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.
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.
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)
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.
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!
Interviewed again about the history of toilet paper. I guess I'm on a "roll."
My short story, "FaceTimes," has just appeared in TEJASCOVIDO, edited by Dr. Laurence Musgrove. It's about trying to connect with a dear family member during the early days of the pandemic.
Little did I think when I wrote about Chaucer's fecopoetics over ten years ago, that I'd be interviewed for The Talk of the Town in The New Yorker about toilet paper hoarding.
"Not all those who wander are lost": I'm delighted to share a beautiful piece of writing by Emily R. Cordo. She interviewed me about walking, wandering, pilgrimage, slow ecopoetics, the environment, and the campus of Texas State University. Replete with gorgeous photos, I hope it gives you joy and a moment to reflect!
My article, Walking as Memorial Ritual: Pilgrimage to the Past, braids life-writing with the practice of pilgrimage. Here's part of the article:
"In 1966, my parents took my two older brothers and me on the Pilgrims' Way—not the route from London to Canterbury that Chaucer's pilgrims would have taken starting south of London in Southwark, rather the ancient trek from Winchester to Canterbury, famously chronicled in The Old Road by Hilaire Belloc. The route follows along the south side of the Downs, where the muddy path was dried by what sun there was. My parents first undertook the walk in the early 1950s. Slides from that pilgrimage depict my mother, voluptuous in her cashmere twinset and tweed skirt, as my father crosses a stile. My parents, inspired by Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, decided to walk along the traditional Pilgrims' Way to Canterbury. Story intersects with material traversal over earth on dirt-laden paths.
By the time we children came along, the memories of that earlier pilgrimage resonated with my parents, inspiring them to take us on the same journey. We all carried our own rucksacks and walked five or six miles a day. Concerning our pilgrimage when I was seven, my mother wrote in her diary:
As good pilgrims should, we've been telling tales along the way. Yesterday Jimmy told the whole (detailed) story of That Darn Cat, a Disney movie. Today I told about Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey, which first inspired me to think of walking trips and everyone noted the resemblance between Stevenson's lovable, but balky, donkey and our sweet Sue. (We hadn't planned to tell tales, but they just happened along the way.)"