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Susan's Blog

Pompeii Still Lives

A recent article reveals how the brain cells of a victim in Pompeii of the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 were found intact. The devastation of that cataclysmic event impressed my mother, Joan, a historian and poet. At age seventeen Joan wrote a poem reflecting on the every day lives of those living in that now-famed, even infamous, Italian city. What caused her grief was the mundane nature of normal people whose lives were destroyed so suddenly. This poem and others can be found in Another Troy, her recently published volume of verse. Here is a section of the poem, A.D 79.

 

....A girl ran through the street, her cape flapping, scared.

 

A noise of query rose, then fright and then despair,

 

A mad race for the sea now black with wind,

 

Then captured by the ashes of hot death

 

And all the businessmen and little boys were dead.

 

I can stand the broken gods of Troy all lost

 

Or all the empty temples by the sea of Greece

 

Poets and the philosophers of ancient worlds all dead—

 

But not the loaves of bread at Pompeii

 

….still uneaten.

 

(February 25, 1940)

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Still on a Roll

These are Ostraka (also spelled ostraca) fragments from fifth century B.C. Athens. (Image credit: Shutterstock) "Greeks may have also wiped with ostraka, ceramic pieces that they inscribed with the names of their enemies when voting to ostracize them."

Interviewed again about toilet paper! This time by Live Science for a piece by Tara Santora called "What did people use before toilet paper was invented?" The topic continues to fascinate.

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Another Troy, a book of verse about World War II, is published

I am delighted to announce the publication of Another Troy— the recently discovered World War II poetry by my mother, Joan Wehlen Morrison, author of Home Front Girl. I edited these poems which tell a unique – and true — story as this teenager loses her innocence due to the impending war and its violent arrival. You can buy the book at the website of Finishing Line Press, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

 

Enjoy these reviews–I know I did!

 

With growing solicitude at the coming of the Second World War, teenager Joan Wehlen Morrison struggled in her poems to understand the enormous realities of her time while also learning about love and romance, the passage of time, maturity – topics common to most of us at such an age, but topics troubled profoundly by the hatred and loss and violence of the 1930s and 40s. Reading these poems is remembering with nostalgia what it means to be young and setting out. Sadly, they also echo the deeper question that all of us – young and old alike – are today once again forced to ponder: what is to come of us in a world gone mad? In Another Troy, Morrison aches for answers, for truth, in the way only a teenager can.

–Steve Wilson, author of The Reaches

 

Did you ever own a notebook, and did you open it, perhaps at night, to write about the daily happenings of a world whose pace, magnitude, beauty, and violence staggered your imagination? If so, these poems are for you. Joan Wehlen Morrison's Another Troy captures what it feels like to be an emerging political, intellectual, and romantic young woman in wartime—when, as William Carlos Williams famously wrote: "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/ of what is found there." The poems in Another Troy see beauty and brokenness and honor both. "The moon is a bent feather in the sky" in one poem; "there is an empty orchard in Flanders/Rotting in the rain" in another. Tender and aware, these poems cannot help but imagine foreshortened futures, so that when Morrison writes that the "wind was like a boy's breath," we wonder if the boy is at war, and if he will live to see adulthood. In other poems, the poet scrutinizes her own life, imagining "this girl in the blue dress and Juliet cap — / I will be utterly disappeared." Luckily for us, Morrison's poems have not disappeared, and when she writes, "I am a moving window[,]" I feel lucky to have been able to glimpse the world through it.

–Cecily Parks, author of O'Nights and Field Folly Snow

 

Prepare to be charmed and enthralled by these beautiful, sincere poems full of artistry and verve. Joan Morrison, born in 1922, confronts the realities of war and love in witty and learned verse. "But darling, platonic as I know we are,/I fear, against all reason, I still want to be/Immensely Epicurean with you," she writes. Her work transcends the passing seasons of a nation and a life.

Tina Kelley, author most recently of Rise Wildly and Abloom & Awry (CavanKerry Press)

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In Deep--Dirty Water and the Great Stink

Listen the the podcast here.

Wouldn't you like to learn more about excrement in the Middle Ages and the Great Stink of the Victorian period? I'm sure you would enjoy it immensely. I was interviewed for a podcast entitled "In Deep" from American Public Media. The episode I appear in begins in the Middle Ages, but swiftly moves to the 19th century and the Great Stink. Get your clothespin ready for your nose!

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Marie de France's "Saint Patrick’s Purgatory" as Dynamic Diptych

 

Excited my article, "Marie de France's 'Saint Patrick's Purgatory' as Dynamic Diptych," just appeared in Le Cygne: Journal of the International Marie de France Society. Marie de France's Saint Patrick's Purgatory / Espurgatoire seint Patriz concerns itself with issues such as translation into the vernacular and spiritual amendment, elements that are integral to pilgrimage ritual as articulated in medieval poetry. Through ekphrastic description, she structures her poem as though it were a di/triptych that is capable of being opened and displayed and anticipates more famous fourteenth-century pilgrimage poems, notable for their complex structures. The frames inherent to these later poems – Dante's pilgrim guided by Virgil; Chaucer's pilgrims riding to Canterbury; Langland's Will falling asleep in the midst of his quotidian life – are manifested through ekphrastic images in Marie's poem. The dynamic force of frames, both literal (in diptychs/triptychs) and metaphorical (pilgrimage poems), spur us to active visual and spiritual contemplation. The reader-viewer amends herself in the vernacular by interacting with the text/diptych. Our ritualized journey is the accident of the true substance of Christ's sacrifice. Marie's book opens to the receptive recipient, sparking the vibrant agency of curative healing.

