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Terrence Doody Speaks: On “Loose and Baggy Monsters”


August 8, 2017
willdorthea
Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw from Middlemarch by George Eliot,The Jenson Society, NY, 1910 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Henry James called the nineteenth-century novel a ” loose and baggy monster.”

James thought the novel ought to discipline itself to a single character’s point of view. This character need not be the narrator because the novelist’s art consists in finding a way to say everything necessary within these voluntary limits. What results is not the omniscient voice of the culture, but the consciousness of the individual, who grows more and more alienated as we enter the twentieth century. If nineteenth century novels are typically long, twentieth century novels are inevitably hard because there is no more all-knowing narrator to tell us what to think and feel.

George Eliot’s Middlemarch is loose and baggy, because it is filled with an unusually wide range of characters across the society of Middlemarch at a time of historical transition. Anna Karenina has fewer characters, a more intense focus, but it is built on the parallel fates of Anna Karenina and Constantine Levin, who is a version of Tolstoy himself. Anna is a tragic figure while Levin is a spiritual seeker. The novel has two endings that prevent conventional closure.

How do these and other novels of the time take us to the very edge of Modernism?

Anna Karenina has two endings that prevent conventional closure. Tolstoy’s style is “simple,” lucid, irrefutable—it is quite simply like no one else’s which is why, by everybody’s measure, Leo Tolstoy is the greatest of the nineteenth century novelists.

James’s The Portrait of a Lady poses American innocence against the Old World’s sophistication, which is seen through the eyes and assumptions of Isabel Archer. Its ending is very provocative, and James is no help at all: his characters are as independent of their author as any in the nineteenth-century—an independence that turns into modern alienation and puts us at the edge of Modernism.

None of these differences diminishes any one of the novels. They are all masterpieces and the grounds for a nice debate about the relationship between the exigencies of real life and the freedoms of fiction’s aesthetics.

“The Novel Moves to Modernity” begins Thursday, September 7 from 1:00 – 3:00.

Click here for more details.

How Much Do You Know About…Spanish (and other Romance Languages)?


August 6, 2017

veniceIn anticipation of Hector Urrutibeheity’s, Victoria Arbizu-Sabater’s and Luisa Kluger’s upcoming Spanish language classes, we put together a quiz on little-known facts about Romance Languages!

1. Which language below is not a Romance language:

A. German.
B. Romanian.
C. Italian.

2. Romance languages all descend from this original language:

A. Germanic.
B. Latin.
C. Celtic.

3. Which language is the number one spoken language of the Romance Languages?

A. French.
B. Spanish.
C. Russian.

4. Which Romance language is the language used in classical music?

A. English.
B. Spanish.
C. Italian.

5. Although Spanish is a Romance language, it is heavily influenced by:

A. Arabic.
B. Russian.
C. Portuguese.

6. Which is the largest Spanish-speaking country?

A. United States.
B. Spain.
C. Mexico.

7. When did the Spanish language begin (that we would recognize today)?

A. 11th century.
B. Before A.D.
C. 13th century.

Answers.

1. A. German is not a Romantic Language.  German is actually the root of another linguistic family we call the Germanic languages, which English is a part of.

2.  B. Latin. Romance Languages descend from Latin, which was the language of the Romans.

3.  B. Spanish. Of the five most widely spoken Romance languages by number of native speakers, Spanish (410 million) is the most widely spoken.

4. C. Italian. According to Miles Hoffman, author of The NPR Classical Music Companion, Italian is the linqua franca of classical music. “So many of these musical forms—sonata, cantata, aria—started in Italy,” Hoffman says. “Plus, Italian musicians were in positions of prestige all over Europe, so it became the lingua franca.”

5.  A. Arabic. The origin of a lot of words in Spanish can be traced back to Arabic—the language that has had the most cultural influence on the Spanish language after Latin. The Arab presence in Spain that lasted for nine centuries led to the absorption of multiple Arabic words by Spanish speakers. About 4,000 words in the Spanish language are of Arab origin, such as “aceituna” (olive), “almohada” (pillow), “azúcar” (sugar)  and “arroz” (rice), to name a few.

6. C. Mexico. This country has a population of more than 121 million people who speak Spanish, and as such, is geographically the largest Spanish-speaking country. The United States is home to the second-largest Spanish-speaking population, followed by Colombia, Spain and Argentina. Each country is home to many different Spanish dialects.

7. C. 13th Century. It is still not known exactly when Castilian Latin of the north-central region of Spain turned into Spanish. However, the laws passed by King Alfonso in the 13th century that established Castilian as a distinct official language of the government helped to give rise to the language. In fact, when Columbus traveled to the Americas in 1492, the Spanish he spoke would have been understood by today’s Spanish speakers.

 

 

Contemporary Women’s Fiction: Experience, Style, and Themes


August 6, 2017

contempwomenWomen have been writing up a storm in the twenty-first century, sharing ideas, sufferings, and joys with their increasingly diverse audiences. Laura Richardson’s upcoming class, “Contemporary Women’s Fiction,” explores some of these current literary trends in women’s writing, seeking to identify shared threads of experience, style, and thematic approach in a diverse and interesting set of texts from the twenty-first century.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your class?

Richardson: Our syllabus is exceptionally contemporary. All of the novels we’ll read were written in the twenty-first century—in fact, half of the syllabus was published as recently as 2013!

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about contemporary women’s literature?

Richardson: That women only write about women! Plenty of the texts we’ll be reading feature strong, often emotionally-complicated male characters. I would love for our class to have a lively conversation about what it means for a woman to write a male character and vice versa, especially in the context of contemporary writing.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about women’s experiences as reflected in the books you cover?

Richardson: Perhaps how many similarities there are among experiences of women from diverse backgrounds. Being a contemporary woman in a global community means a worldwide kinship with women’s issues. One of our primary objectives in the course will be to identify and celebrate (or commiserate with) these likenesses.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us about the format of each class…readings, images, the legacy or importance of these women authors?

Richardson: We’ll discuss one novel (or memoir) each class, and three classes will also have “extra-credit” reading that’s meant to enhance or accompany our understanding of the main reading. Class will be broken up into lecture and discussion. I’ll start each day by providing students with biographical information about the author, as well as any important historical context that helps us understand the text. After that, I’ll have a series of questions to pose to students, who are welcome to discuss and/or listen as they feel comfortable.

