Humanities Spring Reception and Recognition Ceremony
Faculty and Student News
News from Student Clubs
2008 News: A Report on John Clare Day

Humanities Spring Reception and Recognition Ceremony

Last May, the Humanities Division held its third annual Spring Reception, where we celebrated the long-awaited return of spring and recognized the student accomplishments of the past year. Highlighted by an opening poetry reading by Professor Emeritus Wes McNair, the event was attended by faculty and students from all departments within the Humanities (and by colleagues from disciplines outside the Humanities, several of whom had been mentoring students working on interdisciplinary projects).

Following Wes McNair’s reading, we recognized the 75 students in English, Secondary Education-English, and Creative Writing who had earned a place on the 2009 Dean’s List.

DeansListStudentsDean’s List students receive a round of applause.

We were also pleased to recognize and to offer congratulations to three graduating seniors on being accepted to graduate school: Rebecca Seidel (Library Science, Simmons College), Jacques Rancourt (Creative Writing, Wisconsin-Madison), Meg Reid (Creative Writing, North Carolina-Wilmington)

We also recognized the Humanities students who were named Wilson Scholars in 2008-2009. Under the Wilson program, each student’s original research project is awarded funding that underwrites expenses and helps encourage and promote continuing academic investigation. These awards are funded by a generous gift from Michael and Susan Angelides, Stonington, Conn., in honor of their good friend and UMF alumnus Michael D. Wilson, class of 1976, who died shortly after graduating.

The Wilson Scholars in attendance at the ceremony spoke briefly about their winning projects and were introduced by their faculty sponsors: Nancy Boucher (sponsored by Frank Underkuffler), Christian Tuttle (Eric Brown), Sarah Groves (Daniel Becker), Emily Baer (Kate Randall), Amy Blankenship (Pat O’Donnell), Ty Thurlow (Michael Johnson and Kristina Wolff).

Amy_BlankenshipFaculty sponsor Pat O’Donnell with Wilson Scholar Amy Blankenship

emily-baerFaculty sponsor Kate Randall with Wilson Scholar Emily Baer

ty_thurlowFaculty sponsor Kristina Wolff, Wilson Scholar Ty Thurlow,
and faculty sponsor Michael Johnson

The Sandy River Review, UMF’s creative writing publication, also announced the two students who won the Editor’s Choice Prizes for 2008-09: Jacques Rancourt, “North American Birds” (Fall 2008); Matt Luzitano, “Abridged History” (Spring 2009)

The ceremony closed with the announcement of the winners of two scholarships awarded by the Humanities Department, the Eleanor Wood Scholarship and the Maud Parks Award, and with the recognition of all the members of the small group of nominees (selected from the 100 or so students eligible for the awards) for these highly competitive awards. To make the list of finalists, each student had to be nominated by at least two Humanities faculty members. The 2009 finalists were:     Sarah Groves, Lee Cart, Dorothea Diaz, Tesse Rau, Emily Baer, Elizabeth Kelley, Garret Laforge, Joseph McCollum, Monique Trundy, James Oliver, Matthew Vogel, and Mackenzie Jones.

The Maude Parks Award, the department’s oldest award, was established before 1900, when UMF was still a women’s normal school. Joining over a hundred years of scholarship winners was Matthew Vogel, the 2009 Maude Parks winner.

matther_vogelParks Award winner Matthew Vogel

mackenzie_jonesWood Scholarship winner Mackenzie Jones

Faculty and Student News

Apropos Winners: The 2008-2009 edition of Apropos, the UMF journal that showcases the best student writing in the Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences, Sciences, and Honors, included the work of several Humanities students: Jamez Terry, Elliot Vogel, Jacques Rancourt, Ryan Beam, Miranda Cote, Sara Groves, and Ty Thurlow. Jamez Terry’s “’The Property of Our Yankee Nation’: American Exceptionalism on the Last Frontier” earned first prize as the top essay of the year. Elliot Vogel’s “Implications of Motion: Kinetic Energy and Identity in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Head and Shoulders’” carried second place, and third prize was awarded to Jacques Rancourt’s “The Masking of the Real of Desire within On the Road.”

Eric Brown was awarded the Warren Skaaren Film Research Endowment Fellowship from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, for research on Milton and film.  His essay “The McDonaldizing of Macbeth: Class and Commerce in Scotland, PA,” originally published in Literature/Film Quarterly, will be reprinted in the book Shakespeare and Class, ed. Shormishtha Panja of the University of Delhi. He’ll also be serving as a visiting professor at the Université du Maine in Le Mans, France, in March 2010.

