Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Genie" by Arthur Rimbaud‏

      He is affection and the present since he opened the house to foaming winter and the hum of summer, he who purified drink and food, he who is the charm of fleeting places and the superhuman deliciousness of staying still. He is affection and the future, strength and love that we, standing amid rage and troubles, see passing in the storm-rent sky and on banners of ecstasy.
      He is love, perfect and reinvented measurement, wonderful and unforeseen reason, and eternity: machine beloved for its fatal qualities. We have all experienced the terror of his yielding and of our own: O enjoyment of our health, surge of our faculties, egoistic affection and passion for him, he who loves us for his infinite life
     And we remember him and he travels. . . And if the Adoration goes away, resounds, its promise resounds: “Away with those superstitions, those old bodies, those couples and those ages. It’s this age that has sunk!”
     He won’t go away, nor descend from a heaven again, he won’t accomplish the redemption of women’s anger and the gaiety of men and of all that sin: for it is now accomplished, with him being, and being loved.
     O his breaths, his heads, his racing; the terrible swiftness of the perfection of forms and of action.
     O fecundity of the spirit and immensity of the universe!
     His body! The dreamed-of release, the shattering of grace crossed with new violence!
     The sight, the sight of him! all the ancient kneeling and suffering lifted in his wake.
     His day! the abolition of all resonant and surging suffering in more intense music.
     His footstep! migrations more vast than ancient invasions.
     O him and us! pride more benevolent than wasted charities.
     O world! and the clear song of new misfortunes!
     He has known us all and loved us all. Let us, on this winter night, from cape to cape, from the tumultuous pole to the castle, from the crowd to the beach, from glance to glance, our strengths and feelings numb, learn to hail him and see him, and send him back, and under the tides and at the summit of snowy deserts, follow his seeing, his breathing, his body, his day. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Great teaching, like art, makes the world feel newly large and meaningful

I myself became a decent teacher only when I started to relinquish some control over the classroom - stopped worrying so much about “getting my points across” and recognized that those moments of disorder that would sometimes occur, those spontaneous outbreaks of intelligence, were the most interesting parts of the class, for both my students and myself. We were going somewhere new, and we were going there together.

…students gravitate toward teachers with whom they have forged a connection. Learning is an emotional experience, and mentorship is rooted in the intimacy of intellectual exchange. Something important passes between you, something almost sacred. Socrates remarks that the bond between a teacher and a student lasts a lifetime, even once the two have parted company. And so indeed it is. Student follows student, and professors know that even those with whom they’re closest now will soon decline to names in an address book, then at last just distant memories. But the feelings that we have for the teachers or the students who have meant the most to us, like those for long-lost friends, can never go away. They are part of us, and the briefest thought revives them, and we know that in some heaven we will meet again.

For all the skill that teaching involves, you ultimately only have a single tool: your entire life as you have lived it up until the moment you walk into class. “The teacher, that professional amateur,” said the critic Leslie Fiedler, “teaches not so much his subject as himself.” He provides a model, he went on, “of one in whom what seemed dead, mere print on the page, becomes living, a way of life.” I developed a rule of thumb in graduate school. If a professor didn’t mention something personal at least a single time - a reference to a child, an anecdote about a colleague - then it was a pretty good bet that I had nothing to learn from him. It’s not that I needed my teachers to be confessional; I just needed them to be present. “Mortimer Adler had much to tell us about Aristotle’s Ethics,” Saul Bellow wrote about the University of Chicago eminence, “but I had only to look at him to see that he had nothing useful to offer on the conduct of life.”

Students want you to be honest, not least about yourself. They want you to be yourself. You need to step outside the role a bit, regard it with a little irony, if only to acknowledge the dissonance between the institution and the spirit. It often feels that there are certain things you cannot say inside a classroom - the most serious things that you want to say, the most genuine things. You want to say that life is tragic, that we are dangling above a void, that what’s at stake, when you read a book, is nothing less than life itself. But you feel your institutional surroundings holding you as if between quotation marks. You fear that your words will fall to the ground with an audible clink. That is where a little distance from the situ¬ation is of service. Just because I say this stuff in class, I used to tell my students, doesn’t mean I don’t believe it.

