Friday, November 30, 2012


5:30 or so, p.m., it hits me today--that longing to revisit Twitter and Facebook. Twitter gives me an out: I can eavesdrop on several of my friends' accounts, reading their posts to one another, even if I can't post myself. Facebook, not so much. Probably a good thing, that.


This morning I wrote a Purim parody song, although we're not likely to do it. (The story will be old news by the spring, probably.) Posted the lyrics and appropriate YouTube clip over at the Big Jewish Blog and In the Rain, thinking maybe it would get some comments at one or the other. We'll see!

That was before breakfast.

Afterwards I walked around the park with R, wrote and sent out some letters of recommendation, posted two Change of Grade requests, edited a Popular Romance Project blogpost, wrote one of my own, glanced at some friends' blogs, dealt with some emails.

Was that it? Other than making and eating lunch, was that my day's work? Am I forgetting something?  Changed the sheets.  Folded some laundry.  Seems too little, somehow, for the hours gone by.


Talked with R, on our walk, about the social media itch.  She suggested that I schedule some downtime:  go to a music store or just sit and read a bit, away from the computer, making such breaks a more formal part of my schedule, and certainly using them to "celebrate" finishing a block of work time.

The danger w/ social media, saith R, is that they'll eat up my month off teaching in December, and she's probably right.  Peeking at accounts, then emailing people in response, might be better precisely because it's more cumbersome, less easy to slip into.  Certainly I didn't do it until late in the afternoon, as opposed to the constant shift from work to Twitter, work to Facebook, which was my rhythm a few months ago.

The rhythm just now:  file some papers, jot something here, file some papers, jot some more.


Here's a song my son played for me in the car the other day--a CD he'd picked up at the library.  I quite like it, although it does make me hanker for a Telecaster and a Vibrolux amp in the worst way, now that I hear it again...

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Sudden craving to rejoin Twitter and / or Facebook.  Not sure why.  Will sit with it a while, see if it goes away.  Most do:  for example, in the last four days I've craved four or five guitars, all different styles, none for very long.  Meanwhile, at last night's klezmer band rehearsal I asked the bassist whether I should get a nylon-string guitar for the rhythm parts, swapping that in for my current steel-string.  He thought about this briefly, then said confidently that L, his wife, the bandleader, would definitely want me to stick with the current instrument.  (There's a different timber to the strings that she prefers for this music.)

Glad I didn't rush out and buy the nylon string when that mood struck!

Meanwhile, I had a great time between songs turning our various Eastern European songs (all Dm, Gm, and various major chords) into Brazilian-sounding songs by swapping in major 7th and minor 6th chords and so on.  "Der Rebbe from Ipanema!" my friend the bassist joked, joining in.  Instead of a new instrument, I think I'm going to buy some bossa nova guitar lessons at the local park district.  Love that sound.

Then, if I get any good, maybe something new to play it on.  Someday.

Dear Students...

Here's an email I sent out today:
Dear Students,
 If you are receiving this, it is because you promised me that a final paper in one of my fall classes would be coming in late, right before the grade-due deadline, but I haven’t received it yet.
 Because I need to get my grades in today, and all the rest are done, I’ve put in the IN for you, but I need to receive that final paper promptly in order to finalize your grade.
 Please recall that on the syllabus it states that to pass the class, you must turn in all three papers.  As I explained in class, even if you have an A on papers 1 and 2, you must turn in something for paper 3 to get a passing grade in the course.  As you also know, the IN grade will automatically convert to an F next quarter, if I do not file a change of grade for you.
 Per our discussions, I know that each of your papers will be arriving soon, in doc, docx, or pdf format, or as the body of an email message.  If you upload it to Dropbox, tell me.  I won’t keep checking—the burden is on you.  The minute I receive your paper, I will notify you that it has been received.  Until you receive that message, assume that the paper HAS NOT REACHED ME.
 I repeat:  unless you hear from me, I have not received your paper, and you are on track for the automatic F.   Please do not find yourself in this situation, when you deserve a passing grade!
 I look forward to receiving your final paper soon, to sending you that happy message (“Got it!”), and to filing the grade you’ve actually earned.   You’ve put time and money into your class, and you deserve to see that reflected in your transcript.  J All the best,
So far, it's shaken loose one of those missing papers--or, rather, it shook loose something that looked like a new paper, but on closer inspection turned out to be the student's 2nd paper with the title and author of the poem changed in the first and final paragraphs.  Irony?  Desperation?  Misunderstanding of class policies?  (You fail if you don't turn in all three papers, but you don't then automatically pass just by handing in "something," especially when the paper you're tweaking got a D the first time.)

Ah, teaching.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Final Paper Assignment, ENG 220

ENG 220:  Final Paper Assignment / Options

ENG 220:  Paper #3

The assignment for paper #3 in this class is the same as the assignment for paper #2:  that is, to write a “close reading” of the poem you choose, working through it sequentially, section by section, with attention to how the poem’s changes in mood and idea are reflected in, or acted out by, its changes in language and style. 

