Featured Image: ‘Flag’ by Jasper Johns, 1954, in the Museuem of Modern Art, NYC
This summer sixteen lucky LJMU students had the opportunity to spend 3 weeks at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, USA, and I was one of them. Our two universities have set up a ‘transatlantic alliance’ to open up possibilities for study abroad for their students. SCSU laid on a full and exciting programme of activities across Connecticut for us, and these are my English-related highlights!
Libraries I Saw
Obviously the first thing I needed to know as an English student abroad was, where is the nearest library? Southern’s Hilton .C. Buley Library on campus was my first stop. Don’t tell the Aldham Robarts, but it was a pretty impressive building, smack bang in the middle of the beautiful New Haven campus (the sunshine helped too, I guess). The library boasts some very fancy Tiffany stained-glass windows and, most importantly, its own Starbucks, not to mention an array of spectacular and comfortable chairs and, you know, books and that.
Next up on our guided tour was Yale University in New Haven, a stone’s throw from Southern, but also somehow worlds apart. Their library is nicknamed ‘The Cathedral of Knowledge’ because it was designed by a guy who wanted to build cathedrals not libraries so he built a cathedral, and the poor students of Yale now have to endure its grandeur everytime they want to study. It was a stunning sight even in the rain (it’s okay the rest of the time it was at least 27 degrees so don’t fret about us) but we didn’t get far enough around it to actually see any books. Still, not bad Yale, although a Starbucks wouldn’t hurt (I jest) (it’s my quirky British sense of humour).
Our gruelling schedule meant I didn’t get a chance to indulge in another library until a weekend off, when I travelled into New York City (less than 2 hours on the train!) and visited the NY Public Library. Again, not so hot on the books in there but I did get to pretend I was in Ghostbusters. Being the eager library-goer I am I arrived before the library opened on a Sunday and was greeted by bagpipers on the steps before heading inside to explore and take a moment to rest, and read (I brought my own books of course), in the fancy Salomon Room.
English Lectures at SCSU
It wasn’t all fun and tourism though, we were, very occasionally, given lectures by some of the Southern staff, including a lecture titled ‘A Comparison of the Corporate/Business Governance Regimes of the US and UK’ in the Business School and a Criminal Justice lecture by Chief Dooley of the University Police. Of course the best lectures, as always, were the English lectures delivered by Professors Brian Johnson and Chuck Baraw. Prof Johnson lectured on Robert Frost’s New England poetry and his legacy, according to Lionel Trilling, as ‘a terrifying poet’. Through immersive readings of 3 poems-‘Neither Out Far nor In Deep’, ‘For Once, Then, Something’, and ‘Fireflies in the Garden’ he talked about Frost’s sense of longing which was somehow peaceful but not calm, concluding that he falls just short of madness as “the uncle of the darkside”. It was a really wonderful and memorable lecture and I was pleased to get the chance to participate and read out ‘For Once, Then, Something’. Prof Baraw followed with a lecture titled ‘The Invention of Mark Twain, Adventure Capitalist’, talking us through Twain’s many bizarre money making ventures including his investment in the ‘Paige auto type setter’, which bankrupted him. The lecture set us up well for our visit to Twain’s house the next day (which you can read about here) giving us an idea of his working life which mixed a sense of “nostalgic adventure, social satire and entrepreneurial adventure”.
A Poetry Reading At Lyric Hall
The final English-related outing of our trip (besides all the book stores I went in which I shan’t bore you with (unless you want to know – call me!)) was a visit to the gorgeous Lyric Hall in New Haven to hear the gorgeous poetry of LJMU Creative Writing lecturer and poet extraordinaire, Andrew McMillan. Lyric Hall is a truly wonderful building which was bought and restored by a chap called John Cavaliere in 2006. In the day John restores and conserves antiques in the front room but behind that is a cosy little bar and an amazing theatre space, where we had the priviledge of hearing Andrew read from his collection Physical. I was too excited and blown away by the amazing building and the incredible reading, not to mention the spread of fine cheeses and cold-cuts on offer, to take any photographs of this evening but I promise you it was astounding. You can learn about Lyric Hall here and you should definitely buy Andrew’s book and read it if you haven’t already and I hope you’ll get a chance to hear him read, even if it’s not in such a lovely place as Lyric Hall.