Lots of news, so let’s get to it!


As many of you know, Dr. Jim Levernier has been in the hospital for the past month, following emergency surgery to prevent an aneurysm in his ascending aorta.  The surgery was successful, but the post-op complications kept him in cardio-vascular ICU for three weeks.  However, we are happy to report that Dr. Levernier has been moved out of ICU, and  into Room 6020 at the Cornerstone Hospital, an acute care facility that is technically a different hospital, although it is on the sixth floor at St. Vincent’s.  Dr. Levernier can have visitors, and you can send cards or flowers to him at this address:  Cornerstone Hospital (6th Floor of St. Vincent’s); #2 St. Vincent’s Circle;  Att:   Dr. Jim Levernier, Patient, Room #6020; Little Rock, AR 72205.  I know we all send Dr. Levernier our thoughts and good wishes.


The annual Cooper Spring Colloquium and Picnic will be on May 7-8 of this year.  The colloquium will be on Thursday, May 7, 12:00-2:00pm in Room 535 of the Ottenheimer Library.  The colloquium will include lunch, and will feature final project presentations by five students: Rebecca Chism, Logan Ellis, Heather Haille, Hunter Parham, and Matthew Wilson.  The Cooper Picnic will be on Friday, May 8, at Murray Park, Pavilion #4 on the Arkansas River from 5:30pm until . . . usually about 7:00 or 7:30.  Catering will be provided by Homer’s.  Both the colloquium and picnic are free and open to family and friends of the  English Department.  Come on Thursday to celebrate the work of our newest Honors Graduates, and then join us on Friday for a great, end-of-semester afternoon on the river.


Applications for Cooper Stipends are due by the close of business on Consultation Day, which this Spring is Tuesday, May  5.  Current stipend holders must reapply for the 2015-2016 academic year.  The Cooper Honors Program offers motivated and talented students the opportunity to work closely with a faculty mentor on a project of the student’s choosing.  Honors students must complete at least one 3-hour Cooper seminar, a 2-hour tutorial, and a 2-hour writing project, and have an overall GPA of 3.25, with a GPA in English of 3.5.  Cooper stipends are awarded on a competitive basis twice a year; the stipend is $1300 per semester, for up to 4 semesters.   For more information on the Cooper Program go to the webpage.  For full instructions on how to apply for a stipend, click on Student Application.  For more information, please contact Doc Yoder at


Dr. Brad Minnick will offer a Cooper Honors Seminar in Fall 2015 called “Great Books Seminar.”  The course will mostly use novella length works in a “great books” approach to selections from both the old school canon of great novels and the emerging Young Adult canon.  For more information on the controversies, and literary and scholarly implications of this approach, check out some the articles listed here.  Dr. Minnick says, “The evolving literary canon creates some surprising and wonderful juxtapositions and unlikely textual pairings. In the tradition of ‘Great Books Seminars,’ this course will explore relationships among books by Steinbeck and Faulkner positioned beside books by Sandra Cisneros and S.E. Hinton.”  The reading list is likely to include Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck; The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros; As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner; The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton; Fences, August Wilson; Bronx Masquerade, Nikki Grimes; The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane; The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien; Hiroshima, John Hersey; Night, Elie Wiesel.  Should be fun. For more information, contact Dr. Minnick at


Due to Dr. Levernier’s illness, we have had to postpone the visit to campus by Dr. Scott Laderman, already rescheduled once due to the weather.  We hope to reschedule Dr. Laderman’s visit for next year, when we also hope to welcome back Dr. Levernier.


Martha Redbone1  Martha Redbone and AB Burroughs
  AaronWhitby  Aaron Whitby

It is well known that William Blake often sang his poems at parties. We see such scenes in his satire An Island in the Moon, and many of his poems are explicitly called songs. We don’t know how those performances sounded, but if Blake’s friends were lucky, they sounded a lot like Martha Redbone’s versions.

The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake by the Martha Redbone Roots Project created quite a buzz in the Blake scholarly community upon its release in 2012, and the attention is well deserved.  Martha’s voice is very strong, and she makes Blake’s lyrics her own from the first note. Speaking as a specialist in Blake’s poetry, I find the most amazing thing to be how comfortable Blake sounds in the setting of Appalachian folk songs. When I saw that Martha was on tour, and visiting the classes of some of my friends at other schools, I began to hatch a plan to bring her to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, as part of the Cooper Honors Program Lecture Series.

Such a visit would be the biggest project the Cooper Program had taken on.  We met with several delays along the way, but the 2-day residency by the Martha Redbone Roots Project finally happened on April 1-2, 2015. By any measure it was a success. Martha met with two classes and had dinner with students and faculty, and her trio performed two shows – one for students (with a Q&A) and one full concert open to the public. All events were free. The residency was sponsored by the William G. Cooper, Jr. Honors Program in English, with support from the Donaghey Scholars Program and the Music Department.  I also want to thank Ashley Collie-Heath and Dave Measel for their help that was absolutely essential.

