Not all of us have the courage to be publicly vulnerable over a huge breakup or to confront our subconscious grievances that stretch back hundreds of years into traditions passed.
Yet Emory English Professor Laura Otis and Director of the Creative Writing Program Jericho Brown do just that in their newest publications, which were highlighted on Sept. 10 in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
The two professors were selected to present their newest works in the English Department Spotlight series, formerly known as the English Department Research Spotlight. Otis’ book, “Banned Emotions: How Metaphors Can Shape What People Feel,” investigates the taboo of expressing emotional extremes in public spaces. Brown shared poems from his recently published volume of poetry entitled “The Tradition” that combats the values placed on the intersectionality of one’s self struggling against oppressive traditions.
High above the Atlanta skyline, the eager mix of about 100 students and faculty gathered in the Rose Library with hardly a seat to spare, filling the room with a buzz of excited chatter before the event began.
PowerPoint in tow, it was clear Otis’ background in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University (Conn.) greatly influences her work and her approach to research. Otis writes at the intersections of neuroscience, linguistics, English and psychology. In her book, Otis deftly links her scientific endeavors to the liberal arts by analyzing the metaphors used by authors of decidedly influential works such as Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.”
Otis shared how the social metaphor of “letting something go” became increasingly apparent to her in 2012 when she experienced a traumatic event in her life. Although her concerned friend’s efforts were well-intentioned, she more often felt trapped by people telling her how to feel.
An equally thought-provoking discussion followed her presentation, moderated by fellow English Professor Deepika Bahri.
Brown was second to present and even without a PowerPoint, Brown’s presence commanded the room as he stepped up to address the eager audience. His ease of conversation and purpose in speaking engaged listeners and made his invention of a new poetic form, the duplex, seem equally as effortless.
The duplex is a 14-line poem in the style of the sonnet. Brown remarked at how even if one knows nothing about poetry, if they hear the word “sonnet,” they can identify it as being a core form of poetry.
Due to this phenomenon, Brown developed the duplex to combat the subjugation inherent in poetic structure. He challenged the antiquated notion that one’s art is not worthwhile unless they can achieve a traditional and recognizable form like the sonnet.
More poignant, however, is how this subjugation by form becomes increasingly more complex in issues of identity; Brown addressed the complications that arise when he, as a person of color, uses English, a language not historically his own, in a poetic form yet still not conceived by his own people.
Thus comes the advent of his new poetic form, the duplex, where intersectionality of identities and form can coalesce. “I do not feel part black, part Southern and part queer,” Brown declared. Society, however, tells him that he is composed of traits that should not coexist but should, on the contrary, be at war.
Brown also emphasized the experience of coming into contact with your subconscious through writing, explaining that if you write long enough, eventually something is going to come out that you don’t agree with. Then, you should ask yourself, “If I don’t agree with it, then why did I write it?” This rhetorical question points to something lingering deeper within you that you have yet to fully explore. For that is worth reading.
A reception followed the talk, and I could reflect and understand why so many students came out every year: to be surrounded with and confronted by the liberal arts.
No matter the field of study, everyone should endeavor to stay informed and engage with the conversations that faculty are having, available right at our fingertips.