire of Men (Four Way, 2017).

His scholarly book, Writing Craft: The Workshop in American Culture, is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press. Recipient of a Pushcart Prize, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, his poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Best American Poetry (2020), Boston ReviewGeorgia ReviewGettysburg ReviewKenyon ReviewNew England ReviewThe New Republic, and PEN America, among others.

Professor Kempf offers his reflections on a recently published poem by Eavan Boland below:

Eavan Boland’s poem “The Break-Up of a Library in an Anglo-Irish House in Wexford: 1964” offers a haunting meditation on the vulnerabilities and violences implicit in western empire.

“[T]he end of empire is and will always be / not sedition nor the whisper of conspiracy,” Boland writes, “but that // slipper chair in the hallway / that has lost the name / no one will call it by again.”

Boland is writing here about the 17th and 18th century mansions from which a Protestant Anglo-Irish aristocracy ruled over a predominantly Catholic population.  But she is also—and perhaps more importantly—diagnosing how power continues to encode itself in and through language.  Echoing Ezra Pound’s maxim that “if a nation’s literature declines, the nation atrophies and decays,” her words testify beautifully to the importance of an educated citizenry, one able to command language for its own uses rather than be commanded by it.  Boland neither celebrates nor mourns the passing of this aristocracy, but I detect in her tone a note of wistfulness, I think, for a richer, more accurate language—something wondrous has been lost, Boland suggests, even as something powerfully democratic has been gained.

I admire this ambivalence, and I am curious about its implications in the wake of an attack on the U.S. Capitol which, because of her untimely death, Boland never witnessed.

In a culture obsessed with “STEM” education and so linguistically impoverished, therefore, that we cannot distinguish between real and fake news, Boland reminds us that facility with language is the single most important—and contested—political instrument.  And poetry itself, Boland suggests, remains vital to both social justice and democratic belonging.

Watch Professor Kempf read Eavan Boland’s “The Break-Up of a Library in an Anglo-Irish House in Wexford:1964″ and a poem of his own, “National Anthem” on our Instagram!

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Happy Poetry Month!

Here is a roundup of some of the excellent new poetry and books about poets at the Literatures and Languages Library. To keep up on our new poetry, be sure to follow us on Instagram, where we post about all our latest books!

The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography by Hilary Holladay

This is the latest biography of the queer feminist icon and National Book award winning poet, Adrienne Rich. The book pays particular attention to Rich’s early life and the role of her parents and events on her development. Through Rich’s and other family members’ correspondence and interviews with people close to the poet, Holladay brings to life the writer whose poetry was at the forefront of American literature for decades.

Foxlogic Fireweed by Jennifer K. Sweeney

Winner of the Backwaters Prize in Poetry, this collection highlights the dynamic nature of place and space and the impacts our relationships and environments have on us- “a lyrical sequence of five physical and emotional terrains—floodplain, coast, desert, suburbia, and mesa—braiding themes of nature, domesticity, isolation, and human relationships.” Sweeney explores these themes from a distinctively feminine perspective. Her poetry and perspective is rooted in the physical rhythms of the natural world.

The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

This book is about the life and time of Phillis Wheatley, a Black poet, who was born in West Africa and later stolen and brought to Boston as an enslaved child. In 1773 she published a book of poetry and became a prominent literary figure. Jeffers employs her own poetry, based on rigorous archival research, to recontextualize Phillis’s life, to see beyond Phillis’s fame as a “literary or racial symbol” and find the person she was. Her poetry explores Wheatley’s childhood in Gambia, her life with her white owners, her experiences as a poet who achieved contemporary fame, and her eventual emancipation and life with her husband.

 The Swan of the Well by Titia Brongersma, Eric Miller

This is the first English translation of the works of Titia Brongersma, a 17th century Frisian poet.  Contemporary humanists hailed Bongersma as “Sappho reborn.”  Brongersma’s poetry is incredibly versatile in its scope and mixes genres and disciplines, such as mythology, epic poetry, history, and art. Key themes are: the poet’s love for Elisabeth Joly, her excavation of an ancient monument, her family, patrons, and friends, and the life of women. Eric Miller’s translation includes an introduction that provides context for Brongersma life and time and attempts to uncover some of her aspirations.