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?

Richardson: Too many to list all of them here! I just finished John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse, which is a short story collectionhilarious and weird. I’m now midway through Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and have also begun rereading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Talein anticipation of watching the TV adaptation. I love book recommendations, so when you see me at the WI, please tell me what you’re reading and loving!

Laura Richardson’s class beings on September 6, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

How Women Won the West


August 6, 2017
calamityJane copy

Calamity Jane, wikipedia

Scott Pett’s upcoming class, “Women in the American West,” students will
learn about the hardships, hopes, and homes of the “American West” through the eyes, voices, and memories of women. Pett plans to use film, memoirs, biographical fiction, and poetry to discover how our ideas of the nineteenth-century and present-day West have been created and complicated. We checked in with the new WI professor to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Pett: This will be a multimedia class. We’ll be reading a few different kinds of writing from different women—some who were born and raised in the West and some who migrated there. We’ll also view excerpts from a terrific film, “The Homesman” (2014), starring Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones.

There is a lot of ground to cover (bad pun intended), so the class will be focused on breadth rather than depth. I will start each class with a lecture and discussion about particular women artists, activists, and public figures like Georgia O’Keefe, Laura Gilpin, and more. We’ll talk about representations of women in Hollywood westerns like Westward the Women (1951), which is almost too laugh-out-loud ridiculous to be offensive. We will also discuss the suggested texts for the course. And, if anyone would like to do a brief presentation on an ancestor of theirs, I think that would be a lot of fun.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about the American West and women?

Pett: Perhaps the biggest thing is that we tend to think and talk about “the West” in the singular. For some reason, it’s easier to talk about the West that way, as one big region. There is a kind of romance to it; the singular West gives us some closure to and hope about the supposed destiny of American nation building.

But in fact, there are a plurality of “Wests” with distinctive geographies and overlapping social histories. Do we mean the Rocky Mountains? The US/Mexico borderlands? The plains of Oklahoma? The Pacific islands? “The West” is all of these.

Of course, we also have to make sure to think about “women” as a plural category, rather than singular. We tend not to think about the experiences and voices of black women in the American West, nor do we give much thought to places like L.A. It doesn’t fit within the master narrative of a singular “West,” which conjures images of wild, rural, lowland landscapes.

WIH Reporter: People are fascinated with Native Americans, and the interaction with settlers of the American West. Abductions of women were rare, but there were many stories about this. Although your class deals with literature, and this concerns chronicles or newspaper articles, can you comment about the interactions?

Pett: What little I know about this subject, I’ve learned from reading Mary Rowlandson’s account of her experience (1682), the novel Hope Leslie (1827), Dorothy M. Johnson’s story “Lost Sister” (1957) about Cynthia Ann Parker, and lastly the account of a young Mormon girl named Olive Oatman.

Captivity narratives were often sensationalized. They made for tantalizing reading in periodicals like Saturday Evening Post, while also reinforcing perceptions of American Indians as savages and white settlers as enlightened. Such a spin made it easier to justify the destruction and displacement of indigenous peoples in the name of protecting white womanhood.

With the exception of Rowlandson, who was kidnapped later in life and only separated from her family for a few months, these women and the literary characters they inspired had a difficult time being reintegrated into white communities. In the case of Cynthia Ann Parker, Texas Rangers “recaptured” her. Newspapers recorded how “she vainly tried to escape” white society. After years of being away from her family, she had come to identify culturally and ethnically with her tribe. She had become “thoroughly Indianized,” to use the words of an article purporting to tell the story of another woman taken captive, Frances Slocum, who also later refused to leave her Native family.

But, depending on an author’s agenda, there were competing narratives about the dangers of settler abduction. Propaganda novels like M. Emilia Rockwell’s A Home in the West (1858) were written to reassure women who were afraid to emigrate to places like Iowa because of captivity narratives. In her novel, Rockwell assures her readers that Indians, while “savage,” were not a threat. The goal was to convince women that westward expansion was in the best interest of both their families and the nation.

Q: What would surprise us to know about the American West in terms of women’s experiences?

One surprising thing is that in certain places—Wyoming and Utah territories, for example—white women were allowed to vote up to 50 years before the rest of the country! They didn’t necessarily do this for the right reasons, for example to make sure black citizens remained disempowered, and there were efforts to repeal in both cases. In Utah, women’s suffrage was later repealed as part of an effort to prevent the normalization of polygamy, which was its own unique experience for some women. I find that whole history very fascinating.

WIH Reporter: Do you have a quote from a woman of the American West from literature that symbolizes the experiences of women there?

Pett: For me, there is probably no more interesting and important figure than the ambitious writer and illustrator Mary Hallock Foote, an East-coast transplant whose work captured the life of mining communities in places like Idaho and California. She also lived in Mexico, Colorado, and South Dakota. She was likely the first woman to illustrate an American novel, which happened to be Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. She was very accomplished, but is now mostly forgotten except for being the inspiration (and sometimes direct source material) for Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Angle of Repose (1971). Over a period of 35 years, Foote carried on a very intimate, conflicted, and beautiful correspondence with her friend Helena Gilder, which allowed them to express “the cries that one woman utters to another.”

Here is one of my favorite excerpts from a letter from Mary to Helena:

“I read in the Bible last night that a ‘meek and quiet spirit’ is the only thing for a woman. But how can one ever do or be anything if meekness and quietness are the best things in life. I know plenty of women who have meekness but they have attained it only by giving up all hope or thought for themselves. I could not do that without giving up ambition too.”

Scott Pett’s class begins on September 8th, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

 

 

Celebrating 100 Years of Auguste Rodin


August 6, 2017
256px-The_Thinker,_Rodin

wikipedia, public commons

In this year, the centennial of Auguste Rodin’s death, Professor Anna Tahinci presents her new art course, “Auguste Rodin and Modern Sculpture“. In this course, students will engage in Rodin’s fascinating artistic career—initially full of rejections, controversies, and scandals, which he managed to transform into international successes.   We interviewed her to find out more.

 

WIH Reporter: What in your opinion makes this a “must take” class at WIH?

