My mother grew up in Chicago and frequented the Art Institute of Chicago. She often wrote about the art there in her diary and poetry. The Song of the Lark, the painting by Jules Breton, was one of Joan's favorites. Today, on what would have been her 98th birthday, I would like to share a moment from her diary and a brief interview with Bill Murray. The interview is one my husband shared with me today and brought a tear to my eye. Please give the interview a listen–Bill Murray is quite moving. And my mom's diary entry belongs to a different mode of thought–still, the painting is very familiar to her!
Feeling rather dreary while waiting in the post office line for two hours, I got an email out of the blue with this message: "I'm a history student in West Yorkshire in England and I just wanted to tell you I loved your book. I quoted you several times as a secondary source for my essay and presentation in my module of Community & Identity in the Later Middle Ages. I loved the strong women you portrayed like Margery Kempe, Margaret Paston, and Margaret Beaufort."
What a lovely lagniappe! Suddenly, that post office line didn't seem so daunting.
It really does take a village to edit poetry. My mother–Joan Wehlen Morrison–was an accomplished writer and teacher. It was only at her death that her diaries and poetry were found which she had written in the late 1930s and early 1940s as a teenage girl. I edited her diaries which were published in 2012 as the award-winning Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America. My next project became editing her poetry, just published as Another Troy. Editing poetry is not the easy task you might imagine. Read here to find out more about process.
I hope you enjoy my article, "Slow Practice as Ethical Aesthetics: The Ecocritical Strategy of Patience in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Clerk's Tale." It has just appeared in this Special Issue: 2020 Ecocriticism: In Europe and Beyond; 10th Year Anniversary Issue. Ecozon@ 11.2 (2020): 118-127. In it, I consider how ecocritical approaches concerning slowness and walking can illuminate this poignant and disturbing tale.
My article, "What it was like voting as an American in Germany right before the Berlin Wall fell," has just appeared in The Local.de, Germany's News in English. "In a time when US absentee ballot signatures are being questioned, author Susan Signe Morrison remembers the 1988 election and a vexed incident of signature recognition." Currently, I am working on a memoir about my experiences teaching in the GDR in the 1980s. I also recently talked about my experiences in an episode of the Cold War Conversations History Podcast.
As you have to subscribe to see the entire article, contact me if you'd like to see screenshots of the article.
Pilgrimage with Geoffrey Chaucer and Jack Kerouac: Ecocriticism, "The Canterbury Tales", and "On the Road"
With Geoffrey Chaucer and Jack Kerouac, we see how a contemporary American icon functions as a text parallel to something generally seen as discrete and past, an instance of the modern embracing, interpreting, and appropriating the medieval. I argue that The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer influenced Kerouac's shaping of On the Road. In the unpublished autograph manuscript travel diary dating from 1948–1949 (On the Road notebook), Kerouac imagines the novel as a quest tale, thinking of pilgrimage during its gestation. Further, Kerouac explicitly cites Chaucer. Read more of it here.
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
(February 25, 1940)
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.
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.
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)
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!