This year’s Shawangunk Review is dedicated to Professor Pauline Uchmanowicz, as the topics of the Spring 2020 Graduate Symposium collected in this volume represent her research interests and literary loves of rhetoric, poetry, graphic novel, and more. Pauline graduated summa cum laude from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1981, earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1985, and then received a Ph.D. in Composition from the University of Rhode Island in 1993. She joined the English Department faculty at New Paltz in 1996, received tenure in 2002 and was promoted to full professor in the spring of 2019.
Pauline served as Coordinator of the Composition Program and Director of the Creative Writing Program. She innovated courses on our campus in multiethnic literature and graphic literature. She mentored and trained many future educators and professionals in our Teaching Assistant Program. I had the pleasure of being her student (undergrad and grad), then working with her as a TA, and we became close—first, when she was my MA thesis advisor, then later when I was her assistant in the Composition Program. During my last semester in grad school, I presented an excerpt of my paper on Anne Sexton’s work for the Fifteenth Graduate Symposium she coordinated in 2003, “‘This Be the Verse’: Poetry Past and Present.” It is no surprise to those who knew her that Pauline would choose Larkin’s nursery-rhyme-like poem about how parents will inevitably “pass misery” on to their children, as the cycle goes for every generation; Larkin ends with the warning to “get out as early as you can / and don’t have any kids yourself” (lines 11-12). I heard Pauline recite this piece many times over the years, and I never tired of it because of how much she clearly enjoyed herself (not least of all scandalizing students with its profanity). She was committed to telling it like it is (as Larkin does), and to committing poems to memory so she would never have to be without her favorites. Those she kept close were well deserving of that care (Yeats’s “The Second Coming,” Plath’s “Morning Song,” and many others, including her own precisely crafted poems).
Pauline was a skilled poet, essayist, reviewer, and food columnist. Her poetry appeared in some of the best literary journals, including Commonweal, Indiana Review, Ohio Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Ploughshares. She published one poetry collection, Starfish (Twelve Winters, 2016), and two chapbooks, Sand & Traffic (Codhill, 2004) and Inchworm Season (Finishing Line, 2010). She nurtured many aspiring student authors and ushered numerous writers, in particular poets, into print as an Associate Editor at Codhill Press.
This volume reminds me very clearly what Pauline gave of herself; her generous heart, her knowledge, her strong opinions, her determination, her irreverent humor, her time, her perfect verse, her perfectionist vision, and her belief in and highest respect for the genre of poetry, whether observational, or witty, or dead serious, or spiritual, as long as the poem was as Elizabeth Bishop said, “hundreds of things coming together at the right moment.” Poetry, whether worldly in its rhetoric or a sort of canticle, whether ending in epiphany or apocalypse, or elements of both, should “target the depths of human intimacy and loss, reconciled against the vastness of the ocean and infinity of the cosmos—topics derived from personal geography, both literal and of the imagination,” according to Pauline’s essay from Reflecting Pool: Poets and the Creative Process (Codhill, 2018). This was her own artistic vision. My hope is that the poems in this volume may perform some of this alchemy for our readers. At the very least, may they honor Pauline’s remarkable life, momentous influence, and bring more readers to her own exceptional poetry. Her piece, “Elements of Style,” featured here, is named for the classic Strunk & White guide to writing lucid prose, and begins: “What if poets had to pick? The ocean or the stars. / A reputation in truth telling or a prize in diplomacy?” (lines 1-2).
Pauline lives on in her colleagues, friends, family, and former students in our love and admiration for her, and for her words. We must speak and think of her often. When we recall an outrageous thing she said over coffee or wine leaving behind her signature bright stain of lipstick, or reflect on the way she would unexpectedly pause mid-conversation and pull a poem from memory, lean into the lines, conjuring awe, she will continue to inspire us: to listen, to pay attention, to celebrate life and art, to be better, to write as well as she believed, no, knew we could, and will—to create truth and beauty wherever possible, simply from having known her.
Note: Some of the above biography was originally composed by Dr. Nancy Johnson & Dr. Stella Deen for a commemorative display exhibited in the Sojourner Truth Library in October 2019.