By: Jessica Gervais, Contributing Writer
FARMINGTON – The University of Maine at Farmington recently welcomed Julia Bouwsma as the new professor of creative writing; Bouwsma also had the honor of being named Maine’s Poet Laureate earlier this summer.
Bouwsma has been writing poetry since she was in the third grade.
“I tell people I either wanted to be a poet or a pirate…I really liked pirates,” Bouwsma said.
Penelope Lawrence, a family friend and professor at Yale who came to her elementary school and volunteered to teach a class, was a huge influence who started her off on her writing career. Lawrence would take ‘adult poems’ as opposed to children’s poems and teach the kids about them, the students then memorized poems and got prompts they had to write about, according to Bouwsma.
It would seem that Bouwsma has always held a wild and free-running imagination right from the very early beginning.
“Poetry was sort of my first love with writing and it still is,” she said.
Because Bouwsma was only just recently elected as Maine’s Poet Laureate she said she is listening and learning every single day to find out more of what the title means, however she has plenty of ideas of how to utilize the title on her own.
To her being Maine’s Poet Laureate means more opportunity to know fellow Maine poets and work with them to expand Maine’s poet community. Bouwsma said she’s in the “throwing mashed potatoes at the ceiling to see what sticks” stage of her journey as a poet laureate. She expressed that she has many project ideas and just isn’t yet ready to share them. Although she did share that throughout her five-year term she plans to find other poets to collaborate with.
“I always think more minds are better than just mine.”
She explained that Maine is a wide state with very many different broad communities, there are plenty of chances to grow the poetry community. Teaching poetry is really important to her and she hopes to help grow connections between poets and the public, private, and home-school systems to further expand these connections.
Faith Diaz, Contributing Writer
After severe, on-going problems with the Creative Writing house’s electrical system and foundations, the home-turned-writer’s-hub is scheduled to be torn down this academic year.
Thirteen days before returning for the fall semester, creative writing students at UMF were notified about the fate of their building. On Aug. 20, Jefferey Thomson, the new creative writing Department Chair, sent out a mass email stating, “As many of you know (after sitting through many false-alarm fire-alarms) there have been some pretty serious problems with the house’s electrical systems. In addition, there are some serious issues with the house’s foundation.”
The email continued, reading, “What this adds up to, sadly, is that the cost of fixing the house has become prohibitive for the University and it needs to be torn down. As a result, by the time you get here, the creative writing program will have been moved to new offices in the bottom of the Fusion Center.”
When students arrived to campus they saw that the building still stood but no one was permitted to enter.
Thomson elaborated on how this decision came to be made and what it means for the creative writing students. “In June, the acting Provost, Kathy Yardley, emailed me and said she wanted to walk us around some spaces for the creative writing program. This was the first we [as faculty] heard about it specifically,” he said.
The board that was assembled for the first notification of the closure consisted of faculty members Linda Britt, Eric Brown (interim President of UMF at the time), Jefferey Thomson, and Kathy Yardley. Britt, the humanities chair, was unavailable to comment due to traveling.
Thomson said, “We, as in the creative writing faculty, we didn’t know that the house was in that bad of shape until that moment. And then because of the transition to the new president and people moving around in upper administration, we weren’t told officially we were moving until the 15th of August or something like that.”
He continued, “The reasons that students were surprised about it is because it happened rather quickly.”
Over the summer, UMF went through a presidential shift from Eric Brown to Edward Serna. This administrative shift stalled many projects, including the placement of creative writing majors, which meant that the official changing of locations happened within the official notification of the creative writing faculty, students and the start of the first day of classes this fall.
Upon students returning to campus, the creative writing faculty is aware of the general displeasure of students for the loss of the house. “There’s hope that the basement down here [in the Fusion Center] is going to be a temporary position for us,” Thomson said. “That within the next year or so, we will be able to move into an equivalent space.”
Thomson came to UMF in 2003 as an assistant professor and after four years, he received tenure. After six years of teaching as an associate professor, in 2013, he solidified his position and joined the full-time staff. Due to Patricia O’Donnell’s retirement, Thomson has become the Department Chair of the creative writing program.
He concluded his thoughts on the program’s location change with, “I’ve asked to be included in that discussion [of the future locale of creative writing courses] because, yes, writing is so solitary that it helps to have a space where you can have a sense of this, this place that is yours to share with your peers. And we are trying to make [the Fusion Center] like that but we understand that it is not the same.”
By Dale J Rappaneau Jr Contributing Writer
In response to UMF’s unsuccessful search for a tenure-track Creative Writing professor, Eric Brown, Interim Provost and VP for Academic Affairs, remains confident in the program’s academic strength and ability to find a quality candidate to fill the role.
“UMF values highly its creative writing program, which continues to draw exceptional students from around the country,” wrote Brown in an email. “While we were unable to hire a tenure-track position for the coming year, we will continue to offer screenwriting courses next fall and spring.”
Brown’s specific mention of screenwriting stems from the fact that Bill Mesce, Associate Professor of Creative Writing, who currently teaches the screenwriting courses, was among the candidates unsuccessful in securing the tenure-track position. As a result, students have speculated on the state of screenwriting and its place in the creative writing program.
“Screenwriting is a unique component of the program, offering opportunities for the study of a genre not widely offered elsewhere in the state of Maine,” Brown said. “I regard screenwriting as a potential difference-maker for our program, appealing to students not only as a distinct genre, but as a gateway to further work in the film industry, and I see the coming year as crucial in defining the best way of supporting that at UMF.”
Jeff Thomson, Professor of Creative Writing, echoes Brown’s sentiments, stating that the creative writing program is the school’s “jewel program” and that screenwriting is an essential part of the program. He added, “Pat [O’Donnell] and I are going to rethink and rework the screenwriting position and do another search in the fall.”
At the time of writing, screenwriting courses are being offered for the Fall 2018 semester, despite the program’s continued search for a professor to teach those courses. “We don’t have an official contract in place yet so I can’t say for certainty,” wrote Brown, “but, again, the plan going forward is to have staffing for those courses, and I expect we will have it resolved positively in the next week or so.”
Linda Britt, Chair of the Division of Humanities, rallied behind the creative writing program and saw the unsuccessful tenure-track search as unreflective of the program’s strength and long-lasting academic appeal. “The creative writing program is strong and popular, and it has an excellent reputation in the field,” Britt wrote in an email. “The program will be here for far longer than you or I will.”
The Fall 2018 screenwriting course, as detailed in the MaineStreet course catalog, will take place every Wednesday, from 3:10 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and the instructor in charge of the course is simply detailed as “Staff.”