Poetry Vol 1 Issue 1I am something of a wart on the face of the modern poetic tradition, or perhaps one might say an evolutionary throwback. A great English teacher of mine once defined (I don’t know if she got the definition somewhere or if it was original) poetry for me as follows: “Lyric poetry is verse with layered meanings and multiple interpretations that bypasses the head and speaks directly to the heart.” I have several problems with this definition, not the least of which is that it limits itself to lyric poetry and thus throws to the wind all of the wonderful ballads, narrative poems, and dramatic poetry that have been written over the centuries, nevertheless, it is a good jumping off point for a discussion of what makes a poem a poem for me.

The first word of the definition is ‘verse’ which is defined by the OED as “Metrical composition, form, or structure; language or literary work written or spoken in metre.” There are two important ideas to be taken from this definition. The first is that poetry must have a form. This is the primary characteristic that distinguishes it from prose. Thus, for me, there is no such thing as a “prose poem.” A prose poem is simply prose that is a little bit overly drippy. The second important idea that I get from the definition of verse is that verse is metrical, that is to say that it follows a semi-regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. This is not to say that poetry must read like a Hallmark card, meter may be changed up, played with, tweaked, etc.. But it is nevertheless another important identifier that distinguishes verse or poetry from prose.

Now because of the overwhelming pressure of the majority of modern literary America, I have been forced to accept that free verse can be poetry, but because of my beliefs about the roots of poetry, and about the importance of meter to the very definition of poetry, I am likely to require more of free verse in the quality of its images, its metaphors, its similes, as well as its use of other poetic devices such as consonance, assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, anaphora, etc–In short, I am going to hold such poetry much more closely to the second half of the definition of poetry, which is to say it must be layered with meanings, have multiple interpretations, and most importantly, speak directly to the heart or emotions.

So what does all that mean? First let’s look at “layered meanings and multiple interpretations.” This is the criterion that separates poetry from a diary entry. The poet must, consciously or unconsciously, layer the meaning of the poem, such that it may be mined for deeper and more significances. The top layer must not be the only layer. This also goes back to the difference between showing and telling. When the poet tells me something, it can’t do anything more than he intended. It just tells. When the poet shows me something, on the other hand, I can bring to it my whole reader’s toolbox of memories, experiences, emotions, connections, etc.. In short, I can interpret it in multiple ways; I can get meaning after meaning from the poem. This is what gives the lyric poem a life of its own.

Finally, it was said that a poem must bypass the mind to speak directly to the heart. I, personally, would broaden that to ‘the emotions.’ I think that the lyric poem can stir up fear or disgust or anger or hate as effectively as it can stir up love, joy, happiness, peace, well-being, sadness. The poem can have as much effect on the gut as on the heart. Additionally, it need not bypass the mind entirely; I thoroughly enjoyed the poem Clabberbabble, which was certainly a very mental poem. What I think this element of the definition was meant to convey was what Emily Dickinson meant when Edward Hirsch quotes her as saying:

If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold that no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know. Is there any other way.1

And while I would argue that there are certainly other ways as I have outlined above, anything which meets this definition is at a minimum well on its way to becoming poetry, if it is not already there.

One thing, which is not mentioned in the definition of poetry above, is rhyme. Although I personally think that rhyme is a too often overlooked poetic device, rhyme does not a poem make, and I am not hidebound by any preconceptions on that score at least. In the history of poetry, rhyme and meter worked hand in hand to make poetry easily memorizable for the bards who had to commit literally thousands of lines to memory, and rhyme can work with meter in a hypnotic effect that draws the listener (though not necessarily the reader) into a trancelike state which is conducive to a deeper and fuller involvement in the poetry. If you would like to experience this firsthand, one of the best ways I know of is to get a group of friends together on a night with a full moon, go out into the woods, and have someone with some experience, some expression, and a flair for the dramatic who has read it before, read aloud (or recite if you should be so lucky as to know someone who has it memorized) Poe’s “The Raven.” If you aren’t shaken by the end of it, you should give up reading poetry altogether. (I jest of course, but you won’t remain unshaken if you give yourself to the moment.)

So that covers it… or does it? The definition that I quoted was one of lyric poetry. There are a minimum of two additional forms of poetry that we haven’t even talked about, and because I am somewhat pedantic (like you hadn’t figured that out already), and because their disappearance is a pet peeve of mine, I want to take just a half second to talk about narrative and dramatic poetry. The humorous poet Ogden Nash wrote a children’s book entitled The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t. It begins like this:

Of happy times and places
I’ve heard the minstrels sing,
But I wish I’d lived in Lullapat
When Oldwin was the king
It lay beyond the Seven Seas,
Beyond the mountain heights,
Beyond the smoke of autumn,
Beyond the northern lights.
An olden land, a golden land,
A land of honest mirth,
With a jolly king, whose rollicking
Could not reduce his girth.
Good Oldwin, King of Lullapat,
Although not absolutely fat,
Might be described as circular;
Delicious dishes did he dip in
Which left him rounded like a pippin;
His shape was pippindercular;
With rosy cheeks a-plumply rumpling,
He was a royal apple dumpling.2

Does this bypass the mind and speak right to the heart? Is it filled with layered meanings and multiple interpretations? To both questions we must answer a resounding NO! Is it poetry? I answer with a just as resounding YES! An almost abandoned art, narrative poetry is not well thought of in literary circles now unless it is more than a few centuries old. No one scoffs at Beowulf. No one says Chaucer was merely a versifier and not a ‘real’ poet. Yet they wrote works that if written today would almost certainly be scoffed at and dismissed as merely “light verse.” I am less hasty to change a definition that has been in existence for nearly as long as poetry itself. In all actuality, it is lyric verse, at least as it exists today, that is the relative newcomer. Of course, my position on this is unsurprising since I have already noted my preference for metered, and–durst we say it?–rhymed verse. Additionally, Shakespeare’s plays are incredible feats of dramatic poetry that continue to be honored and revered. They hark back to the days when the primary purpose of poetry was to convey, orally, the histories, traditions, and myths of a tribe. That function has all but disappeared now, and this may be the reason for the constant mourning of the “death” of poetry, which in actuality is merely its withdrawal into the halls of the learned and the arcane. If great poets returned to the challenge of rhyme, meter, and narrative or dramatic verse, we might see a well spring of popular support for poetry, indeed there might one day be a poet who, when asked what he did for a living, could reply “I just told you I was a poet, what else do you want.” How I look forward to such a day, dim though I know the prospects are.


1 Hirsch, Edward. How To Read A Poem: And Fall In Love With Poetry. New York: Harcourt, 1999. p. 7.

2 Nash, Ogden. The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1957. pp. 9-11.

Recently R.C. Sproul Jr. linked to an article by “Joffre the Giant” entitled “4 Things I don’t want to hear about your wife”

While the majority of the article was really very good, he led with quite a stinker: 1. Don’t tell me your wife is your best friend.

He says: “Wives are young men’s mistresses; companions for middle age; and old men’s nurses. Best friends aren’t those things, wives are.”

But in fact, some best friends are those things, because some best friends are ALSO spouses. Friendship does not define the spousal relationship in its entirety (it couldn’t possibly and I doubt any but a very misguided few think it could), but it is a description of a particular aspect of a particular relationship, and it is worth expressing for just that reason. It may not apply in all cases.

Joffre’s wife is not his best friend (apparently). My wife is beyond any shadow of a doubt my best friend. So it holds semantic content for me to say “My wife is my best friend.” It tells you something positive about my relationship, something that is unique about my particular relationship, and it is not merely a synonym for she is my wife.  Nor is it merely a comment on how well she does her job as Joffre’s proposed accolades (“How about you say that your wife is a great wife, best wife in town, most skilled mother in the county.”) are. It has both a qualitative and quantitative component. It adds to the total sum of the relationship and has some affect on the nature of the relationship–and there is nothing wrong with that.

If my wife was only or merely my best friend, then perhaps there might be something worth criticizing, but I doubt that anyone who tells you “My wife is my best friend” is in anyway limiting the relationship to “besties” or “BFFs” (gag me with a spoon).  There is certainly an element in popular culture which sees marriage as a “temporary” relationship which can be based on convenience.  These are the folks who are just as likely to introduce you to their “significant other” as to the “wife” or “husband” because they see no real change in the relationship between pre-marital co-habitation and marriage, between casual consensual sex between “friends with benefits” and sex within the bounds of marriage.  Such as these may indeed be denigrating the marriage relationship when they speak of it, but I think such are arguably less likely to describe their “S.O.” as their best friend.

As for me, my wife is my strong support, my wise counselor, my cherished lover, my submissive follower, my children’s mother, my co-follower of Jesus, my life-long partner, and yes, my very best friend.

 

 

This is a very old piece of mine that was modeled on and was a reaction to a poem by a reasonably well-known author. Unfortunately, when I wrote it, I didn’t notate whose poem it was modeled after, so if anyone sees a vague (or not so vague) similarity in form and phrasing between this poem and one which they are familiar with, please send me an e-mail at webmaster@allauthors.com, as I would very much like to go back and read that poem again, and if necessary include an attribution with this poem.

Brother Thoughts

My brother thinks with half a brain
that hinders his progress as he moves.
And I was the one who wanted
a firm strong leader for a brother.
I wanted him to be bright and capture
attention with his quickness and his wit.
I wanted him to be the best of all
the kids he goes to school
with, the leader, one who breaks
new ground with his inventive mind. Instead
he’s this rickety little kid who makes mindless
patterns on his paper when he’s confused.
He’s a stumbler who can’t do anything
right, or so the teachers say. It hurts me to see
him so abnormal so lopsided with glasses
crooked on his face. Sometimes I weep
knowing he is mine, but then he turns
and looks at me with eyes full of life.
He comes over and tugs
my shirt and I play a game
with him in the grass and his imperfections
are forgotten.

There is a great write-up about Halloween by a former occultist/pagan at Pennie Renewed which my friend Terry Ghiselli shared on facebook the other day. I agree with many of her points, though I think she goes farther than I would care to in rejecting it wholesale and without qualification (though I understand why she would, especially with where she is coming from).

I believe that God can redeem anything, including formerly pagan symbols (after all, they were God’s creation first). In fact, I agree in many ways with the sentiment expressed by Catholic apologist Rod Bennet in his Christian defense of Halloween regarding both enculturation AND God’s ability to redeem formerly pagan symbols.

On the other hand, someone who claims a Christian defense of Halloween, and publicly proclaims himself willing to be called a Knight in service of Satan (not denying the label, but apparently accepting it) such as Earl Capps seems to go beyond the pale, especially when his argument seems to consist of “I like it, and I don’t like people who tell me it’s bad.”

Then again, he references James B. Jordan’s Concerning Halloween, which seems to me to be the most internally consistent, well reasoned, and doctrinally sound defense of Halloween that I have seen (though his apparent complete rejection of the pagan origins of many of the symbols and/or practices seems to me to go further than the evidence would bear).

All of this reading brought to mind my own rant against Halloween from some years back in which I also proposed some possibilities for redeeming the day.

So I thought this October 30st, that I’d link back to that old post and see if it might spark further discussion.

In any case, my children will once again not be dressing up and “trick-or-treating” this year, nor will we be condoning by our attendance or support anything which smacks of accepting this still (in my view) very pagan holiday.

If you are a Christian and you are “celebrating” Halloween this year (or allowing your children to), I’d love to hear exactly what you are celebrating, how you are doing so, and (regardless of your reasoning) should we meet outside the blogosphere, I would have no problem in extending to you the hand of friendship and brotherhood (or even greeting you with a Holy kiss), even if I disagree with your practice in this case.

Let us continue to take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works,

Shalom


I love the dawn; her ragged edge is capped
by hazy veils. It is impossible
to see a single leaf whose veins have trapped
her light. The branches, too, are just too full
of light to view. Obscured by a fiery sun’s
occluded force’s shade, the world and you
were equally lost through light. I think no one
could reason in such love; it blurred you to
the point where I was blinded when I looked
into your eyes. I could not see a fault,
regardless of how plain it was. It took
some time away from you, self-forced default,
to sift out of the coriolis sure
proof that you were mine and I was yours.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia foundation and wikipedia.org
Vine tendril seeking the light

Dissatisfied with the Alexandrine couplets I had written and making use of some suggestions from Tim Morris, I started over, and came up with the following Sonnet in Alexandrines.

 

Reaching

A wicker basket tries to hold the plant upright,
But calling to the sun, it stretches for the door.
It’s leaves drag on the tile as it gasps and fights
For the fresh air seeping in, then, as it was before,
It’s motionless and still as people pass it by.
Although I see the slant its efforts have produced,
I wonder if it will have the strength for one more try,
And would it be my place to give it a small boost.
It seems so out of place and yet so apropos
It’s immobility a curse it cannot fight,
It struggles on despite the fact it cannot go;
And go it does or seems to, a little to the right–
So closer to the sun, so closer to the door
But when I blink it’s back to where it was before.

Peter Brown writes in his book, The Body and Society, that the early Christians
were deeply concerned that the frail, mortal body should become a
reliable container for the Spirit of God, even in the face of torture
and death. A fresco in the Church of St. Cecilia showing them giving
their possessions away — and there are similar frescoes in other
Roman churches honoring martyrs — seems to indicate that this was
a way to prepare for possible martyrdom. It makes sense. If you can’t
let go of your things, how will you let go of your life?
(Compassion Vol 61, 2000)

Friends and family were shocked when we gave away all (or anyway almost all) of our material possessions to move into this little apartment-hotel to preach the gospel.  For us, it was an easy step.  When we finally decided that we were going to follow Christ whole-heartedly it became much easier to give up all that we had.  In fact, we celebrated the giving away, it brought a sense of freedom that I had not felt before.  Is God calling you to give up all that you have and follow him?  Do you wonder why you lack peace?  Perhaps God is saying to you:

“One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the
poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”Mark 10:17-25

Personal, physical persecution may come sooner than you think if you are following Christ.  If you can’t let go of your things, how will you let go of your life?

Praise God.

He works in amazing and mysterious ways.

Our car, which should have been worth less than one thousand dollars due to its emissions failures and body damage, received an offer of $1400 from CarMax.

We thought that we would have to look far and wide to find a Van in our price range, instead we had 5 different running vans to choose from, all in our general price range.  In the end we were able to purchase a very nice van that would meet our needs for now and into the future for little more than we received for our Neon.

Thank you for your prayers.

I’ve been feeling for some time now that we needed to find/purchase/trade for a minivan with enough seats to allow us to do things like cart neighbor kids to VBS, transport camping equipment, invite others without transportation to come to church with us.  However, I was complacent about this feeling; I ignored it.  I wasn’t sure that what I was feeling was from God.

So we went last week to get our annual inspection on our car.  It failed the emissions test with multiple errors.  One of the errors was a Memory Checksum error, which all the mechanics I called told me would require a replacement of the ECM (onboard computer) and would cost $1000-$2500.  This was just the spur that I needed to get off of my duff, listen to the Lord, and start looking for a new vehicle that will allow us to better serve our neighbors and reach people for Christ.  I believe that the Lord is going to have a hand in providing this vehicle, and I am praying that His will be done in it, that He will be glorified. 

I have put our Neon up for sale on craigslist (with honesty about its problems).  I am praying that we will receive a fair and equitable offer in cash or trade.

The Bible commands us to be different from the world around us:

Scriptural Principle:
John 17:14 “And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by
the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and
acceptable and perfect will of God.”

It also tells us that we ARE different than the culture that surrounds us by principles of shared heritage with Jesus and our citizenship in heaven.

Scriptural Principle:
John 17:14 “I have given them thy word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

Philippians 3:20a “For our citizenship is in heaven”

Furthermore, we are reminded that our difference (specifically our Love) is a sign of our Christianity to the unbeliever:

Scriptural Principle:
John 13:35 “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

Recently I was blessed to see proof of God’s hand in my life as I try to live like Jesus and fulfill the great commission in the area of the world that God has called me to. 

My wife and I have made friends with a couple of families that live in our building.  Recently we had the opportunity to anonymously help one of them (a single mother) when she was short on her rent.  We were blessed to be able to help her anyway, but I was especially blessed when I found out about a conversation that she had with her neighbor regarding her “miraculous” help.

He neighbor suggested that my family must have been the ones that paid her rent. 

“Really?” she asked, “Do you think so?”

“Of course.  I has to be them.” her neighbor responded, “who else would care that much?”

WOW!!!!  “Who else would care that much?”  What an amazing testament to the power of God’s love shining through us.  It’s important to emphasize that it isn’t that our helping with the rent showed love (though it did), but rather that God’s love had shone through us to such a degree in other day to day actions and words that our neighbors just assumed that a more extravagant gesture of charity, (remember that the word for love in I Corinthians 13 is translated as charity in the King James Version) even though it was anonymous, must have come from us. That is God’s light shining through us into the world, returning to bless us even as it blesses others through us.

One of the ways that I reach out to my neighbors is by providing free copies of God’s word.  I have a stack of Bibles in our front window (visible from the parking lot), with a sign in front of them that says “Free Bibles, just ask.”  In the last week I’ve given away two free copies of the Word of God. 

Scriptural Principle:
Isaiah 55:10-11For as the rain cometh
down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth
the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the
sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not
return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and
it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

I get my copies of the Bible from the dollar store.  They have King James version Bibles for $1 each.  Small price to pay for such a powerful weapon in the battle for the hearts and minds of people God loves. 

However, some people might be better able to read and understand if I was able to offer a more modern translation.  If you know of a cheap source of modern language Bibles such as New King James, NIV, or NAS or if you would like to donate copies please get in touch with me at extendedstayevangelist@webtooldeveloper.com.

Nothing strikes more fear into the heart of many Christians than the thought of discussing the things of God with family members who are unsaved.  Nowhere, it seems, do we let our pride and fear of rejection stand in the way of God’s plan as greatly as with those who matter the most to us, whose absence from heaven would sadden us most.

This post is to congratulate my wife for her recent discussion of the truth of sin, death, judgement, and redemption with her brother-in-law.

Praise God!

Why not talk to one of your relatives about the truth today?

It seems in American culture today that simple friendliness and neighborliness have just about disappeared.

I noticed in myself a tendency to walk through life minimizing my contact with other human beings.  Now this can partly be put down to my innate shyness, but I think that there is more to it than that.  Even people who are quite extroverted and gregarious don’t seem to offer friendly greetings to unknown passersby anymore.

I’ve been making an effort lately not to wrap myself in my own world and problems, but instead to open my heart and mind to even casual meetings.  Who knows when a casual meeting may turn into a divine appointment.  Now I’ve been building all of this up as if it were some deep philosophical/internal shift, but all I’m really talking about doing is saying “Hi,” “Good morning,” “How’s it going?” “Evenin’” etc. to people I come into contact to, even if I don’t know them (yet).

What’s really astonishing is the range of responses to this type of greeting.  Most people smile, do nothing, or increase their pace, but I’ve had a few shoot me dirty looks, a few respond in kind, and a few who have seen that as an opportunity to start a conversation.  In that final case, I try to make time to talk for a little while even if I’m in a hurry… I don’t always share the gospel as a part of every encounter, but I have at least a few times in the last few weeks.

Recently, I was dropping some clothes off for wash-n-fold service at a local laundromat.  On my way in I passed two young ladies who had several (10 or more) trash bags of laundry stacked around their trunk.  After I had set my laundry down by the front counter, I came back just as they had gotten the last bag out of their trunk and onto the sidewalk.  I asked if I could carry some of the bags in for them.  They were astonished.  They agreed, and I loaded up the rest of the bags in both hands and carried them in.  It took me no time at all really, but it made a serious impression on them.  It kind of saddened me that such a simple, normal, mannerly action would be so astonishing, but it did leave me strongly impressed with the witness opportunity that even the smallest act of kindness can open up for us.

Opportunity Encouragement:
When the second lady said “Oh you didn’t have to do that.” I responded, “Well, I felt like God was telling me that I did.” This led very easily and naturally into sharing the truth of the Gospel with them. Laundromats are great places to witness; people are stuck there waiting on their clothes with no place to go and nothing else to do. Even if you typically do your own washing, consider taking your clothes to the laundromat once every other month and then spend some time talking to the people who are there.

I haven’t blogged in quite some time.  Part of the reason for that is that my internet connection at this place is (to put it mildly) quirky, which makes using web applications like xanga less than perfectly easy.  But another part of it was that I began to question my own motives in blogging about my experiences.  I don’t want to give even the appearance of evil (Though 1 Thessalonians 5:22 does not actually refer to avoiding appearances†), and I was concerned that I might appear to be self-seeking or proud which is not my intention and might actually do the opposite of what I intended.

I have come to the conclusion though that it is more important to exhort and build up than to be concerned about someone thinking I’m self-aggrandizing. 

Scriptural Principle:
1
Thessalonians 5:11
“Wherefore exhort one another, and build
each other up, even as also ye do.”

The reason I write posts like Why Extended Stay Evangelist and Unhalloween is to exhort my brothers in Christ, as I examine my own life and see where God is leading and directing me to exhort others to examine their own hearts and see if perhaps God is leading them in the same direction and we can share the journey.  The reason why I write posts like Winnie and First Contact is to encourage and to receive encouragement. 

So, I will continue to share with you my efforts, my successes and failures, and my insight from God’s word.

† See http://www.crivoice.org/appearance.html for an explanation

Meet Winnie.

Winnie knocked on my door the other night, and when I opened the door she
breathlessly asked “I’m sorry to bother you sir, but is there any chance I
could come in here while the police are talking to my boyfriend.”

Wow! I was nonplussed to say the least.  My first inclination was to say yes and let her in.  My second was to worry about involving my
family with a person whose boyfriend was being questioned by the police.  I didn’t give worry any opportunity to
besiege me.  I let her in immediately and
offered her a chair.

Scriptural Principle:

Hebrews 13:2 “Forget not to show love* unto strangers: for
thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

* The NIV says “to entertain”

She sat down and told me what was going on: She had come home from walking over to the nearby Wendy’s for some dinner to find the police in her apartment and her boyfriend with his hand in the air.  

“I slipped out before they could see me.  Why are the police talking to my boyfriend?”

“Are you OK?” I asked.  

“I’ll be OK; I just—Why are the police in my room?” she was mervously opening and shutting her cell phone.

“Would you like me to go up and find out what’s going on for you?” I asked, but she rather emphatically declined, saying that she just wanted to call her brother to pick her up.  After she had made the call, I asked if I could pray for her.  She was amenable, so I began to pray.  

I prayed for everything I could think of.  For peace and comfort for Winnie, for wisdom for the cops and for her boyfriend and his friend, for speed and safety for her brother.   And then I continued as follows:
“Lord, we know you love us, that you love Winnie, and that your desire for us is for our good.  Thank you that with all of creation at your fingertips you love us so much that you want to have a personal relationship with each one of us, that you care about the details of our lives, that you know Winnie’s situation right now.  Lord we know we don’t deserve your love and relationship, that you are a perfect and just God and we have all done things that break your law and deserve to be punished.  Lord thank you that even though the punishment for breaking your law is death, that you desired a relationship with us so much that you sent your son Jesus Christ who was perfect and had never broken your law so that he could willingly take our punishment so that we wouldn’t have to pay the price for all the bad things that we have done.  Thank you that if we believe that you are who you say you are in your word and if we choose to make you Lord of our lives and if we accept the gift that Jesus made when he died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins that you offer us eternal life with you.  Thank you so much for your mercy, even when we don’t deserve it.”
It may come out a bit contrived here on the page, but when I was praying it was heartfelt, from the spirit, and though I was aware of the fact that it was a witness, I wasn’t praying <i>to</i> witness.  I was praying from my heart to my God.  Nevertheless I realize that it was a witness and I believe that Winnie recognized that I was not pushing at her, but simply praying, interceding for her.  

When I finished praying, my wife came in and asked if she could get Winnie something to drink.  She had already been in our apartment for almost an hour.  My wife made her some tea, and she made a few more phone calls before her brother arrived to take her away.  I gave her my card at some point during all of that, but I found it on the floor of our apartment after she left, so I will probably know how the Spirit used my prayer in her life, and that’s OK, because it’s not about me, it’s about Him.  

I will also just mention that I was so blessed by my wife after Winnie was gone, I really was worried about how my wife would feel about my having just invited her in like that, considering her situation and our family with three young children.  My wife turned to me after she left and said “I feel like maybe I wasn’t hospitable enough to her.  I didn’t even offer her something to drink until she had been here for a whole hour” (like she had had the opportunity!)  I assured her that she had been more than hospitable enough, and my spirit soared to know that I had a wife whose spirit was in harmony with my spirit and the Spirit of God.  What a blessed encounter!

My wife and I always have a hard time when All Saint’s Eve rolls around. We have a real problem with even the ‘alternative’ celebrations provided by most churches. Until now I’d never really been able to put my finger on what the problem was. After last year’s ‘trunk-o-treat’ event at our church, I got a bit of clarity.

Let me start by saying what the problem is not.

