Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kind Words (and Coronets)

Many thanks to Mark, Laura, and the Anonymous Student who stepped up to reassure me after the glum post yesterday morning. Laura suggested that, like my son's lizard, I needed a bit of sunlight and a change in diet: good advice, which I've tried to take, although that first mealworm is pretty nasty & wriggly. (They get easier as you go.)

I have a pretty clear idea of what went wrong in my Jewish lit class on Tuesday, so I'll straighten that out today. Too much time on what students thought was a minor, secondary reading, and a bit too much "let's tease this out through discussion" (my usual mode) when a crisper introductory mini-lecture would have done the job and brought us to the primary text more expeditiously. That's what I'll try today--we'll see how it goes. I love the primary text (Alicia Ostriker's the volcano sequence) and know it quite well, so if I lecture through the tentative first few pages and get to the less-elusive poems farther in, we'll be in good shape.

In 220 (Reading Poetry) a lot of treats today: Anne Bradstreet, Andrew Marvell, Aphra Behn, and John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, "The Libertine." We'll never get to all of them--but then, part of the fun will be giving the poems teasing glances and peripheral approaches, so that students get to finish the job themselves in subsequent papers.

Here's Johnny Depp as the least reformed of Restoration Rakes:

And one of our texts for the day--a fitting companion to the picture, methinks:

The Disabled Debauchee

As some brave admiral, in former war
Deprived of force, but pressed with courage still,
Two rival fleets appearing from afar,
Crawls to the top of an adjacent hill;

From whence, with thoughts full of concern, he views
The wise and daring conduct of the fight,
Whilst each bold action to his mind renews
His present glory and his past delight;

From his fierce eyes flashes of fire he throws,
As from black clouds when lightning breaks away;
Transported, thinks himself amidst the foes,
And absent, yet enjoys the bloody day;

So, when my days of impotence approach,
And I’m by pox and wine’s unlucky chance
Forced from the pleasing billows of debauch
On the dull shore of lazy temperance,

My pains at least some respite shall afford
While I behold the battles you maintain
When fleets of glasses sail about the board,
From whose broadsides volleys of wit shall rain.

Nor let the sight of honorable scars,
Which my too forward valor did procure,
Frighten new-listed soldiers from the wars:
Past joys have more than paid what I endure.

Should any youth (worth being drunk) prove nice,
And from his fair inviter meanly shrink,
’Twill please the ghost of my departed vice
If, at my counsel, he repent and drink.

Or should some cold-complexioned sot forbid,
With his dull morals, our bold night-alarms,
I’ll fire his blood by telling what I did
When I was strong and able to bear arms.

I’ll tell of whores attacked, their lords at home;
Bawds’ quarters beaten up, and fortress won;
Windows demolished, watches overcome;
And handsome ills by my contrivance done.

Nor shall our love-fits, Chloris, be forgot,
When each the well-looked linkboy strove t’ enjoy,
And the best kiss was the deciding lot
Whether the boy fucked you, or I the boy.

With tales like these I will such thoughts inspire
As to important mischief shall incline:
I’ll make him long some ancient church to fire,
And fear no lewdness he’s called to by wine.

Thus, statesmanlike, I’ll saucily impose,
And safe from action, valiantly advise;
Sheltered in impotence, urge you to blows,
And being good for nothing else, be wise.
How about those initial trochaic inversions, eh? (And a few medial spondees. Rowr!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Larry Joseph

Working at home today on my next piece, on the poet Lawrence Joseph. Can't read in the red armchair--too tired, I keep dozing off. Hard to concentrate.

Some lovely lines in J's third book, Before Our Eyes, my target for today--the last third of his recent collection, Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos: Poems 1973-1993. These plucked from "Generation":
Optimism?--that would suppose
Miami ideas opposed to Chicago
facts; but vision sustains,
a style of seeing: a child catches
sunlight in a pocket mirror,
refracts it into a senator's eyes.
Time to walk, think, talk with my wife, before the kids get home.

Classes (3)

My classes are boring.
My classes are failures.
My students all hate me.
I stink.

On the other hand, I seem to have brought my son's pet lizard back from the dead once again. Not a total loss, this week, although it felt like it on the way home.

Coffee? A day off? Please?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Classes (2): Reading Poetry

Today Milton, with addenda.

We're reading the selections from Paradise Lost in the Norton Anthology of Poetry, fifth edition, along with "On the Late Massacre at Piedmont." This means that we're skipping "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," "On Shakespeare," "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," and a lot of other good stuff, but in an hour and a half, how much can you really cover? (How much would they read?)

With the sonnet, I want to give them a bit of history: we now have a new topic, contemporary politics, available to the form. And a bit of close reading--at least, I want them to see how the poem is structured by a series of imperatives ("Avenge," "Forget not," "sow") and by an implicit question about what the poet can in fact do, writing from this distance. (An "angle of approach" question, a compositional problem, that is to say.) Oh, and maybe something about his enjambments.

Then it's on to Blank Verse, via that little paragraph about "The Verse" (freedom from rhyme as an "ancient liberty recovered"). I've asked them to read Jonson's "Fit of Rhyme Against Rhyme" as well, to set this up. If you're a teacher, and don't know it, here it is. Fun stuff! Here's a paper assignment on the poem, from someone at Cornell: option 2 on the page. Use at will, friends.

Off to read, and be ready. I'll let you know later how it went.

