Time for the Professoriate to Lead the Way


Time for the Professoriate to Lead the Way

by William Trent Pancoast

It’s about time for working folks to stand up for themselves. Walmart workers haven’t been able to get it done. The old line unions are still reeling from the ongoing attacks begun by Reagan and continued by the right wing.

It looks to me like it should happen on our college campuses, and it should for starters be about adjunct instructors having a chance to make a living wage with benefits. That will require that tenured faculty support adjuncts. Much of the bargaining success of the United Auto Workers resulted from skilled and unskilled (high wage and low wage) belonging to the same union. Tenured faculty, making $50,000-$175,000 annual pay with health care and retirement, and adjuncts, making piecework of roughly $400 to $1000 per credit hour taught with no benefits, must join together. They need to form unions, bargain, and be willing to go on strike if necessary. If the brightest group in our country can’t take on the right wing corporatists, who can?

I’m calling out the Professoriate. Folks who spend eight to twelve years in undergraduate, masters, and PhD programs and are respected for their achievements, intelligence, and contributions to our society and civilization. Someone needs to take on the global corporations killing the planet and demeaning the humans on it. Someone needs to take on the corporatization of our universities that has resulted in up to 75% of college instructors serving as low paid temps. Who is better positioned to fight this war than the best educated and most intellectually capable group among us?

The middle and working classes continue to be stunted. They need raises. Benefits. Retirement. Some hope for the future. While the middle class needs to regain its losses, the working class needs its ladder put back.

Walmart seemed like the Great Labor Hope. Its employees have organized in some areas and done informational pickets and strikes. A nationwide strike by Walmart employees would result in a good contract within 48 hours. Once Walmart’s bean counters told the brass that what the striking employees wanted was what the company had lost in two days, the middle class would be on its way back. But the national momentum is not there for Walmart workers to organize. Many are ignorant of unions and scared for the minimum wage jobs they need. Maybe just like adjuncts.

The industrial unions in steel, auto, glass, and rubber have been decimated by off-shoring and never-ending attacks on wages and benefits. The Big Three, after the 2008 collapse of capitalism as we know it, is finally profitable again with workers perhaps getting raises after seven years of givebacks. (Please don’t tell me about Ford. The only reason they didn’t go bankrupt is that they borrowed every nickel of equity in the company before the depression began in 2008.) The United Auto Workers can’t even organize the transplants, most of which are in the south, even though the foreign factories are sweatshops with 50% temps making low wages with no benefits.

Lately refinery and port workers have gone on strike and improved their situations. The United Auto Workers were recently in Detroit at their Special Bargaining Convention, an event that not long ago set this country’s social agenda through what it decided to bargain for—vacations and sick leave, retirement and safety, apprenticeships and worker training, unemployment compensation and civil rights, family leave and health care, always health care, always trying to negotiate a one payer system for every citizen. Labor set the agenda after World War II to develop and protect our middle class. It is now next to powerless and nothing has so far taken its place.

The college Professoriate should be the group to take on the corporatism in the university system by addressing the adjunct crisis and securing good pay, benefits, and job security for all college instructors. The ruckus they make in accomplishing this task will help move the discussion, and our middle class, forward. They have the brain power, work ethic, and hopefully the moral compass to get the job done.

How would they do it? A lot of frustration has been moldering in the ranks of the adjuncts. They are the institutional temps whose low wages and lack of benefits are carrying the load in higher education. The tenured faculty should also be open to the chance to lead the way in saving our middle class. They surely understand that unless the bottom ranks are protected by labor unions, they themselves, or their successors, will become adjuncts. As tenured professors retire, many will not be replaced. Then a day will come when none are replaced.

Everything about higher education and the Professoriate is involved in this social venture of taking back our universities from the education corporatists: economics and law, literacy, every science, the humanities, government, medicine, religion. No segment of academia would get a by. Of course they would need to acknowledge their own dire conditions. Academia would need to step up to organize and educate.