The Selected Works of Audre Lorde Edited by Roxane Gay

This book offers a selection of poetry and prose by Audre Lorde, with an introduction by Roxane Gay. Self-described as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Lorde’s work centers the experiences of Black and queer women. This collection makes clear why Lorde has remained an influential and crucial figure in the field of “intersectional feminism, queer theory, and critical race studies.” This is an essential reader for those new to Lorde’s work and an excellent companion for those who are more familiar.

Owed by Joshua Bennett

“You always or almost

always only the one

in the room

Maybe two

Three is a crowd

Three is a gang

Three is a company

of thieves        Three is

wow there’s so many of you”

Thus begins the poem Token Sings the Blues, one of the first poems in Joshua Bennett’s new book, Owed. The works in this book address the “aesthetics of repair.” They challenge the notion of insignificant aspects of daily life, discussing objects, people and spaces that are often overlooked. With Poems like Ode to the Durag and Ode to the Plastic on Your Grandmother’s Couch, Bennett not only calls attention to these objects, but he also centers the lived experiences of being Black in America.

Whatever Happened to Black Boys by James Jabar

This collection of poems from James Jabar is an exploration of Black maleness. Through his poems, which vary in form and genre, black boys tell their own stories. The black boys in this work are both fictional and real, and Jabar uses this play on reality, to tackle the archetype of Black maleness, both by breaking traditional forms of poetry and by telling stories from a range of perspectives. This is an exploration of identity, storytelling, and poetry, it also challenges the limited presentations of Black maleness in media.

 

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Nneoma Ohale

The Literatures and Languages Library’s celebration of National Poetry Month continues with UIUC student Nneoma Ohale reading her poem “Love Made This Stone Brown.” Watch Ohale’s poetry reading on our Instagram and read her reflections below:

I am Nneoma Ohale, a 20 year old Nigerian-American artist. I am currently a junior at U of I studying English, Secondary Education and Creative Writing. I have been a poet since the age of fourteen when I got the opportunity to compete in Young Chicago Authors’ Louder Than A Bomb poetry festival. National Poetry Month means a lot to me and I am excited to celebrate it with fellow poets and lovers of poetry. I choose to share this poem because it took a lot for me to write it and I feel it is best when read aloud. This poem is my ultimate romantic daydream. I wrote this piece as a reflection of what love can be when lovers are able to truly be there for each other through it all. Despite what we might want to believe, love is not always easy because life isn’t always easy. It is important to be with someone who can stand the rain. The title “Love Made This Stone Brown.” is a nod to the transformative nature of love and its ability to inspire a different course of action. This poem is a celebration of my favorite things: music, life, lovers and nature.

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Professor Corey Van Landingham

Corey Van Landingham is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English. A nationally acclaimed poet, she is the author of Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens, forthcoming from Tupelo Press, and Antidote, winner of the 2012 The Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry. To learn more about Professor Van Landingham, please visit her website https://www.coreyvanlandingham.com.

Watch Professor Corey Van Landingham read selections from Brigit Pegeen Kelly on our Instagram. She offers her reflections below:

For National Poetry Month, I wanted to pick two poems that are connected to the C-U community. Brigit Pegeen Kelly taught here at UIUC for many years, and is still, it seems, part of the soul of this program, this place. Brigit and her husband, the poet Mike Madonick (mentioned in the poem’s dedication tag), have shaped hundreds of poets here in the prairie. I never met Brigit, but Song was the first book I read during my MFA, and her work has left a deep mark on me—as it has on so many poets of my generation. I can’t go to Allerton without seeing her poems almost materialize amidst the statues. I’ll often wonder, driving through the cornfields, if the rare “hill” I see is one from her poems. Brigit’s poems do that—I might say all great poems do—they make you see the world differently. They change the relationship between language and landscape. They heighten it, and they trouble it.

