All photos by Ryan Heffernan ’16.
All photos by Ryan Heffernan ’16.
Michael Collins ’81 has written a new book of poems, The Traveling Queen (Sheep Meadow Press). He sent us the following comments on his collection:
“This book is dedicated to Annie Dillard, who began teaching at Wesleyan University while I was there and who encouraged me to pursue a career as a writer so many times that she finally overcame my misgivings.
“In general, the writing of the book was informed by my sense that poems are promises. ‘So long as men can breathe or eyes can see/ so long lives this [poem],’ Shakespeare promises in one sonnet, ‘and this gives life to thee.’ Or, as Etheridge Knight writes in one poem, a lyric can be a chanted as ‘a spell to drive the demons away.’
“In the language of the dollar, poems aspire to be ‘legal tender for all debts [that is to say, all promises], public or private’: legal tender for debts we incur in promising to be good as our word, to love ‘till death do us part’ (for the marriage vow is itself a little poem), to sprout up under the reader’s boot soles, like Walt Whitman, or to look long into the Medusa face of reality, so that the reader will not turn to stone. (Prayers and psalms are these sorts of poems).
“The fact that poems are promises gives the poet (at least at my level) something in common with the Ponzi schemer: For, like a Ponzi scheme, a poem is a lie whose worth is based entirely on what people invest in it. But, unlike a Ponzi scheme, a poem is a lie that becomes truer the more people invest in it, the more they allow it to structure their imaginations: Who would think of ‘Homer,’ who may or may not have existed—may or may not have been made out of ‘a mouthful of air,’ as Yeats said one of his poems was—if the Illiad had not made the fires of war and the wills of gods and nations grow out of Helen’s red hair?
“As this special sort of Ponzi schemer’s product, the poem always has the potential to rise in value to the point of becoming priceless—and the potential to become worthless, like the post-World War I German money people are said to have had to cart in wheelbarrows to make simple purchases.”
From The Traveling Queen:
Before they close the casket
the preacher tries to open heaven with his voice,
and whisper the strongman in.
In her review of the collection in the New York Journal of Books, Laverne Frith writes:
“The Traveling Queen is a wildly rich and passionately far-reaching collection of poems about which it is almost impossible to make generalizations. One thing is clear—Michael Collins is a poet of obsessions. He is obsessed with history, obsessed with mythic women, obsessed with God. But most of all, Mr. Collins is obsessed with death.”
Born in Jamaica, Collins holds a PhD from Columbia University and teaches English at Texas A&M. He is the author of Understanding Etheridge Knight (University of South Carolina Press, 2013) and has authored literary criticism, creative nonfiction, journalism and fiction in various publications such as PMIA, Callaloo, and Singapore’s The Straits Times.
This fall, join novelists, poets, editors, writers and a physician for the Russell House Series on Prose and Poetry. The series is presented by Writing at Wesleyan and sponsored by the Center for the Arts.
All events are free and open to the public.
The series kicked off Sept. 11 with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa. Komunyakaa is author of 20 books of poetry. He received a bronze star for his service as a journalist in the Vietnam War and is a professor and senior distinguished poet in the graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University.
Salvatore Scibona and Tonya Foster will speak at 8 p.m. Sept. 25 in Russell House. Scibona’s novel, The End, was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Young Lion’s Fiction Award from the New York Public Library. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and was among The New Yorker’s list of “20 Under 40” writers to watch. He has received a Whiting Writers’ Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and he is a visiting writer in the English Department. Foster’s first collection of poetry, A Swarm of Bees in High Court, is out this fall from Belladonna/Futurepoem Books. She is co-editor of Third Mind: Creative Writing Through Visual Art. The recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship and a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities, she is an associate at the Institute for Writing and Thinking at Bard College and is currently a visiting writer in Wesleyan’s English Department.
Ben Lerner will speak at 8 p.m. Oct. 9 in Russell House. Lerner is the author of three books of poetry: The Lichtenberg Figures (2004), Angle of Yaw (2006), and Mean Free Path (2010). His first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, won The Believer Book Award and was widely regarded as one of the best books of 2011. His second novel is forthcoming from Faber/FSG. Recent prose can be found in Art in America, The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Paris Review. He is a 2013-14 Guggenheim Fellow.
