Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Travels: Academic, Colonial, Air

I have been travelling; it's strange to return home to news of tornadoes in other parts of the country.  But our travel day yesterday was relatively calm.  Even the delays that we experienced on Thursday weren't as upsetting as they could be; I just settled in to read.

On my flight up I read Amy Waldman's The Submission, a great book about September 11, art, and race.  The central question:  can a mostly non-practicing Muslim create a suitable memorial to September 11?  The book answers that question early on:  yes.  Then the book asks a different question:  if a Muslim artist creates a memorial, can the fact that a Muslim created it detract from its purposes?  This book is a great meditation on class, religion, immigration, gender, and skin color.

On the way back I read Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones, another book that contemplates skin color, gender, and class.  It's a heartbreaking book, and I confess to skimming parts, especially the dog fighting parts.  Yikes.  But it's compelling, and it makes me realize how fortunate I've been, how damaging poverty is, how tough to escape.

What did I do in between?  I went to the College English Association conference in Richmond, where I presented a paper.  I wrote about poet children of scientists who contemplate God in their poetry.  The paper went fairly well.  It was held during the second to last session, so we had a very small audience.

Once again, I tried to see the presentation as a speaking engagement, and less as a paper reading.  I have mixed feelings about it.  I liked the conversational style.  I think what I disliked about my paper is that I had no sweeping insight.  My paper concluded that we see a wide diversity of responses to the question of God in the poetry of children of scientists.  But the audience seemed receptive.

Like I said, that audience was small.  We had 3 panelists, the moderator, and 2 other people.  One of them was my mom.  When they moved to Williamsburg, I decided to submit a paper proposal to the CEA since Richmond is close by.  My school has no travel money, so being able to stay with my parents was an important factor in my decision to participate.

My mom decided to make the drive to Richmond with me.  I was pretty sure it would be OK if she slipped in to hear the presentations.  The CEA doesn't seem too rigid about checking everyone's badges.  In fact, since my presentation was so late in the conference, I thought we might be grateful for an extra audience member.  I was right.  It was great to spend time with my mom in this way.

Of course, it was great to see other family members too.  My sister and nephew came down, and we had a great time together.  Before they came, we went to Williamsburg and wandered the colonial streets.  We went to Jamestown, but lacked the energy to fully explore the ruins (good to save some investigations for later).  My dad told us all sorts of colonial details he's picked up from living in the area and reading some key books.  Great fun.  It was a very full 5 days.

I've come away with some great poem ideas.  I've found myself intrigued again by Pocahontas.  Once again, I am astonished that those settlers were able to survive.  I think about how bad life must have been in the Old World to embark on a voyage to the New World.

It is hard for me to believe that it is April already.  I need to shift gears before National Poetry Month gets away from me altogether.  I need to think about Easter, and the fact that Holy Week is upon me.  I need to make sure that all my other projects are on track too.  And then, of course, there's a department to make sure is running smoothly.  But first, to finish this blog post and to go to spin class!

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