“Near the Race Track” is from her first book, To the Place of Trumpets. This poem is wildly different from her later work, from the long poems that cascade and build and weave and repeat to create, across many pages, their own mythic worlds. I’ve heard those worlds aren’t so distant, though, that what may seem mythic or surreal or magical is often grounded in something from her very own surroundings, her life. “Near the Race Track” isn’t set here, but, because of Brigit and Mike, I can’t help but associate it with Illinois. There are few poems about joy that I care to return to. Here, it’s the way joy can be a spectacle to behold, but also something that can rise away from us—that’s what makes me come back to this poem again and again. That, and picturing Mike cursing with that umbrella in hand.

It doesn’t feel right to spend too much time here discussing my own work, when in Brigit’s realm. “O-Matoes” revolves around the desire to catch something of joy, though, and originated from getting to know one of our truly joyous neighbors here in Champaign. This poem is, as is probably obvious, for Caleb, who is six.

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Archiving Poet’s Voice: Czesław Miłosz Reads His Own Poetry

Many scholars and poetry lovers rightly believe that Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) is one of the most respected contemporary poets in the world and certainly the most distinguished figure in 20th-century Polish literature. According to Seamus Heaney, Miłosz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, created “a unique voice [italics mine]” through his poetry, “a poetry cargoed with a density of experience that has been lived and radiated by an understanding that has rendered it symbolic.”[1]

Miłosz established himself figuratively as a vital and distinctive poetic voice, but one may wonder what his human “poetic” voice was really like. The best way to find out is to listen to the recording of his poetry performed by the poet himself, which brings us to the topic of this post.

The UIUC Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures Professor George Gasyna has recently come across the tape that included the recording of Miłosz’s readings of his poetry. In terms of provenance, the “Miłosz tape” most likely came from the late Professor Stephen Hill who for many years taught Slavic literature at the UIUC and nurtured a passion for Polish poetry, cinema, and theatre. The tape has been digitized by the UIUC Library Preservation Services (thanks to Cristina Kühn, Media Preservation and Digital Reformatting Project Manager) and is currently available for downloading at: https://uofi.box.com/s/1yr7x1iqg62wwd16a5im6hs4s259fg2d

Of course, the question that needs to be further investigated is whether the tape represents an amateur recording of Miłosz reading his poetry in a classroom, at a lecture hall, or at a poetry recital. At this point, it is impossible to state unequivocally that the tape had been recorded privately. It should be noted that there is neither audience applause nor a sign of audience participation on the recording. However, there is no evidence (on the tape itself and on the case) that the recording had been done commercially or that it had been copied from another recording (such as a radio broadcast, a vinyl record, or a commercial tape, etc.). The only thing that is preserved with the tape is a typed list of poems read by Miłosz. Moreover, there is no date of the recording, but it may be a good guess to place the recording in the 1970s or 1980s (when magnetic recording tapes were widely used).

The poems come from two volumes, Ocalenie (Rescue), first published in 1945, and Światło dzienne (Daylight), first published in 1953. Miłosz’s deep voice oscillates between melancholy and indignation, sometimes turning into fury. It is a real treat to hear him reciting his own poetry while different images come to life as if conjured by the poet himself. And the beauty of his voice is enriched by the melodic accent of the kresy (the Polish-Lithuanian borderlands where he came from).                                              Thanks to Professor Gasyna and the UIUC Library the poet’s voice has been rediscovered and has been preserved for generations of students, scholars, and poetry enthusiasts.

[1] Hawkins, Kaitlin. “Czeslaw Milosz Centennial.” World Literature Today 85, no. 3 (2011): 6. Gale Literature Resource Center (accessed February 23, 2021). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A255971255/LitRC?u=uiuc_uc&sid=LitRC&xid=2f689b1a.

The tape.

A list of poems read by Miłosz (included with the tape).

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Black History Month: Cinema Studies Edition!

The Literatures and Languages Library houses a rich collection of books on black cinema. We present here a selection that confronts the racism and inequalities persistent in the Hollywood film industry

A Piece of the Action: Race and Labor in Post-Civil Rights Hollywood

by Eithne Quinn

This book details the struggles and transitions in Hollywood after the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s. It describes the push for changes in the hiring processes, the calls for diversification of films and film crews, and the industry’s “ghettoization” of black made films. The book also discusses the ways that movies made in this period impacted American societal response to the post-Civil rights era. Quinn also discusses the film industry’s response to liberal pushes for equality in films and film making, which mostly culminated in institutional promises that made no real changes in the way things were done.

