It was a full serving of Emily Dickinson poetry last night at the Folger. Co-sponsored by the Folger Library and Poetry Society of American (PSoA), Tracy K Smith led with a reading of Dickinson poetry as well as her own, much of it inspired by the Bard of Amherst herself. A special treat of the night, however, was a talk given by Dr. David DeVorkin, curator at Smithsonian Air and Space, on the state of astronomy during Dickinson’s time and how that may have affected her poetry, with an interesting acknowledgement of the work of Tracy Smith’s father on the Hubble telescope and her poetry in his honor. It was a most interesting convergence/confluence of ideas and of art/science.
Let’s recapture some of the poetry covered. A Dickinson catalog, we can call it, for all the Emily Dickinson lovers out there…
Alice Quinn from PSoA opened with a recitation of “This world is not conclusion.” Ironically, or maybe by design, it would be a recurring theme throughout the night. Traci began her presentation with “I saw no Way – The Heavens were stitched,” a historical evolution of the poem “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” and “If I’m lost – now –.”
Here, Smith read from the Dickinson-Higginson letter of 25 April 1862, “I had a terror – since September.” Next, “I reason, Earth is short” and “To put this World down, like a Bundle.” Smith questioned the antecedent of the pronoun in “I know that He exists.” One of Smith’s poems echoed some themes from “Because I could not stop for Death,” which she read immediately after. She continued the astronomy theme with “There is a solitude of space,” and the mystical piece “Through what transports of patience.”
I regret now not capturing the titles/first lines of the Tracy Smith poems to reproduce them also. I made the same omission with Kay Ryan four years ago, and with Peter Gizzi three years ago. I missed the birthday celebration two years ago (out of town) and last year (medical absence) but I plan to make every one from this year forward.
Dr. DeVorkin’s presentation dove-tailed exquisitely both with Tracy Smith’s readings from her own collection, “Life on Mars,” dedicated to her memory of her father who worked on the Hubble Telescope, and to the many mentions of astronomical phenomena in Dickinson’s poetry and the state of astronomy studies she would have been exposed to mid 19th century at Holyoke. Smith earlier mentioned her father’s experience with the Hubble Telescope, its initial failure followed by its success. DeVorkin reflected on the early days of development of the Hubble project and said the flaws in the project were not with the scientists and opticians, but with management. It might have been interesting to chat with him during the reception, but my date was tired from a long day at work. So we went home directly after having a taste of the Dickinson recipe birthday cake.
“Si fractus illabatur orbis, / impavidum ferient ruinae”
“Should the whole frame of Nature round him break,
In ruin and confusion hurled,
He, unconcerned, would hear the mighty crack,
And stand secure amidst a falling world.”
(Horace, Odes 3.3.7-8, translated by Joseph Addison.)
These are times that require a stoic view.
I went to bed early after a long day and missed both the Cubs victory and the weekly ModPo webcast. I also missed the breaking news about the Clinton Foundation. All these things can be caught up later, fortunately. One of my MOOC group friends sent out a link to a Charlie Rose talk with Eric Kandel that you can find here, discussing his book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science. Need to look more closely at Jackson Pollock and my favorite artist, Aaron Douglas, both of whom have paintings in museums and galleries here in what was formerly known as Chocolate City.
Found some passages from Panofsky’s Studies in Iconology (luckily the library had a copy on the shelf and lucky for me it was a Wednesday when I usually work) that I hope to incorporate into my docent work.
It’s admittedly a rambling blog post, and short, but wanted to get the Horace quote out there.
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!
If it’s April, it’s NaPoWriMo, that is, National Poetry Writing Month, a month when poetry devotees (like me and many of you) commit to writing at least one poem per day. There are several blogs, sites, etc., that offer daily prompts, and folks are free to go off on their own and write “as the spirit leads them,” as my mother would say.
This year I have been pretty much in the latter category, drawing inspiration from things, events, happenings in the immediate environment. As it happens, early in the month I attended three events that have had a huge impact on my April writing. The first one was a writing salon at a local art gallery, a short, three hour “class,” that looked at one piece of art from various perspectives and encouraged attendees to write about the experience. The second was a poetry reading at a local library by three sonnet writers, who read and spoke about the “sonnet” craft. The third was a lunch time exhibition talk about a single piece of art, which became the basis for my daily poetry submissions.
So, to ease your suspense, I’ll cut right to the chase. I decided to try my hand at a “crown of sonnets,” also called a “corona.” All the sonnet writers I saw at the reading talked about it! Then, I decided to base each unique sonnet on a piece of art, implementing the tools we used in the writing salon. Finally, I decided to use as the art work a series of paintings used as illustrations for poetry, and the exhibition talk I attended provided such an example, a series of paintings by the famed Harlem Renaissance painter, Aaron Douglas, used to illustrate James Weldon Johnson’s “God’s Trombones, Seven Negro Sermons in Verse,” one of which was on exhibit. You can find the original, in electronic edition with illustrations, here.
