UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Weston Morrow

This week, UIUC MFA student Weston Morrow reads “She Decides She Prefers Longing Over Satisfaction” by Maya Jewell Zeller and “I Consider My Grandfather Going Home” by Weston Morrow. Watch his readings on our Instagram here and here, and read his reflections below:

Both the poems I’ve chosen to read here consider the landscape—of both nature and the self. I was sitting at my desk recording these this morning with the aid of the increasing natural light and, for the first time in what feels like forever, I worried whether the birds outside might sing loud enough to interrupt my audio.

Like the speakers in both these poems, I’ve felt a sense of dread, of loss, and loneliness, these past twelve months. I’ve sat inside my house with nothing to do at times but look out the window by my desk. I watched the trees shed their leaves and my world shrink with the winter light as I slipped further into myself and further away from others.

I haven’t found myself able to read for fun in months, but the dogwood across the street is blushing pink, the light is finding its way back into my room through the curtains, and I’m reading again. Maya Jewell Zeller’s poem reminds me that the world is always there, awaiting my return, and no matter how calloused I become, the grass will come back each spring, and give my feet a soft place to land.

Poetry, like nature, can recede from my consciousness at times. It can feel frivolous in the face of loss — as people I love, and the world we call home, are dying. Eighty years ago, W.H. Auden wrote a line quoted still today, by lovers and haters of poetry alike, “[P]oetry makes nothing happen…” But, consider, if you will, the rest of the section:

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

As I sit here at this desk, hardly having moved this past year, I’m thinking—finally—like Zeller’s speaker, who “wanted to know / how far the wind went / after it rounded the tool- / shed, the river bend…”

Who knows what lies ahead. I’m nervous, but excited. I think I’ll go outside. I might even take my shoes off.

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Summer Reading in the Classics

Looking for some classics-inspired reading to sink your teeth into this summer? Check out this list of fiction set in the ancient world or drawing inspiration from Greco-Roman mythology.

Blue cover with a golden Grecian helmet emblazoned with the book title.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Click for catalog link.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

A heartbreaking retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Patroclus. Our narrator meets the heroic Achilles at a young age, and we watch alongside him as his companion grows into a seemingly invincible warrior. Throughout their adolescence and preparation for war, their relationship develops into one of profound love. By the time the pair reach the beaches of Troy, the plot churns forward as the audience braces for an inevitably tragic end. Fans of this novel should definitely check out Miller’s Circe and her earlier novella Galatea.

 

 

Purple and gold illustration of the Trojan Horse with five women in front of it.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker. Release date: June 2021.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

Set in the aftermath of the sacking of Troy, this novel gives a voice to the women left behind in the aftermath of a bloody Greek victory. Briseis, a Trojan royal captured by Achilles, navigates the shattered world of her ruined city alongside the other overlooked women of the former court. A gritty, visceral imagining that pairs seamlessly with Barker’s previous novel set during the Trojan War, The Silence of the Girls.

 

 

 

 

Illustration of Roman women in archways with stars in the distance.

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper. Release date: May 2021.

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

A story about Pompeii that fleshes out the people living in the ill-fated town. Amara is a sex worker in a city brothel (a lupanar, or wolf den) attempting to assert her agency in a society that denies her bodily autonomy. An absorbing tale of womanhood and resistance that will resonate with contemporary readers looking for strong female characters in a vivid reimagining of the past.

 

 

 

 

A still life of a Roman feast with a robed figure standing next to it.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King. Click for catalog link.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
Enslaved Thrasius navigates a dangerous political climate and the changing whims of his avaricious gourmand of a master, Apicius, as he serves extravagant dishes to Rome’s most powerful patricians in the Augustan age. Richly detailed and emotionally evocative, King presents a sumptuous feast of a novel inspired by a centuries-old collection of recipes. Her world-building is excellent; she instantly draws readers into the past through her sensory-laden prose. May leave you hungry, may not — depends on how deeply you crave peacock meatballs, milk snails, and flamingo tongues.

 

 

A woman underwater covering her face.

The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons.

The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons
A clever reimagining of Medusa that tackles relatable themes of loneliness and companionship. It follows Medusa through her daily life of isolation as she reminisces on her long-lost days of human existence and waits for something to break the monotony of life as a lone monster. She begins to seek solace in visits from the god Hermes, and as the years roll by, their relationship strengthens. A feminist take on Medusa that grants her much more happiness than the myths.