The problem is not the idea of an alternative to a pagan/secular rite. When I was growing up, there was a couple in my church who refused to allow their children to participate in Easter celebrations ‘because the eggs were borrowed from pagan symbolism’. And eventually they even decided that because Christmas was celebrated on December 25th because of its proximity to the winter solstice, that they could no longer celebrate Christmas. Now in one sense, they were right. They were right about their facts. Eggs were adopted from pagan symbolism (More Info). Christmas was placed on the 25th of December to offer an alternative to solstice celebrations (More Info). However, my family didn’t have a problem with these celebrations, nor do I. Why then is Halloween different? It too originates in pagan rites and has been Christianized ( More Info). So why do I feel a twinge of guilt when I condone (by my attendance) even so much as a church-sponsored ‘trunk-o-treat’ event?

It’s not the implementation details, per se. Our trunk-o-treat event had the ‘Pumpkin Gospel’ and two puppet shows with evangelism moments while I was there. It was truly a blessing to be there and see kids from the surrounding community listening to the gospel message, hearing the great Christian music and seeing our church as more than that building that’s mostly empty six days of the week. I appreciated especially those who volunteered for the mostly thankless tasks of candy distributor and game supervisor, as well as the wonderful efforts of the youth band and the puppet team. Attending this event this year and feeling that twinge of concern yet being blessed nonetheless, and trying to sort it all out has led me to some conclusions. But before we get to them, I probably need to let everyone else in on the epiphany of sorts that I had regarding what was causing my twinge.

Let me begin with the minor issues. Let’s talk about the title: ‘trunk-o-treat’. What does it signify? What aspect of Christian history or life is emblematized in the name of our event? In the past its greatest cachet was that it offered a ‘safe’ and ‘Christian’ alternative for neighborhood kids. But to what is it an alternative? For the neighborhood kids, it is not an alternative to anything. When I was growing up and church events were held on the night of the 31st, that might have held, but not anymore. Sure they attend the ‘trunk-o-treat’ on Sunday, but they’ll be out trick-or-treating on Monday as well. It’s not an alternative; it’s just double the candy. Well then, it must be an alternative for the church kids, the Christians. Again, though, I must ask: alternative to what? Would we as Christians send our children out to celebrate the one if we didn’t have the other? If so, we could hardly call ourselves Christians. Could we only follow him if the way was easy and we still got the candy? What about our celebration differentiates us from the secular world? The only answer I can come up with is that in its basic inception, nothing does. Sure we tack on a bible story booth and puppet times (And those ministries may very well be life changing for some of the attendees. I’m not trying to suggest that no good comes out of the wonderful efforts that so many put in), but there is nothing intrinsic to our celebration that differentiates it. If a fellow office-worker asked me ‘So just what are you celebrating at your ‘trunk-o-treat’?” I wouldn’t have a good answer, and if I did come up with an answer I’d have no way to justify it. So much for ‘trunk-o-treat’. It may placate the candy hungry hearts of our children, but it isn’t in any real sense an alternative.

So if the ‘trunk-o-treat doesn’t hold up as an alternative. How does it fare on its own merit? If you followed the links earlier, you’re aware of the origins of Halloween or Samhain celebrations in pagan mythology and history. You’re also aware of how the Catholic church attempted to position All Saints Day so as to preempt the pagan celebration. Unlike with Christmas and Easter however, they were basically unsuccessful in changing the nature of the celebration or the attitudes of the participants. Further, protestant denominations when they broke with the Catholic Church quickly abandoned the celebration (probably because most no longer believed in the existence of Saints over and above the joint sainthood of all believers with Christ). And thus, the alternatives put on today in the protestant churches do not even have the veil of legitimacy that All Saint’s Day gives to the Catholic church festivities. Once again I am drawn back to my primary question: What are we celebrating?

Finally I think I understand the distaste that I’ve always felt for ‘Fall Festivals’ ‘Great Alternatives’ ‘trunk-o-treats’ and the like. It boils down to this. If we celebrate in the way the world celebrates and at the time the world celebrates, and we aren’t clear about what we are celebrating, then we tacitly acknowledge that the world has won—that Satan has won—that we have nothing better to offer. In short we abandon our religion (that is to say our beliefs and methods of worship) to join the world in the worship of things which don’t deserve it–apostasy.


Is there another way, a way more in keeping with the spirit of Christmas and Easter? I think that there is.

The idea came when I was reading my church bulletin after last year’s event and I saw the announcement for the annual Missions Sunday pot-luck. Included was the suggestion, ‘Dress internationally if you can.’ I thought to myself. They’re a week too late; this is dress up week. And then I thought, seeing how it’s missions’ week, why limit it to international regalia? Why not dress up as famous missionaries and/or converts as well.

You walk in wearing a trenchcoat, the brim of a fedora hiding your eyes. Flashing open your coat, you reveal 14 pockets filled with your contraband merchandise—Bibles! You’re Brother Andrew, God’s Smuggler. (Exercise for the reader: Figure out how to include an ‘iron curtain’ in the costume)

Don a priest’s collar. Add some bling-bling in the form of a gold cross, talk about getting the vulture (or monkey) off of people’s backs and carry a ‘switchblade’. You’re David Wilkerson (of The Cross and the Switchblade).

Insert head through large square of cardboard with sheet draped around the edges to look like a table. Use silver spray paint to produce a ‘platter’ around the opening. Add lots of fake blood. Eat locusts and honey. You’re John the Baptist (arguably the first missionary?).

Wear prison stripes, dirty wig, and support your skeleton thin sister in the same. You’re Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord.

Gather to celebrate the great commission, those who have given their lives in its fulfillment, the current work, the lives being changed. There is something worthy of celebration! But do it a week earlier so that it coincides, as it were by chance, with a certain pagan/secular holiday.

Here are a few more details of how one might implement such a program though they are not intended to be definitive suggestions, merely examples.

Give the children treats, but not just for the sake of having treats. Instead, establish booths for various missionary efforts/organizations/families. Have a different kind of treat (possibly with international origins) at each.

Have several (costumed or not) ‘missionaries’ and/or ‘converts’ (real or made-up) who tell the children their stories and share the gospel message both the evening of the ‘main’ event and at several events (Sunday School, Bible Battalion, Etc.) leading up to it (generate a buzz). Each missionary might endow all the children listening with a small baggie/handful of treats (establishing a pattern similar to that of Father Christmas).

Advertise in the community by publishing a leaflet/flyer with several ‘scary’ Halloween stories—namely stories about martyred missionaries/believers.

Establish traditions rather than just emulating (borrow what works of course). Encourage the establishment of special home and church decorations that symbolize the nature of the celebration; use these rather than pumpkins, apples, scarecrows, or black cats (or where possible invest the old symbols with new meaning). Make those symbols such that they might easily be adopted all unknowing by the secular community (like the Christmas tree, the Easter Egg, etc.)–or don’t and avoid the commercialization…?

Ensure that the primary celebration leaves no room for double dipping (Why not have a pot luck on a Monday? Why confine church to Sundays?). Celebrate on the evening of the 31st of October, no matter what weekday it falls on.

Share the vision with other churches. Encourage them to implement similar celebrations; invite them to participate in cross-congregational activities.

Plan November or December short-term missions trips and have sign-ups on the 31st.

This is the mere beginning of a proposal for a true Holy Day (holiday) which really means something to replace the current emptiness (at least for me) that is the modern church Halloween celebration.

Some of these suggestions may be inappropriate. Some may be impractical or mutually exclusive. I am posting here at least partially in the hopes of encouraging the generation of other ideas. How can we be proactive about Halloween? How can we take the fight to the devil instead of retreating behind our bunkers? I look forward to hearing what others think.

For someone who has committed himself to evangelism–to fulfilling the great commission, I feel an awful lot like Moses, “I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10b)†  Fortunately, the Lord has a way of getting past our inhibitions and enabling us to minister when we commit ourselves to Him.  This week I met Rob and Joy (not their real names).  Rob and Joy are homeless, young, and confused.  They approached me in the parking lot of the hotel, asking for money to buy food.  Rob said he had a job that was starting the next day, and that they just needed some food because they were very hungry.

Confession Time:
I have had a very hard heart toward panhandlers; when I see someone on the street with a sign, I tend to look the other way.  I am, in these situations, very much the Pharisee or priest from the story of the good Samaritan.  Please pray for me that the Lord will continue to soften my heart, and teach me to have greater compassion.

For some strange reason, the Lord moved my heart in this instance, and I told them to hold on and I would walk with them over to the Wendy’s to buy them some food.  I quickly ran up to our room and told my wife what was going on and that I would be back in a few minutes.  When I got back outside, Rob and Joy had already gone to the other side of the parking lot.  I walked over and said “You didn’t think I was going to come back out did you?”

“Well,” Rob said, “A lot of people…” his voice trailed off.

“I’m not going to sneak out on you.” I said.  “I want you to know that even though we only just met, I care about you.  Let’s go get you something to eat.”  We went in to the Wendy’s and as we were standing in line, I got out one of my prayer cards.  These are home printed double-wide business cards that have my info on one side, and blank lines on the other.  That way I can fill in the info on one card and keep it to remember how to pray over someone, while giving them the other card so that they can get in touch with me when God moves in their lives.  I asked Rob if it was OK if I wrote down their names and some info so that I could pray over them.

“Sure” he said.

“That would be so great” said Joy, and proceeded to inform me that she was suffering from kidney stones which were extremely painful.  I asked her if I could pray about them right then, and she said yes, so I prayed a very short prayer.

“Dear Lord, I ask you right now to heal Joy’s kidney stones let them disolve away instead of passing.  Please spare her that pain that she’s going through.”

Joy said “You know, I believe, if that helps any.”

Opportunity missed:
This type of ambivilent unsure statement about belief offers a perfect opportunity to talk about what belief does and doesn’t do and the difference between belief (“even the demons”) and faith.  This time I let the comment slide, but next time I’ll be prepared to take the opportunity to turn things towards eternal truths.

I don’t know why other than the Lord must have been just taking control of my tongue, but I then asked them if they had a place to stay.  They indicated that they didn’t, and somehow I found myself purchasing them a single night at the hotel. 

I was really rather stunned at what I had done, so much so that I didn’t even mention it to my wife when I got back to our room.  I was speechless over my own actions, but the worst part was that although I had had the opportunity and had turned things towards spiritual things, I had not clearly laid out the truth of the law, justice, punishment, and salvation to Joy and Rob–some evangelist I was.  I vowed before the Lord that Joy and Rob would not leave that hotel room without hearing the truth from me.

The next morning, I got up early, went to Wal-Mart and purchased some cheap $.50/ea. toiletry items and 2 $2 towels, and went over and knocked on the door of their room.  They answered the door. 

“I brought you over some toiletry items in case you wanted to take showers because since it’s an extended stay hotel they don’t provide those kinds of things.  Do you mind if I talk to you for a minute?” 

“No problem.”

“Sure.”

“Thanks,” I continued, “I just wanted ya’ll to know that I really care about you–so much so that I just couldn’t let y’all leave before I talked to you about something that’s really important to me and to you.  Do you know what happens after we die?”  Neither Rob nor Joy had an answer; in fact, both shook their heads.  “I do.  The Bible says that it is given for a man once to die and after that the judgement.  That means that after we die we’re going to be judged by God.  Now, God is perfect, completely and totally perfect.  He’s never done anything wrong, never told a little white lie, nothing.  You and I look at rapists and murders and might think wow they are so bad I wouldn’t want to associate with them.  God is so perfect that even if we think we’ve lived a good life, by his perfect standard, we’re as guilty as a rapist or murderer. 

“Because God is also just He doesn’t just let us off the hook.  We deserve to die, and He has to pass the just sentence, which is that we must pay for the wrong things we’ve done by going to hell, a place where the Bible says there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It’s not a pretty picture.  You Joy, Rob, and I–we’re all doomed to burn in Hell for all eternity.

“You know what the worst part is?” (No answers from Joy and Rob) “God actually loves us and wants to have a relationship with us.  Wants to know us and to hang out with us, but He can’t because justice demands that we be separated from Him.  So God, because He loves us so much, came up with a plan that would satisfy the demands of justice, yet still allow him to have a relationship with us.  He sent His own perfect Son, who was in fact also God himself, down to the earth to take the punishment for our evil.  I’m talking about Jesus Christ.  He died because of our bad deeds.  God laid on Him the punishment for everything we’ve done wrong, and because He was perfect, because He’d never done anything wrong Himself, he was able to pay the price, to pay the fine for the laws we broke. 

“So God offered us this great gift.  He says ‘If you’ll confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your hearts that God has raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.”   That means that if we believe and say Jesus is Lord, if we turn away from sinning and strive to sin no more, to make Jesus the Lord of our life, and if we believe that the word of God, the Bible, is true and that Jesus is alive, then we don’t have to take the punishment we so richly deserve for our lives as liars and thieves.  Instead when we are judged after we die, God will say Jesus already paid the price for this one, let him come into heaven with me and celebrate.”

Joy and Rob had remained pretty quiet throughout the whole story.  I hadn’t engaged them with questions the way I’ve been taught.  I finished up. “Thank you guys for listening to me.  I really didn’t want you to leave without knowing that I cared enough about you to tell you about the truth.  I’m going to be praying for you that God will reveal Himself to you, that you will continue to meet people who will tell you the truth and that you’ll turn toward God and repent.  Of course I’ll be continuing to pray for Joy’s kidney stones as well.  Please keep the other half of the card I filled out for you yesterday, and if you have any questions about anything I’ve said, if you’d like a Bible to read for yourself what God has to say, or if you need help, give me a call. I’ll accept even collect calls.

That was the last I saw of Joy and Rob, I pray they made it up to Frisco safely and his work is now getting them back on their feet, but most of all I pray that God will use my witness, stumbling and halting though it was (and believe me I left out a lot of stumbles and halts to fit this into a reasonable length blog post), to bring them to Himself.

What is an extended stay evangelist you ask (or perhaps you don’t and you stumbled onto this site for some other reason)?  This site will hopefully answer this question and allow you to share in my experiences.

So I have up and moved my entire family of 5 to a one bedroom apartment in an extended stay hotel in a less than savory area of town. It’s a big change.  We’re going from a 3 bedroom 2 bath house with multiple living areas and a large backyard to two rooms–one bedroom with just enough room for our queen size mattress and a crib matress for the 2 year old, and a combo living-dining-kitchen, plus a small bathroom of course.  I’m typing this while sitting on the crib matress with my feet on the queen from our bedroom (at least we have free internet access, yea!).  We’re still unpacking what little we have left after giving away most of our possessions, but I can already tell that it is going to work.  We fit, even in relative comfort.  We’re where we should be, for now.

I know what you’re thinking: “You must be crazy.”  I’d have thought the same thing if someone had told me even two years ago that this is where I would be today.  So let me tell you what’s “wrong” with me–what causes an upper-middle-class suburban family man to give away his possessions and move his family into an urban hotel in a poor area.

I know a secret that much of the world does not know or chooses to ignore.  The Bible (you know the book you hate it when people thump?) is true.  It’s not merely a good “guide for living” or a “collection of stories” or a “moral option.”  It is actually hard, black-and-white true.  The kind of true that’s worth betting on.  A sure thing.

I know I’ve lost a good half of you who have at this point written me off as “one of those fanatics” and moved on.  Of those that are left, I figure most of you still would deny the truth of the above statement.  Even if you identify yourself as a Christian you probably have some doubts in the back of your mind.  You’ve heard someone or another bring up some apparent inconsistencies and you didn’t have an answer and now you’re not really sure what to believe.  A few of you do believe the above and yet still can’t imagine how that simple statement could lead inexhoraby to the actions I outlined in my first paragraph.  Stick with me. Over the next weeks and months, I’ll share my adventures living as an extended stay evangelist.  I’ll also be answering some of those nagging questions, sharing with you the truth of the Bible and encouraging you to seek (and find) the truth for yourself.

My name is Robert Flach and I am worried about the contant flow of people into everlasting punishment and shame due to my inaction and the inaction of other Christians
like me who have let their fear overcome their compassion.  I have
decided to make a change in my own life to do what I believe God is
calling me (and all Christians) to do.  Notice the parentheses in the last sentence.  That’s right.  God is calling you as a Christian to be doing what I am doing.  But don’t take my word for it.  Read your own Bible, pray, and listen for God to speak to your heart.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be quoting scripture on this site (from public domain texts and with proper attribution), but I would encourage you to get a hold of the word of God (the Christian Bible) for yourself, read the full context of anything anyone quotes to you, and listen to what God has to say.

I had at the same time become concerned with the state of Christians in America today–specifically, the fact that the majority cannot be easily differentiated from their neighbors (except by their location on Sunday morning, and possibly, a few other nights per week).  I believe that God calls us to be in the world but not “of” it.  To me that means that it should be possible to easily tell the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian through a very short period of observation of their daily life. 

Well that wasn’t (and still isn’t) me.  This isn’t some holier-than-thou diatribe about why I’ve got it right and you’ve got it wrong.  In fact I know I’ve got it wrong.  That’s why I’ve begun this journey, and I’m sure God will correct and guide me along the way.  But I do want to encourage you if you haven’t started, if your neighbors don’t know you’re a Christian, if your bumper sticker is your only witnessing tool, to join me on a journey into the heart of God’s will, into the great comission, into the only task that is really worth doing with a Christian’s time on this earth–preventing the wholesale loss of the only life worth having by the hordes of people who are dying each day without realizing the truth of God’s word.

And how do we go about it? Well I’ve started by getting rid of a lot of things that were hindering me from doing God’s work and fulfilling his plan for my life, and then moving to an area where he could more easily use me on a daily basis.

And there you have it:  Now you know how an upper-middle-class suburban family man can give away his possessions and move his family into an urban hotel in a poor area.  If you want to follow my journey, see me fall on my face, see God move in people’s hearts, see what happens next.  Hang on.  There are more posts to come.

Let me close this missive with a few truths.

1. Daniel 12:2 says: “And many of them that
sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life,
and some to shame and everlasting contempt.Ӡ
2. Matthew 10:28 says: “And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to
kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and
body in hell.”

Are you absolutely sure you know what happens after we die? 

I am–I am absolutely sure I know what happens after we die.  Futher I am confidently assured by an unimpeachable authority that my knowledge is accurate.

If you’re not, consider checking out the following questionnaire: Are You Good?

† All quotes will be from the American Standard Version of the Bible.  This version is in the public domain.  I choose to use a Public Domain Biblical text because the idea of copyrighting the Bible (and placing restrictions on its use) seems both hypocritical and counterintuitive.

It’s happened to most writers I know. You’re in the middle of an essay/poem/story when you suddenly have the urge to go back and fix several problems with paragraph one. You resist the urge as best you can, but it gets harder and harder to wade through the final half of your work because your mind is constantly thinking of ways to improve the part that’s already on paper. There’s nothing wrong with giving in per se. The problem, for me anyway, is that as you start revising, you move back through that first half that you’ve already written revising as you go until you suddenly realize that your revision to the beginning doesn’t really fit with what you’ve now changed in the second quarter of the piece and so the cycle starts over again without any actual forward progress being made on completing the piece.

If I’m on a deadline, such as with research papers for uni. or articles for a magazine or contest, I can generally fight through to the end and get something completed–often something whose first half is a sight better than it’s second, but at least a whole work. With very short works such as formal poetry, I can generally complete a first draft before the urge kicks in. And of course, once the first full draft is complete I can revise to my heart’s content knowing that I am revising a completed work and that whenever I choose to stop revising (if ever) the work will still be complete. [As it happens here I am revising this paragraph while this missive is still incomplete] I should also note, that I’m not talking about writer’s block in the traditional sense. I know where each particular work needs to go next and I’m excited about getting it there. If I do run into that kind of block I certainly always have other projects on the table that I can resort to.

Nevertheless, I have never in my adult life managed to complete any creative work longer than about 2 pages (500 words). Never. There’s no missing dependent clause here. I’ve started three or four novels, a good dozen short stories, and more than one creative essay. They are all incomplete. Some are still available to me, others have gone untouched (due to the molasses that was my forward momentum) for so long that I have lost the original file/notebook/envelope.

I’m writing this celebrate the completion of my very first children’s story. It took only the spare moments during a one weekend retreat to complete it, but it has been hanging out in my brain for at least 4 years and hadn’t made it out onto paper yet. (There were at least two abortive attempts, one in longhand and one on my blog using a draft post.) Finally the story of Princess Abigail and the Dragon is complete. It isn’t finished yet. It still needs a lot of revising, but at least now I’ll be revising a completed work! My greatest thanks go to Stephanie for typing it up for me so that I can do that revision more easily.

Recently, I was reading on Slashdot about how Professor John Brookfield has told the UK Press Association that the “pecking order is clear” with regard to the age-old chicken and egg question: “Therefore the first bird that evolved into what we would call a chicken, probably in prehistoric times, must have first existed as an embryo inside an egg.”

In the comments there, the much more important question of Why the chicken crossed the road came up, and one observer noted that:

“The question “Why did the chicken cross the road” is invalid. It is invalid because “why” assumes that the chicken had some reason for taking the action “cross the road”. This, in turn, assumes that the chicken has the concept of “road”; after all, if the chicken doesn’t know that the road is there, then the chicken did not – from the chickens point of view – cross the road, and consequently it is meaningless to ask for its motivations for doing so.

“Since chicken is an animal, it is unlikely that it has the concept of road in the same sense than humans do; since it is a bird, whose ancestors were propably capable of flight in the near past, it is unlikely to have the concept of road in any sense – why would a flying bird need roads ?

“Therefore, the chicken can never have any motivation for crossing the road, since from the chickens point of view, it never does any such thing. It simply moves from one point to another, and these points happen to be on the opposite side of a flat area of ground. No road-crossing has happened.

“Think of it this way: if you walk over a scent trail left by some animal, and you don’t know that the trail is there, it is foolish to ask your motives of crossing that trail. One can ask your motives for walking in the first place, but the crossing was pure coincidence and not something you chose.”

My Reply:

Actually the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” is perfectly valid. While you may be correct that the chicken does not have a ‘reason’ for crossing the road because reasons (used precisely rather than as in common parlance) require intentionality with regard to their object, causes do not require intentionality and yet are at least as commonly if not more commonly the object of the interogative ‘why’ as reasons are.

To put it simply, I may say that the cause of the chicken’s crossing of the road was the action of a particularly strong gust of wind in that direction. This provides an adequate explanation for the phenomenon and answers the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” without imputing sentience or intentionality to the chicken’s actions.

I may further say (if I wish) that the chicken crossed the road to eat the grain on the other side. This both imputes intentionality to the chicken, adequately explains the phenomenon and answers the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” But wait, you may be saying, you just told us that intentionality isn’t necessary to answer the question. I did say that and I stand by it, but that does not mean that intentionality may not be involved in the answer to the question. In this case, however, the intentionality while needed to answer the question, is only tangentially related to the effect under examination. Specifically to answer the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” we are pointing out that the chicken intended to consume a certain pile of grain, and that the road was between the chicken and that pile. We still have not imputed to the chicken any knowledge of the road “as a road”. Rather we have simply explained the conditions and the intentions which led to the action of the chicken crossing the road, whether or not the chicken had a full understanding of those conditions.

Finally we must address the standard answer to the question: “To get to the other side.” Again this answer imputes intentionality to the chicken’s actions (the chicken did it ‘to get’ something) and it seems to imply a knowledge of the road (to understand ‘the other side’ the chicken must have knowledge of some object with two sides, understand that it is on one side of said object and desire to cross the object to reach the other side). Implied in this answer is that there is no further motivation other than getting to “the other side” and hence we cannot suggest that the answer simply left off the fact that there was a pile of grain on the other side which is the ‘real’ reason the chicken crossed the road. No. The chicken must have crossed the road for the sole and ultimate purpose of reaching the other side of “the road”. How are we to reconcile this with the (most unassailable) assumption that the chicken has no knowledge of the road “as a road” and the need to allow this statement as a positive answer to the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” We have specified that the chicken has no knowledge of a road “as a road”. However, we have never suggested that the chicken has no knowledge of the road “as something”. What then is the nature of the road as the chicken perceives it? We would not be unjustified in suggesting that at the very least the chicken has access to its own sensory data. It then must have a knowledge of the road as the “extended-hard-flatspace”. We need go no further in our suppositions. We have here a chicken with an exploratory bent who wishes to discover what lies beyond the “extended-hard-flatspace”. This adequately explains the phenomenon, assigns to the chicken a state of intentionality, relates that state of intentionality to the road, and answers the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” with the statement “To get to the other side” all without in the least requiring that the chicken understand roads in the sense that we as humans understand roads.

Do you have a take on the Chicken Crossing the Road? Post it below. Feel free to post joke variations as well.

In “A Rape In Cyberspace” (Village Voice, 1993), Julian Dibbell discusses a virtual world in which a virtual person (representing of course an actual person) used the tools of that world to force another virtual person into an unwanted violent and graphic sexual encounter and how that encounter and its victims created a community out of an electronic database known as Lambda Moo. He does this by first relating what actually happened, as objectively as possible recounting the facts of the so-called assault as it occurred within the virtual world, then discussing the ramifications of the virtual world on the real world that it mimics and questioning where virtual crime falls on the moral scale of society, and finally discussing the after-effects of the events in both the virtual and real worlds, in both the public sphere and in his own philosophical musings. Dibbell attempts to determine the nature, purpose, value, morality, and importance of virtual worlds and virtual communities in order to explore the hazy line between thought and object, between physical and mental. He keeps a narrative tone throughout the piece, but the depth of his philosophical musings make it less than appropriate for a general audience; it seems to be aimed primarily toward philosophers interested in examining the nature of physicality versus mentality with respect to online communities, but to also attempt the inclusion of the average well educated member of an online community.