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My Stasi File--a Podcast Interview with Cold War Conversations

Susan with her friend, Gina Borromeo, in front of the Berlin Wall in late November 1989.

 

I was delighted to have been asked to for an interview by Cold War Conversations, the robust and active podcast series which retrieves hidden aspects of the past from those who lived through it. I am currently writing a novel about my experiences teaching in Rostock, East Germany, and travelling--legally and illegally--throught the former German Democratic Republic. The fantastic interviewer, James Chilcott, was delightful, encouraging, and lots of fun to speak with about my experiences. Given the nature of quarantine these days, I managed to transcribe diaries and letters I still have from those times to recreate the experiences of a naive American behind the Iron Curtain--a graduate student who quickly learns publishing a newspaper there is not quite like it is in the USA. I hope you enjoy my podcast. There are many images and links as well to further material related to my story. 

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Another Troy, a book of verse about World War II, is published

I am delighted to announce the publication of Another Troy-- the recently discovered World War II poetry by my mother, Joan Wehlen Morrison, author of Home Front Girl. I edited these poems which tell a unique – and true -- story as this teenager loses her innocence due to the impending war and its violent arrival. You can purchase Another Troy from Finishing Line Press, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

 

Reviews

 

With growing solicitude at the coming of the Second World War, teenager Joan Wehlen Morrison struggled in her poems to understand the enormous realities of her time while also learning about love and romance, the passage of time, maturity – topics common to most of us at such an age, but topics troubled profoundly by the hatred and loss and violence of the 1930s and 40s. Reading these poems is remembering with nostalgia what it means to be young and setting out. Sadly, they also echo the deeper question that all of us – young and old alike – are today once again forced to ponder: what is to come of us in a world gone mad? In Another Troy, Morrison aches for answers, for truth, in the way only a teenager can.

–Steve Wilson, author of The Reaches

 

Did you ever own a notebook, and did you open it, perhaps at night, to write about the daily happenings of a world whose pace, magnitude, beauty, and violence staggered your imagination? If so, these poems are for you. Joan Wehlen Morrison's Another Troy captures what it feels like to be an emerging political, intellectual, and romantic young woman in wartime—when, as William Carlos Williams famously wrote: "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/ of what is found there." The poems in Another Troy see beauty and brokenness and honor both. "The moon is a bent feather in the sky" in one poem; "there is an empty orchard in Flanders/Rotting in the rain" in another. Tender and aware, these poems cannot help but imagine foreshortened futures, so that when Morrison writes that the "wind was like a boy's breath," we wonder if the boy is at war, and if he will live to see adulthood. In other poems, the poet scrutinizes her own life, imagining "this girl in the blue dress and Juliet cap — / I will be utterly disappeared." Luckily for us, Morrison's poems have not disappeared, and when she writes, "I am a moving window[,]" I feel lucky to have been able to glimpse the world through it.

–Cecily Parks, author of O'Nights and Field Folly Snow

 

Prepare to be charmed and enthralled by these beautiful, sincere poems full of artistry and verve. Joan Morrison, born in 1922, confronts the realities of war and love in witty and learned verse. "But darling, platonic as I know we are,/I fear, against all reason, I still want to be/Immensely Epicurean with you," she writes. Her work transcends the passing seasons of a nation and a life.

–Tina Kelley, author most recently of Rise Wildly and Abloom & Awry (CavanKerry Press)

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Anchorites in the Age of Covid-19: Zooming with Julian of Norwich

This year more of my students worked on anchorites than ever before. Covid-19 has affected all of us, but students in my Medieval Women Writers class gravitated towards those women walled up for life in cells who dedicated themselves to God. Julian of Norwich in particular was an inspiration to my brilliant and creative students. Her most famous line–"All shall be well"–resonated with my students during this time of self-quarantine, anxiety, and loneliness. From crochet to short stories, research papers to screenplays, Julian and her sister nuns became a sanctuary for my students to explore their own fears, annoyance, pessimism, and even hopes. Teresa de Cartagena, the deaf Spanish nun of the fifteen century, whose ears were "cloistered" by God, was also a touchstone. Read more about my students' work here.

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Delighted to have been interviewed about "Home Front Girl"

I was delighted to have been interviewed by Literary Classics after Home Front Girl won their top award: Words on Wings. My favorite exchange:

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY QUIRKY OR FUN WRITING HABITS?
Well, when I write at home, my little corgi Gwen barks to be let in and out all the time. It gives me lots of exercise!

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On a "Roll": Interviewed about the History of Toilet Paper

Interviewed again about the history of toilet paper. I guess I'm on a "roll."

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