English faculty members, Andrea Stover, Annette Sisson and Kacie Hittel, recently attended the South Atlantic Modern Language Association’s 83rd Annual Convention in Atlanta, Ga. The theme of the conference was “The Power of Poetry in the Modern World.” Stover, Sisson and Hittel all presented papers at the conference and served on the same panel, The Rhetorical Power of Women’s Poetry. tover served as chair of the session, and Sisson served as secretary.
Stover’s paper, “Ekphrasis in Modern Women’s Poetry: Uniting Poetry and the Visual Arts to Re-imagine History” offered a close reading of three poems: “Brazil, January 1, 1502” by Elizabeth Bishop; “Degas’s Laundresses” by Evan Boland; and “Mourning Picture” by Adrienne Rich. Each poem is an ekphrasis, or a poem written in response to a visual work of art, that serves the rhetorical purpose of giving an alternative interpretation of the one offered in the paintings, thus helping us to revise old versions of history that have been framed in art and frozen in the cultural imagination.
Sisson’s paper, “Mary Oliver and the Rhetorical “Nature” of Oracular Poetry” argues that in Mary Oliver’s poetry nature is both rhetorical and epistemic, providing an invitation to another way of “knowing” that transcends our human capacity for knowing. At the same time, the speaker plays the role of the oracle, pointing us to the divine mystery that nature embodies in its infinite incarnations. Nature thus provides rhetorical moments that offer a wordless discourse which we are urged to observe, experience, and celebrate—and to which we have the opportunity, if only temporarily, to surrender our human need for answers.
Hittel’s paper, The “Art of Rhetoric” in Contemporary Irish Women’s Poetry, centered on “Beautiful Speech” by Irish poet Eavan Boland. It examined a common conception of ‘the art of rhetoric’ as ‘the art of deception’ through the nationalist, patriarchal literary traditions in Ireland. Boland attempts to subvert the dominant rhetoric to assert her place, managing to both critique and elevate ideas of language and belonging.