Having been a participant in many online communities of the type foreshadowed by Lamda Moo, and indeed, having visited Lamda Moo itself on occasion, I find it interesting to note the evolution that has occurred in these virtual communities since the time that this article was written. Primarily, there has been a stratification of virtual worlds, into those in which a community, much like that which evolved in Lamda Moo, self regulates through some form of semi-governmental process, and those in which there is a strange combination of anarchy and dictatorship where one or more “wizards” hold absolute power and occasionally make use of it to mete out arbitrary and capricious “punishment” on “wrongdoers” but in which there is otherwise no enforcement of any moral or legal standard. These latter types are often what is known as hack and slash MUDs, in which interaction between characters is limited to virtual fighting, and of course the perennial virtual sex. In the former on the other hand, players tend to form relationships with the other characters in the virtual world, and in fact, invest much of their emotional well being into that characters persona and life experiences. Much as the real-life woman who presented as Legba in the story above was literally in tears in real life over the experiences of her virtual persona, so many players invest themselves so deeply in the online world that virtual marriages have been known to lead to real life marriages, and virtual slights to lead to real-world retaliations. What the ramifications of all this are is beyond me, except to say that as the real-world gets uglier, and as interfaces move from text to graphics to true virtual reality, I think it likely that more and more people will find it important, therapeutic, and even vital to retreat into a fantasy world, where at least you can kill the villains.


In A Virtual Commonplace, “The Computer as a New Writing Space,” Jay David Bolter makes the argument that electronic hypertext offers a “revolution in writing” by allowing the writer to make use not only of linear words, sentences, and paragraphs, but also of larger and more diverse organizing structures which mimic or reflect the languages rich tradition of verbal gestures. He refers back to the Greek conception of topoi from which our word topic descends as a verbal unit or place whose meaning “transcends their constituent words.” This topical organization he suggests is intrinsic to logical thought but almost impossible to accurately reflect in traditional media. The closest that the ancients came to a truly topical organization was the Roman conception of outlining, which persists to this day as the primary “formal” method of written organization.

Other than the paragraph, which divides a paper up into high-level topics, traditional writing “flattens” or destructuralizes the content of an evolving text. Word processors move in the write (right) direction by allowing structures to be defined, highlighted, and moved or deleted as a unit temporarily, but don’t go far enough. An outline processor goes a step further, by making this structuralization a permanent feature of the processor, and allowing the writer to play more easily with the overarching structure. Finally hypertext offers the writer the ability to create a “web of thought” similar to many “pre-writing” exercises which writers use prior to formally organizing their thoughts. The computer he says, “Can maintain such a network of topics, and it can reflect the writer’s progress as he or she trims the network by removing connections and establishing coordination until there is a strict hierarchy.” He goes on to argue that these types of topical association networks are an important part of writing which traditional media have been forced to suppress as having no outlet for them. The papyrus allowing them not at all, and the codex and printed book, allowing better and better access; and finally, the hypertext document allowing full and unfettered access to the “text behind the text.”

Bolter then goes into the benefits, and detriments of this new form of writing. The benefits include the ability to capture that structure of ideas in physical form, the ability to restrict the flow of information to the reader with regards to both speed and path, and the ability make the written word respond to the reader in a much more interactive sense than ever before. The disadvantages include the removal of the writer even further from the reader due to the abstract nature of electronic technology, and the transitory nature of technological writing with its tendency towards change evolution and extinction. Without ever coming to any definite conclusions, Bolter seems to end the article or chapter in an uncertain state. While the benefits and possibilities that hypertext offers are without a doubt valuable, there seems to be a note of caution that the unstable and transitory nature of the electronic medium are something to be wary of.

This text is, of course, decidedly out of date with its talk of outline processors (a concept which flopped dramatically in the early 90s) and hypertext as a “revolution.” The only revolution in writing which hypertext heralded was in the amount of freely available smut. It has turned out that hypertext documents like other documents are best written in the same highly structured, hierarchical, and “flattened” format as traditional texts. Those that attempt to become “networks of ideas” end up as quagmires into which the unwary reader sinks, and without divine intervention loses himself, never to arrive at any conclusion. In fact, the reader is likely to become so frustrated with the plethora of options that he gives up on the text entirely and moves on to something that is organized in a manner that he can understand.

The problem of course is that my “network of ideas” or ways of grasping a subject are drastically different from almost everyone else’s ways. Rhetoric has always been the process of bridging that gap between topoi and speech, between idea and communication, between thought and action. It seems unlikely to me that this process will ever be “swept away” by a new paradigm, but rather that it will simply continue to be refined and evolved to use, rather than be replaced by, new technologies. In fact, the best use of hyperlinks in online text is the use which Bolton scoffs at in his introduction: The judicious footnote made immediately available inline through a hyperlink.

The real revolution in electronic text will come from the plethora of opportunities for the author/artist to bypass the establishment, and deliver their work directly to the proletariat, whether for pay, or gratis, and in the ability of the audience to respond to and interact with their beloved author in real time. Communal works written by multiple authors in which no one part can be said to be the product of a single person will flourish, as will published “discussions” or debates between two or more respected individuals. Town halls, and virtual universes will allow the reader to be steeped in the authors work, and the author will be able to monitor such places and use them sources for further writing. In fact, all of these processes are already happening to a greater or lesser extent with various authors, especially in genre fiction. As such, it is bulletin boards, newsgroups, online communities, and e-mail lists that herald the revolution in writing, not mere hypertext.

Smoke curls
            up from empty
     words.  I burn
a page for you and
   incense like, it
               wafts up through
                      the air, particulate and
                                          grey like
                               you, not like
                        the ink that every day
                     I spilled like
         blood only to see you
                           laughed without
                                            a smidge of human-like
                                  concern in the way your eyes
                          met mine and turned away.
                                  You stalked off to
                                           the kitchen, asked again
                      for food or milk or something; gauging
               you is difficult.
                           Perhaps your age or mine’s
                 the barrier.  Although
                            you’re masked by onyx eyes
                                and pointed ears and fur, it can’t be that
                                             your feline incarnation could be
                                                      the cause of all my lives’
                                                                           frustration.

The above sonnet employs a nonce rhyme-scheme of abccbaabccbadd.  After composing the sonnet as usual, I began to look for ways to break up the lines and change the wording so as to allow for doubling of meaning, abiguity, and intensification.  In the process I found the opportunity to create an additional aspect in the concreteness (visually) of the textual arrangement. It was created rather off the cuff because I saw I hadn’t posted in a very long while and wanted to put something original up, and it is a little too abstract even now, for my taste, but I enjoyed the diffusion and the layering of meaning that the self-developed workshopping allowed me to achieve.  Now if I can just do the same with something a little more concrete (memetically).

 

So, as you can imagine, with Josely Baptista fresh in my mind, my thoughts are focused on translation.  Add to that a class in Old English language and literature, and you’ve got yourself a dangerous combination.


I’m reading the Wife’s Lament, right, which I can without affectation retitle Lonely Wife Blues.  After all, the scholar who came up with the title “The Wife’s Lament” back in the day was simply seeking a descriptive handle by which to reference a text which its scribe left untitled.  Some people will tell you that authors weren’t concerned with titling their works until the advent of the printing press and the possibility of widespread printed publication.  I beg to differ.  I think that SCRIBES weren’t all that concerned with titles, but authors (in what small sense authorship as we know it existed in a pre-literate culture) always titled their works, and always shared that title with their audience (reader or listener).  What, you think Homer just started strumming and people lined up to listen?  Well, OK, maybe he could have, but I guarantee you that what he did was say something along the lines of “And now I give you the story of Odysseus and his remarkable journey,” or something along those lines.  It’s basic; it’s intrinsic; authors title their works.  In any case, that was a humongous old tangent.  The point is that you can give the Wife’s Lament any old title you choose as long as people understand what you’re talking about.


So I get to thinking, what modern poetic form most closely approximates the alliterative verse of Anglo Saxon culture, and I realize, we have a form today that is strikingly similar.  When I say strikingly, you’re not gonna belive how striking it is.  So what is Alliterative verse?  Basically what you’ve got is a “line” divided into to half-lines, each of which has two strongly weighted syllables, at least one of these syllables in each half-line alliterating with one in the other half line.  Of course the rules for determining a strongly weighted syllable get pretty complex, as do the iterations that can be used within that basic pattern, but nevertheless, that’s pretty much it.  In modern verse, we have something commonly referred to as the blues line.  Basically, it has two half-lines, often (though not always by any means) joined by alliteration on the stressed syllables, with the lines repeating and/or rhyming at the end.  Remove the requirement for rhyme and you’ve got the updated version of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse.


What follows is my translation (and I use the word translation advisedly; this is not a transliteration or a traduction or a paraphrase) of the first several lines of the Wife’s lament into unrhymed strongly alliterated blues lines.  I have tried to stay true as much as possible down to the word level, and always at least to the level of the half-line.  I think it works as well as any translation can.  What do you think?


Lonely Wife Blues


I’ll sing you a song    ’bout my sad sad life,
’bout my sad sad plight,    though I say it myself;
and my miserable lot    after i matured.
I’ve been there before    never badder than now.
I’ve suffered torment    been sent away,
just like my man was    away from the masses,
when he caused a commotion    and filled me with care.
I wanted to know    just where he was,
So I went on a journey    and looked for a job:
Couldn’t make no friends    in my miserable state.
My poor man’s kin    considered it great
(though they tried to hide it)   that they’d parted our hearts,
as far away    as the farthest lands.
My man’s life was lousy;    he longed for me;
he had me live like him    in the horrible trees.
I didn’t have no friends    nowhere in this nation.
didn’t have no friends    didn’t have no joy.
So when I found him    and he made me happy
didn’t know he weren’t lucky    that he’d lose his mind;
didn’t know he’s contrivin’    a homicide.
He had a happy appearance    we promised and vowed
we wouldn’t be parted    ’til death did his part.
We said we wouldn’t be parted,    but that was a lie,
cause I’m sittin here now,     and just want to die.


[To be continued]

     On the Shining Screen of the Eyelids by Josely Vianna Baptista, with translations by Chris Daniels is a volume of facing translations divided into two parts.  The first part, “from Air,” indeed seems to waft across the senses in a way that is in striking contrast to the blockiness of the typographical layout.  The second half, “Corpography,” begins to play with image, and the almost photograph like drawings by Fransisco Faria, incorporate text into the image even as they, as images, are incorporated into the text.  There is a short introduction in which Daniels describes his process in translating, giving specific examples of the dilemmas he was faced with and the choices that he made about them.


     I was much more interested in the introduction than in the poetry itself.  I found that the uniform overspacing made the text difficult on my eyes, and while it certainly problematized the very ideational level of the text, rather than draw me into a deeper interest in and exploration of the sonic, sensory, and typographic levels, it merely turned me off to the work as a whole.  On the other hand, the glimpse into the translation process was fascinating, and examining some of the poems as works of translation, even with my limited Portuguese, made the book much more fascinating.  The drawings, too, were superb, and while Chris suggests that their photographic quality is a product of the medium of the glossy book pages and the offset printing process and laments the loss of the texture of the originals, I found the juxtaposition of the pseudo-real images  with their canvases of skin which served up text inside of image inside of text, added an interesting dimension that would not have existed without the photo-realistic aspect.

I can’t do better than to recommend the review that Chris Murray has written of the reading by Dale Smith and Hoa Nguyen.  It was excellent.  My only disappointment was that David Bart didn’t have a chapbook to offer at the event.  I picked up Hoa’s book Your Ancient See Through (I already had Dale’s American Rambler), and got both signed.  Chris is not kidding when she talks about Hoa’s presence.  What a dynamic and engaging speaker.

Though I got it initially from Lime Tree, it originates in its current form from a Live Journal Entry by Elkins who apparently modified it (a much needed modification) from Amy’s Journal which can be traced back to, if not its original incarnation, at least the start of this thread at, Tabouli, where it is part of a larger question and answer meme which is unattributed.


The Game



1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.


“We pack the physical outline of the person we see with all the notions we have already formed about him, and in the total picture of him which we compose in our minds those notions have certainly the principal place.”

  — Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time. Ed. D. J. Enright. Trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. New York: The Modern Library, 1998.

This is probably the most fascinating little meme I have seen in a while.  I must admit that since I had several books in a stack which were equidistant from my current location I looked at page 23 of each before choosing my “official” response.  Also up for the honor were:


1. “If we scan them, we will find that Hardy mixes iambs and anapests almost equally, as in the poem’s third stanza:


The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
     Like an ominous bird a-wing . . .”


  — Timothy Steele, Missing Measures (poem is ‘Neutral Tones’ by Thomas Hardy)


2. “On these terms meter may be costing more than it is worth.”

  — John Crowe Ransom, “Wanted: An Ontological Critic” from The Advocates of Poetry, Ed. R. L. Gwynn

3. “Mother kissed both tear-stained faces and led the twins away.”

  — Mabel Betsy Hill, The Enchanted Playhouse

and finally,

4. “Hashes are often called associative arrays, because a string index is associated with a scalar value.”

  — Martin C. Brown, Perl: The Complete Reference


Don’t ask me what the Perl book was doing mixed in with the others.  My areas of discourse often mix.

The problem with discussions of poetics today is that no one is willing to accept any linguistic boundaries.  In other words, poetry must be allowed to be anything anyone chooses to call poetry, and for some, anything that exists regardless of whether anyone has yet chosen to call it poetry.  This makes the word poetry meaningless for distinguishing an entity, and as such makes discussions of poetics pretty damn meaningless too.  It is fairly clear that the definitions of the OED (of poetry) are no longer acceptable to the emerging establishment, but I doubt that a definition could be worded that would satisfy even a basic majority of interested and academic parties and yet still hold some linguistic value.


This rant brought on by the question and discussion at As/Is2


UPDATE:  I should have said that it makes arguments about poetics pretty damn meaningless, rather than discussions about poetics which can, in fact, still be civil and enjoyable (though probably not useful in any meaningful sense) as the case in point shows.

Lime Tree has a fun little discourse on the discourse of thought.


Ruminate has an old but very philohumorous post on the End Times, as well as a discussion of VIM vs. EMACS (a life-or-death matter to some UNIX users) that caught my interest today for some reason. 


Chris notes the upcoming discussion group and poetry reading in Arlington, and Mike Snider posts a delicious little sonnet by scientist-poet, Loren Eiseley, along with an insightful reply to a comment that boils down to a discussion of what makes canon.

I’ve always felt that there was an intrinsic connection between poetry and code.  The more I engage the blogging community, the more I find it to be true.  I therefore am proud to procaim myself, in the tradition of YAPH, JAPH, etc., YAPP, (Yet Another Programmer Poet).  Joined by the likes of Mike Snider , Michael Helsem (Gray Wyvern), and Chris Lott, the YAPP community appears to lean towards formalism, though such a statement is sure to be immediately contradicted by the discovery of a YAPP who is firmly ensconced in the avant garde (though I might argue that new formalism is, in fact, the new avant garde [you'll need a subscription to the OED to use the link]). 


Now it might be fun to explore the connections between the fields and to theorize as to reasons for the formalism of YAPPs.  It might also be fun to point to places like The Poetry of Programming and Programming As Poetry and Perl Poetry.  I might even reprint my own attempt at a perl poem:


Tips

#!/usr/local/bin/perl -w
# Turn on warn so that errors won’t trouble ya.
use strict if ( ! $AQuickHack );
# Keeps your program both safe and on track
$program =~ s/local/my/ if ( $version >= “Perl 5″ )
&& print “Now you’re not a Perl quack!”;
First published on Perl Monks at Tips. (Of course its not really poetry, just a bit of light verse or doggerel, but go to the link and look around occasionally something beyond the banal slips into the stream over there.)


On the other hand, I might not have time, and so I might just leave it all alone for another day, as it seems I’m always doing when it comes to my blog these days.

The University of Texas at Arlington

 and

 The Writing Center

Are proud to present:

A Poetry_Heat 2004

POETRY READING

By

Wendy Taylor Carlisle

Award winning poet and Author of Reading Berryman to the Dog

with

Mary Kim Kitchen

and

Robert Flach (That’s Me!)

Wednesday, April 7th @ 7:00pm

in

The Rady Room 6th floor Nedderman Hall

I know I’m no blogger (My god! you only read a couple of blogs once or twice a month, how can you possibly keep up), so it’s no suprise that it’s taken me this long to stumble upon Ruminate. How does this person so poignantly put so many things I think I think? Added to my bloglist (which only contains blogs I actually read regularly, as opposed to most bloglists I know of).

At the request of a friend I am posting the following humorous verse.

At the Club

A Farce

“The act of esteeming worthless; pointless” – floccinaucinihilipilification:

I’ve a constant pinging tintinnabulation

that I can’t escape no matter my gyrations.

So I sit and ask Doc Smith’s interpretation,

and he tells me it’s just due to loud vibrations

and a cure is pointless in his estimation.

It’s the gin he’d drunk that in my estimation

caused his analysis of my problem to devolve into mere floccinaucinihilipilification.

To identify the causative vibrations

of my now quite painful tintinnabulation

will require a dowser’s skilled interpretation

of a hazel wand’s erratic quick gyrations.

And I’ll prob’ly have to go through some gyrations

to allow me to obtain an estimation

of the price to stop the noise. Interpretation?

Why it’s simply that quite a lot of exclamatory and self-exculpating floccinaucinihilipilification

will result when I explain my tintinnabulation

and request the end of those blameworthy vibrations.

I sure hope the ceasing of those foul vibrations

will allow me to be rid of these gyrations

and will end this dreadful tintinnabulation.

Otherwise, my search, by any estimation,

will be bound to endure a considerable amount of floccinaucinihilipilification.

If the singer’s very flawed interpretation

(And I’ve very loosely used “interpretation”

for the rather less than musical vibrations;

though I don’t mean to be engaging myself in any floccinaucinihilipilification.)

and the dancer’s un-interpretive gyrations

could be stopped, then, in my humble estimation,

I could find the cause of my tintinnabulation;

but between the effects of my tintinnabulation

and the music and the dance, interpretation

has become impossible. No estimation

can succeed. I’ll have to live with the vibrations

and just sip my beer and watch the strange gyrations

of the dancers. And it begins to become obvious that the floccinaucinihilipilification

of the tintinnabulation and the cymbals’ loud vibrations

gives a weird interpretation to the dancers fierce gyrations;

and though no one pays attention, my estimation of the situation is that it can all reasonably be chalked up to a simple matter of a lot of floccinaucinihilipilification.

“Flesh-back,” by Guy Goffette, translated by Marilyn Hacker (published in Poetry London, No. 46), transmogrifies beer into gold and urchins into avenging angels. It speaks in the language of the urbane sophisticate, but rekindles the color of the back-alley brawls of beggars. I am glad that it was part of a longer piece, for it doesn’t seem like enough in and of itself to do justice to its theme, although the individual details are well wrought. I especially love the image of the light, entering into the domain of the dark, the bar, the café, and turning the liquor of despair into the liqueur of hope, a straw-colored ray that brings the heavens to earth, the sky to the asphalt.

Of course the problem with translation is that all sonic effects and matters of form and function are difficult to attribute to author or translator, but in the end, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter. This poem, though perhaps a different poem from the one written by Goffette, is its own entity and can stand alone. So it is not out of place for me to talk about the interesting internal rhyme of cafés/ray’s and urchin/in and shit/shit, rhymes, which do seem to be thematically appropriate, highlighting moments of contrast and of completion. The alliteration is also enjoyable, and it makes one appreciate the skill of a master translator who pays attention not merely to the sense, but to the sound.

If George Bush wants to win the race he’ll have to free
his campaign from the taint of missing WMDs.

If Edwards wants the liberal nomination then
He’ll have to show the delegates that he could win.

 

Poor examples no doubt, but worth the exercise.

Writing a Sestina

I only write one line. That’s all I have to write.
I keep the meter tight. No need to run across the line-ends.
Each is clear, and each one stands alone.
So each one stands alone, I only write one line.
The line ends. It is clear that that’s all I have to write.
No need to run across the meter, keep it tight.

The meter is kept tight so each one stands alone.
I need to bear my cross and write the only line I ever had to write.
The line ends. It is clear the line ends. It is clear the meter is kept tight.

And all I have the right to do is stand alone and write
the only line I need. To bear my cross I need to run across the line
-ends. It is clear I have but one right line, whose meter is too tight.

I know to stand alone It must be exactly right.
It must be exactly right, with no need to run across another line.
Alone, the line ends it. Is clear meter just too tight?

It’s all I can write. One line– I write across the page, alone, struggling to be clear, clinging tightly to the pen through just one last line.

I wasn’t really happy with yesterday’s poem. It failed to keep rigorously to the requirements of the rhyme. The one below is slightly more satisfactory.
Continuum

Look in the interstices
  of spider webs and flowers.
To purge the inner vices
  look in-between the hours.
If you would find true pleasure
  in aromatic spices,
it’s not in what you measure;
  it’s in the interstices.

“The Final Stroke,” by Peter G. Epps (published in the Penwood Review, November 2003), is interesting in that, more than any poem I have seen recently it keeps strictly to the Petrarchan requirement that the sextet be able to stand on its own as a separate poem. The theme seems to be rejection and loss, especially that which is (or seems to be) a product of one’s own actions. It also has a strong feeling of death and judgment as well. The connection between the two seems to be that realization of the former occurs in the process of the latter.

There are several phrases that evoke particularly poignant and enjoyable images. “Too numb to rest,” is one. The opposite would seem more likely to be true, yet this rings solid and perfect. One is numbed by not resting. I love the transposition of imagery that occurs between the octet and the sextet. The octet ends with an apparent death, a “clotted brain.” The broken vessel of the opening line of the sextet, is then initially read as a blood vessel, and thus is tied inextricably to the woman. This sets up a concrete metaphoric relationship between the woman herself and the vessel which has just dropped from her lifeless hands.

Another nice juxtaposition of nomenclature occurs in the penultimate line (which is also wonderful sonically speaking), when her betrayals are made of clay, a traditional medium for dishes. Although the abstraction of the sextet gets to be a little too much toward the end, it was still a wonderful and enjoyable exploration of the transformation of death, a questioning of what lies just beyond and a suggestion that our assumptions may be turned on their heads.

Grief

Beaches call; stony clamor
of silence rings through dead air.
Dead air receives the stammer
and sinks without a sound. Where
are the calls of the sea birds?
This silent screaming teaches
me the power of no words
as I sigh on the beaches.

Progression

Wildlife,
endless.   Here
is the bison,
lost to us when
longbows departed.
I see it rifled
dead,
buried. Achilea
eventually is grown,
or killed; élan
returns when man,
murdering being,
noticing the lack,
overcorrects. Ex-
environmentalist,
too little  for
sinners like us,
underhanded. Re-
supply, re-support.
All heaths dead.

I’m going to start working my way through Lewis Turco’s Book of Forms, writing one form a day, in alphabetical order. The intention is both to keep me focused on my craft, to provide the occasional inspiration, to broaden my poetic horizons, and to provide you, my faithful readers, with more regular entertainment.

I think all heartfelt love poetry, composed in the moment and to a real lover, is probably pretty cheesy. I know for certain that mine is. All the technique and craft I normally hope to employ are right out the window. Nevertheless, here’s a cheesy, heartfelt love poem composed for my wife on Valentine’s Day.

Argument To His Lover on Valentine’s Day

I’ve seen you self-destruct and seen you win
Your way past snags Odysseus would rue.
I’ve seen you, with your clothing all askew,
Stare down an erring kid, and finally, when
They sat in meek submission, seen you grin
In pardon, turning pique to cheer in two
Quick seconds. All the things I’ve seen you do
Seem meaningless the moment I begin
To contemplate your physical perfection
Which I know that you would argue is fictitious.
Your face would make the very form of face
Blush to be compared to your reflection.
To argue with me surely would be vicious
So shut up and wrap me in my Love’s embrace.

