OK. This is not a novel. It’s just that it has been so long since I posted anything to this blog. Today that all changes. For the rest of November, at least. Maybe.
Someone landed on my poetry blog last night and “liked” a poem I wrote during August Postcard Poetry Month. So I took a closer look at that poem, wondering what made it attractive to said anonymous person. It is a sonnet, non-modern perhaps because it has some internal rhyme and consistency, maybe post-modern. I was thinking these thoughts this morning when I got to my docent class. That’s when it dawned on me: focusing on art and architecture history in my docent class is altering the way I look at poetry. Is that a bad thing? Before you answer, I think it is a pretty cool thing.
OK. Before we get too deep in the weeds about the whys, here is the sonnet in question:
Bus stop (the 31 to Tenleytown)
I neither wanted nor needed freedom
in my youth. My brain, on fire, needed
a container with lots of oxygen
to cool and feed its insatiable thirst
for truth. Older now with vision clouded
by smoke & smog, I seek that same freedom
I once disdained, forsook, refused, denied.
Older now with knees that ache at the thought
of bridging the divides that hide inside
my conversations – – wait! My bus arrives
at its destination at last! One more
shuttle to catch, one more chapter to read,
one more sonnet of love or fate to extract.
And one more thirst, across the years, to quench.
It was one of those rare days when I chose to ride the bus instead of the subway to work. My knees need a break from those subway station escalators every now and then. I started writing the poem on the bus, but finished it at work. My colleague at work read and liked it, especially the line about “the divides that hide inside,” but I know she is just a sucker for rhymes. Maybe. And that is not a bad thing on most days. So I added it to the collection and forgot about it.
Then today, this morning, I noticed my poetry blog had a hit. Hmmm. Then I went to docent training class and we had a videocast of an art historian/professor, Thomas Somma, about DC statuary, except only the audio worked, so we had to focus on the words and see the images he described in our imagination, sort of like poetry, right? Anyway, here is a pertinent paragraph of his talk:
“That’s basically the aesthetic language that the American Renaissance artists adopt. And certainly, by the time we get into the 20th century, that’s seen as very conservative. And this is actually one of the reasons why the art that we see in the Library of Congress for a long time was not studied by American art historians, it was not taught by American art historians, it was not emulated by American artists, because they were modernists. And modernism means a number of things, but one of the things that modernism means, the modernist sensibility, is to disconnect from the past; a sort of assumption that the way things were done in the past are no longer relevant to the present. That’s always been a fundamental aspect of modernism, beginning in the middle of the 19th century and carrying right through the 20th century. So, a style that is so dependent on looking back to the past is something that was just out of vogue with the art establishment throughout the 20th century.
Now that we’re in a post-modern period, so-called post-modern period, we’re past modernism. We’re in a more pluralistic, even a globalistic cultural period. And so many artists, many art historians and so on, are reevaluating the past, are reevaluating styles in the 20th century, artists in the 20th century that were more dependent on the past. And so we’ve got a renewed interest in buildings like the Library of Congress, like the Pennsylvania State Capital, like the courthouse — Appellate Courthouse in New York, and on and on, because the art of these buildings, you know, was ignored for so long, and now we’re going back to look at them; they’re taking on new values. Okay, so this two-headed approach, looking back to the past for role models upon which to build a foundation off of which we’re moving to the future; a turn for influence back through the Italian Renaissance, back to ancient Greek and Roman Art.” (From transcript of Thomas Somma 2006 webcast of lecture to Library of Congress docents.)
So I am thinking about art and wondering if American poetry has a similar renaissance that got buried by the modernists. And I am feeling pretty good, for once, about liking sonnets, about trying to write sonnets, even though they don’t always have a rhyming scheme “as classified by those who classify.” And I am thinking it might be time to re-evaluate the poetry past. And I am thinking that perhaps there was an American Renaissance in poetry, but because the poets were black for the most part, they sort of got buried in the so-called Harlem Renaissance. Later in his talk Somma mentioned Matthew Arnold, but he was British (Back in the day I memorized portions of his poem, Dover Beach). I gotta go back and check out Matt Arnold!
So what else is up? My participation in ModPo has stalled. I’ve missed some webcasts because of work. I haven’t kept up. Work is cool, but I haven’t done any classroom teaching like before, and I feel that part fading out a bit, though I still get psyched and excited about Freire and hooks, about ethnography, and about the rhizome as it applies to everything educational. As soon as the docent training is done I’ll get back to some of these other pursuits. But for now, the docent training is thrilling, and fulfilling, and everything I had hoped for in this chapter of my life story.
I think I’ll log off on that note. Peace out, y’all!