BFA Faculty Reading

An annual reading occurs at UMF where the BFA Creative Reading Faculty read selected pieces from their written work to students, faculty, and members of the community. On October 25th, 2015 four faculty each had fifteen minutes to give voice to the stories they’ve worked hard on to express.

Professor Gretchen Legler, who is currently on sabbatical, read a powerful, moving essay from All the Powerful Invisible Things, entitled “Wild Flowers”. Professor Teal Minton succeeded with a fictional piece titled “Our Man in Moscow” based on the real-life Lee Harvey Oswald. Professor Patricia O’Donnell shared a piece from fictionweekly.com titled “Gods for Sale”, a piece inspired by her trip to Kruger Park in Cape Town, South Africa. Jeffrey Thomson ended the evening with selected poetry from his book, Blind Desire and a short essay he wrote this summer entitled “Why I Write”.

Although this is a university comprised of students writing and editing their work, it’s so valuable to hear the words of our faculty’s hard work outside of the classroom. Every writer faces the challenge of creation, even our ever-talented faculty.

Spring and Summer 2016 Topic Courses in Literature

The literature faculty at the University of Maine-Farmington will offer several special topics courses for Spring 2016. Please see below for descriptions of those courses.

Spring 2016 Topic Courses

ENG 277H/01 Emily Dickinson.(Case)

This course will be an intensive study of the work, life, and writing practices of the

poet Emily Dickinson. While grappling with Dickinson’s poems will be the main

focus of the course, we will also investigate her fascinating biography, her unique

approach to publication, and the role of gender and religion in her work and its

reception.

No prior experience with poetry required.

Prerequisite(s): ENG 100; for students in CWR, ENG, SEN, or ELE-Language Arts,

ENG 100 and ENG 181.

ENG 377/01 Worlds of the Victorian Novel. (Darrohn)

How do British Victorian novels evoke complex worlds and welcome readers into

them?  How did the diverse kinds of novels that were popular in the Victorian age

enable writers and readers to understand themselves, their minds, their relation

to others, and their place in the world?  We will explore the multifaceted worlds–

physical, social, and, especially, psychological–created in a wide variety of

Victorian novels, such as the sensation novel, the multiplot novel, and the

adventure novel, by some of the following writers: Mary Elizabeth Braddon,

Charlotte Bronte, Lewis Carroll, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, H.

Rider Haggard, Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Bram Stoker.

Prerequisites: For ENG majors following the catalogs of 2014-2015 or later, ENG

300; for all other students, one 200-level ENG literature course.

ENG 377/02   Ancient Epics. (Brown)

A study of four texts in their entirety–Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the

Aeneid–fundamental to the western literary tradition.  We will consider the epic

as a (lost) genre, conceptualizions of epic theory from Aristotle to the present

(Bakhtin, Frye, etc.), and consider various adaptations and subversions of the epic

mode, including the mock-epic.

Prerequisite(s):   ENG 300 or one 200 level course.

ENG 477/01 Popular Genres. (Johnson)

This course investigates the field of popular genres through examples in a variety

of media (fiction, film, television, comic books, etc.) and through critical readings

in the theory of genre, focusing primarily on the western, superhero, zombie, and

romance genres. For each genre we examine, we will be attentive to the

narratives, character types, conventions, and iconography typical of the genre as

well as to innovation and variation in those forms. We will also look at

intersections between the literary and the popular through books by established

literary artists (such as Cormac McCarthy and Colson Whitehead) who adapt the

conventions of popular genres. As we will see, the line between the literary and

popular is a blurry one, as is the line between one genre and another, and as the

semester progresses we will be increasingly interested in hybridized and

experimental approaches to genre. In the later part of the course, students will

develop independent projects that further the exploration of a popular genre,

either building on the genres studied earlier in the course or branching off into

other popular genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror, melodrama, etc.).

Prerequisite(s): One previous 300-level literature course.

ENG 477/02     Jane Austen and Contemporary Culture. (Gunn)

Reading and discussion of four Austen novels (Pride and Prejudice, Emma,

Mansfield Park, and Persuasion), followed by consideration of Jane Austen as a

presence in contemporary American and European culture, not just in the many

film and television adaptations of the novels, but also in texts like Clueless,

Austenland, Lost in Austen, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, young adult novels

based on Austen, graphic texts, parodies, fan fictions, and the like. Students will

have the opportunity to do independent research into these latter phenomena,

following their own interests.  Our goal will be to come to terms with the

explosion of interest in Austen since the mid-1990s and to see this interest in the

context of the reception of Austen’s work since the early nineteenth century.

Prerequisites: One previous 300-level literature course.