Gloss on a Passage From Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way
Text1 Commentary Image
When a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly bodies. Instinctively he consults them when he awakes, and in an instant reads off his own position on the earth’s surface and the time that has elapsed during his slumbers; but this ordered procession is apt to grow confused, and to break its ranks. Wrapped more tightly than
a tourniquet
wound round heaven, instinct
conducts us, bloody
placenta of
dream dripping
memories.
Arise–
Unconsciousness.
The cat
is purring
until
the two year
old pulls
its tail. Then
it is
transformé.
Suppose that, towards morning, after a night of insomnia, sleep descends upon him while he is reading, in quite a different position from that in which he normally goes to sleep, he has only to lift his arm to arrest the sun and turn it back in its course, and, at the moment of waking, he will have no idea of the time, but will conclude that he has just gone to bed. Book slips through fingers
the foggy mind
remembers, dreamless, until
the smell of morning
lures consciousness
to mistakes;
memories
arise,
ready to sleep.
I watch
the dog play
in snow,
a frosted
streak of
umber. Or
is it
a small child?
Or suppose that he dozes off in some even more abnormal and divergent position, sitting in an armchair, for instance, after dinner: then the world will go hurtling out of orbit, the magic chair will carry him at full speed through time and space, and when he opens his eyes again he will imagine that he went to sleep months earlier in another place. Off our rocker we
slip, merge, emerge,
engaging the globe in sense,
sensing the smell of
sorcery or
physics or
memories.
Arise.
History lives.
The smell
of roasted
turkey
and the feel–
the rough
armchair gives
me back
my childhood.
But for me it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke in the middle of the night, not knowing where I was, I could not even be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal’s consciousness; Make it personal.
Tie it to me
with duct tape and still lose it:
identity. Eyes
darting this way
and that way–
Who am I?
Arise
and be defined.
In dark,
the candles,
wax gone,
still flicker,
float on
fumes. The smell:
nightmare
of cavemen.
I was more destitute than the cave-dweller; but then the memory–not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived and might now very possibly be–would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse centuries of civilization, and out of a blurred glimpse of oil-lamps, then of shirts with turned down collars, would gradually piece together the original components of my ego. The chasm surrounds me
echos of past
times, lives, loves, places, faces
cross my mind. I climb
from life to place,
place to face,
face to love.
Arise,
reconstructed.
Hole–cracked
earth, and roots
cut off
roughly. Hear,
above,
the finch. Feel
water drip
down your back.

1 Text is taken from Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time. Trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff et. al. New York: Modern Library, 1998. 4-5. The original text is a single paragraph. I broke it up into the divisions above.

“A Sonnet For CNN,” by George Bradley (published in The Fire Fetched Down, 1996), was written during the first gulf war, in 1991. It is not a typical war poem, which is appropriate since it was not a typical war. Poignant imagery is used to highlight the dichotomy between the realities of the war, and the reporting of the war as it enters the home of the average US household. In the octet the harshness of the war reporting is emphasized as its horrific images are brought into sharp focus in the “mind’s eye.” This type of war experience was impossible for the average civilian in any previous war, and in that sense it offers an experience of the war, which binds the nation tightly together in unity of purpose, a purpose illuminated by the final quote from Psalms 137. We have a connection through religious roots that ties us tightly to the Middle East even though half a world away.

The sextet, on the other hand, opens by reminding us that what we saw on the screen, however gruesome, could not in fact compare with the realities of the war, we have only a broadcaster’s “monotone” to inform the images. We are missing a primary sense, that of hearing, and are not actually affected by the mustard gas and scud missiles, the things that our children, our troops, are being faced with and suffering from. But rather than be distanced from our children by the impersonal nature of the war reporting, instead, we are led to an even more emotional connection. “How not to weep?” We are, in fact, brought to a deeper understanding our loss by examining the distance between us that would not be as obvious were it not for the seeming closeness that the TV brings to us.

Well, maybe you didn’t. You didn’t really ask for unadulterated text. I decided to give it to you. Lost? Me too? Can I get us both out of it? The blind leading the blind? The blind leading the sighted even. Here’s some real live unadulterated text for you:

 

Somewhere in time, or perhaps I should say somewhen– I loved my grandmother. She was almost a storybook grandmother. She was more than a storybook grandmother. She taught piano lessons for Christ’s sake. How much more grandmotherly can you get? She gave me warm milk when I couldn’t get to sleep. And when that wasn’t quite right, she gave me warm milk and honey. She taught me to love words, and word games. She could calculate the scrabble value of any word without looking at the tiles and what’s more she’d look the word up for you when you were to lazy to figure out what that word (that you knew existed but couldn’t explain) meant. She lived far enough away for the trip to be an adventure, but close enough to be a permanent feature in my life. Blackberries grew in her backyard, and she let you pick as many as you wanted, even when she was trying to make blackberry ‘somthing’ as Christmas presents. She taught me to love music, to hate flats but love sharps, to stay away from the blues, and to stop playing when I was finished. A storybook grandma? No storybook grandma ever did what she did. Who else could make warm milk for a kid in underwear, a t-shirt, and galoshes and not even send him to bed when it was finished, but read stories about people made out of blocks, and foxes who were outsmarted by hens, and Bulls stung by bees? How can I face her? Her unresponsive face glares: I died when you were away in college. I don’t even know you. How could I when you left me while I was alive and didn’t return until I was a zombie: dead to you? How can I tell her goodbye when I never said hello, I’m back, I’ve missed you? How can I cry now when I didn’t cry then. How can I accept this when I couldn’t accept that? How can I lie? I hide my tears in the dark, even as I spread them across the world. Everyone can know my thoughts except my family. Everyone can share my pain except those that I know should. I cannot cry. I cannot scream. I cannot even meet the stranger who has greeted my children every day as wonderful new surprises, come to ease her pain– Every day new surprises– Every day my children. Every day questions about their lineage. Everyday delight in their everyday antics. Even when I am just across the room, watching, even when I am holding her under each arm, scared beyond belief that brittle bones will snap and it will be my fault, as she walks across the living room calling for a husband who died in the world war, asking where she is and who I am, and then calling again for a daughter, my mother, the only one she can trust to tell her that she is still alive and not in hell, even when, when no one except her can hear, I whisper, “I love you.”– Even then– I cannot cry. I can only drift gently, without emotion, into the abyss over which I have been floating these last 9 years. And stoically, carefully, with a face silent and dead, shoulder a pall, bear a pole, march quietly to the grave, and pretend that the future is the past, and the present is merely a nightmare, and there are more piano lessons and stories and adventures, and warm milk with honey to come. And she isn’t even dead. GOD! The nurse says it’s a matter of hours. She’s wrong. It’s a matter of years. It’s a matter of a life.

“Little Blessing for My Floater” by Jeanne Murray Walker, was published in the November issue of Poetry. I wish I knew whether the epigram meant George Herbert the 17th century poet or G. H. W. Bush, as I personally can’t see the connection either way but the second seems somewhat remotely more applicable if the intent is to suggest a blind spot in political policy. I tend to think though that it is the former that is intended, and as such, though it may merely be my own poor memory, I can’t find the poem that this is intended to be ‘after’ or in what other possible way it relates to George Herbert at all.

But disregarding the unintelligible epigram, the rest of the poem is quite a nice little piece, with both sonics and sense that are fathomable and fun. I love the oxymoron “tiny ruin,” which seems perfectly sensible within the context, the contrast between the “little speck” and the “deep chip,” and the action attributed with the “piton that nails every rock.” I love the internal rhymes of ‘spot,’ ‘not,’ ‘rock,’ and ‘see,’ ‘sea,’ ‘be,’ ‘me,’ ‘see,’ especially because they become noticeable only when the poem is read aloud, at which point they surprisingly come, for the most part, at pauses in the speech, highlighting them and showing the authors obvious attention to the aural pleasure and the contract between aural and visual.

The idea of the poem, of embracing our difficulties, our faults, our trials, is presented freshly and enjoyably. The alternation between abstraction and concreteness keeps the poem grounded while allowing it to soar. However, the final apostrophe seems overblown and unnecessary. I could have hoped that the poem had ended three lines earlier on “that reminds me what I will be.”

I. Impotence

“It seems to him there are A thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.”

You try to break out of your cage
In a feat of fearsome strength. You pace
Behind the bars, and, in your rage,
You try to break out of your cage.
You’re in an unforgiving age;
Society will not embrace
You. Try to break out of your cage
In a feat of fearsome strength, then pace.

II. Power

“The movement of his powerful soft strides is like a ritual dance around a center”

Ignoring bars, in cyclic scope
He plots his path, pursues his prey.
Though never a breath of tight held hope
Escapes the bars. In cyclic scope
He circles with a steady lope.
His eyes, on fire, would like to flay
Offending bars. Instead, to cope,
He plots his path, avoids decay.

“Instant Coffee” by Patrick Donnelly, published in the October 2003 issue of The Yale Review, makes a beautiful and tightly woven connection between the coffee and the sunset. This connection is expanded into the change of the seasons, and could be representative of much more, what specifically being left up to the reader. The personification of summer and much of the language make it feel human and personal and lend credence to a reading of personal loss, whether of a loved one or thing making no difference.

The vocabulary of the sunset (falling, cloud) is used to describe the coffee, and the vocabulary of coffee (dregs) is used to describe the sunset. Time is brought in with the cream that holds “an instant.” The insects, the dregs, the giving up, the dark water, the kneeling, the cold, and the dispersion all point to a feeling of loss and mourning. However, the sweetness, the light, the summer, and the bright crystals all point to hope, happiness, and joy. I take away a celebration of life that glories in the transitions from one thing to the next yet mourns the passing of the lost.

There also seem to be some theological overtones. One could imagine the winged things to be angels as easily as insects, the sweetness to be a loved one for whom the angels have come, the pouring out to be acceptance of the loss, the cloud of cream to be a vision of heaven, and summer to be the Christ dispersing light into the cold dark world. However, even without taking it to that level of symbolism the piece is highly effective at evoking loss, acceptance, and comfort or hope in images that are poignant, effective, new, and breathtaking.

My hope is to study Old English and Old Norse mythology and its diachronic influences on literature and mythopoeia when I enter grad school. As such, I would like to try my hand at poetic translations of some of the elder eddas. There have been plenty of prose translations, but none (that I know of) that retain the poetic structure of the epics. I want to use as much as possible the same poetic devices as were used in the Old Norse, which should for the post part, translate well into English. I also want to try more liberal poetic translations that update and modernize the myths, just for fun.

Hannah makes some interesting and insightful comments on my last post (scroll down for the comments). The following are my responses to some of her thoughts.

I see, at least within the poem, ‘make’ representing cooperative creation, while ‘being’ includes all of the individuated effort that she talks about. Poetry and essays might in fact be seen as a part of the great repulsive effort that we make (that darn word keeps popping up where I don’t want it) to individuate ourselves. So again I think the poem sort of bounces or really perhaps hovers between the two tropes, and I’ll admit to a little grandstanding at the end of my essay as well, the question is perhaps somewhat inappropriate.

It may be too much of a stretch to make the connection that I did between make and cooperation, and indeed, I was somewhat deflated by the fact that, with two poignant line breaks like those at the beginning of the poem, the subtext that they created was not more directly addressed in the rest of the poem. I perhaps struggled to hard to impute intent when there may have been none.

It is true, also, that there are fragments of the celestial throughout the poem. Her point with regard to the equation of the celestial with the personal is well made, and is akin to the ideas of order in the middle ages, with the celestial reflected in society reflected in the very humors of the body and as such, probably worth playing upon in the poem. Science, too, finds connections and mirroring between the macro and micro, from electronic and gravitic forces to the insidious quanta of Schröedinger’s cat. Nevertheless, on a personal level, I wanted things within the poem to stay at the micro level, at most hinting at a higher plane. The passage itself also seems just a little too high-falutin’ and grandiose. I will admit, though, that it is merely personal preference, my own micro-aesthetic, if you will.

“Repulsive Theory” by Kay Ryan, published in the November 2003 issue of Poetry, captured my attention immediately with its opening phrase, “little has been made.” Much has been made of the phrase “Much has been made of,” and this opening plays off of my familiarity with that phrase. However, the opening line by itself makes a bold declaration “little has been made” This seems false on the face of it, and I expect the poem to support it or subvert it. While the line belies the syntax (or vice versa), both are integral to the understanding of the poem. Looking to the next non-prepositional line, we see that “nothing has been made” is juxtaposed with “while much has been,” an interesting juxtaposition, that makes a certain amount of sense.

I particularly enjoy poetry that makes use of tropes traditionally belonging to the realm of the scientific, a realm that has on occasion (through the branch of linguistics) attempted to subvert or at least control the critical response to poetry. I am fascinated with both mathematics and speech, with both physics and rhetoric, with both science and soul, and this poem satisfies both cravings. We have the hard facts of “magnets reversed” and the “principle of repulsion” followed by the art of “doily edges” and the abstract “arabesques of thought.” The imagery of the poem is obviously reflective of repelling magnetic fields, yet it transforms it to a criticism if you will of traditional thinking with regard to mankind’s need for connection, offering alternatively the truth of mankind’s need for separation, all of this of course, without resorting to such mundane exposition.

In fact her imagery is enchanting, especially in the combination of the concrete with the abstract. Things like “oiled motions” and “pearly convolutions” produce specific images in my mind, but they are attached, in the text, to abstractions like avoidance. Anyone who has watched the rapids of a stream understands the concept of an eddying vacancy. Something normally abstract is made concrete by placing it within a context that defines it by what it is not.

The end of the poem, gives me a little pause because it seems to me to attempt to over extend the metaphor, or rather, it defies the metaphor by taking it out of the personal, where it has worked so well, and attempting to apply it to the cosmological in a way that doesn’t really add anything to the meaning of the poem, at least to my mind. On the other hand, the final three or four lines seem to bring it back to the personal and tie it together, I’m just not sure the jaunt to the cosmos was necessary for them to work.

Finally, to address the question posed in the opening with regard to the making vs. being of much, it seems that the poem bounces between these two tropes, in its own form, and its position on its subject, negative and then positive. In the end, is their any reason that we must make and not simply be?

The Sunday poem on Poetry Daily was “I Pass the Arctic Circle” by Olav H. Hauge. I was very enamored of this little gem almost on first reading. In it, Hauge makes a very nice metaphor between landscape and lifescape. He also juxtaposes two timeframes on the piece by using an interjection that indicates the future within a sentence that uses the past tense. The interjection however, in addition to muddling the flow of time at the end of the piece, also refers us back to the object or goal referenced by “what we go toward,” both tying the metaphor together more closely, and keeping our eye on the eventual (but only implied) end, death.

There are two things that I would like to take away from this piece with regard to poetic technique. The first is the way that he mitigates the reference to the end of life, by enclosing it within an interjection, a side-note, while keeping the poem centered firmly in the past, where he is just entering the “arctic circle.” The second is the way that the confusion of tense focuses my attention on that ending, and draws attention to the metaphor, while suitably matching the theme of the poem–He is trying to stay in the past, even though he knows that “one of these days” the end is coming.

I have always been fascinated by the almost magical display of oil on the surface of still water. Chris Murray used this image to great effect in her recent poem River Six. I also ran across it in some back issues of Lilliput Review that I was browsing through recently. Much has been made of the dichotomy between the beauty and the poison. But what fascinates me, what really makes oil on water something special, is the worlds that one can see when looking in it deeply enough.

As a boy, I was enamored (as many young boys are, I think) with gutters. Not the rain gutters running around the roof of the house, but the more accessible and more lively gutters at the edge of the street. I was blessed to live by street with very active gutters, a microcosm within themselves. When the first drops of rain would begin to musically announce themselves on the tin roof of the shed in our backyard, I would be off like a shot to watch as the sand and gravel which congregated in ever-shifting mounds within the gutter would amazingly yield forth their hidden life, angleworms poking their heads–or bottoms who knows which–above the surface of the sand seeking air and safety from drowning. Never could they be caught when sought outside of the rain. Many times we emptied the gutters of their sedimentary layer, when imminent fishing trips pressed the need upon us, but shovels would avail a young man nothing. It was something of a miracle then that they could be picked up from the surface with no trouble at all within minutes after the start of the rain. But we were careful to return them to the gutter before the rain ended, afraid of breaking whatever spell allowed them to so spectacularly emerge with each shower.

If the rain was long enough or hard enough, the magic of the worms was soon subsumed by an even greater phenomenon. Paper boats were quickly made as the currents began to come into being. Soon I was a master of shipping for a multi-house corporation, sending my Anglish captain on voyages that (if the rain was significant) might last minutes. I was a micromanager, not content to trust the captain with my ship’s safety; I would run along beside it, ready to pluck it from the water at the first sign of a treacherous stick. Or if in a more contemplative mood, I might examine the flow for its own sake, perhaps experimenting to see what changes this or that arrangement of pebbles, sand or sticks might have on the visible marks of its movement that appeared on its surface. I would attempt to predict in advance what shapes and shifts would occur, and though my success rate hovered at near zero, I never tired of experimenting.

It was only when the rainstorm lasted long enough to exceed the capacity of the drains that the most miraculous mirage of them all would occur. Relatively still, the water would allow the oil, collected from the mechanical passers by to creep to its surface and congregate into larger and larger villages, towns, cities, countries, worlds. Oil creates, when spread thinly enough, a world that has depths that are unrelated to the impositions of mere physics. It appears to have a texture that extends further than the tenuously clinging molecules that stretch for each other across the surface, occasionally losing their hold on one another and allowing black holes to mar their perfection. It appears to extend beyond the water itself and into some other space and time. Mandelbrot could not create it. It is fluid. It is changing. It is evolving and devolving synchronously. And it has inhabitants, not real creatures crossing its surface, plodding water-bugs and foolish mosquitoes, but super-real creatures that live within the images, within the motion, within the lucidity of the imagination, and then with a SpLaSh, hand or foot, chemically or mechanically, sooner or later, the universe is destroyed, only to recreate itself with the same vigor and purpose as before.

The following vignette was published in the Spring 1993 issue of Knight of the Plume.

His appearance had been much altered by the coldness of his soul. The wrinkles in his face, and the lines on his brow were not the result of age or emotion. They just sat there like river beds run dry. His eyes did not look forward; his pupils were swallowed up in seas of blue-black irises. His tattered tights ended at his knees. The leather bag that hung at his side looked more like a millstone put there to drown him under its weight, than a place to turn for comfort and no9urishment. His vest and skirt of mail, constituted his only other clothing, and they had holes and tears that looked like giant arrows had sometime run him through. His feet were merely bubbles of blister on blister. Each time he set down his foot, pus would leak out into the sand, a terrible loss of precious fluids which he needed, making a wet foot print for a few seconds before the liquid was evaporated into the air or sucked into the hungry sand, leaving no trace. He no longer winced; it took too much energy. In one hand he held the staff, towering above him at twice his height, and slowly, silently, forsaken by all, he walked along the sands.

The wyrd was not kind to those who had resisted it. Other than the mountains to his back, there was no scenery except the sand. It went on forever, with no discernable flagging. Soon the mountains would dip behind the desert to their death, but he did not look around. Then as if it had been there all along, a little to his right appeared a stone. Actually a boulder might be a more accurate term, although stone seemed to fit it somehow. Five feet high, and six wide, its top had been leveled off by the winds which blew at that height across the deserted plains. He walked toward it, knowing that it would disappear.

It did not. And then, as if it had never left, the Wyrd spoke again.

“This is the place,” they said, and so he stopped, and prepared to fulfill his calling and then die. He walked around the rock and noted without surprise that a staircase, rough-hewn out of granite, went up the back. His pupils resumed their proper size. The waves that had bound his mind with their raging pounding madness began the ceaseless pound of duty that is every true wave’s purpose. But his heart stayed frozen. He set up camp for the night. It consisted of nothing more than the staff, glowing to shed light and give some heat, and his ill-clad body under the dipod of staff and stone.

A Balanced Examination of the Controversy Over Technology in Education
 

From 1981 to 1991, the percentage of schools with computers increased by over 400%. In that same time period, the use of computers for instructional purposes increased by an even greater amount, and the ratio of students to computers dropped from 125:1 to 18:1 (Cuban 186). Since the popularization of the personal computer in the early 1980s, there has been a push by lawmakers, administrators, and the general public to introduce more and more technology into the classroom faster and faster. Less commonly remarked on is the trend of some educators to resist the implementation of all this technology: “Although the economic and political forces that drive technology into the classroom appear to be an overriding trend, there is a concurrent trend to not let technology drive educational needs” (Goddard 22). In fact, in 1999 only 33% of public school teachers felt that they were well prepared to use computers and the internet (“Public School Teachers’ Use of Computers” tbl. 39-4). So how do we find a balance between the effective use of technological innovation and the preservation of traditional educational forms and goals in order to provide the best possible education for our children?

Both sides have the best interest of our children at heart, and considering that motive, it seems wise to examine the thought processes and worldviews of both sides. Since technology is already a fact of life in many educational settings, a good starting point may be an examination of the reasons for the adoption of technology in schools and the benefits that the increased use of technology offers to students and the educational system. These reasons and benefits fall into three categories: increasing workplace preparation, enhancing traditional education, and overcoming the challenges of special needs students, both those with learning disabilities, and those with economic disadvantages.

One of the first facts pointed out by proponents of increasing the technological factors in our schools is the trend outside the educational system to increase the level of technology, from homes to businesses to government. As our society becomes more and more technical in its social, business, and political functions, computers and technology become an increasingly important factor in the success or failure of students after matriculation. Gernot Böhme even suggests that computer literacy represents a fourth cultural competence in addition to the traditional 3 R’s of reading, writing, and arithmetic:

Internet competence is a prerequisite for practicing an increasing number of professions. It looks as if it will not be long before one will no longer be competent to take part in social life if one has not mastered the use of computers, just as up to now a competent participation in social life was not possible without the ability to read, write and do arithmetic. (203)

According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey of 1997, 49.8% of all workers use computers on the job, and that number goes up to the 70% range when the field is limited to executive, managerial, professional, and technical jobs–the ones with the highest salary potentials (“Percent of Workers” table 426).

With computers taking such an increased role in every aspect of post-educational life, administrators are concerned that the educational system may fail to adequately prepare our young people for the world of business, sending them off into the computer savvy business world without even a modicum of computer training. They would argue that computers are needed in our schools not just as a supplement to traditional teaching methods and traditional subjects, but also as an object of training in and of themselves: “the computer is not currently perceived simply as an aid to acquiring other knowledge content more quickly, easily, or enjoyably” although that is the case “but is perceived as an area of instruction in its own right” (Böhme 204).

But this is not the only reason for the importance of increasing the computerization of our schools. Yu-Mei Wang notes the value of increased technology use in previously traditional classroom settings and subjects: “Computers facilitated more independent learning. Students assisted each other in completing the learning task and solving problems collaboratively, often with their teachers as partners” (151). In other words, the proper application of computers and other technologies can help to shift the education process from a teacher-centered approach to a more constructivist, student-centered approach. While constructivism itself is not a new concept, tracing its lineage to the ideas of psychologist Jean Piaget, it has been increasingly recognized by professional organizations, administrators, and educators that “although constructivism is a philosophy of learning, not teaching, understanding [and applying] constructivist learning can make us more effective teachers” (Inch 111). Goddard agrees, commenting, “An educator who combines technology with engagement can create an atmosphere of student collaboration.[. . .] If technology is used as a judicious tool that fosters creativity and communication[. . .] learning is enhanced” (24). Computers have also long been touted for their information gathering and collating functions when used in conjunction with the Internet. Students at primary and secondary schools, who in times past would have had little or no access to scholarly journals, are now just a click away from reliable and erudite sources. While access does not guarantee understanding, lack of access will almost certainly guarantee lack of understanding. However, computers are not just valuable as information gathering tools. They are just as valuable for engaging students through the production of multi-media presentations and other electronic projects in which students are creatively involved, thereby heightening their learning.

Technology has also become invaluable in teaching special needs students and teaching specific skills to other students. Technology has increasingly been the deciding factor in enabling students, who might otherwise have slipped through the bulging seams of the educational system, to excel. Some of the techniques that have been shown to have significant success have been (a) affective computing techniques that overcome emotional and psychological communication difficulties in special education students; (b) the use of audio textbooks and digital books, such as those produced for DAISY to allow higher level cognitive learning for the blind, dyslexic, and special needs students; and (c) the use of various assistive technologies in support of traditional (i.e., non-special education) students, including Picture Communication Symbols, adapted books, and computers with Intellikeys, Intellipics, and Overlay Maker (Beck; Boyle; Steele). In the year 2000, over 58% of post-secondary schools offered some type of adaptive equipment or technology for disabled students (“Special Programs” 85). The value of technology in these types of auxiliary, assistive functions has been generally unquestioned, but it still represents an important argument for the importance that technology can have in the classroom.

Finally, technology provides help for economically disadvantaged students who traditionally perform below average in the American educational system. Indeed, a trial in a school with a disproportionately large disadvantaged student population (over 98% of the 850 “were in free or reduced rate lunch programs” [Garman 796]) has shown that the introduction of technology-based educational reforms induce a striking improvement in the performance of disadvantaged students, “contributing to a reduction of students reading ‘below level’ of 15.1%” and an astounding “36.7% reduction in students reading ’3 years below level’” (Garman 795-96). Those students whose educations had suffered the most from economic factors received the most benefit from technological factors.

A less obvious use of technology in the aid of the disadvantaged is outlined by Catherine McLoughlin, who uses the internet and online technology to incorporate the “values, styles of learning, and cognitive preferences” of “disadvantaged groups living in rural and remote communities” in designing a university preparation curriculum (229). This second use is all the more convincing because it not only posits the use of technology to adapt to the needs of economically disadvantaged students, but also suggests ways in which technology can be used to provide education to students who might otherwise be unable to receive that level of education. Another way in which disadvantaged rural students are aided by the influx of technology is in the area of teacher certification and training in rural areas. Barbara L. Ludlow et al. report on the success of web-based instruction in teaching and qualifying special education instructors in rural West Virginia (33). By increasing the access to instruction in special education methods and concerns, this program increases the available teachers, the teacher-student ratio, and, by extension, the probability of student success.

