Why English?

Past Events (Jan 2014)

UMF Answers the Question “Why English?” with Three-Day Farmington Forum Series, Jan 29-31

Press Release (UMF Media Relations)

FARMINGTON, ME (January 22, 2014)—In continuing tribute to the University of Maine at Farmington’s distinguished academic life over 150 years, the University proudly presents “Why English?” a three-day celebration of English at UMF.

The third academic discipline in the 2013-14 Farmington Forum Series, “Why English?” explores, through a host of engaging events, how studying literature enriches peoples’ lives. Events take place from Wed., Jan. 29, through Fri., Jan. 31, and are free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted.

Featured is Sir Christopher Ricks, a British literary critic and scholar, who will present the keynote address, entitled “More Than One Waste Land.” Ricks is Warren Professor of the Humanities and co-director of the Editorial Institute at Boston University. Previously, he was professor of English at the University of Bristol and at Cambridge. He was the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford from 2004-2009. A member of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers, he is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement.

In addition, notable writers Adelle Waldman and Evan Hughes will offer a “Literature for a Living” workshop and readings from their works. Waldman’s recent book, “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.,” debuted this past summer to exceptional reviews. It has been called one of 2013’s best books by The New Yorker, The National Post, Slate and many others. It was named a New York Times Editor’s Choice and a Notable Book by the Washington Post. Waldman’s writings have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

Hughes tells Brooklyn’s story through the eyes of its greatest storytellers with his 2011 book, “Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life.” A Fort Greene-based critic and journalist, he has written articles about literature for such publications as The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, n + 1 and the London Review of Books.

Complete schedule of events in the “Why English” series:

Wednesday, Jan. 29

Faculty Roundtable on T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
11:45 a.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center

Reading Methodologies: Approaches to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
This panel, which will include papers by students and faculty, will explore a range of methodological approaches to Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Daniel P. Gunn, UMF interim provost and vice president for academic affairs will respond.
2:30 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center

A Collaborative Performance of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
7:30 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center

Thursday, Jan. 30

Literature for a Living workshop
Interactive workshop with notable writers Adelle Waldman and Evan Hughes
2:25 p.m., , The Landing, UMF Olsen Student Center

Reading by Adelle Waldman and Evan Hughes
7:30 p.m., The Landing, UMF Olsen Student Center

Friday, Jan. 31

Keynote Address “More Than One Waste Land” with Sir Christopher Ricks—British literary critic and scholar
11:45 a.m., Lincoln Auditorium, UMF Roberts Learning Center

“What Can You Do with an English Major?”
UMF alumni in fields such as broadcasting, education, law and graphic design discuss how they navigated the transition from UMF to their current professional lives.
2:20 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center

“Pursuing an Academic Career in English”
UMF alumni currently in Ph.D. programs in English describe their experience.
3:30 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center

English Alumni Reception
5-7 p.m., UMF President’s House. Open to UMF alumni.

Throughout the year, UMF’s Farmington Forum Series will feature a host of special events in the six key academic disciplines of education, psychology, English, biology, mathematics and history. Events will include in-depth lectures by visiting scholars, film and research presentations, art exhibits, panel discussions and alumni receptions.

The “Why English?” Farmington Forum Series is sponsored by the UMF Department of English.

For additional details, please visit the calendar of events on the UMF 150th Anniversary website at http://150.umf.maine.edu/.

UMF’s Sesquicentennial Celebration is supported in part by the generous donations of area businesses and organizations including Franklin Savings Bank, at the Doctorate Level; Sunday River, at the Master’s Level; and Hight Chevrolet Buick GMC, Kyes Insurance, Shiretown Insurance Agency, University Credit Union and Unity Foundation at the Bachelor’s Level.


Sir Christopher Ricks at UMF

As part of the Why English? Farmington Forum, Professor Sir Christopher Ricks spoke on T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land on Friday, January 31, in Lincoln Auditorium on the UMF campus.

