Fordham University, After the Election

In the aftermath of the recent U.S. elections, Fordham President Joseph McShane, S. J. added his name to a list of Catholic educators committed to supporting undocumented students. “We, the undersigned presidents of Catholic colleges and universities,” the statement reads, “express hope that the students in our communities who have qualified for DACA are able to continue their studies without interruption and that many more students in their situation will be welcome to contribute their talents to our campuses.”

In an explanation of the statement to the Fordham community, McShane drew a parallel between the history of Fordham’s founding and our own current political climate. “Because [Archbishop Hughes] was himself an immigrant and the victim of prejudice and discrimination both in Ireland and in the United States, and because he was the bishop of a largely immigrant community that suffered from the same discrimination from which he had suffered, [he] was passionately devoted to America's immigrants. Therefore, when he founded Saint John's College (Fordham University) in 1841, he did so to create a school that would make it possible for the immigrants whom he served to receive an education that would both confound their enemies and enable them to take their rightful place in American society.” In releasing this statement, McShane affirmed Fordham’s position as a place of acceptance. “Our Jesuit identity places upon us the sacred responsibility to treat every student in our care with cura personalis,” he concluded, “that is to say, we are called and challenged to treat every Fordham student with reverence, respect and affirming love.”

In accordance with the release of this statement, a group of Fordham faculty and staff met to discuss the election’s impact. The meeting was organized by Daniel Contreras, Associate Chair of English at Rose Hill. Inspired in part by the upswing of student activism at Fordham, Contreras sent out an email that read, “I am writing to let you know that we are having a meeting to discuss and organize how best to respond to any future attacks on the university from the incoming presidential administration. This comes out of important organizing happening by and on behalf of students at Fordham. We feel it is just as vital that concerned faculty and staff gather to think about how to coordinate our energies.”

Contreras’s objective in organizing the event was to plan and spread hope. Professors attended from a wide variety of departments, and there was a strong showing from Fordham English. They uniformly expressed concern for their students, especially those from groups that are already marginalized and feel even more at risk now. Members of Quinn Library staff also attended to show their solidarity and commitment to information access and media literacy. Many had stories of witnessing increasingly hateful rhetoric first hand in recent weeks. The meeting ended on a note of unity, echoing President McShane’s affirmation of Fordham University as safe space for all students regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or personal beliefs.

Creative Writing Hosts 3rd Annual "Golden Gloves Literary Competition & Literary Fair"

On Tuesday, December 6th, Fordham's nine creative writing classes squared off in a super literary competition in the 3rd annual Golden Gloves Competition & Literary Fair. The classes competed at Fordham Lincoln Center for three prizes: Ram d'Or (Best in Show), Most Innovative, and Audience Award. Representatives from each class presented short selections of original work for judges Professors Frank Boyle and James Kim.

Before the competition, creative writing students enjoyed dinner and had the opportunity to learn about student publications from both campuses at a literary fair. Staff from FLASH, Bricolage, The CommaMODE, The Rival, and the paper participated in the event.

This year's competition featured the following classes: Literary Arts Management (Prof. Rita Banerjee), Poetry - What Good is It? (Prof. Chris Brandt), Experimental Ink (Prof. Erica Ehrenberg), Architecture & the Sky (Prof. Sarah Gambito), First Flint (Prof. Sarah Gambito), Plot Clinic (Prof. Jennifer Gilmore), Lyric Essay (Prof. Jennifer Gilmore), Master Class: Writers As Shapers (Prof. Stacey D'Erasmo), and Writing Autobiography (Prof. Elizabeth Stone).

Once the classes had presented their work, the judges deliberated on the winners of Ram d'Or and Most Innovative. Before announcing the winners, the judges praised each of the classes' works. Professor James Kim called the event "one of my favorites of the year."