OK. Here is the thing about a corona. The final line of each poem becomes the first line of each succeeding poem, and the first line of the first, the final line of the last. Additionally, I tried as closely as possible to make each final line align with a line from the actual original poetry that the art work illustrated. Finally, because the example I saw in exhibition was the illustration for the final poem in the series, I worked my way through the original poems from back to front, giving the whole thing a slightly different twist.
Enough chat. I have posted the whole crown of sonnets on my poetry blog here (but you have to look for it). Please check it out and let me know what you think.
Today’s assignment is to build a blog post around a prompt, and the prompt provided is community service:
Part of my post (a big part, quite possibly the only part) is going to be to define my community. Where to start? I have my birth communities: my families (the Maxwells primarily of Guilford County, NC, along with the Rankins, and the Hairstons of Rockingham County, NC and Pittsylvania County, VA); and the churches and church-sponsored activities in Greensboro where I grew up; and my racial community, African-Americans, expanded later to include all people of African descent of whatever race. Then I have educational communities that I am presently involved in: the Woodberry Forest Alumni group; the Stouffer Scholars group; the NC Governor’s School Foundation group.
pause …. catch breath…
College alumni communities’ fundraising efforts won’t let me forget them, and frankly, I love my alma maters: FAMU (BS), SOAS (MA), CUA (MSLIS).
One finds oneself connected socially and even politically to professional communities, which, in my case, include submarine, and in general, Navy veteran groups, and foreign affairs groups like AFSA and ADST, and Diplopundit readers and supporters. And most recently, by virtue of my recent entry into the library and information science profession, an entire new librarianship community emerges, a community of practice that also includes instructional designers, information architects, critical (and hybrid) pedagogues, and rhizomatic practitioners.
And finally, there are hobby communities that last a lifetime. These include the community of poetry lovers (and writers and readers), the related community of life-long learners and MOOC enthusiasts, the community of gardeners and beekeepers, the community of art museum devotees and, in general, artists of all stripes.
I think this may be fun!
Today’s assignment is to publish a post you’d like your ideal audience member to read, and to include elements never used before.
My love of poetry is a bit of an obsession at times, so I am going to aim my post at blog readers who read, write, and enjoy all aspects of poetry. I’ve never embedded video clips, so I might just try it. OK, here we go!
Here are three favorites from the 19th century:
And here are three favorites from the Beats:
First assignment: Who am I and why am I here? We like to define ourselves in terms of who or what we used to be, what we do on our jobs, what schools we went to, and where we hope to be in the future. It works if it works, but it doesn’t interest me right now. I want to introduce myself in terms of the things that I am passionate about, the things I have always been passionate about, the things/thoughts that bring me pleasure and peace of mind. Those things/thoughts will identify both who I am and why I am here.
It is really quite simple, quite uncomplicated. I like reading poetry. I like writing poetry. I like seeing things grow in dirt. Art inspires me. All art. Music inspires me (which is also art). A package of seeds inspires me. Science is the ultimate turn on for me. Physics. Astronomy. Botany. Biology. Mathematics and reasoning. All the stuff you get in high school. I had all those merit badges in the Boy Scouts. It goes way back, that far back.
I never made Eagle Scout. I wouldn’t go for the “right” merit badges. Curiosity was my only, truest motivation. Then sports became important for me. Football and track, middle distances. I came late to cross-country, substituted it for football in the fall and loved it, loved the team, loved the interaction with nature, running through the woods, watching the seasons change. Rushing back to my room to write it all down in poetry.
After high school I decided I wanted to do something radically different, to break away from the pack. I joined the Navy, requested submarine duty. I got it. It was definitely different. I dug it, but I wasn’t seeing the world, just dials and pressure gages and thermometers. So I applied for a commissioning program at my enlistment’s end. I got it. Went back, finished school and got a reserve commission. Fell in love with the sea. Four years passed quickly, I took a test, and landed in the Foreign Service, where I spent 20 years. But there was no change there, just a smooth transition from one deployment to a series of deployments. And lest I leave it out, more poetry, more poetry, and in different languages, in Portuguese, in Arabic.
