Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Prayer (I)" by George Herbert / Comment by Carl Phillips

Prayer (I)

Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age,
         God's breath in man returning to his birth,
         The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r,
         Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
         The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.

In George Herbert's entirely associative (and entirely fragmented "Prayer (I)," it is the method of association itself that provides the poem with its argument. If the poem is a list of definitions, it is more accurately a list at war with itself. On the one hand, we have a list that works inclusively - that is, the gesture is one of defining prayer and constanly elaborating on that definition, finding it necessary to keep expanding it, as if the more one understood about prayer, the more one had come to realize the impossibility of including everything that prayer apparently includes. And on the other hand, we have a list whose gesture is one of constantly rejecting, in search of exactness of definition: prayer is X; no, prayer is Y; no, keep trying. And in that final definition, "something understood," the poem seems to argue that the human impulse to define (in a sense, to impose pattern, which is what the sonnet form seeks to do here with the information that keeps threatening to overwhelm it) is itself the problem, and that prayer is finally that which is understood as itself utterly. Inclusive of everything, and like nothing that it contains.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Conversion Figure" by Mary Szybist

I spent a long time falling
toward your slender, tremulous face—

a long time slipping through stars
as they shattered, through sticky clouds
with no confetti in them.

I fell toward earth's stony colors
until they brightened, until I could see
the green and white stripes of party umbrellas
propped on your daisied lawn.

From above, you looked small
as an afterthought, something lightly brushed in.
Beside you, blush-pink plates
served up their pillowy cupcakes, and your rosy hems
swirled round your dark head—

I fell and fell.
I fell toward the pulse in your thighs,
toward the cool flamingo of your slip
fluttering past your knees—

Out of God's mouth I fell
like a piece of ripe fruit
toward your deepening shadow.

Girl on the lawn without sleeves, knees bare even of lotion,
time now to strip away everything
you try to think about yourself.

Put down your little dog.
Stop licking the cake from your fingers.

Before today, what darkness
did you let into your flesh? What stillness
did you cast into the soil?

Lift up your head.
Time to enter yourself.
Time to make your own sorrow.

Time to unbrighten and discard
even your slenderness.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The particular privacy of exile

The last thing that most human beings seem capable of trusting naturally - instinctively - is themselves, their own judgment. It is the result, I think, of an early training away from imagination, imagination being the means by which we think of a thing unconventionally - outside the norm. Those who raise us want the best for us - they hope to protect us from exclusion. But exclusion, at some level, is required in the making of the artist - art begins in the particular privacy of exile. What is required to be an authentically original artist is an inability to think conventionally - this, coupled with a for-the-most-part unconscious unawareness that one is thinking differently in the first place. It helps to have a sense of nothing left to lose, nothing therefore in the way of our speaking honestly; what's to fear, if no one is listening anyway, or if we believe that no one is listening? Or if we believe that the listeners can't hear, ever, what it is that we hear? - Carl Phillips

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"The Man of Double Deed" by Anonymous

There was a man of double deed,
Who sowed his garden full of seed;
When the seed began to grow,
'Twas like a garden full of snow;
When the snow began to melt,
'Twas like a ship without a belt;
When the ship began to sail,
'Twas like a bird without a tail;
When the bird began to fly,
'Twas like an eagle in the sky;
When the sky began to roar,
'Twas like a lion at my door;
When my door began to crack,
'Twas like a stick across my back;
When my back began to smart,
'Twas like a penknife in my heart;
And when my heart began to bleed,
'Twas death, and death, and death indeed.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Beethoven inspired by the Bhagavad Gita

Blessed is the man who, having subdued all his passions, performeth with his active faculties all the functions of life, unconcerned about the event… Be not one whose motive for action is the hope of reward. Perform thy duty, abandon all thought of the consequence, and make the event equal, whether it terminate in good or evil; for such an equality is called yoga. - A quote from the Bhagavad Gita that Beethoven wrote into his diary

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The brio and oddball manic seriousness Christopher Smart's Jeoffry aria

From "Jubilate Agno"

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually—Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

"World's End With Sympathy" by Ish Klein

Some time ago was I, mid-ocean, lost
with dog. Unfortunate, drifting board
to board until a skiff of three survivors
did like our shades enough to save them.
So we boarded by her hand's extent.
That laughing lady filled with liquor.
Not befouled by spirit. She took fine liking
by our sides, made us warm,
welcomed by the other two.
At first I said nothing.
Held close my mutt, Maelstrom, and drank
and drank free from sea's ill-considerate current.
It was three months' hard rain,
then everything under.

