At Lipscomb University, as knowledge grows in use it also grows in value, even on summer break. Each year, the university awards five full grants to deserving faculty members to conduct research and scholarship during the summer.
In the past, grants have resulted in the development of new courses, writing of books and poetry, innovative research in chemistry and biology, and programs to enhance Lipscomb’s reputation and relationship globally.
Jan Harris, associate professor of English and modern languages in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, is one of six Lipscomb professors to receive a grant to continue her work on “The Lyric Pilgrim and the Relic in W.G. Sebald,” and her collection of poems, “The Grand Tour.”
“I’m really grateful to the provost office for this grant. I think the fact that there is an expectation that professors maintain relevance in our fields but that there is internal support for us to do that is really one of the unique things about Lipscomb and one of the great things about being a faculty member here,” said Harris.
“You do feel that sense of support and value. You feel like your work is valued, which is great because I am a poet. Nobody cares! It’s not mainstream,” she laughed.
Harris first wrote a series of erasure poems based on 19th century travel guides. Erasure poems are a form of “found poetry,” in which the poet erases words from an existing text and frames the leftover content as a poem to reframe the existing piece under a new lens.
The erasure poems are derived from travel guides and maps. Six of Harris’ poems were published in the fall of 2017 issue of “Waxing and Waning,” a literary journal. Additionally, one of her poems was selected and read on a Spokane, Washington National Public Radio series on female poets.
“The working title is ‘Grand Tour,’” she said. “There’s a series of poems, regular poems and then these erasure poems which are taken from travel guides, Baedeker’s, Murray’s and Cook’s. The first one was produced in 1848, it’s Baedeker’s of southern Germany and it’s sort of like alpine hiking, but the travel guides are really fascinating to me,” Harris explained.
Perhaps overlooked by most is the insight the travel guides provide into the culture at the time they were written and published. “They’re very much books of their time, and they were also things people would buy who didn’t have the money to travel so they would have the experience. So, they read a lot more like the 1880s version of the Travel Channel,” she said.
“For me it was really interesting too because I found some that were on Syria and Palestine, which was interesting to look into based on what is happening in the world today. There are some on India. Those are rare because it was harder for them to make. What’s bizarre is that you see the attitude of the times reflected in them as well.”
The Baedeker’s travel guides, the first in the field, provided readers with accurate maps. At the time, accuracy of maps was unusual and special as travelers would review the guide on the train and then actually have information on where to go once they arrived. Today’s technological tools make this seem commonplace. In the 19th century, it was a gift.
“The maps are just beautiful,” said Harris. “I love the craftsmanship in them as well. I am really interested in these books and I had been thinking about doing some found poetry and erasure poetry, and that kind of is what led me to them.”
Harris maximized the grants, using the funds for research, development and to network at national conferences. Her work has received national recognition resulting in requests to read at numerous conferences and accolades for Lipscomb.
At the end of March, Harris and 10 students from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences attended the International Pop Culture Association Conference in Indianapolis where Harris and two poetry students presented their creative work.
“We have legitimate talent here,” said Harris of the students receiving the honor to present. “We can really create the space where that talent can be recognized. Lipscomb is at a place now where all of us, if we work together, can create a place where the success of our students can be recognized.”
“There is really little point teaching in a Christian school unless you’re trying to reach your students and help them find their place and talents. So, to find those opportunities and give them those opportunities is really important, and that’s what we do here at Lipscomb,” she said.
Harris encourages her students to submit their work to magazines and highlights that from an editor’s perspective, there is no difference between her and the students. She prioritizes not only relevance in her field, but empowering her students to start their career now, not after they graduate. “I tell them that if they’ll take mine, they’ll take theirs. I want to be intentional about figuring out a way to include that professional piece for the students so they can be empowered,” said Harris.
One way in which Lipscomb supports this faculty effort is through events such as the Student Scholars Symposium on April 12. This year’s symposium will include two full poetry panels at which students may present. Further, Lipscomb strives to inspire with lectures from prominent figures across the disciplines. The Christian Scholars’ Conference, June 6-8, is set to include 2017-2018 U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith as one of the plenary speakers.
“She’s the real deal, a really big deal,” said Harris of Smith’s upcoming visit to campus. “She has a poem about David Bowie, so I’m a fan,” she laughed. Harris taught Smith’s book, “Life on Mars,” for which Smith received a Pulitzer Prize in 2011, in the advanced poetry class last spring. Teaching current poets such as Smith in the advanced class is important to Harris.
“I try to not have the same reading list each year. I think it’s good for them to see books that have been published within the last five years so they get a sense of poetry now,” she said. “A lot of times, classes teach what poetry has been like, and it’s important that we include in the conversation that it is fluid and changing, and that there is more than one way to write a poem.”
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