Classes (1)

Tried to double back today in my Jewish American literature class, and do a poem I'd slated for the first week, then skipped. Several students had taken me up on this paper topic:
As you know, we did not reach several of the course materials handed out on the first day. Several poems remain untouched, along with Charles Bernstein’s fragmentary essay on “Radical Jewish Culture / Secular Jewish Practice.” Choose one of these texts that particularly interested you, or that you were frustrated we did not discuss. Write a succinct, persuasive memo to me (about 3 pp. long, double-spaced) that makes the case for that text as one of the pieces to start with the next time I teach this class. Be sure to discuss two things: first, what about Jewish American identity this text illuminates that is particularly important for students to know or think about as this class begins; and, second, how I should have the class approach the text: i.e., through group discussion, through writing questions or commentaries on the piece, through interviews with classmates about it, etc. Be creative, be persuasive, be precise: quote from the text in support of your argument. This is your chance to make a difference for your fellow students the next time this class is offered!
I liked the papers, which were quite thoughtful and enthusiastic, but the discussion today was listless. Maybe I talked too much? Maybe we'd already covered the material (thematically speaking) in some other way? A shame, because the Bernstein essay is grand stuff, and the Koch poem, a treat.

Here's the latter, which you could use with any group of students as a prompt for writing "to" some social category or identity, I suspect.

Kenneth Koch, "To Jewishness"
As you were contained in
Or embodied by
Louise Schlossman
When she was a sophomore
At Walnut Hills
High School
In Cincinnati, Ohio,
I salute you
And thank you
For the fact
That she received
My kisses with tolerance
On New Year's Eve
And was not taken aback
As she well might have been
Had she not had you
And had I not, too.
Ah, you!
Dark, complicated you!
Jewishness, you are the tray
On it painted
Moses, David and the Ten
Commandments, the handwriting
On the Wall, Daniel
In the lions' den
On which my childhood
Was served
By a mother
And father
Who took you
To Michigan
Oh the soft smell
Of the pine
Trees of Michigan
And the gentle roar
Of the Lake! Michigan
Or sent you
To Wisconsin
I went to camp there
On vacation, with me
Every year!
My counselors had you
My fellow campers
Had you and "Doc
Ehrenreich" who
Ran the camp had you
We got up in the
Mornings you were there
You were in the canoes
And on the baseball
Diamond, everywhere around.
At home, growing
Taller, you
Thrived, too. Louise had you
And Charles had you
And Jean had you
And her sister Mary
Had you
We all had you
And your Bible
Full of stories
That didn't apply
Or didn't seem to apply
In the soft spring air
Or dancing, or sitting in the cars
To anything we did.
In "religious school"
At the Isaac M. Wise
Synagogue (called "temple")
We studied not you
But Judaism, the one who goes with you
And is your guide, supposedly,
Oddly separated
From you, though there
In the same building, you
In us children, and it
On the blackboards
And in the books Bibles
And books simplified
From the Bible. How
Like a Bible with shoulders
Rabbi Seligmann is!
You kept my parents and me
Out of hotels near Crystal Lake
In Michigan and you resulted, for me,
In insults,
At which I felt
Chagrined but
Was energized by you.
You went with me
Into the army, where
One night in a foxhole
On Leyte a fellow soldier
Said Where are the fuckin Jews?
Back in the PX. I d like to
See one of those bastards
Out here. I d kill him!
I decided to conceal
You, my you, anyway, for a while.
Forgive me for that.
At Harvard you
Landed me in a room
In Kirkland House
With two other students
Who had you. You
Kept me out of the Harvard Clubs
And by this time (I
Was twenty-one) I found
I preferred
Kissing girls who didn t
Have you. Blonde
Hair, blue eyes,
And Christianity (oddly enough) had an
Aphrodisiac effect on me.
And everything that opened
Up to me, of poetry, of painting, of music,
Of architecture in old cities
Didn t have you
I was
Though I knew
Those who had you
Had hardly had the chance
To build cathedrals
Write secular epics
(Like Orlando Furioso)
Or paint Annunciations--"Well
I had David
in the wings." David
Was a Jew, even a Hebrew.
He wasn't Jewish.
You're quite
Something else. I had Mahler,
Einstein, and Freud. I didn't
Want those three (then). I wanted
Shelley, Byron, Keats, Shakespeare,
Mozart, Monet. I wanted
Botticelli and Fra Angelico.
"There you've
Chosen some hard ones
For me to connect to. But
Why not admit that I
Gave you the life
Of the mind as a thing
To aspire to? And
Where did you go
To find your 'freedom'? to
New York, which was
Full of me." I do know
Your good qualities, at least
Good things you did
For me--when I was ten
Years old, how you brought
Judaism in, to give ceremony
To everyday things, surprise and
Symbolism and things beyond
Understanding in the
Synagogue then I
Was excited by you, a rescuer
Of me from the flatness of my life.
But then the flatness got you
And I let it keep you
And, perhaps, of all things known,
That was most ignorant. "You
Sound like Yeats, but
You re not. Well, happy
Voyage home, Kenneth, to
The parking lot
Of understood experience. I'll be
Here if you need me and here
After you don t
Need anything else. HERE is a quality
I have, and have had
For you, and for a lot of others,
Just by being it, since you were born."

Monkey Glands, Eh?

Mark reports that reading another blog, Bemsha Swing, always gives him "a jittery shot of monkey glands." Ouch! That used to be me, friends--not my blog, but me personally, at least according to a letter in my dossier, back in graduate school. (The professor who wrote it was so pleased with herself she told me the phrase at a post-dissertation party. No wonder I had trouble at interviews. "Monkey glands? You? Nah. Me neither. Next!")

So I swing by, and what do I find? One, two, three-sentence entries, day by day.

I don't know about blogging a hundred new books in the next year or two, as Mark now plans to monkey-see, monkey-do. But one sentence or two a day? Maybe I could do that. Worth a try!