Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Geoffrey Jacques came out from New York to spend Monday on campus. He gave a critical talk on William S. Braithwaite and early modernism at lunch time in a series sponsored by Comparative Literature. My grad seminar in Black Theory and Criticism has been reading and debating his recent University of Massachusetts Press book, A Change in the Weather, and relished the chance to get to know Jacques and his work a bit better. That evening he read poetry. The next morning the Daily Collegian ran a story on the reading, which I reprint below.

Poetry read 'just for a thrill'

Aldon Nielsen asked poet Geoffrey Jacques to come to Penn State so that students could have the opportunity to experience “out of the mainstream” poetry.

And Monday night, Jacques read from his published book of poems, “Just For A Thrill,” and from a manuscript for an upcoming book

of poems in 102 Chambers.

A few of the pieces he read spoke about real life events focusing on controversies in people’s daily lives. But, most of his poetry highlights African-American culture. He wrote poems about African-American artists such as Charlie Parker, a jazz saxophonist, and James Brown, who is known as the “Godfather of Soul.”

Penn State Professor Nielsen, teaches a graduate seminar class and has taught several undergraduate poetry classes, said he thought Jacques’ unique poetic approach would benefit students to hear.

“[Jacques] is different from mainstream poets and what students are probably used to hearing by now,” he said.

Jacques’ poems aren’t always linear, and he tries to create them so they are “simultaneously musical” so that the reader focuses on the language itself and how the words are utilized to their fullest potential, Nielsen added.

Jacques discussed the techniques he used to compose two of his poems read at the event. One poem he read was “Ode,” which he created using refrigerator magnet sayings. Other techniques he implemented include cutting out strips of words in a newspaper and putting them in a bag. And when he wrote “Evaluation,” he randomly picked these word scraps out of the bag.

Julie Mangurten attended the poetry reading for her poetry class, and she said was familiar with Jacques’ poetry because of previous class discussions.

She said the experience of actually hearing the poet read his work out loud was significantly different than reading in class.

“Being able to hear the tone of voice gave the words more meaning,” Mangurten (freshman-theatre and English) said.

Monday, March 21, 2011


This morning the Chronicle of Higher Education published a short article reporting on the most recent of several studies that attempted to discover the much vaunted "liberal bias" in higher education to no avail. The focus of the article was on the deceptive method used in the study. Emails were sent to graduate programs from non-existent students who were inquiring about possible admission and who mentioned having worked either for the McCain or the Obama campaigns. The directors of the study found that the emails were treated identically by admissions officers, faculty directors and staff.

Just move on folks; nothing happening here.

BUT count on the irrepressible David Horowitz to turn the whole thing on its head. (Why they always go to him for a comment is beyond me.)

In the Horowitzian, fact-free world, such studies prove nothing because we already know that there is a liberal bias in higher education and higher education simply hides this fact on all occasions. Here is Horowitz's argument:

"The experiment focused on how college administrators handle an activity in which they are likely to try to hide any political bias they might have—much, he said, as he believes professors who abuse bright conservative students in class go on to give them good grades to demonstrate their own fairness."

Now, this could help explain why Horowitz's attempt to locate college students in Pennsylvania with complaints about having been mistreated by liberal professors came up empty. Evidently, the best way to get a good grade is to be a conservative student. Faculty are not fair; they just give right-wing students good grades to prove that they are fair.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Here's a new book from my dear friend Rosetta Haynes, who teaches at Indiana State University. Dr. Haynes is a long-time, active member of the African American Literature and Culture Society and I've been learning from her conference presentations for many years now.

In the early days of my work as a teacher, I used to tell undergraduate students that there was a wealth of literature to be studied and written about in the post-Emancipation writings of African American women, many of whose narratives were evangelical in nature, often published by church-related publishing houses. We've begun to see some of that work getting done more recently. This new book by Haynes sheds additional light on now familiar names of earlier writers such as Jarena Lee, but Haynes also writes about Amanda Berry Smith, Rebecca Cox Jackson and others. If you have any interest at all in spiritual narratives in particular, or in the larger evolution of African American prose, or if you just like to read informative books, then this is for you. Here's a link to the book's Amazon page.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Louisville - Day III

2011 turned out to be the year people showed up reading poems off of their smart phones.

I rolled out of bed early to catch the bus over to the University of Louisville campus to make that first session, chaired by Barrett Watten, on American Poetics of Relational Space. A bit later I chaired a panel with papers by Scott Pound, Lisa Hollenbach and Rebecca Steffy on Kenny Goldsmith, Myung Mi Kim and David Antin respectively. The conference wrapped with a keynote by Jose Saldivar, who managed to find something new to say about Junot Diaz, just as the conference program found a new way to spell the author's name.

Then it was all over but the wrap party, at Alan Golding's house as usual, and featuring the by now eagerly anticipated annual marathon reading of poetry from conference participants.

Recordings from this year's readings will appear on Penn Sound shortly.

You will note that his blog entry includes two photos that could not have been taken by me. They come, in order, from the cameras of Scott Pound and Norman Finkelstein. Thanks guys!