For his new study Japanoise (Duke University Press), David Novak MA ’99 has conducted more than a decade of research in Japan and the United States to trace the “cultural feedback” that generates and sustains Noise.
Noise is an underground music—made through an amalgam of feedback, distortion, and electronic effects—that first emerged as a genre in the 1980s, circulating on cassette tapes traded between fans in Japan, Europe, and North America. This unusual kind of music has captured the imagination of a small but passionate transnational audience, characterized by its cultivated obscurity, ear-shattering sound, and over-the-top performances. For its dedicated listeners, Noise always seems to be new and to originate from elsewhere: in North America, it was called “Japanoise.”
Novak’s book is a lively ethnographic account of live performances, the circulation of recordings, and the lives and creative practices of musicians and listeners. The author examines the technologies of Noise and the productive distortions of its networks. He also describes musical circulation through sound and listening, recording and performance, international exchange, and the social interpretations of media. Chapters are devoted to “Scenes of Liveness and Deadness,” “Sonic Maps of the Japanese Underground,” “Genre Noise,” “Feedback, Subjectivity, and Performance,” “The Future of Cassette Culture,” and more.
Novak is an assistant professor of music at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
In her new book Geographical Diversions (The University of Georgia Press), Tina Harris ’98 employs cultural anthropology, human geography, and material culture to explore the social and economic transformations that take place along one trade route that extends through China, Nepal, Tibet, and India. She makes connections between the seemingly mundane motions of daily life and more abstract levels of global change by focusing on two generations of traders and how they create “geographies of trade that work against state ideas of what trade routes should look like.” She observes the tensions between the apparent fixity of invisible national boundaries and the mobility of the local individuals. The book as a whole challenges and confronts established theories on an innovative smaller-scale perspective.
Harris considers what allows the traders along one trade route to make their own places through their markets and their way of life. She focuses on the effects of new infrastructure due to the economic rise of China and India on places that are rarely covered by international media. Alongside her detailed written analysis of the trade route, Harris provides numerous photographs to give readers a more visual sense of the world they are reading about. These pictures include a mule caravan loaded with Tibetan wool near Pharia, circa 1930s; a sign on National Highway 31A on the road to Gangtok, and the reopening ceremony that took place in July of 2006.
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University recently announced that Visiting Writer in English Adina Hoffman ’89 is one of the inaugural winners of the Windham Campbell Prizes. This new global writer’s award was created with a gift from the late Donald Windham and his partner, Sandy M. Campbell, and is now one of the largest literary prizes in the world.
Nine $150,000 prizes were awarded for outstanding achievement in fiction, nonfiction, and drama and recognize writers from all stages of their careers. The recipients range in ages from 33 to 87. Writers were considered from around the world. The prize jury in each category chose five finalists, from which the nine recipients were selected to receive awards.
Hoffman’s prize citation reads: “In a land where even the most cautious nonfiction can draw howls of protest, Adina Hoffman combines fastidious listening, even-handed research, and prose so engaged that it makes the long-vanished visible again.”
Hoffman is the author of House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem Neighborhood and My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century. She is also the author, with Peter Cole, of Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, which was awarded the American Library Association’s Brody Medal for the best Jewish book of 2011. Hoffman has been a visiting professor at Middlebury, and NYU, as well as a Franke Fellow at Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, she divides her time between Jerusalem and New Haven. She is currently at work on Where the Great City Stands: A Jerusalem Triptych, forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
In his new nonfiction collection Playing in Time: Essays, Profiles, and Other True Stories (University of Chicago Press), acclaimed journalist Carlo Rotella ’86 explores a variety of characters and settings, His writing has been praised for going beneath the surface of the story as he sympathetically dwells in the lives of the people and places he encounters.
The two dozen essays in this volume deal with subjects and obsessions that have characterized his previous writing: boxing, music, writers, and cities. “Playing in time” refers to how people make beauty and meaning while working within the constraints and limits forced on them by life.
Besides his compelling writing on boxing, Rotella shares his engaging and insightful reportage on crime and science fiction writers, movie production, a megachurch, urban spaces, and more. Some of the essays appear in print for the first time.