The Ram d'Or went to Professor Stacey D'Erasmo's Writers as Shapers class for Jonah Greebel's reading of his short story "Déjà Vu." The Most Innovative award, given to the most experimental presentation of student writing, appropriately went to Professor Erica Ehrenberg's Experimental Ink class. James Douglas and Katherine Duggan brought the prize home for their hyper-detailed accounts of hot and sour soup on a China Town bus and a one night stand in the Tremont neighborhood of the Bronx, respectively. Both were experimental prose pieces in response to work by the French writer Georges Perec.

Finally, audience members were able to cast their votes from their smart phones for the Audience Award. The night's final prize went to Professor Chris Brandt's Poetry - What Good is It? class who read a selection of three poems. The poems were written by Nina Harris ("Writing A Poem To Be Read In Class That My Peers Are Going To Edit. Shit"), Lia Paolucci ("the president we need" - read by Lia, Tyler Dikun and Emmanuel Raudales), and Emma Nanamaker ("and to all the little girls").

English Majors Find Career Advice at "Building Your Life as a Writer & Editor"

On Tuesday, December 6th, English majors attended "Building Your Life as a Writer and Editor," a writer's life and career exploration event guided by a panel of published writers from Fordham's English faculty. Panelists included novelist Stacey D'Erasmo, novelist Mary Bly, poet Sarah Gambito, and novelist Jennifer Gilmore.

The event began with D'Erasmo, Bly, Gambito, and Gilmore introducing themselves and speaking to their experience as writers and the careers they've had to support their writing projects over the years: from food service and corporate jobs to publishing and teaching. They stressed the importance of having time to write and writing for some "non-scary" amount of time every single day.

Gambito discussed working in literary nonprofits, the growing areas of content management and the career opportunities related to the way we access and digest writing, in addition to the resources at Fordham to help students get started now. She stressed how classes in communications, media studies, and digital content could complement English majors' course load.

D'Erasmo walked students through her own path as a writer, from an unrewarding MA experience to writing for the Village Voice. She shared her experiences in publishing and editing and how she came to prioritize joy as a practical element. She knew she found her place as a writer when she found a publication where she "actually cared about the massive amount of work [she] was doing."

Bly, who is a New York Times best-seller, stressed the importance of using one's years at Fordham to intern, write content, and produce tangible results. She encouraged students to find and hone their voice and interests: "Read all the time and think, Why am I enjoying this?" Noting the ways her own scholarly interests have influenced her popular fiction novels, Bly encouraged students to bring their unique outlook to their careers and writing. "You really need your passion, because it's all hard."

Gilmore echoed the other panelists' advice and offered her own experience on the writing life. "Touching your work everyday is so important." But she also discussed how different people might approach writing, depending on their career path and their personality. She stressed that for those interested in working in the publishing industry, there are so many areas of focus to choose from: marketing, publicity, production, and editorial. No matter what career path writers chose, Gilmore emphasized the importance of staying connected to other writers and those with similar interests. She also noted that curiosity is key to writing. "Be super curious. Live a little, too. Let things in and never say 'no.'"

Following the roundtable discussion, the panelists took questions from the audience. Following students' concerns, the panelists went in depth on the process of getting published, the MFA vs. NYC debate, and the uncertainty on planning for the future.

With all four panelists agreeing that planning for your life and career can be difficult to imagine, Gambito offered the following: "You should have A, B, and C plans that are all pretty fantastic and exciting to you, personally."

For more career advice for English majors, check out our new student guide with resources at Fordham, internship listings, and real experience from published writers. 

On Teaching Voyage of the Sable Venus

Our Reid Writers of Color Series is an annual event sponsored by the English Department that is specifically dedicated to spotlighting the work of a writer of color. Fordham faculty is encouraged to adopt the Reid book next semester in your classes and attend our April 25th Reid events at Rose Hill with your students. Our 2017 Reid Writer is Robin Coste Lewis who won the 2015 National Book Award for poetry for her book Voyage of the Sable Venus

To assist in your teaching of the Reid book, here is a Teaching Reid Books webpage which contains faculty presentations from the last amazing Reid-Mullarkey Forum, articles, artwork, video and more. Every year we have around 5 - 6 faculty members adopt the Reid book. We hope to surpass that number this year and every year going forward. 

