Thursday, January 28, 2010

JD Salinger, 1919-2010

It's amazingly strange when one of the heavy hitters passes away. Of course his novel was a long-ago favorite; in my teenage years, I always gave a copy of it to male friends who "weren't readers," and they promised they enjoyed it, though that may have been to appease me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

poetic line

I think of this class as a bit like looking up a poem's skirt, or if it were possible, that cliched x-ray that might lead us to a bit more knowing. I like the idea of examining a poem, part by part, and this week, we spend some time with the poetic line.

What surprised me, though, was that we spoke minimally about the line itself, a bit when we took a look at the short lines of WCW, but even then, the larger focus was on general explication.

Before class even began today, I had a few hours between teaching and studenting, so I did some google'ing (what else?) and learned a bit about what immediate search results have to say about "the poetic line," which I thought I would keep here:

This blog gives a nice introduction to the poetic line, particularly handy if you are teaching an introduction to poetry course or just need to warm your brain up a bit before delving further.

Denise Levertov's On the Function of the Line. This can also be found in her New and Selected Essays. I love her exploration of the musicality and tones of line breaks; it reminds me of an activity where one gives students a poem as a block of prose, then has students break it. So many variations and so many reasons--here is a place to springboard discussion. Also particularly compelling is the idea of how form becomes antiquated, almost" anachronistic," to use one of her terms.

Some excerpts from Claims to Poetry, edited by Donald Hall.

The first hour and a half, two hours of class was spent examining Wallace Stevens' "Of Modern Poetry." We opened with the metaphor and how we came upon knowing, how language can introduce a metaphor before the full reveal. We spoke of what we notice before we even read the poem, the shape of it, the blank verse (some slant rhyme, but mostly unrhymed iambic pentameter), the mid-break of lines and how that resembles the dialog in a Shakespearean play. Where does the temperature of the poem change? How do we know? We spoke of specific vocabulary--what is Anglo-Saxon versus "borrowed" language, such as the "souvenir," which brings to mind: snow globes, for one student, trinkets, for me, and an element of cheapness and trashiness to our professor.

In this poem, Watkins emphasized that "meaning cannot be disembodied from form," that opening a class with "What is Stevens saying about modern poetry?" would be a large misstep. He told us he believes, "poetry is performative."

We spoke of the other voices Stevens could be evoking--the recognition of Shakespeare, of course, and later what Watkins called the "syntax slip, evoking the opening lines of Paradise Lost and its fruit," we spoke at length about interpretations of Whitman and how Stevens' solipsism was perhaps oppositional to Whitman's--the containing multitudes versus the alienation and spotlit stage. He mentioned Wordsworth's "Prelude," and then returned us to Milton, in the end of this and the ending of "Lycidas," the elegy with a kind of cheery end, the echo of: "Isn't that nice? See what I can do! A taste of poems to come." And Eliot--how there may be an engagement with Prufrockian failure.

Time was spent discussing what he said was "a lot of pretended satisfaction in this poem." We get that repetition in the large middle, the Hamlet soliloquy, the risk of cliche and no chance for dialog.

If you want to read more about "Of Modern Poetry," there is a collection of analysis here.

The first class was wonderful, that puzzle work, the game of explication, though I felt humbled, so very out of practice, the need to revisit the grammar I learned so long ago, to open my eyes, to read and re-read and re-read.

Monday, January 18, 2010

while the syllabus prints

Winter break is nearly over. I'm listening to the gears of the printer wear thin, I'm cursing the comp department for making us march too-far in the slush to make photocopies (having one in the same building can spoil a person so, and I don't get up early very well--and this class will have me rising before the sun this winter), and my syllabus is nearly done. I've winnowed it to six hearty pages, two and a half of which is the daily schedule, so much in the spirit of covering-all-bases.

I've been working at chipping away at my stack of books half-read, that sloppy bedside collection. I finished Doctor Zhivago, part of my winter of Russian literature, and I confess, I didn't mind those sprawling descriptions of snowy landscape, the feeling of being pent-up indoors with nothing but potatoes and vodka, and I especially appreciated that later manic passage where Zhivago can only reverse his days and nights in order to write poetry, but overall, it was a bit of a plodding experience. I have the 2002 British miniseries adaptation being sent here, which may help straighten out some of my plot / character confusions.

From these old, completed poems, he went on to others that he had begun and left unfinished, getting into their spirit and sketching the sequels, though without the slightest hope of finishing them now. Finally getting his stride and carried away, he started on a new poem.

After two or three stanzas and several images by which he himself was struck, his work took possession of him and he felt the approach of what is called inspiration. At such moments the relation of the forces that determine artistic creation is, as it were, reversed. The dominant thing is no longer the state of mind the artist seeks to express but the language in which he wants to express it. Language, the home and receptacle of beauty and meaning, itself begins to think and speak for man and turns wholly into music, not in terms of sonority but in terms of the impetuousness and power of its inward flow. Then, like the current of a mighty river polishing stones and turning wheels by its very movement, the flow of speech creates in passing, by virtue of its own laws, meter and rhythm and countless other relationships, which are as yet unexplored, insufficiently recognized, and unnamed.

At such moments Yurii Andreievich felt that the main part of the work was being done not by him but by a superior power which was above him and directed him, namely the movement of universal thought and poetry in its present historical stage and the one to come. And he felt himself to be only the occasion, the fulcrum, needed to make this movement possible.