Summer 2016 Topic Courses

ENG 277H Jane Austen’s Adolescent Angst (Krueger)

Do you think that you know Jane Austen? If you haven’t read her early writings, you will be surprised at what you will find. Long before Pride and Prejudice was published, Jane Austen had written three volumes of juvenilia (including parodies, poetry, plays, and short fiction), submitted a novel entitled “Susan” for publication (posthumously published as Northanger Abbey), and published a novel (Sense and Sensibility). This course explores Austen’s pre-Pride and Prejudice works in order to give students an understanding of the young, developing writer’s body of work. Readers will encounter a writer who can be immature and sarcastic at times, yet witty and clever at all times. Students will consider both what Austen’s early work shows about the author’s range of style, subject matter, and characterization, and how a look at the younger Austen’s writing produces a full image of the famed writer.

Prerequisite: ENG 100

What do Students do in a UMF English Class?

One answer to that question is: create their own adaptations of literary works. Check out Dr. Misty Krueger’s article on the work her students did in her upper-level literature course (click on the abstract to go to the article):

Abstract—The essay explores a pedagogy of adaptation that focuses on examining intertextuality and engaging students in textual production through the creation of an adaptation. The paper discusses the success of assigning an adaptation project in an upper-level, third-year literature course taught at a small university. It examines student adaptations of writings by William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Mary Shelley, and Ben H. Winters and of existing film adaptations of Sense and Sensibility and Frankenstein. I link student projects to critical concepts such as re-vision and multimodality, and disciplines such as literary studies and the digital humanities. I also analyze how the projects reflect students’ interests in popular culture and fandom.

“It’s Better this Way”, or, Malthus Reprised (A Review)

It's Better this Way (Cover)

Review by Curtis Cole

Post-apocalyptic stories are a dime a dozen. Alien invasion stories are also of a dozen. Between the two sub-genres it is difficult to do anything original; that is until you infuse your plot with four-armed, multi-eyed bull-like creatures from outer space. It may sound like a bad—or really good—“B”-sci-fi film from the 80s but it is more nuanced than that (you will be pleased to know). It is actually a tale of an ambiguous moral quandary and the ruins of a civilization rebuilding from the wreckage of an alien invasion.

So, no, there are not any ‘little green guys’.

Rather, the plot is one of Evan Greggs, a scout for a commune called The Farm, whose stability has crafted a sphere of influence in an otherwise sordid wasteland. Gregg’s job is to scout—and perhaps violently deal with—disturbances on the fringes of The Farm’s territory; keeping the peace when all of Earth’s electrical and technological infrastructure was destroyed, after all, is no easy task—someone has to do it. And so Gregg is introduced to the reader while scouting the debris of an alien craft.

Returning to base, Gregg and his scouting partner pontificate upon the significance of the wreckage; while doing so Gregg reflects on his life: how during the post-invasion world he lost his sister, father, and everyone he called friend or family. Once back at the commune the reader is introduced to the whole cast of characters—the council, lovers and fighters, and the benevolent dictator Mom. After a surprise move on the part of the council concerning Gregg’s labors, an event is announced—representatives from the (new) United States Army show up requesting an audience with the commune, their hopes pinned on recruiting soldiers in order to wage war against the alien menace.

From here political maneuverings and uncertain futures arise. Beyond generalizations, I will only say (to avoid spoilers) that there is some conflict between the commune “hippies” and the “military”.

While the technical aspects of the novel, such as punctuation and grammar are well done and though some of the scenes could have used more polish, the odd political edge of the novel leaves much to want; the domineering thread is that the alien (“Bull”) invasion made the planet, as well as humanity and civilization, better, improved.

Obviously this is a deeply reactionary statement.

In a monologue near the end a character rants about the nature of the invasion: how the Bulls removed methane from the atmosphere, (safely) shut down nuclear power plants, and forced humanity to “co-exist” with nature without the “detrimental” effects of technology and media. Essentially what author Travis Hill is describing is Neo-Luddite, or Primitivist, ideology during its most revolting incarnation; there is even reference to how “hundreds of millions, maybe even billions have died [as a result of the Bull invasion]… but we were partial [to the belief] that there were far too many of us anyway” (Location 912[1]). Although the author makes numerous references to the “hippie” nature of the commune, this is a false conflation with the above-expressed sentiment: Hippie culture never endorsed holocaust, rather it promoted social and moral reform along non-militaristic lines; only the more reactionary extremists advocated for a wholesale “return to nature” position. Even the statement—“there were far too many of us”—is incorrect; clearly taking cues from Malthus’s population theories, which centered on the percentage of arable land in relation to the growing population, while ignoring how the land was utilized and the science of capitalist development, Hill appropriates Malthus’s bankrupt theory in a further estrangement so as to make a point. Although it would take far too long to delve into positions, it suffices to say that Malthus’s research was deeply flawed and had already been dismantled by Karl Marx within his lifetime.