It is not difficult to tap into the framework of unionism today. Call the United Auto Workers at Solidarity House in Detroit. Invite the office professionals (OEPIU) in. The unions will respond big time. They can have the infrastructure for adjunct organizing in place quickly. Start a new union. Use the brave adjuncts who led the recent walkout and informational pickets on Adjunct Day last February. They have a framework in place.
Maybe I’m a crackpot, some kind of dinosaur pushing for a solution from the past. Maybe I’m generalizing that Solidarity is even possible in such diverse ranks as the Professoriate. Maybe I’m crazy to suggest such an idea—that the best educated, but also the most exploited, group in America today should go to war against global corporations, and specifically corporatism in education, in order to redefine and strengthen our middle class so that it can survive another generation.

But nothing will change the truth of the matter at hand. The corporatists are trashing our economy and educational system by taking more resources for themselves at the expense of the workers on the bottom. If our country’s Professoriate will not step forward and engage the enemy, who will?


William Trent Pancoast’s recent fiction has appeared in Night Train, Revolver, Steel Toe Revue, and Fried Chicken and Coffee. His novels are Wildcat and Crashing, with a third, Valley Real Estate, soon to appear. His story collection Vietnam. Fucking Vietnam is looking for a publisher. Pancoast spent 25 years as a labor newspaper editor and is a 1972 graduate of the Ohio State University. He lives in Ontario, Ohio.

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By Devin Kelly

We are discussing the roots of things. How phobia
means fear of, and we make them up. Bookaphobia.
Classroomaphobia. Girlaphobia. I say there will be
a quiz. They laugh. It is evening in a small room
in Queens where the desks are miniatures
of the things they should be and the children
sitting in them too close to me and my coffee
so soon done. Then I ask them if they are afraid.
Then I ask them of what. The word penis. Spiders.
The people who hate me for my name. How a moment
turning stills to a moment stilled. How silence,
even in silence, breathes. Their pages of homework
loiter upon their desks. Fifteen words they had
never seen before, and fifteen meanings, written out
beside. Benevolent. Ailurophile. I spoke, upon the hearing,
of opposites, to think of words as people, rooted,
experimenting with different prefixes. To think of words
as lovers, hungry for what it might be they want.
What is her name? It lingers a moment before
it hassles its way out of my mouth. The shape it takes,
unfamiliar, awkward. A word I have never spoken before.
And her skin brown. How she taught me the way
to count to ten in Arabic. The people who hate me
for my name. The people who hate me. The people.
Across an ocean, a man kneeling does not see the hand
that holds the gun that fires the bullet that splits
his head in two. Across an ocean, someone laughs
at a fence of severed heads. I do not know
what to teach anymore. Graphophobia. Philophobia.
Fear of writing, fear of love. And all these children
who do not have a name for their sorrow. At night,
in bed, I turn her name for the hundredth time
and find its beauty. The soft grace of wanting
to be held. A child, scared, moving in dark
from room to room to find the mother who named her,
the father, too, and their reasons why.

Today’s poem originally appeared in Rattle and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. His collaborative chapbook with Melissa Smyth, This Cup of Absence, is forthcoming from Anchor & Plume Press. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, Armchair/Shotgun, Post Road, RATTLE, The Millions, Appalachian Heritage, Midwestern Gothic, The Adirondack Review, and more, and his essay “Love Innings” was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in Manhattan, teaches Creative Writing and English classes to high schoolers in Queens, and lives in Harlem. You can find him on twitter @themoneyiowe.

Editor’s Note: June 26, 2015 was a day of imperative progress in American history. A day of change. A day when love triumphed. I celebrated this historic event in the most wonderful way I could have imagined, at the wedding of two women whose love is beshert. But when one of the brides gave her speech, she reminded us that there is still more to be done. “Today we celebrate,” she said, “but tomorrow, we keep fighting.” Even amidst a joy so great she shared it with the entire country, the blushing bride reminded us that we can—and should—always be working to make the world a better place.

Today’s poem was written in response to Islamophobia. A Muslim girl in a classroom. What is she afraid of? “The people who hate me for my name.” The families of the victims of a racist hate crime—a terrorist act—in Charleston, SC have what to teach us about love and forgiveness. But what are they truly the victims of? “The people who hate me. The people.” We speak words today that carry with them the chalk outlines of the hatred that flows from fear: Black Lives Matter; I can’t breathe. “I do not know / what to teach anymore,” writes the poet, but he knows “all these children / who do not have a name for their sorrow.”

Let us shout our joy from the rooftops and dance in the streets because yesterday love won. And today, tomorrow, and in the days to come, let us fight until love triumphs over fear and hatred, until there is justice and equality for all.