This feeling relieved him for a time of self-reproach, of his dissatisfaction with himself, of the sense of his own insignificance.
Pasternak, Boris. Doctor Zhivago. New York: Pantheon Books, 1958. 437.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

spring semester

To answer the question: What are you taking next semester? For those unfamiliar with our system, the U of MN has students attend half-time and teach the other half. Two classes counts as a half-load, and teaching assignments vary. Last semester and this semester I have a stand-alone comp class the university calls "First Year Writing" technically under the designation of "Writing Studies." Last spring I TA'ed two sections of Contemporary American Literature under a professor who had lecture twice a week and the autumn before, I taught the discussion section of Intro to Creative Writing, which was once a week and the lecture had rotating guest writers come in. Next year, I'm slated to teach two stand-alone classes: one semester will be Intro to Poetry Writing and the other will be Intermediate Poetry Writing. (I'm already dreaming up book lists.)

For now, these are the two classes I'm taking for the spring; I've opted out of an overload, though last semester I took three classes (Reading as Writers: Memoir with Trish Hampl, Poetry Thesis Seminar, and an Independent Study to cover my lit requirement on Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop) and survived.

I also intern with the department and am poetry editor of the literary magazine dislocate.

(Course descriptions from the website.)

1. EngW 5310: Reading as Writers: Reading Poetry

This is a course on poetry with a primary emphasis on lyric verse written in England, Ireland, and America from the end of the Middle Ages to the present. Our emphasis will be on prosody, craftmanship, versification. Literary scholars can hone skills of argument and exegesis answerable to an array of theoretical and historical perspectives and it will offer writers a chance to think about the aesthetic consequences of a variety of romal choices. We'll begin with a unit on poetic line in isolation before turning to questions of meter, scansion, enjambment, end-stopping, rhyme and free verse. We will move on to English stanza forms: couplets, quatrains, tercets, rhyme royal, ottava rima, Spenserian stanza. We will then move to sonnets, ballads, villanelles, songs, hymns, monologues, elegies. Our final unti will take up three poets who have a complex relationship to the poetic past: Yeats, Eliot, Stevens. Requirements; a journal that will include several exercises in versification and a final exegetical paper (10-12 pages).
Book: Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th Edition

2. EngW 8120: Seminar: Writing of Poetry: Politics of Poetic Forms

This course focuses on the current state of contemporary American Poetry and how its forms have changed. We'll discuss the evolution from deep image lyricism to language-poetic fragmentation to fresh approaches toward line, image, and phrase. We will debate the notion that American poetry has evolved into a "hybrid" form that bridges old schools of poetic thought. Close reading of texts by key poets, along with craft talks centered on poems each student will submit, should lead toward a deeper immersion into the shifting terrain of the modern poem. Each student will create and submit one major project centered on American poetry and its vast changes. This project will require a combination of written paper, performance, and media presentation. Required texts: American Hybrid: Anthology of New Poetry (Cole Swenson, David St. John); A Wave, John Ashbery; The Complete Poems, Elizabeth Bishop; Averno, Louise Gluck; Selected Poems, George Oppen; Hotel Insomnia, Charles Simic.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's interesting how I have such ridiculous feelings towards poetry: I hop onto Good Reads after I have finished Cooling Time, and I find a string of people have trod here before. How can this be? Reading this book was such a deeply private and glorious experience, secreted away like savoring good chocolate--how could it be that all of these Others have also read the book, most have loved it too? I thought poetry readers were declining, were withering away, and now there are all these kindred spirits I don't even know, I haven't even met. Shouldn't we gather more often?

Lately, my reading habits have been strange and sporadic. I have half a dozen books going at once, and my moods shift so quickly, I cannot keep up. I want to read the dense Russian novel, no--the nature notes, no--I must start an escape book, no--why haven't I finished the Dickinson biography? And on. And on. Ad nauseum. Is this what happens in winter light? Is this what stealing a set schedule does to a woman? My days and nights are returning back into their rightful compartments, though I am honestly tempted to clamor up those narrow steps to our bedroom, burrow into the down quilt, find myself lost in some strange world, fall asleep mid-day, leave the dogs to their own devices.

I return to campus in one week. It all seems so fast, and yet, being at university (and no longer teaching high school), I am spoiled with winter break. I need to remember though: double check the textbooks are ordered, revise last semester's syllabus to reflect this semester's goals, order in a few of those books my professors require that I don't have (strange to think this might be true, in a house weighted with books as ours is), email my poetry girl friends and demand we have a pow-wow and read cold poems to one another. Brr. January is an indoor month, though that generally doesn't apply--too much beauty has been found there (interesting how each of these is from Colville, and each from a different blog I have / have had).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

cooling time

One of the beautiful things about having a poet-friend is that said poet-friend is often willing to let you tag along in her reading adventures. She's finished reading and I'm only a third of the way through, but we're discussing CD Wright's Cooling Time over on "in conversation," and I welcome anyone to join us as the more voices are always the merrier.

It's a really wonderful, packed book, even if it is incredibly slender. My brain is dancing and my little highlighter tags are flying. There is much to be brought to the surface here.

From the back of the book:
An unruly paean to American poetry, Cooling Time blurs the divisions between poem, memoir, and essay, while borrowing regularly from the peculiarities and backwards of the American idiom. The book's title derives from a line of legal defense, unique to Texas courts: if a person kills someone before having had time "to cool" after receiving an injury or an insult, he is not guilty of murder. Ever focused on possibilities, C.D. Wright--who was called "one of America's oddest, best, and most appealing poets" by Publisher's Weekly and who just received a MacArthur Fellowship--demonstrates that "the search for models becomes a search for alternatives." Filled with humor, eroticism, and an hypnotic fascination with language, Cooling Time is a prickly love-letter to the life of poetry. As she writes: "Tell me, what is the long stretch of road for if not to sort out the reasons why we are here and why we do what we do, from why we are not in the other lane doing what others do."