Tahinci: Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was acclaimed as the greatest sculptor since Phidias and Michelangelo, boldly bringing the ancient art of sculpture into the 20th century. We are all familiar with Rodin’s iconic The Thinker, but this is the perfect moment to rediscover Rodin and his contributions to modern sculpture.

WIH Reporter: Since Rodin is your specialty, can you tell us what motivated you to study him?

Tahinci:  I studied Greek archaeology in Athens and when I moved to Paris for my graduate studies I became fascinated by Rodin’s passion for antiquity and decided to explore his oeuvre and contributions. At that moment I discovered the archives of the Musée Rodin in Paris and the rest is history, or I should say Art History! I did my doctorate at the Sorbonne on Auguste Rodin and studied at the Ecole du Louvre, while working at the Musée Rodin and the Musée d’Orsay.

WIH Reporter: Why is Rodin important for us to study?

TahinciRodin is a key figure in the history of sculpture since he is a bridge, a shifting point between academic sculpture of the 19th century and modern sculpture of the 20th century. He had a challenging career and practice, full of rejections, controversies, and scandals, but he always managed to transform those into future opportunities. As a result, he is an inspirational example of resilience.

WIH Reporter: In what ways did Rodin depart from the traditional sculpture of his time?

Tahinci: Rodin deliberately and systematically broke all academic conventions of his time in at least three different ways: in terms of his subject matters (dealing openly with sensuality without the pretext of mythology), of his style (treating fragments as complete and finished artworks), and his materials and techniques (with his endless experimentation with found objects and archaeological artifacts).

WIH Reporter: What is his legacy?

Tahinci: Rodin explored the expressionistic power of forms (including fragments) while remaining faithful to nature and life. He refused to idealize his figures and at the same time he would embrace accidents and the chance factor in his artistic process. He opened the way to entire generations of sculptors in France, Europe, and America.

WIH ReporterWhere can we see a Rodin sculpture in Houston?

Tahinci: The MFAH has an amazing collection of sculptures by Rodin that you can engage with by visiting both the Beck building and the Cullen Sculpture Garden, such as his iconic “Walking Man”, an amazing example of fragmentation that captures mid-stride motion. It also helps to put Rodin in context by studying sculptures by his master Carrier-Belleuse and by his students Bourdelle and Brancusi, also in the MFAH collection. 

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?

Tahinci: I am currently in Paris conducting research and gathering material. Thus, the exhibition catalogue of the Rodin centennial is what I am reading. I look forward to sharing my discoveries with my students in the fall.

Professor Tahinci’s six-week class begins on September 5th, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

WIH Debuts Unparalleled Spanish Language Program


August 4, 2017

habla2Dr. Hector Urrutibeheity has created a Spanish program especially for The Women’s Institute of Houston that is unparalleled in this city. Urrutibeheity’s program is uniquely immersive and comprehensive, and he has brought with him two of his doctorate-bearing students from his Rice University classes. We visited with him to find out more.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us more details about the Spanish program that you have developed for The Women’s Institute?

Urrutibeheity: The Spanish program at WIH is designed exclusively for adults who want to learn Spanish. Our teaching method takes into account the fact that adults often have different reasons for learning a language and also a different way of learning. In our classes, for instance, students are given CDs on which each new lesson is recorded with pauses for them to repeat plus oral exercises to complete.

WIH Reporter: There are Spanish classes offered all over the city of Houston. Please explain how this program is different.

Urrutibeheity: All three instructors in our program have doctorates in Spanish linguistics. They have taught Spanish for several years at the university level. They are familiar with the approach I have developed, and both Dr. Kluger and Dr. Arbizu-Sabater were my students at Rice University. All three of us have taught languages in other countries: Dr. Arbizu-Sabater has taught Spanish in Poland, Dr. Kluger has taught in Israel, and I have taught English in Argentina.

WIH Reporter: What reasons do people generally have for wanting to learn a foreign language? Why is this potentially important in a city like Houston?

Urrutibeheity: Most participants in our classes want to be able to communicate in Spanish, whether it is in Houston or when traveling within a Spanish-speaking country. Eventually, they will be able to read original texts (short stories, newspaper articles, novels) written in Spanish.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about learning a new language?

Urrutibeheity: The teaching techniques we use at the WIH were developed by my experiences teaching English, French and Spanish in college courses and in university extension courses. Learners no longer have to memorize lists of words and they do not have to answer questions in the language from the very beginning. The instructor makes sure that every student learns the new materials IN CLASS. They are given a CD on which the materials that were introduced were recorded with pauses for the learner to repeat. Students who can spend a minimum of 15 minutes every day listening and doing the activities in the CD will be surprised to see how well they understand and speak the new language after only a few weeks of study.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do people have about learning new languages?

Urrutibeheity: Learning a language in a context in which the student “wants” to learn is quite different from one in which they “have” to learn it, as in a college course. Students´attitudes have a lot to do with learning not only languages but any other subject. In our language classes, progress of the class depends totally on how ALL members of the class are learning the new material. Again, our instructors do not have “to finish the book”. Their main and only objective is to make sure that participants keep being motivated to learn the new language and avoid the all too frequent frustration that sometimes develops in beginning classes.

WIH Reporter: How is the language program set up?

Urrutibeheity: The language program is organized around three levels: beginning, intermediate and advanced. Each level consists of two, seven-week sessions. The advanced level can be taken several times. Students often take it to maintain their knowledge of the language, to increase their vocabulary and to practice their listening and speaking skills.

For more information on Dr. Urrutibeheity’s Spanish language courses, click here.

Two Rainbows To Appear At WIH This Fall


July 18, 2017

rainbowsAs lifelong learners, Jesse and David Rainbow have much in common with the students who attend The Women’s Institute of Houston. The brothers, raised in Strathmore, California, a small town in the state’s agricultural center, learned from the land, not merely from textbooks. Growing up, the grandsons of a seed salesman had agricultural jobs, Jesse working in the orange and olive groves, while David was dairy farming.

