SAMLA 2011

Recently I attended the annual meeting of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association. It was my first visit to SAMLA, a special session on poetry, and I hope to return. I was very happy to see, among others, regular sessions on SAMLA poets, Appalachian studies, and pedagogy.  

Of particular interest:

  • a presentation by Paul T. Corrigan of Southeastern University who seems to be doing admirable work “teaching nature poetry to students who dislike nature and poetry
  • a fantastic panel by four women at the University of West Georgia who have fully integrated the Favorite Poem Project into about five weeks of their freshman comp seminar
  • Talked briefly with Andy Johnson, a young novelist from the University of Alabama, who is currently writing a novel on time he spent teaching in Liberia
  • ran into two of my former colleagues from IU who had organized a panel on Francophone studies; they’re co-editing a forthcoming volume of Theory, Culture, and Critique.

I gave a paper on Wallace Stevens that was organized by members of the American Humor Studies Association. In my analysis I have made liberal use of Stevens’s satire of the pedantic persona, only to realize mid-final-draft that I might want to curtail what sounds like praise for such satire when I would be playing the role of the theorist in a room full of critics, at a conference dedicated to aesthetic interpretation, in a culture where literary critics, too impatient to wait for others to question the value of their work, dedicate volumes to examining the death of the author, the death of the critic, and the death of the universities that house us.

Giving an academic paper on humor is never easy. One is faced with either deconstructing something humorous so far beyond recognition that no one present can ever again hope to find it or anything else funny, or attempting to be humorous in the act of literary analysis.

After some consideration I’ve decided the latter is a great deal sadder than the former; however, in the hopes that this display might be of the sad clown variety, wherein the audience laughs as the performer weeps, I decided to try to be funny. 

“It is all part of the universal comedy, which the poets ignore, because they continue to believe in tragedy” (625).

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Stevens, Wallace. Bowl, Cat and Broomstick, from Collected Poetry and Prose. Library of America (October 1, 1997).