Despite the aforementioned benefits, there are many who are nevertheless concerned with the prevalence of computers and technology in education. Proponents may tend to dismiss these concerns as being due merely to inadequate on-the-job training in technology, and indeed this issue is behind some of the concern, but there is more to it than that. There is also a school of thought that is actively opposed to what they consider to be the current overuse of technology in schools; people in this category are concerned that computers may be contributing to the very problems they are intended to correct. R. W. Burniske in his essay “The Shadow Play,” argues that computers have contributed to the continuing “death of dialectics” in modern education, contending that the blind acceptance of technology in the classroom has led to a consumer culture in which students are unable to think critically about the information available to them (323-25). Böhme, in a somewhat less strident tone, still contends that “a modern educational policy which prepares children and young people for this situation [the pervasiveness of technology in the social and business sphere] must stress the difference between information and knowledge and the difference between technical access to information and its appropriation and conversion into personal knowledge. This does not mean excluding the computer but it does mean using it rationally” (208). Three basic arguments against technology in education can be identified: Technology has been introduced solely–or at least primarily–to promote the interests of big business; technology does not produce the results that it claims; and the emphasis on technology will result in a lack of attention to more pressing issues in education.

The importance and influence of popular trends and fads and economic and cultural pressures in the development of educational curriculum and the choices in courses of study cannot be overemphasized. Throughout the history of public education, administrators have been forced to make concessions to the temporary social, cultural, historical, and economic needs of business and society (Goddard 20). This tendency to acquiesce to temporary external trends is no less true for the current influx of technology: “Concern for the development of young people is not, therefore, the fundamental motive for the forced introduction of the computer into schools. [. . .] On closer inspection the paradigm shift said to be taking place in the educational sphere consists primarily in the fact that this sphere is becoming a capital-intensive area” (Böhme 206). Todd Oppenheimer worries that “if business gains too much influence over the curriculum, the schools can become a kind of corporate training center–largely at taxpayer expense” (288). R. W. Burniske echoes this concern:

But what I’m certain they [elected officials] do know is that the ‘boxes and wires’ of telecomputing are manufactured by ‘Big Business.’ And Big Business fills those campaign coffers we keep hearing about. So if we keep Big Business happy by investing in its gadgetry, then Big Business will keep the politicians happy by spreading largesse–and occasionally donating hardware and software to schools and libraries. This, in turn, will get youngsters ‘hooked’ early, thereby oiling the machine that paves the Information Superhighway. (324)

The concern is not so much that technology is being introduced at all, as that it appears that big business is driving the speed, method, and amount of technological innovation in our schools, without regard for the needs of, training of, and compatibility with educators and administrators.

It is certain that enough data is not yet in on the results that technology may produce in the classroom; however, it is just as certain that the sweeping claims made by politicians, officials, and businesses are not justified by the existing data. While there may be success stories here and there, there are many reasons to believe that technology may not be producing the results that are desired. For example, many students who have learning disabilities, language deficiencies, or reading comprehension problems may not be able to benefit from technologically based course-work because of deficiencies in background knowledge and basic skills (Westby 81). It is somewhat ironic that, in the appropriate setting and implementation, technology can be so beneficial to this group, yet when integrated with traditional students, innovative technology uses may pose problems.

Another problem is in the adoption of technology in paradigm shifting ways by individual faculty. In a survey of pre-service teachers conducted by Wang, almost all believed in a balanced approach to teaching between teacher-centered activities and student-centered activities; however, when asked about their uses of computers in computerized classrooms, “the comparison showed a significant difference (t=9.7, p<.05) between the pre-service teachers’ choice of teacher-centered computer uses (M=4.0137,SD=.677) versus student-centered computer uses (M=3.3659, SD=.718)” (153-54). In other words, the introduction of a computerized setting was likely to unbalance the teaching approach, and put an undue emphasis on less progressive, teacher-centered activities. Wang concludes, “Reform in education must begin with the type of educator in the classroom. All of the dollars spent on resources and equipment will do little to alter the day to day realities of the learning process” (158). Before the promise of technology can be realized, we must have teachers with the right training, the right mindset, and the right goals. Until that happens, technology will not realize its full potential.

But even more fundamental is the question of whether, assuming that technology is properly implemented and well taught by competent teachers, it will be of value to the students after matriculation. Jane M. Healy, an educational psychologist, suggests that it may not: “Learning to use a computer today is a poor guarantee of a student’s future, since workplace equipment will have changed dramatically for all but our oldest students” (357-58). While learning an outdated technology may not detract from students’ ability to adapt to newer technologies, it may not be as beneficial to students adaptive abilities as a through grounding in logical thinking, spatial reasoning, math, science, and other traditional subjects would be. So between the failure of technology to adequately address the needs of special education students, the inability of even the most recently educated teachers to effectively implement technology in a constructivist way, and the dubious value of technology for future job prospects, we must question whether technology can fully live up to its promise.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, we must examine the effects of the shift in focus that an over-emphasis on technology inevitably engenders. Computers and similar technologies are expensive propositions, and even with the occasional assistance–usually only in the earliest stages of implementation–of big business, they will lessen the funds available for other important educational goals: As Böhme argues, “It is nevertheless inevitable that immense pressure will be placed on personnel costs in the education budget, and that a reduction in class size–a demand made by all educationalists for decades–will be rendered permanently impossible” (207). Are we willing to live with classes in which a single teacher is responsible for the education of hundreds of students, even if that responsibility is shared with any number of machines? For the unmitigated technophile, the reduction or elimination of human teachers is actually one of the goals of increased technology. Yet studies and statistics show that smaller class sizes (i.e., lower student-teacher ratios) increase student performance more than almost any other factor, including greater access to technology and computers (“Teens” 3; Hofkins 12).

What will the increased focus on technology do to the transmission of other more basic skills? For instance, the intuitive faculties that are developed during early childhood are negatively affected by the introduction of technology and “must be consolidated before children are confronted with computers” (Böhme 208). But the intuitive faculties are not the only skills affected by introducing technology too early: “For younger children, too much electronic stimulation can become addictive, replacing important experiences during critical periods of development: physical exploration, imaginative play, language, socialization and quiet time for developing attention and inner motivation” (Healy 357). Obviously, it is extremely important that for very young children especially the amount of technology and electronic stimulation be limited to that amount which can be absorbed without damage and addiction.

Furthermore, the problem is not isolated to younger children. Older children too may become “dependant on the support of information technology” (Böhme 209). If technology becomes so important that traditional subjects and skills are not taught outside of the technological paradigm, students may end up merely “digitally literate, in that they feel at home with joysticks and remote controls and are perfectly capable of absorbing the sights and sounds of multimedia entertainment,” but without a thorough grounding in the subjects that provide functional literacy, students “chances of getting a significant piece of the cyberspace pie are slim” (Burstein and Kline qtd. in Healy 358). Without a thorough grasp of the basics, we run the risk of producing Eloi–parasites that live on the technology without the ability to control it.

What else may be crowded out in the push for technology? Teacher education, curriculum revision, visual and performing arts, shop classes, and early childhood educational programs are just a few of the many programs that have already been pushed aside to one degree or another (Healy 354-55; Oppenheimer 283). What will be left? In the most extreme scenario, not much except for technology itself, and a generation of illiterate, but computer savvy youngsters. In more realistic assessments, we may end up suppressing educational alternatives and electives that have been critical avenues of self-expression and self-determination for students in an otherwise rigid educational system. We need to look closely at what we give up to support ever rising levels of technology.

There is no question that technology has something to offer education, that it is, in fact, a necessary component of a well-rounded education in today’s society. However, serious thought must be put into the ways that it is implemented, because it has the ability to cause as many problems as it fixes. We need to find a balance that will allow educators to take advantage of the benefits that technology has to offer without introducing changes that are detrimental to students long-term educational well being, unawares. The goal of those on both sides of the issue is the same: Increasing the quality and availability of education for all students is of the utmost importance, as is the necessity to prepare students for the quotidian world outside of the educational preserve. So where do we begin to compromise?

In the case of assistive technology for the disabled and adaptive techniques for those in special education environments, technology has proven itself time and time again. The validity of the studies showing this is not in dispute. Even those who are most concerned with the influx of technology do not suggest that its application in these particular areas be curtailed. In these areas at least, then, we must allow technology a free hand to produce the results that it invariably has.

When it comes to the traditional student and classroom, we must proceed with more caution, to ensure that technology fulfills its promise, and not its threat. Let us acknowledge the validity of the concern that technology may become a crutch that replaces the need to learn traditional subjects with an everlasting dependence on technology in a generation that does not understand its workings. First, we must ensure that all students receive a thorough grounding in English, math, and science. Second, when we do introduce technology, we must ensure that we provide students not only with the skills to make use of it, in traditional coursework, but the ability to have mastery over it, in computer science curriculums that focus and enhance students’ critical thinking, math, and logic.

Closely related to the issue of proper grounding is the question of age. Except in a few rare cases of children with disabilities, the positive effects associated with technology primarily benefit older children. Let’s give our children time to ground themselves in traditional physical and mental skills before introducing them–in any significant and persistent way–to technology. This is not to say that we should shield our youngsters from any exposure to computers whatsoever, but merely to suggest that computers and technology not be integrated as part of the basic curriculum for children below mid-elementary school (e.g., grades 5-7), the point at which Jane M. Healy suggests they begin to be able to make use of the multi-media and symbolic aspects of computer use (357).

The final step is to enable teachers to make the leap to the positive employment of technology for the benefit of students. If we want our young people to have the benefit of technological advancements, we must have teachers who are capable of implementing technology in a way that leverages its benefits without succumbing to its faults. To accomplish this, the anti-technology viewpoint would argue that the rate of flow of technology into the classroom be reduced to the rate at which it is accepted and implemented into the curriculum by the teachers and administrators, while the pro-technology viewpoint would simply demand that teachers “pick up the pace” and begin using technology. Neither viewpoint, taken to the extreme, is a valid solution, but a middle ground can be found. It begins with in-service training and acclimatization for teachers. Second, to accommodate this, some technology funds might be diverted to allow for the faster inculcation of technological values. Administrators should be given the control to fine-tune this ratio to produce the fastest and most effective and efficient use of resources. Finally, rather than praise the indiscriminate use of technology, administrators and technologists must find the shining examples where computers have allowed for a paradigm shift that has resulted in better performance and learning, and then recreate those successes on a national scale.

It is important to remember, as we discuss these possibilities, that technology has already been placed into our schools. It is no longer a matter of debating the value of technology, but the appropriate implementation and use of the existing technology (Burniske 325). Educators’ current situation is accurately summed up by Goddard: “The teacher’s responsibility lies not in staring at a blank computer screen while lamenting the changes that have been imposed, but to reach up and turn the computer on. The teacher’s responsibility is to discover the judicious use of technology as another tool in the arsenal of teaching that will guide students to exploration, discovery, practice, appreciation, and wonder at the world they inherit” (26). When the type of model for compromise outlined above is followed, we will hopefully be able to reach a point where we have the benefits of technological implementation without having to worry about negative side-effects, where we will be able to avoid the both the danger of conceiving of technology as a panacea and the danger of viewing technology in and of itself as a threat. We will, through compromise be able to provide our young people with the skills to survive, thrive, and even excel in an increasingly technological world.


Works Cited

Beck, Jennifer. “Emerging Literacy Through Assistive Technology.” Teaching Exceptional Children 35.2 (2002): 44-48.

Böhme, Gernot. “Réflexion sur la société: Note on Society.” Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Canadian Journal of Sociology 27 (2002): 199-210.

Boyle, Elizabeth A. et al. “Reading’s SliCK With New Audio Texts and Strategies.” Teaching Exceptional Children 35.2 (2002): 50-55.

Burniske, R. W. “The Shadow Play.” Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Educational Psychology. Ed. Leonard Abbeduto. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002. 259-69.

Cordes, Coleen and Edward Miller eds. “Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood.” 18 September 2000. Alliance For Childhood. 22 March 2003. <http://www.allianceforchildhood.net/projects/computers/ computers_reports_fools_gold_contents.htm>

Garman, F. et al. “Enhancing Reading Achievement: A Collaborative, Community-Based Intervention Model.” Education 120 (2000): 795-99.

Goddard, Mark. “What Do We Do with These Computers? Reflections on Technology in the Classroom.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 35 (2002): 19-26.

Healy, Jane M. “The Mad Dash to Compute.” Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Educational Issues. Ed. James William Noll. 12th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002. 353-358.

Hofkins, Diane. “Class Size Figures Back Tories’ Case.” Times Educational Supplement 7 Jan. 1994: 12.

Inch, Scott. “The Accidental Constructivist: A Mathematicians Discovery.” College Teaching 50.3 (2002): 111-113.

Ludlow, Barbara L. et al. “Updating Knowledge and Skills of Practicioners in Rural Areas: A Web-based Model.” Rural Special Education Quarterly 21.2 (2002): 33-43.

McLoughlin, Catherine. “Cultural Maintenance, Ownership, and Multiple Perspectives: features of Web-based delivery to promote equity.” Journal of Educational Media 25 (2000): 229-41.

Oppenheimer, Todd. “The Computer Delusion.” Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Secondary Education. Ed. Dennis Evans. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

“Percent of workers, 18 years old and over, using computers on the job, by selected characteristics and computer activities: October 1993 and October 1997.” U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 1998. 21 March 2003. < http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/ digest2001/tables/dt426.asp>.

“Public School Teachers’ Use of Computers and the Internet,” FRSS 70, 1999. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 21 March 2003. <http://nces.ed.gov//programs/ coe/2001/section4/tables/t39_4.asp>.

“Special Programs: Services for Disabled Postsecondary Students.” The Condition of Education 2000. (2000): 85.

Steele, Marcee M. and John W. Steele. “Applying Affective Computing Techniques to the Field of Special Education.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 35 (2002): 236-40.

“Teens say smaller classes would help them learn.” American School & University 74 (2001): 3.

Wang, Yu-Mei. “When Technology Meets Beliefs: Preservice Teachers’ Perception of the Teacher’s Role in the Classroom with Computers.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education 35 (2002): 150-61.

Westby, Carol and David J. Atencio. “Computers, Culture, and Learning.” Topics in Language Disorders. 22.4 (2002): 70-87.

An Examination of the Development of the Frontier Novel From Cooper to Card

The similarities and connections between James Fennimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, especially as exemplified in The Last of the Mohicans, and Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker Series, especially as exemplified in Red Prophet, offer ample ground for exploration and reveal a surprising bond between the two novels.  The ties between the two are so tight that we might almost say that Card has written the series that Cooper would have written had he not been held back by the prejudices of his society:  From his depiction of the Indians to his archetypal hero to his symbolic names and plot devices, Card completes Cooper’s vision of a frontier where a) the character and value of the Indian native is acknowledged, b) whites are only heroic in proportion to their ability to live in harmony with nature and with the Indian, and c) history is remembered with an eye unblinded by racial prejudice.

James Fennimore Cooper—the name alone conjures up images of virgin forests, canoes sliding across crystal waters, savage massacres, fainting maidens, and of course, blustering buckskin-clad heroes.  Natty Bumpo, Cooper’s most enduring character, has been called the first “fully realized frontier hero” (Peck 2), a “mythic hero” (Reuben Sec. 7), and the “quintessential frontier hero” (“Wisdom”).  Daniel H. Peck notes that Cooper’s Leatherstocking has been “the model for countless imitations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (2).  The frontier tale has indeed retained its loyal audience to this day, and the numbers of authors flattering Cooper with imitation grows every year.

One of the most recent of those imitators is noted science fiction and fantasy author Orson Scott Card.  Card’s Alvin Maker series falls into the sci-fi/fantasy sub-genre of re-history or alternate history, a newly popular field that Ray Olson categorizes as containing novels where “the outcomes of an era [. . .] are altered greatly, subtly, or maybe not at all” (1388).  In the case of Alvin Maker, as Michael Collings says, “These novels consciously impose elements of 19th-century history onto the fantasy framework of a magical alternate-world America” (125-26).  It may be that it is that element of fantasy that allows Card’s vision to strike deeper and further than Cooper was able to do.

Cooper was very progressive in his views about the American Indians[1], compared to the average white settler of his time.  He was concerned about their gradual disappearance from areas where whites settled and endorsed a plan of preservation in which Indians would be granted an entire U.S. Territory west of the Mississippi river, a plan which he hoped would stem the steadily decreasing Indian population in America (Cooper “The Indians”).  While modern civil libertarians look back with scorn on what seems a paltry and even hegemonic effort, they forget that many (possibly even the majority of) people “considered the active extermination of Indians to be a good thing, and blessed by God” (Reuben Sec. 7).  Cooper’s fictionalized Indians have been criticized throughout the ages for very different reasons.  Early critics such as W. H. Gardiner, General Lewis Cass, and William Bird (and later, Mark Twain), criticized his Indians because they believed that he idealized the Indian personality and nature, and that no such noble warriors ever existed, while modern critics claim that Cooper’s Indians “belong to the larger racial stereotypes that pervaded American thought in the nineteenth century” and that Cooper is engaged in a “sentimental response covertly justifying that very dispossession” (Peck 8).  However much he might have liked to see the perpetuation of Indian civilization west of the Mississippi, such a vision was destined to remain unfulfilled, as tribe after tribe faded or was integrated into white society.  But Cooper’s fictional world is not limited to the proud and noble savage, he also gives us the Hurons (i.e., Irrakwa or Mingo) who are reviled by both white: “A Huron! [. . .] they are a thievish race, nor do I care by whome they are adopted; you can never make anything of them but skulks and vagabonds” (30), and red: “The Hurons are dogs.  The sight of a coward’s blood can never make a warrior tremble” (257), and there is no hope for their redemption: “A Mingo is a Mingo, and God having made him so, neither the Mohawks nor any other tribe can alter him” (33).  Cooper must provide the Indian enemy that his readers expect and demand, but, in doing so, he chooses to embody all of his society’s prejudices about the Indians into this one tribe, freeing him to heroize his other Indian characters.

In Card’s alternate history, however, Cooper’s vision is fulfilled.  The great Indian prophet Tenskwa-Tawa, also has a vision of a land in which red and white can co-exist, divided by the “Mizzipy,” but rather than confining the Indians to a single western territory, it is the whites who are cut off from the land by the boundary: “Red man will go west of the Mizzipy. White man will stay east. Red part of land will live.  White part of land will be very dead, cut off” (Card 169).  I do not say that this scenario is what Cooper desired, but merely that it is something that he might have desired, had his upbringing not forced upon him certain prejudices that he could not fully shake off.  Donald Ringe notes that in Cooper, the Indians are closely associated with the land and with nature, which are tied to “their own red ‘gifts’” but that these gifts are “far below the Christian ideal that Cooper holds up for his readers” (85).  While Hawkeye listens in sympathy to Chingachook’s story: “Then, Hawkeye, we were one people, and we were happy,” he is nevertheless careful to make it clear that he is a man who “has no cross in his blood, although he may have lived with the redskins long enough to be suspected” (Cooper Mohicans 25-28).  In contrast, Card’s Tenskwa-Tawa says, “The Red man belongs wherever he is in this land. [. . .] To him a knack [white-person magic] is like a fly, buzz buzz buzz.  Far above this fly, the power of the living land is a hundred hawks, watching, circling” (36).  In Card too, the Indians are closely tied to the land, but in Card’s case, it is the Indian nature that is held to be the higher.  Tying himself further to Cooper’s original, Card makes his “bad” Indians the Irrakwa as well: “The Irrakwa are the urine of sick dogs” says his Indian hero Te-Kumsaw.  Turning the stereotype on its head, Card’s Irrakwa are not made unredeemable by God, but rather, are evil because they have become white: “Odd, The English seemed to find them to be kindred spirits.  And LaFayette adores them” (205), replies the fictional Napoleon.  Ta-Kumsaw makes the final pronouncement: “‘The Irrakwa have all turned White in their hearts.’ Said Ta-Kumsaw. ‘Eight-Face Mound [an Indian holy site] would never let them in now’” (226).  However, again providing the completion to Cooper’s beginning, Card holds out a hope of redemption even for the lost Irrakwa: “When the white man is gone, and the land is strong again, not sick [. . .] the Irrakwa will become true Red men again or they will die.”  In other words, they can find redemption by returning to the land, and becoming red again.

Cooper’s Indian character, Uncas, is probably the first occurrence of a heroic Indian in American literature.  But even as he makes Uncas a hero, Cooper must disparage the rest of the Indians to do so: “But Uncas, denying his habits, we had almost said his nature, flew with instinctive delicacy, accompanied by Heyward, to the assistance of the females” (Cooper Mohicans 115).  Wayne Franklin sees this disparagement of other Indians as “a sure sign of Cooper’s fundamental belief in the superiority of his own culture” (62), and that he had such a belief is certainly undeniable, but the important thing to get out of the passage is his attempt to lift even one Indian up as an heroic role model, something none of his contemporaries (or, indeed, for the longest time, his followers) was willing to do.  He was a model of civil activism compared to his contemporaries.  However, because of this constraint, much of Cooper’s most telling commentary comes from the mouth of the “Bad” Indian, Magua (a.k.a. Le Renard Subtil), a drunkard and traitor, and it is crucial to an understanding of the real import of Magua’s oratory to realize that Cooper never in the entire course of the novel contradicts Magua’s claims (Peck 9).  If Cooper did not intend Magua’s words to be taken as truth, even if on a subliminal level, he would surely have provided a “white” counterargument that would make short-shrift of Magua’s argument when he says things like “Was it the fault of Le Renard that his head was not made of rock?  Who gave him fire-water? Who made him a villain?  ‘Twas the pale-faces, the people of your own color” (Cooper Mohicans 102).  In almost every case, however, the white character, so confronted, cannot but admit the truth of the Indians’ claims, while still denying any personal culpability, as did, no doubt, Cooper himself.  Peck argues that Magua “is the most fully and successfully delineated character in The Last of the Mohicans, rising above stereotypes of the bad Indian” (10).  This level of character development is necessary because Magua is more than a bad Indian; he is a mouthpiece for the dispossessed and disenfranchised.

The Indian hero in Card’s work is represented by Ta-Kumsaw[2].  Unlike Uncas who is a chief of no people, Ta-Kumsaw is the completed chief: “Not a chief of the Shaw-Nee, or even a chief of the Red men of this north country, but rather the chief of all Red tribes in the war against white man” (Card 39).  There is also a second difference:  While Uncas had to become white, or white-like, to be made heroic, the re-visioned Indian becomes heroic by making war upon the white man.

The Indian drunkard is also represented by Card’s red prophet, Tenskwa-Tawa, who turns the stereotype on its head by drinking only to silence the “black noise” of white man’s disruption of the land, and once freed of the black noise, becoming a powerful shaman who gains a vision for the immediate future: the land divided by the Mizzipy, but for the perfect future: a crystal city where red and white build a community together in peace.  The attainment of this city is the heroic quest towards which Card’s ultimate, archetypal hero, Alvin Maker, will journey.

Cooper’s Nathaniel Bumpo, known as Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, is the “classic image of the noble frontiersman, an enduring character whom Walt Whitman described as existing ‘from everlasting to everlasting’” (Franklin 52).  Hawkeye, in fact, created and defined the noble frontiersman.  Hawkeye is a romantic hero, his experiences and feelings are timeless, and yet poignant, as mythopoeic critics in the 1950s and 1960s have commented (Peck 12-15).  As the novel progresses, he encounters increasingly difficult issues of moral confrontation, racial conflict, and the conflict of civilization with nature—issues that “have resonance for the American (and human) experience both in his time and in ours” (64).  What are the defining characteristics of this noble hero?  Ringe explains:

Only Hawkeye, of all the whites, is competent to survive, mainly because his experience in the woods has instilled in him the humility he needs to understand the Indian and to interpret the white and red man to each other. [. . .] He alone sees virtue and justice among the Indians as well as among those of his own color. (44)

Hawkeye is a mediator between the world of white and red, and though he has more sympathy with the red, he inevitably is forced to acknowledge the superiority and right of white society.  Nevertheless, there is an undercurrent that makes it feel as though this acknowledgement is as Cooper’s might have been, not intrinsic to his worldview and beliefs but a function of his upbringing and society that he would have overcome if he could.  Franklin says that the violence in The Last of the Mohicans constantly threatens to transfigure Hawkeye, to “transform him from scout to savage” (50). But I, for one, get the feeling that Hawkeye is at his greatest and most noble at just those moments when he wrestles on the brink of so-called savagery.

