A stack of papers from the Jewish lit class now to grade, an essay to finish, poems to think through.
I need a good title for a project on romance fiction and American culture. "Perfect Unions and Others"? Not quite right. Something snappy, memorable. When the project was about romance and the academy I had a great title in mind, but now will have to save it for another day. Any suggestions?
Dear Dr. Laura,
Did you know that there's an odious, arch-conservative American advice columnist who shares your name? Can I call you Dr. V? Dr. L? Ooh, I like that: L for love, L for literature, L for life, L for all sorts of lovely things. But V gives me life in French, and is a fine allusion to the work of James Merrill, a favorite poet who writes of art as "V-work" (vie-work; victory-work; as in victory over entropy; the work of the numerological 5 in a system he's constructed).
Then of course Nathaniel Mackey has an epistolary novel comprised of letters to the "Angel of Dust." "Dear Angel of Dust": such a fine opening gesture. Hmmmm...
In any case, I took out two of the mandolins on Monday and started to play. It was awkward at first; Whiskey Girl, my oldest, pouted and wouldn't stay in tune as we worked through a page or two of sight-reading. Yesterday Two Shafts, the bluegrass F-style, shrugged things off more easily; we played for a half-hour or so while we watched the Obama / Clinton debate. Good times, and more to come.
You mention optimism--and I've been thinking about it for my next romance paper, as you know. I re-read Anyone But You on Monday night, and was struck how deeply the subplot about Charity, the author, fits my hunches about romance as a genre that models optimism for its readers. I've added it to my upcoming syllabus, which I'll post about on TMT as soon as I can.
Is there a poetry of optimism, too? Musing on that last night, as I drove home from work, I thought of the last two sections of "Ode to the West Wind." Allen Ginsberg told me, the one time that I met him, that these final stanzas were a magic spell of sorts--as you chanted them aloud, you'd find yourself heartened, transported, transformed.
(If you're a teacher, and have read this far--and these are public letters, after all, I tell my students to go first to these stanzas when they read the poem, since they house the heart, the emotional core, the instigation of the piece. Then you can double back and read the rest: the set-up, the hedgings, and finally the payoff.)
IVBut enough of these fine thoughts! Back to work! Next!
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem'd a vision; I would ne'er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?