I just got back from Kalamazoo last night. I’ve been once before, my very first year of graduate school. I didn’t give a paper that year, but went because I was planning on being a medievalist and I’d been hearing about the wonders of Kalamazoo ever since my first year of undergrad, when a professor who went every year extolled its virtues. I had a blast that time because I learned so much and went to so many different panels and got to go to the (in)famous dance. This year was even better, largely because this time I functionally went to a mini-conference within Kalamazoo that focused on the Renaissance.
I responded to a call for papers from the Sidney Society to present a piece of my dissertation on Sidney. My paper wasn’t accepted for that session, so that was the end of it, I thought. But occasionally there is also a general Renaissance literature session, and my paper ended up being accepted for that. I was surprised, but pleased. My panel had a small number of people attending, but they were a fabulous and very interactive audience. I got a lot of excellent questions and really useful feedback. My fellow presenter (two other presenters both dropped out last minute, more pity them) also gave a really interesting paper on Spenser.
But where things got really interesting was the Spenser and Sidney “official” sessions on Friday and Saturday. These sessions had amazing papers. Sidney starts his Defense of Poesy with an amusing story about how listening to a master of horse extoll the virtues of horses almost makes him wish himself a horse; on Friday, listening to the Spenser papers almost persuaded me I wanted to be a Spenserian. It was the heat of the moment, and like Sidney, ultimately I returned to my senses and realized that it was a foolish thought. The stand-outs were Roger Kuin’s paper on the marginalia in a 1611 edition of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and James Nohrnberg’s lecture on the theme of the kidnapped epic-romance.
But it was really the Sidney papers on Saturday that bowled me over. Every single one introduced me to something new I hadn’t thought about before and that I wanted to think about more: Sidney’s depiction of gender in the Defense, Sidney’s thoughts about writing technologies, and even the relationship between Sidney and Milton. I’m fairly certain that listening to the nine Sidney papers, I had developed three separate ideas for papers involving Sidney but that didn’t impinge on the projects that were presented; a cursory search through MLA and Google Books suggests that at least one of them hasn’t been done before, and I may need to make it my fall project. That’s a pretty amazing ratio for any conference.
The Q&A sessions after each session also really fit the papers, both in terms of brilliance and drawing out productive discussion among the participants and the audience. Since the Sidney and Spenser societies only have one session in each time slot, pretty much the same 20-30 people were in the audience at each session. That meant that over the course of each day, the conversations built and developed real depth. I’ve not seen anything like it before. (Maybe I just need to go to more conferences on really focused topics?)
And, on top of it all, the Sidney and Spenser societies proved to be full of very generous, open people with great senses of humor. I not only met and had conversations with several of the scholars whose work populates my bibliography, they were generous and invited me (and the other new people interested in Spenser and Sidney) to their dinners and events. They had semi-secret-space where they met for their own little wine hour (they called it the Elizabeth Boyles Room, after Spenser’s wife). They introduced me to the Interational Porlock Society (the person from Porlock, if you’ll remember, was the one who interrupted Coleridge while he was writing Kubla Khan, thus saving us from or denying us the rest of the poem). Essentially, this is the alternative to the Medieval “Pseudo-Society,” only having attended both, the Porlock Society is far funnier. There were papers spoofing the Sidney/Spenser panels, interactive skits, a hilarious dialogue between a scholar and the evil mattress that populates the Valley dorm-rooms most people stayed in, and so on.
The other highlights of the trip to Kalamazoo:
- David Bevington’s lecture on Shakespeare and Religion
- Seeing and talking with all sorts of UConn alumni, many of whom I knew before but also a few I knew by reputation only and finally got to meet
- Being packed five to a tiny Honda Civic for the sixteen-hour drive home (I was very lucky that I was with four other very good-natured individuals who happened to have good taste in music)
- The Blogger meet-up where I met Vaulting and Vellum, Dame Eleanor Hull, Another Damned Medievalist, and several others.