There are two things that kids invariably tell you about their favorite professors. The first one is “she teaches about everything.” That’s never literally true, of course, so what does it actually mean? Great teachers, as Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus remark, are not bound by disciplinary ideas of what they’re allowed to say. They connect the material at hand, in a way that feels spacious and free, with anything to which it might be relevant. They connect it to ex¬perience, and so they shed light on experience - on your experience. Just as great art gives you the feeling of being about “life” - about all of it at once - so does great teaching. The boundaries come down, and somehow you are thinking about yourself and the world at the same time, thinking and feeling at the same time, and instead of seeing things as separate parts, you see them as a whole. It doesn’t matter what the subject is. A student put it to me this way, about a professor in an oceanic studies program: “He made marine ecology reflect universal truths.”

You know great teaching the moment you encounter it. Yes, you feel, this is it - this is what I came for. It reaches deep inside you. It satisfies desires that you didn’t know you had. It makes the world feel newly large and meaningful - exactly, again, like art. The other thing that students say about their favorite teachers is “he changed my life.” 

- William Deresiewicz

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Photograph from September 11" by Wisława Szymborska

They jumped from the burning floors –
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them   
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them –
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"A Small Number" by Olena Kalytiak Davis

So far, have managed, Not 
Much. So far, a few fractures, a few factions, a Few
Friends. So far, a husband, a husbandry, Nothing
Too complex, so far, followed the Simple 
Instructions. Read them twice. So far, memorized three Moments, 
Buried a couple deaths, those turning faces. So far, two or Three 
Sonnets. So far, some berrigan and Some 
Keats. So far, a scanty list. So far, a dark wood. So far, Anti-
Thesis and then, maybe, a little thesis. So far, a small Number 
Of emily’s letters. So far, tim not dead. So far, Matt 
Not dead. So far, jim. So far, Love
And love, not so far. Not so love. So far, no-Hope. 
So far, all face. So far, scrapped and scraped, but Not 
With grace. So far, not Very.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"A Hemisphere in Your Hair" by Charles Baudelaire

Long, long let me breathe the fragrance of your hair.

Let me plunge my face into it like a thirsty man into the water of a spring, and let me wave it like a scented handkerchief to stir memories in the air.

If you only knew all that I see! All that I feel! All that I hear in your hair! My soul voyages on its perfume as other men’s souls on music.

Your hair holds a whole dream of masts and sails; it holds seas whose monsoons waft me toward lovely climes where space is bluer and more profound, where fruits and leaves and human skin perfume the air.

In the ocean of your air I see a harbor teeming with melancholic songs, with lusty men of every nation, and ships of every shape, whose elegant and intricate structures stand out against the enormous sky, home of eternal heat.

In the caresses of your hair I know again the languors of long hours lying on a couch in a fair ship’s cabin, cradled by the harbor’s imperceptible swell, between pots of flowers and cooling water jars.

On the burning hearth of your hair I breathe in the fragrance of tobacco tinged with opium and sugar; in the night of your hair I see the sheen of the tropic’s blue infinity; on the shores of your hair I get drunk with the smell of musk and tar and the oil of cocoanuts.

Long, long, let me bite your black and heavy tresses. When I gnaw your elastic and rebellious hair I seem to be eating memories.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Emily Dickinson – Why such short poems?

What surprised (and still tends to surprise) readers was that Dickinson's mature poems were all so brief. Many of the writers admired by Dickinson had embarked ambitiously on epics, dramas, long narratives, sonnet sequences, and dramatic monologues, yet Dickinson never attempted such genres. Her tenacity in keeping to a miniature form caused some readers, even in the twentieth century, to patronize her work. She seems to have asked herself that fundamental question of the choice of size – why such short poems? – and answered it in a remarkable lyric, “Ashes denote that Fire was –“. Her poems, she says – defending their reduced form – are the Ashes of a previous conflagration that destroyed “the Departed Creature” now dead (although that Creature, at death, had briefly “hovered” over the Ashes of her former self). To understand the vanished Creature of whom the Ashes are the residue, one must become a Chemist, and deduce from the remaining Carbonates the nature of the person consumed by the Fire:

Ashes denote that Fire was 
Revere the Grayest Pile           
For the Departed Creature’s sake        
That hovered there awhile 

Fire exists the first in light
And then consolidates
Only the chemist can disclose 
Into what Carbonates 

