Residents at the CSWR are scholars deeply committed to the study of religion. Below, we spoke with Sherah Bloor, a PhD student in the Study of Religion, on her work in poetry, philosophy, religion, and community.
CSWR: How has being a resident at the Center affected your academic experience?
SB: "Thinking happens in community". We hear that a lot, but given how busy our schedules are and how dispersed we are throughout the Universtity, it is no wonder that the phrase can sometimes sound a bit empty. But you can fully appreciate the benefits of community when you live on campus surrounded by brilliant minds doing insanely original research. What's so unique about having that community in your very home, is that you don't need to seek it out. Okay, this week you may have missed the very cool lecture on farming practices that was held just downstairs, but there is still the chance encounter. That evening you come home from the library to a conversation in the garden on Japanese Tea Ceremony that changes what you thought at the library. A short chat over the washing machine about 18th Century medical textbooks has you back in your apartment, scrambling to add some new idea about political economy to your research paper. I have no doubt that the thinking that does happen in community is likely to be more creative, more grounded, and more informed. And the CSWR cultivates this too, with weekly discussions, lectures, a plethora of catered events, and with research-programs. Being a part of the Poetry, Philosophy, and Religion research program at the CSWR allowed me to pursue research that, being adjacent to my doctoral research, wouldn't have been possible without the support of the CSWR, but this ended up contributing to my dissertation in ways that I could never have foreseen. You don't really know where the next idea is coming from.
So I've never really understood it when some students express a desire to live far away from where they study or to "escape the bubble". Do they know what is in this bubble? It's really good in here: lecturers and writers and artists and meditators and activists and visiting scholars assemble from all over in here to share their research, their skills, and their stories. They will make you think differently and want to be better. Far from enclosed and bubble-like, your home opens out onto the world.
CSWR: You run the Divinity Poetry Workshop here at the Center, last year as a Research Fellow. How has that experience enhanced your work?
SB: The Divinity Poetry Workshop is unlike any other class on campus and one of its most rigorous, yet students receive no credit or recognition. They give two-hours of their week to the love of poetry alone. Such love is hard work! We spend absurd amounts of time questioning the use of a definite article, the consequences of adding a comma just there, or repeating the word 'yellow' incessantly to ourselves until we can 'hear' it. Practice like this trains your attention and incrementally amounts to a new skill. Quite simply, it makes you a far better writer and also a far more careful and creative thinker, since all thinking happens in and through language.
The education gained from such close attention to language is not solely a matter of acquiring a new skill in language and thought, but I think that there is an emotional education in it too. You have to be very vulnerable to bring a new poem to a group like this and have it dissected word-by-word-by-punctuation mark in front of you. But the process gives you a certain distance from your issues. You come at yourself from an oblique angle in a strange blending of the personal and impersonal that can be very revealing; for example, recognising that you always use a particular image to describe a given event, and experimenting with a different one, can really transform your emotional makeup.
Workshop has also given me the chance to connect with some really great people. Our attendees have often come with very little experience writing poetry and soon they are really very good and I've learnt a lot from their poems (some of which have been published in literary journals and books). Along with the regular members, there are the special guests that the CSWR generously invites to work with us: Susan Howe, Evie Shockley, Josh Bell, Robin Coste Lewis, Ewa Chrusciel, and soon Robert Hass and Anne Carson!
The poetry workshop is held every Tuesday evening in the Center from 7-9 PM, and all are welcome. We now also accommodate fiction and prose writers who meet the first Tuesday of each month.
CSWR: You have also worked closely with Peripheries, the student-run journal at HDS. What can we expect from that this year?
SB: Peripheries is under new management. We've amassed a large group of editors in poetry, visual arts, and fiction, who are all working to invite some exciting submissions. Students will have the opportunity to be published alongside some big names in their very own journal. While you can look forward to featured poets, we are still committed to publishing new material from first-time writers. We can even work closely with new writers to make that happen. And who knows, you might end up making a career of it - I am so excited to see that the next issue of the journal will include five reviews of chapbooks that have come out of our community this year.
We've expanded the purview of the journal (and its length) to include reviews, interviews, aphorisms, creative non-fiction, translations, and on-page experiments, such as a game of telephone across multiple languages and an intricately researched yet absurd topic (how many pits in the ballpoint of a ballpoint pen?), and we would love some recipes, instructions, and manifestos too. The aim here is to be true to the title of our journal, which also forms our mission: to publish material that is 'peripheral' or 'marginal', in the sense of exploring interstices between discourses, traditions, languages, voices, identities, or genres and bringing these into conversation with one another. That said, if you have any art of any description - whether experimental or traditional, whether central or peripheral - we are eager to take a look. It's our job to get these artworks talking to each other in interesting ways.
Check out our new website for previous issues and guidelines on submitting: www.peripheriesjournal.com and keep an eye out for the release party of the upcoming issue, which, with the help of CSWR and HDS, we are able to give out for free.