College was a jumping off point for Jesse, who attended the University of Houston Honors College on a scholarship, majoring in history. He also studied Spanish, and took a special interest in Near Eastern languages and civilizations. “It was a wonderful place to be a student,” he recalls. “What drew me in at 18 was the curriculum. It’s an intellectual community, where the faculty learns with the students.”
David, today a Russian scholar, tried a couple of different approaches to college, and in between, worked as an engineer aboard a merchant ship in the Pacific. Later, as a student at Fresno Pacific University, he visited Russia for the first time. “I felt like I was studying a totally different world,” David says. “It hooked me.” He graduated from Fresno Pacific, completing an honors thesis on Vladimir Lenin’s role in the Russian Revolution.

Following college, Jesse and David both took a step back from academia. But the yen for more knowledge kept tugging on the brothers. Jesse, a high school history teacher, took humanities classes during the summers. “The more I learned, the more I wanted to know,” he notes. “When I ran out of things to study, I decided to go to grad school.” Jesse received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, where he was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

After college, David headed back west, and for the next two years was a cowhand on a ranch in western North Dakota, where, like Jesse, he felt a similar draw to continued learning. “I started taking courses from the Teaching Company,” David says. “When I found myself listening to their CDs in my tractor, I knew it was time to go back to school.” David earned an M.A. in European intellectual history from Drew University, a Ph.D. in Russian history from New York University, and was a postdoctoral Fellow at the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies at Columbia University.

The brothers are now assistant professors at the University of Houston Honors College. Jesse teaches courses in ancient Near Eastern History, Religion, and Medicine. He has written on topics such as scribal culture in the ancient Near East, ancient Jewish and Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, and the place of magic and divination in the Bible. He regularly leads archaeological study trips to Israel, Turkey and Italy. David teaches and writes about modern Russian and Eurasian history. He is writing a book on Siberian regionalism from the 1860s-1930s, and is editing a book on the history of race in Russia.

Jesse is looking forward to teaching his first WIH class, “Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs,” this fall. “At Harvard, some very inspiring teachers piqued my interest in the ancient Near East,” he notes. His study of the Hebrew Bible included comparative study of other ancient Near Eastern civilizations, including Egypt. “We’ll be getting inside the Egyptian way of thinking,” he explains, “telling the stories about the people who lived and died.” Jesse will focus on 8-10 significant figures, from Ramses the Great to Cleopatra, telling their stories in interesting and compelling ways. He plans to use a lecture format, employing lots of images and photos.

David, who taught a WIH class on the Russian Revolution this past spring, will  offer a fall class on “Forced Exile in Modern History,” looking at significant points in time where people were forced to leave their homes for political reasons. He will focus on six cases in the last two hundred years: Britain, Tsarist Russia, France, the United States, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

David says he is excited to return to WIH, “where the students are extremely engaged. It’s a self-selected group, and people ask good questions.” David appreciates the perspectives of students, who have rich life experiences. “Teaching the Russian class, it was great to talk with people who know about Russia, who are immigrants or are the children of immigrants.”

Although the brothers are busy teaching, writing and raising families, they enjoy spending time together, particularly combining their academic interests with a love of travel. This summer they are taking 16 of their Honors College students to Russia, visiting St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Jesse Rainbow’s class, “Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs”, begins on September 7, 2017 at 1:30 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

David Rainbow’s class, Forced Exile in Modern History, begins on October 19th, 2017 at 10 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

The Writer’s Art: Keys to Unlocking Creativity


June 12, 2017
orpheus

Orpheus poet of classical mythology, by Corot, via Wikipedia

In Sarah Cortez’s upcoming writing workshop, “Keys to Enjoying the Writer’s Art: Literary Romps and Productive Pauses,” students will learn the secrets of creating compelling and enduring stories, characters, and places. Starting on September 5th, and meeting once a month for a total of 6 sessions, this class will explore such topics as how to tell a story, how to use the tricks of creating poetry to enhance your prose, how to use vivid imagery in writing, how to use humor, and how to focus on what’s important in your story. We visited with Cortez to find out more about her unique class.

 

 

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Cortez: What’s important to know is that we are going to have fun in this class as we explore the wide, wide world of writing, reading, and thinking about what others have written so that we could experience their experiences. A poem comes to us as a potent message in a blue bottle washed ashore at the edge of the ocean. It is a gift. (in the words of wonderful Edward Hirsch).

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the topic of your class?

Cortez: This is a class where we will really hone your storytelling skills by looking at the secrets of oral and written storytellers. You will learn when to pause in your writing and when to add details. You will learn when it is best to speed up the story and when the story needs to be slowed down. The stories you create will mesmerize with their magic.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions might folks have about the subject of your class?

Cortez: I will talk about my first class “Don’t Be Afraid of Poetry”. Many people think just because they open a book of poetry in the bookstore and it doesn’t make sense that they don’t like poetry. Hogwash! I don’t like most poetry I read. But the poets I do like—there’s nothing better to read! You have to be patient and curious to find the poets you admire and enjoy. In this class I will hand over to you the keys to the poetry kingdom—those golden keys that will unlock a world of enjoyment.

WIH Reporter: What format do you plan to use in your writing class?

Cortez:I am an energetic and engaging lecturer. We’ll also stop often for participants’ questions and comments. We are TOGETHER in all of this.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us what books are on your night table right now?

Cortez: I have Henri Nouwen’s “Prayer” and Pat Conroy’s “Prince of Tides.”

WIH Reporter: Please add anything else about what we should know about your upcoming class.

Cortez: I have been published and won awards in almost every genre of writing there is! I love writing, editing, and reading. But what I love even more is teaching….so I was particularly thrilled when The Women’s Institute reached out to me to compose these classes for its clients.

For more information on this class, click here.

Shakespeare: From Page to Stage


June 12, 2017

theatre2 The authority on all things Shakespeare, Kate Pogue, shares about her exciting class for the Fall:

“Shakespeare’s plays are great and satisfying in part because they were written for fine actors to perform. Shakespeare (unlike many of his contemporary playwrights) was himself an actor and wrote parts for his own performance. As a result, he learned to encode interpretive stage directions into his language—messages for his fellow actors to pick up on to shape their performances. Through his writing he gave keys for memorization, set the rhythm of a scene, and the pace of the play. He punctuated the ends of scenes, created the dynamism of relationships, established irony and ambiguity, established mood and atmosphere. In the 1980s John Barton rediscovered these Shakespearean stage directions and shared them in a BBC series with a team of actors including Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and David Suchet. In the Fall 2017 Shakespeare class we will be sitting in on John Barton’s master classes, learning to perceive Shakespeare’s directions to his actors. This thrilling exploration will change our way of approaching and appreciating the works of the greatest poet/playwright of the English language.”