Once again, please include at least one reference to metrical variation, rhythmic emphasis, or sound artistry in your paper, integrating this into your argument as an illustration of how the poem’s language “acts out” something that the speaker is saying or how the poet holds the poem together through sound, even if it’s in free verse. 

If you prefer to write your paper in a different way this time, feel free to organize it using the two key terms that have been current in class over the past few weeks.  First, demonstrate the poem’s “freshness of imagination”:  that is, how it turns away from clich├ęs of thought and emotion and offers a new approach to, or new way of thinking / feeling about, whatever the poem is about.  (This might include decisions about what point of view to adopt, what order or pacing to follow, and other structural features in the poem, as well as whatever “risk of incoherence” might be involved.)  Then demonstrate the poet’s “mastery of language,” which includes all of the stylistic, formal, and other compositional decisions that you haven’t discussed in the first part of the paper. 

Feel free, in either case, to start the paper by situating your poem in the literary historical contexts that we've been discussing at the end of the quarter:  Romanticism and Modernism.  Gestures like this, which show your mastery of class material, are always welcome!

The Poems You May Choose for Paper #2:

Whitman, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” (1071)
Dickinson, “Publication – is the Auction” (1123)
Yeats, “No Second Troy” (1191), “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” (1204) 
Pound, “Portrait d’une Femme” (1295), “The Garden” (1296)
Moore, “Nevertheless” (1334)
 Stevens, “The Poems of Our Climate” (1266), “The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm” (1267), “Table Talk” (1267)
Williams, “Danse Russe” (1272), “Portrait of a Lady” (1273)
Jeffers, “Shine, Perishing Republic” (1320)
cummings, “may i feel said he” (1395), “anyone lived in a pretty how town” (1396)
Kavanagh, “Epic” (1453), “Canal Bank Walk”(1453),
Bishop, “The Fish” (1516), “Filling Station” (1517),“One Art” (1527)
Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays” (1533)

Love Poetry--Final Paper Topics

Spent the morning writing these--just sent them out.  Next stop, final paper topics for Reading Poetry.  Then grading the papers I already (still) have in hand.

Final Paper Topics:  Surrealists, Kabbani, Rich

1.      Ever since Sappho we have touched on the relationships between love and power.  There’s love’s power over the lover, the beloved’s power over the one who loves her (or him), and the power of the lover over his or her beloved; we’ve also talked about the ways that power shifts and adjusts within a relationship, and the ways that difference or equality in power can spark or stifle desire.  Choose one poem by one of our final group of poets (the Surrealists, Kabbani, Rich) and write an essay about the complexities of this relationship between love and power in it.  Or, if you prefer, you can compare and contrast multiple poems by a single poet, or two poems by two different poets.  Be sure to use the ideas you come up with as a way to show nuances and subtleties in the poems you discuss, rather than settling for generalities about ideas alone—and please, don’t try to tackle more than two or three poems in total!

2.      Ever since Sappho, love poets have courted not only their ostensible beloveds, but also their readers.  Indeed, as we saw with Whitman, for some love poets, the relationship with the reader may be the most complex, sustained, and important one.  Think back over our final set of poets (the Surrealists, Kabbani, Rich) and choose one who constructs an interesting relationship with his or her readers.  Write an essay about the complexities of that relationship and how it is constructed, either in a single poem or collectively, across several texts. 

3.      In his book on love and eroticism, The Double Flame, the Mexican poet and scholar Octavio Paz devotes a chapter to the Surrealists.  In it, he describes Surrealist love in a number of highly dramatic ways.  Love is “the experience of complete otherness:  we are outside ourselves, hurtling toward the beloved,” he tells us—and then, a few pages later, he says that love is “freedom personified, freedom incarnated in a body and a soul.”  Pretty giddy stuff!   What does it look like in practice?  Using Paz’s ideas, or ideas about Surrealist love from the introduction to our anthology, write an essay on one or more Surrealist love poems that we did not go over in class, making sense of what they do (if not of every image) in light of those ideas.  Organize your essay by the ideas you’re working with—otherness, self-transformation, freedom, “mad love,” etc.—and then show how passages from the poem or poems you choose can illustrate those ideas.

4.      One way to read 20th century love poetry is to imagine it tugged between the century’s two contradictory impulses where love itself is concerned.  On the one hand, there has been an itch to debunk love, casting a cold-eyed eye on what love means in practice for women and men, psychologically and socio-politically.  On the other hand, the twentieth century has also been a great age for the mystification of love, or maybe its re­-mystification:  a celebration of love as something powerful and transformative, even revolutionary.  No wonder, then, that our final set of love poets sometimes seem torn between these two extremes as well—or that they can draw on both in a single poem or sequence, playing them off against each other.  Choose one poet from our final group, and write a paper on how he or she debunks love, remystifies it, or threads his or her way between these two, either in a single poem or across a set of poems (I suggest no more than three).

5.      In reading both of our final poets, Kabbani and Rich, we took a biographical approach to the work, drawing both on the poets’ actual lives and on the three-dimensional, layered characters they each construct for us in their poems.  Choose one of these poets, find a poem we read for class that we didn’t go over in lecture / discussion, and write a paper on that poem that shows how it fits into that overall biographical narrative.  What typical features of the poet’s work—or of this particular stage in his or her work—does this poem demonstrate?  How is it like, or unlike, other poems that we did discuss in class, repeating and / or varying ideas, images, or rhetorical moves?