Clearly the world Hill envisioned is a far-cry from a triumphant war of planetary liberation from the clutches of a vicious interstellar comprador bourgeoisie; shockingly it is close to the opposite: a literary apologia to the forces of international imperialism (clearly the Bulls are extracting resources from the Earth). This is not to say all alien invasion stories have to be cliché ridden affairs where a victorious human force emerges against all odds as the top-dog. There is room in science-fiction for unconventional plots and grey, or even pitch black, moments of originality; however, this habit of viewing humanity as a virus which must set the clock back on its own progress, by eradicating technology and great swathes of humanity, as opposed to capitalism itself, needs to be turned on its head and dismissed as the proto-fascist propaganda that it is.

Hill sees society contrary to conservatives: It’s Better This Way, with its prominent showcase of Queer lives and its overt hostility to the military industrial complex and soldiers themselves, clearly has more complexity to its writing than many of the self-published Kindle titles on the marketplace. Questions of sexuality, political rule, interpersonal relations, and social organization are all raised. Often times these issues are blended together and so when one takes into account the brief nature of Hill’s novella, it is a minor achievement he manages to put forward so many threads without, for the most part, tripping over his own feet. And yet… with his seeming endorsement of a Primitive post-apocalyptic (dys-)/Utopia, he ends up alienating supporters among the Left. Whether this is a thread you wish to read, I will leave up to you.

It’s Better This Way

Travis Hill

82 pages[2]. Published by Travis Hill. $0.00 (Kindle)[3]. 2013.

[1] The reviewed edition was a Kindle E-book and so utilized a “location” based citation system instead of traditional page numbers.

[2] Page estimates courtesy of Amazon.com.

[3] Price(s) were accurate at the time of writing.

Henry Braun Memorial Poetry Prize

University of Maine System Poets: Are you aware that the deadline for submissions to the $1000 Henry Braun Memorial Poetry Prize is coming up on September 25? Here’s how to apply:

The prize was set up in May to honor the life and work of Henry Braun, [July 25, 1930 – October 11, 2014], poet, teacher, activist, and very sweet and joyful man. Applications are open to a past or present University of Maine Systems student or graduate between 18 and 35 years of age.

The award will be announced on October 30, 2015.

Requirements:

On single sheets of 8.5 x11 paper, send three poems of no more than two pages each in length. Include your name, email address, postal address, and phone number on every page.

Verify your status as a present or former University of Maine Systems undergraduate or graduate student (photocopy of current student I.D., diploma, etc.] and age verification [18 to 35].

Application materials should be sent to P.O. Box 84, Weld, Maine 04285. Please include two stamped, self-addressed envelopes; one will be used to let you know the material has been received, and the second for notification of the prize results.

His wife, Joan Braun, will review the submissions and select the three finalists, who will be invited to visit the Braun homestead in Weld, Maine, in October, 2015 for an interview. [If you are far away and unable to come to Maine in September, other arrangements will be made.] She will then select the one winner of the stipend and announce it on October 30th, 2015.

For questions only, contact Joan Braun, braunjoan@hotmail.com. No submissions by e-mail and no phone inquiries, please.

“Live Another Sol”: A Review of Andy Weir’s “The Martian”

The Martian

Review by Curtis Cole

One of the problems with contemporary science-fiction, especially those of a self-published nature, of which Weir’s original draft of the Martian constituted, is the tendency to write a screen-play instead of a novel; a Hollywood style movie, in other words, as opposed to a book. The difference being that the former is a shamelessly promoted product meant to be mass-consumed with abundance, like a Michael Bay film, while the latter is a self-aware entity brimming with philosophical poetics, a la William Faulkner. While it would be absurd to hold every piece of literature to such lofty standards as The Sound and the Fury, one must—at least—attempt to approach such a shining pedestal before blindness sets in.

Sad to say that Weir’s debut novel fails in that regard on all accounts.

Weir’s failures primarily concern character building and science. But first the plot.

Meet Mark Watney. He is one unlucky astronaut. You see, after nearly being skewered with an object during a Martian dust-storm, he loses consciousness. When he awakes he finds himself stranded on the famous “red planet” with nothing but a load of ‘planned obsolesce’ (re technology), some potatoes, and a whole lot of seventies media. Millions of miles from home and years before any rescue is likely to make planetfall, death seems certain.

