Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Spiffing Things Up

I've just switched to the updated layout software here at Blogger, and it seems to make posting links, etc., far easier. I lost a dozen good links for teachers when I switched to the current template; as I repair the damage, I'll also add links to other, more personal habits and haunts.

A nice write-up of one of my current classes in the school paper last week: the "Gumshoe Poetics" seminar I turned loose on Beam 10 of Ronald Johnson's ARK. For posterity, here 'tis:
Senior capstone seminar leaves impression on students enrolled
by Philip Lenczycki
Staff Writer

English professor Eric M. Selinger’s senior capstone seminar, Gumshoe Poetics, is attracting attention.

"We’re rediscovering poetry," said Greg Ritter, a senior English student.

Gumshoe Poetics is a cross between show n’ tell and "X-Files," because it is an investigative and discussion-oriented class.

Students who are studying author Ronald Johnson’s largely unknown nine-word poem, "Beam 10" from the longer work titled ARK, find themselves individually investigating leads in communal class research.

The poem reads: Daimon diamond monad I, Adam Kadmon in the sky.

"It’s no ordinary poem, the nine words that comprise this amazing work are simply mind-boggling when studied," said Erica Fernandez, a senior English student.

"[Senior capstone seminar] has been around for eight or nine years and has been taught by different professors in different forms each time," Selinger said. "My first capstone, for example, spent 10 weeks studying Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. The current version is entirely new, I’ve never used Ronald Johnson before."

Students keep Agent’s Logs, to document discoveries in an ongoing and in-depth analysis. This involves teasing out euphonies and etymological searches, while finding worlds within words.

"Ronald Johnson's genius is conveyed throughout ARK, yet the deconstruction of the work is only made dynamic through the eyes of Professor Selinger," Fernandez said.

"Teaching Johnson’s ‘Beam 10’ is a little like solving a riddle," Selinger said. "It has a certain improvisational quality. It requires me to do little traditional teaching, which I like, and allows the students to go at it as they might. My job is to facilitate the discussion. ‘Beam 10’ is great because you can study it from a variety of angles: arts and literature, natural science, religious dimensions, really all of the liberal studies domains."

On any given day, the poem requires nothing less than the knowledge of a resident theosophist, a physicist, and a carpenter. Google and Wikipedia are usually the understudies in their absence, during those very few times Selinger does not have all the answers.

Topics of discussion range from "The Wizard of Oz" to alchemy, Carl Jung to chemical-composition and calculus, proving poetry to be plenty powerful and chalk-full of possibility and applicability.

"Ronald Johnson is a wonderful poet, and ‘Beam 10’ is particularly fun to study because it’s only nine words long, so the primary reading is just about nil. That maximizes the contemplation and research aspects of the class," Selinger said.

Working in harmonious conjunction, Johnson’s "Beam 10" and Selinger’s teaching style are encouraging.

Poet, Peter O’Leary, a professor at the Art Institute and a friend of Johnson and the person in charge of Johnson’s estate, has several plans for Johnson’s unrecognized work.

"[I want to] make him more visible, available, increase publication, add scholarship. Republish ARK in 2010 through Flood Editions," O’Leary said. "Next year we’ll publish Outworks…I’m not trying to rush anything, I think all of us involved in this task realize how good a poet Johnson is and we know that eventually with the right effort he’ll surface as he should."

Many students think Gumshoe Poetics is an indisputable success. They hope that one day ARK will be granted its poetic justice recognized as one of America’s great poems. Until then, however, Selinger and O’Leary will work towards realizing that goal supported by those students who have taken Gumshoe Poetics, and by those who have read and love Johnson and his bewitching poem.

"Professor Selinger’s Gumshoe Poetics senior capstone seminar is a stellar ride of Homeric proportions; and its success hinges on a delicate balance between format, content and instruction," said Jody Schardt, a senior English student.

I say, buy that man a round!

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