Rotella is the author of Good with Their Hands: Boxers, Bluesmen, and Other Characters from the Rust Belt; October Cities: The Redevelopment of Urban Literature; and Cut Time: An Education at the Fights, the last also published by the University of Chicago Press. He writes regularly for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, and the Boston Globe, and he is a commentator for WGBH FM in Boston.
A professor of English at Boston College, Rotella is director of the American Studies Program and director of the Lowell Humanities Series.
In his new book How to Love Wine (William Morrow), The New York Times chief wine critic Eric Asimov ‘79 examines why the American wine culture produces feelings of anxiety and suggests how readers can overcome their fears and develop a sense of discovery and wonder as they explore the diversity and complexity of the world of wine. Asimov shares his professional knowledge and insights along with personal stories of his lifelong passionate relationship with wine, which began when he was a graduate student on a budget.
Asimov discusses favorite vineyards, wine’s singular personalities, meaningless wine descriptions that often pass for criticism today, and current wine issues. He offers discussions of easy to find and rare wonderful vintages from around the globe, and shares thoughts on those wines that have been particularly meaningful to him. The book aims to help others fine pleasure, enjoyment, and refreshment when encountering wine.
Asimov comments: “This book is part manifesto and part memoir, a gathering of impressions through experience. I don’t imagine for a moment it will tear apart our entrenched wine culture. … The idea is to start a discussion, and a reconsideration. I do believe I am asking the right questions, and if I can pull a thread on the crazy-quilt of established dogma, accepted principles, and so-called facts that rule our wine culture, I will feel that I have done my job.”
Are you a Wesleyan alumnus? For more alumni stories, photo albums, videos, features and more, visit Wesconnect, the website for Wesleyan alumni.
The prolific Paul Dickson ’61 is the author of the book Bill Veeck: Baseball Maverick (Walker Books), the first major biography of one of the most influential and smartest figures in baseball history. Dickson used primary sources, including more than 100 interviews to tell the story of Veeck (1914-1986) who was a baseball impresario, an innovator, and a staunch advocate of racial equality. Admired by baseball fans, Veeck was known for his promotional genius for the sport, while his feel for the game led him to propose innovations way ahead of their time. His deep sense of fairness helped usher in free agency, breaking the power owners had over players.
In a recent interview with MLB Reports, Dickson says: “I had always wanted to write a biography and felt that if it were to be a sports biography it had to be about a transformational character in the history of sports which Veeck was. I also wanted to able to tell a story in the context of the subject’s time. Because of Veeck’s interest in racial equality, his position as a war veteran and amputee, and his genius as a promoter and businessman, he was perfect. He was also witty, provocative and drew outside the lines. He attracted the descriptor ‘maverick’ more than any other figure in sports before or since.”
In a review of the book in the Chicago Sun-Times, Dave Hoekstra calls Dickson’s book “a comprehensive, steady and spirited work. Dickson had a challenge, as Veeck’s 1962 autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck, ranks with Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season and Jim Bouton’s Ball Four as essential baseball literature. Dickson brings a keen eye to his subject. You wouldn’t expect anything less from the Maryland-based author who also wrote a baseball book called The Joy of Keeping Score.”
Dickson’s subject is a fascinating one. Early in his career, Veeck worked for owner Phil Wrigley, rebuilding Wrigley Field. In his late 20s, Veeck bought into his first team, the American Association Milwaukee Brewers. He volunteered for combat duty during World War II, enduring a leg injury. Next, he purchased the Cleveland Indians in 1946—the first of four midwestern teams he would own.
Veeck tried to bring Negro League players to the majors earlier without success. But in the summer of 1947, Veeck integrated his team by signing Larry Doby, the American League’s first black player, and hiring the first black public relations officer, trainer, and scout. A year later, Veeck also signed the legendary black pitcher Satchel Paige, who helped win the 1948 World Series (Cleveland’s last championship to this day).