Interview with Poets Out Loud Prize Winner, Gregory Mahrer

Provisional Map of a Lost Continent, winner of the 2015 Poets Out Loud prize, uses surreal and dreamlike imagery to tell a story of exploration and discovery, beginnings and endings. Its author, Gregory Mahrer, has been published in The New England ReviewThe Indiana ReviewGreen Mountains ReviewVolt, and Colorado Review, among many othersHe has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize multiple times, including a Pushcart Special Mention for his poem, "Refrain," in 2014. In this interview, we discuss his process and influences. 

EC: First of all, congratulations on winning the Poets Out Loud Prize! 

GM: Thank you. I’m pleased to be part of such a wonderful group of poets. It’s been a pleasure to work with everyone at Fordham.

EC: Where did the idea for this book come from? How long did it take to write?

GM: For some time I’ve been intrigued by the idea of mock narratives and speculative histories which, while following the logic of grammar and syntax, veer from the expectations of a narrative. Some of the poems in the book go back eight or ten years and some are more recent, but it’s difficult to quantify the length of time it took to put the book together.  What I can say is that I sent it out in more or less its current form for about four years before it was published.

EC: Did you start out wanting to tell an overarching story, or did you write several poems with similar themes and then the book developed from there?

GM: I never start with a clear sense of where I’m heading and refrain from consulting a compass. If I think I know what lies ahead then it is almost certainly a sign that I’m on the wrong path or in the wrong metropolis. At some point, I realized I had written a number of city poems and then began enlarging that series, as well as themes of geography and mappings of exterior and interior worlds. I think, in general, the poems in the collection owe a debt to various accounts of expeditions to foreign lands. My hope is that at the intersection of actual and imaginary accounts something else, something adjacent, opens while still retaining a connection to the mapped and unmapped world from which I draw inspiration.

EC: I’m a fiction writer, so I tend to search for narrative in everything. Do you see an overarching story here?

GM: Well, certainly there are dystopian themes, mixed with the imperative of exploration, but also a kind of nostalgia for a time that never was, or a time that never will be. In that way, there is a kind of implicit romanticism, but that romanticism—post apocalyptic, troubled -- is also a critique of romanticism. In addition, I was interested in moments when the expected narration of exploration and discovery suddenly goes awry, becomes disorienting. So the moment the narration seems familiar, it also begins to unravel. The way is lost. I think in writing these poems, I was continuously in the process of finding and losing my way, which is also the plight of the various disordered subjects that populate the book.

EC: “Red City” immediately establishes a dreamlike, almost fairy tale atmosphere that continues throughout. Later on, “Fable” directly echoes this. Do you find yourself inspired by mythology and folklore when writing poetry? Where to you find the most inspiration?

GM: Early on I was influenced less by poets or fables than fabulists like Borges, Garcia Marquez and, as can be seen by the epigraph, Donald Barthelme. I am sure the accounts of Spanish expeditions gleaned from my early school years figure in some way, though I can’t point to specific examples. All those accounts blend into one. Any details in the poems bear only a slight relationship to historical events. They are mostly misremembered, but hopefully retain some sort of essential resonance of that age.

EC: Do you see this as deliberately anachronistic? Did you have a specific place / time for the setting?

GM: No specific time or place-- more nomadic landscapes, cities that wander through time, migratory geographies, cultures assembled without regard to fixed locations. I think of the time frame, as well as the place, as spanning centuries, continents, and geological epochs. Any mapping is, therefore, tentative, speculative, flawed. 

EC: “Whiteout” felt like a poem purely about writing and process. Do you agree, and how does this relate to the Lost Continent?

GM: Yes, it’s partly about writing, though I think I was mostly interested in disemboweled political speech: what is obfuscated, what is revealed and what happens at that intersection. Similarly, the lost continent, evades the certainly of precise mapping. I'm intrigued by what is knowable and what eludes inquiry. We interrogate the landscape we find ourselves in, or the language we are born into, and what comes back is often less certain than we would like. Or, said in another way, we have arrived too late or in mid-sentence, and can’t remember how many search parties have gone out, never to be heard from again. We follow their traces. Now we are sending out another.