Why English? (past event)

Hughes & Waldman

Auto Orchestra (Car Car Can Can)

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The performance begins with performers placed in front of their instruments (aka, cars), reciting a poem. After the poem is read, hoods are closed with a decided “thunk,” performers start their engines, slam their doors, honk their horns, etc., and the race is on.

The UMF Auto Orchestra performance is a (mostly) annual rite of Spring. Faculty, staff, students, community members (and their cars) gather together to play the latest offering from composer and carductor Phil Carlsen (or perhaps CARlsen). Nothing like a traffic jam session on a sunny spring afternoon, warming up in the orchestra pit (or rather, on orchestra pit row), and getting ready to spend an hour honking, beeping, revving, door-slamming, whizzing, kazooing, ringing, blinking, reciting, marching, slow motion marching, radio volume cranking, and just generally making a lot of racket outdoors. This particular traffic jam session was entitled “CarCar CanCan” (the latest in a continuing series of automotive orchestrations, following “ReinCARnation,” “InCARnation,” “Car Afterlife” and “Car Life”). “CarCar CanCan” offered not just ca(r)caphony but high-stepping dance moves from the automotive chorus line.

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Performers always go over the score before the performance, especially, as in this case, the score was delivered on-site, and our first look was about a half-hour before “curtain.”

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The most spectacular moment came when conductor/composer Phil Carlson arrived in a spaceship that landed on the lawn, and then strode out of the open landing bay door to survey the gathered automotive players.

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The view from inside one of the automotive instruments, score in hand, gazing attentively at the conductor with the red flag (visible just above the rear view mirror).

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At certain points in the performance, drivers leave their cars to perform various actions and noises, including walking in circles, walking in random directions, blowing whizzers or kazoos, reciting poetry while walking (or standing).

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Above: whizzers in action (or whizzing and walking)

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Whirlies, which were employed at various moments, and made a very eerie space-ship-landing-on-the-grass kind of sound.

At one point, the chorus line kicked into action. On the conductor’s cue, cars in the chorus line would move simultaneously forward or backward. While every second car in the chorus line drove forward, every other car drove backward, and the resulting movement looked something like a chorus line’s leg kicks. Or, at least, I think it did. From inside the car, it was hard to tell, what with the whipping back and forth from forward to reverse, and the looking out to make sure you didn’t smash into the car next to you.

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Above, drivers gathered in a circle, reading a poem aloud, while performers with whirlies encircled us.

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This was a little unsettling. And one couldn’t help but think, what with the close proximity of the gleaming white spaceship and the open landing bay door, that all of us whizzers were about to herded like so much intergalactic cattle aboard the spaceship and carried off into space. But, fortunately, that didn’t happen.

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Only in the auto orchestra can all my Broadway dreams come true: member of the chorus line and a soprano!

1920s Salon

As the spring semester comes to a close, English majors and English faculty have been involved with a number of campus events. As part of Arts Night leading into Symposium Day, students in ENG 370 The Splendid Drunken Twenties hosted a 1920s-style salon, complete with students dressing in 1920s style, games invented during the surrealism movement of the 1920s, games inspired by surrealism (such as the Haiku Chef), readings of 1920s poetry (in English and French), and 1920s music.

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“Flappers” and surrealist games

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A little ragtime. . . .

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The Haiku Chef assembled freshly prepared Haiku for Salon guests, who were asked to write out a line of haiku (5 syllables or 7 syllables). The Haiku Chef would complete the poem by drawing pre-made 5 or 7 syllable lines from out of her pots, assembling the 3 lines in whatever way made the most (or least) sense, and then reading the completed haiku aloud. After the poem was read, the Haiku Chef’s assistant (the sous-ku chef) added the finished poem to the growing body of freshly prepared haiku posted on the wall.

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More surrealist games. . . .

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. . . . including Exquisite Corpse, a surrealist game that involves several people collaborating to write a paragraph (each person writing a sentence without knowing what the others have written).

The Salon ended with a “choral” reading of Gertrude Stein’s 1926 poem “A Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story”

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With readers upstairs and downstairs, arranged in a partial circle around the open space of the gallery, Steinian sentences such as “Has to be as a wife has a cow a love story. Has made as to be as a wife has a cow a love story” were tossed back and forth and echoed through the Emery Community Arts Center.

