William Carpenter

William Carpenter
207-801-5704 | bcarpenter@coa.edu | faculty website

Bill CarpenterBill Carpenter, full-time faculty member in Literature and Writing, grew up in central Maine, graduated from Waterville High, got a B.A. from Dartmouth and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, where he held the University Doctoral Fellowship. He was Assistant Professor of English & Humanities and Inland Steel Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago until 1972, when he saw the startup announcement from College of the Atlantic and decided to change his life. He became the first faculty member at COA and has been teaching here ever since with a short stint as faculty dean in the eighties. His first book of poetry, The Hours of Morning (1980), won the AWP award, followed by Rain (1985) which won the S.F. Morse award, and a collaboration with the artist Robert Shetterley, Speaking Fire at Stones. His novel A Keeper of Sheep was nominated for the ALA gay/lesbian award in 1995. The Wooden Nickel (Little-Brown 2002) is a lobster- and whale-oriented novel of which the New York Times said, "Melville would have approved." His work is widely represented in periodicals and anthologies, including The Maine Poets (2003). His intellectual interests are in modernism and psychoanalysis; his literary and teaching styles tend toward comic exaggeration. He has been an NEA Fellow and a Fellow of the Society for Human Ecology. His escapes from the written word are mainly aboard the 30-foot sloop "Northern Light," which he sails with his family out of Castine, Maine.

B.A. Dartmouth College, 1962
Ph.D. English, University of Minnesota, 1967

Interview with Bill: http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/2010/03/william-carpenter.html

Courses Taught


This course uses autobiography as a literary form to examine the lives of certain significant people and then to examine our own lives, concentrating particularly on understanding the effects of early home and community environments.  In the first half of the term, students read and report on two autobiographical works chosen from a list including Beryl Markham, Carl Jung, Margaret Mead, Maya Angelou, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh, W. B. Yeats, and Pete Rose.  In the second half, students write their own autobiographies, working in small groups and frequent tutorial meetings with the instructor.  The product is an autobiographical examination of the student's own development.  This course should consume 15 hours per week outside of class, more at the end of the term when finishing the autobiography.

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisite: Course involving literature and writing and Instructor Signature.  Offered every other year.  Class limit: 8.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS3011Bread, Love, and Dreams

This course is an introduction to the unconscious.  It begins with the problem of knowing something which by definition is unknown.  It then proceeds to examine two classic approaches to the unconscious:  dreams and love.  Students are expected to keep dream notebooks and to recognize their own unconscious life in the light of readings.  Readings start with the unconscious in its classical formulation according to Freud and Jung.  We read The Interpretation of Dreams and Two Essays in Analytical Psychology.  We consider these themes in fiction using Henry James' The Beast in the Jungle.  We then move to more contemporary writers, particularly James Hillman's The Dream and the Underworld, Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, and finally consider some of the negative implications of the material in Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain.  The writing part of this course is done in pairs, with groups of two students cross-examining each other's dream notebooks and self-analysis.

Level:  Intermediate.  Prerequisite:  A course in literature or psychology.  Offered every other year.  Class limit: 20.  Lab fee: $20.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS4015Creative Writing

This class concentrates on the theory and practice of poetry and short fiction, though there will also be a place for "Starting Your Novel" students to finish up.  Our goal is to develop the skills of verbal craftsmanship and self-criticism.  Class meetings combine the analysis and critque of individual students writing with the discussions of published works by other writers.  We also frequently discuss matters of standards, the creative process, and the situation of the writer in the contemporary world.  Students are expected to submit one piece each week, to participate in class response to fellow writers, to make revisions on all work, and to contribute their best pieces to the printed class anthoogy at the end of the term.

Level:  Intermediate/Advanced.  Class limit: 12.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS3012Poetry and the American Environment

Since Anne Bradstreet in the seventeenth century, American poets have responded to the natural environment and its human transformation. Poets have learned to see by their exposure to nature, then in turn have used their techniques of vision, music and metaphor to teach us how to see who and where we are.  This class considers poets of the Romantic and Transcendental movements, spends some time with Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, then focuses on the twentieth century, especially T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Robinson Jeffers, and Elizabeth Bishop.  We end with some contemporaries:  Robert Hass, Charles Simic, Gary Snyder, and Mary Oliver.  Students may write either an analytical paper or a collection of their own poetry.  Class meetings are supplemented by additional workshop sessions for student poets.  

Level: Intermediate.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS3033Satanic Verses

This course is a study of the figure of Satan in classic and contemporary literature and visual art including painting and film. We will view the Satanic image in the light of Jung's shadow archetype, an unconscious compensatory figure in the evolution of morality. It will also be related to ideas of nature and civilization, to major religious structures and to the political techniques of demonization and projection. A centerpiece of the course will be a close reading of Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" and its relation to contemporary Islam. Other readings will be drawn from a list  including the books of Genesis and Job from the Old Testament, Jung's "Answer to Job", Sura 46 of the Koran, selections from Dante's "Inferno" and Milton's "Paradise Lost", Goethe's "Faust", William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," the Grand Inquisitor chapter from Dostoevsky's "Brothers Karamazov", Nietzsche's "The Antichrist", Elaine Pagel's "The Origin of Satan", and the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil". We will also take time to study visual imagery from Bosch, Goya, and the Dore illustrations to Dante. Halfway steering clear of Hollywood, films may include "The Passion of the Christ", Pasolini's "Gospel According to St. Matthew", "Rosemary's Baby", Godard's "Sympathy for the Devil" and Herzog's "Nosferatu the Vampyr." Students will learn to analyze and understand complex literary works in historical and cultural context.  Evaluations to be based on two papers (8 & 12 pages) plus one class presentation. The student presentations will be expected to expand the course into areas of popular culture, music, iconography and social behavior.

