Hey Joanna Penn Cooper, what are you reading?

26 Mar

Joanna Penn Cooper‘s creative and critical work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including Poetry International, Opium, Supermachine, Pleiades, elimae, and Boog City.  Her second chapbook of poetry and short prose pieces, Mesmer, was published in April 2010 by Dancing Girl Press.  Joanna’s full-length poetry collection, How We Mostly Were, was a finalist for the Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James Books in December 2010 and she is currently looking at offers for publication while working on a new book of  prose poems and essays tentatively titled Vita.

Joanna  is an important voice in the emerging Brooklyn art scene– check out her quirky and addictive blog which has garnered quite a following, joannapenncooper.blogspot.com.

I asked Joanna what she’s been reading and this is what she said:

This is the first semester I haven’t taught in a while, and it’s been interesting to see how my reading habits have expanded and contracted.  Last year at this time, I was in the middle of my final semester of a postdoctoral teaching fellowship at Fordham, teaching a course for majors, “American Literature, 1890-1929,” and a sophomore literature class on coming of age narratives, so I was reading novels I had assigned, like Cather’s My Ántonia, Wharton’s The Age of InnocenceOranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, and Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid.  Over the summer, I taught a tutorial for some Fordham students on Dark Humor and Modern Identity, in which we started with Beckett and ended with contemporary fiction.  We especially loved Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.  Fall found me teaching American Poetry after 1945 at Montclair State University.  Highlights were a discussion of Denise Levertov in which students found their stride with analyzing poems, and another class session in which they displayed a strong and unexpected interest in John Berryman, some students going so far as to assert that Berryman would best Plath on an episode of Celebrity Death Match.  (Remember that show?)

So, I’m not teaching right now.  What am I reading?  I’m doing some reading to inform a couple writing projects, but in addition to that I’ve been on a memoir kick.  Per my younger brother’s suggestion,  I’m reading Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton.  Parton has some surprisingly interesting things to say about coming of age, believing in yourself as an artist, struggle, and spirituality.  I unironically recommend it.  I also recently read Diane Keaton’s memoir, Then Again, and I recommend that one, as well.  Keaton’s memoir is really about her mother’s artistic and personal development, along with her own.  As she works to come to terms with her late mother’s life, as recorded in the collage-filled journals she left behind, Keaton provides a lovely and somewhat heart-wrenching portrait of womanhood, maternity, and the ways in which both women struggled to give voice to their creativity. (And, yes, I’ve also read Patti Smith’s and Keith Richards’ memoirs.  Great.)   I’m also re-reading Ruth Stone’s 2004 poetry collection In the Dark.  Stone died recently, and reading these poems, I am struck anew by the immediacy, rawness, and craft of her work.  There’s the sense of a vulnerable, staunch, lovable, fallible person in the work, and also the sense of an artist.  I love that.


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