Features

On the poet-scholar

Hillary Gravendyk (photo courtesy of Benjamin Burrill).

The poet and literary critic Hillary Gravendyk organized a roundtable on the “Poet-Scholar” for the 2013 MLA Convention in Boston, with participants Juliana Spahr, Jennifer Scappettone, Julie Carr, Heather Dubrow, Margaret Ronda, and Barrett Watten. She asked each speaker to speak to what she called the “permissions and limits” of the interface between poetic practice and scholarship, and to consider the various sites — the Internet, the academy, the performance/reading space — where such creative-critical combinations are occurring. The talks, printed here, offer wide-ranging meditations on her prompts.

Here is Hillary’s introduction from the event:

Welcome to our roundtable on the Poet-Scholar. This session was largely conceived of as a forum for poet-scholars to get together and share ideas, goals, and challenges of working “across the divide” between poetry and scholarship. I’ve asked each participant to speak for five minutes about their position as a poet-scholar in some form or another, and then we will open the roundtable up to a more loose discussion in which participants can respond to the presentations and ask questions. 

The poet-scholar is an increasingly common figure in academic life, one that suggests the official convergence of creative and scholarly output. Yet a look at the job market or at tenure and promotion standards reveals that a strong division between critical and poetic work seems to persist in our institutions. It is my hope that this roundtable will provide a forum for articulating the shared methodologies and theoretical pursuits of both kinds of labor.

Many poets (and other artists) are producing research now, bringing a different set of skills to the production of scholarship. This session hopes to open a discussion in which we can talk about the ways creative practice alters our approaches to literature and cultural studies and, in turn, how scholarship affects poetic practice. This discussion becomes even more urgent in the context of an increasingly preprofessionalized academic sphere in which “useless” discourse like poetry has become threatened or, at least, suspect. The participants on this panel take this discourse seriously from a practical and theoretical perspective, and I’m anxious to hear what they have to say about the peculiar role of the poet-critic in the academy and the world. 

Hillary was herself a poet and scholar of tremendous talent, passionately dedicated to exploring connections between the critical and the creative in her own poetry as well as her research. An assistant professor at Pomona College, Hillary worked on twentieth-century American poetry and disability studies and was the award-winning author of the book of poems Harm (Omnidawn, 2011) and the chapbook The Naturalist (Achiote Press, 2008). She describes the generative interchange between poetry and criticism in her manifesto for the 2012 Convergence on Poetics conference, which we print here with grateful thanks to Hillary’s husband, Benjamin Burrill: “There is no concluding paragraph, no concluding poem, only / a cloud in the room where the two make weather.” Hillary died after a long illness in May 2014.

There are various online tributes to Hillary, honoring her work as a poet and a scholar, as well as a Squaw Valley Community of Writers scholarship and an Inlandia Institute book prize in her name. This gathering of the talks from the roundtable she organized is a further tribute to Hillary’s energy, intellect, and generosity as a poet-scholar. The talks aim to follow her injunction: “Let’s remove the hyphen between poet-scholar, let’s be poelars and scholets, poetics emerges from the poem, poems emerge from scholarship.”

In memoriam: Hillary Gravendyk, 1979–2014

The poet-scholar Julie Carr
Two roads diverged? Heather Dubrow
Uses of the useless Hillary Gravendyk
'Outside of knowledge' Margaret Ronda

The Motion of Light: Celebrating Samuel R. Delany

“The Motion of Light” is named for the Kelly Writers House celebration of Samuel R. Delany’s performative poetics, held on April 11, 2014, and archived at PennSound. This Jacket2 feature collects work by all those who were a part of the Delany celebration, of an event that celebrated the writer who, as Tracie Morris notes in her introduction, “is a constellation that continues to be fixed, yet revolves, for me and for so many lovers of poetry … a maker of many worlds.”

Voices on Joseph Donahue

Joseph Donahue, 2014 (photo by Star Black).

For a poetry that yields such immediate and immense pleasure, the work of Joseph Donahue remains hard to characterize. As the author of seven volumes — including the forthcoming Red Flash on a Black Field and Dark Church, the third installment of his ongoing Terra Lucida serial project — Joseph Donahue has spent almost three decades crafting a sensibility that straddles the often-reductive binaries of literary discourse. As sacred as it is profane, as popular as it is avant-garde, and as funny as it is forlorn, Donahue’s poetry puts forward a voice that resists easy categorization. While there are many aesthetic reasons that make Donahue’s poetry difficult to encapsulate, the most pressing obstruction to characterizing his poetry is the little precedence that exists for such an endeavor. Despite a number of important interviews and a handful of essays, there persists a lack of commentary on this rich and rewarding body of work.

This festschrift for Donahue is long overdue. In it, one will find interpretations of literary works infused with personal feelings of respect and admiration as well as previously unpublished poetry by the writer himself. The entries follow a reverse chronological order, in that the first address his most recent publications, while the last focus on his earliest efforts. If there were one goal for the feature, it would be to make public the conversation already taking place about Donahue’s poetry, and in the process expand the poet’s readership. Such a task is necessary when a writer privileges the disorderly devotion of literary pursuits to the orderly self-promotion of schools and movements. These readers have gathered to give thanks for a poet who listens with intense generosity, a voice that hears voices.