Students gather via Zoom with Professor Michael Prior

by Sophie Hilker ’20

Though members of the English department remain apart, separated by quarantine, several students managed to stay connected through the remote Burning Province Reading Group. Professor Michael Prior’s new poetry collection was published in April, but the scheduled book launch had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The English department still found a way to mark the occasion for all, however.

Students were invited to join this Reading Group and those that signed up were mailed copies of the book courtesy of the Critchett Fund and Next Chapter Booksellers (Shop local! They’re open!) to read independently before gathering via Zoom on Sunday, May 3 to talk tone, imagery, and themes. Members shared their interpretations about the interconnectedness of the body and nature embodied, images of fresh fruit and rot, and themes of memory and identity interwoven throughout the collection, before being joined by Professor Prior for a Q&A session. 

Prior also gave a reading of fan-favorite “Wakeful Things,” the hopeful poem that ends the collection. “I’ve often said this is the closest I’ll get to writing a love poem, only my love poem begins with brain eating insects,” Prior joked.

Professor Michael Prior via Zoom

Inspired by the promise of banding together during isolation to gush about Prior’s beautiful poetry, Professor Matthew Burgess headed the charge to create a faculty reading group. “Rival [reading groups],” Burgess quipped, “How exciting!” The English Department faculty’s own Burning Province Reading Group will meet over the summer.