Benedict and Smith organize reading to benefit the Food Bank of Northern Indiana
By C. SPENCER BEGGS
When the tragic events Sept. 11 occurred, relief efforts around the country mounted a massive campaign to help those in need in New York and Washington. Unfortunately, in the rush to get food, blood and medical assistance to the victims of the attacks and their families, area charitable organizations and food banks found that their resources were dangerously low. When Professor Matthew Benedict, assistant to the chair of the department of English, saw a news story that the Northern Indiana Food Bank was dangerously low in resources he decided to do something.
"I thought, it's time to do something to help the community here in South Bend," Benedict said.
Benedict decided to organize a literary event on campus to benefit the food bank. He and visiting professor Mike Smith, assistant director of creating writing in the department of English, will hold a joint reading of some of their works in the LaFortune Student Center ballroom Wednesday at 7 p.m. Attendees are asked to bring non-perishable food items and personal care products to donate.
The food drive has personal sentiments to Benedict as well. Food banks and charitable organizations played an important role in the life of his older brother Bobby, who died a few years ago. Benedict feels that participating in the reading is a way of thanking people who helped Bobby as well as honoring his memory.
"I think it's important to think about him as not just what he was, but who he was, as my brother. And people like him are someone's brother, someone's son, someone's daughter. So, my trying to do something for the Food Bank of Northern Indiana is my thanks to the people around the country who helped him or tried to help him in the course of his life," Benedict said.
Benedict will be reading his short story "Olympic Moments," about (among other things) dealing with fate. "Olympic Moments" has recently been picked up for publication this winter by the Vermont Literary Review, an annual literary review that is published by Castleton State College. The Vermont Literary Review publishes poetry from and about New England.
"Olympic Moments" is one of Benedict's newest works. He has three stories that will be published in the next eight months in two reviews and an online journal, his first foray into digital publishing. Previously, Benedict has published his writing in the Hamline Journal, The Byline, Sgraffito and Potpourri. He is also a contributing editor to The Notre Dame Review.
Besides being a working writer, Benedict also teaches Fiction Writing at the University. Interestingly enough, Benedict was also a student at Notre Dame. Benedict was a member of the fifth graduate class of the Creative Writing Program. He received his M.A. in English from the University in 1994 and has been teaching classes since 1993.
Benedict helps organize the eight to 10 literary events that take place on campus each year. He feels that bringing students in contact with professional writers is an important aspect of becoming a writer.
"It's a way for students not to just read work, or even workshop it in classroom, but also to see working writers and interact with working writers [to] ask them questions: how they approach their craft, how they handle problems, [or] publishing," Benedict said.
Smith, who will read some of his original poetry, was invited by Benedict to share the spotlight. Smith will read seven poems both published and unpublished including: "Anagramic Ode to Emily Dickinson," which is an anagram in three of Emily Dickinson poems, No. 241, No. 441 and No 475, rearranged to form a new poem. No letters are left out and none have been added left out none add. "Anagramic Ode to Emily Dickinson" was featured in the literary magazine Samizdat and The Possibility of Language, an anthology of work by people who have a connection to Notre Dame.
Smith will also read "Tips for a Traveler in the Land of Giants," which was published in Faultline, and "Lessons in Gravity."
Smith has been writing poetry for eight years since he was a senior at the University of North Carolina Greensborough. He received his master's degree from Hollins College and describes his style as eclectic.
"I'm sort of all over the place. About one out of nine of my poems is in some sort of recognizable form," Smith said.
The reading/food drive is co-sponsored by the Department of English and the Creative Writing Program, which is a rising start in the world of academia. The 12 year-old program has had recent student James Ellis Tomas' first published short story printed in the New Yorker as well as alumni Michael Collins' novel The Keepers of Truth shortlisted for the 2000 Booker Prize, Europe and Canada's answer to the Pulitzer.
But Benedict says that Wednesday is not about the gaining notoriety for Notre Dame's Creative Writing Program but about community awareness.
