USC Doctoral Student Fuses Physics and English to Publish a Book of Poetry

Posted by & filed under Fellows, Profiles.

USC Doctoral Student Fuses Physics and English to Publish a Book of Poetry
By Lauren Evashenk

Many Ph.D. students find the dissertation writing process taxing enough to inspire a break after graduation, but Elizabeth Cantwell hasn’t broken her stride; she’s already on her way to turning hers into a book.

A USC Provost Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in the USC Dornsife English Literature & Creative Writing program, Cantwell will publish her first book of poetry, Nights I Let the Tiger Get You, with Black Lawrence Press in April 2014, just in time for Commencement.

Cantwell credits USC for helping to develop her talents and career. “This is a unique program. It’s not typical for a doctoral degree to combine the traditional study of literature with a creative component,” Cantwell said.

The unique style of scholarship that brought Cantwell to USC is also what sets her apart; the critical analysis portion of her coursework led her to find inspiration for her own writing in unexpected places.

“My dissertation focuses on Renaissance literature and the idea of ‘the infinite.’ The telescope and microscope were invented during the early modern period, and these groundbreaking developments enabled people to look both out and in, forcing them to actually deal with infinity’s implications.” Cantwell said.

Encouraged by the interdisciplinary links she found in Renaissance works, Cantwell began looking to the sciences for her own inspiration. She found the interdisciplinary work so compelling that the study of physics became a central piece of her dissertation; one of her dissertation committee members is even a faculty member in the USC Physics and Astronomy Department.

Though physics and poetry seem like an unlikely pair, Cantwell views poetry as a powerful tool for interdisciplinary learning. Inspired by her brother’s troubles in school, Cantwell taught high school after graduating from Yale University, and plans to return to teaching after completing her doctoral studies to inspire the next generation of thinkers and creators. She hopes that writing creatively about scientific topics will help students to better understand the subjects, enjoy learning, and feel accomplished for having completed a creative project.

Cantwell plans to continue her growing writing career after she returns to teaching. In addition to her forthcoming book, Cantwell recently won the Chapbook Contest with Grey Book Press, and the house will publish her short collection, Premonitions, this year. Cantwell was also a finalist for the 2012 Hudson Prize, and has published poems in a variety of journals, including PANK, The Los Angeles Review, Anti-, La Petite Zine, and the Indiana Review.

Read an excerpt of Nights I Let the Tiger Get You in Tinge Magazine.