Tuesday, March 5
Smith Center Browsing Lounge
Room 238 7:30 p.m.
The life and accomplishments of PSU professor and poet Philip Jenks seem roped in from a myriad of disparate directions. He seems to unify them in his university studies classroom, and in his new collection of poetry, “On the Cave You Live In.” Not afraid of the experimental or the interdisciplinary, his academic pursuits reflect a strong interest in bringing the world together under a variety of lenses. His writing allows readers to feel like they have lifted the rural South into their hands. Jenks reads at Smith Center this Tuesday presented by the PSU Literary Arts Council.
Jenks was raised in the Mid-Atlantic South and first arrived in Portland to study political science at Reed College. While studying Appalachian politics – particularly relationships between stereotypes, power and poverty – he also focused on writing and publishing poetry. Upon graduation his desire to write beat out the security of working at a law firm.
Boston University’s Creative Writing master’s program was his next stop. While there he mixed the ivy league with the underground. He studied with recent National Laureate Robert Pinsky and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. He also published a chapbook, “The Elms Left Elm Street,” through the press of Zach Barocas, then drummer for much-missed D.C. postpunk band Jawbox.
Jenks found himself back south, earning his doctorate at University of Kentucky and defending his dissertation, “Foucault, Arendt, and the Norplant Condition in Liberal America: New Reproductive Technologies, Public Bodies, and Disciplinary Liberalism.” As that title may not suggest, poetry was still looming large in his life. At the invitation of poet and Reed compatriot Alicia Cohen, two days after his thesis defense he read in Buffalo, home of SUNY Buffalo’s Poetics Program with poet Robert Creeley. The event became yet another turning point for Jenks. Re-united with Cohen, the two decided to return to Portland and concentrate on the arts. They have recently formed the arts group PACIFIC SWITCHBOARD.
In an e-mail statement Jenks professed an interest in experimental poetry and an appreciation for poets from Dickinson to Susan Howe. “What really matters to me when it comes to poetry,” he stated, “is an honest, democratic avenue for human expression. It is the wild encounter with the imagination, a free space without limits and with infinite possibility. No publication, no award, none of that can compare with that experience and reality.”
“On the Cave You Live In,” his new book, is an assault of powerful images arranged in succinct angular structures. The inescapable feel of the feminism of his doctoral dissertation and the spirit and dignity of the long suffering Southern Appalachians of his undergraduate work show through occasionally, but what is truly powerful is his choice of words.
There is much to behold in this collection, much like the amalgamation of experiences Jenks brings to PSU. He is quite probably the only university official today to publish a book featuring a jacket blurb by the Royal Trux’ Neil Michael Hagerty. Jenks’ reading on Tuesday will hopefully cover some of the many projects and publications he is involved in that could not be covered here. Admission is free to students and faculty.