Dickson is the author of more than 40 books, including The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, The Joy of Keeping Score, Baseball’s Greatest Quotations, and Baseball: The Presidents’ Game. In addition to baseball, his specialties include Americana and language. He lives in Garrett Park, Maryland. (Paul Dickson web site)
A fascinating study by theater critic and scholar Jonathan Kalb ’81, Great Lengths: Seven Works of Marathon Theater (University of Michigan Press), considers large-scale theater productions that often run five hours or more and present special challenges to the artists involved as well as the audience. He takes a close look at seven internationally prominent theater productions, including Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Nicholas Nickleby, Peter Brooks’s The Mahabharata, and the “durational works” of the British experimental company Forced Entertainment. Diverse and savvy viewers who may otherwise be distracted by film, television and other media nevertheless continue to seek out the increasingly rare experiences of awe, transcendence, and sustained immersion provided by monumental theater works.
The book’s diverse examples range from adapted novels and epics, to dramatic chronicles with macrohistorical and macropolitical implications, to stagings of super-size classic plays, to “postdramatic” works that negotiate the border between life and art. Kalb reconstructs each of the works, re-creating the experience of seeing it while at the same time explaining how it maintained attention and interest over so many hours, and then expanding the scope to embrace a wider view and ask broader questions. The discussion of Nicholas Nickleby, for example, considers melodrama as a basic tool of theatrical communication, and the section on Peter Brooks explores the ethical problems surrounding theatrical exoticism.
The book is aimed at general readers as well as theater specialists. It places the chosen productions in various historical and critical contexts and engages with the many lively scholarly debates surrounding them.
Kalb is a theater critic and scholar whose work has appeared in The Village Voice and New York Press. He is a professor in the Department of Theatre at Hunter College, City University of New York.
Jay Geller ’75 is the author of The Other Jewish Question: Identifying the Jew and Making Sense of Modernity (Fordham University Press). Geller considers how modernizing German-speaking cultures, undergoing their own processes of identification, responded to the narcissistic threat posed by the continued persistence of Judentum (Judaism, Jewry, Jewishness) by representing “the Jew”’s body—or rather parts of that body and the techniques performed upon them. Such fetish-producing practices reveal the question of German-identified modernity to be inseparable from the Jewish Question.
Jewish-identified individuals, immersed in the phantasmagoria of such figurations—in the gutter and garret salon, medical treatise and dirty joke, tabloid caricature and literary depiction, church façade and bric-a-brac souvenir—had their own question, another Jewish Question. They also had other answers, for these physiognomic fragments not only identified “the Jew” but also became for some Jewish-identified individuals the building blocks for working through their particular situations and relaying their diverse responses.
The Other Jewish Question maps the dissemination of and interrelationships among these corporeal signifiers in Germanophone cultures between the Enlightenment and the Shoah. It portrays how Jewish-identified individuals moved beyond introjection and disavowal to appropriate and transform this epidemic of signification to make sense of their worlds and our modernity.
Jay Geller is associate professor of modern Jewish culture in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. He also is the author of On Freud’s Jewish Body: Mitigating Circumcisions.
Dr. Halley Faust MA ’05 is co-editor (with Paul Menzel) of Prevention vs. Treatment: What’s the Right Balance? (Oxford University Press). In the West, prevention is usually underfunded while treatment receives greater priority. This book explores this observation by examining the actual spending on prevention, the history of health policies and structural features that affect prevention’s apparent relative lack of emphasis, the values that may justify priority for treatment or for prevention, and the religious and cultural traditions that have shaped the moral relationship between these two types of care.
The publication helps clarify the nature of the empirical and moral debates about the proper balance of prevention and treatment by offering essays from a wide range of perspectives, many of them not often heard from in health policy. The book compares prevention and treatment by looking comprehensively—philosophically, legally, religiously, and scientifically—at their underlying values.
Contrary to common beliefs that prevention is lamentably underemphasized, there may be grounds in contemporary western values for prioritizing treatment over prevention, though rationally that appears to make little sense. Several essays in this volume examine such alleged reasons for according moral priority to treatment. Other essays consider major religious traditions for their views on the relative importance of treatment and prevention, as is the interesting intersection of western acute medicine and Confucian values in Hong Kong.
Essays are organized in three sections: Part One—Evidence, Policy, and History; Part Two—Philosophical and Legal Analysis; and Part Three—Religious and Cultural Perspectives.
Faust, MD, MPH, MA, is a preventive medicine physician, philosopher, health care executive, and venture capitalist, and the president-elect of the American College of Preventive Medicine. He is clinical associate professor of family and community medicine at the University of New Mexico.