The Encyclopedia of Racism in American Films

by Salvador Murguia

“Whether subtle or blatant, racially biased images and narratives erase minorities, perpetuate stereotypes, and keep alive practices of discrimination and marginalization.”

This book traces the history of racism in the film industry and confronts instances of racism in specific films. From Birth of a Nation to Get Out, this encyclopedia investigates the use of racist tropes, narratives, stereotypes, and imagery deployed to depict Black and brown people. It discusses the lack of diversity in Hollywood, White Savior films, and the general disconnect between lived experiences and Hollywood depictions of traditionally underrepresented groups. To do this Murguia pulls from the work of film critics, industry people, scholars and activists, adding a “pop culture companion,” to the field of critical race studies.

The Hollywood Jim Crow: The Racial Politics of the Movie Industry                     

by Maryann Erigha

“As gatekeepers, Hollywood decision-makers actively create and maintain racial hierarchy in how they discuss, conceptualize, package, produce, and distribute movies and in how they stratify movies, actors and directors.”

This book focuses on the racial hierarchy in Hollywood, making use of well-known incidents like the #OscarsSoWhiteCampaign, and the leaked Sony emails. Erigha describes the pervasive and continued racial inequalities that are perpetrated by top industry execs and other white industry professionals. Erigha argues that creating and maintaining these racial divisions is an ongoing process, supported by the culture, practices, and discourses in the film industry. Exploring these tendencies and shedding light on the way these practices are harmful for people of color, and make diversifying the industry difficult, this book takes a look at the way Hollywood practices mimics Jim Crow systems.

Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film

by Ed Guerrero

While this book is a few years older than the other recommendations, it is still a great addition to any Cinema Studies library. Author Ed Guerrero confronts the tropes, stereotypes, and imagery used in cinema to marginalize Black people, and center whiteness. It looks at the various and persistent framing of blackness as other, across movie genres and throughout film history. Guerrero describes the resistance and responses to this framing in Black Cinema, discusses the impacts of Blaxploitation, the growing expectations of Black audiences, and analyzes Black film stars, directors, and movies of the 1980s and 90s.

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Comics in the Time of Corona: Angoulême Prize Winners

Each year, the town of Angoulême in southwestern France plays host to the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême (FIBD), which is frequently known as the Angoulême International Comics Festival. Started in 1974, the four-day event is devoted to the ninth art (as comics are often called in France) and celebrates achievements in the medium.

The Angoulême International Comics Festival also administers several prestigious prizes, referred to as Fauves (“Wild Cats”) in reference to FIBD’s mascot. The Angoulême Fauves honor the versatility and transgressive power of the art form. Prizes include the coveted Fauve d’Or (“Golden Wildcat”) for best comics album of the year, as well as prizes for best artwork, best script, and best new work in a series.

The festival is internationally renowned and typically attracts around 200,000 artists, journalists, and comics enthusiasts to Angoulême every January. Attendees typically take part in workshops, master classes, and panels dispersed throughout the city. However, as with many other highly-anticipated events, this year was far from typical. To accommodate the travel restrictions and social distancing requirements brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, FIBD was split into two parts. The announcement of the 2021 prize winners took place at its usual time in late January, while the in-person events are delayed until late June.

To celebrate the first part of the Angoulême International Comics Festival, the Literatures and Languages Library is highlighting Fauve winners coming soon to our collection. These French-language works, full of innovative story-telling and stunning visuals, will have you dreaming of Angoulême in June.

Click here to learn more about the prizes and prize-winners.

Cover art for Anaïs Nin sur la mer des mensonges

PRIX DU PUBLIC FRANCE TÉLÉVISIONS: Anaïs Nin, sur la mer des mensonges by Léonie Bischoff

Cover art for Paul à la maison

PRIX DE LA SÉRIE: Paul à la maison by Michel Rabagliati

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cover art for Tanz!