The shakes of days
was within me.
Waving gnawing fish from flaked flesh,
and night terrors
(I could not speak) of bigger bullies
who tried their turns.
For sharks I'd feign bloodless
well enough to wonder, deep down,
had I drowned?
Or times I could not find my dog immediately,
or if gulls got near him
I would scream them away,
scaring all of us that way.

She who found  us, called Beatrice, calmed us.
Her hand light over my head,
the dog on the floor,
there were two others next to me.
By heart and eyes pretending sleep were we.
But she was voicing joys:
Italians she'd well known,
light through her old red windows in the afternoon,
tea with her own grandmother,
the Easter season ...
These things startled us.
We didn't know how to say.
Mouth opens, nod, next some sounds.

The wild kids beside me
drew their latest history on the floor before us.
(One girl, one boy.) They came from a castle
where they had room and board
but their lord did not believe them.
They'd sulk to the scullery,
put fists through festival cakes,
pour out all the mild -- nothing.
Lord Roland said it was rats.
They hated him for taking them
out of their forest, shaving their heads,
getting them used to sugar and shoes
then forgetting them.

Water rose before revenge.
They intended to saw off his ears
(his prized possissions) then feed them to the hogs.
But he'd been dead all along.
Some captor: face of lacquer, his brains
just sawdust showing through a gap
in his hatless head.
They wanted to be forgiven for his effect on them.
They waited at the battlement for the water's takeaway
but they would not be put under
and soon stopped trying to sink.
The boat found them holding fast to a tree limb
from the forest that started them.

Days we'd stretch and scrape salt from our skin,
night opened so gently
like a curtain to a picture showing
lights from satellites the likes of me
had never known before.
Something taking us away --
Bodies cagier by the day.
Evening musings would be so occupying
then they'd leave, spirited --
to populate dry land somewhere?
To guide with stars our craft?
My dog shaking the fish in his mouth
after I'd ripped the bones out.
The girl holding her hand over his thrumping tail.

There was nobody else in the water (we'd all always look).
I was curious to know where my friend ended up.
She comes back in dreams.
I see her planning her Entrance, her break into fame.
We went in together, a while back.
I was supposed to do something, I couldn't hear.
Then, quickly, she caught the circular current.
It goes around once then you go down.
It was shocking, her taking that same way as those others
who did not seem nearly as buoyant.
But the thing that takes you down; it wants what it wants.
It knew the worth of this person.
She is a jewel in the wall of the underworld
that keeps souls from despairing.

I suppose
too, she is a jewel
in my brain's own
amid all the ugly and
remembered she has been
the Bright Relief
of what can be.
The light through
her is how it all
gets beautiful.
I've seen this so I know.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Poetry and the crisis of personhood

For some poets, poetry had come to seem implicated in or complicit with the crisis of personhood. The very qualities that give poetry power in the domain of personhood—its ability to open up powerful channels of communication, to create a vivid and subtle picture of a mind in action, to create opportunities for readers to exercise their powers of sympathy to recognize and value their own subjective powers—these had come to seem restrictive rather than expansive—because every one of them had a limit and an end. Even the most minimal account of the person (like the most abstract picture or the most “anti-closural” poem) specifies some minimal features. Now, features themselves had become part of the crisis, and something extraordinary had to happen within or to the art of putting words together into sentences and lines, ordering sounds into sequences and patterns, arraying lines on the space of the page, in order to address that crisis. - Oren Izenberg

regarding Being Numerous

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Kafka the Anarcho-Conformist

