Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Number of Pages
The title of my thesis is The Skinny House, a phrase which might indicate: 1) The body of a human or other animal, 2) A coffin or grave, and 3) A residence in Mamaroneck, New York built of recycled materials (e.g. railroad ties and a chicken coop) by an African-American carpenter named Nathan T. Seely in 1932. Seely and his brother ran a business that thrived for several years prior to the Great Depression, catering specifically to Southern blacks moving north. While only a few pages of my thesis are directly concerned with the Mamaroneck residence and its social implications, I was intrigued by this ten-foot wide house on a narrow lot which was a gift from one friend (an Italian-American neighbor to whom Seely had originally sold the plot of land on which the home is built) to another down on his luck (Seely). The phenomenon of the “skinny house” is also associated with an architectural phenomenon spiritually antithetical to Seely’s gift—the “spite house,” a home built primarily to obstruct another property, prevent construction in a given neighborhood, or more generally to inconvenience and offend a neighbor.
What else do skinny houses and spite houses have to do with my poems? Before pursuing my Master’s degree, I worked as a marketing manager at an architecture firm. I have always been fascinated by how buildings and landscapes are intertwined with people’s inner lives—even more so now that I am raising a child abroad. Audre Lorde said, “We can train ourselves to respect our feelings and to transpose them into a language so they can be shared. And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it. Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.” “Skeleton architecture” suggests the bones of an architectural or animal body—that framework without which the structure will not stand but which is only apparent when revealed by 1) an artist’s rendering—i.e. a sectional drawing or floor plan—or 2) the destruction, or gradual decay of said structure with the passage of time. These two possible forms of revelation tell me that art is a labor of both construction and salvage.
Salvage in art is honoring the small, momentary, else neglected objects and perceptions in the world (to include the writings of others). One must honor particularly that which resists interpretation, which remains itself and not (or not any longer) part of a system. As George Oppen slightly misquotes Charles Reznikoff: “The girder, still itself among the rubble.” As Hannah Arendt has written of Walter Benjamin (the lover of verbal scraps, debris, and the past for its own sake), “For him the size of an object was in inverse ratio to its significance.” Benjamin himself wrote, “What seems paradoxical about everything that is justly called beautiful is the fact that it appears.” The poet is tasked with recording not only beauty, but also the phenomenon of its appearance, the change that it makes in the world and the poet.
An architect friend said to me, “When I was young I thought the aim of architecture was beauty, poetry, sculpture. Now I realize the most important thing is that it doesn’t leak.” While I attempt to seal the leaks in my verse, to make solid musical and intellectual constructions, I do not mask or shelter the core of a poem—whether it is emotionally warm and dry, or cold and wet. A poem is also what Philip Whalen called “a picture or graph of a mind moving.” If “recollected in tranquility” (Wordsworth), that graph nonetheless records the seismic spikes of rage and fear; at times it mimes the lull of workaday heartbreak and regret. My poems are bound to the weather in the mountains and the desert, the oceans and the rivers, the factories and the graveyards of the places where I was raised and where I have passed the seasons—I hope you will hear them.
Algeria; Clare; Midwest; Milena; Oregon
Creative Writing | English Language and Literature
Jilk, Leo August, "The Skinny House" (2016). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 2786.