 

 

 

An illustration of a woman in all orange with sun rays radiating from her head.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne is a formidable new force in mythological retellings. It follows Ariadne and Phaedra, princesses of Crete, from the birth of their younger half-brother Asterion (more popularly known as the Minotaur) to their subsequent separations, marriages, and tragic ends. This is a well-written woman-centered story that breathes life into mythical characters. Saint raises questions of women’s autonomy and her characters acknowledge and challenge their own limitations in a world that disproportionately punishes women. Fans of Madeline Miller, Margaret Atwood, and Pat Barker will find much to savor in this bold new story.

 

A girl in a pink coat holds a statuette of the Eiffel Tower.

Lovely War by Julie Berry. Click for catalog link.

Lovely War by Julie Berry
Set against the backdrops of World War I and II, Lovely War follows Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Ares as they recount the lives of four teenagers finding love during the Great War. Filled with memorable characters, lush prose, and vivid settings, the novel considers how love persists even in immense peril. The Olympian trio provides a timeless framing to the woven narrative of the two young couples fighting for their lives and their happiness amidst a global catastrophe.

 

 

 

A black cover with a bust of a Grecian marble statue with the title "The Maidens" covering the eyes.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. Release date June 2021.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
One by one, the students of a brilliant, charismatic Cambridge classics professor are found dead. Grieving therapist Mariana receives a panicked call from her niece Zoe, whose friend and classmate is the first to show up brutally murdered in the woods off campus. Rushing to Cambridge – a place imbued with memories, as she recalls meeting her recently deceased husband when they were young students there – Mariana comforts Zoe and starts to pick apart the threads of the mystery unraveling before her. If you’ve read The Secret History by Donna Tartt, this classics-inspired contemporary thriller should definitely be on your to-read shelf.

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Stuart Albert

Our celebration of National Poetry Month continues on this penultimate Thursday of April. Today, we are proud to feature LitLang’s own Stuart Albert reading Reed Whittermore’s “The Tarantula.” Watch Albert read his selection here and read his reflections below:

The Tarantula”, by Reed Whittemore, is a long-standing favorite of mine. As a dramatic monologue, it lends itself well to reading aloud. And… I don’t want to ruin the surprise with too much preamble… but I think many readers / listeners will find the narrator something of a kindred spirit.

After some cursory research, I’m inclined to think this poem inspired by the essay “The Spider and the Wasp”, by the much-cited authority Alexander Petrunkevitch, published in Scientific American magazine in August 1952. It’s always interesting to me, to see how often (and how far) the poetic imagination is launched by the tangible, the imminent, the seemingly dry and merely factual.

Incidentally, I held a tarantula once. Decent fella, name of Cecil.

P.S. I don’t know if lagniappes are allowed, but here’s another poem, by Howard Nemerov, that I think pairs well with “The Tarantula”. Like William, Oliver is someone I think many of us can identify with.

http://poemhunter.blogspot.com/2007/08/make-big-money-at-home-write-poems-in.html

 

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Christel Thompson

Our celebration of national poetry month continues with Christel Tompson reading her poem, “Aubade.” Christel Thompson is a writer and student currently pursuing a Bachelor of Liberal Arts at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Watch her reading on our Instagram account and read her reflections below:

When I wrote “Aubade”, I set out to put something on the page that was purely honest– I think that poets have the tendency to embellish, to make “more beautiful”, and lose transparency along the way. This is why I chose to meditate on the clarity of sleep, the in-between spaces that come before and after waking— there is no room in those moments for even a whisper of dishonesty. How can there be? There’s no pretending when you’re asleep.

In traditional aubades, the dawn brings with it a physical parting with a lover. But in the realm my poet inhabits, it’s not leaving that the speaker fears, but rather, the dishonesty that morning will bring– the cowardice. The quiet comfort of night, of slumber, is what brings these two lovers an authentic existence.

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Professor Ángel Garcia

Dr. Ángel Garcia is Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned a PhD from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and an M.F.A. from the University of California-Riverside.

He is the author of Teeth Never Sleep, winner of a 2018 CantoMundo Poetry Prize published by the University of Arkansas Press, winner of a 2019 American Book Award, finalist for a 2019 PEN America Open Book Award, and finalist for a 2020 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Professor Garcia Ángel is also the cofounder of the non-profit organization, Gente Organizada, which educates, empowers, and engages communities through grassroots organizing.

Watch Professor Garcia read his poem, “Dina Olimpico” on our Instagram here. He reflects on how Natasha Trethewey and Geffrey Davis inspired his poem below:

What I love and what I want to honor in Natasha Trethewey’s poem “The Southern Crescent” from her book Native Guard and in Geffrey Davis’ poem “King Country Metro” from his book, is their recognition of ancestry and how one arrives in a particular place. Thinking about my own family, I wanted to document the seemingly innate need for one to return home and also point to some of the constraints and challenges one might face in doing so. To further complicate the idea of returning, I wanted to acknowledge the long familial history of moving from place to place across several generations.

