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Richard T. Stavig, Professor Emeritus of English, Director Emeritus of Foreign Study

Professor Stavig died on Sunday, Easter morning, April 5, 2015. He was 87 years old. During his tenure at the College Professor Stavig established his legacy in several areas. Generations of students remember him for his inspired teaching, careful scholarship, preparation and dedication to excellence. Colleagues at home and abroad owe a great deal to his skills as a gifted administrator. The College community benefits from the legacy of his high ethical and moral standards.

In 1955 Professor Stavig began his 37-year career at Kalamazoo College as an assistant professor of English. Some 30 years later–in a speech he gave on Honors Day (October 31, 1986) about the beginning of study abroad at Kalamazoo College–he described his feelings on being chosen to accompany the very first group of 25 K students to experience three months of foreign study in the summer of 1958:

“Wonder of wonders, a thirty-year-old untenured assistant professor of English who had been at K only three years, who had never been to Europe, and whose oral language skills were minimal was selected to take the first group over [on the ship Arosa Star, departing from Montreal on June 17] and give them–what else could he give them–minimal supervision. Plans had been carefully made, but there was simply a lot we just didn’t know. We did know, however, that we were involved in a great adventure, an adventure that had tremendous implications for us and our college. And we knew we had the responsibility for making it work.”

That same year he accompanied the first group of students to study abroad Professor Stavig also was promoted to associate professor English.

He became a full professor in 1963 and served in that capacity until his retirement from K in 1992. And he did much more. In 1962–the year the K-Plan launched as the College’s curriculum–Professor Stavig became K’s first director of foreign study. In this role he established procedures and goals that are still valid today. Five years later he was named dean of off-campus education. He served in both of those posts until 1974.

In 1982, Stavig was awarded the Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship for excellence in teaching, the highest honor for pedagogy, and one conferred by one’s faculty colleagues. Stavig’s speech accepting the award is a study in keen and humble insight into the art of teaching. In the speech he shares 11 observations about the profession of college professor. Among those observations one finds these favorites: “2) Education is life for the students, teachers, and others who are engaged in it. Each of us should, therefore, seek to provide pleasure, satisfaction, rewards, and a sense of worth for all those who participate; 5) Anyone who claims to understand completely what happens in the classroom is either a fool or a liar. Each class, each day, is inevitably a new adventure. Sometimes everything clicks and the world is beautiful; sometimes, for whatever reasons, nothing works and one wonders what sins could possibly have earned such punishment; and 7) The longer I teach, the less concerned I am with supplying good answers and the more concerned I am with asking good questions.”

Rightly considered one of the founders of the K-Plan, Professor Stavig loved, believed in and advocated for the educational leaps that result from foreign study. He credited study abroad in large part to the vision of his friend, English department colleague, and fellow K-Plan architect, Larry Barrett, who also died on an Easter morning. “Larry Barrett saw foreign study as a unique opportunity for us to experiment and innovate,” said Professor Stavig, “to see if a boldly different kind of educational experience could be made to work. And he wanted this because he always wanted education simply to be better for the students.” And so, too, did the man who wrote those words about his friend.

Amelia Katanski ’92, Associate Professor of English

Amelia  has published an article in the new book, The Routledge Companion to Native American Literature. The article is titled “Embodied Jurisgenesis: NAGPRA, Dialogue, and Repatriation in American Indian Literature.” It analyzes the role of literary texts by Native writers in creating legal meanings that shape the interpretation and application of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990.

In Print

In Pursuit of Birds: A Foray with Field Glasses and Sketchbook
by Ladislav Hanka ’75

ankaBLLadislav Hanka ’75 is no ordinary bird watcher. His ventures through former Soviet military zones in Eastern Europe pursuing birds sometimes led to his arrest. Some of his bird watching tales are sobering, others are hilarious. Those stories, and Lad’s visual art, are collected in his newest book: In Pursuit of Birds: A Foray with Field Glasses and Sketchbook. Lad earned his B.A. at K in biology. He holds a master’s degree in zoology (Colorado State University) and an M.F.A. in printmaking (Western Michigan University). In his new book, Lad has collected nearly 200 drawings and etchings created in 35 years of printmaking. His drawings are based on field studies and on specimens preserved for study in museums. With his own artistic renditions of raptors, warblers, sparrows, nuthatches, juncos, woodpeckers, flickers, owls, vultures and many other birds, Lad shares his love of them in line and in story. In his stories he expresses a respect for the bird as a bird, not as a symbol or metaphor, but for itself. He shares his philosophy of life: to move gently across the earth without disturbing its rhythms but becoming one with those rhythms, including those of birds. During a trip to Tibet, Lad discovered the practice there of “sky-burials.” “This is a way that people in a land that is frozen solid for much of the year and lacking in wood deal with their dead,” he explained. “Corpses that have accumulated through the winter are assembled in spring, when a trained priesthood administers last rights. They flense the cadavers of meat and crush the bones to meal. Vultures, habituated to the practice, home in from miles. The practice, known as jhator, literally means ‘giving alms to the birds.’”