6.      Both Kabbani and Rich write poems in sections, whether these are numbered poems in a sequence (like the “Twenty-One Love Poems” or Kabbani’s “One Hundred Love Letters”) or simply poems that fall into separate sections marked by a dot or a turn of the page (as in Kabbani’s “I Learn by Reading Your Body” or “I Will Tell You: I Love You”).  Pick one poem from a longer sequence / series by one of these poets, and write a close reading of that poem in light of its place in the whole.  For example, you might choose the “Floating Poem” or the final poem in the “Twenty-One Love Poems” and write an essay on how it relates to the poems right around it, or to the rest of the sequence, in imagery, tone, idea, placing it in the overall “plot” of the sequence.

7.      In a poem by Rich which we didn't read, “Transcendental Etudes,” the poet makes a grand declaration about the poetry of lesbian love and women’s community that she begins to write in the mid-1970s, calling it “a whole new poetry beginning here.”  As the lightly-varied iambic pentameter form of that line suggests, however, this “whole new poetry” may have a lot in common with earlier poetry, by Rich and others.  Is this true of its vision of love?  Or do we see something truly “new” (or truly “whole”) in these poems?  Pick one or two of the lesbian love / marriage / relationship poems from Rich’s middle or later career—poems from The Dream of a Common Language and after—and compare / contrast them with one or more poems about heterosexual love / marriage / relationships from earlier in her career.  What do you find?  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Not with a bang...

Last day of the quarter, and my classes are done!  Neither went the way I'd hoped, neither ended as well as I'd have liked, but after 17 years of unbelievably good evaluations, I'm not going to fret.  I had nearly full houses in both classes when students knew that no papers were coming back to them today, no final exam instructions were to be distributed, and no attendance would be taken.  I take that as a sign that things were going better than I thought--and in any case, they're done.

Plenty on my plate, still, for both courses:  papers to grade, final assignments to write and email out, etc.  But it's a very good feeling, wrapping up the in-class portion of the quarter.  Glad to be moving on.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Causes, Correlations

I'm not sure whether there's cause-and-effect at work, or just a correlation, but when I fell back into checking news sites and political blogs, I also fell back into a jittery, tired, unhappy state of mind, which lasted a couple of days, and lifted when I stopped checking Andrew Sullivan, et. al.

This gets me thinking about the other kind of clicking and checking that I do, on musical instrument sites., some local music stores, Craigslist, Ebay:  I spend a fair amount of time on each of these, looking over the latest offerings, although I'm not really shopping as such.  In fact, in the past few weeks I've seen two or three of the instruments I was ostensibly waiting and searching for become available, and with money in the bank, I've passed on all of them.

Those particular neural pathways got laid down back in '04, almost a decade ago, when I started looking for an octave mandolin, and they've only gotten deeper.  I wonder, though, whether it's not time for me to try cutting out those searches for a while, too, and see what happens.

(The minute I type that sentence, a thought occurs:  but what if someone puts a Mid-Missouri octave up for sale?  I'd MISS it!  Heh.  Maybe I should say, We'd miss it, Precious!)

I did have a good time yesterday at a local guitar store, trying out a few instruments in person.  The pleasure came less from the instruments themselves, though, than from being able to play some jazzy chord runs on them:  a bit of bossa nova that I learned last summer; the opening chords for Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," which I've learned for the sake of the Alte Rockers' parody I'm writing "Fifty Shades (to be Her Lover."  The fantasy of buying a new instrument may really be, deep down, a fantasy of playing better--playing like the kind of person who would own X, Y, or Z.  Lessons in my future, maybe?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Election Results

One result of the election last night:  I'm back to checking the news.  Blogs, reporting, all the chatter I managed to tune out for the last few weeks, is now back in my head, tugging at my attention.

Not a bad thing, per se, but interesting.  It's as though those synapses, or patterns of synapses, that neural itch for novelty, was reactivated when I binged on news media last night, searching for updates.  It took about two weeks for the craving to pass last time; we'll see if it passes again.

One thing I don't seem to have, though, is any desire to go back to Twitter and Facebook.  Didn't check them last night, despite a direct invitation to do so, from a friend.  Glad about that.

Off to prep my next-to-last class in Love Poetry, on Nizar Qabbani (or Kabbani, as the book has it).  Lots of videos of his poetry on YouTube, but not as many with English subtitles / translations as I'd like, so I'm not going to post one now...  Maybe after class.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Love Class--a Sudden Thought

A sudden thought this morning:  what about organizing the course, not by secondary source, but by genre?

Teach a class with units on poetry, literary fiction, popular romance, fantasy, SF, and detective fiction?

Or skip the lit fic, and just do popular genres:  romance, fantasy, SF (separate category?), and detective fic.  Maybe chick-lit as something separate from romance; maybe the middle-brow bestseller as its own category, too.