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Alice B. Fogel '76 on How Antioch College Feeds the Soul

by Christian Feuerstein '94

derr towersIn honor of National Poetry Month, this week's alumni profile is of Alice B. Fogel '76. Fogel is a poet, writer, and professor. She is author of three poetry collections, most recently, Be That Empty (Harbor Mountain Press, 2007). She is also author of Strange Terrain: A Poetry Handbook for the Reluctant Reader (Hobblebush Books, 2009). Her work has been published in literary journals and magazines including Barrow Street, Beloit Poetry Journal, Boston Review, Green Mountains Review, Iowa Review, Pleiades, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, and Yankee Magazine, and in newspapers including The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, and The Washington Post and in anthologies including The Best American Poetry 1993.

What made you choose Antioch College?
When I was finishing [high school], I wasn't sure I wanted to go to college if it meant "more of the same" or if it would remove me from the things that mattered to me in the world. I wanted to live where people remembered to feed their souls. I wanted to live and work and study in the context of my time, and to have autonomy within a community of politically, socially, and artistically like-minded people - a sort of academic commune. I learned about Antioch solely by way of the catalog I found at the guidance counselor's office, and was amazed to know that there was such a place. We were a good fit. 

While I started in social work and criminology (which I still wonder if I should have stuck with!) I ended up gravitating into a double major in the areas I have always loved since I was a little kid - literature and art/art history. The art history came in handy in the work I later did for a while in theatrical costuming, and after I went back to school in my 30s for a master's in literature/poetry, I've been able to teach reading and writing since then. But a major at Antioch is really only an element; it's the whole experience - the co-ops, the participation in campus life and governance, the influence of its history and people, its courses - that are "major" in what one takes away from the experience.

What is your favorite memory of Antioch College?
Recently I was thinking about my very first night at Antioch. Wandering around campus, I heard music and came upon a bunch of people folk dancing on what was called (I don't know if it still is) Red Square, on the side of Antioch Hall near to North. (Editor's note: it's still called Red Square.) I spent the rest of the evening having the utter time of my life, dancing. I also went to every Wednesday and Saturday night dance pretty much the whole rest of my time there. I don't know if I'd call any of this my "favorite memory" of Antioch. I'm not sure if I could find one thing like that. Walking in the Glen is right up there. What most remains is the feeling of being in this place where I felt at home and could be fully myself, and I still feel like that every time I've gone back since.

Who were some of your favorite professors? Some of my literature professors were influential to me.  They sent me into multicultural and multinational worlds I hadn't known much, if anything, about, and which continue to enthrall me today.  Dianne Sadoff was a true hero to me.  She opened up vast new realms by introducing me to contemporary women writers and teaching me the importance of literary themes that incorporate real life voices that we can then incorporate into our own.  Others were Ira Sadoff, even though I got the distinct feeling he wasn't all that impressed with my writing; F. X. Shea, who introduced me to Yeats;  and Nolan Miller, who inspired me to get out of myself and think in characters.  I was also influenced by my peers, who were passionate about reading, the arts, communication, justice.

Any words of wisdom on Antioch College's independence? I live near the Keene, NH Antioch Graduate School, which focuses on psychology, education, and environment, and which draws the same kinds of rebels and creative thinkers that Antioch College prides itself on hosting and fostering.  I know many people connected with it and I know that they too are Antiochians who feel strongly about the difference in their training and community, which really do reflect the Antioch ideal.  But they have been amazingly ignorant of their school's roots and of what has happened over the past few years.  When the board met there a couple of years ago, I talked with students and staff.  I was shocked that none of them seemed to have given any thought to their relationship to that little college in Ohio, or to have any idea what was about to happen to it.  A pretty dismal scenario.

When Antioch College became Antioch University, I had a bad feeling about it.  It was an act of conglomeration, which we've seen countless times in the past few decades, and we all know where that leads.  Expanding while looking for support from a corporate model risks loss of the kinds of choices and ideals that defined the organization in the first place, and even the kind of re-structuring that can annihilate its very hub - which is exactly what happened to the college when it was nearly swallowed up by the university system.  I am so relieved that Antioch got its independence back.

If you could bring one thing to the future of Antioch College, what would it be? One thing I'd like to see for Antioch is a foundation, figuratively and literally.  On a personal level, it's like family--part of who I am.  I'd like to know that it would survive and thrive in perpetuity.  I can't begin to feel qualified to answer the question of how to secure that kind of promise.  But I donate to Antioch because I feel strongly that it must survive as an alternative to more conventional colleges, for those students of every generation who want to participate in real world culture, politics, and thought, in order to bring those elements of awareness into their working lives.  There will never be a time when both local and global communities won't benefit from Antiochians.

On her current projects: Recently I've had two books published.  One is my third poetry collection, Be That Empty, which was a poetry bestseller in 2008.  ("Be that empty" is a phrase from a Rumi poem.)  The other, Strange Terrain: A Poetry Handbook for the Reluctant Reader, is a nonacademic guide to poetry for those who are uncomfortable with it or who want to find a new way to enter it or--even better--let it enter them.  A kind of 8-step program, this book is for individuals, reading groups, or teachers.  Its premise is that readers only need a little encouragement to get over their fear of not "getting" poetry, and with some simple guidance and a reminder of the value of mystery, they'll "get" how to be moved and not intimidated by poetry.  I regularly give professional development and other group workshops on this theme that quickly relieve people's poem-traumatic stress disorders, as well as teaching a variety of other writing and reading courses privately, in colleges or communities, and at conferences.  www.alicebfogel.com is my writing life website.

I recently finished a collection of persona poems, called Interval, based on the structure and tone of Bach's Goldberg Variations, and am now starting work on a new endeavor--a sort of magical realist series of poems about a house that seems to have some attitudes and ideas about how its inhabitants ought to live, considering what's going on in the world (which it hears about from that bluish box inside it) and their own personal lives.

Aside from my writing, among my other current endeavors is my sewing business, Lyric Couture.  I do custom work and specialize in "refashioning"--collaging new clothes out of reprised goods.  My creations have been featured in magazines and in refashioning shows, and in 2009 I was awarded NH's "green bride" prize.  One of my favorite things to do is to lead both private parties and public sewing workshops where people learn how to re-think consumerism and become more aware of the dreadfully problematic clothing industry, while having a blast swapping and re-making their clothes right on the spot.  On my website, www.lyriccouture.com, among other things such as samples of what I make, you can find information about fibers, pollution, waste, sweatshops, reuse, and who is doing cool things in this field.  You can also find a "Conscious Consumption Contract" which I invite anyone to sign and follow, and to reproduce to educate others.