Article in Dickens Studies Annual

I wrote an article about Dickens’s 1843 novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, and his travelogue about his 1842 trip to the US, American Notes. In the article, I discuss how Dickens uses the elements of the pastoral, a poetic genre usually associated with natural beauty and pretty lasses, to deliver a strong political message. The article is available on Humanities Commons; the abstract is below:

In his 1843 novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens used the pastoral mode to deliver a strong message about labor. To communicate this message, he employed the mode’s many traits, including its retreat into and return from the rural landscape and its focus on the country worker, traditionally the shepherd. This essay follows the novel’s pastoral retreat into the United States, where young Martin comes to understand the realities of manual labor through his physical interactions with the American landscape. His companion, Mark Tapley, meanwhile, performs the emotional labor of the servant by initially shielding middle-class Martin from this painful knowledge. Both men, however, must confront manual labor on a massive scale upon reaching “Eden,” a hideous landscape that Dickens constructed referring to passages from his travelogue about his 1842 trip to the United States, American Notes. The landscape in Eden documents the decaying atmosphere of slavery as recorded in Dickens’s travelogue. It also recreates for Martin the physical experience that Dickens had as a child of entering a vast, foreign world of factory work. Ultimately, Dickens’s uses the pastoral to uncover a horror that usually lies beneath a beautiful surface: that the civilized landscape demands enslaved or nearly enslaved labor for its construction.

Poem in descant

The wonderful new issue of descant is here. In it is a poem I first wrote in a workshop with Art Smith, who recently passed away. I revised the poem with renewed faith after hearing Nikki Giovanni mention redlining as a possible subject of poetry.

This poem, “Roller-Skating in a Redlined Neighborhood,” opens:

Eva whizzed down a church
handicap ramp and slapped

side-view mirrors of parked
cars. I leaned forward, going

backwards, onto red rubber
knobs bolted to my toes.

Like erasers, they rubbed off
in bits. Eva’s home was close.

Mine was behind a tongue
of tires—commuter traffic—

stuttering S where the avenue
bent. It stared, open-shuttered,

at the end of Eva’s street.
She said when her father

came back from Vietnam,
she looked into his coffin

and told him to get up.
I said, “That’s so sad”—

but she told me, “No. I didn’t
understand then.” My empty

house stared at no one
in particular. Eva’s step-dad,

a parole-officer, had prison
one step back in his voice…”

Thank you, editors at descant, for giving this poem a home. Thank you too Art Smith in memory and Nikki Giovanni.

New Poems at DIAGRAM

I have two new poems up at DIAGRAM.

In the contributor’s note, I name a couple of influences for one of the poems. The first influence is “Paean to Place” by Lorine Niedecker, which can be found here at Poetry Foundation. The other is “Paradise” by Arthur Smith, which is available here through JSTOR.

The poem that these two works helped shape is about being a coat-check girl in a Manhattan social club.

Critical Article on George Eliot

For the past three years, I have been studying creative writing and nineteenth-century British literature at the University of Tennessee where I am a Ph.D. candidate. In my first semester, I began writing about kabbalistic astronomy and astrology in George Eliot’s final novel, Daniel Deronda. I later expanded my study of Eliot’s mystical astral symbolism to include not only her last novel but her earlier epic poem, The Spanish Gypsy. In both works, Eliot offers Jewish mystics as characters: in Spanish Gypsy, she creates a Jewish astrologer who gives the hero advice; in Daniel Deronda, she has a kabbalistic visionary who emerges as an important figure in the novel’s middle and later chapters.

My completed article has just come out in George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies. In the essay, I explore how, in Daniel Deronda, Eliot moved the character of the mystic from the periphery to the center of the narrative. This change, symbolically equated within the novel to a shift from geocentricism to heliocentricism, affects time in Daniel Deronda both in terms of plot and historical focus. Not only does time slow as the mystic, Mordecai, assumes a central role, the astral imagery begins to draw upon a medieval past when Jewish thinkers explored interdisciplinary concepts of the heavens inspired by both poetry and the science of their time. I argue for the centrality of the astronomical imagery in relation to the Jewish themes of Daniel Deronda and show through my analysis of The Spanish Gypsy how Eliot employed kabbalistic ideas of the skies in an attempt to create a new vision of star-crossed love for literature.

To view the article, click here.

To read my earlier review of Anna Henchman’s book, The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature, which also appeared in George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies, go here.