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Warren Wilson College MFA readings, lectures

3 Jan 2013 - 12 Jan 2013

The public is welcome to attend the morning lectures and evening readings in fiction and poetry offered during Warren Wilson’s Master of Fine Arts Program winter residency. Events last about one hour and admission is not charged. The schedule is subject to change. For more information call the MFA office at 828-771-3715.

Readings will begin at 8:15 p.m. in Ransom Fellowship Hall, behind the Warren Wilson College Chapel, unless indicated otherwise.


Thursday, Jan. 3, 8 p.m., Canon Lounge of Gladfelter Student Center — Marianne Boruch, Dean Bakopoulos, Connie Voisine, Michael Parker.

Friday, Jan. 4 — Robin Romm, Rick Barot, Megan Staffel, Rodney Jones.

Saturday, Jan. 5 — Daisy Fried, Liam Callanan, Martha Rhodes, Dominic Smith.

Sunday, Jan. 6, Canon Lounge — Debra Allbery, Antonya Nelson, Eleanor Wilner, Patrick Somerville.

Monday, Jan. 7 — Karen Brennan, Maurice Manning, David Haynes, Ellen Bryant Voigt.

Wednesday, Jan. 9 — Jennifer Grotz, Heather McHugh, Kevin McIlvoy, C. Dale Young.


Thursday, Jan. 10 — Kelli J. Christenson, Cher Fox, Alain Park, Cody Heartz, Rosemary Kitchen.

Friday, Jan. 11 — Jayne Benjulian, Michelle Collins Anderson, Allen Chamberlain, Lynette D’Amico, Cathleen O’Neal.

Saturday, Jan. 12, 4:30 p.m., followed by Graduation Ceremony — Jennifer Gillespie Mason, Ryan Burden, Kara Olson, Lara Markstein.


All lectures will be in the Ransom Fellowship Hall behind the Chapel.

Saturday, Jan. 5, 9:30 a.m. ELEANOR WILNER: Getting Out of the Way, or How Not to Stand in Your own Light

This talk will consider how and why we get in our own way as imaginative writers, offer some models and a variety of strategies for getting out of the way and enabling the creative imagination—of which Lu Chi said in Wen Fu, his treatise on the art of writing: The truth of the thing lies inside us, but no power on earth can force it; and Louise Glück, writing 18 centuries later: The dream of art is not to assert what is already known but to illuminate what has been hidden, and the path to the hidden is not inscribed by will. How then to invoke what will not be commanded? Handouts will be provided.

Saturday, Jan. 5, 10:45 a.m. KEVIN McILVOY: Focalization

The tensions of looking and being looked at are essential in all narrative. What asks to be focused upon? What resists focalization? At what moment does something come into focus, and at what critical moment does something elude focus? For some writers, a significant breakthrough occurs when they move past their first assumptions about “looking” behaviors. This lecture will refer to Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs (published in 1896), specifically to the editions that include the “Dunnett Landing” stories.

Monday, Jan. 7, 9:30 a.m. ROBIN ROMM: The Unsparing Gaze

In this lecture I will talk about two authors that use “the unsparing gaze” toward very different ends. Edward St. Aubyn’s tragic and autobiographical “Patrick Melrose Novels” explore how childhood incest wreaks havoc on a psyche. Alison Lurie’s comic social satire “The War Between the Tates” skewers gender roles and marriage. Both authors make the most of discomfort, an excellent aim for any artist. Though taboo is universally interesting, St. Aubyn and Lurie go far beyond the gratuitous. The precision and artfulness of language presses against this dark material, creating a second layer of experience so that we are magnetized, riveted, seduced despite simultaneously being alarmed, repulsed, repelled. Other artists may also be used to demonstrate this—Vladimir Nabokov, J.M. Coetzee, A.M. Homes, Lorrie Moore. I do recommend that students familiarize themselves with St. Aubyn’s novel series (we’ll probably discuss “Never Mind” and “Mother’s Milk”), as well as Alison Lurie.

Monday, Jan. 7, 10:45 a.m. DAISY FRIED: All My Pretty Hates

Dig for me the narrow bed,
Now I am bereft.
All my pretty hates are dead,
And what have I left?
— Dorothy Parker

I’m fascinated by—and have learned to pay special attention to—negative reactions (mine and other people’s) to specific poems and prose. What can our strong reactions—not merely the blahs—tell us about who we are, what our prejudices are made of, and what are the failings and successes in our own work (perhaps the same thing)? This talk is about the limits of taste, the importance of prejudice, and learning to learn from what rubs us all wrong. Writers discussed may include Anne Winters, Alice Oswald, Frederick Seidel, Philip Roth, Edward St. Aubyn, Charles Dickens, Brenda Shaughnessy, John Milton, and Charleses Bernstein and Baudelaire.