Frank Underkuffler reports: At the Fifth Annual New England Undergraduate Philosophy Conference at Providence College, Nancy Boucher delivered “A Confused Gaze in Philadelphia–Devereaux’s Expanded Male Gaze,” a philosophical and artistic analysis of a photograph by artist Jacob Holdt. In her paper, originally written for the “Art and Ideas” class Sarah Maline and I taught last fall, Nancy employed the Marxian concept of counter-art, Mary Devereaux’s theory about the pervasive influence of the “male gaze,” and W.J.T. Mitchell’s query as to “what pictures really want” to determine whether Holdt had allowed the female subject of the work to escape degradation without making a specific feminist artistic statement.  Nancy’s paper was one of eleven chosen for the day-long conference; other student readers were from Bridgewater, Georgia State, Brown, Providence, Delaware, Bennington, New Rochelle, U. Mass. at Northhampton, and Tufts.  During the discussion that followed her presentation–easily the most spirited of the day–Nancy very eloquently defended her claim that in his unique work, Holdt had succeeded where others had failed.

Jonathan Cohen’s book Science, Culture, and Free Spirits: A Study of Nietzsche’s Human, All-Too-Human is forthcoming from Prometheus Books under their Humanity Books imprint in early 2010.

Ashley Crosby, who graduated recently with a degree in creative writing, is now a sports reporter for the Cape Cod Times and also works with the Cape Cod Baseball League in their public relations group. She has recently started a sports blog called “High Heels at Home Plate:”

Michael Johnson’s article “Doubling, Transfiguration, and Haunting: The Art of Adapting Harry Potter for Film,” which compares The Prisoner of Azkaban to Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, was published in Reading Harry Potter Again: New Critical Essays (Ed. Giselle Liza Anatol; ABC-CLIO, 2009). His article “‘This Strange White World’: Race and Place in Era Bell Thompson’s American Daughter,” originally published in Great Plains Quarterly was reprinted in African Americans on the Great Plains (Eds. Charles A. Braithwaite and Bruce Glasrud; University of Nebraska Press, 2009).  He is also the editor of The Official Blog of the Western Literature Association:

Gretchen Legler’s most recent work of book length nonfiction, On The Ice: An Intimate Portrait of McMurdo Station, Antarctica, won the 2007 Association for the Study of Literature and Environment prize for Environmental Creative Writing. Her essay, “Acquainted with the Night,” was included in the anthology Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark (Paul Bogard, ed. University of Nevada Press, 2008). She also provided an introduction to a new edition of  South, the tale of  Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica, reprinted by Barnes & Noble in 2008.

Pat O’Donnell’s story “Gods for Sale,” published in, has been nominated for Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web Anthology (the 2010 print edition).   The story is reviewed here:  Her poem, “Preparing for Grief,” appeared in the anthology beloved on the earth published by Holy Cow! Press, and she has reviewed short story collections in DownEast magazine.  She is finishing a memoir of growing up in Parkersburg, Iowa, a town decimated by an F5 tornado last year.  The working title is A Great, Crow-Filled Tree. She has visited a writers’ group several times at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, working with inmates on their fiction, and is instigating a film studies minor at UMF.

Jennifer Reid’s book Mathias Carvalho’s Louis Riel: Religion, Poetry, and Colonial Resistance is forthcoming from the Davies Group. Her article “Roman Catholic Foundations of Land Claims in Canada” is forthcoming from Canadian Society of Church History. She has also published two articles in the Ottawa Citizen, “Canada is Increasingly Alone on Aboriginal Rights” (May 16, 2009), and “A perfectly Incompatible Country (November 22, 2008), and has contributed the entry on “Aboriginal Traditions in Canada” to the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Religion in America (CQ Press),  and the entry on “Prophesy” to the Encyclopedia of Global Religion (Sage; forthcoming).

Jeffrey Thomson published his fourth book of poems, Birdwatching in Wartime, with Carnegie Mellon University Press in early 2009 and co-edited an anthology of emerging poets called From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great, Persea Books.  He also has a collection of poems translated from the Spanish of the Cuban poet Juan Carlos Flores forthcoming from Green Integer Books.

