Mastering the English Major Lifestyle – According to Me

It’s the beginning of the week.  My weekend involved hours of work, catching up on sleep, cleaning my house, late night talks with friends, homework assignments, paying all my money for concerts, hangouts, and Pabst Blue Ribbon.   I ponder what this week has in store for me.  I have to gather music and practice for RUF worship, meet new people, more work, study for tests, write papers, practice for our house concert, and lose more sleep trying to get to class on time.  No matter what your year is in college, you immediately have responsibilities that take up your schedule.  Sound familiar?  How in the world will I get all of this done so that I can write more short stories and finish John Steinbeck’s East of Eden?

There has to be a solution.

As an English major at UTC, I think the three most important things are homework, writing, and reading.  Homework is my archenemy.

I hear this conversation between my friend and I:

“How are those new poems gong?  Started anything new?”

“Nah, I’m behind on homework.  But I have new clever ideas that I want to get back to!”

“Right, right. Keep me updated!”

This has happened too many times.

I think that the first step in conquering these tasks is to either get ahead of homework, or always stay on top of it.  Ironically, homework has a mysterious force that is knocking at the door of our brains, eager to find a home to rest.  Homework is the key to decreasing the study time we put into tests and papers, and it eventually allows more available time to write.  If I am caught up on homework, I can write more.  Simple, right?

Secondly, I think that consistent writing is essential.  I know this sounds unrealistic since we do enough writing as it is, but developing your own voice is something that can’t be ignored.  English majors love to read and write, no matter how much stuff they have to get done.  It is what gives us encouragement in our own character and writing.

I know that some people are not confortable with sharing their writing, but this challenge has to be met if you want to further develop your voice.  Please, take a class with Professor Najberg or Professor Braggs, and then you’ll be set.

Lastly, I think reading inspires better writing.  This is where I might lose some of my readers, especially if you’re trying to read a novel a week in class, and on top of writing papers and finishing King Lear.  I get it.  I trust that the materials read in certain classes are capable of influencing better writing; however, wouldn’t it be better if we could shred through 20 pages a night in a novel?  I like that thought a lot.  Think about what your schedule will entail after college when there will be more tasks that need to be met, so why not take advantage of the time now?

I challenge myself and other students to live this life style.  Maybe it will be too stressful or not worth it. But I know from experience, that this challenge is worth practicing and mastering.  Now get a friend and start sharing your creative work.

– Adam Jones


They Did Not Rebuild Here

A poem by Cody Taylor: 


Before, the world would well up on grass blades.

I remember dew on my feet and sunlight warming

my legs as it came over the horizon.


I remember the way the light wrapped around the buildings

in the town square and how my lungs heaved from

playing in the alleyways.


But now, my memories are irregular and uneven. I remember,

even if the world has forgotten, as I wheel myself up

the hill that overlooks the empty square.


Patchy grass lies folded in two parallel lines behind me.

They did not rebuild here; the windows all around still

are polka-dotted with holes from the shrapnel.


And the night doesn’t fall gracefully, like it used to. 

Instead it twists around the tree branches,

and then it bends and snaps.


An interview with the poet Ravi Shankar

by Jessica Locke—I am not sure what I expected when I went into my interview with Ravi Shankar. Perhaps someone aloof, made arrogant from success and world knowledge. The individual that I had the pleasure of sitting down to speak with was both down to earth and knowledgeable. It was as if a good friend had travelled the world and come back to tell me about all he’d learned.

Ravi Shankar was raised in northern Virginia although he lived in South India as well during his 3rd and part of his 4th grade years in school. He says that it was “transformative” living in Virginia and being an outsider has had a large impact on his writing. Shankar did his undergraduate work at the University of Virginia and his MFA at Columbia University.

As a poet he has received several awards including a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. His poetry collection, Instrumentality, was also a finalist for the 2005 Connecticut Book Awards. He is the founder and executive director of the online journal Drunken Boat, one of the oldest online literary journals around. Through all of his writing and publishing, Ravi Shankar still finds time to teach at Central Connecticut State College and holds a position with the first international MFA program at City University of Hong Kong.

One of my leading questions when talking with Mr. Shankar was about how he got into online publishing. He shared with me that it was really only a project started for fun with friends. He purchased the URL because “it sounded cool” and proceeded to simply publish pieces written by friends. This was at the height of the dot com boom as he describes it and never expected it to go anywhere. However, the internet being what it is soon had the journal drawing in work from the UK and other places around the world.

The discussion regarding his personal success with online journals led me to ask about the state of online publishing and what it meant to print. He said just as television did not kill radio, neither would online publication do away with print. However, we did get to discuss the many possibilities that come with online publication such as sound and visual arts that are just not possible in a printed journal. During his presentation just an hour later I was privileged enough to be lead through some of the interactive art published in the Drunken Boat by Ravi Shankar himself.