Friday, Jan. 11, 9:30 a.m. CONNIE VOISINE: What is big as an elephant but weighs nothing at all? * or The Riddle in the Lyric Poem

As the mother of a small child, I have become reacquainted with the power of riddles, especially the way they move between a literal meaning and a figurative one. Think of how we respond to a good riddle—the epiphanic moment, the flash of comprehension, the way we are moved beyond the immediate, physical world. We could say that lyric poems are riddles of a sort. Northrup Frye calls the riddle “essentially a charm in reverse . . . the revolt of the intelligence against the hypnotic power of commanding words.” This struggle, between mystery and sense, is what we will explore in this class using the riddle poem to provide a launching point. Starting with riddle poems from the Red Book of Exeter, we’ll read poems by Swift, Hardy, Dickinson, Plath, Wilbur, and others to talk about how to develop this kind of magic.

*The shadow of the elephant.

Friday, Jan. 11, 11:15 a.m. DOMINIC SMITH: The Mystery of Personality:
Paradox, Consistency, and the Limits of Psychology in Creating Compelling Fictional Characters

When Flannery O’Connor said, “A story always involves, in a dramatic way, the mystery of personality,” she highlighted a key tension for the literary fiction writer—how to create characters who are both consistent and paradoxical. While the psychologist might be interested in understanding and categorizing the tangled web of personality, the fiction writer is primarily interested in revealing it. And as O’Connor reminds us, that revelation must happen in a dramatic way. This lecture will attempt to explore our cultural understanding of personality, how it impedes and/or aids our explorations on the page, and some practical ways we might harness personality as an inherently dramatic “vehicle.” No reading required in advance, though I will refer to characters from stories by O’Connor, Cheever, Salinger, and others.

Saturday, Jan. 12, 10 a.m. DEAN BAKOPOULOS: Rainbows for All God’s Children (& Other Horror Stories)

In this lecture, we will look at the traditional structure of horror stories, those tales of murder and mayhem, and then examine suspense and momentum in new ways. Pursued by monsters, how does one make time for side trips into the realm of the flashback and digression? When momentum is at stake in a poem or plot, of what use is absurdity and confusion? Look, I plan to scare you: invariably, you’ll answer the phone and you’ll hear heavy breathing. Outside, there will be a noise; you will decide to investigate in your pajamas. Eventually, you will run through the woods, scantily clad, and you will trip on tree roots. I will refer to several short stories, beginning with ZZ Packer’s “Brownies” (which is in the Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction, edited by Martone/ Williford). I will also refer to “Paper Lanterns” by Stuart Dybek, “Chef’s House” by Raymond Carver, “Dance in America” by Lorrie Moore, and “A Village After Dark,” by Kazuo Ishiguro, all of which are conveniently available as New Yorker Fiction Podcasts. Selections from Anne Carson’s novel-in-verse The Autobiography of Red (and some poems) will be available as handouts.

Saturday, Jan. 12, 11:15 a.m. MARIANNE BORUCH: Three Blakes

William Blake’s childhood home had been built on an old graveyard, once called Pesthouse Close, and neighbors at the time still complained of the stink, especially when it rained. Small wonder that this poet/engraver, grimy hard-scrabble printer by trade claimed to have seen God’s face in the window at age 4, angels in a many-branched tree at 14, chanting, hooded 11th century monks in 1774 during his “graver” apprenticeship when sent to Westminster Abbey, week after week, to make drawings of the tombs for reproduction. Other visitations, repeatedly: his beloved dead brother Robert, Michelangelo, Raphael, the archangel Gabriel. Plus the poems, of course, sacred and profane, which came at him and through him. The focus of this lecture will be his Songs of Innocence and Experience. Poet or fiction writer, whichever you are: to read Blake or to stare into his engravings and paintings is to be taken back to the source of what we do. Prepare to be haunted—as Yeats was, as Ginsberg was, and Coleridge in his pleasure dome. I’ll be thinking out loud about three Blakes, in a kind of triptych, one section concerning his brilliant, quirky, often heroic way with image as artist and poet, and then there’s the sound of it, song, in our time and his. In addition, many things, this and that, outside, inside…. It might be wise to read through both sets of poems—Innocence and Experience—in advance. But not to worry. You will be pelted with a handout at the lecture, as jumpstart or reminder.