"I think events like this need to happen more on campus. There needs to be awareness that while we're [at Notre Dame] and we interact with each other, we also have to interact with the world around us. And South Bend has its needs and I think bringing the two together for an event like this able to show the community that we're not just here as an isolated little entity
. that we actually do care and there are people that do care what happens and recognize that being a member of a community means going outside one's immediate community," Benedict said.
Excerpt of "Olympic Moments" by Matthew Benedict
A different mode of being absent.
Maurice Blanchot, "Thomas the Obscure"
If another set of eyes were here, this is what they would see: a woman standing at a sink. She is staring out a small eight-over-eight paned window absentmindedly rinsing breakfast dishes. One cereal bowl, one spoon, one coffee mug. She is alone, and appears to be comfortably so. She is not wearing any jewelry, especially on her fingers, nor is there any in the small ceramic cruet on the window sill, so it is difficult to know whether this is a permanent condition.
The kitchen is large, rustic. There is enough space for a full-sized dining room table. It is of the bench-seat variety, for a large family. Utilitarian. As is the dιcor throughout the rest of the house. More Andrew Wyeth than Martha Stewart. Authentic, lived-in, not re-creational.
Handmade sun-catchers hang against the window panes and there is a large spider plant with several spiderettes hovering above the woman's head. Mason jars with spider cuttings and bean sprouts line the countertop and she is not unattractive, the woman, much like the kitchen she is in. She is in her mid-thirties and trim. Not thin; more in an athletic way. Long red hair, tied in a single thick braid hanging between her shoulder blades like a hawser. No make-up. She is wearing a heavy sweatshirt, khaki-style shorts, and scuffed hiking boots with coarse rag wool socks.
It is morning. It is also September, and there is that characteristic dampness in the air. A storm is approaching. These have been two of the few normal events this Cape Cod summer.
The woman seems to be rinsing the same few dishes over and over. It is this: a telegram lays on the table. It reads: "Arriving in Hyannis this afternoon Stop Renting car at airport Stop Should be there by three Stop Love You."
This is what is unusual a telegram. There is telephone, cell-phone, fax, email, but a telegram? So Nineteenth Century. Go West, Young Woman! Go West!
Which makes the woman smile. She is west, from where the telegram was sent. Here, it is East Coast, New England, Olde New England, not an air-conditioned Great Middle West, where it is hot, beyond hot. Ludicrous. Like the telegram. A reminder of a life, a past, that one thousand miles and a time zone haven't been able to erase.
She must go back, mustn't she?
She will be asked to go back West with the man, Tim, who sent the telegram. She has not returned his emails, voice-mails, faxes. She likes it here, East, at the edge of America and the Atlantic.
And even though she has spent many years in the Great Middle West, she has always preferred East. To capture a sunrise, watch a day begin, not chase it to its end, weep for its demise.
Which is why she is here, East, on Cape Cod. Back to the beginning. Where it all began.
* * * *
If Grace O'Malley were a superstitious person, she could have blamed it on pixies. Or, perhaps, nixies. Or, maybe, Tim. He was the reason why she was doubling up on the B-12. Maybe his final departure had made her, suddenly, clairvoyant. As we all are when they take their final leave.
No. That was the B-12.
Or yet, perhaps, it was the Tamoxifen. A lack of a period, like menopause, brings wisdom. Or at least moments of Claritin. For Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Helen of Troy, and the Pleiades, Olympic Moments. When the curvature of the universe becomes, for one brief transit, direct and finite.
Or maybe, it was, Shit! I've seen all this before. Why me? we ask. Why me? I never thought this would happen to me!
But it does. Oh boy, it does!
Excerpt of "Lessons in Gravity" by Mike Smith.
Mark the willow tree, supplicant,
for there's beauty in bending. There's grace
in the dance of a sinking stone,
the waterfall's constant sacrifice,
lover's collapse. Mark the drunk's
pirouette in a matronly bog.
The sky is falling, he says, and
no goose can tell him different.
The world's a geode, he says, each is
his own black hole. And that's the gag:
the spirit weighs the body down.
Contact C. Spencer Beggs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Scene Stories for Monday, October 15, 2001