Timmy Straw ’18

Non-trad Russian major translated poetry and will head to Moscow for a Fulbright.

September 1, 2018

Hometown: Corvallis, Oregon

Thesis adviser: Prof. Marat Grinberg [Russian 2006–]

Thesis: “In Memory of Memory”: The Poetry of Maria Stepanova

What it’s about: Well known in literary circles in her native Russia, little of contemporary poet and journalist Maria Stepanova’s poetry is available in English. I translated a selection of her poems with the hope of “opening them up” to the English reader, and tried to situate her work both in the Russian literary canon and in the political and cultural context she is writing out of and responding to: specifically, the increasingly repressive atmospherics of Putin’s Russia, the Putinist distortions of history and memory, etc.

What it’s really about: How do you bring a poem from one language into another without clipping its taproot? What can poetry be for us in the present?

My first day of class: I felt like I absolutely did not belong, like I was the sole member of an intensely somber peanut gallery, if such a thing could exist.

Cool stuff: Tai chi (much gratitude to Dave Barrett ’79 RIP), piano (thank you to Denise VanLeuven), running.

Obstacles I have overcome: I have not overcome but brought to size the primordial terror somehow linked to speaking in class.

Influential book: A tie between Yuri Lotman’s Universe of the Mind and Hans Blumenberg’s Paradigms for a Metaphorology. I liked Blumenberg’s idea that metaphors give “courage” to the mind (the individual, or the epoch) to think ahead of itself.

Favorite professors: Prof. Johannes Wankhammer’s [German 2016–17] teaching on German aesthetic theory was lively, oxygenated, ethically demanding, and intellectually generous. The way I think, read and write was given shape, voice, and—for me—emotional life in different ways by the teachings and being of Professors Ben Lazier [history 2005–], and  Zhenya Bershtein [1999–], Marat Grinberg, and Lena Lencek [1977–] in the Russian department. I carry their voices in my head and their thoughts at the foundations and margins of my own experience. I’m grateful that it was through them that I first encountered many of the writers and thinkers I’ve come to love.

How Reed changed me: It helped me to name the garden, the animals; which is to say, it brought a greater individuation, speciation, complexity, and sense of home to my life in the world.

Financial aid: I’m an older student from a low-income background and had no money at all when I applied; none of my studies would have been possible without the full scholarship Reed arranged.

Awards, fellowships, grants: Prof. Grinberg and I were given a Ruby-Lankford Grant to work on Joseph Brodsky; I was Reed’s selection for the Beinecke, and received a commendation for academic excellence.

Desired superpower: The eternal life of my dog.

Actual superpower: My dog.

Pet peeve: That irritating timbre of voice that’s crept into American discourse directly from social media/tech/neo-liberal dandyism.

What’s next: A research Fulbright in Moscow, and then entering the MFA program in poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.