Sarah published her first book of poetry, Field Work, and it won the Cider House Review Editor’s Prize. The book has garnered critical acclaim in several publications, and Sarah has done several appearances for the iconic Los Angeles Beyond Baroque reading series. Her work has also appeared in Agni, The Atlantic, Christian Science Monitor, Cimarron, Crab Orchard Review, Field, The Missouri Review, New Orleans Review, Psychology Today, Scientific American, Southern Review and elsewhere. Sarah has taught poetry and composition at the University of Virginia, James Madison University, Young Writers’ Workshop and Tsurumaru High School in Kagoshima, Japan. She was a creative nonfiction fellow with Think, Write, Publish. She has worked with other writers as well, including New York Times columnist David Brooks (as an early reader for The Social Animal), social scientist Jonathan Haidt and the novelist Jonathan Franzen. “I was born in an unincorporated rural area outside of Peoria, Illinois,” Sarah writes, “and have lived in countries as far afield as Belgium and Japan. This has given me an unusual perspective on the rural/urban experience and the differences between liberals and conservatives–an uncommon vantage point that I bring to bear on my work in both poetry and nonfiction. I’ve enjoyed being able to work on a broad range of projects, and I try to bridge the seemingly disparate worlds of science, parenting and the arts.”
Today Con is that silence, a life now part of a “mystery at the center” into which words will penetrate insufficiently at best, the way sunlight beneath the surface of a deep ocean shimmers a few meters at most then disappears.
Con died on January 11, 2017. Several weeks previous, his daughter, Jane, wrote that her father had written to her that he planned to “make his exit” after Christmas but wasn’t sure he could endure that long. He endured and then died from complications of cancer and pneumonia. He was 88 years old.
Con earned his B.A. at Oberlin College, his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. Attracted to “the promise of a college that was willing to try things,” Con was recruited to Kalamazoo College by Larry Barrett, a colleague in the English department and later a dear friend. Con started his career at K in 1962, the first full year of the bold and quirky curriculum called the K-Plan. He retired in 1998. In between, countless students of all majors and liberal arts inclinations fondly recall his literature and writing classes and especially his poetry courses. He wrote 11 volumes of poetry. His latest, Until the Full Moon Has Its Say, he wrote in his mid-eighties, and many of its poems are villanelles, a demanding form Con seemed to execute with ease. Like his friend and colleague Larry Barrett, whom he eulogized in 2002, Con was “in business right to the end.”
His prolificity as a poet sometimes obscured the fact that he was a marvelous writer of prose, author of the genre-bending creative nonfiction piece, Luke Karamazov, and countless essays and chapel talks, often on poets such as John Donne and Galway Kinnell, two he particularly loved, though there are many many more. Con loved to illustrate with poems the ideas he articulated in his prose as if to remind us that poetry (as he once said) can be a brief and invigorating elevation from the “lowly ground” of our inward selves–not that such ground is bereft of beauty and mystery, only that our souls seek a glimpse of something abundant beyond our own inwardness. Con often found that abundance, “a pool of meaning,” in the ordinary.
He was a remarkable teacher, entirely and joyfully at home in the “arches and vaults” of the liberal arts, created when the seemingly separate disciplines lean together and conjoin. He continually sought inspiration for his own work (both his teaching and his poetry) in the subject matters of his colleagues and friends in biology, mathematics, religion, philosophy, physics and psychology, to name just a few. Often he’d audit courses in different departments as grist for his imagination, for example John Spencer’s seminar on Alfred North Whitehead and David Evans’s class on ethology. What he learned in those classes found its way into his poems, intentionally or not. Most of all he loved K students, and the effect on them of the K-Plan: their genius, he wrote, “for combining academic work and off-campus experience in just the way to allow themselves the most dramatic growth.”
In 1995, three years before his retirement, he began teaching night classes in poetry at the Stryker Center. These he continued for some 15 years, and many of his ex-students and members of the greater Kalamazoo community attended. Con helped poets make and publish their poems, and the list of these writers is impressive, including, among others, Susan Blackwell Ramsey, Corey Marks, Gail McMurray Martin, Marie Bahlke, Kit Almy, Gail Griffin, Rob Dunn, Hedy Habra, Marion Boyer, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Jane Hilberry, Amy Newday, and his lifelong student and friend, Pulitzer Prize finalist Diane Seuss. His beloved wife of 60 years, Marion, who died on April 8, 2008, often joined him in these classes.
In an essay he wrote on Galway Kinnell, Con described the opposition between poems and the notion of the final word. Comments on poems we perceive as “right on certain points and wrong on others,” he said. “But no one sees [those comments, even if they are the author’s] as the last word, equivalent to the poem itself. We always assume there is more to be said as the complexities of the poem take different configurations from other readers….Whenever a reading is taken as final, the poem is diminished.”
He managed his classes like that, starting things off, then sitting back to listen and provide space for students’ voices–for that peculiar confluence of text and the texture of readers’ lives, from which arises meaning. “I just need to choose the right books,” he once said. “Then the students notice things about the poems, and they teach each other.”