Off the X
by Mark McDonald ’73

cDonaldBLNear the climax of Off The X, Mark McDonald’s brutal, bleak yet highly readable book about violence and its costs, Colonel Magazine, the commander of a secret prison (and classified mission) near the present-day Iraqi-Jordanian border delivers to the the main character, Micah Ford, a forceful lecture on justification:

“There’s no why here. This drone stuff is the kind of ethically ambiguous shit that happens on a battlefield. Things go asymmetric and it just happens. We’ve all wrestled with it on this mission. You make policy in black and white, but you fight the battles in gray.”

How much cover should that gray give? is one of the key questions this book raises. Among that gray’s fruits: death, torture and the “this-drone-stuff” secret mission itself. The book, which McDonald, a prize-winning journalist, calls a “meld of fiction an journalism,” introduces those themes early and often. Chapter one opens in Arlington National Cemetery, at the double funeral of Micah’s father and fiancé, casualties of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. Chapter two reveals the background of his fiancé’s father, who served as an interrogator/torturer in the Shah of Iran’s Savak. Torture, its cover-up and the widening gyre of its degradation are a motif throughout the story. A more minor motif is the business and profit of war. Micah’s father is a former war hero and defense industry contractor.

The “gray” begets a lot of bloodshed and suffering, offered in sometimes excruciating detail. The author and some of his characters are erudite and literate. The journey in this book recalls Dante’s Inferno and Jerzy Kozinki’s The Painted Bird (another blend of fiction and fact, for which it has long been controversial to some). Level seven in Inferno is the circle for the violent:

“’When the violent soul
Uproots itself and leaves a corpse, Minos
Sends it to Level Seven. Protocol
Decrees that it not mitigate its loss
By choosing where if falls into the wood.
It falls where thrown by chance, and then, a grain
Of grief, it sprouts. Then, where a sapling stood,
There’s suddenly a savage tree, whose pain,
When harpies come to eat its leaves, must fine
A vocal outlet. Like the rest, one day
We’ll go to fetch the flesh we left behind,
But it will never clothe us in the way
It did, for Justice would be undermined
If one who robs himself should own once more
The thing he stole. So we will drag them here,
Those bodies, and the thing he was before
On each tree in this wood will hang, so near
Yet so far from its murderous soul.’”

In the end, two of the characters attempt and manage a deception to set at least one thing right, which saves a single life (or a few)—a person perhaps, or even likely, innocent of that for which he was incarcerated but nonetheless irreparably damaged. And even this needfully secret act of conscience comes at great risk to career, and maybe more. It’s a bleak vision, and an important book.

And McDonald writes very well. A description of a military hospital ward:

“Some of the men go on and on about how they got wounded, trying out different versions, getting their delivery down, getting their stories straight for the folks back home. The smaller the wound, the bigger the story. Hurt guys wash in, healed guys wash out, and everybody speaks some version of MIL–military idiot language, not unlike the dopey chatter of a second baseman to his pitcher. MIL-speak adjectives are essentially these: unbelievable, awesome and fuckin’. And then you had your three go-to adverbs: absolutely, totally and fuckin’.

“What did they talk about? Sports, sex, money, music, Obama, vee-hicles, the way things were so political back home, how their entire fucked-up lives were going to be different when they got back. Wives. Old girlfriends. Jobs. Booze. Changing their MOS. Their dicks. (Oh, they talked a lot about their dicks.) How fucked up their officers were. They dreamed up Top 10 lists. They played Who’d You Rather? The usual. It was the American id, unsheathed.”

And one more: an army medical officer recalls a meeting with a soldier whose wounds she’d previously treated:

“’So I ran into him a couple days later at Home Depot,’ she said. ’I needed some paint and I was checking out the color samples. Fan decks, they call them. You know, 10,000 freakin’ colors. Anyway, this guy was in the aisle just staring at this color sample in his hand, staring down at one of those little cards, and he was bawling and starting to hyperventilate. He went to his knees and his whole body was shaking. It was a real panic attack. I reminded him who I was and that he should take really deep breaths and that I would stay with him. He looked right at me–but it was more like he was looking through me–and he said he had killed a kid in Ramadi, shot the kid in the face, and this was the color of the little boy’s brains. That card, he was saying, it was the same color, and it had brought everything right back to him. ’I did terrible things,’ he said. I stayed with him for a couple minutes and he collected himself. I never saw him again. The card said ’Dutch Boy B13-2, Family Tree.’ That was the name of the color. I’ll never forget that. Some wounds, I think, are never going to heal. Maybe some of them aren’t meant to heal.’”

At the end of the book come the “Acknowledgements.” Usually this reader ignores such sections, but in this case, the “Acknowledgements” are worth a careful reading.

The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic
by Ginger Strand ’87

trandBLSay Vonnegut and most everyone fills in the blank: Kurt. But there was another Vonnegut, and when Bernard built silver-iodide generators and seeded clouds to create rain, he was the brother the government began watching. If the military could control the weather, well, that could be the next super weapon.

In her new book, The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic, author Ginger Strand ’87 explores the relationship between the two brothers and how each struggled with matters of morals and ethics involving their work.

Bernard Vonnegut was a leading scientist in a research lab at General Electric in mid-1950’s Schenectady, New York. His younger brother, Kurt, worked in GE’s public relations department, often writing press releases about the scientific discoveries Bernard had made in the lab. When one of Bernard’s discoveries had the potential to change weather, the military took notice. The Army oversaw Bernard’s work, calling it Project Cirrus, and the brothers shared perspectives on science being used to harm rather than benefit humankind. For Kurt, these were the themes that worked their way into his many novels.