This class will meet for six weeks on Thursdays beginning September 7. Click here for more information.

Contemporary Women’s Fiction


June 12, 2017

tablet-1632909__480 “A novel is not an allegory … It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don’t enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won’t be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience. So start breathing.” -Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

Professor Laura Richardson’s class “Contemporary Women’s Fiction” meets Wednesdays, September 6 – October 11 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. More details here.

How the West Was Won: Women of the American West


June 12, 2017

Homesteader sized

Join Scott Pett on Fridays from 10:00 – 12:00, beginning September 8 as he explores the strong women of the American West.

“After thirty years here I know this area a little, but the earth is constantly changing, rocks that move, pebbles that roll out from under the sole of your shoe and throw you down, shifts and changes that are new to me because they were not here, not yet visible.” ~Leslie Marmon Silko, The Turquoise Ledge

To learn more, click here.

 

Auguste Rodin and Modern Sculpture


June 12, 2017

rodin

The progenitor of modern sculpture, Auguste Rodin said, “The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.”

 

Dr. Anna Tahinci’s six-week class “Auguste Rodin and Modern Sculpture” will meet on Tuesdays from 10:00 – 12:00 beginning September 5. Learn more here.

How Much Do You Know About…Egypt’s Pharaohs?


June 12, 2017
King Tut, wikipedia

King Tut, wikipedia

 

In anticipation of Jesse Rainbow’s upcoming September class, Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs, we put together a quiz on that intriguing subject!

 

 

 

 

1. To keep their blood lines pure, Pharaohs only married:

A. Members of their own race.
B. Members of their own family.
C. Members of their own social class.

 

2. The last Pharoah of Egypt was a woman. Who was she?

A. Nefertiti.
B. Cleopatra.
C. Hatshepsut.

3. How did 19-year old King Tut die?

A. He was gored by a hippo.
B. He was murdered.
C. He had malaria and a leg infection.

4. The word Pharaoh means:

A. King.
B. God.
C. Great House.

5. Cleopatra’s first husband was:

A. Julius Caesar.
B. Mark Anthony.
C. Her half-brother.

6. All Pharaohs wore:

A. Ceremonial robes.
B. Makeup.
C. Fake beards.

7. A Pharaoh’s meal typically consisted of…

A. Meat, grain, and wine.
B. Bread, honey and beer/wine.
C. Rice, corn, and beer.

Answers:

1. B. Pharaoh’s married family members to keep their bloodlines pure. This enabled them also to claim ancestry from the Gods so the family bloodlines were even more important. DNA research on King Tut showed his parents were brother and sister.

2. B. Cleopatra was the last Pharaoh. She tried and failed to hold off the Romans under Augustus.

3. C. DNA research showed that King Tut died of malaria which exacerbated his leg infection.

4. C. The word “pharaoh” means “great house”. It is a Greek word that referred to the palace of the king, rather than the ruler specifically.

5. C. Per Egyptian custom, she married two of her brothers (one after the other one died).

6. B, C. Both male and female pharaohs wore fake beards and makeup. Egyptians were obsessed with being hairless, and made sure that they were hair-free, so their beards were fake.

7. B. Egyptians had a poor diet, and DNA testing shows obesity and diabetes among the Pharaohs.

How to Make Abstract Art


June 12, 2017
Wassily Kandinsky_ On White 2_ 1923_ Wikipedia

Wassily Kandinsky_ On White 2_ 1923_ Wikipedia

According to artist and educator Sheila Zeve Lipkin, abstract art—for all its complexities—is much easier to create than other kinds of art. In her upcoming September class, How to Make Abstract Art, she will introduce the key principles of this style of art so her students can then begin setting up their first abstract painting. We checked in with Lipkin to find out the details.

WIH Reporter: What is essential to know about your upcoming class?

Lipkin: Abstract art is not difficult to make when one is aware of the basic components. After the presentation and discussion of making abstract art, ideas will be presented for each participant to begin making his/her abstract painting.

WIH Reporter: What is crucial to understand about creating abstract art?

Lipkin: Abstract art is easier to make than representational art. When painting landscapes and still life and other subjects, a stronger foundation in drawing is needed, which is not the case in making abstract art.

WIH Reporter: What is necessary to know about making abstract art?

Lipkin: The elements of abstract art are basically shape, color, line, working with positive and negative spaces, imagination, and design.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us the format of the classes?

Lipkin: The first class will introduce the basic concepts of design, mainly composition, showing by examples how this works and talk about the creative process involved. Ideas on setting up abstract paintings and thoughts to go along with them will also be introduced. At the beginning of each class the abstract paintings created by each member will be discussed.

Sheila Lipkin’s class, How to Make Abstract Art, begins on September 5, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

Fernando Casas Speaks: On The Politics of Art


June 12, 2017
magi

Adoration of the Magi, El Greco 1568, via Wikipedia

Migration, racism, Islamophobia, religious intolerance, and persecution have come to define our present political circumstances.These also defined the political circum-stances of the Spain in which El Greco, Velazquez and Goya lived. However, unlike the artists of today, these three artists were forced to work for and under the control of authoritarian monarchies.

Nonetheless, these artists are not only admirable for the technical and aesthetic quality of their work but, more importantly, in spite of their repressive and dangerous circumstances, they were able to speak truth to the abuse of power and close-mindedness through their paintings. This is exactly the method used by the best political artist of our times.

How did they do this?

Look at any of their great paintings and what do you see—masterly technique and beauty? Yes.  Images that aptly convey and support the oppressive and close-minded values of their society? No. Indeed, these paintings seem to embody the strict social, political, and religious tenants regulated by the Spanish Inquisition for three centuries.  But this is true only of their superficial look—a protective skin required for the survival of the artist.

Hidden underneath the conventional content of these paintings resides another painting; one far more profound and noble which is, in one form or another, in sharp opposition to the accepted societal norms. In fact, it is the voice and beauty concealed in such paintings that largely exhibits the aesthetic and moral development of humanity.   We ought to look and listen to them.