Luann Yetter’s local history book Remembering Franklin County was published by the History Press last spring. She continues to write about the historical figures in her book on her blog at

News from Student Clubs

The Writers’ Guild, which meets weekly on the third floor of the Creative Writing House, recently hosted two events:  a reading of poems of “Dissent and Rebellion,” and an all-night unlocked lock-in at the Creative Writing House in November.  Several members of the Executive Board are planning to attend the Associated Writing Programs Conference in Denver in 2010.

2008 News: UMF’s John Clare Day

By Melissa L’Heureux and Hannah Welch

A Celebration of Nature through Poetry

Apr. 10 – The sights of spring have finally come to Maine as the snow melts away and the trees begin to bloom, and the students of Dr. Misty Beck’s Literature and the Environment class help to commemorate this with a celebration of England’s eco-poet, John Clare.

UMF’s 2nd annual Author Day was dedicated to John Clare, a peasant poet of the 18th and 19th centuries which student Taylor Steeves described as a poet that, “gives a voice to nature.”

The day long event was organized by Humanities Professor, Dr. Misty Beck and kicked off with a roundtable discussion entitled, “Clare In and Out of the Classroom,” that was held in The Latte Landing. The morning dialogue included a portion of Dr. Beck’s Eng 377 class who discussed elements of Clare’s nature poetry, as well as his life and ways to teach his poetry to others. The hour ended with members of the table opening the discussion to questions from the audience. Included in the audience was Wilson Scholar, Randy Rothert who is sponsored by Dr. Beck to research Clare. Rothert commented, “The roundtable discussion was great and very informative.”

The second event of Clare Day was a presentation titled England’s Eco-Poet: Clare’s Secrets-Nature, Poetry and Politics given by guest speaker Sarah Zimmerman, an Associate Professor from Fordham University in New York. Zimmerman specializes in Romantic poetry, and her previous work on poet John Clare had included a chapter in her book Romanticism, Lyricism, and History, where she wrote on how he utilized lyric poetry to make a case for nature and the “peasant poet”.

Until she was invited to present at UMF’s John Clare celebration, Zimmerman had never approached Clare from an Eco-Critical perspective, but recognized enclosure as an important aspect of Clare’s poetry that worked into her previous studies of Clare, and also lead toward a clear Eco-critical reading. “Many critics have noticed Clare’s preoccupation in his poems with ‘obscurity’ or ‘hiddenness’ on the one hand, and visibility, or ‘exposure’ on the other” Zimmerman noted, when summarizing her presentation. “I argue that we have to read what I call a vocabulary of secrecy in Clare’s poems within three different historical contexts: the career of the ‘peasant poet’ in the literary marketplace, the process of Parliamentary enclosure that transforms his North Hamptonshire, and the resurgence of the reform movement in 1815 England in response to the war in France.”

Zimmerman’s presentation discussed how throughout many of his poems, Clare debates the values of “obscurity” and visibility using two different poetic modes: silence or “murmuring” versus rich descriptions that make the objects visible to the reader.  Zimmerman also noted that these two poetic modes work together in Clare’s poetry to form a third poetic strategy, which Zimmerman called “keeping secrets” or “conspiracy”. Zimmerman points out that in many of the ‘bird’s-nesting’ poems that Clare uses this third strategy to protect the natural world. “Clare invites the reader to explore nature’s secrets with him but then to keep them, a kind of ‘conspiracy’ that I think Clare offers as a way to know nature intimately and yet protect her from ‘exposure’.

Zimmerman also cited instances where the theme of protection is noticed not only in Clare’s poetry, but also throughout his life within the three different historical contexts of the “peasant poet” literary market, enclosure, and the resurgence of the reform movement after 1815, and connects this theme with the natural world.

Zimmerman points out that Clare as a “peasant poet” had to keep his work hidden because his bosses would think he wasn’t working efficiently. When Clare became well-known, his patrons would often interject to remove lines from his poetry before it was published (Clare’s collection of poems, Remembrances, wasn’t published in his lifetime because the content was thought to be too controversial), which according to Zimmerman showed an “indictment of wealth and property, which suggests that the imagination is vulnerable to predators and that the poets mind, like the natural world and rural laborers, were subject to oppression…there was a need for (Clare’s) solitude that wasn’t as operative for other Romantic poets.”

Zimmerman noted that the audience responses to her presentation, coupled with her attendance of the morning event, John Clare in and Out of the Classroom, helped her learn new facets of Clare and his poetry. “I hadn’t realized before how Clare’s poetry lends itself to interdisciplinary readings.” Zimmerman stated. She plans to include both natural history and literary aspects of analyzing Clare’s poetry when she teaches future classes.