 

But another important way to think about ancestry is poetic ancestry. I wanted to honor my own lineage of poetic ancestry, particularly Black poets like Natasha Tretheway and Geffrey Davis, who by writing about their own migratory experiences have inspired and influenced me to write about the migrations of my own family. National Poetry Month, with the availability of so many reading, events, and poems, is a wonderful time for students and poets to discover their own poetic ancestry, digging through books, journals, and archives to discover poems that speak to their experiences. Going one step further, we can continue that lineage by then writing imitation poems based on the original poems of our poetic ancestors.

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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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Reading Recommendations For Native American Heritage Month

“I’ve been taught bloodstones can cure a snakebite / can stop the bleeding—most people forgot this / when the war ended.” So begins the titular work of Postcolonial Love Poem, the latest  collection from award-winning poet Natalie Diaz. 

November is Native American Heritage Month, also known as American Indian Heritage Month. To celebrate, we are highlighting a few recently published works by Indigenous authors in our collection. The books linked below are as unique and multifaceted as the cultures they depict. They explore such ideas as reconciliation, dream-sharing, feminine power, resilience, and what it means to create a home. They grapple with trauma, violence, and racism in turn, but they are also touched with a deep sense of hope and love.

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age By: Darrel McLeod

As a small boy in remote Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod is immersed in his Cree family’s history, passed down in the stories of his mother, Bertha. There he is surrounded by her tales of joy and horror. And there young Darrel learns to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that will guide him throughout his life.

But after a series of tragic losses, Bertha turns wild and unstable, and their home life becomes chaotic. Mamaskatch traces McLeod’s struggles to keep his life and family together, and come to terms with his sexual identity, amidst violence and chaos. 

 

Postcolonial Love Poem By: Natalie Diaz

Postcolonial Love Poem is an anthem of desire against erasure. Natalie Diaz’s brilliant second collection demands that every body carried in its pages—bodies of language, land, rivers, suffering brothers, enemies, and lovers—be touched and held as beloveds. Through these poems, the wounds inflicted by America onto an indigenous people are allowed to bloom pleasure and tenderness: “Let me call my anxiety, desire, then. / Let me call it, a garden.” In this new lyrical landscape, the bodies of indigenous, Latinx, black, and brown women are simultaneously the body politic and the body ecstatic. In claiming this autonomy of desire, language is pushed to its dark edges, the astonishing dunefields and forests where pleasure and love are both grief and joy, violence and sensuality.

Sabrina & Corina By: Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit in the American West. Against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado—a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite—these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.

In “Sugar Babies,” ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth but tend to rise during land disputes. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.

Rebel Poet (Continuing the Oral Tradition): more stories from the 21st century Indian By: Louis V. Clark III (Two Shoes)

This eagerly anticipated follow-up to the breakout memoir How to Be an Indian in the 21st Century delves more deeply into the themes of family, community, grief, and the struggle to make a place in the world when your very identity is considered suspect. In Rebel Poet: More Stories from a 21st Century Indian, author Louis Clark examines the effects of his mother’s alcoholism and his young sister’s death, offers an intimate recounting of the backlash he faced as an Indian on the job, and celebrates the hard-fought sense of home he and his wife have created. Rebel Poet continues the author’s tradition of seamlessly mixing poetry and prose, and is at turns darker and more nuanced than its predecessor

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Looking for Something to Read? Try These Titles!

Undecided on what to read next? Stuck in a reading slump? We can help! Here are some recommendations you can find in the library catalog:

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

book cover: a woman in a vintage red dress stands in front of a green background

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Click for catalog link.

 

If you’re looking for a book to keep you up at night, Mexican Gothic is the perfect choice. When Noemí receives a worrying letter from her cousin, she travels to High Place, where Catalina lives with her husband and his strange family, the Doyles. When strange dreams and happenings begin to plague her, Noemí suspects there is more to High Place than meets the eye. Mexican Gothic is an eerie, gothic tale of horror that will leave you thoroughly spooked.

 

 

 

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

cover art for dear edward. click for catalog link

Dear Edward, by Ann Napolitano. Click for catalog link.

 

When Edward boards a plane to Los Angeles with his family, the last thing he expects is for it to crash–and to leave him as the only survivor. He goes to live with his aunt and uncle, where, over the course of many years, he tries to find his place and purpose in the world. A haunting coming-of-age story, Dear Edward is a breathtaking tale that will leave you thinking about it for days to come.

