By Victoria Gill-Gomez and Erica Quinones
The English Department faculty succeeded in another publication with the announcement of “Romantic Comedy,” the second book of poetry by Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and Associate Professor of English & Creative Writing Dr. James Allen Hall.
“Romantic Comedy” was announced as the 2020 Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry winner, according to a July 2 email from Professor and Chair of English, Director of Writing, and Director of the Sophie Kerr Endowment Dr. Sean Meehan.
The book is scheduled for publication in Jan. 2023 by Four Way Books, one of Dr. Hall’s dream publishers.
Dr. Hall has worked on this project for over a decade, writing one of the first poems in “Romantic Comedy” shortly after the release of his first poetry collection, “Now You’re the Enemy,” in 2008.
When Dr. Hall completed a draft of “Romantic Comedy” in 2015, he said that he wanted it to be finished because of the difficult emotional experiences within. However, he realized that it was not done being written when it gained little traction from the publication world.
Dr. Hall approached friends who helped him return to the collection with a critical eye as they worked together to take the book apart and identify the central metaphors of the collection.
“So much emotional material needs a pause [and] a way to look at it that is more intellectual. Because I was intent on revealing and emotionally revelatory, it was overpowering in some ways,” Dr. Hall said.
Much of that central metaphor is seen in the title, “Romantic Comedy,” as Dr. Hall explores genre and its subversion to construct a narrative about self-worth, suicidal ideation, heartbreak, sexual assault, and the aftermath the body faces as a result.
He questions the view of queer bodies and how a “heteronormative patriarchy” assigns queer lives a script that imposes an identity on those individuals. This appears in his fascination with genre and the expectations of his readers, making room for their own experiences in tandem with his own vulnerability.
All of this related back to his own experiences of being misread and those of his queer friends whose relationships were questioned due to their queerness.
“This collection is about how to tell stories and about people who mainstream society wants to stay invisible…The queer body has this particular place in American culture as this unreadable body,” Dr. Hall said. “The body gets misread or unread.”
After years of editing, revising, and rewriting, “Romantic Comedy” was finally accepted for publication, telling Dr. Hall that it was finally done.
He will spend the next two years on final edits. Only then will Dr. Hall take his “victory lap”: the search for cover art, the image that represents the precis of the collection.
This long-term push towards publication is a vital experience for WC faculty, according to Dr. Meehan.
It cultivates empathy and honesty when teaching students that “to write and produce and revise and edit and throw out and start over” is a challenging and difficult process, Dr. Meehan said.
Dr. Hall’s long journey to finish and publish the book of poetry shows the entire English department that “these publications do not just fall from the sky, it takes work,” Dr. Meehan said.
And that tenacity is exactly what Dr. Hall wanted to inspire.
“What is the alternative [to publication]? Silence? That is what toxic patriarchy wants from us, our silence, our complicity,” Dr. Hall said. “The only response is to keep going with the work you believe in, that brings you joy, that brings you happiness, that you believe can help change things and make things better for the future you. To raise the middle finger to those who would have you be quiet and ‘act right.’ Otherwise I would be complacent in a society that devalues and dehumanizes queer bodies, and I will not do that.”