Card once again moves forward to territory that Cooper simply couldn’t reach within his time, providing us with a hero who does overcome his societal beliefs to become a true mediator, Alvin.  In fact, Alvin goes so far beyond Hawkeye’s romantic heroism, that he “approaches the level of mythic, archetypal heroism,” defining “what it is to be essentially [and perfectly] human” (Collings 114).  Examined in the light of David Leeming’s eight stages of the monomyth, in Seventh Son, he experiences stage one, a Miraculous Birth; in Red Prophet he experiences stage two, childhood, initiation, and divine signs, as well as stage three, withdrawal, preparation, and temptation (Collings 100-101).  Within each novel, he also follows a shortened form of the hero’s journey, including calling (his apprenticeship to the smith), rejection (his desire to stay at home), acceptance (occurs during his meeting with the red prophet), descent (into Eight-Face Mound), reward (the return to life of his brother Measure), and homecoming (in which he also reaps the reward of full citizenship within the Indian community).  While Cooper’s hero was positioned at the edge of white society, Card again requires his hero to go the extra step:  He must become red.  And indeed, during his seclusion and training with the Indians, he begins to connect with the land in ways no white man has done before.  When he dreams of a sacred Indian site, Ta-Kumsaw tells him they must go there: “No white man had ever seen that place—the land was strong enough to keep them from finding that.  Yet this boy had dreamed of it.  And a dream of Eight-Face Mound never came by chance.  It always meant the same thing” (Card 208-9).  When they arrive at the mound, it appears that Alvin will not be able to ascend.  After they circle the mound, a path appears “Right on the edge shared by Red Man’s Face and the unknown face beside it.  ‘You are half Red,’ said Ta-Kumsaw” (Card 227). Compare the following description of Alvin with the previously quoted description of Hawkeye by Ringe:

He alone of all the characters in the novels can see with the eyes of the Whites and of the Reds; he alone of all the Whites that have invaded his world can hear the sounds of the greensong, the sounds of the natural world itself as it responds to its nurturing by the Reds and its destruction by the Whites. (Collings 126)

Hawkeye may understand the Indians, but Alvin becomes Indian, once again completing and extending Cooper’s vision.  Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, though moving in the right direction, ends leaving us confused as to who or what we are supposed to believe or think about the world.  Card provides a clear picture, working from the base that Cooper provided and extending it to provide a mythic archetype which satisfies a deep need of the human soul for order and harmony and truth.

Another facet in which Card’s work fulfills and completes Cooper’s work is in the level of symbolism.  While there are occasionally symbolic moments within Cooper’s work, for the most part he avoids any overt symbolism, except in the matter of names, which have obvious and direct significance.  Hawkeye says: “I’m an admirator of names, though the Christian fashions fall far below savage customs in this particular.  The biggest coward I ever knew was called Lyon; and his wife Patience, would scold you out of hearing” (Cooper Mohicans 53).  In Card also, names have significance in describing the occupation or character traits of their owner.  Hooch Palmer sells alcoholic beverages in a dishonest fashion; Mike Fink is a backstabbing treacherous river rat.  Alvin Miller is, of course, a miller.  His son, Calm, keeps him from blowing his top; his son Measure is able to take a balanced view of events.  Armor of God Weaver is an ardent Christian, and though he is no longer a weaver by trade, he is still responsible for weaving the town of Vigor Church and its surrounding farms and villages into a unified community.  However, in Red Prophet, names do more than fulfill this didactic purpose; they also fulfill a symbolic purpose, especially in the case of Indian names.  Take, for example, the naming of the title character in the following passage:

In his vision they called him the prophet, but he insisted that he was not that at all.  He was only the door, the open door.  Step through, he said, and be strong, one people, one land.

The door. Tenskwa-Tawa.

In his vision, his mother’s face appeared, and she said that word to him.  Tenskwa-Tawa.  It is your name now, for the dreamer is awake. (Card 97)

Tenskwa-Tawa is the door through which his people will travel to the west of the Mizzipy River, and into peace with the land and with the white people.  Alvin Maker’s name, too, has a deeper significance.  Alvin means wise or noble friend to all (Lansky 251), and Alvin is the Indian friend, but more than that, he is the only person who can bring friendship and cooperation to all of mankind, to fulfill the red prophet’s vision of a crystal city.

Both The Last of the Mohicans and Red Prophet have, as a central event in their plots, a massive slaughter of innocents.  In The Last of the Mohicans, this massacre takes place after the French have promised safe passage to the English after the English surrender of Fort William Henry.  As the English begin to leave the fort, Magua leads a band of renegade Hurons against the soldiers and unarmed civilians alike: “The flow of blood might be likened to the outbreaking of a torrent; and, as the natives became heated and maddened by the sight, many among them even kneeled to the earth, and drank freely, exulting, hellishly, of the crimson tide” (Cooper Mohicans 181-2).  In Card, the bloodshed is just as great, but it is perpetrated by the whites, and serves a higher purpose within the novel:

The grapeshot carved gaps in the crowd [. . .]. Miller noticed that the blood didn’t soak into the grass of the meadow.  As it poured out of the wounds of those most recently hit, it formed rivulets, streams, great sheets of blood flowing down the slope of the meadow. [. . .] No one could ever claim that Tippy-Canoe was a victory, or even a battle.  It was a massacre, and white men committed it, and not one Red raised a hand in violence or defense. (242-246)

The red prophet takes the blood of his murdered people and uses it to form a magical barrier preventing white men from ever crossing the Mizzipy River, as well as to curse the settlers who participated in the massacre. Once again Card uses but subverts and controls the cliché.

It seems clear that James Fennimore Cooper heavily influenced Orson Scott Card’s work.  Both present a fictionalized history, which allows them to make a social commentary and present a vision of racial harmony; both create heroes whose heroism is most pronounced and most obvious when they are engaged in communion, communication, and commitment to the Indians as brothers and friends; and both use names symbolically to provide a deeper insight into the character, purpose, and nature of the names’ owners.  Card is free to take this commentary to a level that would have brought scorn, ridicule, persecution, and, possibly, prosecution to Cooper, but that seems consistent with the direction in which Cooper was attempting to move.  As the frontier novel continues its work of entertaining the American masses, it is worthwhile to occasionally stop, reassess, and see where this harbinger of change is leading us and what ideals it is holding out; and, if they are worthy, to grasp them and seek them, and bring them into being.  Certainly Card’s vision of America has relevance for today’s society, and its very creation signals just how far we have come from the time when someone like Cooper’s social commentary was considered radical.


Works Cited

Card, Orson Scott. Red Prophet. New York: Tom Doherty Assoc., 1988.

Collings, Michael. In the Image of God: Theme, Characterization and Landscape in the Fiction of Orson Scott Card. Westport: Greenwood, 1990.

Cooper, James Fennimore. “The Indians.” Notions of the Americans: Picked Up by a Travelling Bachelor.  New York: State University, 1991. American Studies at the University of Virginia. Ed. Adrianna Rissetto. Dec. 1996.  4 Apr. 2003. < http://xroads.virginia.edu/%7EHYPER/HNS/Indians /notions1.html>.

—. The Last of the Mohicans. New York: Bantam, 1981.

Franklin, Wayne. “The Wilderness of Words in The Last of the Mohicans.” New Essays on the Last of the Mohicans. Ed. Daniel H. Peck. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 25-45

Lansky, Bruce. 35,000+ Baby Names. New York: Meadowbrook, 1995.

Olson, Ray. “Tired of the Same Old History? Try These Alternatives.” Booklist 98 (2002): 1388.

Peck, Daniel H. Introduction. New Essays on the Last of the Mohicans. Ed. Daniel H. Peck. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 1-23.

Reuben, Paul P. “Chapter 3: Early Nineteenth Century – James Fenimore Cooper.” PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. 5 Jan. 2003. 4 Apr 2003. <http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap3/cooper.html>.

Ringe, Donald A. James Fennimore Cooper. Boston: Twayne, 1962.

“Wisdom of the Ages: James Fenimore Cooper.” Third Age Daily News Newsletter.  8 Aug. 1998. 3 Apr. 2003. <http://www.thirdage.com/news/archive/980808-04.html>.

 



[1] I have used the terms American Indian, Indian, and red only in keeping with the terminology of the novels in question. No disrespect for Native Americans is intended.

[2]   Ta-Kumsaw is a fictionalized version of the great Shawnee chief, Tecumseh.

Sculptor Auguste Rodin, most famous, perhaps, for his The Thinker, has a piece which has fascinated me since I first discovered it within the pages of Robert Heinlein‘s Stranger in a Strange Land: Caryatid with Stone. This beautiful girl has been required to support more than she can bear, to be the supporting pillar of an arch. Her beautiful body too frail for the task that was set, the weight has crushed her into an unnatural position, but her spirit is strong enough to carry on. She remains, still supporting the stone, despite her deformity, and will stand until eternity, endurance personified. Perhaps because my encounter with this sculpture was probably my first experience with the transformative power of visual art, its strength has always seemed to great for me to capture within the frail lines of a poem. I fear my poor poem might in fact be crushed, like the caryatid, under the weight of such a powerful emotional burden as this piece has for me. Nevertheless, I will eventually write this poem, when the distance feels great enough that I can approach it with the detachment necessary for my type of craft.

Check out my updated links! Lots of good lit mags. Got a lit mag you think I should list. Send me the link and tell me why.

Also, the University of British Columbia has listed me (along with some other blogs) as an example of “lit-cultural weblogs”. Pretty neat.

The ‘sh’ slid out– shameless, thoughtless,
after I, careless, kicked the couch,
an ‘i’ piled up– a perfect scream
issued as pitch increased, increased.
The ‘t’ breaks, trembling– torn
from my lips, like my nail, lost now
but lingering, drips to a stop, stunned
as blood– like copper, leaks
from my cuticle, cut off.

I like to titivate a lot;
I titivate with all I’ve got.
My titivation knows no bounds.
Although my titivation’s sounds
Sometimes annoy my patient spouse,
I titivate the whole great house.
I hope you know just what I mean
When I’m done even the pipes are clean!

… I told you to beware of doggerel didn’t I?

Fishing, by A. E. Stalling (Poetry July 1998) employs a technique that I have seen on occasion and loved for the simple fun of it, though I have never done it myself, and it doesn’t (at least in this case) add much to the poem. It’s not anything important or insightful. It doesn’t have any effect on the meaning of the poem or really do anything except make me smile. You’re going to be really let down when this paragraph ends and it is revealed, but nevertheless, it is a technique and I want to use it, so it belongs here. It is the way she rhymes multiple words with single words as in water/daughter/bought her/taught her. Those are the rhymes that I can never come up with. I’m going to find one, and then write a whole poem just about that rhyme. It’ll be silly, but no sillier than my pure pleasure in the artifice.

Tim Morris reviews Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s recently reprinted 1911 novel The Crux. I’ll let you read his review and form your own opinions, because that’s not what I want to talk about (even though it is well worth the read and interesting–the review not the book, which I haven’t read).

What is of particular interest to me is his differentiation between the meaning (or value or purpose or whatever other term you want to use) of Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” in isolation as opposed to its meaning in the context of Gilman’s body of work as brought into focus by the newly reprinted novel. He marks the story as a “great masterpiece of the uncanny” on the one hand, and as “no more or less than an object lesson in social policy” on the other. Now to take my own two hands–On the one hand, I see the point that he is trying to make and it is an interesting one and certainly I can see how the obvious politico-cultural slant of her other work could inform and transform one’s reading of the story. On the other hand, the phrasing seems to imply that “The Yellow Wallpaper” has been somehow overvalued due to being examined in isolation, that a historically and culturally informed or cross-textually informed examination must lower the estimation of the work to “no more or less than…”

So, does its latent political activism lessen or change the validity of “The Yellow Wallpaper” as an eerily uncanny short story? Of course not. However, do we tend to devalue texts (especially poetry) when they have a pragmatic social goal? I think sometimes we do, and while I don’t suggest that this is what Dr. Morris was actually implying (I’m fairly sure it wasn’t), I do want to watch out for even the appearance of this in my own criticism.

I was going through the Dallas mix-master the other day, and I was thinking about the homeless who shelter under overpasses, and how there seems to be an entire subculture among the sub-street tenants which has rules as fastidious and important as the rules that govern the social behavior of Boston Brahmins or the negotiations between businesses contemplating a merger. I have already taken several hours over several days to examine minutely the environment. I still need to observe more interplay between the residents, but I think that I will soon be ready to write the fourth in my Central Park sonnet sequence based on these observations. Actually, thinking about it even more, I think that perhaps since the first three have been intensely personal that I’ll turn the lens altogether away from the personal and look solely at the environment.

Kasey Mohammad wrote a response to Mike Snider‘s post on meter that was strikingly similar to mine. Mike also posted a new entry which addresses, for the most part, the concerns and questions raised in both of our responses.

Kasey also opens for debate the question of whether or not a poem (or poetry) should be taken seriously if it doesn’t involve hard work. He says, “I just mean that writing poetry–any kind of poetry–is hard. And then, you know, only sometimes. Sometimes it’s easy!” Mike claims “red herring” status for that discussion, saying, “I don’t believe it should always be hard work to write a poem. Some are gifts, and I’m always grateful. However, I do believe that no one can consistently produce good poems without having done a lot of hard work at making poems.”

Of course, for academicians, it would seem to be a red herring because no one (in academia) truly questions the fact that poetry comes from craft (you know, 10% inspiration/90% perspiration applies to poetry too); craft requires [is] a set of skills; and skills come from dedication, study, and perseverance. The fact that an individual poem may be produced with little effort at some point is the result of the unswerving effort of the poet in the past. This is what Mike is saying (I think). Rather than being a red herring though, I think it is a very important point, one which is sometimes forgotten, even in academia, today. I would even go so far as to say that if one is consistently producing (so-called) poems with little effort, he or she is probably doing something wrong.

River Six by Chris Murray was just published in xStream. Congrats, Chris! I was enamored of this poem when she first read it in our poetry group, and it has only improved since then.

As to the magazine itself, I have two criticisms. The first is that an ostensibly literary magazine should not misspell “which” as “wich” and let it stand for as long as that one obviously has. Such errors proliferate throughout the front page, at least. The second is a more serious criticism that comes from a technical perspective.
BEGIN RANT
The site uses frames without offering a frameless alternative. WAKEUP CALL! FRAMES ARE BAD!!!! For instance, I can’t link directly to Chris’s poem without losing the side menu. More importantly, I can’t see in the address bar where in the site I am at any given time for whatever reason. I can’t save a particular issue as a favorite; I can’t send a link to a back issue to a friend. (Well, actually I can do all those things, but someone with a little less technical savvy couldn’t.) This failure is even less excusable since the zine is strictly an online one. If you are going to publish electronically, you should know your medium. You should especially know the conventions, standards, and general preferences of users of the medium. The message of xStream‘s medium is “We want to be as inaccessible as possible within the framework of our chosen venue.” Perhaps this is intentional. After all, they are an “ezine focused to[on] experimental poetry.”

END OF RANT

However, despite these technical concerns, the magazine is well worth the read, and not just for Chris’s poetry. I recommend it for its content, despite the container.

(P.S., I forwarded this rant to the editor (including the ameliorating recommendation), so hopefully these deficiencies will soon be fixed. On the other hand, I may just make an enemy of the editor (not my desire)… Oh well, such is life.)

UPDATE: ‘Wich’ is now ‘which.’ Nothing else is fixed, including the missing impersonal pronouns before the various predicate nominatives, the ‘to’ to ‘on’ that was in my original rant, the sentences fragments such as ‘Published 4-8 times in a year.’ the missing punctuation such as the comma before the second ‘which,’ and the missing possessive pronoun in the final sentence. Wow! That is one heck-of-a-lot-of-errors.

So Mike Snider is talking about how “It’s easier to recognize and discuss basic competence in a metrical poem” The point being that it’s difficult to argue the merits of free verse and therefore bad free verse is, perhaps, slightly more likely to slide under the critical radar. In other words, metrical verse has an objective standard that must be met or at least nodded to in passing, while free verse has no objective standard. Any significant debate about the merit of a particular piece of free verse then, being subjective, is likely to devolve into a mere shouting match, with no way of determining the “winner.”

He leaves us with the question “how can you tell the difference between bullshit and real depth” with regard to free verse. I think though, that the question applies equally well to metrical verse. Certainly, with metrical verse, we can apply the objective (or at least semi-objective) standard, and weed out the completely incompetent, but once the poet has mastered meter, do they magically get a pass simply because the author is technically competent? In fact, I think that “bad” metrical poetry may get a pass as often as bad free verse because once it has passed the metrical standard it is passed over 1, at least this has been my experience in work-shopping my own poetry. In other words, once it has passed the additional standards imposed by form, a formal poem ought still to be subject to the same standard of critique as a free verse poem is initially.2 Which leaves us back at square one, but now looking at the whole range of poetry: “How can you tell the difference between bullshit and real depth?”

Assuming we want to apply some sort of standard, that we’ll agree with Poe that poetry is “the Rhythmical Creation of Beauty” but disagree with him as to whether or not “Its sole arbiter is Taste,” we have our work cut out for us. Because, if we accept that poetry is entirely subjective, then ALL criticism becomes pointless. But if we attempt to define poetry or to set a standard, then we face a task which has made greater minds than mine blanch at the prospect. When Boswell asked him, “Then, Sir, what is poetry?” Samuel Johnson replied, “Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is; but it is not easy to tell what it is.” Poetry seems to hover on the border of the indefinable, on the tip of the tongue. “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”, though beautiful, and despite my love for Dickinson, hardly works as a standard for argument. Or to take a less emotional definition, neither does Amy Lowell’s “Concentration is the very essence of poetry.”

There are things that we can look at, though, whether in free or formal verse. We can examine the aural structure of the poem and determine whether it supports or distracts from the message of the poem.3 Ditto the visual structure. We can look at the metaphor (or metaphors) that are used and see how well they hold up throughout the piece. We can look at the images that are chosen and judge them both on originality and on specificity or concreteness. I could list more, but I think the point is made: There are objective standards by which arguments can be made as to the quality of a poem, over and above its technical competence, for both formal and free verse, arguments which ought to, in an unemotional venue, be able to stand up well to any attack(1 again), even when made about the work of an “established” poet. The question is a good one, and I will be interested to see what other responses and opinions it generates.

1Obviously this is not the case in an environment of modern meter-haters who will try to put down even great metrical verse, but in an environment where metrical verse is accepted.

2Of course, I don’t think anyone would disagree with this statement in theory, but in practice it seems to happen.

3Assuming of course that we can find a message or image or whatever that the poem is supposed to be about. If we can’t then either we are incapable of examining that poem, or it is really really bad. I don’t buy the “you don’t have to understand it to experience it” philosophy.

Modern poets and teachers often emphasize the importance of changing the meaning or sense of a refrain with each repetition. I have generally tried to follow this rule. However, I was reading Elizabeth Berret Browning’s “The Sleep” again the other day, and saw that although it doesn’t change the sense of the refrain in the modern sense, by changing punctuation or splitting words, it adds a new dimension to the refrain with each repetition. I think it is as valid a use of the refrain as more “catchy” modern ones. The refrain, when its sense is not changed, charges the air with feeling on each repetition. When it is used the way Browning uses it here, it has an incantatory quality that is enhanced by the formal diction, structure, and length (3 3′s). So while I will continue to primarily attempt to change the sense of refrains in the fun wordplay that is modern formal verse, I will also keep my eye out, and my ear open, for situations, structures, and senses that lend themselves to this more emotive methodology.

DEAREST <STOP> LOVING ME IS LIKE YOUR PROGRAMMING <STOP> HOPELESS- NESS DOUBLES AS HOPE WHEN YOU HOPE I’LL LEAVE <STOP>WORKING HE SAID AND I’VE BROKEN<STOP> WE’VE GOT BUGGY CODE AND YOU WON’T <STOP> HACKING ME THE VERY THING HE ACCUSED ME OF <STOP> BURNING ME LIKE A P-4 WITH NO FAN YOU AUTORESPOND <STOP> LOST WITH ME WITHOUT A JOB WITHOUT A PROGRAM YOU HOPE IT’LL BE FINE <STOP>LYING <STOP>BEING MY WIFE <STOP>UNDERSTANDING I CAN’T <STOP>

I had a migraine headache this weekend. Its effects were minimized by the use of Imitrex, but it nevertheless deeply impacted my ability to keep up with work, family and social responsibilities. I also dreamt about depression, in a most unusual way this weekend. It was a continuing dream, which took place over several sleeping periods.

The dream began in the way such dreams, which closely mirror reality and are usually indistinguishable from it, often do–with my awakening. I performed my morning ablutions as normal, but then, for some indefinable reason, rather than head out the door, I got into a heated philosophical debate about the value of selfishness to societal function and the existence, or lack thereof, of true altruism. Now I normally would argue against the existence of altruism, but in my dream I played angel’s advocate. However, this discussion lasted so long that when I looked at the clock I realized that I had missed a very important appointment. Now, this appointment was a big deal, and missing it was going to set me back almost six months in my life-plans. I was shell-shocked on looking at the clock. I literally couldn’t believe that I had missed this appointment, not in the “damn I can’t believe I missed it” but in the “the clock must be wrong; somebody fix it please” way. And I went catatonic. I couldn’t act, move, speak, or even think really (although I could think about not being able to think, so I guess I could think, in a way, though only tangentially).

All of this occurred in the first sleeping session, and when I woke, I retained some remnant of my nocturnal disorder. It was certainly enough for my wife to comment. Luckily it was the weekend, and so although I needed to get busy on many extracurricular projects, the fact that I went almost immediately back to sleep, sleeping away the majority of the day Saturday, did not cause my dream to become reality. I missed no appointments. But when I did return to slumber, my solipsistic state reasserted itself, and I continued to dream of inaction, of the inability to participate in communion with the rest of life. If I wasn’t depressed before I had this dream, this dream would have been enough to depress anyone, especially in the way that it merged with reality so that I was never sure how much was dream and how much was extant.

This cycle of sleeping, waking, sleeping, always to inaction whether in dream or in consciousness continued throughout the day Saturday. I recognize it now as one of the most severe premonitions or auras of an approaching migraine that I have ever had, but at the time it was truly frightening. I felt an almost Proustian juxtaposition of dream and waking, of reality, memory, future, past, and present. And I couldn’t be sure that it would end. I began, during my brief lucid and sober moments to contemplate coping strategies for a life lived in a catatonic dream (I believe I slept for close to 18 hours on Saturday). Had the mental state not dissipated with the onset of my migraine and the application of Imitrex during the middle of the night Saturday night, I would probably have felt the need to seek psychiatric evaluation on Monday. Whether or not I would have possessed the volition to initiate such a project is another question entirely. And so, in a way, the titanic headache was a relief.

I would like to capture this experience in poetry and, perhaps, to tie it to socio-political concerns. As an “average American,” (is there such a thing?), I feel impotent in the political arena, belabored in endless rules that intrude even into my personal life, and voiceless. I think the parallel will work, but I have more to do to clarify my thoughts on the metaphysical aspect before it will be ready to become a poem.

My linguistically formative years were probably more sheltered than the average Texan’s. My mother came from the American heartland (Utah/Colorado), that area whose regional dialect most closely approximates Standard American English, and she was my primary linguistic influence (My father was a Texan through and through, but had little influence due to his work). Because I was home-schooled, I didn’t even have the influences of my peers. Additionally, being in the “big-city,” Garland, TX, my exposure to traditional Texan drawl in public encounters was also virtually nonexistent. And so, I grew up without a Texan accent. Now I am for the most part grateful for my lack of ‘hick’ flavor, especially when visiting such anally retentive cities as New York and/or Boston, however, I am nevertheless proud of my Texas heritage. In fact, like many, I would say that I am a Texan first, and an American only distantly second, which is not to say that I am not proud of my American heritage as well.

So, I want to write a poem that captures my sense of identity as a Texan. I want to capture the pride of the Texas patriot, pride of size, pride of ethic, pride of identity, pride of solidarity, pride of ethnicity. But I want to differentiate the Texas of my heart-love, and the Texas of “Dallas” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” especially with its imminent recreation. I want to talk about the people. I want to create the sense of community which extends between all parts of this vast land from the gulf to the northern woodlands to the plains of the midlands to the western mountains to the dustbowl of the panhandle, each area proud of its own distinct features, but even more proud of the whole. I want to talk about the indigenous plants and animals, especially the ones which no outsider would realize makes a delicious snack: Red Sumac (the northern white variety is poisonous), prickly pear (easy to peel and great raw or stewed), wood sorrel (looks like clover with heart shaped leaves and a lemon bite), armadillo (hint, they don’t taste like chicken), whitetail (cook with pork fat to ameliorate the ‘wild’ taste), etc.

But most especially, I want to talk about my own struggle to come to terms with my own identity. Half of me looks down on the very un-global attitude that Texas takes with regard to economics, politics, ecology, and culture; half of me glories in participating in a regional culture that is proud of itself instead of one that despises itself (such as those in states like Mississippi, the Carolinas, and Virginia). I sometimes question where I fit within the Texas socio-political body. I actually spent years feeling like an outsider, an un-Texan, because I spent my first two months of life in Colorado and have a Coloradoan birth certificate. However, I never question my loyalty to Texas, my love of this land, or my love of its people, even when I occasionally look down on them for a “fixin’ to” construction or a pronunciation like “yawnptoo.”

What is it about Texas or Texans that makes us so particularly proud and patriotic? It may be, as some claim, our former independent status, but that seems unlikely considering the fact that no one alive today can personally remember that independence. Maybe it’s something in the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the water. Perhaps it is lineage that does it. I don’t know, but whatever it is, I’m glad I’ve got it.