Want more from Devin Kelly?
The Adirondack Review
District Lit
Little Fiction
Devin Kelly – Published Work

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By Gerard Manley Hopkins

I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night, in the white and the walk of the morning:
The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe of a finger-nail held to the candle,
Or paring of paradisaïcal fruit, lovely in waning but lustreless,
Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow, of dark Maenefa the mountain;
A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him, entangled him, not quit utterly.
This was the prized, the desirable sight, unsought, presented so easily,
Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889) was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and a Jesuit priest, whose posthumous fame established him among the leading Victorian poets. His experimental explorations in prosody (especially sprung rhythm) and his use of imagery established him as a daring innovator in a period of largely traditional verse. (Annotated biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem appears here on the recommendation of my mother, a faithful reader of this series. As this coming Monday is her birthday, and the moon her ruling planet, I wanted to share this poem with you today in her honor. Happy Birthday, Mama! May you forever shine as brightly as the moon.

Want to read more by and about Gerard Manley Hopkins?
The Poetry Foundation
Academy of American Poets

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By Patty Paine

Go back to that stream, touch
your lips to the cold, clear quivering,
draw into yourself a time when it was simple
as this to be quenched, to draw in what was
needed. Walk back over the dewed grass
of your past, past the water tower you filled
with dark imaginings, feel
the air crisp & clean on your skin, call
this hope, and carry it
to these moments when a photograph
can send you spiraling, your husband
now six months gone, waiting at the bottom
of an escalator in some airport
or another, everyone hurrying to be somewhere
else, except for this one man, waiting
for you to descend. How a face can be
indelible, yet fade so quickly, is an alchemy
best left unknowable. Hold that sting
of hope, and call out
the name of one who ministered
to you, over & over, until from the dark
you hear your own name return
to you, wild, and rising and clear.

Today’s poem originally appeared in Thrush and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Patty Paine is the author of Grief & Other Animals (Accents Publishing), The Sounding Machine (Accents Publishing), Feral (Imaginary Friend Press), Elegy & Collapse (Finishing Line Press), and co-editor of Gathering the Tide: An Anthology of Contemporary Arabian Gulf Poetry (Garnet Publishing & Ithaca Press) and The Donkey Lady and Other Tales from the Gulf (Berkshire Academic Press). Her poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared in Blackbird, Verse Daily, The Atlanta Review, Gulf Stream, The Journal and many other publications. She is the founding editor of diode poetry journal and Diode Editions. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar where she teaches writing and literature, and is Interim Director of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is one I encourage you to read over and over. For each reading is like opening the next layer of a Russian doll, and there is always more waiting to be discovered within. While one reading simply does not do the poem justice, you honor yourself, dear reader, each time you slip deeper into these words.

Start in media res. Start in motion. Begin not at the beginning, but by turning back. The world of the poem is visceral. Go on, touch the stream, feel the “cold, clear quivering.” Go deeper now. “[D]raw into yourself a time when it was simple / as this to be quenched, to draw in what was / needed.” Move backwards; a poem—a life—in rewind. Let the story unfold in this way—cinematic, emotive, devastating. Let the reverse motion be what propels you forward. You are Lot’s Wife. You are Orpheus. There is only looking back, but looking back leaves you alone in the dark, “hear[ing] your own name return / to you, wild, and rising and clear.”

What a fraught landscape, yes, but what a gift to have been taken on such a journey by such a guide.

Want more from Patty Paine?
Buy The Sounding Machine from Amazon
Buy Feral from Imaginary Friend Press
diode poetry journal
Diode Editions
Interview on The Best American Poetry blog

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A Review of Sarah Marcus’s Backcountry

Sarah Marcus Backcountry

A Review of Sarah Marcus’s Backcountry

by Karen Skolfield

In my review copy of Sarah Marcus’s chapbook from Finishing Line Press, Marcus includes a friendly, cheerful handwritten note to me which she signs “Love & Bears.” Love – a not-unusual sign off, and she knew my gender, so it’s the salutation between two women writers, but bears? And I look at the title: Backcountry. Of course. Where there are bears.