“That, for me, was the interesting story that emerged in my research,” Strand says. “During their time working together at GE, they began to exchange ideas and talk about the ethical dilemmas Bernard as a scientist was facing. This was the era after the development of the nuclear bomb. There was a lot of talk about scientists and their responsibility for the use of their inventions.”

When Kurt Vonnegut wrote about what he saw going on at GE, his work was classified as science fiction. Strand says he found that baffling. To his understanding, he was writing social satire.

“During the day, Kurt would write peppy press releases about GE, but at night and on weekends, he would go home and write short stories,” Strand says.

Success, whether wanted or in some respects unwanted, came to Bernard for his work in the laboratory, but for Kurt, in literature, it did not come easily. He collected hundreds of rejection letters. He struggled to learn to write well. He often felt himself in the shadow of his brother’s genius, although neither brother let that get in the way of their close relationship. Eventually, Kurt would produce 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, five non-fiction books, and become known as a literary icon.
Ginger Strand is the author of three previous books, including Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate. She has written for a wide variety of publications, including Harper’s Magazine, This Land, The Believer, Tin House, The New York Times, and Orion, where she is a contributing editor.

De Zwaan: The True Story of America’s Authentic Dutch Windmill 
by Alisa Crawford ’91

rawfordBLMove over, Chaucer! Kalamazoo College has its own “The Miller’s Tale,” that of Alisa Crawford ’91, who recently won the state history award from the Historical Society of Michigan for her book De Zwaan: The True Story of America’s Authentic Dutch Windmill. Alisa is the resident miller at the De Zwaan windmill, which is located in Holland, Michigan. Achieving qualifications for that job was no “run of the mill” effort; nor was piecing together the origins and history of the mill she operates and loves. After many years learning to speak Dutch, study, apprenticeship and testing, Alisa became a Dutch-certified miller. Then after more testing, she was admitted to an elite Dutch guild of professional grain millers. Through that process, she came to know a number of mill historians in The Netherlands. Together they dug through dusty archives there, interviewed people connected to the De Zwaan mill, and crawled through the windmill searching for archaeological clues.

“At the time of its purchase,” notes Alisa, “authorities in The Netherlands thought it had been built in 1761 in the Zaan region in North Holland to make hemp rope, but then clues began trickling in that made that impossible.” Without giving away the end of the book, Alisa says of the mill that now stands on Windmill Island in Holland: “De Zwaan began its career far from North Holland and does not have a ‘purebred pedigree’, as originally presumed.” She indicates that it was assembled from the parts of several mills much later than 1761. However, that lineage, she writes in the book, “is what makes De Zwaan unequivocally authentic. Windmills were and continue to be working machines. When they break, they are repaired. When they become outmoded, they are re-purposed. When the parts wear out, they are replaced.”

Alisa received the award at the State History conference held in Saginaw. In her acceptance speech she noted, “I like to say I’m a miller by trade, an historian by degree, and now an author by award, and I thank the Historical Society of Michigan for that honor.” Her book is available on Windmill Island in Holland, at local retailers and online at In-Depth Editions.

Contrary Motion
by Andrew Mozina

ontrary Motion coverOn a musical instrument, contrary motion refers to a melodic motion in which one series of notes rises in pitch while opposing notes descend. In his debut novel, Contrary Motion, English professor Andy Mozina moves his 38-year-old character, Matthew Grzbc, in opposite directions in most every aspect of his life.

As a harpist living in Chicago, Matthew hopes to land a chair position in a symphony orchestra—but his every day has him playing on demand to dying patients at a hospice and to the sounds of chewing at hotel brunches. As a just-divorced man, he dates a woman with whom he suffers erectile dysfunction—even while he can’t stop lusting for his ex-wife who is about to become engaged to another man. He’s a devoted and attentive father to his six-year-old daughter—but the girl teeters on the verge of a breakdown after witnessing her father “in flagrante delicto” with her mother while Mom’s boyfriend is out of the house. Adding drama, Matthew’s father suffers a fatal heart attack while listening to a relaxing meditation CD—leaving his son questioning his sanity as well as his mortality.

When a longed-for audition for a harpist in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra opens career possibilities for Matthew (if only his harp would stop buzzing and twanging), he is pulled once again in opposing directions. To audition or not to audition? And, should he be offered the chair, to move or not to move away from his girlfriend, his ex-wife, his daughter, his life in Chicago?

Matthew’s saving grace, the glue to keep his life from splitting down the middle with all that contrary motion, is his sense of humor. It’s hard not to root for the guy between chuckles. He is as perfectly imperfect as are we all on those days when we take an honest look in the mirror. He is riddled with anxiety when most of his fears are never realized. By end of novel, all that anxiety becomes a tad exhausting—get it right, Matt! Do it, dude!—and then he does that, too, hitting the perfect note, humanly well.

Andy Mozina has taught English at Kalamazoo College since 1999. He is the author of the short story collections, The Women Were Leaving the Men, which won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, and Quality Snacks, a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Prize. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, and he has received special citations in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and New Stories from the Midwest. Mozina is also the author of a book of literary criticism called Joseph Conrad and the Art of Sacrifice.

