With hundreds of Walmarts and large malls spreading across the United States, shoppers can enjoy more convenient, sometimes cheaper goods, from groceries to car tires. While smooth highways bridge millions of Americans to glossy new shopping opportunities every year, the nation places less value on the quiet pastoral state that it once treasured. Marty Cain ’13 is exploring this dichotomy of lifestyles for his senior fellowship, The Poetic Art of Rural Decay: Reinterpreting the Pastoral with a Surreal Sense of Place.
Cain’s project aims to take a closer look at “rural decay,” or the gradual unraveling of country life in America. As it becomes increasingly difficult to support small farms and businesses, traditional pastoral life is marginalized to the point of near extinction. Having grown up in a small Vermont town with fewer than 1000 residents, Cain feels that contemporary American is moving away from traditional rural living. He explains, “In poetry, the pastoral is a genre that idealizes rural living and a rustic lifestyle. True pastoral living exists in a ‘golden age.’” Cain hopes to capture this idealized pastoral state and contrast it with modern America while drawing from his own experiences.
Cain describes the phenomenon of rural decay as “the surreal contrast between urbanized and rural America.” The abstract nature of this concept makes his creative writing background and his artistic approach an appropriate way to represent the subject. Cain hopes that his project with culminate in a multimedia project involving both film and his original poetry that he will present to the Hamilton community.
As a Senior Fellow, Cain has the opportunity to take part in a unique, intensive approach to learning in which he can delve deeply into one particular area that interests him in lieu of traditional college coursework.
Though senior fellows are exempt from typical concentration requirements, Cain wanted to keep his original creative writing major, and so he is working on a senior thesis under Professor of English and Creative Writing Doran Larson. Cain is also a cinema and media studies minor. Apart from his thesis, Cain is taking a Latin course, and the remainder of his academic effort is focused on his fellowship. Cain hopes to continue his education in creative writing in graduate school, and he anticipates that this project will help prepare him for his life after Hamilton.
Despite the highly individualized nature of the fellowship, Cain notes that his on-campus jobs at the Writing Center and Café Opus, as well as his weekly meetings with his fellowship advisors, lend him a sense of structure and keep him on track. He meets each week with his principal advisor, Assistant Professor of English Jane Springer, and secondary advisor, Associate Professor of Art Ella Gant, to review his poetry from the preceding week as well as the relevant reading assignments that he completes.
Though Cain’s fellowship, senior thesis and two jobs leave little room for free time, he believes that the experience is nonetheless highly rewarding. He is an independent learner by nature, and has always felt that he would prefer a long term individual study to typical courses, which last only a few months. While he enjoyed his coursework at Hamilton, Cain explains, “I wanted to immerse myself in a particular subject for a full year.”
He started exploring the topic of rural decay in the Clinton area over this past summer through an Emerson Grant. Cain studied rural life surrounding the Hamilton community, writing and shooting video as well as getting what he calls “a general feel for the area.” This initial project provided him with a strong foundation for his current work.
Cain believes that pastoral America is not yet extinct, and he uses his own hometown as an example of traditional, independent rural living. However, this lifestyle is quietly slipping away in favor of commercialization and big business. He remarks, “There are not many pockets left of independent rural America.” Cain's project laments the loss of this unique lifestyle, which future generations may never have the chance to experience, while accepting its inevitable ruin.