Turns out, in the backcountry there’s also plenty of love, so Marcus was giving me a succinct preview of her book. There’s love and its near-opposite, a couple we see struggling in their relationship, their lives. By placing the couple so often in the outdoors, the usual trappings of domesticity disappear: no one’s fixing the indoor plumbing as a sign the romance has gone out of the relationship, no one’s passive aggressively leaving dishes in the sink. Instead, they’re looking at maps, watching for storms, telling stories and dreaming, building a fire, building a fire again, that deep symbol of made and shared warmth, the collapse into coals, and is that good or bad? – Marcus lets us answer that question ourselves, even as this couple cycles through unhealthy behavior that may or may not be healthier than the lives they lived without each other.

The couple flashes in and out of the backcountry and a more urban and expected life, both offering their unique dangers. The way a simple rain can turn into a flash flood, “how water steals faces but leaves bodies.” A car rusting in a driveway as the woman contemplates the relationship. What a boat’s spinning propeller can do. When a coyote follows the woman and the couple take up a gun and bow, it’s clear this is not a real coyote but the specter of the relationship’s disintegration they’re warding off.

We hear that howl. We wish the couple well.

I should say: We sort of wish them well. This is a couple we sense shouldn’t be. Still, if this invented couple were all prairie paintbrush and squeaking marmots, all fireweed – the flower that blooms prolifically and purple after wildfire has scarred the landscape black – we’d be disappointed. We need their struggles and their troubles. We know those troubles, and hope we’re mostly beyond them, or won’t stumble into them again. We’ve been the man, telling her “not to make this more difficult than it needs to be.” We’ve been the woman saying everything’s fine, but “annoyed they’ve hiked all these miles to have the same conversation they’ve had at their kitchen table hundreds of times before.” We’re the looming need for rehab, the possibility of prison or a psych ward, the needle scars, the parent dying, the waste of looking for completion through another person instead of through the self.

Though I’m spending time telling the stories, that’s not to say it’s the only reason to keep reading. The narrative arc is pleasing, no doubt, but it’s the fineness of the poems and the finesse of language that makes each poem worthwhile. Like a tracker, I follow Marcus’s language, looking for the misstep in the mudbank – the classic mistake of a creature not wanting to be noticed – but there are no missteps here. Marcus’s chap is the literary equivalent of walking on rocks, each line firm and carefully placed. The endings are an absolute pleasure, never forced, and when I go back through and read them I notice that all but three or four of them end on the woman’s actions or point of view, and maybe this shouldn’t be surprising but I’m enormously pleased by this. Toward the end of the book, the softer third person switches to first person, the hammer of it – there’s been a major shift in the relationship – and it’s dizzying and perfect, both sad and triumphant.

And not to give too many spoilers, but there are bears, though not, perhaps, the bears you might expect. Take a woman and a man. Add some hardships and addiction. Have the adults deal with those things again and again. Now add bears – see how the wildest things go on and live or die without us, see how they move on, as in dreams? That’s how it is, Marcus tells us, for good or ill. That’s what happens in the backcountry.

Sarah Marcus, Backcountry. Finishing Line Press, 2013: $14


Karen Skolfield is the author of FROST IN THE LOW AREAS (Zone 3 Press, 2013). She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two kids. She teaches technical writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she also earned her MFA. She is a contributing editor at Bateau Press and the literary magazine Stirring, and her poems have appeared in 2011 Best of the Net Anthology, Cave Wall, Memorious, Painted Bride Quarterly, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Verse DailyWest Branch, and others.



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By Amorak Huey:


It seems so important that I get this right—

memory choked with algae,
memory dried to nothing in the summer,

memory’s post-dawn sky already fevered with desire,
memory’s grass grabbing wet at my hungry ankles.

I remain the same lonely child I was,

never having learned the rules of prayer. Instead I offer
this uncurling body, this frog-song,
tornado-spike, voice-from-the-trees:

the word green
the word green
the word green


A sea of silk, a sky of stalk, a sun of ear and song.

There is a season for planting,
a season for harvest,

a moon-color for the storms between.

The lightning has something to do with nourishment,
something to do with need.


By our presence we alter the shape of the tree,

crook its looping limbs to suit our prayers,
our psalms and songs,
our cautionary tales.

It’s not the tree asking forgiveness
for its part in our most thoughtless acts—

our blossom-burst and leaf-turn,
our self-inflicted separations.