The Snack That’s a Quality Meal

Andy Mozina at the WMUK 102.1 FM radio station, Kalamazoo’s NPR affiliate, talking on air about his new story collection for the Arts and More program.

It begins with a lie. A good one. The author, after all, is an expert liar. He disarms you for only a moment when he admits it, his expression unchanged.

Andy Mozina, an English professor at Kalamazoo College since 1999 and author of the new story collection, Quality Snacks (Wayne State University Press, May 2014), makes his admission, or confession, on air in a recent interview for the Arts and More program at the WMUK radio station, Kalamazoo’s NPR affiliate. Yes, he lies, he says.

As do all fiction writers, and Mozina is fast gaining notoriety as such. Quality Snacks is Mozina’s second story collection. His first, The Women Were Leaving the Men, also published by Wayne State University Press (2007), won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was a finalist for the Glasgow/Shenandoah Prize for Emerging Writer. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Tin House, Ecotone, Fence, The Southern Review, and The Missouri Review, and has received special citations in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and New Stories from the Midwest. His critical work, Joseph Conrad and the Art of Sacrifice, was published by Routledge in 2001.

On the morning of his radio interview Mozina enters the studio breathless. He abandoned his car, he says, realizing that he was running late. The car was beached like a whale on the grass, he says, with hazard lights blinking and doors swinging open as he tore up the campus in his race to the studio.

Really? Not quite. As it turns out, Mozina’s car is parked in its parking spot, squared between the yellow lines, doors locked, lights off, engine cool.

Mozina grins, just a little. This is how he tells stories, building on near nothing, embellishing, adding twists and surprises and horseshoe turns on every page. He says he often begins his story idea with the twist, then builds the story around it.

Quality Snacks is a collection of 15 stories, each one with Mozina’s signature sense of wry humor. The stories, for the most part, are built around the efforts of middle-aged men struggling with relationship issues.

Santa Claus as a baseball player may not qualify as middle-aged in the final story, “No Joy in Santa’s Village,” but he nevertheless struggles with deteriorating relationships with his elves, who have come to resent him for what they consider Santa’s shortcomings. In fact, the elves in the dugout are showing a dark side as they clamor for Santa flesh in retribution for those long winter nights.

“His dugout was filled with elves. Some never moved, some never sat still—whittling a piece of wood into a bat, whittling the bat into baseballs, whittling the baseballs into tiny bats, which were whittled into still tinier baseballs. Some were incontinent, some respired entirely through their pores, like plants. Some rooted for Santa, some cast spells against him. At each game they created a locked-ward atmosphere in the dugout. Last year, one or another of the elves would occasionally streak onto the field in the middle of a game, tear up a piece of turf, and retreat toward the bench, gibbering hysterically, holding the turf aloft.” (Page 184, “No Joy in Santa’s Village”)

As for Doritos, a popular snack by Frito-Lay, Mozina says he once had an addiction for the chips, but, happily, has been able to conquer it. His title story, “Quality Snacks,” is a story of a team of Frito-Lay employees brainstorming new and vitamin-fortified flavors for the snack (burrito, chicken quesadilla, enchilada, refried beans), perhaps even marketing them as a main meal rather than just a snack.

Mozina won’t admit to a fear of dogs, but his opening story, “Dogs I Have Known,” begs to differ. He’s convincing. In one mini-story after another, the narrator describes dogs that have made an appearance in his life, none truly vicious, yet Mozina manages to make even the nicest pup at least a little unnerving with toothy potential.

The banker and the college professor meet over sandwich wraps and keep on meeting into what warms and then sizzles into “My Nonsexual Affair: A Tale of Strong and Unusual Feelings.” Lines are not exactly crossed but toed and danced upon with increasing insistence, and Mozina manages his signature effect on the reader once again.

That effect: to make us see ourselves at our nerdiest, geekiest, weakest, most vulnerable and so also most human. Even as we wince and sigh, glad that’s not me…we have to admit, some of it is. The silly human condition, the offbeat element of truth that is stranger than fiction, unless it’s Mozina’s fiction.

Five-Tooler

Andy Miller shows his Campbell’s soup scar

Welcome home, Andy Miller! The proud Kalamazoo College alumnus—class of 1999, English major, music minor, creative writing concentrator, Michigan-certified secondary school teacher (English and music), and K intramural softball phenom—has returned to his alma mater. He’s worked here before. Following graduation he was associate director of LandSea, a program he loved as both participant and patrol leader. He also worked to help the Stryker Center liaison with the greater Kalamazoo business community. Former K president Jimmy Jones recognized great talent, and when he became president of Trinity College (Hartford, Conn.) in 2004 he convinced Andy to go east for a decade. At Trinity, Andy created the Quest Program, which became that college’s outdoor orientation program for first-year students. Simultaneously Andy worked for Trinity’s advancement office—in major gifts, planned giving, alumni relations, and parent giving, making him one of the great five-tool players (think whatever corresponds to speed, power, contact, glove work, and a cannon arm) in the world of advancement. Andy and alumna Mary-Katherine Thompson ’06 married in 2009. They first met on LandSea. This past August Andy came back to K to serve as the College’s executive director of development. Why the return? “It’s a perfect fit,” he says. “It’s coming home.” And we think it’s great to have him home!

And now his answers to the questions we’ve all been eager to know.