EC: Is “Ciudad de Plata” meant to be a reference to La Plata, Argentina? If so, why did you choose to use real geography in this mythical landscape? 

GM: Any resemblance to an actual city is purely coincidental, but I like the idea that every city in the book has a kind of sister city somewhere.

EC: One of your poems, “En Las Calles des Borges” is a direct reference to Jorge Luis Borges. Can you describe influence of Borges in your work?

GM: I read a lot of Borges in my twenties so I clearly owe a debt to his work, particularly his short fiction where reality and illusion are almost indistinguishable and in which a sense of mystery, double meaning, and ambiguity preside

EC: The book is divided into three sections preceded by an image of an abstract landscape. What’s the relationship between structure and visuals and your poetry?

GM: The visual components of the book were assembled once the poems were finished though for a long time I had the idea of old or imaginary maps being placed between the sections of the book.  In the end I elected to go with the Harry Frank monotypes of abstract landscapes.  I felt they worked well with the mood of the poems.

EC: You use a wide variety of forms throughout the book. Do you enjoy experimenting with structure and form in your work?

GM: I do like playing with form. Mostly, I try to let each poem dictate what form suits it best, though there is clearly no science to it and often more than one solution. Some poems like “Red City” were originally in standard stanzas. At that point the poem didn’t seem to be working the way I wanted it to.  Once I played around with the form it helped open up the poem to other possibilities. 

EC: Do you see this work as apocalyptic? Hopeful?

GM: It has been called apocalyptic by others and I think that description is accurate.  I don’t think that means it isn’t also hopeful in some measure, even if that that possibility resides outside the frame of the poem or maybe is allocated to the conditional and the subjunctive.  I hope that a horizon is in view as much as the close geographies of loss and exile.

EC: How did you start writing poetry? Why poetry?

GM: When I first started writing, I wrote mostly short fiction, which in retrospect seemed like early drafts of the poetry I later came to write. I think I’m temperamentally more suited to working in shorter forms and like the more pressurized pared down language which is so essential to the poetic gesture.

EC: What do you like to read?

GM: For a long time, I read fiction more than poetry, but these days it’s predominantly poetry.  I tend to read more elliptical poetry when I feel stuck in my own writing, but I appreciate a wide variety of forms and styles. I’ve been missing fiction lately and hope to make room for that again. I’m thinking of reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude” again, but in Spanish this time. I may need almost that amount of solitude to realize that ambition.

EC: Do you have a day job? How do you balance this with your writing?

GM: As a friend of mine recently observed, I’ve taken a somewhat unconventional path as a poet. Though I was an English major, I never formally studied poetry and there are still holes in my knowledge though I am working hard to fill in the gaps. Unlike most of my friends who are poets, I don’t teach and have little desire to do so. I’m involved in a couple of real estate partnerships in California and Mexico which engages my interest in architecture and allows me to understand, to some degree, other cultural perspectives, while still affording time to pursue my interest in poetry from near and distant shores. 

-This interview has been edited and condensed

Gregory Mahrer

Gregory Mahrer

Fordham English Faculty Members Support Their Students


Over the weekend, the Fordham English Department's ad hoc faculty committee on diversity and social justice, which was formed last year, composed a brief, clear letter of support for our students. Department Chair Glenn Hendler sent the letter out to all majors on Monday, November 14, and then to English graduate students the next day. Dozens of individual faculty members have signed the letter, and continue to do so. 

Here is a link to the statement, including that growing list of signatories. The text of the statement is below

Statement on National Events from Fordham English Department Faculty Members
Dear English majors,
In light of political events unfolding nationally, including an uptick of violence on college campuses around the country, your professors want to express and affirm our commitments to you, our students.  We are and remain a resource for you in personal as well as educational matters.  We are available to talk and, if necessary, to help connect you with resources elsewhere in the university and beyond.  We cannot solve all the problems that face us, but we are very good at doing research, and sometimes research is what you need.
With our full support,
(Click for the full list of signatories).