The original Creature was first illuminated by the “light” of some revelation; the revelation then kindled into a fiery conflagration, and the conflagration ended in a consuming. What is left does not resemble the past earthly being of the Creature: the Fire has done its work, leaving only the Ashes, the cremated “Carbonates” that we find in the poet’s pages. (Dickinson may have borrowed her Ashes and her deathbed from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, recalling the fire “That on the ashes of his youth doeth lie.”) Dickinson calls on us, as the forensic Chemists of verse, to reconstruct from a small heap of Ashes – her poem – the self originally nourished and then consumed by the light of insight and the Fire of emotion.  Helen Vendler

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Edward Hopper's Seven A.M. (1948)" by John Hollander


The morning seems to have no light to spare
For these close, silent, neighboring, dark trees,
But too much brightness, in low-lying glare,
For middling truths, such as whose premises
These are, and why just here, and what we might
Expect to make of a shop-window shelf
Displaying last year's styles of dark and light?
Here at this moment, morning is most itself,
Before the geometric shadows, more
Substantial almost than what casts them, pale
Into whatever later light will be.
What happens here? What is the sort of store
Whose windows frame such generality?
Meaning is up for grabs, but not for sale.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"The Fellowship" by Lydia Davis

1.

It is not that you are not qualified to receive the fellowship, it is that each year your application is not good enough. When at last your application is perfect, then you will receive the fellowship.

2.

It is not that you are not qualified to receive the fellowship, it is that your patience must be tested first. Each year, you are patient, but not patient enough. When you have truly learned what it is to be patient, so much so that you forget all about the fellowship, then you will receive the fellowship.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"In Sky" by Susan Wheeler

The girl is waiting in the room to be discovered.
The girl is attempting radiance.
The girl may be a boy, or vice versa.
The girl is anticipating the man's arrival, later.
The girl is anticipating the man's displeasure.
The girl is anticipating the man's disapproval.
The girl takes no guff.
The girl's mendacity has long been remarked upon.
The girl armors up with chic.
The girl carries the blooms, the veronicas, the perovskia.
The girl who may be a boy powders the smalt.

The girl fills the room like smoke.
The girl is a deer in the onrush of lamps, she sits on the planks of the pier.
The girl swings her feet above the surface of the water.

The girl presses out, inhales, still fills her seat not.
The seat is an ink room, not-girl, apprehension.
The girl is mottled with self, with indecision.
The girl's amethyst earrings window her eyes.
The girl twirls her cape before the bull.
She refuses her chest.
She refuses "alabaster."
She refuses your volupty at her expense.

The girl is the hole, the cutout.
The box she is punched from throngs with blue spirits.
The ground is blank as a plum, tank-deep.
O water, o silting of dust. Reticulate.
The room's tonnage sags.
The ground is figure to its own ground.
And she, blade of grass at the Battle at Troy.

The girl refuses the stadium seating.
The girl mixes lazule and vivianite.
The girl was or was not a mother, this is irrelevant.
The girl's skin shelters; her skin burns with self.
At the end of the pier, in the house light, she looks up.
Her shade engulfs her.
The girl's blueism offputs the man.

The Girl look't Blew. Blue funked. Cast indigo.
She yelled bloody blue, she talked a blue streak.
The girl blued her bluebacks on linnets and blue duns.
The girl was waiting to be overtaken.
The girl was cruising for a bruiser.
The girl tilted up at the ciel: blue-domer.
She struck into space like a bolt from the blue.
Azul ultramarino, when I confessed I repented, the girl said.
She was blue mouldy for the want of that drink.

The girl ardent was; ardent, wracked, and replete.
The girl took the retablo from the wall; in her hand its wings shone.
The girl watched, as she listened, the strung lights waver.
The girl's moment for radiance passed.
O she was stippled, O but her room was.
O that the treatment take hold and transform.

The girl swung a gun.
The girl jutted her chin fore.
The girl limped with her sidling and stalled.
She has a fast one, it's in a wheel rut, the girl and her blue ruin, gin and her car.
The girl has veined shoulders.
She passes wind.

The girl's form is landmined: flounces, the flesh.
The girl bats the red lock away from her ear.
The girl takes the synapse and invests it with scene (insensible sense).
The girl Rapunzel is (NOT). She disdains.

O discrete make me and blocked.
O scurry me forth on the slate patio, and applaud my every squeak.
O I am helpful like a shill (no groin).
Untransmutable plane with your shadowed door.
The room heats like a vise.

The girl splices the water like a seal or a grouper.
The girl's shell grows a rubbery skin.
The girl looks right back, planted.