The Martha Redbone Roots Project also performs as a quartet, quintet, and sextet, but we had the trio configuration: Martha Redbone on voice and percussion, Aaron Whitby on piano, and Alan “AB” Burroughs on guitar. The smaller group gave the performances an intimate feeling, and the instrumental interaction of Aaron and AB was highlighted by the sparse arrangements. This arrangement also served to emphasize Martha’s voice, which really is great – strong and free in announcing its presence. There is a confidence in the way her voice engages Blake that creates a wonderful union of musical traditions and the poet’s prophetic musings.

Student show: Wednesday, April 1, 2015, Stella Boyle Smith Auditorium, UALR.  You can hear or download the show here.  If you share the show, please pass it along for free.

The first event for the Martha Redbone Roots Project residency was a musical performance with Q&A for students. This was at 3:00pm, and was reasonably well attended, with 30-40 students. Performance and Q&A ran about 1hr. 7mins. Here is the set list:

“The Garden of Love” (Songs of Experience)

“Hear the Voice of the Bard” (Introduction to Songs of Experience)

“On Another’s Sorrow” (Songs of Innocence)

“The Ecchoing Green” (Songs of Innocence)

“I rose up” (from Blake’s notebook)

“I heard an angel singing” (from Blake’s notebook)

This was an all-Blake set that showcased the variety of styles Redbone and husband, musical-arranger Aaron Whitby have worked up for Blake’s songs. “The Garden of Love” announces the album and the show, and in the live performance the trio creates a sort of incantatory setting, with the guitar and piano slowly rising in the background as Martha talks, explaining the inception of the project. “Hear the Voice of the Bard” has a sort of New Orleans juke joint feel to it. “On Another’s Sorrow” allows Martha to exploit its chorus in a way that emphasizes the structure of Blake’s poem. Redbone presents “The Ecchoing Green” as a mountain holler; she sings it a cappella and it really showcases the strength of her voice. “I rose up” developed into a church-like call and response. There was an Q&A period after “I rose up,” that finally came around to Redbone’s presentation of “I heard an Angel singing” as a sort of hymn.

Throughout the show and in the Q&A, Redbone told stories and made connections between the social issues that inspired Blake’s writing and similar issues that informed the lives of her own family and ancestors, the issues faced by people of color in the coal mining communities of Kentucky. Redbone readily admits that she is not a Blake scholar; nonetheless, the connections she makes musically and personally make clear the continuing relevance of Blake’s vision to the way we see the world.

Full Concert: Thursday, April 2, 2015, Stella Boyle Smith Auditorium at UALR. This was a free full concert. The show ran about 1hr. 45mins. with no intermission.  When the show started at 7:00 we had about 75 people in the audience; but classes finished at 7:15, and by 8:00, the audience was closer to 175. Here is the set list:

“The Garden of Love”

“The Poison Tree”

“The Fly”

“Hear the Voice of the Bard”

“How Sweet I Roamed”

“On Another’s Sorrow”

“Undone in Sorrow”

“There Are Drums”


“A Dream”

“I Rose Up”

The strengths of the student show were even more evident in the full concert. The vocals in “The Garden of Love” established Redbone’s ownership of the song and the show. For “A Poison Tree” Redbone’s comments about the song created a sort of family / neighborhood dynamic for the tale of wrath untold. “The Fly” was beautiful and sweet and fragile. “Hear the Voice of the Bard” was more raucous, with a longer, jollier jam between the guitar and piano than the previous afternoon. Whitby is a great piano player who was clearly having fun on the concert Steinway, and he and AB played very well together. “How Sweet I Roamed” is a delicate piece that captured well the cycle of jealous love. As on the previous afternoon, “On Another’s Sorrow” produced a rousing sing along on the chorus. Then three songs interrupted the Blake emphasis, and they fit well into the set. “Undone in Sorrow” continued a theme from “On Another’s Sorrow,” while “There are Drums” emphasized Redbone’s Native American roots — her album Skintalk is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian as an example of contemporary Native American music. “Skin” was a funky, up-tempo song of cheeky self-acceptance. The final two songs brought the show back to Blake’s poetry, with “A Dream” slowing things down a bit after “Skin,” to tell the tale of an ant trying to get home to his family. “I Rose Up” closed the show with a great call-response that had the crowd and the trio playing off each other very well.

I got very caught up in the show, so I may have forgotten to note a song in the setlist, but I don’t think so. The relatively small number of songs (11) in a 105-minute set suggests the strong parts of the show. Redbone introduced most of the songs, weaving into a single fabric Blake’s poetry, her family’s past and her own past in Appalachia, and the events of contemporary America.  Aaron Whitby and AB Burroughs extended the instrumental parts of the songs to great effect, and Redbone’s own vocal dynamics, augmented by her encouragement for audience participation, drew the crowd into the show. The musical aspects of the show highlighted the poetry and revealed new and unusual connections between “English Blake” of 1790’s and UALR students of 2015.

Thanks to everyone who came out to make this a great series of events.

As  usual, if you see any problems or mistakes, please contact Doc Yoder at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s