Outside of the online publishing world, Shankar also does a lot of work with international literature; this is evidenced by the joint work with Tina Chang and Nathalie Handal: Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond. The Norton Anthology they edited together was spawned from the aftermath of September 11, 2001 in an attempt to heal some of the wounds left behind through showing the world a shared humanity including the Middle East. However, this is not his only multi-cultural work. He says that it is “paradoxical” being an Indian-American writer, yet the things that he is interested in, he feels are universal; things such as “the nature of reality” or “philosophical concepts.” Yet, Ravi Shankar also sees the good in his unique situation such as attending Asian-American writing workshops and sharing different views, which might not otherwise be seen, with other writers.

Having the opportunity to speak with such a successful writer was a true gift to me that I hope to share with others through my account. For my last inquiries I took the time to ask Mr. Shankar what advice he might give to upcoming writers. He responded that new writers should “Heed the rhino” and “Have thick skin” thus not giving up, although even established writers such as himself are still rejected 80 to 90 percent of the time. He also stressed the reciprocity of reading and writing, advising not to limit oneself and to read things one might not necessarily like.

When asked, he said that the most rewarding part of his career has been the people he has had the opportunity to meet, the students whose lives he has touched and the friendships he has made. He is in the process of a new book with the working title, What Else Could It Be, which I will be eagerly awaiting. Until then, I am glad to have met the poet, Ravi Shankar, an individual whom I believe has and will continue to have an impact on more than just those who pass through his classroom.

The Exciting World of Literary Readings

It is one thing to read a poem or a short story, but it is quite another to hear it in the author’s voice, as it was meant to be read. The Meacham conference, held in Chattanooga each semester, is a perfect opportunity to take part in this type of experience. This conference brings together a variety of talented authors to share their work. One such reading this year consisted of authors Sharan Strange, Caleb Ludwick, and Stephen Corey. Each author illustrated a different side to the literary world, which was exciting to witness.

Strange, a poet, showed a reverence for the things she writes about. It was clear from the tone of her voice that she takes her subjects seriously and wants to share their importance with the world. Ludwick, a short story writer, had a different style to share with the audience. His story showed a realistic account of young boy’s life. This showed Ludwick’s tendency toward the realistic and how to make it pop for his audience. Corey was the most informal of the authors at this reading. He engaged the audience and made them feel involved in his pieces, which I appreciated.

This reading was an exciting experience for any fan of the literary world. It was rewarding to hear authors from such diverse literary positions come together and read their work. It gives the audience the sense of how the author hears the work in their head, and this opens up a whole new perspective on the piece. I would recommend everyone to come out and attend a reading in their community.

Meacham Highlight: Rebecca Makkai

by Lauren Staten—Every year, The Meacham Writers Workshop brings a weekend full of reading and critiquing to Chattanooga and some of its finest writers. Whether your work is in the midst of others, waiting for you to nervously clutch the paper and read it for the eager listeners, or whether you are in the body of those eager listeners, The Meacham Workshop is always rewarding. In the past, guests such as Ralph Burns, Ted Howard, and even Tim O’ Brien have been among those in the crowd as well as those who read their work. This year, Rebecca Makkai, the successful Chicago-based short story writer released her debut novel, and made a debut appearance at the Meacham Writer’s Workshop.

Makkai’s first book, The Borrower, was published in May, and those who attended the workshop in Chattanooga this weekend were granted the priveledge to hear her read several excerpts from this piece. Makkai also held conferences with students and guests, sharing advice and personal experience to writers of all levels. Many who met with her said Makkai gave extremely helpful information that was a fresh breath compared to what they knew and usually hear. Her approach is very different from most, which called for quite the publicity at the workshop this weekend. Her name has been repeated around campus and among those who prepared the events of the weekend, praising her work and anticipating reading more of her work.

Meacham Writers Workshop has met many great writers, published writers, as well as not-yet-published writers. It encourages practical steps and revision techniques for a writer to reach their potential, and allows the writers to get fresh and new opinions from other writers, including writers like Makkai. It is always gratifying to hear an author read his or her work aloud, as it captures the full affect of their work, and magnifies its’ beauty. For Makkai, awareness was raised on her debut novel, and for her as a writer. For Meacham-goers, Makkai breathed her wisdom and experience into their work, giving those of us whom are nervously clutching our paper in fear of reading it to the eager listeners, a final push to just go for it. After all, the worst circumstance would be that some great writer such as Ralph Burns, Ted Howard, Tim O’Brien, or Rebecca Makkai are lurking in the body of listeners. And really, how bad is that?

The Importance of Food and Drink

It is 11:23 on a Thursday morning and a large plate of pumpkin spice chocolate chip oatmeal cookies are basking in the sunlight that has been strolling through my open kitchen window. I have a bushel of apples waiting to be sliced and diced for some apple cider pies, and warm baguettes waiting to be slathered with honey goat cheese and pumpkin butter. There are pumpkins to be carved and seeds to be roasted and toasted with cinnamon, salt, and oregano. It is a morning perfect for getting lost in the world of literature, for feeling the fall breeze dance into the room and help stir my pen.