The girl holds her thumb piano beneath our view.

She, the girl, regards the chimpanzee.
The chamber loses its ceiling and the stars prick through.

The girl breathes. Her sex bucks out of sight.

The girl, blushing: O did you see me there? Did you?

Friday, August 1, 2014

"may be you are like me: scared and awake" by Olena Kalytiak Davis

A wreath of violets lain where my brain used to be,
   Matutinal,
Frantic. The usual. Scalded and cold. I descend. I work like a
   bird.
I hear spring coming from a long mile off. A distant jungle-
   meadow.
It comes, it sings. Says: To be heard you must be let, be in. To
   be heard
It is best to hum, like water. It's true, I am barnacled and
   black. The un-
Deadly, the sternum, the prow.

                                   Was, I used to confess the nuns.
Was, the prettier they were, the less they said. Week after week
   whispered
The one I loved like a secret: "I must avow. I'm of that type
   that's mostly
Hype." I let Him forgive her merely on the strength of her
   brow. Sister,
Says I, I wear it like a wife. Then I'd go wash my hands in mint
   and rose.
May be, you are all like me: all pose.

                                    May be, you are cutting each word harder
And harder, to listen, I'mall watchandwile,waitingtobe Called.
   Lordy-lordy-lordy.
When I asked to be left alone, I didn't mean, like, now, like,
   this. Full-deep:
All solace and solecism. Un-sail-able. Un-vale-able. To spring,
   to light, to sleep.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The intimacy of art leaves us breathless ex. O'Hara's "The Day Lady Died"

In O'Hara's signature poem, "The Day Lady Died," the almost breathless last four lines give the illusion that the reader and writer arrive at the closure at the same time. The poem ends with a flashback, though, so the present tense, insisted on from the first line, just like time itself, is a willful fiction. The speaker's passionate connection with Billie Holiday is ecstatic, transforming time and space while altering the self and the speaker's sense of identity. Art leaves us breathless: its intimate connections prove to be simultaneously exciting and dangerous: they not only bring us closer to feeling but also expose us to the danger of contingency and loss, expressed in the poem in terms of destabilizing time, space, and identity: intimacy touches and breaks the heart. The experience is both communal and isolating (consciousness attenuates and abstracts). All of these matters are foreshadowed in the speaker's restlessness: he thrives because of his friendships, his feeling for art and other artists. But the world of feeling is at odds with the counter desire of the poem: the speaker's attempts to thwart and defer uncertainty and contingency keep him dislocated and existentially alone. His anxiety is expressed in his exactitude about time and date, in specificity of book titles, and names. Every stanza begins with an assertion of these certainties (as it turns out, an evasion), and ends with those qualities effaced, diminished or dissolved. The stanzas end in strangeness and isolation because, in O'Hara's view, temporal experience by nature is always shifting, constantly moving. O'Hara, in his typically anti-effete fashion, talked about his "I do this I do that" poems because he was interested in action and gesture, but also, as a Modernist, he was keenly aware of movement. He was drawn to painters like Pollock, Klee and de Kooning because of their movement, color and composition. In most poems he embraced that movement as energetic and vitalizing, but in "The Day Lady Died," the loss of love and art takes away his capacity for sheer lightness and acceptance.

        "The Day Lady Died"

  It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
  three days after Bastille day, yes
  it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
  because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
  at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
  and I don't know the people who will feed me

  I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
  and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
  an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
  in Ghana are doing these days
                                                        I go on to the bank
  and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
  doesn't even look up my balance for once in her life
  and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
  for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
  think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
  Brendan Behan's new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
  of Genet, but I don't, I stick with Verlaine
  after practically going to sleep with quandariness

  and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
  Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
  then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
  and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
  casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
  of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

  and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
  leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
  while she whispered a song along the keyboard
  to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