What’s the best song every recorded?

“Apologies to the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Petty, Guns N’ Roses, and especially Springsteen’s ’Jungleland,’ which comes in second, but I’m going to have to go with ’Layla’ by Derek and the Dominos.

He coulda been a rock star--Andy Miller, sophomore year, in front of Harmon Hall

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?

“’Peter Rabbit’ by Beatrix Potter.”

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

“’You did a good job down there.’”

What’s your favorite word?

“Irrefragable.”

What’s your least favorite word?

“Irregardless. People use it all the time, but IT’S NOT A WORD!”

What turns you on?

“Autonomy…challenge…the opportunity to create things…and, of course, my wife.”

What turns you off?

“Hate, prejudice, and close-mindedness.”

What sound do you love?

“The electric guitar. Specifically, a Fender telecaster coming through a Vox amp.”

What sound do you hate?

“I absolutely love dogs…but I have two at home who bark like maniacs every time another dog is being walked outside our house, which is regularly. Training remains a work in progress!”

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

“Professional rock and roll songwriter.”

What profession would you not like to participate in?

“Accounting. My lack of interest would pretty much assure my uselessness…and vice versa.”

What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?

“There are two, both of which happened spring of my senior year and involved synthesizing my previous three-and-a-half-years worth of learning and developing.  My Senior Individualized Project gave me the opportunity to do a deep dive into every ‘art’ I had any competency in–a manuscript worth of poems (thanks Diane Seuss), a related series of photographs (thanks Richard Koenig), and an album’s worth of music (thanks Tom Evans).  On the more traditionally academic side, my English Comprehensive Exams required me to, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a Saturday, write essays on three different questions, with each essay using three literary references drawn from a list of texts read over the course of my entire time at K.  Handing in my SIP and my ’comps,’ admittedly at the absolute last minute in both cases, was so fulfilling to me because they truly served as twin capstone projects of my liberal arts learning.”

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?

“Neither is famous. It would either be my paternal grandfather, who died when I was very young, or my maternal grandmother, who died before I was born.”

What memory from childhood still surprises you?

“I remember very well burning my arm on the stove at the age of two on Valentine’s Day when I was reaching for some Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup my mom was making for me. Somehow, despite being so young, I had managed to get my arm on top of the stove. My mom has never forgiven herself because she was out of the room preparing for a date with my dad to celebrate the birth of my cousin on that very day.”

What is your favorite curse word?

“Curses!”

What is your favorite hobby?

“Songwriting and recording in my basement.”

What is your favorite comedy movie?

Blues Brothers is a pretty solid go-to. I use the phrases ‘We’re getting the band back together’ and ‘We’re on a mission from God’ regularly.”

What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?

“Probably 9/11. I may remember it so distinctly because it happened when we were on LandSea in Ontario. Tom Breznau got a call from President Jones and we went to the one TV at the nearest one-street town to learn what was going on, which was unbelievable. And we had to figure out how to inform all the patrol leaders and participants scattered throughout Killarney. Then to live in the east for 10 years…9/11 has shaped a lot of what New York is like today.”

If a cow laughed, would milk come out her nose?

“Absolutely, unless she was drinking orange juice.”

 

Aaron Coleman ’09

Aaron won Tupelo Quarterly’s TQ5 Poetry Contest with his poem “St. Inside & Not,” About the winning poem contest judge Amaud Jamaul Johnson wrote: “I read the list of finalists aloud, alone, standing in my office. While there were many fine, well-polished poems, the music of Aaron Coleman’s ‘St. Inside & Not’ followed me out of the room. The use of anaphora, heavy alliteration and assonance, the quirkiness of the syntax, the image system, all kept me off balance. I was under the spell of this poem. A poem should possess its own logic; establish a unique authority over the reader. From the first line, the poem takes you by the throat and turns. Reading ‘Being midnight ripped / off the face of constellation,’ I thought of Dickinson’s ‘If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off …’ Of course, I’ve never been able to divorce this sentiment from my lingering fear of racial violence. But I know Coleman’s lyric shatters us into song. I know this is poetry!” Congratulations, Aaron! Aaron earned his B.A. at K in psychology, and he studied abroad in Caceres, Spain.

Earth Words

“. . . we go to poetry … so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”  – Christian Wiman, poet

Gabriella Donofrio ’13 (left) and Alice Bowe ’13 sort and plant lettuces at Harvest of Joy Farm in Shelbyville, MI.

Amy Newday plants seeds in soil (she runs her own farm), and she plants seeds in students (she directs K’s Writing Center and teaches classes in the English department). Some seeds grow green crops. Others grow green poetry.

Newday recently completed a winter term course called “Ecopoetry,” and is currently teaching a spring term senior Capstone class called “CSA (community-supported agriculture) and Sustainability.” The two courses are an integral part of Kalamazoo College’s ongoing creation of a Center for Environmental Stewardship, teaching students about the impact of human life on their world.

“I feel a strong call to be of service to the earth and the non-human beings we share it with,” says Newday. “As I get older and get to know myself better and as our ecological crises worsen, this call becomes stronger. What I was curious to explore with my students in the ecopoetry course was—what does poetry have to do with ecological crises? Can poetry be a vehicle for transforming our relationships with the ecosystems in which we dwell?”