Took an early retirement. Time for a real change. Did a Master’s in Library and Information Science. Learned HTML. Learned a lot of stuff. Got a job as a librarian, and a second job, and a third job. Took a MOOC poetry course, and a second, and a third. Fell in love with Whitman, and Dickinson, and Brooks, and many others. At last I recognized and acknowledged “the ambrosia that nourished my soul.” There is more poetry to be written, more souls to save. More gardens to plant, to weed, to pick what grows. Blogging is keeping notes, chronicling the ofttimes imperceptible changes that occur.
Every librarian-student gets exposed to the Library Luminary Suzanne Briet and her assessment regarding antelopes and documents: “An antelope running wild on the plains of Africa should not be considered a document, she rules. But if it were to be captured, taken to a zoo and made an object of study, it has been made into a document. It has become physical evidence being used by those who study it. Indeed, scholarly articles written about the antelope are secondary documents, since the antelope itself is the primary document.”
So what does this have to do with the end of #Rhizo15?
In our final weekly assignment, we are looking at/for artifacts that provide a handy guide to rhizomatic learning. Hell, we might as well be looking for a needle in a haystack, in a sense. Potential artifacts are like antelopes running wild on the African plains (and I say that as a certified Africanist with years of experience on the African continent and a graduate degree from SOAS…Suzanne Briet also spent some time in the “wilds of Africa.”). Briet’s statement is viewed as one of the early expressions of actor-network theory.
Aha! Here the plot doth thicken:
From Wikipedia: “As the term implies, the actor-network is the central concept in ANT. The term “network” is somewhat problematic in that it, as Latour notes, has a number of unwanted connotations. Firstly, it implies that what is described takes the shape of a network, which is not necessarily the case. Secondly, it implies “transportation without deformation,” which, in ANT, is not possible since any actor-network involves a vast number of translations. Latour, however, still contends that network is a fitting term to use, because “it has no a priori order relation; it is not tied to the axiological myth of a top and of a bottom of society; it makes absolutely no assumption whether a specific locus is macro- or micro- and does not modify the tools to study the element ‘a’ or the element ‘b’.” This use of the term “network” is very similar to Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomes …”
And again from Wikipedia: “Deleuze and Guattari introduce A Thousand Plateaus by outlining the concept of the rhizome (quoted from A Thousand Plateaus):
- 1 and 2: Principles of connection and heterogeneity: “…any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be,”
- 3. Principle of multiplicity: only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, “multiplicity” that it ceases to have any relation to the One
- 4. Principle of asignifying rupture: a rhizome may be broken, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines
- 5 and 6: Principle of cartography and decalcomania: a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model; it is a “map and not a tracing” “
Again, a needle in a haystack. I rest my case / my document / my artifact / my antelope…
Listen. Week four of #moocmooc is a real doozy! Let me confess that I had to look up Hakim Bey, Max Stirner, Francisco Ferrer, Paul Goodman, and the Free Space/Free Skool. But I knew exactly what heterotopia was as I had created several of them over the past several decades – it was the only way I was able to survive in a hostile world. In fact, I am in a heterotopia as we speak, my refuge in the North Carolina mountains…
I had read Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience as a somewhat precocious teenager and it inspired me to write a piece for the high school newspaper on student rights, entitled “The Student is the New Nigger,” which did not make many of my teachers happy though my father found it quite entertaining. It was, after all, the Watergate years. Needless to say, the re-reading of Thoreau’s masterful essay brought back warm memories of those years of my youth…(who knew that was all it took?)…
But let’s get down to brass tacks. I had never really thought of Thoreau (and, by extension, his intellectual lineage, Gandhi and King) as an anarchist, but in close proximity to the Shantz article, it all becomes somewhat clear. “Anarchists seek freedom from internalized authority and ideological domination,” sounds very similar, to me, to “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right.” The sentence “This American government – what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity” resonates as truthfully today as it did in 1849. And the classic, oft-quoted lines, “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” have launched many a protest movement since being prophetically penned on the eve of the American Civil War and brings to mind the haunting Herman Melville poem about, perhaps, America’s greatest anarchist:
Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
The cut is on the crown
(Lo, John Brown)
And the stabs shall heal no more.
Hidden in the cap
Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the war.
But back to critical pedagogy (oh must we?). There are surely shades of Freire and hooks in the sentiments that “learning should contribute to independence of thought and action and contribute to capacities for self-determination” and that traditional teacher/student relationships “can inhibit students and reinforce authority structures of command and obedience.” But we also see where The Free Skool’s adherence to anarchist principles, simply stated, resulted in the loss of administrative power to accomplish political or even cultural goals. At one point in the reading I scribbled in the margin, “are anarchist pedagogies only for spoiled rich kids?” Conclusion: I have a lot of reading to do. Good thing I’m retired. Except I do have this new day job that I love. So I guess I’ll be phoning my local independent bookseller in the morning.