On the last day of January, 2014, a fifty-strong crowd gathered in the Tauno Nurmela auditorium to listen to the defence of Elina Siltanen’s doctoral dissertation “Hard Work? Reciprocal Communication in Contemporary American Experimental Poetry”.
The opponent who discussed the dissertation with Siltanen was professor emeritus Charles Molesworth (Queens College, The City University of New York). An eminent scholar of poetry, he has published The Fierce Embrace: A Study in Contemporary American Poetry, as well as critical books on Marianne Moore, Gary Snyder and Donald Barthelme, and biographies of Alain Locke and, most recently, Countee Cullen (2012). He has also two poetry titles to his name, Common Elegies and Words to That Effect. In the 1970s, he served as a Fulbright Professor in Turku, and the reunion with former colleagues was an amicable one.
In Siltanen’s study, the focus was on the works of three American experimental poets: John Ashbery (born 1927), Lyn Hejinian (1941) and Ron Silliman (1946). A literary critic herself, she proposes – on the basis of the discontinuous and repetitive character of experimental poetry – new ways of reading poetry that do not require clear-cut interpretations nor consistent subjectivity
Siltanen was one of the pioneers in the inter-university scheme Cotutelle, which is an agreement between two universities for a double degree in both universities; in this case the University of Turku and the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden. For the defence, this posed a technological challenge as the event was simultaneously videoed to Luleå, and the Swedish grading committee was present in Turku and took part in the discussion after the opponent.
The respondent was very lucid in her comments to the questions posed to her first by the opponent and then the committee. Afterwards, several audience members commended the discussion for its clarity, and especially the approachability of the introductory lecture by the doctoral candidate (lectio praecursoria) was acclaimed. It made the hard work easier.
It was with satisfaction that I concluded the defence.
“What a long strange trip it’s been”, is a famous exclamation by Jerry Garcia, which the poet Ron Silliman adapted to his poetry. The sentiment might be shared by Elina and her supervisor, Professor Lydia Kokkkola.