Level: Intermediate; Class limit: 18; Lab fee $10

HS3029Shakespeare: Character, Conflict, and Cinematography

This course will focus on Shakespeare's tragedies as a direct link between the birth of tragedy in ancient Greece and the violence of contemporary cinema. The class begins with a week of Shakespeare's sonnets as an entry into the co-evolution of language, metaphor and human emotion. We'll then compare "Hamlet" and Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex" in the light of Freudian theory to shed light on universal issues of incest and domestic violence, and continue with a play every week in two extended evening sessions, 4-9 Monday and Thursday, with pizza intermission. The Monday sessions will be a complete dramatic reading of the play involving the whole class, stopping to discuss salient points, with the aim of complete understanding of language, structure and meaning. The Thursday sessions will be a single or double feature of contemporary and classic film adaptations, followed by discussion of the relation between play and film. Sample pairings would be "Romeo and Juliet" with Bernstein's "West Side Story; "Macbeth" with Geoffrey Wright's "Macbeth" and Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood," "King Lear" with Moorhouse's "A Thousand Acres." Two written assignments will involve a choice of structural analysis of a play, re-casting Shakespearean scenes or motifs into original short fiction, or selecting and following a Shakespeare play through all its cinematic variations. Texts will be individual editions of the plays, along with Michael Greer's "Screening Shakespeare" for individual background. Intermediate: prior writing or literature course recommended. 

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites: prior writing or literature course recommended.  Class limit: 16.  Lab fee: $10.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS4013Starting Your Novel

This is an intermediate to advanced creative writing class for those interested in an intensive approach to writing longer fiction. It would also be useful to the novel reader as a insider's approach to the structure and purpose of fiction, the relation of author to character, and issues of intentionality. We will be reading first chapters from current novels and studying their opening strategies, then each student will develop plot, character, style and setting ideas for a first novel, followed by writing and revising fifty or sixty pages of their projected work. Other concerns will be narrative viewpoint, handling of time, levels of realism, dialogue techniques, writing habits, motivation & self-discipline, and the relation of fiction to personal experience. Background in creative writing or narrative theory would be helpful but not essential.   Evaluation will be based on class participation, strength of the concept, and the quality of the student's writtern work.

Level:  Intermediate/Advanced  Meets the following degree requirements: HS Limit 10.

HS3013The Aesthetics of Violence

This course examines the origin and aesthetics of violence in western culture. We begin with the question: what are the long-term human effects of a civilization dominated by the image of a murdered god? We develop the focus on representations of violence in classical and contemporary literature and film. For theory we read Aristotle's Poetics, Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy, Ren, Girard's Violence and the Sacred. We study classical tragedy (Oedipus Rex, The Bacchae, Medea) along with Shakespeare's Macbeth, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and Brett Easton Ellis' American Psycho. Discussions are supplemented by a film series clarifying the debate over contemporary film violence by placing it in mythic context. Natural Born Killers, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Ride the High Country, and Clockwork Orange are among works studied. Student reports bring us up-to-date on current issues and cases of domestic and serial violence, as well as the politics of censorship, the representation of violence in visual art, the issue of pornography and the myth of the victim hero. To clarify the issue of real versus represented violence we make a class field trip to the Bangor Auditorium for a professional wrestling match.

Level: Intermediate. Class limit: 24. Lab Fee: $15. Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS836Tutorial: Contemporary Poetry


HS783Tutorial: Evolving Narrative

This advanced tutorial continues work done in "Starting Your Novel" and/or previous fiction tutorials: intensive in-class attention to narrative issues of detail, viewpoint, time & tense, continuity, language, plot and character development, endings and overall design related to reader response. All work is thoroughly discussed in the context of narrative aesthetics in extended weekly small-group sessions; students are expected to write 8-15 pages a week of new material and to provide a revised and edited copy for evaluation at the end. Level: Advanced. Prerequisite: Starting Your Novel. Instructor permission required. Level: Advanced Limit: 5

HS755Tutorial: Fiction in Progress

This advanced tutorial continues work done in "Starting Your Novel" and/or previous fiction tutorials: intensive in-class attention to narrative issues of detail, viewpoint, time & tense, continuity, language, plot and character development, endings and overall design related to reader response. All work is thoroughly discussed in the context of narrative aesthetics in extended weekly small-group sessions; students are expected to write 8-15 pages a week of new material and to provide a revised and edited copy for evaluation at the end. Previous intermediate or advanced fiction courses and instructor permission required. Level: Advanced Limit: 5

HS840Tutorial: Narrative Fiction and Non-fiction



This course focuses on real and symbolic journeys in literature, considering travel as both a physical and psychological phenomenon and the journal as a primary human archetype. Our readings begin with Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces then pass to a number of fictional journeys, including Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Dante's Inferno, Melville's Moby Dick, Charles Johnson's The Middle Passage, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Kerouac's On the Road, and William T. Vollmann's The Butterfly Stories. Two papers, a midterm and term paper, are required; all students also prepare a voluntary oral report. Level: Intermediate. Class limit: 20 *HS*


From prehistoric times the journey into the unknown has been both a reality and a metaphor of human experience. This course will follow the archetype of the voyage through major literary narratives and road movies.  Its written and class assignments will draw from students' own experience as travelers. Using Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces as a theoretical framework, we'll move on to Homer's  Odyssey (selections), Melville's Moby Dick, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Peter Mattheissen's Far Tortuga and the new "scroll" version of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. We'll watch Apocalypse Now, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Stranger than Paradise, Powwow Highway, Wild at Heart, The African Queen. Assignments will include in-class reports on students' own journeys and a nonfiction creative writing section on travel narrative.

Level: Intermediate. Prerequisites: none. Class limit: 16  Lab fee: none. Meets the following degree requirements: HS