Later in the poem...distance is transformed by art, art as gift and celebration and sign of friendship. Once again, though, when the speaker wants to turn away, the stiff and formal Miss Stillwagon suddenly trusts the speaker--miracle of miracles, a person momentarily supplants the pecuniary. So with the poets of Ghana on his mind, with the possibility of a human connection, the speaker chooses gifts to show friends his care for them, and in some way to suggest his alienation at this moment from American culture. He chooses foreign artwork for his friends (Genet and Verlaine and Behan--all proponents of the passionate and the irrational) and he chooses foreign pleasures for smoking and drinking. But, as in the closure of other stanzas, these strategies also fail both to enliven and to distance. So he "practically go(es) to sleep with quandariness," an odd and elevated choice of diction. He's perplexed, uncertain, he seems almost paralyzed and depressed by so many choices: he's alienated and helpless. O'Hara intensifies this helplessness during the present tense climax of the poem, when the speaker sees the headlines about Billie Holiday's death. She becomes the emblem in the poem for the ecstatic: his love, his passion, the heart in art, in song...the speaker's been all avoidance, preoccupied with errands: he's aimless until he sees the headline and is cast back into the past, where the immediacy of art crowds out everything else. - Ira Sadoff

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Happy first anniversary (in anticipation of your thirty ninth)" by Bob Hicok

I don’t have much time. I’m an important person
to chickadees and mourning doves, whose feeder
was smashed last night by a raccoon. Soon
I’ll be wielding duct tape, noticing the dew,
wanting to bathe in it, hoping the awkwardness
of yesterday (three instances of people talking
with bear traps for mouths) never repeats itself
and we all go forward as if to a party
for a five year old who refuses to smash candy
out of a burro. It’s too cute, the burro, too real
for him not to ask his mother, can I keep it,
and when the other children cry, they’re given
lake front property, it works out, this
is what I see for you, the working out. Think of the year
behind you as a root or think of going to Spain
and feeling sorry for bulls or don’t think,
this isn’t the SATs, don’t think but stay.
Stay happy, honest, stay as tall as you are
as long as you can using giraffes if you need to
to see each other above the crowd. I have these moments
when I realize I’m not breathing, my wife
is never why I’m not breathing and always why
I want to lick a human heart, remember that each of you
is half of why your bed will sag toward the middle
of being a boat and that you both will sag
if you’re lucky together, be lucky together
and acquire in sagging more square footage
to kiss and to hold. And always remember
that I hate you for being so much closer
than I am to where none of us ever get to go
again - first look, first touch, first
inadvertent brush of breath or hair, first time
you turned over and looked at who was surprising
you by how fully she was there.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Serenity and Vitality of Proust

My great adventure is really Proust...I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped - and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical - like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined. - Virginia Woolf

The eruption of [Proust's] work - distinguished by its huge proportions, its complexity, and a difficulty caused by the unparalleled extravagance of its web of language - into the world was so sudden and so thorough that it is difficult not to see it as a result of some kind of spell that had been cast. For how else might we explain the way that in those restless times, hundreds of thousands, all across Europe, gladly made their way through thirteen densely printed volumes, enjoying page after page devoted to conversations with no identifiable theme, to a few trees, to an act of waking up in the morning, and to the inner development of a jelaous feeling, so that they might take pleasure in the variety of an individual’s emotions that lay hidden in every sentence? All the more astonishing is the fact that a great number of Proust’s admirers are not French. - Erich Auerbach

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Vulnerability Study" by Solmaz Sharif

your face turning from mine
to keep from cumming

8 strawberries in a wet blue bowl

baba holding his pants
up at the checkpoint

a newlywed securing her updo
with grenade pins

a wall cleared of nails
for the ghosts to walk through

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How Emily Dickinson wrote her best poems

What she needed before she could do her finest work was a situation, a figure, that would set out most of the structure for her. She was in trouble whenever some little thing had to be amplified, developed, teased. In the great poems she seizes her theme, normally, not as an idea but as an image or, better still, a relation. And, best of all, the relation has domestic analogies or can be translated directly into domestic or social terms. And then there is a new relation, often a marvelous counterpoint between the intimate relation and the new domestic figure that it has annexed. And the most conclusive example of these felicities is "Because I could not stop for Death":

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me – 
The Carriage held but just Ourselves – 
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring – 
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – 
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

In this poem all the civilities meet. If we think of it as an achievement of language, we should say at the same time that it has nothing at all to do with a fussy search for the mot juste. Once Emily Dickinson had come to the point of imagining the social image - the afternoon visit, the drive into the country - and had perceived its justice, half the battle was won. She would still have to win the rest of it, but she would do that largely by attending to the "facts" as directly as possible. The style is at once dry and noble; but this is a bonus, a grace, given to her because of the fine confidence with which she entrusted the whole affair to the determination of its leading figure. - Denis Donoghue