A farmer and a poet, Newday grew up on dairy farm in Shelbyville, Michigan. Her “Ecopoetry” course drew thirteen students, all of whom participated in a reading on campus to draw their class to a close. Each student read a poem from the textbook that had especially moved or inspired them.

Emily Sklar ’15 was one of those students, a biology major with an interest in ecological issues. “I love biology, although I’m not quite sure yet what I will do with it,” Sklar says. “I also love being outdoors, and I’m concerned about the environment, so I’ve been wondering how to combine all that. Science comes short on the ethical and moral aspect of ecological issues, so that’s why I took the poetry course. Poetry gives me another way to understand what’s around me, and the course has given me a blend of language that builds collaboration between scientists and poets.”

“Ecopoetry” is a relatively new term, if not quite a genre in its own right, Newday explains. “Writing about daffodils is no longer enough. Critics beat up poets like Mary Oliver for being what they call a ‘nature poet,’ writing about birds and trees. Writing about birds and trees is important, but ecopoetry includes the bulldozer that knocks the tree down and destroys the bird.”

Poetry can help us imagine possibilities … possible solutions to ecological crises.

Three main groupings of poetry compose the new genre, Newday says. As defined by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura Gray-Street, the editors Newday’s class textbook, The Ecopoetry Anthology, poetry that explores nature and the meaning of life falls into the first group. A second group includes environmental poetry with a more political slant that may address social justice issues and is often related to specific events. The third group includes poetry about ecology, often in more experimental forms.

“In this course we explored how the language of poetry has shaped and reflected changing perceptions of nature, ecology, and humanity over the past two centuries,” Newday says. “We looked at what poetry can contribute to current cultural and cross-cultural conversations about environmental justice and sustainability.”

Students at the reading in March read favorite poets they had studied, such as, yes, Mary Oliver, and also Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Ralph Black, G. E. Patterson, Deborah Miranda, Tony Hoagland, Robert Duncan, Lucille Clifton, Lola Haskins, Sandra Beasley, and Linda Hogan. Some students also read their own work.

“I’m not a big reader,” Sklar admits. “But I fell in love with this poetry. What I had hoped would happen, happened. The facts in science are great, but poetry gives us a way to connect to people who aren’t scientists.”

The ecopoetry course, Sklar adds, helped her to solidify an idea for her Senior Individualized Project that she’d been mulling over for about a year. Her interest in nature, biology, ecology, and human responses to all three came together in a plan to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Along with a K alumna, Margaux Reckard ‘13, Sklar began 2,200-mile adventure a few days after the poetry course concluded (see “Where the TinyTent AT?” in this issue of BeLight).

“Poetry can help us question,” Newday says. “We are losing all kinds of diversity in our world, and cultures and languages are being lost along with biodiversity. Languages each give us a unique way to see the world and add perspective. Poetry can help us imagine possibilities … possible solutions to ecological crises.”

Harvest of Joy farmer John Edgerton (left) discusses with students (l-r) Chandler Smith ’13, Caroline Michniak ’13, and Alicia Pettys ’13 different techniques for organic and sustainable planting.

In her senior Capstone course, “CSA and Sustainability,” Newday digs even deeper into building connections between students and the earth. Along with textbooks, she hands them trowels, hoes, shovels and watering cans. She takes her students to her own CSA operation, Harvest of Joy Farm, where she and partner John Edgerton practice sustainable and organic methods of farming.

The Capstone course, Newday says, offers students the opportunity to explore and experience food systems, agriculture, community building, education, economics, business, and food justice as an alternative to the mainstream food economy. If that sounds like it’s dealing with a great many topics—it is, and that’s the everyday life of a farmer.

Part of the course will take place in the traditional campus classroom, and for at least three hours each week students will work on the farm. They will help plan the CSA business, prepare the soil for planting and then plant a wide assortment of seeds and plants, maintain compost and learn about permaculture, and maintain and harvest the garden. Students will also experience the business aspects of running a CSA, the marketing and selling of vegetables to community members, and the relationships built between farmer and community members.

The course will also involve an ongoing blog of farm activities, and a student-generated on-campus collaborative project. Students will participate in discussions about their experiences and observations working on the farm.

In informational sessions held prior to the beginning of the course, Newday and Edgerton met with students interested in learning more information before making a decision to enroll.

“I was surprised how much I loved running a CSA,” Newday says to the students gathered to hear about the course. “The relationships we developed through the CSA were very rewarding. There’s an instant gratification when you give good food to people, and you see how excited they are to receive it, taste it, and share it.”

The concept of a CSA, Newday tells the students, is not the traditional business model of trading cash for product. “A CSA offers people the opportunity to invest in the kind of world they want to live in.”

The Harvest of Joy Farm is in its fourth year. At the beginning of last summer’s (2013) growing season, 45 members paid for 28 shares and half-shares in the operation, which provided the funds to cover the costs of farming. In return, shareholders receive vegetables and fruits each week during harvest.

“The course will help students to better understand the economics of farming, especially on a small scale, and to consider how small farms fit into the larger agricultural economy, in the United States and across the world,” says Newday. “Along with learning about sustainable agricultural practices, students will learn how to critically consider what it means to make environmentally, socially, and ethically sound food choices.”