A few Double Dactyls for your reading pleasure. They’re hiding… Can you find them? Come out, come out, wherever you are … Please note, the following verse is childish, silly, and sometimes ascerbic. It’s the type of stuff you might expect to find on a bathroom wall, really. Enter at your own risk and

Beware of Doggerel

Wearyin’ Spearean
Thomas E. Porter was
Lecturing Shakespeare to
Students with gall:
Half of them slept while just
One writing poetry
Double-dactylicly
Captured it all.

Apery Japery
David D. Silva was
Teaching linguistics by
Playing a tape.
They can communicate
Telegraphisticly
Scientists claimed as they
Signed at an ape.

Narrowly Arrowly Archery teacher
Ms. Maxwell was watching as
All the class shot.
Students shot bulls-eyes with
Striking consistency,
Abnormalistically
Errorless. Not!

Serenade Masquerade
Ms. Manning teaches her
Poetry patiently but is betrayed.
Midterministicly
Frustratedisticaly
She’ll fail them all cause they
Can’t tag Aubade.

Languages Anguishes
Sandra Wise speaks in a
Language that none of her
Students can grasp.
So though she lectures them
All that they hear is an
unrecognizable
gravelly rasp.

I now have over 100 entries on every category under the sun, and I am coming up on the occasional search at both google and Yahoo (though at yahoo only under the directory listings, never under the web search).

Once again, Mike Snider’s comments have perked my interest and spurred me to write. He says:

“Of course we can choose whom we entertain, and the more ambitious of us try to mix some instruction into the delight we try to give, but who of us has done the hard work to actually develop the knowledge and wisdom behind that instruction?

And is delight such a small thing?”

To what extent is poetry a hedonistic and to what extent a didactic art? Certainly poetry has evolved significantly from the days of tribal bards or traveling minstrels, but whether it has been an evolution or devolution may be somewhat in question. The bards served two purposes, of equal importance: They preserved the history, mythology, and traditions of the tribe, and they provided entertainment to the people. These two purposes can be talked about separately but they could not be performed separately. The hedonistic aspect of the bard’s song facilitated the didactic one. With the decline of poetry as an oral tradition, came the rise of modern verse, which seems to have abandoned poetry’s hedonistic purpose to focus solely on its didactic purpose. “The epic singer brings together a powerful memory and a strong voice– to build an epic tale in song and verse” (Hirsch 212). Repetition was key to building a mnemonic atmosphere, and so stock phrases abounded. The modern poet, in contrast, feels the need to make every word count, to burden his poem with layered meanings and multiple interpretations, to create the ultimate condensation of thought and emotion. In the process of doing so, he or she often lets aural considerations fall by the wayside and with the aural, much of the pleasure of poetry.

Modern criticism has also excluded from consideration any verse that does not aspire to this heavy burden, any verse that subordinates the didactic purpose to the hedonistic one, in short any verse whose primary purpose is entertainment. Thus we have an abundance of terms that ridicule the entertaining: fluff, doggerel, light verse, poesy, and even, almost unbelievably, verse itself. But let’s not stop with ridiculing the object. Let’s ridicule the creator as well with terms like versifier, poetaster, lyricist, etc. In fact, of Aristotle’s three types of poetry–lyric, dramatic, and epic–we have relegated all but the first to oblivion.* The fact is that criticism has become too concerned with “what a poem means” and has forgotten to address “how a poem means” (Hyles 175, emphasis added). We have forgotten that what a poem tells us about the external world is not its only importance. Of equal, or perhaps more, importance is how we get there. In poetry, the signifier is at least as important as the signified, the journey as important as the destination.

So how do we return to a poetry that fully fulfils its dual nature? How do we inform our poetry with instruction, entertainment, and wisdom? How do we transform the reader? For me as a reader, the transformational process is what draws me to poetry. Both the pleasure and the instruction are conveyed through the experience of being, for however short a time, a poem. And the journey that I take will be valuable as long as the poem is well crafted and informed by the experience or ideas of the poet. I grant that a poem might be well-crafted and informed by said experience and not move me, but I don’t think that any additional criterion can be applied. Are the experiences of the Oxford educated earl of any more validity for either my entertainment, my enlightenment, and my transformation, than the experiences of the Havana field worker, or vice versa? No. So in the end what is it that makes poetry great? I can only revert to cliché and say that it is “A life well lived,” captured in text well-written.


* In fact, I would argue that modern poetry has gone so far as to divest itself of even the descriptor “lyric.” Hyles says of modern poetry: “Rhyme became suspect and meter especially was discouraged and it had been those two sound devices in particular that had supplied the life force for most supernatural poetry, with its hypnotic, musical effects that echoed the incantatory force of magic, superstition, and ritual. Fantasy themes were rejected also” (7) With the abandonment of rhyme and meter, modern verse is hardly “1 : of or relating to a lyre or harp 2 of verse a : suitable to sing to the lyre b : suitable for being set to music and sung” (www.m-w.com, “lyric,” def. 1 and 2).


Hirsch, Edward. How To Read A Poem: And Fall In Love With Poetry. New York: Harvest, 2000.

One of the more accessible books I have read on understanding and interpreting poetry, How To Read A Poem teaches close reading while providing the reader with a basic literary glossary and a discussion of meters, feet, symbolism, theme, metaphor… It also provides a broad sampling of great poetry through the ages.

Hyles, Vernon. Afterword. Murphy and Hyles 171-75.

The Afterword to Poetic Fantastic discusses the purpose of criticism in relationship to poetry, arguing that “good criticism has [always been commited] to illumination, to being ancillary to the work,” a thing that I think many modern critics have forgotten.

—. “The Poetry of the Fantastic.” Murphy and Hyles 1-9.

Discusses the relationship between Poetry and Fantasy, and draws parallels between the analysis of the two.

Murphy, Patrick D. and Vernon Hyles eds.The Poetic Fantastic: Studies in an Evolving Genre (Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy). Westport: Greenwood Press, 1989.

In the forward, editor and contributor Patrick Murphy notes that “Fantasy has existed as long as thought and fantasy poems as long as poetry. … while modern criticism has largely mimicked a puritanical prejudice against the fantastic.” This book attempts to rectify that defect, collecting several previously published essays on poetry of the fantastic.

I have lately been particularly attracted to poetry as a visual art, especially as evidenced in such pieces as “Three-Piece” by Seamus Heaney. In this piece, at least, the connection between visual shape and meaning is there, but not overstated. While I find much (though not all) of concrete poetry to be ridiculous, this piece shows that more can be done with it than is being done. To connect shape with sense with sound in a way that does not look absurd is something of a challenge to me as I am primarily an auditory creature when it comes to language, but it is worth a shot. I think the key though is to combine all three elements in equal parts, without letting one override the other. And rather than being tied to a realist shaping, I think we need to look to the visual meaning and shape it in a more abstract-concreteness (if such a thing is possible… hopefully you understand what I mean). So look for a semi-concrete poem from me in the near future.

Well, I had almost 2000 words written last night intended for this blog, and then I closed the wrong word document and lost it all irretrievably. I’m sure you are all heartbroken… Oh well, life goes on.

Well, I’m going to do something that will probably be frowned at, and go classic for this final poem of this series. Yep, that’s right, I’m going to look at Shakespeare, specifically at Sonnet 130, my favorite of his. I think I like Sonnet 130 so much because I, like Shakespeare, am frustrated at the pointless hyperbole in love poetry, both in his time, and today. This poem says, let’s get serious and talk about reality. Reality is better than hyperbole, even when it is, as always, worse-seeming.

In one sense, this poem doesn’t have to be very original, since it simple takes the clichés of the time and deflates them, the entire poem almost seems to rest in the last two lines, the closing couplet. It is of course filled with many things that are considered no-nos in modern verse: archaism (not so at the time perhaps), clichés, unrelentingly end-stopped lines, inversions for meter’s sake, etc. The question that I ask myself is whether we simply accept these supposed flaws as relics of the time period and culture and ignore them in looking at Shakespeare’s poetry, or whether we still consider them flaws but opine that Shakespeare’s verse is so piercingly poignant that it overcomes these flaws to succeed despite them, or whether we decide that Shakespeare’s poetry really wasn’t all that good because of all these flaws (though of course we don’t dismiss his drama in the same way thus allowing ourselves to still claim we admire his “work”), or what? The answer, I think, lies somewhere in the middle. There is a happy medium I think, where we say that it is partly simply an acceptance of his culture, partly that these “flaws” may not be quite so insurmountable defects as is made out (that is to say that in a century or so, the trend toward anti-archaism, anti-endstopping, anti-meter, anti-rhyme may have reversed itself, though I doubt I could convince anyone on the modern poetics scene of this possibility), and partly that even the greatest poets are not perfect nor is their work, no matter how canonical.

Some of the things that I like best about 130 besides the ending, are the matter of fact tone, in statements like “I grant I never saw a goddess go,” and “breath that from my mistress reeks.” I like the foretaste in the third quatrain that we are not going to be left depressed. The speaker tells us “I love to hear her speak” even while admitting that there isn’t any music in it. And of course I get tingles when I hear “And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,/ as any [. . .]“

“Player Piano” by Kevin Young (published in the Winter 2002 issuse of The Georgia Review) is one of only a few free verse poems that I am going to look at in this 15 poem series. Although I stick primarily to formal verse in my own writing, and hence feel that formalists are where I will be able to learn the most, an occasional foray outside one’s own bailiwick must surely be beneficial. So in the spirit of learning, and with the caveat that I am venturing outside my bailiwick, I tentatively venture to approach the work of a poet who Flagpole Magazine calls “one of the hottest commodities in poetry today” and Swing magazine labeled one of the most powerful men under 30 (see same article).

“Player Piano” seems to be a sort of take on a love poem, but the images it employs to arrive at this sense are highly unique, and captivating. Allusions to the underlying theme come just often enough that I don’t get lost in the images–a good thing. I did think the transition from fishing images to he bookstore was a little too abrupt, one of my only nits. The poem shows evidence of a high level of crafting. I enjoyed the frequent use of highly poignant internal rhymes and/or significant assonances, such as near/fear/smear, forgot/rot, better/beg, and list/slick etc. The juxtaposition of the sound of the heart and the sound of the fish in the opening section was particularly effective for me as well.

Another thing that really stands out about this particular poem is the way that young seems to bring all of the senses into this poem. From the sound of the heart, of the fish, to the smell of the perfume, to the sight of women’s magazines, to the feeling of sea-sickness, to the taste of salt-water taffy. And let me also just mention a few of the line breaks that I thought particularly well chosen: “This afternoon I tore out [. . .]” “Driving home, [. . .]” “to beg– [. . .]” and most especially, “how still [. . .]” with its doubling of meaning when taken with the line before vs. the line after.

Idea wise, I was particularly taken with the idea of wanting to be a keeper, in the sense of fish/love. We see through this image that the speaker has not been a “keeper.” up to this point, and this gets expanded upon throughout. I think the first part of the Women’s magazine section worked least for me, from the perspective of the ideas presented. I don’t know why, but the idea that the speaker’s name might be listed as a disease in a Women’s magazine is just so far fetched and is juxtaposed with such an otherwise matter of fact account, that it just doesn’t hold water for me. Unbelievably, the idea of the speaker as a fish wanting to be caught makes more sense on some weird poetic level. On the other hand the second part of the magazine section, the part dealing with perfumes is absolutely brilliant in the way it conjures up scent, especially the clashing scents of the perfume samples of women’s magazines and the connection of that smell to sickness works especially well for a bundle of allergic reactions such as myself.

I’m guessing that the apple was chosen as the source of the sickening smell because of all of the apples baggage with women and sin and sex etc., but it didn’t work very well for me, primarily because even the rottenest of apples, at least to me, still has a scent that is, at some level, pleasing, but that may just be a personal quirk. Also, apples have cores (most likely), skins (not likely), remains (possibly), but do not, in my experience, have husks.

To move back to the accolades which are more due this poem, the ending introduces yet another metaphor, has nice associations of the sea with tears without ever making that explicit (which would be cliché), and ends on a positive note that keeps the poem from descending into self-pity. The ending opens it up into an offer, and one that, I think, no sane lady would turn down. In the end, the poem has certainly moved me at the least.

Thanks to Michael Snider for his interesting and informative comments on my analysis of “To A Critic” (The poem can be found here). He suggests that because of their more readily identifiable rhythmic nature short lines can better handle substitutions than longer lines such as IP in opposition to my statement that there were too many substitutions. I think that there is certainly some truth to that, but it brings up an interesting question.

I have heard countless discussions of poetics in which iambic pentameter was referred to as embodying the “natural rhythm” of the English language. I had always found this somewhat distressing, since when composing poetry, my phrases naturally tended to fall into tri- or tetrameter. Now I begin to wonder if the “natural rhythm” of the English language hasn’t changed somewhat since IP was established as the meter of choice for great English poetry. I found at least one reasonably respected source who has a similar leaning, at least with regard to American speech: Ronald Wallace, PhD. (scroll down a ways or search twice for tetra). Our language has been transformed from the highly inflected Old English to a much more word order driven paradigm. Contractions have abounded, especially in American Idiom. Our basic beliefs about the pragmatics of communication have changed. Have we lost syllables along the way, poor syllables waving goodbye as we march on without them? I’m not sure about this, for certainly when I do write Sonnets, I generally stick to IP rather than to the variation that allows tetrameter. But then, I am very concerned with my “free verse” friends’ criticisms of my predilection for a lack of enjambment.

Mr. Snider, at least, doesn’t seem to think so. He says of IP, “no other line is as capacious as the pentameter.” So we have a dichotomy between the fit of the English language to IP and the idea that it is at the same time less amenable to substitution than other line lengths. What is the resolution? Perhaps the type of substitution is important? Perhaps it is the placement? I could write an entire sonnet with headless iambs beginning each line, and no one would blink an eye or argue that it was something less than IP. In the same way I could write one with trochaic substitutions beginning each line, or with the last or next to last foot always anapestic. Is it then consistency that matters? And regardless, is it possible that shorter lines are actually a better fit, but that we have been conditioned so well by history and tradition that to consider another line length is virtually impossible? Not that either, I don’t think. I don’t have any answers, only questions. Which brings me back to my thoughts on shorter meters and the fact that they often seem more natural to both my ear and my tongue. I feel like I have noticed more sonnets lately (though of course I can’t locate any examples at the moment) written in iambic tetrameter, though as I said I can’t be sure. But I have digressed rather far (interesting though it has been for me) from my initial topic.

Ok, back to the trimeter of “To A Critic.” Looking back at it, I realize I may have stated my case a little to harshly, though I stand by my evaluation with the following caveat. The trimeter is well established, and I am not trying to suggest that it ever breaks down to the point of unrecognizability. What I am saying is that the points where there are significant departures cause a slight hiccup if you will in the reading in places where that hiccup doesn’t accent the content. Let me just give one concrete example:

The final two lines of the first stanza read “I have known only two,/Dick Wilbur and Tony Hecht.” I’ll take the next-to-last line first. I can scan it without much difficulty in two ways: trochee/iamb/iamb or iamb/iamb/iamb (I suppose you could also claim headless iamb/anapest/iamb but I apply Occam’s razor and remove this possibility). Now, since the meter up to this point has been unfailing iambic trimeter, I am willing to read it the second way, but the meter has brought itself to my attention. The first way is the way that I would read it if I had no established meter to go on, and the need to accent the first person pronoun followed by a typically unstressed helping verb at the beginning of the line is difficult to surmount. I notice the substitution in the first foot though I may choose to regularize it. The final line can also be read in two ways: spondee/anapest/iamb or iamb/anapest/iamb. Again, the first is the way that it would be pronounced without the influence of an established meter. And in this case, neither of the stresses of the Spondee are easy to demote, which gives us four stresses for the line. Not only that, but we have two substitutions out of three feet! And all of this, immediately following a line with a difficult conversion to make.

What do these significant blips in the meter imply about the content, or what purpose do they serve in drawing our minds so forcefully to the meter? As far as I can tell, none. Now, the really bad part comes. All that has to be done to remove the difficulty with the meter is to remove the word Dick. The use of the last name only is perfectly acceptable, even when combining it with a first/last name combination, and then the final line’s meter matches the penultimate’s: trochee/iamb/iamb. When multiple lines make the same metrical “burble” our ear just accepts that meter as the norm for those lines. So to summarize, not every substitution in a short line is a problem for me (in fact no substitutions may tend to the boring), and it may well be that IP can handle substitutions less well than shorter rhythms, but in this particular piece there are at least a couple of occasions in which the substitutions work against the flavor and flow of the whole.

Now all of this is not intended to somehow shore up or defend my analysis from one critical remark (though possibly to extend and explain that analysis). I am perfectly willing to be taught. It is simply the thoughts, questions, and re-evaluations that Mr. Snider’s awesome comment engendered. Thank you again Mr. Snider. (Oh, and thanks to Chris Murray as well, who commented even as I was writing this response. We missed you Thursday!).

“To A Critic” by Timothy Murphy (published in Volume IV Issue 1 of The New Formalist) is very interesting because it is a response poem. It was obviously written (am I assuming too much?) in response to a deleterious remark from a critic in regard to one of the poets mentioned in the piece or to poets in general, yet we don’t need to know the specifics to appreciate the poetry. Its audience is probably somewhat limited by the topic to people who are close to the critic/poet relationship on one side or the other though it might be appreciated by anyone in a similar type of antagonistic relationship such as actors, singers, and other performers. The pertinence of the Yeats quote was unclear to me. It is on the same subject, but the poem does not reference it in any way that makes it necessary to the understanding of the poem. It seems to be there just for show value.

Even though I am not familiar with a single one of the referenced contemporary poets, I don’t feel the lack at all. In fact, I am now going to have to seek out and read “Western Elegies,” “A Thing Well Made,” and “Musical Chair” if I can get my hands on them. The specificity makes what might be just a rant become more than a rant. For the poem is very expository in tone and style, a lecture to an unseen critic for whom we almost feel sympathy. Yet I, for one, am right there with him, lecturing that critic as well. I could substitute any specific poets in place of Hope, Wilbur, and Hecht, and conjure the same images. It is simply the specificity that matters.

The poem is written in iambic trimeter, with many anapest and trochaic substitutions. These substitutions come slightly too often to be acceptable especially in such short lines. The poem’s rhyme scheme is unusual, having the form abcbac in each stanza, but is consistent and works well with the movement of the poem. The trimeter moves the poem along quickly, rant-like. Form and content are well matched.

“Sonnet For A Nurse” by Elizabeth Tibbetts (published in Volume 53 Issue 4 of The Beloit Poetry Journal) manages to somehow deal with the issue of death, of the final decay of the fleshy portion of our being, without being overly sentimental, without being cliche, and without being depressing. At the final line, it almost begins to dip into the over-sentimental with “while I still have the chance,” and I think that I would rather have seen it end on a less mellodramatic note, but still, it is a little enough portion of the whole, that I can get over it. Other than that, there is a lot to enjoy in this poem. The association of washing with death helps to keep the poem from being too dark. The line “So I talk because I’m alive” is just perfect. The image of the connection between the living nurse who has only time between her and the bodies she is working with is sad, poignant, and yet not cloyingly sad–appropriately sad and yet holistically right.

There are also some nice sonics going on: The alliteration of slow,circles,skin and something, soothe, stretched, serene, stranger’s, the rhyme surrounding the quatrains, the assonance of croon/room and howl/mouth, etc. There is not so much so close together that it becomes a tongue twister, yet there is enough to be noticable in its pleasing sonic effect. There is a clear volta between the octet and the sextet, yet the one flows into the other without a jolt or break in the thought. All in all a model well worth emulating.

“Bird’s Eye View” by David Anthony (published in Volume IV Issue 1 of The New Formalist) seemed to me to be just a little contrived. I am sometimes willing to give more of a benefit of the doubt to formal poetry just because it is formal, which means that the author took at least enough time and thought in their creation to produce reasonable facsimiles of rhyme and meter. Free verse on the other hand, has only its content to catch me (unless we get into sound poetry, concrete poetry, performance poetry, slam, multi-media, etc. which we won’t). However, this poem fails. From the pointless interjection that absorbs most of the first and second lines, “(how could he know/the weight of all my cares)” not to mention the other one on line 7, “how I’ll dazzle them,” to the clichés, “weight of all my cares,” “to and fro,” “unfurled its wings,” to the poorly chosen exclamation mark, this poem has little to recommend it.

Why then would I choose it from the galaxy of poetry available out there to include in my poetry analyses? These are supposed to be helping me improve, not devolve, right? There is a simple answer that is nevertheless profound, at least to me. This poem was published in an at least semi-respectable online poetry journal. What does that mean to me? It means that I need to quit hemming and hawing, and start submitting. Even if I can’t get published in POETRY or The Paris Review, I surely ought to be able to get something into The New Formalist or Triplopia, which is not to say that these are bad rags of the sort where my bad work might be accepted, nor is it to say that I have previously undervalued my work and have upgraded my assessment, it is simply to say why not give it a try. It’s only some 37 cents to give it a shot since most lit-zines prefer legal envelopes as opposed to manila. But anyway, to get back to the poem…

There are a few things that do work for me in this poem. I really like the image of the robin looking for worms “along the fresh cut line” (Line 5). This image gives a symbiotic feel to the relationship between the mower (person) and the robin. I love the line “The bird has his agenda; I have mine.” (Line 8). If these were the two ideas juxtaposed in the poem, I think it would be a success, but the whole “animal who thinks it is the center of the world, how silly–oh wait that’s me” theme has been done to death, and there is nothing new about it here.

“On Stars” by Nancy Callahan (published in Volume IV Issue 1 of The New Formalist) is a very minimalist piece of formal poetry, written in iambic trimeter with rhyme scheme of abacdc. At a mere six lines, it has to be pretty packed if it is going to say anything, and it is. There are two problems that seem to me to be pretty common in minimalist poetry. The first is minimalist poetry that doesn’t have anything to say. You see this in a lot of modern Haiku. I’m not bashing Haiku per se, as I have seen Haiku that was poignant and perfect, both traditional and non-traditional Haiku. But we’re not talking about Haiku here, as much fun as that might be.

This poem does seem to have a close relationship with Haiku that might be worth exploring further. Besides its brevity, it also has the natural theme, and the enclosing structure that it shares with Haiku. In the case of “On Stars” the enclosing structure is generated by rhyme rather than syllable or word count. Each of the tercets can be easily said in a single breath. The natural theme, a comparison of the sun and the stars, is not quite at the imagistic moment level of Haiku, but is still piercing in its specificity and insightful in its description. It has the typically English device of a twist at the end, where the poem is wrenched into a new direction that transforms it from simple imagery to full fledged commentary.

I love the phrase “pinpricked night.” I love the twist from contemplation of the heavens to the backlash against science and scientificism towards a more spiritualistic view of nature. I love the em-dash, but I hate the commas. I don’t want to be slowed down ’til I hit the full stop of that dash, proper punctuation be damned. I’m not fond of the title, but at least it is appropriate. I love “half a cosmos” vs. the whole cosmos. I love the “warmth of one”, separated from “or shine.” I originally read one as representing a person, and perhaps that’s what we’re really talking about, the sun is a personal thing, while the stars are remote. Whatever the case the poem is beautiful, and enjoyable, and a nice break from all the longer poetry that runs so rampant these days.

“The Bat” by Kasey Jueds (published in Volume 54 Issue 1 of The Beloit Poetry Journal) has a lot going on in it. There are three primary images, the bat, Blake’s angels, and the rain. They are tied together in an orderly fashion, so we have a progression rather than a juxtaposition, and that progression is marked by stanza breaks. If it weren’t for the title, I think it would be just a progression of images, but the title ties the final image back to the first, and allows the poem to suggest a connection between two images that would not work together if overlaid as direct metaphor or juxtaposition. We just can’t make the leap to connect the bat with the rain without the intervening stanzas to lead us through a progression. However, once we have been led there, the connection seems appropriate. Our experience with the bat and our experience with rain are connected, and we reevaluate our connection with the former in the light of the latter.

I like the feeling that we are moving from dark to light, in mood, in imagery, in our perceptions. I like the line: “First sleep, then eyes” standing by itself. Coming after the darkness, it gives us a foretaste of the revelation to come. The poem is eye-opening. I love the way that “rain isn’t rain” although I would have preferred a more formal diction for the last three lines to mirror the weight of the connection being made. Of course the common diction speaks to the commonness of the uncommonness of the feeling, smell, attitude, but still…. I’m not sure I like the word something in line 5. I think that maybe it would work just as well, and yet make it less distant. That would also coincide with the it of the next line. Still, it is an amazingly potent and tightly packed little poem.

“Fault Lines” by T. M. Moore (published in Volume 14 Issue 1 (2003) of The Formalist) draws a parallel between the fault lines between tectonic plates, and the lines of a poem, a “poet’s verse.” However, the almost the entire weight of the metaphor rests on the closing couplet, which seems an awful lot for the poor thing to bear. It makes one appreciate the ballance of a Petrarchan sonnet. On the other hand, the jarring impact of that final line is profound, and guarantees the poem a re-read so that the reader can catch all the allusions that may have been missed on the first time around.