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The Splendid Drunken Twenties, Spring 2013.

Appendix I: Exquisite Corpse Paragraphs

I was completely naked, except for a peacock-feather boa (of false feathers), wrapped around my head. A blinking light is shining that prevents sights of others, makes me shudder. Suddenly she saw a light switch in an inappropriate location on the wall. She picked up a few bags of puffin stew at the laundromat and then it was done.

How was I to know she would be carrying an exploding magic ball? Did you have any idea what she was holding? What the hell is that boat? Try the soup before it’s too late, said the cat to the fiddle as he flew to the moon. The squid is laughing uncontrollably about the mistakes of the other people. Their failures created something wondrous, a hideously beautiful creature.

The stranger seemed equally interested in Miss Leslie’s gigantic new novel. Within the book was a hidden compartment, containing a Portal Gun. A wall appeared out of nowhere. I ran toward the Captain Crunch cereal. And I yelled, “Why!!!?” Captain Picard dragged the body across the room, out of breath, with my sensuous banana.


Appendix II: Freshly Prepared Haiku


Dark, water-mouthed dreams:

dusty fragments of old bones,

cats meow patience.


Frosting, so creamy,

cats swimming in cups of gin

–cupcakes of salmon.


She reads, she reads, she–

a box of angry ocean,

soy sauce and kindness.


Cherry blossoms dance

–I like to paint my long nails–

the horses waltz.


Such loud pigeons,

eaten by rabid lobsters.

Vodka, no tonic.


Eggplants, cucumbers,

one sweetly curling goatee,

a morning glory.


An ill-manner cat

with a tongue of rubbed amber

hates Justin Bieber.


More from “Sirens”

Performing Gatsby

Unsurprisingly, last week’s Gatsby event at the Emery Arts Center brought out a literary crowd, including a lot of folks from English and the Humanities—onstage and in the audience.

Photos courtesy of the Emery Community Arts Center

A Day in the Park

Near the end of spring semester, several faculty members in English were asked to help judge a poetry contest co-sponsored by the University of Maine-Farmington and the Portland Sea Dogs (AA team of the Boston Red Sox). Most of the entries came from students in the schools around Portland, and many of the poems were written in response to the prompts “A Favorite Summer Memory” and “Favorite Ballpark Treat.” We ended up picking two winners, and several honorable mentions (one for each category of Ballpark Treat, as it turns out).

The Sea Dogs planned to have us all, judges and contest winners, take part in a pre-game event, in which the winners and honorable mentions would be paraded out onto the field, and the two winners would read their poems aloud (to the entire stadium, it turns out, via the PA system). The first time this was scheduled, the event got cancelled because of rain.

The event, however, was rescheduled for this past Sunday, when the weather was great, and we had our poetry pre-game event.

The UMF contingent stands behind the poetry winners and honorable mentions. From the left, Theo Kalikow (in the cap), Michael Johnson, Dan Gunn, and Eric Brown.

And Chompers, of course, UMF’s costumed mascot (back row, to the left).

Nothing like a poetry reading to get a team mascot jumping up and down with excitement.

Graduation 2012

Some photos from the 2012 graduation ceremony, and from one of the English department’s new traditions, a congratulatory brunch with graduating English majors:

2012 graduating English Majors (or, at least, as many of them as we could gather together after the graduation ceremony) with English faculty.

More from the Shakespeare Conference

From Friday’s Shakespeare, Sight, and Sound panel, with chair, Estelle Rivier, Université du Maine, Le Mans, and presenters Misty Beck, Bates College and UMF,  Robert McClung, Temple University.

From Friday’s Workshop/Presentation on Performing Shakespeare: chair Linda Britt, UMF, panelists and performers,
Valerie Clayman Pye, Stony Brook University, who offered an interactive presentation (complete with bouncing balls and iambic pentameter) on  “Uncovering the Tragic Voice in the Activated Body,” and Phil Carlsen and Jayne Decker, UMF, who performed (with aide of pianist and singers) music from the Sandy River Players’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.