English Matters. College of Arts and Sciences, Washington State University.

Faculty and Student Engagement

Study Abroad Offers Opportunities
and Experiences for Students and Faculty

A group of people standing and smiling in front of an aged stone-and-brick building.

This past June, Donna Potts and Collin Criss led a group of 12 undergraduates on a poetry tour of Ireland. Offered through the WSU International Program for credit, students studied creative writing and poetry through the lens of contemporary Irish poetry. After arriving in Dublin, the group began a packed itinerary that included meetings with more than 12 working Irish poets and visits to notable tourist sites around the island.

In Dublin, the group saw the Book of Kells and spent time in St. Stephens Green, and later they visited with poets Moya Cannon, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Grace Wilentz, and Annemarie Ní Churreáin. Then the group traveled to western Ireland and visited a number of landmarks before meeting with poets Joan McBreen, Eileen Keane, Kevin Higgins, and Siabh Burke-Maguire. 

As the team moved on they visited Coole Park, toured the home of Lady Gregory, and then embarked north to Yeats Country. Along the way, they stopped in Mayo to meet with Sean Lysaght. In Sligo, they participated in the launching of the local Irish music festival known as Flaedh. The group continued north to sightsee for a few days and then stopped in County Deny at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy and the Giant’s Causeway. In Belfast, the group met with Leontia Flynn and Frank Ormsby, who is the current Irish Professor of Poetry. After leaving the North, the group went on to visit the Patrick Kavanagh Center in County Monaghan where they met with poet Noel Monahan before returning to Dublin.

Six people bend over texts spread across a table and three other people examine pages posted on a board.

Each meeting with the individual poets was informed by the group’s immersion in the varied landscape: the moments spent in the landscape were filtered through the insights of working poets. The group asked poets about their understanding of contemporary Irish poetry, and how they understand their own position in the political and natural history of the island. The group then drafted and shared their own work, and tried to sense and challenge where they, as tourists, fit into the literary tradition that we were merely glimpsing. The entire trip was a once-in-a-lifetime event not only to visit Ireland but to experience the current of a nation’s poetry.

The students did creative and critical work during and after the trip and demonstrated their keen sense of the complex nature of Irish poetry.

Faculty worked hard, as well, to make the trip as affordable and accessible as possible, but the expense to students—not only travel but also tuition for the courses—remained largely prohibitive. Criss and Potts both hope to develop additional funding for future trips in order to provide international program experiences for our students that will transform their understanding of literature and the world.

EcoArts in the Community and Classroom

A woman plays flute near a man reading from a tablet while two people watch and listen while they stand on a paved path curving through trees and other vegetation.

The EcoArts on the Palouse Plant Poems Project was the center of a public performance in collaboration with instrumentalists in WSU’s School of Music (SoM). Botanical signage for 20 species of native plants focal on ecosystem restoration of Missouri Flat Creek, near downtown Pullman, bear poems were written collaboratively during the Spring 2021 semester by WSU English majors across campuses. The students included Arabelle May from WSU Vancouver and recent graduates Aidan Barger, Darcy Greenwood, and Elizabeth Webb from WSU Pullman. The signs were “planted” along the creek, and in September 2022, “In Flower Community: Poems and Musical Improvisations for Native Plants,” took place along the creek. The event was co-created by poetry Professor Linda Russo and WSU music professor and flutist Sophia Tegart and featured musical performances by SoM faculty and students accompanying readings of the poems by English department students and faculty and volunteers from the local community. Attendees were invited to walk along the creek and enjoy the evolving soundscape. The performance was supported with funding from Humanities Washington and corresponded with the WSU Common Reading Program selection, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, which inspired an approach to write the Plant Poems.

A seated woman plays a black cello next to a standing woman who is reading from a page before a backdrop of trees and tall grasses.
A seated man plays flugelhorn near a woman standing and reading from a page amid tall grasses and trees interspersed with small signs on pedestals.

Russo also has connected ecology, literature, and creative writing in the classroom as a Community Engaged Scholar since the fall of 2021, when students in Engl302, Introduction to Literary Studies, commenced community service work with the Palouse Conservation District (PCD) through WSU’s Center for Civic Engagement. Students work on removing invasive weeds and planting native trees to stabilize the banks and block toxins from draining into the waterways. This habitat restoration also cools the water temperature and increases oxygen levels necessary to ensure a viable habitat for salmon who may return to the river to spawn. Through reflective assignments, students synthesize their hands-on experience with their understanding of literary texts. One student reflected: “’It feels like we are giving back to the world that takes care of us. We thrive off of Earth’s resources and selfishly do not consider the consequences, yet this is our opportunity to restore a small part of nature. This reminds me of a sonnet we studied, Craig Santos Perez’s ‘Love in a Time of Climate Change,’ which states, ‘I love you as one loves the most vulnerable / species: urgently, between the habitat and its loss.’ After meeting Garrett [LaCivita, PCD Conservation Planner] and learning about the details of the project, I realized the work we are doing here is greater than ourselves.”

Blood Orange Review Emerging Writer Award

In the spring of 2022, senior undergraduate interns from WSU Vancouver (Daniel Arreola) and WSU Pullman (Savannah Reid Brown, Gloria Demissie, Emi Lupoi, Clara Peninger, and Lucy Rickman) worked with English faculty editors of the Blood Orange Review (Julian Ankney, Colin Criss, Grant Maierhofer, and Lauren Westerfield) to select finalists for the BOR Emerging Writers Awards. Students interning with BOR learn professional skills while earning credit toward the English department’s Editing and Publishing Certificate.

The award winners include poet Mylo Lam of Los Angeles and essayist Robin Kinzer of Baltimore, with Honorable Mentions going to Laur Freymiller of Moscow, Idaho; Camille Jackson of Chicago; m. mick powell of Storrs, Connecticut; and Moni Brar of Calgary, BC.