Fernando Casas’ class, Politics, Religion & Ethnicity: El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, & Picasso, begins September 11th, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

 

Artist/philosopher Fernando Casas is a native of Bolivia. In 1968 he arrived in the USA with a LASPAU scholarship. In 1970 he received his BA in Philosophy from Colorado College graduating Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa and receiving the Hastings Prize for a paper in Philosophy. He continued his studies at Rice University receiving his MA in 1972 and his PhD in Philosophy in 1978.

Casas has exhibited his works of art in numerous group and solo exhibitions in commercial galleries and museums in cities such as Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Florence, Lima (Peru), La Paz (Bolivia) and Santiago (Chile). In 2003 he was awarded the Premio alla Carriera at the Florence Biennale.

Since the 1980s, Casas has taught and lectured at several universities in South and North America. His longest association is with Rice University where he has taught in Humanities and Philosophy as Distinguished Lecturer for about 20 years.

Among his publications are The Limit of The Visual World (1990), Polar Perspective: A Graphical System for Creating Two-dimensional Images Representing a World of Four Dimensions (1984), and Flat-Sphere Perspective (1983).

 

 

100 Years of Texas Art: A Celebration of Stylistic Diversity


June 12, 2017

stout Since the days Texas was settled, artistic activity has been pivotal to Texas cultural life. Yet Texas art has all too often been stereotyped as offering only depictions of cowboys, cattle, and wildflowers. According to art historian and fine art appraiser Sarah Foltz, those subjects only represent a small fraction of the art that Texas offers. In fact, these days Texas art is being recognized by the larger art world as a vibrant center of stylistic diversity. In her upcoming class, “100 Years of Texas Art”, (starting on September 11th at 10 a.m), Foltz takes us on a whirlwind tour exploring the unique and eclectic mix of art works that make up Texas art. We spoke with her to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What do we need to know about your upcoming class?

Foltz: There will be three important exhibitions on Texas Art occurring during the class, and visits will be made to our class by the curators, art historians, and artists involved with these projects. This gives our class an opportunity to hear first-hand information about these projects.

WIH Reporter: Can you describe these exhibitions for us?

Foltz: The first one focuses on two Houston artists cooperatives from the 1930s – the Houston Artists Gallery and the Negro Art Guild—separate-but-parallel groups organized by Houston artists so that they could exhibit and sell their art. The second one celebrates the abstract expressionist paintings and sculptures of Richard Stout, a Houston artist (born in Beaumont, Texas, 1934). Stout is an acknowledged artist with a significant following in Texas who has international accolades. The third exhibition is called “Of Texas Rivers and Texas Art ” showcasing a compilation of some of the finest contemporary river art detailing the gorgeous traits of Texas landscapes.

WIH Reporter: What misconceptions about Texas art have you encountered in your work as an art historian and fine art appraiser?

Foltz:  One common misconception about “Texas Art” is that it is only paintings of cowboys and bluebonnets. While those subjects are a (very) small portion of it, there is a wide range of stylistic diversity, and an embrace of new ideas and media that have evolved over the past 100 years.  

 WIH Reporter: What format do you plan to use in the class.?

Foltz:  As this course covers 100 years of Texas art, this survey-style course will consist of classroom lectures, as well as visits to private collections and exhibitions, which will familiarize participants with the key movements and artists active in the state.  Additional resource references and reading lists will be provided for anyone interesting in delving further into the art history of Texas. 

WIH Reporter: We like to ask what books are on your night table right now?

Foltz:  The books I am reading right now include, “Why the Raven Calls the Canyon” by E Dan Klepper, “Minding the Store” by Stanley Marcus, “Texas Identities” by Light Cummins, and “William Goyen: Collected Short Stories” by William Goyen.

Sarah Foltz’s class, 100 Years of Texas Art, begins on September 11, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. For more information or to register, click here.

The Big Lie: Extravagent Exaggeration and Outright Prevarication in Ancient Times


April 17, 2017

Rabbi Rossel is back for a two-session class on Friday, May 5 (10:00-12:00) and Sunday, May 7 (4:00-5:30) with a class about how both archaeology and critical study show how priests and rulers in ancient times massaged the truth, exaggerated here and there and at times relied on what has recently been dubbed “alternative facts.”  The class will go back in time to explore the age-old tendency of those in power to stretch the truth for their own purposes. We checked in with Rabbi Rossel to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is essential to know about your upcoming class?

Rossel: We have seen how handy the use of extravagant exaggeration and outright prevarication can be in modern politics. Those of us who specialize in ancient politics, watching developments in the study of ancient nations, are aware of many instances of how “The Big Lie” was used to shape beliefs.

We might say, “History is shaped by myth.” Or, we might say, “History can be shaped by mythmakers.” Marie Antoinette probably never said, “Let them eat cake,” but the characterization and the quotation echo from generation to generation. On the other hand, almost everyone quotes Lincoln as saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” There is no evidence that he ever spoke these words. In fact, the quote was popularized in the early twentieth century by leaders of the Prohibition movement and the speakers who used it attributed the words to Lincoln to add weight to their message.

Of course, that just demonstrates that you can fool nearly all of the people nearly all of the time. “Alternative facts” and the beliefs they represent are as much a part of our modern vocabulary as “Let them eat cake.” And so they were in ancient times.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the topic of your class?

Rossel: The source of news then and now was the official spokesperson. It might immediately be surprising to know, for example, that “Pharaoh” was not a title. The king of Egypt was the “King;” his residence was “the Pharaoh.” Saying “the Pharaoh announced…” in ancient Egypt was the equivalent to saying “the White House announced…” today. It would probably be equally surprising to learn that Moses was far from being the first baby floated downriver in a basket in anticipation of a royal future.

In fact, I think most of the “alternative facts” expounded in ancient kingdoms by rulers and priests will be surprising to the class. I plan to show how these “innovative” facts were presented and engineered to influence and control ancient opinion (and how many continue to influence and control opinion even now).

WIH Reporter:  What mistaken impressions might folks have about the  subject of your class?

Rossel: Folks who study with me often remark that ancient history is remarkably “relevant” to what is happening daily. The only possible mistaken impression people could have is that looking back does not help us in going forward. At the very least, it provides us with perspective, keeping us from treating today’s news as unique or overwhelming. Every “Big Lie” has a purpose. But not every purpose is either corrosive or nefarious.

