The 2023 Spring Trouble Begins Lecture Series Concludes with a Talk on Twain’s Poetry

The 2023 Spring Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS) continues with its fourth lecture at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 31 at Quarry Farm (131 Crane Road, Elmira). The lectures are free and open to the public and recordings of the lectures will be posted to the CMTS website.

The fourth and final lecture of the 2023 Spring series, “Mark Twain, Property, and Poetry”, will be presented by Lawrence Howe.

“Poet Lariat” from Innocents Abroad 
(Chapter 10)

Mark Twain is famous for writing prose—sketches, tales, and novels—not poetry.  However, early in his career, he did at times turn his pen to verse satirically. The topic that often inspired these occasional poetic forays was property. In this talk, I will look closely at several neglected poems, such as “My Ranch,” which appeared in the aptly titled sketch “Real Estate versus Imaginary Possessions, Poetically Considered” (1865); “A Story of a Gallant Deed,” embedded in a sketch titled “A Memory” (1870); and a couple of occasional poems about his Hartford mansion. A close reading of these poems and the context in which they were written will show how Twain’s humorous experiments in this highly structured and compressed form of writing connect to what he understood about the difficulties of ownership and inherent problems in the language by which property is claimed and validated. Ultimately, I will show that, unlike Sam Clemens, who embraced the American ethos of ownership, Mark Twain reveals a skepticism about the language of ownership.

Lawrence Howe is Professor emeritus of English and Film Studies at Roosevelt University.  His published work includes Mark Twain and the Novel: The Double-Cross of Authority (Cambridge, 1998), and with Harry Wonham, Mark Twain and Money: Language, Capital, and Culture (Alabama, 2017)and other articles, many of which focus on Mark Twain and Gilded Age economics.  He is a former president of the Mark Twain Circle of America and a member of the Strategic Planning Committee of the Center for Mark Twain Studies.

Professor Howe has a long relationship with CMTS. In 2022 he was awarded the Henry Nash Smith Award. This award is given to a Mark Twain Studies scholar who has demonstrated exemplary service to the Center for Mark Twain Studies. In 2018 he was co-organizer of the CMTS Symposium “American Literary History and Economics in the Gilded Age.”

In addition to his valuable service to CMTS, he has also given talks for CMTS symposia and lecture series, and written important essays, including:

  • Lawrence Howe, “Scandal at Stormfield: Mark Twain’s ‘Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript’” (June 3, 2020 – Online)
  • Lawrence Howe, “Mark Twain and America’s Ownership Society” (October 17, 2012 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Lawrence Howe, “Black Lives Matter at Quarry Farm”
  • Lawrence Howe, “April in Elmira & Redding (A Quarry Farm Testimonial)”

In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins Lecture Series. The title comes from a handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The lectures are now held in the Fall and Spring in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. In the Summer the lectures are held at the Park Church. All lectures are free and open to the public.

The Trouble Begins and Park Church Lecture Series are made possible by the support of the Mark Twain FoundationKatherine Roehlke, and generous gifts from individual donors.