He was a poet and teacher of the people, deeply involved in the city of Kalamazoo’s Poetry on Buses program during its heyday. Often, with fellow poets (and friends) Herb Scott and John Woods (English professors at neighboring Western Michigan University) among others, Con would bring poetry into public middle schools, somehow managing to engage that always potentially intractable audience into the “best poems,” which Con considered an ineffable harmony of vividness (which the junior high students loved) and wholeness (where, often, the work began). He served as an editor of the Third Coast anthologies of Michigan poets and seemed to be a friend to every writer therein.
In his teaching prime Con’s presence was unforgettable, especially his red hair and ready smile. His limp and the rattle of his bike always suggested some past accident that had had no effect on his love of biking steep grades, celebrating gravity. And why not celebrate the force that holds us in what he called our “borrowed dust” for our short while on earth–the best, the only place for love.
In his last chapel talk (2001), using a line from a poem by Stanley Kunitz, Con said, “I have walked through many lives, some of them my own.” Indeed, Con contained multitudes.
Near the end, when Con was in the hospital, before he came home for hospice care, he said to his daughter, Jane, “I still have some talents left. One of them is sleeping. Another one is laughing.”
So like Con: able to sort by scent the smoke of sleep and laughter. He was, to the very end, the poet of the ordinary’s miracle.
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.
Corey is a professor and director of creative writing for the department of English at the University of North Texas. He is a prizewinning author of two volumes of poetry, Renunciation and, more recently, The Radio Tree. Corey is also a poetry editor at the American Literary Review and a judge for the University of North Texas Rilke Prize, which recognizes mid-career poets. An article on Corey that mentions his roots in rural Michigan and at Kalamazoo College appeared in the NTDaily.com.
Gail joined two other Kalamazoo writers in a recent issue of the journal Quarter Past Eight. It was the first time that longtime colleagues and fellow writers Gail and Di Seuss ’78 appeared in print together. Di is Writer-in-Residence and a professor in the English department. The two colleagues were joined in print by Hadley Moore ’99, a short story of whose appeared in that issue of the journal. Di’s piece won the journal’s Short Prose Contest. Gail’s two pieces were both finalists.
In other “English” news, Gail may have retired, but she keeps a close eye on K graduates in the arts. She sent us the following note:
“Lisa Kron ’83 is almost sure to win the Tony Award for the book associated with the Broadway hit Fun Home, and possibly share the Tony for lyrics as well. Joe Tracz ’04 was just nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award (off-Broadway) for the musical The Lightning Thief. David France ’81, of course, received an Oscar nomination for his documentary film How to Survive a Plague, and it’s being turned into a series on F/X. It’s interesting to me that Lisa was a theatre arts major, Joe an English major, and David a political science major. And then there’s Jordan Klepper ’01 (a math major!) of The Daily Show fame and Steven Yeun ’05 (psychology) who plays Glen on the The Walking Dead. What a crop of media stars from K! And the breadth of their liberal arts journeys is incredible.”
Aaron is currently a third-year Fellow in Poetry at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Aaron is a Fulbright scholar, winner of Tupelo Quarterly’s TQ5 Poetry Contest, and a semifinalist for the 92Y/Discovery Poetry Contest. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Meridian, Pinwheel, Southern Indiana Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. The Spectacle recently published “The History Behind the Feeling,” Aaron’s conversation with poet Claudia Rankine.
Corey was the spring 2016 Lawrence Clayton Poets and Writers Speaker Series guest at Hardin-Simmons University (Abilene, Texas). Corey is the author of two award-winning volumes of poetry. His first book, Renunciation, was selected by the late Philip Levine as a 1999 National Poetry Series Competition Winner. It also received the Natalie Ornish Prize from the Texas Institute of Letters. His most recent book The Radio Tree, won the Gren Rose Prize from New Issues Press in 2011. Corey is the Distinguished Teaching Professor and Director of Creative Writing at the University of North Texas (Denton).
At Hardin-Simmons Corey participated in an afternoon question and answer session and, in the evening, he read poems from his collection of works. His poems have appeared in the New England Review, The Paris Review, Poetry Northwest, Ploughshares, Southwest Review, The Threepenny Review, TriQuarterly, The Virginia Quarterly Review, as well as in the anthology Legitimate Dangers (Sarabande Books, 2006) among others. Corey earned his B.A. in English at K. His Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (poetry) is from Warren Wilson College, and his Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature is from the University of Houston.
Jessica published her first full-length collection of poems, How to Break My Neck. She is is a poet and professor of English at Harper College in suburban Chicago. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Midwestern Gothic; Ninth Letter online; TRIVIA; The Fem; Whale Road Review; Crab Creek Review; Yellow Chair Review; artisan: a journal of craft; The Listening Eye; Driftwood; Furnace Review; Blood and Fire Review; Mobius; The New Press Literary Quarterly; Red River Review; Third Wednesday; In Posse Review and others. At K Jessica earned her bachelor’s degree in English and studied abroad in Caceres, Spain. She earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in literature from the University of Iowa.
Ray has published his second book of haiku. The book’s full title is 100 Haiku Book Two: Inspired by the Mind Training of a Course in Miracles. The book is available on Amazon.
“. . . 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
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.”
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.”
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.