WIH Reporter: What format do you plan to use in the class?

Rossel: I will be showing artifacts (whenever available) through PowerPoint presentations and providing notes and access to these PowerPoints online through Dropbox. Of course, no computer skills are necessary. In class, we will discuss one example after another and, importantly, each of the two sessions stands on its own.

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?

Rossel: I am slowly making my way through The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I love reading American history. It’s a relief from the stresses of ancient times.

WIH Reporter: Anything else we should know?

Rossel: I am living in Dallas now, but I am eagerly looking forward to this extraordinary opportunity for us to visit at WIH again. I hope to see many familiar faces and I would be pleased to see many new faces, too. May the Force (or Source) be with us!

Rabbi Rossel’s class, “The Big Lie: Extravagant Exaggeration And Outright Prevarication In Ancient Times“, begins on Friday, May 5 (10:00-12:00) and continuing on Sunday, May 7 (4:00-5:30). For more information, or to register, click here.

 

The Writing Life: Overcoming Creative Blocks 


April 17, 2017
passion

The Passion of Creation by Leonid Pasternak, wikipedia

The writing life can be stunningly solitary, and characterized by frequent creative blocks, but it doesn’t have to be that way. According to Carol Munn, WIH’s award-winning, full-time creative writing professor, there are many ways to get around the “wall” that obstructs the flow. To this end, Munn has innovative plans for her upcoming class, “Breakthrough to Creativity“, (starting on June 7th at 10 a.m), and we spoke with her to to get all the details!

WIH Reporter: What do we need to know about your upcoming creative writing class?

Munn: Everyone who wants to write can write because everyone has an importantly unique story to tell. This course works well for those anywhere on the spectrum from novice to experienced writers. Writing is akin to yoga in that the goal is never competition but to improve the act.

WIH Reporter: People have all kinds of issues around writing. What would surprise us to know about the art of writing?

Munn: The complete accessibility of the writing activities may surprise those who are uncomfortable with the idea of writing. Another surprise might be that no one must follow the directions on the activities and prompts. They serve only as an impetus to write, and the goal of this course is to gain improvement in one’s writing. A final surprise may be the sense of community that the course inspires in the participants.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do people have about writing classes in general?

Munn:  Some may feel they need more experience before taking a creative writing course. Often, that feeling stems from their undervaluing their own creative potential. Others may assume that they must have a great deal of time to devote to their writing outside of class. While writing is the essence of this course, participants will develop and learn just from attending the sessions.

WIH Reporter: What format are you using in your class?

MunnThe format will focus on universal experiences combined with necessary elements of writing. I will create a packet of materials for each session which will provide opportunities for rich discussion, writing activities, writing prompts, and selected published writing from a variety of genres. We will write, have time to share our writing, read, and discuss new topics related to writing. 

WIH Reporter: What books would we find on your night table?

Munn: I keep a stack on the antique school desk that serves as my night table. Right now the books include: When I Was A Child I Read by Marilynne Robinson; Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver; Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner; and a scientific book explaining cloud formations. 

Breakthrough to Creativity” starts on June 7th at 10 a.m. For more information , or to register, click here.

Introducing Our New Music Professor – Dominique Royem


April 17, 2017

Music is a powerful force illuminating the inner struggles of characters on stage and allowing the audience to engage with the story on a deeper level. As  the Music Director of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, Royem is an active guest conductor and has worked with ensembles around the world. In her upcoming class, How Music Makes the Musical: Broadway’s Top Tunes Examined,” she will explore some of the top musicals in the last 100 years and let us know why and how music makes the audience care.  We visited with her to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your class?

Royem: Musical Theatre is a visual art as much as a dramatic or musical art so I use a lot of video clips in my lectures. Also, effective Musical Theatre depends on the audience’s reaction to create emotion and drama. However, each person can react to the same music in different ways. We will be investigating this phenomenon through sharing experiences to music in class.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the topic of your class?

Royem: The world of Musical Theatre and the world of Opera are not that far apart! Famous Musical Theatre composers stole a lot of their techniques from the opera stage.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do folks have about Musical Theatre?

Royem: That Musical Theatre is not serious enough to be called “art” or “art music!” I am a firm believer that Beethoven and Brahms did not take musical genius to the grave with them and that musical masterpieces can be found in every musical genre!

WIH Reporter: What format do you plan on using in the class?

Royem: The best way to learn about Musical Theatre is to experience it so we will be watching and listening to a lot of excerpts from the shows that are the topic of discussion. After experiencing the works we will examine the intersection between music and drama through discussion.

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?
Books on my night table include: Fear and the Muse Kept Watch by Andy McSmith, A Look into Music and Art in Russia under StalinThe Artist’s Guide by Jackie Battenfield, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Lives of Artists by Kay Larson, Ticker by Lisa Mantchev.
Royem’s class beings on May 4th at 10:00 am. For more information, or to register, click here.

How Much   Do You Know About…  The Civil War?


April 17, 2017

civilwarimageBoth Whitman and Dickinson, subjects of Scott Pett’s upcoming class “Whitman and Dickinson”, were profoundly affected by the Civil War, so we put together a quiz on that time period!

1. One-third of the soldiers who fought for the Union Army were:

A. African Americans.
B. Immigrants.
C. From the South.

2. In the 1860′s, the custom was that a woman should spend a minimum of how much time in mourning?

A. 2 Years.
B. 3 Months.
C. 5 Years.

3. During the same time period, the custom was that a man should spend a minimum of how much time in mourning?

A. 2 Years.
B. 1 Year.
C. 3 Months.

4. Surgeons never washed their hands after operating. Why?

A. They believed all blood was the same.
B. They were worried about water cleanliness.
C. Blood was considered an antiseptic.