PRIX RÉVÉLATION: Tanz! by Maurane Mazars

cover art for Black-out

PRIX GOSCINNY DU SCÉNARIO: Black-out by Loo Hui Phang and Hugues Micol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cover art for La Mécanique du Sage

PRIX DE L’AUDACE: La Mécanique du Sage by Gabrielle Piquet

 

 

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New Resource Spotlight: Project Muse Literature Ebook Collection

Exciting news! The UIUC library recently acquired Project Muse’s 2020 and 2021 Literature eBook collection. The collections are international in scope, represent the highest quality scholarship published by academic presses throughout the United States, and include literary criticism and literary theory, biographies of authors, and fiction/poetry from before 1950.

In total, this acquisition includes approximately 700 titles, providing patrons with convenient access to new and relevant scholarship. Access Project Muse through UIUC here.

These ebooks are now available to browse and read.  You can find a full list of the titles in each collection here.

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New Fiction Spotlight: The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

Cover art for the Secret Lives of Church Ladies

“I don’t question God,” declares the titular character of “Eulah,” the first story in The Secret Lives of Church Ladies.

“But maybe you should question the people who taught you this version of God. Because it’s not doing you any favors,” the narrator replies.

This exchange is at the crux of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection. The collection is full of hope, heartbreak, hunger, and love. Its protagonists find themselves torn between the demands of church and family and those of their own bodies. They wrestle with their appetites, illicit or otherwise, and usually come out on top in one way or another.

The nine stories that make up The Secret Lives of Church Ladies span a wide array of turbulent and fascinating relationships with mothers, fathers, sisters, and lovers. In “Dear Sister,” a woman writes a letter to the half-sister she’s never met to inform her of the death of their father. In “Snowfall,” the narrator struggles to adjust to both the realities of living in a northern climate and her mother’s disavowal of her relationship with another woman.

Despite these tumultuous relationships, the stories are full of comfort—offered from sister to sister, daughter to mother, and lover to lover. These offerings are often in the form of food, whether it be homemade, fast-food, or frozen.

One of the collection’s most powerful stories, for example, is “Peach Cobbler,” which begins: “My mother’s peach cobbler was so good, it made God himself cheat on his wife.” Like many in the collection, “Peach Cobbler” deals with infidelity, unhealthy relationships, and the ache to be loved with wry humor and compassion.

Each story is told in the first-person, lending the collection a powerful intimacy. The reader is left feeling as though they really have been let in on the secret lives of these powerful storytellers. In The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Philyaw paints nuanced portraits of vulnerable and resilient women who rely upon each other and create communities worth treasuring.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is available now at the Literatures and Languages Library.

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Resource Spotlight: African American Poetry

This week, we are spotlighting one of our databases, which highlights African Americans’ contributions to American literature: African American Poetry

This comprehensive collection allows you to explore the extraordinary early history of African American poetry. This database includes over 3,000 poems from the 18th and 19th centuries, capturing a wide array of subjects and experiences, and relating them as broadsides, ballads, sonnets, Romantic odes, and historical epics. 

And the lives of the poets whose work is featured in African American Poetry were often as riveting as their work. Explore the poetry of Phillis Wheatley, who was abducted from West Africa at a young age, sold as a slave in Boston, and went on to become “one of the major American poets of the Colonial period.” The piercing intelligence, mastery of allusion, and stirring pathos evident in her work led to her becoming the first African-American and the second American woman to publish a volume of poetry.

Or delve into the verses of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a staunch abolitionist, suffragist, and one of the first African-American women to publish a novel (Iola Leroy, in 1892). Her political activism is particularly evident in her poetry, which often showcased the horrors of slavery through the lens of motherhood. Her powerful “The Slave Mother, a Tale of the Ohio,” was based on the same real-life events that inspired Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved.

The final stanza of Harper’s moving “Bury Me in a Free Land” reads:

 I ask no monument, proud and high

To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;

All that my yearning spirit craves,

Is bury me not in a land of slaves.

African American Poetry also includes the work of Lucy Terry Prince, Jupiter Hammon, James Monroe Whitfield, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and many more early African American poets. Access African American Poetry here and here.

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