BETHANY, W.Va. – Dr. James A. Hall, Assistant Professor of English at Bethany College, will be presenting a reading of poems from his award-winning book, “Now You’re the Enemy,” at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4 in the Phillips Hall Lounge. Hall’s reading has been selected as part of the College’s annual Helen Louise McGuffie Lecture Series and will be open to the public.
“Now You’re the Enemy” is Hall’s first book but his work has drawn critical acclaim for years. Hall has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and received two scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the nation’s oldest writers’ conference. His poems have appeared in such literary journals as TriQuarterly, Boston Review, Alaska Quarterly Review and American Letters and Commentary.
“I realized in 2003 that I had composed a series of poems about my mother and about adult love,” Hall said. “I began to build a book with a narrative arc that could bridge those two ideas. I wrote new work and revised old poems to that end. The oldest poem was written in 2002 and the last one in early 2007. The book won the University of Arkansas Press Poetry Series prize in June of 2007 and has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.”
An instructor of literature and creative writing at Bethany, Hall said one of the best things about continuing to teach while working on his book was that it gave him a unique tool to use for the benefit of his students. “Portrait of My Mother as Self-Fulfilling Philomena,” describing his mother’s affair with a brutal man, was the final poem written for the book and Hall dedicated it to three of his students.
“One semester, I was teaching Poetry Workshop,” Hall said. “During our discussion of revision, I wanted to be able to show students my own process. I hadn’t any drafts of my poems, so I wrote this new poem: eight drafts of it, to be exact. Beth Ferda, Caitlin Franklin and Sam Vuchenich were taking the course as an Independent Study at the advanced level. They were writing knockout poems — incredibly risky, brave things that inspired me as a writer and as a teacher. I’m indebted to them for that experience.”
“Now You’re the Enemy” explores themes of loss, the intersections of grief and desire and the ways in which history, art and culture combine to shape the individual. The author is the tour guide on a journey that introduces the reader to the author’s mother in such wildly disparate guises as the secessionist Republic of Texas, the protagonist of Rosemary’s Baby, a fake entry in an encyclopedia and the lost queen from King Lear.
The book is as much about the way we tell our stories as it is about the stories we tell. At the end of the trip, we learn that the enemy is sometimes the mother, but only when she turns on herself. In a larger sense, the real enemy is the culture which degrades, devalues and destroys certain people because of their identities.
Along with winning the University of Arkansas Press Poetry Series prize, “Now You’re the Enemy” was a finalist for the prestigious Walt Whitman Book Award and a semifinalist for the Crab Orchard/Open Competition Book Award. It has been welcomed with open arms by critics.
Hall already has two more projects in the works. One is a new manuscript of poems about masculinity, sexuality and spirituality. The other is a memoir, titled “I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well,” about a particularly colorful family.
The Helen Louise McGuffie Lecture Series began at Bethany College in 1982 when an endowment was established in honor of Dr. Helen Louise McGuffie ’36. The late Dr. McGuffie served two terms as Chair of Bethany’s English Department (1954-74, 77-80) and was a noted author and scholar.