The diction is a bit scientific, which for me doesn’t quite convey the awe and mystery that this poem is attempting in every other way, but I know some people who find science and even the pseudo-scientific awe inspiring. On the other hand, I really liked some of those scientific words from a sonic perspective like countervailing. It just means counteract, but it means it with so much flair.

I think, though, that my favorite part of the poem is the part where it says “throws into turmoil people, buildings, land” (line 11). When I first read it, I understood it as saying that buildings and land were going to be thrown into “turmoil-people” which is an interesting image, and works quite well. I had caught the intended sense of it by the time I got through the next line, but I think this double meaning justifies the inversion of using “into turmoil people” instead of the more correct “people into turmoil.”

I also like the use of unreconciling where the temptation might be to use unreconciled. The former seems to offer more hope for the future, and although the poem certainly ends on a downer, I think it is intended more to inspire awe than to act as a warning or doomsday type message.

“Yaddo” by David Galef (published in Volume 14 Issue 1 (2003) of The Formalist) seems to suggest that feeling just before one writes of somehow having to do everything else possible before beginning, even though once the writing begins it is one of the most enjoyable experiences possible.

The short line length seems to accentuate the feeling of being on the cusp, which works with images like ledge, edge, trembling, encroaching, promise, frustrate, etc. The rhymes are not that original but are very pertinent in places, especially the emphasis that the rhyme gives to edge and ledge and the congruence that is made between sight and write. Even these rhymes are not uncommon, but they are used to great effect here.

My favorite part of the poem is the analogy between the glass of water and the man. It is set up as a simple simile, but it travels throughout the poem and becomes a metaphoric representation. It is half-empty, but has a promise of fullness. Its consumption is frustrating, yet filling–always demanding “one more sip.”

The speaker of the poem seems to present a front of disinterestedness, but his subject belies the calm of the words. The cumulative effect is that the diction presents one emotion, and the content another. Both are valid, and they work together to create a picture of the writer who is objective, and yet somehow pours himself into his work.

“Lunar Study” by Ann K. Schwader was published in Volume 14 Issue 1 (2003) of The Formalist. It seems to have a somewhat gothic, ethereal, witchy tone that is produced both by the long lines and phrasing, the meta-female theme, the Greek mythological references, and words like ancient, legends, vengeance, moon, bloody, hunt, oak, sand, siren, tempting, wine, and wave.

It does not have the tightly controlled length of the sonnets that I have been looking at, but it does keep to its own rigidly formal structure of iambic pentameter divided into quatrains of crossrhyming couplets. One of the nice things about this is that it can spend time developing its themes, and has plenty of time to provide an engaging narrative that draws us in to the deeper complexities.

Although feminist in execution, this, much like Sexton’s poetry, speaks to universal feelings that transcend gender. There was one reference which I thought it might be unlikely that the average reader would be familiar with, and that was Artemis’s “bloody/Handmaids of the hunt” (Line 7-8). The other references are common enough that most people probably can grasp them without difficulty. So the question is, does the reference to Artemis stand without a knowledge of the background mythology? I think that although a knowledge of the mythology would probably heighten the enjoyment of the poem, the mythology is not so intrinsic that the poem fails without it.

I think that I would rather not have known that the poem was based on a photomontage because it seems to be a smoothly flowing narrative that does not require the apology or proviso of the note. I find that I rarely appreciate notes above a poem unless they are quotes from another poem that is being responded to. A footnote would, I think, be much more effective.

I love the final line of the poem, the books cresting in a wine dark wave just pictures for me the elegance of a private library with candelabra, a glass of wine, and Poe or Lovecraft on a dark night. To me it is that that the speaker is discarding, not literature per se, but academia and snootiness. She embraces her womanhood, her connection with the Virgin goddess, complete without any man. You know, on second thought, I think the reference to the mythology does require the background knowledge to be effective. That doesn’t mean I would change the poem though. I think it little enough to expect that the reader look up one semi-obscure (not really that obscure) reference in a poem this engaging, not interrupting the first read perhaps, but before the following reads which are sure to come.

Marion Shore, in her poem “Parallel Universe” (published in Volume 13 Issue 2 (2003) of The Formalist), uses slant rhyme mixed with perfect rhymes in a way that coincides perfectly with the content of the poem. She uses the slant rhyme in the first stanza to compare space with gaze. Emphasizing the contradiction of a universe in which she has “never met your gaze” (Line 4). The rhyme is imperfect, but so is the universe, she seems to be saying. She takes this even farther and brings the slant rhyme into stark relief in the final couplet where she says, “Somewhere there is a universe/Where when you dream, you see my eyes, not hers” (Lines 13-14). By placing this change that would typically be considered a flaw in the closing couplet, she announces its intentionality.

I have seen other poems in which the form mirrored the meaning, but usually that was in free verse or at least in non-traditional forms. Of course the sonnet in and of itself, through its tradition and its volta, complements and guides the content of a sonnet, but this additional device is so intentional and stands out so boldly that our attention is drawn to the form and we begin to see other aspects in which the form mirrors or enhances the content, the rhymes, the meter, etc. The sonnet form, alone, hides in the background of our consciousness, and we may read and understand the poem fully without ever noting what the sonnet form adds or subtracts from or to it. I am challenged to attempt to incorporate some type of overt and blatant “in your face” connection between form and meaning into my next poem. After all, “the medium is the message” (McLuhan 7). Perhaps slant rhyme, perhaps something else, but to somehow directly tie form to meaning, and then bring it blatently to the attention of the reader.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge: MIT, 1964.

“Silent Reading” by Deborah Warren was published in Volume 13 Issue 2 (2002) of The Formalist. The first thing one notices about “Silent Reading” is that it references a fairly (though not unobtainably) obscure historical document. As such, it might limit itself to a more erudite audience if it did not, in the first stanza, lay out all the necessary details of the story. Since it does lay out all those details, the reference at the top seems rather superfluous, especially since it does not provide enough detail to be useful as a reference.

However, with that exception, this sonnet seems to be quite well crafted. It is an unrhymed Petrarchan sonnet (if that isn’t an oxymoron), but it keeps enough resonances of sound between the consonances the assonances and the occasional rhymes that it really retains the feeling of a traditional sonnet well. As someone who is perhaps overfond of rhyme, I didn’t even miss it, and didn’t realize that the poem was unrhymed until my second or third read through of it. I thought that made it really interesting from a formal standpoint.

This is one of those sonnets where the volta really stands out. The shift in thought from the octet to the sestet is almost jolting, which is appropriate for imagery of the earth standing still. The feeling of absolute shock and awe, of the paradigmatic shift that must have hit the Romans at Amrose’s reading is absolutely captured. I thought it was especially interesting the way that the octet provided a narrative, and the sestet a commentary by way of a single image, form and function working together dramatically yet again. One leaves the poem, like Ambrose, like the Romans, silent.

UPDATE:I went ahead and finished the sonnets for each of the standard forms Gave a presentation on Sonnets for a class. Wrote this while working on the 8.5×11 tri-fold brochure on sonnets that I created as a handout. It has examples of all the major types of sonnets, covers all the basics of the sonnet form, offers some options and alternatives to traditional sonnets, and provides some exercises in sonnet writing. If you would be interested in obtaining a copy, e-mail webmaster@allauthors.com.

Petrarchan
If you would like to write Petrarchan then
You’ll need to learn your rhyme and meter well.
Your prosody should flow and weave a spell
That’s wrapped round mind by page, round page by pen.
You cannot write one with an ear of tin,
Nor can your import be an empty shell;
Your sounds should ring as lovely as a bell
And after you have eight lines written, when

You start the sextet, change your mode of thought,
Bring some new aspect, or new thought to light,
And change your rhyme to indicate that fact.
And also, to be great, you really ought
(If you would like your poems to take flight)
To end with something that the octet lacked.

Shakespearean
Shakespearean sonnets are a different beast.
Their rhyme scheme is much easier to master.
One benefit of this (and not the least)
Is you can write Shakespearean much faster.
Each quatrain builds upon the last and so
You move more slowly to your final lines,
Which lets your poem have the ebb and flow
Of sinusoidal functions and designs.
Can this form be as potent as the other,
Especially using female rhymes as I,
Or is it time to move on to another
And let this humble sonnet justly die?
Well, not before the ending couplets written,
And you with Shakespeare’s facil form are smitten.

Spencerian
Of Spencer’s sonnets it is justly said
That interwoven stanzas keep it tight,
Although I think it hardly fair to wed
One tercet to the next. It is not right
And has somehow a quite incestual feel
And makes it hard to build a proper plight.
If you will try them I’ll make you a deal
That if you think it just cannot be done
And tempting it zaps your poetic zeal,
I’ll let you write one that is merely fun,
Does not have all the import sonnets should,
Just hums along until you finally run

Out of babbling words and find you could,
With no more effort, have made something good.

“Parallel Universe” by Marion Shore (published in Volume 13 Issue 2 (2002) of The Formalist) evokes the feelings of unrequited love in a unique and poignant way. It has a highly scientific tone that distances the feelings of rejection, holding them off until the antepenultimate line (And yes I do mean third from the end, not second). It is yet another sonnet (if you’d like to know why the sonnet is so perfect for the English language, see Mike Snider’s Formal Blog and Sonnetarium. Thanks Chris), which you may find will be a recurring theme in my analyses.

There are two blips on my rhyme meter. Slant rhyme is used in the L2/L4 rhyme and in the closing couplet. In this particular case, I think the slant rhymes work, though I would normally expect either all (or mostly) slant, or all perfect rhymes. Why does it work this time? Because in both cases, the slants are used to pick out a theme from the rest of the poem. It is the same theme in both cases, and the nature of the theme matches the technique used to highlight it. What I am talking about is the idea or feeling of being out of place, the idea that “time is out of joint”, the impression of imperfection and the placement of that imperfection at the universal level. The use of imperfect rhyme perfectly complements the meaning of the poem and puts me in awe. Although there is much else to admire in the poem, I think because it is so rare to see such direct cohesion between form and meaning even in the well-known poets that this may be my favorite part of this poem.

The poem, as its title suggests, posits a parallel universe in which an unrequited love is requited. It poses the reasons that the love is unrequited, and brushes them aside with a mere stroke of fancy. The speaker seems somewhat self-deluded and yet nevertheless does not strike us as hopeless, but instead as coming to grips with reality in a unique way which allows her love to exist on one plane while acknowledging its loss on another.

The theme of unrequited love is virtually a universal experience, and as such, the poem speaks to the rejected in all of us. It tells us that it is not our fault, and that had things just been different we might have triumphed where we have failed.

“Love Recidivus” by Lisa Barnett (Also published in the September 2003 issue of Poetry) seems to suggest images of adultery, of passion pushed beyond reason, of the failure of constancy, and inevitability. It succeeds admirably in this through the use of careful images, and the slow buildup of tension through the quatrains, leading to a sudden and truly unexpected release in the closing couplet. It is couched in the form of the sonnet, and adheres fairly strictly to the Shakespearean standard.

The quatrains and couplet are separated by whitespace rather than by the use of indention as is more common, but this may be the fault of the copy editor or print setter rather than the poet. Either way I think the sonnet too short and the ‘stanzas’ too integrated to suffer this amount of whitespace. The only other problem that I noted with the form itself was the use of sight rhyme between tries and fidelities. Although the British pronunciation of fidelities allows for the rhyme, nothing else in the poem indicates a British diction, and the poet is distinctly American, so I think this is a failure of craft. While it is not a formal problem, I also dislike the title. The use of recidivus (a word that does not exist in the English language as per the OED) seems blatantly obtuse. Why not simply use the correct word, recidivate?

However, despite all these flaws, some of which seem to me to be glaring, I did enjoy this poem, and can understand why it was included in a magazine as prestigious as Poetry. Perhaps I simply have a bias, but again I find the twist at the end to be the most satisfying part of the poem. The poem has been building a picture of faithfulness and virtue, and then introduces the spark that “tries resolve past all resisting.” We would expect the closing couplet to return to virtue, to offer a solution to the dilemma, but the solution seems to be to accept the inevitable–sometimes passion overrides reason and there’s nothing we can do about it. I don’t like it from a moral or philosophical standpoint. I don’t agree with it. But somehow in those final lines, I identify with it, and that is the transformative power of poetry.

The September 2003 issue of Poetry has William Walden’s “A Posy of Love” which contains a section entitled “18th Century.” Since each section stands on its own as a whole poem, I am going to look at this section. In my previous analysis, I had not had the guidelines provided by my creative writing instructor, Toni Manning, and so went through as much detail as possible. Unfortunately, time restraints prevent me from being able to offer such detailed attention to every poem that I analyze for the class. So I will give the Rubric by which I will be looking at each poem. For each poem I will be answering as many as possible of the following questions, as well as looking at other things that particularly strike my interest or that I think will help me to improve myself as a poet, though not necessarily in that order:

  1. Describe the style of the poem?
  2. Who is the audience?
  3. What does the poem assume about the audience?
  4. What is the poems suggestion?
  5. What kind of poem is it? (i.e., narrative, descriptive, concrete, sound, formal)
  6. What is the best part of the poem?
  7. Where does it fail?

“18th Century” is, of course, formal verse, specifically, 4 rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter. It has an archaic feel to it due to words like wantonness, lechers, and unsullied, and to overpoetic contractions like o’ervault and am’rous. The archaisms are probably the part of the poem that least works for me. Although I am departing a little from my chosen text here, I will go further and say that the archaisms might have worked had the series, which has a poem for each of several centuries, progressed poem by poem through the diction of the centuries, eventually approaching modern diction in “19th century.” Instead it seems that “18th Century” is the only poem that makes use of such overt archaisms, while the rest use, at least, an essentially modern lexicon, if not a completely modern grammar.

Well, that dead horse is thoroughly beaten, so lets talk instead about what does work. I think that the best part of the poem is the twist on the typical caution to maidens and lovers. Here we have a lecturer who suggests that the victim is more terrible than the foe and instead of letting the “ogling lechers” besmirch her virtue, will cause them to “flee in shame.” The images are delightful humorous, while at the same time injecting a serious note as well about the plight of womankind, who can be neither chaste nor unchaste without reproach.

It is obviously written for an educated audience (but what poetry isn’t these days), with its large vocabulary and archaisms. It expects a reader who is familiar enough with the history of fashions to be able to appreciate the predicament of the lady in question, and with it’s teasing and humorous approach to the issue seems likely to appeal more to a male than to a female audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, and hope to see more of Walden’s work appear on the pages of Poetry. Even the archaisms cannot detract from the overall pleasantness and craftiness of the piece.

I was just remembering back to when I was 10 or 12, and bubble-blowing was an important indicator of social status. Someone who could blow a bubble that required a haircut was the elite of the elite (I never managed this), and my life was devoted to bubble blowing. I can remember spending endless hours debating the merits of various brands of choice: Bubble-Yum (King of Flavor), Hubba-Bubba (Superior Bubbles), Bubblicious (You chew that? What are you, stupid?), Double-Bubble (Tried and True). Bubble blowing is an event that requires one’s entire concentration. One must block out distractions mentally even as the bubble blocks off sight of the world. Sometimes, after some strenuous bubble blowing, you need a drink; you take a slug of that ice-cold water, and suddenly that bit of gum that was stretching out so nicely before shatters likes Mom’s best china when you dropped it on the floor. I remember when I lost my job, just after taking on the responsibility of a mortgage and new car payment, with a wife, a kid, and another on the way. It reminded me of when that all important, prize winning chew, shattered on impact after the plunge into ice water. Is there a poem in here somewhere? It seems so to me. Can I write it? I don’t know; I may have swallowed my gum.

Lately, I seem to be constantly facing issues of time: time management, timing, time for family, time for schoolwork, time for writing. That last is one of the biggest; I think that like doctors, we should describe authors as practicing the art of writing. We’ll never get any better if we don’t keep doing it (Not that we don’t need to read a lot as well). In fact, it’s impossible to produce a work of literature without the act of writing. I digress. In “I Go Back to the House for a Book,” Billy Collins provides an effect that although not narrative per se (although certainly narrative in portions), or in emphasis, nevertheless captures more than a single image. It captures a timeline, and through that timeline, a feeling, almost an aura. Collins captures this timeline in several ways, the most traditional being through narrative. However, especially in his second and third stanzas, he maintains a sense of time and timeliness without continuing the narrative form. More important than the flow of the narrative is the use of time-oriented words, such as sometimes, before, slow, synch, before, blazing, follow, etc. These words remind us as we go through that the snippets of scene that we are seeing are not contiguous, that they are separated in time, and indeed, that seems to be the theme of the poem. The separations of events in time, the impact of time on choice, and the effects of time on emotion and memory. So, my challenge? Write a poem with NO narrative that nevertheless captures a sequence of events, to use time words to make clear that events are separated by time, while juxtaposing them on one another to emphasize a contrast or comparison.

I am writing a series of poetic commentaries on various poems that strike my fancy for my Advanced Creative Writing: Poetry class. Hopefully, a deep exploration of the poetry of others will enhance my own poetics. I will be posting the analysis to the list, and if I can find a link to the poem already online, I’ll provide that as well. Otherwise I’ll let you know the source. Anyone who would be willing to point out devices in use in the poems that I have missed, or places where I have imputed intent or over-analyzed will be much appreciated.

A. R. Ammons’s “Clabberbabble” (85th2.gif Poetry 85th Anniversary Special Double Issue. Chicago: Poetry Press, 1997) is a delightful romp through the world of language usage and at the same time a poignant expression of nostalgia for a past in which people were closer to nature. The title of the piece is a newly minted compound word that both embodies the theme of the poem in its very construction, and leads into the poem both in content and in style. Clabber is something muddy, lumpy, and inconsistent. Babble of course refers to unintelligible speech, with a somewhat muddy etymology that places its source as most likely originating in the sounds of infants, but its senses influenced by the biblical account of Babel (OED babble). The change of language and the loss of understanding and connections seem to be the primary thematic elements of the poem, and so the title works well from that perspective. The title also has an onomatopoeic quality that matches its sense and makes it a pleasure to read, especially aloud. In fact, as mentioned earlier, babble’s etymology is strictly onomatopoeic. The first line of the poem begins, “How usage changes usage,” which seems to be a commentary on or specification of the previously mentioned new word, focusing the direction which the poem is going to take, while expanding from word to meaning. This idea of specification and expansion of ideas is then followed throughout the poem with the continual use of colons as its marker.

Made up of six unrhyming tercets with no established meter, but with a smooth unhurried rhythm, the evenness of the line length, the four to five stresses per line, the consistency of the stanza formation causes it to have an evenness of flow that accords with the implacable flow of the years, and the immutable laws of language change: “How usage changes usage.” Colons allow the changes in the stream thought to retain a level of connectedness that the finality of a period would not. Changes come gradually, just as they do in language. Other than this important shift in colon use, the punctuation of the poem follows for the most part standard English usage, and so does not distract from the ideas being presented.

The diction is earthy, as befits a poem nostalgically revisiting an earthier time. Phrases such as “something the w has been left out of,” “animals were television then,” and “high-billed meanies” place the reader as an equal and ameliorate the affects of the scholasticism of the etymological question, the use of a word such as anserine (gooselike), which has all but dropped out of the common lexicon (I know I had to look it up), and the implied criticism of modern technology. Because criticism is not the point: the point is to mourn the passage of both words and lifestyles while accepting and coming to terms with the inevitability of their loss. Another aspect of the diction is that onomatopoeic effect that I mentioned. It also persists throughout the poem with words like “swishing,” “hissing,” “shrieking,” and even “gaggle.” For me at least, these tie the highbrow idea of “language,” to the concreteness of specific auditory imagery. But it is not overdone either; so many poems that emphasize sound also overemphasize it. In this case, the sound gently and inconspicuously supports the theme of the poem while providing a subtle music to add to our pleasure.

The imagery of the poem is interesting, for a poem that purports in its opening stanza to be about language and word use, in its utter lack of linguistic events. It is this, for me, which brings out the more important nostalgic aspect of the poem from its pedagogical origin and makes it a poem rather than a lecture. The “English hamlet, houses clustered/at a bend in the road where a bridge crosses/a stream.” is perfectly picked for its balance of nature and humanity. The gaggle and the boy as well provide a balance between human and nature. “A gooseless world in no need of tending” ties the previous images to the deeper nostalgic abstract, making it immediate and real as we relate it to the real, though past, images. Interesting too, is the way in which the imagery in the 5th stanza, leading up to our return to language, and to the bereavement of the final stanza, begins to take a darker tone with the “dark lively trees the brookbanks had/spared and the shattering…” All in all, I don’t think Poetry could have picked a better poem for the opening of its 85th anniversary double-issue. It was a pleasure to read on so many different levels and in so many different ways.

I was reading the poetry of Sondra Ball on The Web Projects of Sondra Ball and Mario Cavallini, and came across The Villanelle, which is a delightful little metatextual exploration of the form. I have always been fascinated with metatextual poetry, especially poetry that is specifically self referential, and this villanelle becomes quite narcisistic with it’s self-referential chorus.

Although I’m not at all a fan of Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” I love Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” and Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking.” and I’m sure there are others that I can’t think of off the top of my head. The villanelle holds great interest for me even without the metatextual aspect. The contstant revolution builds atmosphere quickly when handled correctly, although I think some villanelle’s must really be performed for full effect. Like Poe’s “The Raven,” they should be read aloud in an appropriate atmosphere with a participatory audience where the tension and emotion can build and build, ’til electricity fills the air, and the words become a magical web that you can climb into the heavens to battle the gods. That feeling is what the villanelle seems to evoke for me, or at least is what I think the villanelle ought to evoke. Because I’ve never even played with writing a villanelle, its something that I want to put onto my plate to attempt. The problem of course is matching form to subject.

I don’t normally set out to write a poem in a particular form, except as an exercise, to practice meter, rhyme, syllabics, alliteration, or some other specific technique that may then be incorporated into unrelated and “properly” inspired poems at a later date. However, I have occasionally begun with an exercise, and ended with a poem which felt “right” that I kept. So the question becomes, can I inspire myself with a subject which fits the form and fills my need to create this beast which is called the villanelle. But that begins to diverge into the realm of idea, and this is supposed to be a technique file, so I’ll save that for another time.

I noticed that I have left out a specific description of the form of the villanelle, so I’ll just mention briefly for the few visitors to this site who may not know it that the villanelle is formed of 5 tercets in which the exterior lines rhyme across all the stanzas and the interior lines do as well. That is to say that all the tercets have a rhyme scheme of aba. Additionally the first and third line form an alternating chorus as the last lines of the following stanzas beginning with the first. The 5 tercets are followed by a quartet that rhymes abaa with the final two lines being the two choruses in order. I am sorry if this is obtuse; I didn’t have any reference material in front of me when I wrote it. Feel free to check out Villanelle for a more complete discussion with examples.

It seems like everybody is writing about love, joy, death, and pain. This, of course, makes it difficult to come up with a new paradigm, though it increases the reward if one can. However, there are a lot of everyday things that though not quite on the level of these “higher” emotions, nevertheless have a profound effect on our lives. One such occurrence is the flu. Now sickness has had its share of poetic incarnations as well, and I don’t want to repeat what’s already been done, so there are several things that I want to avoid in writing a poem about the flu. One thing that I want to avoid is over-demonizing the flu, making it out to be worse than it is. A second thing that I don’t want to do is to use any kind of animal metaphor, i.e., the flu as a tiger, or the flu as a snake. Finally, I don’t want to write from the perspective of the flu. All of those directions, though I can’t place my finger on a single occurrence of any of them, feel worn to me.

Now, for me at least, the flu has been a fairly disturbing occurrence, interfering with family life, schoolwork, church activity. In short, the flu has totally disrupted my universe. That is one tack that I could take, but it falls into the first category of things that I don’t want to do, it is overblown. After all, I haven’t even had to go to the hospital or even to the doctor, and eventually I’ll recover, and forget what only seem like its devastating effects. Then, there is the scientific angle. I can’t know if that would work without some more research, but I know this much, the flu is a living virus, and it in some way attacks certain (and only certain, I think) of the body’s cells. Without falling over the edge into animal metaphor, this might offer some possibilities which could be fleshed out. What I really want to do, though, is focus on the intimate, human feelings and symptoms that accompany the flu. In other words I want to write about how one’s outlook on life is changed while under the influence of the flu, how one’s body operates differently on a macro rather than symptomatic level, how one’s relationships are affected adversely by the flu’s ravages.

I think that in keeping with the feeling of the flu, the villanelle, sestina, or other highly repetitive form might be appropriate for such a poem. Another possibility would be an original repetitive and chorused rhyme scheme. It also might be fun to play with the sounds of the flu within the poem, emphasizing and repeating nasals and gutturals and working primarily with short vowels to attempt to get across the sound of the flu in addition to its feeling. Another aspect of the flu which might influence the form is its ephemerality. You have the flue, and then it is gone, and you really do forget all about it; your life is back to 100% normal. Some type of circular motion to the poem as a whole might help to convey this. Maybe begin and end the poem in health. I’m not sure if that can be done and the depth of the change still be plumbed, nor am I sure that that is important enough of a property to take the important beginning and end of the poem, but it’s something to play with and see what can be done.