 

 

 

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

cover art for the stationery shop. click for catalog link

The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali. Click for catalog link.

The year is 1953. Roya loves the stationery shop owned by Mr. Fakhri. It’s her oasis in Tehran, a place she can feel safe. When she’s set up by self-proclaimed matchmaker Mr. Fakhri, a beautiful romance blooms between her and another customer, Bahman. On the day before they’re to be married, they agree to meet in the town square, though due to a coup, they are unable to meet. After attempts to contact Bahman fail, Roya moves on with her life, but years later, fate brings Roya and Bahman together again. And this time, Roya is determined to know what happened all those years ago. If you like literary fiction with a slice of romance, The Stationery Shop is a perfect choice.

 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

cover art for the secret history

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. Click for catalog link.

 

Maybe you’re interested in the dark side of academia. If so, The Secret History is a great choice. When Richard leaves his hometown to attend Hampden College, he finds himself introduced to an elite group of Classics scholars, led by the enigmatic Julian Morrow. Soon, though, he finds himself embroiled in a plot to murder one of their own: a fellow student, Bunny. Told through flashbacks leading up to Bunny’s death, The Secret History is a chilling work of fiction deserving of its bestseller status.

 

 

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

cover art of djinn patrol on the purple line. click for catalog link

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, by Deepa Anappara. Click for catalog link.

 

Nine-year-old Jai considers himself to be one of the smartest kids at his school. So when one of his classmates goes missing, he’s determined to find him, believing the crime-solving skills he’s picked up from watching too much television will help solve the case. But when more children begin to go missing and the police force remains indifferent, Jai and his friends must confront a terrifying reality. Based on real disappearances occurring in metropolitan India, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is an emotional thriller sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

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Spooky Reads for Halloween

Happy Halloween! Whether you’re in the mood for haunted houses or cosmic horror, the library has all sorts of recommendations to get you into the Halloween spirit. To find the books in the library catalog, click the book title.

Happy reading!


Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

book cover featuring woman in red dress in front of a green patterned background

 

If Gothic horror is what you’re looking for, then Mexican Gothic is the right book for you! When Noemí Taboada receives a worrisome message from her cousin, she journeys to High Place, where her cousin lives with her new husband and his eccentric family. The longer she spends there, though, the more the walls seem to talk, as if the massive mansion itself is alive…

 

 

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

 

Wanting a classic tale within a Haunted House? Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House features unexplained phenomena, spooky happenings, and a house that just may claim one of its visitors as its own.

 

 

 

 

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe 

 

Edgar Allan Poe is the king of eerie, bone-chilling tales. Looking for classic horror? Try The Fall of the House of Usher, a story of an odd family within an even creepier home. Maybe you’re looking for something even more bone-chilling; if that’s the case, try The Tell-Tale Heart, or The Masque of the Red Death. Whatever story you choose, it’s sure to be perfect for a dark, Halloween night.

 

 

Carmilla, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

 

 

Maybe this year, you want to read a vampire classic. Look no further than Carmilla, a story that predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If you want an eerie, romantic vampire story, Le Fanu’s novella is a perfect choice.

 

 

 

Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff

 

Maybe you want some cosmic horror to read on this Halloween night. If so, Lovecraft Country is the perfect choice. Blending Lovecraft’s monsters with fantasy and historical fiction, while also exploring terrors of life in Jim Crow America, Ruff’s acclaimed novel will keep you on the edge of your seat with every new chapter.

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Congratulations to Nobel Prize Recipient Louise Glück!

On October 8th, American poet Louise Glück was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature. Congratulations!

portrait of poet louise glück

Louise Glück, recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature

Glück was awarded the prize “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.” In addition to the Nobel, she has been awarded numerous prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, and was the 2003-2004 poet laureate of the United States.

The Nobel Prize in Literature was first awarded in 1901 and is given out annually. The Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes created by Alfred Nobel; recipients are selected by the Swedish Academy based upon their body of work.

Interested in reading Louise Glück’s poetry? Many of her titles are available to check out at the library:

cover featuring plant life next to book title, the wild iris

The Wild Iris, by Louise Glück. Click for catalog link.

cover art of a road/highway on dark background

Faithful and Virtuous Night, by Louise Glück. Click for catalog link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cover art of flowers and plants on a salmon background

The House on Marshland, by Louise Glück. Click for catalog link.

If you’d like to read other works by Louise Glück, you can find them here.

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