Or at least death would seem certain if it was not for the technology—oh, the wondrous technology, which does not actually exist! Thank you, lord, for that fictional technology able to generate fuel, water, air and more from the simplest of means, it truly was a blessing… a deus ex machina blessing. Such gifts transcend technology though for, in addition to his slew of fancy, fictional gadgets, protagonist Watney has more resourcefulness than the entire Apollo 11 crew; problem? No problem! Just so happens there is a solution in the same chapter (convenient that). While such cleverness is not impossible, strictly speaking, it is incredibly unlikely, especially so considering his habitation. Then there is the potato farming… one would think that absurdly unlikely miracles saving spacemen wouldn’t extend to vegetables, but you would be wrong. For if Watney’s crop is anything to go by then he is the best potato farmer in the universe to be able to net a couple thousand pounds of the plant just from an original stock of several. In sum my beef amounts to the following: there is a fine line between “Ayah! He did it!” and “WTF? He did it!” More often than not Watney’s triumphs side toward the latter.

The penultimate issue, however, is that although the math supporting the science is accurate, it is not real science: it is but merely inventions on the author’s part. Although a level of make-believe is expected in any science-fiction novel, for a book which aspires to “Hard Sci-Fi” status, Watney’s technologies drain all the tension from the pages; between his resourcefulness and array of devices there is never a doubt that Watney will emerge on top. When reading this novel one will only ever experience the pseudo-drama of Hollywood, of ‘staying-tuned’ to only see what new challenge awaits and how it will be overcome. Not an iota of real tension exists.

A lack of tension does not always mean trouble, admittedly. However, in a survival tale penned as the futuristic equivalent of Robinson Crusoe, this is a major flaw; one which is not aided by the protagonist’s unreflective disposition. Although the narrative’s humor is amusing, one filled with pop culture references, the lackadaisical attitude of Watney contradicts the supposedly stress-filled environment. Loneliness, love, suicide, existential diatribes on the human condition would all be expected to be addressed within a novel concerning itself with a lone man’s struggle to survive on Mars… but no, throughout the entire tale Watney reads like the novel’s tone, that is, a conversation at the nerd’s table in a high-school cafeteria. No philosophy, no poetics, no rage or despondency at the universe, just endless jabs at disco (bad news if you’re a disco fan…).

Politically the story is one of liberal-humanism. One could say that it is a rehabilitation of governmental competency as shown through the overwhelming good within people to help one-another, despite bureaucracy and red-tape. Weir is clearly concerned with demonstrating the communal behavior of humanity to assist their fellow man/woman in times of need; visibly he is against right-wing sentiments, such as those expounded by Tea Parties and Randian Objectivists, which stress humanity’s ultimately selfish profit-centered “nature”. And yet in dismissing such reactionary critics Weir makes the mistake of legitimating the opposite extreme—liberal mythology of nation and culture.

Watney’s story is one of a working class patriot, an astronaut turned “trucker”, “farmer”, and “construction worker” who bleeds with the colors of his nation while parroting the cultural drivel leaking from what Althusser would have called “the ideological state apparatus” or what Adorno would have deemed “the culture industry”: the filling of a person’s “species potential” (to quote Marx) with unadulterated garbage meant to strip the individual of the ability to fulfill their highest possibility. This is something which is the common to the tragedy of capitalist “civilization” and which seems to be the proper outlook on critiquing Watney’s vapid personality. In effect, Watney is a kind of national allegory for the proletariat underneath false consciousness, albeit one who relishes their torment and manages—against all odds—to make the best of their deplorable situation.

Of course, at the end of the day, I cannot be too hard on Weir: after all, this is his first (published) novel. He still has a lot of growing to do as a writer. No author (or at least not many) is able to write their best at their earliest. And if I am to give credit where credit is due I can say that Weir has a talent for narrative: with the story told via (mostly) diary entries, yet supplemented by two supporting sub-plots (one all the way back on Earth and another on the Mars expedition ship), outright omniscient narration, and even a temporal flashback chronicling the ‘how’ of a disaster, Weir was a talent with constructing viable plot webs; one must remember that such narrative construction, along with his Hollywood-shadowing writing style, is what enabled the upcoming film adaptation (starring Matt Damon) to become a reality. Weir’s talent is merely obscured by his surface bubbles. Below the waters that are his potential more yet awaits to be seen.

The Martian: A Novel

Andy Weir

369 pages. Published by Broadway Books. $13.84 (Hardcover), $9.00 (Paperback), $5.99 (Kindle), $26.95 (Audible), $7.50 (MP3 CD)[1]. 2014.

[1] Prices were taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.