To learn more about the Kalamazoo College Capstone CSA experience, read student blog entries, and view photos, visit kzoocsa.blogspot.com.  To learn more about Harvest of Joy Farm, LLC, visit harvestofjoyfarm.wordpress.com.

How to Grow a Poet

Back when she was a third-grader in Marshall, Michigan, Kate Belew ’15 certainly wasn’t going to argue with Conrad Hilberry, professor emeritus of English and founder of Kalamazoo College’s creative writing program. If he told her she was a great poet—and he did—then she would prove him right—and she has.

Kate Belew '15 and Jane Huffman '15

Jane Huffman ’15 had been writing stories all her life; by the time she was in high school in Livonia, Michigan, she’d learned enough about poetry to have her work published in an anthology. When it was time to choose a college, Huffman applied to only one: Kalamazoo College. “I saw Kalamazoo as a mecca for writers,” she says.

Of course Belew’s and Huffman’s orbits would coincide at K, and it was only natural that it would happen in one of the classes they both took from Diane Seuss ’78, writer in residence and assistant professor of English. Under Seuss’s mentorship, the two English majors (Huffman also has a major in Theatre Arts) have learned how they can turn their passion for words into their life’s calling, and both have done an extraordinary—although radically contrasting—job of laying that foundation.

Belew’s K roots run deep. Her dad, Kevin Belew ’85, had taken classes from Hilberry, and her mom, Patricia Franke Williams ’85, is also an alum. Yet another K grad, a class mom, was the one who had issued the invitation to Hilberry to visit with Kate Belew’s third-grade class.

At K, Belew has combined her passions for language (she and Huffman co-edit K’s literary journal, The Cauldron) and for dance (she also co-directs Frelon, the student-run dance company). As a first-year student, she received the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute for Environmental Education’s Nature in Words fellowship. Participating in the Great Lakes Colleges Association New York Arts Program during her sophomore year, she says, opened up her writing horizons and helped her envision her future as a writer. The culture shock of living in New York that term was huge: “I couldn’t even grocery shop for the first few days,” Belew recalls. “But writing was a way to understand what was happening to me.” Four days after returning to Michigan from New York, she left for her study abroad program in Spain, and the personal development and life experiences from that time gave her still more inspiration. Her Senior Individualized Project (SIP) is a collection of poems centered on the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca and is based on her experiences in Madrid.

Back on the K campus, Belew honed her skills with experiences at literary magazines and workshops. Along with Huffman, she served an internship at Sundress Publications (a national press), and she assisted Hilberry in planning a children’s poetry workshop in Kalamazoo. She has had work published in a long list of journals and reviews.

Likewise, Huffman’s K years have been spectacular. She’s studied at the Frost Place Advanced Poetry Seminar in Franconia, New Hampshire; the O’Neill Theater Center’s Critic’s Institute in Waterford, Connecticut; the Medieval and Renaissance Conference at Albion College; and the Newberry Library in Chicago, to name just a few. She has had dozens of poems published in anthologies and reviews; she’s won a number of awards and honors—not just for her poetry, but also for her work in theater. As dance is a second passion for Kate Belew, theater is for Jane Huffman. “I’m obsessed with language,” Huffman says, “and theater lets us make words visual and spatial. It’s the stage of the poet.”

For the next phase in her academic and literary life, poetry will take the forefront, because Huffman has been accepted into the prestigious University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, the top-ranked creative writing program in the world. Accepting her into its MFA program, the Iowa committee told Huffman they consider their candidates to be “the future of American literature.”

“To make it in poetry you have to be tough.”

Kate Belew and Jane Huffman are very different, in both their writing styles and their career goals. Huffman describes herself as a formalist, “drawn toward form and narrative.” Belew’s work, in Seuss’s words, is “nebulous, like grabbing air.” As Huffman is launching her graduate work at Iowa and hopes someday to get a Ph.D. (“I’m an academic person”), Belew wants to spend a few years in the workplace before she considers graduate school. She’ll choose a big city (“I could never go to Iowa,” she laughs), and hopes to teach poetry to children. Living up to the descriptor “nebulous,” used by Seuss to describe her poetry, Belew says, “My life is going to zigzag a lot.”

Both Belew and Huffman say that poetry influences the way they think. Writing a poem, says Huffman, makes the writer approach every word with precision and thoughtfulness; it lets them dig deep into a small area. Belew says that her poems are like a snapshot of one moment of her life. “They allow me to focus and to voice things I couldn’t articulate otherwise.”

What is it about Kalamazoo College that has given Belew and Huffman such a boost at such an early stage in their literary careers? Huffman knows a lot of words, but she can answer that question with just one of them: “everything.” “Everything I’ve done at K,” she says, “has helped me develop what I need to go out into the world as a writer.”

Seuss says she tries to instill some specific lessons into students in her writing classes, including:

•    Read all the time. She asks all her students to keep up with contemporary poetry.
•    Send out your work. Be prepared for rejection, cope with it when it comes, then send the piece out again. To make it in poetry, she advises, you have to be tough.
•    Be brave. Contact people you admire and ask them questions.
•    Sustain and help each other. Belew has learned, she says, “If somebody lifts you up, you lift the next person up.” To grow the community even further, they point out, K writing students have recently opened the Kalamazoo Poetry Collective to Western Michigan University students and other members of the Kalamazoo community.
•    Don’t take yourself so seriously that you’re not willing to take risks. In Huffman’s words: “My biggest lesson was to be fearless.”

