English Profs Create Instead of Critique
This past Sunday, English professors Kirk Nesset of Allegheny College and DeSales Harrison of Oberlin College dropped the analytic act and graced the podium of the FAVA gallery with their creative musings.
A sizable and attentive audience sat quietly as Nesset, who is also a professor of creative writing, opened the reading with some of his short stories. He introduced his first story by commenting that the audience would understand the premise right away.
It began with the narrator shopping in a food store when a man comes up to her and frantically asks her to pretend to be his girlfriend in front of his ex-girlfriend around the corner. A familiar premise, indeed, Nesset gave it a twist by having the narrator sabotage the man’s plans.
She smiles her “manic girlfriend smile” at the woman, and when asked about what she does, responds, “I just lie around and sulk.” She then begins to stroke the horror-stricken faux boyfriend’s arm, saying to the ex-girlfriend, “You ended his innocence.” When the man tries to protest, the narrator presses him up against a lobster cage and starts to violently make-out with him. “Believing in people will kill you,” the narrator ends, “Take it from me.”
After a burst of laughter and applause from a satisfied audience, Nesset looked up and by way of explanation said it is often surprising to see what your characters will do. Clearly, Nesset paid attention to the individuals he created, as he read their dialogue and thoughts with distinctive voices that furthered the depth of each personality.
Nesset explained that his last story, “The Painter’s Wife,” was based on the Fibonacci sequence and followed a symmetrical sentence pattern similar to the one discovered by the famous mathematician. The story itself was about a man who one day meets a woman that is in the painting above his bed. Their love affair is short-lived, and all too soon their communication is reduced to “non sequitur and unintelligible e-mail.”
Eventually the woman disappears, but the painting continues to “hang quietly, hoarding its clues.”
After a swell of applause for Nesset, the audience turned their attention to Harrison. Harrison’s poems tended to be short, compact glimpses or reflections, evocative through their concise and vivid details.
A short reflection on youth, Harrison’s poem “Honey” described a sexual experience with a girl and the self-conscious nature of a love that both knew “[had] no future.” He offset this detail by asking the question, why “did I keep my fingers to my nose the entire bus ride?” Harrison set a delicate balance between nostalgia and the lack of permanence, most apparent in the urgency of youth.
Another one of his poems was a found poem from a newspaper article about a boy with Aspergers syndrome. Called “Long-Haired Guinea Pig,” the poem ended with the lines, “I did not train my long-haired guinea pig to eat everything in sight/ That is the nature of the long-haired guinea pig.”
The audience laughed at this, and Harrison responded by quipping, “I like to think I have much in common with John Milton...because of the profound humorlessness of my poems. So it’s good to hear you laugh.” The audience applauded and he continued reading.
Both Nesset and Harrison read work that was entertaining and thoughtful,
reflecting a genuine appreciation of words and the language they teach.