A poem by recent graduate and emerging writer Blake Wallin ‘15 was recently selected for publication by the national online literary journal Maudlin House. The poem “Secular Penance,” an extended reflection on Wallin’s experience as an inpatient going through treatment for social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, encompasses bleakness, wit, intense personal closeness and subsequent separation.
In an interview published on Maudlin House’s blog, Wallin explained that “Secular Penance” came about because “I realized that I needed to commemorate my experience with these people I had just met but who I shared an intensely personal experience with.” He wrote three of the poem’s six sections while still an inpatient, and some of these sections are even named after people he met there: Matt, Laura, Nolan, and Ben. Other major influences on “Secular Penance” were Allen Ginsberg and the Death of God philosophers, whom Wallin later researched in the libraries of Rice University and the Houston Holocaust Museum.
Although student works like “Secular Penance” has appeared in Wheaton's literary journal, Kodon, English writing majors are encouraged to follow Wallin’s example of submitting to outside journals with a national audience, to “get a taste of something all publishing writers experience— the surprises and frustrations of editorial review and the differing tastes of editors.” Wallin enjoyed working through the publication process with the editor-in-chief of Maudlin House and hopes the success of “Secular Penance” will encourage more English majors to pursue publication.
“We have some good work being produced on this campus,” he said, “but what’s the point if no one else sees it?”
Wallin's former advisor, the late Brett Foster, once described “Secular Penance” as “an intense, experience-driven poem about seeking out fellowship even in what may feel to be the least promising of places.” The final lines of Wallin’s meditation on hope, struggle, connection and alienation sound the same note: “Ben, if you’re reading this let me know if you got into residential / I long for a reunion.”
Read “Secular Penance”