Huffman and Belew agree that one of the major contributions K has made to their writing lives is community. “As a writer,” Huffman says, “it’s easy to isolate yourself. At the beginning, it’s just you and the page. But Di [Seuss] has helped us turn this thing we love into something we can do as a career.” Seuss agrees. “All of us have hermit tendencies, but writers need to make connections with other writers.”

Seuss says she’s been impressed by the class of 2015. “This senior class is amazing,” she says. Then, nodding toward Kate Belew and Jane Huffman, she adds, “and these are two of the amazingest.”

Complicated Demons

In Devil Music, the debut novel of Carly Orosz ’07, demons are friendly fellows, hiding their long tails down their pant legs and their stubby horns in masses of messy hair. They munch on the raw flesh of the random pigeon and rat and rock out to hair metal music.

Carly Orosz ‘07

The hero of Carly’s occult urban fantasy, Cain, is one such demon, enslaved by a cruel human master, but on temporary reprieve from his enslavement while completing a mission for said master. He is to retrieve a reluctant girl for his master’s unenticing son, but instead, finds himself falling in love with the girl, Michelle, while becoming the lead singer for a rock band called Pseudomantis. What young rebel girl can resist a rock star who sets her fervent televangelist father on edge? Luckily, she finds his scaly demonic identity sexy.

“The idea for the novel germinated during my senior year at K,” Carly says. “I was looking for something to read while taking a plane trip.”

What caught Carly’s eye during her search for reading material was a book by sociologist Jeffrey S. Victor, Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend. She settled into its pages, during the plane ride and after landing, and was drawn into its world.

“I was surprised to find this bizarre time in recent history, in the 1980s and early 90s, when hundreds of people across the United States—religious leaders, mental health professionals, police—believed in these satanic cults that were supposedly kidnapping and abusing children and doing horrible things, like playing in rock bands. I was fascinated to learn about the psychology of witch hunts, why people come to fear something they don’t understand.”

An English major at Kalamazoo College, and later earning an MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College, Carly’s interests also included anthropology and sociology. Her Senior Individualized Project was a series of poems inspired by anthropology. Researching this time period when people created cults out of rock musicians (and perceived cults where there were none) appealed to Carly’s sociological and anthropological interests to the degree that she found herself working on a manuscript.

“After I read Victor’s book, I watched a lot of old horror movies and I researched the war on demons,” she says. “I found a dictionary of demons in a Chicago bookstore and read about the folklore of demonology. I latched onto this idea in western society about demons doing your bidding and becoming the slaves of humans.”

“The message is to be a little more open-minded – welcome the stranger.”

It was clear to Carly that her fantasy novel would be set in the 1980s. She created Cain as a sympathetic, even soft-hearted, demon, misunderstood by most, treated harshly by some, taken advantage by others, idolized by still others. He finds solace in his rock music (with demonic special effects on stage), and the band that shapes around him is a colorful group of misfits, each with some super power, not always used for good. Cain is accused of turning youth to satanic worship, harassed by a caricature of a televangelist, but in fact he takes on a redeeming key role in solving mysterious murders that draw ever closer to him and his mates. A battle of good versus evil brings the story to a satisfying end.

When the novel was completed, Carly turned to others for first reads and opinions. What was first “a simple love story with an open ending that would allow for a sequel,” would go through a series of rewrites and cuts.

“My dad read the early manuscript and made suggestions,” Carly nods. “I talked to a couple of professors at Sarah Lawrence, and they were very intrigued. I had a connection with a Random House editor who suggested I cut the original manuscript from its 250,000 words to 150,000.”

Art from the webcomic she is using as a bridge to her first novel’s sequel

Carly landed somewhere in between with her cuts, but one idea held. She felt her novel had a market, but she wanted to keep control over its marketing and decided to self-publish. LogSine Labs, LLC, was born and she published her book under its auspices in April 2014. A website, www.devil-music.com, corresponded with the novel, and featured on the website is a comic with Cain, his band, and various other characters from the novel.

“I call it a webcomic, because right now it’s only on the web,” she says. “Before I started writing Devil Music, I had visualized it as a graphic novel. I publish one webcomic per week, and it fills the time period between this novel and the coming sequel. I write the script and send it to the artist in California to add the graphic images.”

Another unique marketing concept Carly has developed together with her husband, Stephen Robbins ’05, is what they call “traveling books.”

“I intend to bring a few copies along to each book signing I do, where I can then hand them out, free of charge, to people who seem interested in the book but might be reluctant to buy from an unknown author. The traveling books are accompanied by a note encouraging people who read the book to leave their reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, so they would have a dual benefit.”

In writing Devil Music, Carly’s hope has been to look at the mythology surrounding the 1980s hair metal rock bands and offer a different perspective. “It’s a misunderstood culture,” she says. “The message of the novel is to be a little more open-minded – welcome the stranger.”

Carly credits Kalamazoo College writer-in-residence, Diane Seuss, with early encouragement to develop her imagination and writing skills.

“She was very good at teaching me to reign in my creativity,” Carly says. “The first day of creative writing class, teachers usually just tell you to just ‘write a poem.’ But she gave us much more structure and discipline, and I’m grateful for that.”