Clare In and Out of the Classroom: Students of ENG 377 discussing Clare’s poetry in the Latte Landing (Students left to right: Trevor Spangle, Elise Corbally, Barbara Moore, Nicole Jurdak, Hayley Clifford, Nathan Fisher, Taylor Steeves, Jessica Serrantino, and Sharon Lake)

For the Birds: Poetry & Natural History />
The culmination Clare Day was an experiment between the Natural Science and Literary worlds, where students from Professor Misty Beck’s Literature in the Environment class and natural scientist Trevor Rivard, a UMF Senior majoring in Biology and participating in Clare Day as an independent study for an Animal Behavior class, compared their different interpretations of John Clare’s bird poetry.

Gavin Pickering and Emily Baer started the night by giving the audience a brief introduction to John Clare’s life from his childhood of being a field-laborer to his final years spent in and out of asylums for the clinically insane, as well as described important key terms to keep in mind when reading Clare’s poetry. Baer noted that the enclosure of common lands in England “impacted Clare’s writing as a social and moral injustice”, while Pickering focused on Clare’s writing style and representation of rural life and enclosure, saying it is “able to tie the universal and poetic world together.”

The evening proceeded with Dale Hill reading the poems discussed throughout the night with a natural science inflection, Trevor Rivard presenting his natural science interpretation, followed by a literary and eco-critical interpretation from the Literature and the Environment students Sierrah Kimball, Ashlee Page, Rebecca Seidel, Jasselle Payeur, and Emily Palmer, and a final poetic reading by Dale Hill.

The first poem discussed was “The Blackcap”. While Rivard interpreted Clare’s descriptive writing as referring to the bird’s color, plumage, and habits, Sierrah Kimball interpreted the poem as a representation of the bird “struggling to survive” and also discussed how the poem relates to enclosure, and the sense of pride that families who experienced enclosure had.

The following poem was “Hedge Sparrow”, where Rivard pointed out once again that Clare’s descriptions pointed directly to the bird’s plumage, and indicated the bird’s shy nature. He also noted that the poem conveyed the breeding habits and egg-laying pattern of the Hedge Sparrow, and also pointed out that Clare’s mention of a cat dangerously approaching was because the Hedge Sparrow builds their nest close to the ground. Ashlee Page, however, stated that “social experience haunted the poem”. She read the description of the birds “russet dress” as a metaphor for the russet dress of commoners, and saw the description of the nest being made of moss and human hair as showing human corruption of the natural world.

“The Sand Martin” produced the starkest contrast of interpretations. Rivard explained that this poem confused him, because Sand Martin’s are considered to be social birds and are always seen together, while Clare’s Sand Martin was seen alone. Rebecca Seidel offered insight by noting that she interpreted “The Sand Martin” to be a representation of Clare himself, and also saw it as a poem that proposed nature as a place where one can retreat from society.

The final two poems of the evening were “The Reed Bird” and “The Sky Lark”. Rivard talked of how the color of the Reed Bird’s plumage played a key role in its survival, and how its choice of nesting ground in swamps and marches protected its eggs from human interaction. He also focused on the nesting grounds of Sky Lark’s and their heavy reliance on agricultural land and open fields. Jasselle Payeur’s reading of “The Reed Bird” focused on survival and brought up similar themes of protection from Sarah Zimmerman’s presentation England’s Eco-Poet: Clare’s Secrets-Nature, Poetry and Politics. Emily Palmer’s reading of “The Sky Lark” was along a similar vein of Rivard’s interpretation. She discussed the irony of where the Sky Lark builds its nest, since it is among cultivated land instead of untouched or pure nature, and also felt that Clare indicated that the Sky Lark was wise for choosing its nesting ground.

The event was an overall success, and Rivard’s scientific descriptions of the bird’s John Clare focused on showed both contrasts and similarities with the eco-critical analysis. Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Sarah Sloane, who along with Associate Professor of English Dr. Misty Beck organized UMF’s Clare Day, said that the comparison of natural history and literature had a deep effect on the poem. “I think it was great fun and probably taught me just how important interdisciplinary work is.  The poems were far more meaningful to me with both the natural history and the literary interpretations.  I suspect John Clare also viewed them in a similar way.  How could he not?   The two cannot be teased apart really–but each enhances the other.”

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