Message from the Chair

Professor Tim Conley

I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

It’s amazing, what you’re doing right now. It’s amazing that somehow you are taking in these symbols, variations of colour projected from a screen directly onto your retinas, and, without any apparent effort, making sense of them: conjuring up images, hearing sounds and voices, drawing connections and comparisons. Or perhaps you’re listening to another’s voice reading these words for you, and even without seeing them you manage to achieve this altogether strange business of making meaning of words. We call this amazing feat reading. That word encompasses many complex activities and, for all of the boasts and warnings about AI, they remain unique to human beings.

What we do in English at university is not just read but try to figure out how and why we read. More broadly, we think about how language works, how texts are produced, how interpretations differ, and, above all, why these things matter. They matter because, as we move about in the world at this moment in history, we are constantly reading: we are bombarded by text messages, headlines, menus, traffic signs, speeches, warnings, song lyrics, sermons, advertisements, and on and on. The complaint of Coleridge’s thirst-maddened mariner —“Water, water, every where, / Nor any drop to drink”— can be adapted for our own sense of being without compass or rudder on a tumultuous sea of information: “data, data everywhere, nor any time to think.” University offers you valuable time to think, and studies in English will help you navigate this sea of information.

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” tells of a young person going to a wedding halted by an enigmatic old man, the Mariner, whose recounting of a strange and supernatural voyage enthrals the listener. Innocence is mesmerized by Experience; the young person is transformed by the Mariner’s tale. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is about learning, and even as we read it, we too may be transformed, if we dare to focus. Sometimes, as in the case of Coleridge’s Wedding Guest, the stories we most need to hear seem to find us at just the right moment, but without this focus we hear only the splashing of data, data, data. Our faculty are accomplished scholars and writers committed to helping students attain and develop such focus.

Just as the sea of information on which we uncertain mariners find ourselves is wide and deep, the range of texts, topics, and questions explored in English is continually expanding. Of course we offer Shakespearean tragedies and Romantic poetry, but we also have courses in Indigenous Women’s Writing, Gothic Novels, Adaptations of Canadian Literature, and even “Eco-horror.” You can voyage from seventeenth-century England, a time of political pamphlets and epic poetry, to twentieth-century South Africa, or dive into feminist theory or literary journalism or graphic novels. You can discover sixteenth-century women writers nearly lost to history and then, in a creative writing workshop, discover how your own writing can forge new histories.

Our Department has three different programs for students to choose from: we think of them as “streams” because students can splash about in and between them. There’s the ENGL stream, the stream of literary studies, where you’ll find courses on, for example, Jane Austen, Modernist Poetry, and Speculative Fiction. There’s also the ENCW stream, where Creative Writing courses on fiction, poetry, and non-fiction nourish both talent and craft. And there’s the stream we call WRDS, short for Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse Studies, in which students examine the persuasive strategies and effects of journalism, advertising, political speeches, social media, and more. Most of our programs can be combined with others in the university, whether that be with Education or as some sort of major-minor balancing of subjects.

Our students have their own crews for sailing together: the English Students’ Association (ESA) runs essay clinics and social events, while the Creative Writing Club provides a forum for aspiring writers to share, critique, and publish their work. As a Brock English student, you are warmly invited to get involved with these communities.

If you have any questions or if I can be of any assistance on your voyage, please feel free to email me at