Tag Archives: BA in Creative Writing

Claudia Keelan: Female Troubadours and Feminism

Trobairitz

As a Creative Writing major, I’ve written poems, plays, prose. As an Italian minor, I’ve studied language extensively, including literature in other languages. Despite that, before studying it in my poetry workshop, I’d never given translation much thought. I never considered translation a form of creative writing; if the original was the creative writing piece, the translator seemed to be merely the messenger.

However, studying translation and the work of Claudia Keelan gave me a new perspective. Keelan takes the poems of the trobairitz, the female troubadours of the 1100s and 1200s, and translates them into modern day English, bringing them into this century with words like “swag,” “dude,” and “girlfriend” featured prominently. Clearly, these are not direct translations of poetry from the 12th and 13th centuries. A lot of choice and intentionality goes into translating a poem – aside from the liberties one can take with diction, there are line breaks, punctuation, and a rhyme scheme or lack thereof to consider. For Keelan, one of her major focuses was maintaining the musicality of the pieces, and so rhyme and rhythm characterize the verses.

Her passion for the topic made both the poetry and the reading compelling – when she spoke to our poetry class, she referred to the trobairitz as her “sisters” and lamented that she “missed them.” Interesting, given that when she was introduced to the poems, Keelan didn’t like them and felt they were flat and bland. After some research, however, an initial disdain turned into a twenty year endeavor. In the end, she wrote the poems of the trobairitz in a period of about six months, but the preparation and language learning took much, much longer. Keelan mentioned that she feels she “participated in a canonical American English translation,” given that the poetry of the troubadours has been translated into music countless times. However, the trobairitz, the female troubadours, have not been translated as frequently.

And that’s why these translations are important. Claudia Keelan took these young women from a distant time, these women so defined by the social systems they were forced to work with, and revitalized their voices. From a “feminist” point of view and a “heretical Catholic – as in, no one’s going to define my Catholicism” point of view, Keelan greatly respected what the trobairitz had to say about their places in society and their “religion of love” at a time when marriage was seen as a social transaction and marrying for love, as is the social norm today, was a nonexistent concept. Though the male troubadours used more wit and vocabulary in their poems, Keelan commended and admired the trobairitz for their honesty. When asked why she chose to modernize the language, Keelan explained that “their problems, difficulties, pains, and happinesses are modern.” And so they are. Claudia Keelan took those modern sentiments, that raw honesty, and reworked them into terms and a language we are able to understand. Her decisions make these translations uniquely hers; her commitment to this art enabled the trobairitz’ voices to reach new generations.

Thanks to Claudia Keelan, I now understand the difficulty of translation, the art, the originality, the creativity – and, perhaps most importantly, the sheer power.

Kinsey Cantrell
Sophomore

Say “Yes!”: Career Advice from Beth Harrison

Last week, we welcomed Beth Harrison to Miami’s campus for this year’s Gutsche lecture. The Gutsche lecture series allows us to bring back highly successful Miami English Department alumni each year to speak about their experiences in the professional sphere and offer advice to Miami students who are on the brink of entering that sphere. Beth Harrison graduated from Miami in 1992 with a B.A. in Creative Writing. A handful of her most notable job titles include: Interim Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, Director of Development & External Relations at the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, publishing editor at Oxford University Press and Princeton Architectural Press, Managing Director of the Discover Outdoors Foundation, and founding editor of literary magazine Spinning Jenny.

beth harrison

Beth Harrison is a prominent figure in the literary world nowadays, but during her talk she made sure to emphasize that she used to be just as clueless as anybody else. When she graduated, she had no idea what her future looked like. When asked if she still considers herself to be somewhat clueless she said yes, and that she hopes to stay that way. For Harrison, it is the process of figuring things out, day by day, that keeps life interesting.

Harrison was gracious enough to lay down advice in bulk. These tokens were taken from her treasure trove of knowledge and experience, as well as her colleagues’. Here is a simplified list of the top 10 points she made:

  1. Say “Yes!” to opportunities, big and small. A willingness to learn new things, even things that don’t seem immediately relevant, is imperative for developing a broad arsenal of skills. Plus, one thing tends to lead to another, and that initial “Yes!” was the first step on the road to something greater.
  2. Determine what you’re passionate about, and then write to your heroes/heroines in that field. You’d be surprised by how many of them will take the time to write you back and do their parts to help you achieve your goals.
  3. English skills are incredibly versatile, so don’t pigeonhole yourself! Just because you’ve graduated with a degree in Creative Writing doesn’t mean you must become a writer. Strong writing skills are important in any line of work. Jobs for good writers, in a variety of industries, are more abundant than you might think.
  4. Keep in touch with your professors and mentors. If these people have been influential in your life, there’s no reason their influence should cease merely because a semester has ended or you’ve graduated.
  5. Don’t be afraid to take a job because it’s not your dream job. If it’s a good job and you need it, then take it.
  6. Read. A lot. Here a few of the websites she recommended specifically:
  1. Manage your online image. If you don’t think potential employers are actually going to peruse your profiles, think again.
  2. Write thank-you notes. For every interview. For every favor. For every connection or name or idea someone gives you related to your career search.
  3. Learn to code. In this day and age, knowing how to create a basic website or blog is a huge asset. Having even just an elementary understanding of code will make you an attractive candidate in our digitizing world.
  4. Do things one step at a time. The greatest works of literature ever written were all written the same way – one word at a time. Try not to get too overwhelmed by what’s coming, and focus on what’s right here, right now.

Harrison is extremely charismatic. After the conclusion of her talk, students waited around for nearly 45 minutes to speak with her one-on-one. She shared with us that some of her favorite poetry at the moment is anything written by Robert Creeley, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and Void and Compensation by Michael Morse.

Beth Harrison gave a room full of English majors the glimmer of hope they needed, especially at this pivotal point in a long semester, to have faith in their education and have faith in themselves. Graduating from college is daunting, and hearing Beth Harrison talk about going through the same things they’re going through now was a much-needed boost of motivation.