“The Pond in the Corner of the Yard” originally appeared in Thrush. Today’s poems appear here today with permission from the poet.

Amorak Huey is author of the chapbook The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2014) and the forthcoming poetry collection Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress Publications, 2015). A former newspaper editor and reporter, he teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poems appear in The Best American Poetry 2012, The Cincinnati Review, The Southern Review, The Collagist, Menacing Hedge, and many other print and online journals. Follow him on Twitter: @amorak.

Editor’s Note: I have had the pleasure of featuring Amorak Huey here on the Saturday Poetry Series before, and I am as struck by his poetry today as I was when I encountered it all those years ago. Is it the way he infuses the everyday with a touch of magic? Is it the fine line he conjures between nature and spirit and prayer? Perhaps it is the world he harvests, words sprouting from the earth as if from seeds, the quiet calm of the farm balanced by the weight of repetition, alliteration, form. It is as if you could part the corn stalks and encounter the poem. As if the poem could be turned over like earth, fertile ground for all the words that have yet to be planted.

Want more from Amorak Huey?
“Self-Portrait Following a Trail of Reese’s Pieces” in Radar
“When They Serialize My Life They’re Going to Have a Problem with 1993″ in disquieting muses quarterly
“The Fathers at the Little League Field” in Hobart
“Melon Heads” in Stirring from Sundress Publications

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By Tu Fu:


Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure;
And spring comes green again to trees and grasses
Where petals have been shed like tears
And lonely birds have sung their grief.
…After the war-fires of three months,
One message from home is worth a ton of gold.
…I stroke my white hair. It has grown too thin
To hold the hairpins any more.


This cloud, that has drifted all day through the sky,
May, like a wanderer, never come back….
Three nights now I have dreamed of you —
As tender, intimate and real as though I were awake.
And then, abruptly rising to go,
You told me the perils of adventure
By river and lake-the storms, the wrecks,
The fears that are borne on a little boat;
And, here in my doorway, you rubbed your white head
As if there were something puzzling you.
…Our capital teems with officious people,
While you are alone and helpless and poor.
Who says that the heavenly net never fails?
It has brought you ill fortune, old as you are.
…A thousand years’ fame, ten thousand years’ fame-
What good, when you are dead and gone.


It is almost as hard for friends to meet
As for the morning and evening stars.
Tonight then is a rare event,
Joining, in the candlelight,
Two men who were young not long ago
But now are turning grey at the temples.
…To find that half our friends are dead
Shocks us, burns our hearts with grief.
We little guessed it would be twenty years
Before I could visit you again.
When I went away, you were still unmarried;
But now these boys and girls in a row
Are very kind to their father’s old friend.
They ask me where I have been on my journey;
And then, when we have talked awhile,
They bring and show me wines and dishes,
Spring chives cut in the night-rain
And brown rice cooked freshly a special way.
…My host proclaims it a festival,
He urges me to drink ten cups —
But what ten cups could make me as drunk
As I always am with your love in my heart?
…Tomorrow the mountains will separate us;
After tomorrow-who can say?

(Today’s poems are in the public domain, belong to the masses, and appear here today accordingly. The translations are from The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse, Edited by A.R. Davis, Penguin Books, 1962.)

Tu Fu (712–770), also known as Du Fu, is considered with Li Po to be one of China’s greatest poets of the Tang dynasty. He is often described as a poet-historian, and his works convey the emotional impact and import of political and social issues and register a range of private concerns, trials, and dramas. His poems are remarkable for their range of moods as well as contents. According to one of his translators, David Hinton, “[Tu Fu] explored the full range of experience, and from this abundance shaped the monumental proportions of being merely human.” (Annotated biography of Tu Fu courtesy of The Poetry Foundation, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: Tu Fu’s poetry is timeless. More than 1,200 years after his poems were penned, they resonate as strongly as if they were written about life, love, and the world today. Today’s spring, which “comes green again to trees and grasses / Where petals have been shed like tears.” Today’s friendship: “what ten cups could make me as drunk / As I always am with your love in my heart?” Today’s questioning of loss: “What good, when you are dead and gone.”

Want to read more by and about Tu Fu?
The Poetry Foundation
Chinese Pomes: Du Fu Index
Translated Chinese Poetry: Poems by Tu Fu

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