Monday, December 31, 2012

Burning the Old Year

I feel like so much of this year was good solid stones, and I feel blessed.  This is beautiful, though, and tonight I hope you dance in the burning of those ephemeral things, twist and float like pieces of char in a fire and wake up in the new year baptized and sanctified by the flame.

Burning the Old Year

BY NAOMI SHIHAB NYE
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.   
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,   
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,   
lists of vegetables, partial poems.   
Orange swirling flame of days,   
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,   
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.   
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,   
only the things I didn’t do   
crackle after the blazing dies.
Naomi Shihab Nye, “Burning the Old Year” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books, 1995)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Poetry Makes You Weird"

I love this
 I had revealed to them, though I didn't know it then, the great payoff of literary study: It estranges us from our normal habits of thought and perception, nullifies old conceptual maps, and so propels us into uncharted regions, outlandish and bracing, where we must create, if we are to thrive, coordinates more capacious, more sublime than the ones we already know. The uncanny—not truth, beauty, or goodness—is literature's boon.
. . . 
Shelley articulates literature's invigorating disorientation: "Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar." But the result of that alienation is not only an aesthetic rush; it is also a moral life. In shocking us into awareness, poetry urges us to relate to the world in fresh ways. The problem is, How do I connect my own mind, relatively familiar, with what is before me, enticingly bizarre? 
Shelley answers: Imagine what it's like to be what you perceive. To accomplish that connection requires "a going out of our nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own." I take that to mean that the more distinctly we imagine the plight of another, the more empathy we feel, and the more beauty we appreciate. As Shelley put it, "The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause." 
. . . 
Walker Percy once wrote that our educational system has lost the "creature," treating specimens, whether Shakespearean sonnets or dissected frogs, merely as "examples" of ideas—of Poetry or Anatomy. We don't see the particular for the general, the trees for the forest. Percy recommends that biology teachers bring sonnets to class, and English professors, frogs: to stun abstraction, ignite the concrete. 
I'm too cowardly to tote amphibians down the hall. But I continue to hope that during a Monday-morning class, when the weather and the mood are right, I can chant Keats's reverie of the "murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves" and a drowsy student will jerk awake. Green-blue bugs will buzz eerily in his head. Suddenly nothing is right. Something has happened. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The costs and benefits of post-secondary education and income-based repayment

Don't get too excited; I'm not at all prepared to analyze the pros and cons of college and Income-based Repayment (IBR) in this post.  I just want to whine a bit about how we desperately need to start having a serious discussion about the value of post-high-school education.  

Certainly, I want to be surrounded by thinkers.  Given my druthers, I'd make high school a series of seminars on aesthetic, political, and moral philosophy.  I also love the idea of having an academy (in the sense of a university dedicated to study and research, divorced from the market).

And, certainly, some people go into higher education because they are passionate about their particular field (right here, baby!).  They should be able to do this; we need passion.  Most do not, however.  Most pursue higher education out of an interest combined with a desire to live the lifestyle (make the money) associated with the career in question.  And there is nothing wrong with that, either.  (Footnote: these entirely accurate numbers are based on tireless research conducted by me in which I make shit up.)

But when so many, for example, law students are graduating with debt that they will never be able to pay--when, that is, they are not getting out of the whole business what they were pursuing--what, exactly, is the point and who is bearing the cost?  Not, certainly, the schools, as this post on LG&M makes clear.


This is such a complicated question, dependent upon big ideas about society and social welfare and philosophic priorities, which is why it is hard to talk about.  And yet, we should be doing it anyway.


Sure, some people are having these conversations (the gentlemen on LG&M being a notable example), but those conversations have not yet gone wide enough.  This issue has very big and very real implications for a huge number of people, my students amongst them.  Those people should be in on the discussions and decision-making.

Lesson plan?