5. Most of the battles and wars of the Civil War were fought in what state?

A. Virginia.
B. Tennessee.
C. Missouri.

6. More men died in the Civil War from:

A. Disease.
B. Battlefield Fighting.
C. Friendly Fire.

7. Who was fifty percent more likely to die on  Civil War battlefields?

A. African American soldiers.
B. Privates.
C. Generals.

8. What was used routinely during the Civil War to fight illnesses and disorders?

A. Maggots.
B. Leeches.
C. Glasses with colored lenses.

Answers:

1. B.  The Union Army was a multicultural force—even a multinational one. We often hear about Irish soldiers (7.5 percent of the army), but the Union’s ranks included even more Germans (10 percent), who marched off in regiments such as the Steuben Volunteers. Other immigrant soldiers were French, Italian, Polish, English and Scottish. In fact, one in four regiments contained a majority of foreigners.

2. A. When a woman mourned for her husband in the 1860’s, she spent a minimum of two-and-a-half years in mourning.  That meant few social activities: no parties, no outings, no visitors, and having to wear only black clothes.

3. C. The husband, when mourning for his wife, however, spent three months in a black suit.

4. A. Surgeons never washed their hands after an operation, because all of the blood was assumed to be the same.

5. C.  Of all the battles and skirmishes fought during the American Civil War, 11% were fought in the state of Missouri. During 1861, there were more battles and skirmishes in Missouri than in any other state, and throughout the entire war only Virginia and Tennessee saw more action than the state of Missouri.

6. A. More men died in the Civil War than any other American conflict, and two-thirds of the dead perished from disease. Approximately 625,000 men died in the Civil War, more Americans than in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. If the names of the Civil War dead were arranged like the names on the Vietnam Memorial, it would stretch over 10 times the wall’s length. Two percent of the population died, the equivalent of 6 million men today. Rifles were by far the war’s deadliest weapons, but deadlier still was disease. In 1861, as armies massed, men once protected from contagion by isolation marched shoulder to shoulder and slept side by side in unventilated tents. Camps became breeding grounds for childhood diseases such as mumps, chicken pox and measles. One million Union soldiers contracted malaria, and epidemics were common.

7. C. Robert E. Lee’s impulse to personally lead a counterattack during the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864 (his troops held him back) would not have surprised his men if he were a bit lower in rank. That’s because many top officers, including generals, literally led their troops into battle, a rare occurrence in modern wars. For this reason, generals were 50 percent more likely to die in combat than privates. At the Battle of Antietam alone, three generals were killed and six wounded—on each side.

8. C. During the Civil War, glasses with colored lenses were used to treat disorders and illnesses. Glasses with yellow lenses were used to treat syphilis, blue lenses were used to treat insanity, and pink lenses were used to treat depression. This is where the expression “see the world through rose-colored glasses” comes from.

 

 

 

Whitman & Dickinson: Lives, Times, & Poetry


April 16, 2017

whitmanpostageThe two most famous American poets, who changed the landscape of American poetry, are featured in new Professor Scott Pett’s upcoming class “Whitman and Dickinson.” According to Pett, both poets have been mistyped and misunderstood over the ages. We checked with Pett to find out more. 

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your upcoming class?

Pett: In this class, students will become more familiar with the poems and lives of (in my opinion) America’s two greatest writers, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. Admittedly, this is a bit ambitious for a four-week class! We’re going to cover what we can. But I think the true goal of the class is for students to learn to read and hear all poems in a more conscious way. Ultimately, this class will familiarize students with America’s most masterful poets and help elevate their love of poetry in general.

After all, poetry is one of the few ways we can give our souls a bath. As William Carlos Williams says, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about your class?

Pett: The Whitman and Dickinson we were taught in high school and college surveys reside on opposite ends of the eccentricity spectrum. On one side is Whitman, the show-off; on the other is Dickinson, the recluse. There is truth to these portrayals, of course; but they are also misleading and superficial. Whitman celebrates himself as “the poetic voice” of the United States, sounding his “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world;” but he also quietly wonders “in perfect silence at the stars” and ponders a “noiseless, patient spider.”

Dickinson is perhaps even more mistyped as a kind of white-dress wearing New England nun.

WIH Reporter: Can you elaborate more about Dickinson?

Pett:  Though certainly a private person, her home life was complex, even at times explosive. Many poems and letters are marked for their linguistic and emotional “white heat”: social defiance, religious skepticism, sexual euphoria, psychological distress, and natural adulation. The volcano, for instance – simultaneously “reticent” and “torrid” – was one of her favorite images.

WIH Reporter:  What other mistaken impressions might folks have about poetry in general?

Pett: Poetry intimidates some people! Compared to prose writing, which provides a familiar structure that helps the reader feel situated and comfortable, poetry can seem baffling. Its possibilities seem endless; its “meanings” elusive. But in fact, poems share a lot in common with prose. Most poems have sentences, as well as plot. Many have characters and dialogue. Contrary to popular belief, poems cannot mean whatever one wants them to mean. There are concrete strategies for unpacking them. That isn’t to say there is one “correct” reading of any poem; only thoughtful readings that require attentiveness to detail.

Lastly, we tend to focus on poems as textual objects for hushed, self-possessed study. But poems are as much about sound as they are language. That means we need to read them aloud; in doing so, poetry becomes not only an intellectual art, but also a bodily one. Poetry is physical, which means it is intimate, personal, and vulnerable. And poetry is one of the few ways we can give our souls a bath. As William Carlos Williams says, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

WIH Reporter: What format do you plan to use in the class?

Pett: A large portion of the class will be lecture with PowerPoint, but we will have class discussions as well. In my experience, poems are more likely to come alive in a group setting than an individual one. If we can have lively, productive conversations, the poems themselves will to some extent be the teacher of this course!

WIH Reporter:  What books are on your night table right now?

Pett: My night table is always covered with books that help me relax after the craziness of the day. Right now, I’m reading the poet Joy Harjo’s memoir Crazy Brave (2012), Ada Limón’s latest collection of poems Bright Dead Things (2015), Justin Cronin’s epic dystopian thriller The Passage (2012), Naomi Shihab Nye’s collection of very short stories There Is No Long Distance Now (2011), and Barbara Neely’s detective novel Blanche on the Lam (1992). And before putting my kids to bed, I always read them a poem or two by Robert Frost or Maya Angelou.

WIH Reporter: Anything else we should know?

Pett: This is my first class at the Women’s Institute, and I am very excited. I expect to learn as much from the students as I hope they will learn from me.

Professor Pett’s class begins on Tuesday, May 9th at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.