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Writer as Reader Workshops

Within Each Object a Worldview: Mark Kurlansky’s Cod and the Poetry of Things

November 1, 2013

Kurlansky’s popular world history text, Cod, is subtitled “A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.” In this book, Kurlansky uses his research into the history of one fish species to narrate a much more extensive and dynamic tale of shifting ecologies, fluctuating food markets, broken treaties and policies, variously booming and devastated industries, and constantly changing human relations to nature at both local and international levels. Kurlansky is certainly not the first writer to take up such a project or approach; indeed, the quickest of Amazon.com searches yields some 10,000 current titles containing some variation of the phrase “the ______ that changed the world.” What does it mean to strive to understand wide-reaching narratives and/or histories through close attention to single lives, elements, or themes? What do such efforts make uniquely possible and what do they leave out? What objects would we, or our students, choose in order to narrate the world around us? As we consider these questions and more, we will also look comparatively at poet Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Fish” and Francis Ponge’s “The Frog” and “The Mollusc” (from his poetry collection Things). We will explore how world and worldview are vibrantly embodied in these authors’ particular subjects, as well as the different tactics that nonfiction and poetry provide in taking up such investigations.

 Texts: Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky (Penguin, 1998)

Workshop fee: $200 (includes morning coffee, lunch, and 
workshop materials)