This is the season that begins months of a holiday love affair with food and drink. Take a look at any writer: I am sure most all will be able to sit and describe for hours their favorite food and drinks. For anyone wanting to dive into some of the favorite dishes and drinks the top literary authors and poets have mentioned in letters, books, or interviews, you have to check out the blog Paper and Salt. With cherished recipes including Agatha Christie’s Fig and Orange Scones with Devonshire Cream, Robert Penn Warren’s favorite cocktail recipe, and even Wallace Stevens’ Coconut Caramel Graham Cookies, the blog won’t let you down. Let’s zoom in on Stevens for a minute, whose “humdrum evening routine consisted of eating a cookie while reading the paper.” To all of us with a sweet tooth, Stevens is a dear kindred spirit. Nicole from Paper and Salt writes:

On his doctor’s orders, Stevens repeatedly tried to cut his dessert intake, but when a friend sent him a bottle of coconut syrup that reminded him of his beloved caramels, it all went out the window. “God help me, I am a miserable sinner,” he wrote, “and love being so.”

I am sure there are many jokes out there about “drink” being the true “ink” in a writer’s pen, but it is necessary to stop and reflect on various drinks for a minute. For writers in general—but poets especially—there is nothing more stimulating than good conversation accompanied by wine paired with the right cheese. See The Wine and Cheese Pairing Guide at Winemonger for suggestions.

And last but not least, what about those of you who love actually entering into the literary world and experiencing their own food and drink? For those of you who want a nice warm butterbeer on a cool fall evening without having to migrate to Orlando for the world of Harry Potter? I recommend including Guinness in your recipe, because what’s the magic in making butterbeer if you don’t tweak it to your own taste? Add a little Buttescotch Schnapps and research your own recipe! Seriously. Make your own magic, folks. (Except for the under-21s, only cream soda and butterscotch syrup for you!)

Or perhaps you want a fresh drink, something for a picnic, don’t forget to look up Anne (with an E)’s recipe for Raspberry Cordial. If you’re feeling extra silly, you can even re-enact dear Diana’s encounter with the “Raspberry Cordial.” Or just drink some currant wine yourself.

So writers, readers, lovers of food and drink: dive into the culinary world. The world of scents and flavors. Savor the spices, the aromas, the textures. Nerd out with your favorite literary recipes. Research what your favorite authors liked to eat and drink. Don’t forget to check out the Paper and Salt blog, and plunge into the best part of writing: eating and drinking.

Gender Bending and Shakespeare

In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of attention given to possible homoerotic and non-binary gender themes and characters in the works of William Shakespeare. Sonnet 20 is considered by many scholars and spectators to be the most palpable example of these themes in Shakespearean sonnets:

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling,
Much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

At first glance it might appear that this sonnet was written about a woman, but that is definitely not the case. The second line makes this very clear, when the individual is referred to as the “master-mistress of my passion”. Once the revelation has been made that this sonnet is indeed about a male, the first line takes on a new meaning; this male has a “woman’s face”; that is to say he is likely very lovely and effeminate. Shakespeare then goes on to describe this man as being more desirable than a woman is, and then obviously is described once more as being a male, “A man in his hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling”. As this sonnet goes on, it gets more and more interesting: Shakespeare is in essence writing that this man was originally made a woman, until nature literally “prick’d” him out; that is to say, endowed him with a penis, thus causing the narrator (presumably a male as well, given the conflict and lamenting tone present in this sonnet) to say that nature has defeated him by an “addition”, “by adding one thing to my purpose nothing”. It is also stated that he was pricked out for women’s pleasure, i.e. given a penis in order to naturally please a woman (and not a man, furthering conflict), and this pleasure is the “treasure” mentioned in the last line. The homoerotic implications and gender bending in this sonnet are quite obvious when the sonnet is re-read with close attention to detail, and not taken at face value.

Writing Prompt

Wouldn’t it be nice every now and then to have something to use as sort of a springboard for creativity? Between school and work and the many other things that clutter our daily lives, sometimes it can be hard to find genuine inspiration, or to even think of ways to do so. That’s what we’re here for. Every week or so we’ll be posting a new writing prompt in case you’re one of the many that frequents that creative rut that so often comes with writing.  That said, to start off, today’s prompt is easy.

Take a poem you have already written and are not particularly fond of. Now, rearrange it any way that you want to. You may add or subtract words here or there, but try to do so infrequently. Make it an entirely different poem using the same words, just in a different pattern. See if you can become more satisfied with the poem simply by moving the words around.

This is actually a really great tip on how to improve or add a fresh perspective to your poetry, especially when you feel stuck or are unhappy with a poem you’re working on. In a poetry workshop class I had here at UTC, while workshop-ing one of my poems, my professor (the one and only Earl Braggs, to be exact), asked me to read a specific stanza of my poem backwards, that is, reading the last line first, the second-to-last line second, and so on, from the bottom up. Needless to say, it worked brilliantly, and to this day, that particular poem is saved with that revision.

So go ahead, try it! You never know what new things you might discover in something you’ve already written.