The English Department has recently launched the Holloway Postdoctoral Fellowship in Poetry and Poetics, a one-year position for recent PhDs that allows them to further both their creative and critical projects. This year we have three Fellows: Margaret Ronda, Jessica Fisher and Jeremy Ecke. In what follows, the three poet-scholars talk about their current projects, the importance of this Fellowship and what makes Berkeley an especially rich place to write poetry and criticism.
Margaret and Jessica, self-described “best friends,” both received the email notifying them of the award, but weren’t sure if the other had also gotten the Fellowship. They were elated to find out that they would be spending another year at Berkeley together. Margaret comments that being a “poet-scholar” is both a blessing and a difficulty, since you are always shifting your time from one aspect of your work to the other. For her, the Fellowship validated this particular kind of hybrid intellectual work in a deeply significant and institutionalized way. Both Margaret and Jessica agree that this kind of dual focus – on writing poetry, on the one hand, and literary criticism, on the other – is not nearly as easy to achieve at other institutions.
Margaret, whose first book, Personification, was chosen by Carl Phillips for the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize and will be published in April, spent the fall writing lectures for the upper level Modern Poetry course she is teaching this Spring. She also has been revising her dissertation, which treats the georgic form in American poetry and investigates how poetic representations of labor, both manual and intellectual, are reformulated in light of the changing modes of production associated with capitalist modernity. Lastly, she has embarked on a second book of poems which she is calling The Hunger Patient. She says that this second book feels more intentional and a little less organic than her first one; it is a book of elegies that is modeled on the calendar poems of poets like Virgil, Spenser and Wordsworth and that meditates on the time of mourning in and against other natural cycles.
Jessica, whose first book of poetry Frail-Craft was the winner of the 2006 Yale Younger Poets Series, is undertaking a similarly ambitious intellectual regimen. She spent the fall completing a second book of poems, Take to Hand, which engages the problem of locating lyric within a time of war. Here, lyric perception becomes a form of vigilance that distinguishes itself from a vigilante American foreign policy. This vigilance also finds expression in the private domain, exploring states in which distinctions between subject and object blur, and radical embodiment becomes a mode of disembodiment. This spring, Jessica is turning her attention to teaching the Advanced Poetry Workshop and to revising her dissertation, Lyric Subjectivities, which addresses works that imagine the first-person lyric of experience as specifically textual, thereby offering us the experience of what Theodor Adorno calls “a subjectivity that turns into objectivity,” unlocatable in a given subject.
Jeremy, on the other hand, chose to teach a course in the Fall and initiated his students into the less well-known poetic structure of the alliterative line. A constitutive feature of Old and Middle English poetry, Jeremy had his students compare Old and Middle Englsih manuscripts and facsimiles with modern editions and translations to trace how the formal and cultural lineage of the alliterative line has been – with varied success – transmitted through medieval and modern poetics. For Jeremy, the medieval structures of poetry still have a pressing influence on modern verse, and he argues that much of the experimentalism of modern poetry was already there in Middle English’s play with the line, rhythm, and language. Jeremy comes to poetry from a linguistics background and his critical work focuses on developing a vocabulary to talk about free verse, with its noted lack of standardized poetic and linguistic structures, in a way that speaks to linguists and poets alike. On the creative side, Jeremy is working on translations of Old and Middle lyrics and is also using photography and poetry to reframe our romantic view of landscape and place. He is also working on a project that explores how medieval gnomic and prophetic verse can be used to critique our current thinking on natural laws and extinction.
As Jeremy, Jessica and Margaret observed, the Holloway Postdoctoral Fellowship in Poetry and Poetics is a confirmation of the wedding of scholarship and creative poetic work that is celebrated in our Department.