Faculty Reading Recommendations
Michael Thurston, Professor of English
Michael Thurston came to Smith in 2000 by way of Yale University, where he served for five years on the English faculty, two of those years as co-director the school’s Bass Writing Program. After completing his undergraduate studies in English and history at the University of North Texas, he completed doctoral studies in English at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Thurston, who serves on the Smith College Poetry Center Committee, teaches courses on American poetry, modern British and Irish poetry, and American literature. He is the author of Making Something Happen: American Political Poetry between the World Wars (2001) and The Underworld in Twentieth-Century Poetry: from Pound to Eliot to Heaney and Walcott (2009), as well as essays on notable American, British, and Irish writers. He is currently writing a guide to postwar British and Irish poetry and a book on Cape Cod.
Here are Professor Thurston's responses to our questions:
Q. What are three books in your field that you feel are most helpful/interesting for lay readers who want to learn more?
There are plenty of books in which you can watch the pros read poems (a couple of good recent ones are Jahan Ramazani’s Transnational Poetics and Jerome McGann’s The Point Is To Change It), but I don’t know how interesting they would be to someone who doesn’t already read poems themselves. There are numerous books about how to read poems, but I don’t know that they’re necessary. I’d much rather people just read poems themselves. Robert Frost is a good gateway drug for modern poetry. So is Edna St. Vincent Milay. Once you’re hooked, then it’s fun to move on to the hard stuff, say Rae Armantrout’s Versed, which won the Pulitzer Prize last year, or Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, which merges mythology and modern times. Don’t worry about what it all means, at least at first; just enjoy the pleasure of pronouncing the words, the fun of finding your way through the lines. Meaning emerges in the singing of the song, so read out loud until it starts to sink in.
Q. What books have influenced your life?
Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. There is no god, there are no rules, and the world breaks everybody one way or another. Even the codes we make up for ourselves to live by are subject to being broken under the right circumstances, and it’s hard to be hard-boiled in the middle of the night. Given all that, what can we do? Go fishing with a friend. Help out the beloved who’s gone off with someone else. And sign the wire with love.
Q. What are you reading now?
Harry Mathews’s The Conversions, which is a lot like Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, by which I mean to compliment both. But the book I’ve read this year that I really loved and want you all to go and pick up is Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, which Julio Cortazar wrote with his wife, Carol Dunlop, back in the early 80s. It’s about time.