Externally, he adapted: to the family surroundings that he left for good less than a year before dying; to the externals of dating and pretending he wished to marry; to steady rise as an exemplary official in a state insurance company. These were all facets of an adaptation he hated to various degrees. And while he acted his part in the world, he defended himself by fiercely subverting that same world in his writings. In his fiction he demolished the very norms to which he submitted in his everyday life: Authority, Justice, the Rule of Law, the very logic of human communication. - Saul Friedländer

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On Antigone / Sublimation & Oedipus Rex / Freedom

Antigone, as Lacan's figure for the beautiful, embodies this excess of the ethical over the aesthetic. The effect of her beauty, what Lacan refers to as her 'splendour', is to trace the sublime movement of the ethical within the aesthetic. The key term in Lacan's extraordinary reading of Antigone is até, which he renders as 'transgression'. Thus, the function of art is transgression, the transgression of the aesthetic through the aesthetic. Namely, that Antigone transgresses the laws of utilitarian Creon, refuses to feel any guilt for her transgression and does not give way on her desire. As such, she obeys the categorical imperative of Lacanian psychoanalysis: ne pas céder sur son désir [not to yield to his desire].

The law of desire is death and Antigone goes all the way unto death because she will not give way on her desire. The beautiful work of sublimation, and Antigone is this work - she is the beautiful - takes the human being to the limit of a desire which cannot be fully represented. The work of sublimation traces the outline of something sublime, the aesthetic object describes the contour of the Thing, la Chose, das Ding, at the heart of ethical experience. In Seminar VII, this is why Lacan writes, 'Thus, the most general formula that I can give you of sublimation is the following: it raises the object to the dignity of the Thing.' In sublimation, we are momentarily lifted from the utilitarian world of calculations, the world of our familiar concerns, and allowed a relation to the Thing that does not crush or destroy us. The beautiful artwork sublimes the object, endowing it with Thingly dignity. Or again, beauty sublimes an object into the Thing. In relation to this sublimed object, we experience catharsis, what Lacan thinks of as a kind of purification of desire. . .To my mind, Lacan makes Antigone into the heroine of psychoanalysis: she who does not give way on her desire and follows that categorical imperative all the way to her death.

Thinking of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex rather than Antigone. . .the claim here is that at the end of the tragedy Oedipus succeeds in attaining a free recognition of his determination by necessity or fate. At the start of the drama, Oedipus falsely believed himself to be free. Unbeknownst to himself, however, he is determined by necessity: married to his mother, his father's murderer and the source of the evil pollution that threatens the life of the polis. By the end of the tragedy, however, Oedipus is truly free because he knows the truth about who he is and also knows what is to be done, that he must leave the polis. Having stuck out his eyes, he can finally see and is led calmly from the stage by the hand of his daughter, Antigone. The tragic hero, then, is defined by the free acceptance of their determination by fate. They heroically bear the truth of their finitude in an act of affirmation which allows them to achieve authenticity. - Simon Critchley

Monday, May 13, 2013

“A Little Fable” by Kafka

"Alas," said the mouse, "the world gets smaller every day. At first it was so wide that I ran along and was happy to see walls appearing to my right and left, but these high walls converged so quickly that I’m already in the last room, and there in the corner is the trap into which I must run." 

"But you’ve only got to run the other way," said the cat, and ate it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" by Ariana Reines

If the mind is the sword that stabs
The heart and the heart is bleeding
In the art and the woman is bleeding
In the night where her love is as sweet

As a book in a boat on the hissing sea
Then could the bad that crosses the good
In her book be the quotient of all the good
And bad in the world but also especially

All the good and bad in any Good
Book and the least good book of all worlds?
And if that could be then could the light that flares

Whenever with a full heart you open the ark
Where all your promises are burning
To death and kept be the selfsame light of all things?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

“Lines” by Anne Carson

While talking to my mother I neaten things. Spines of books by the phone.
in a china dish. Fragments of eraser that dot the desk. She speaks
of death. I begin tilting all the paperclips in the other direction.
the window snow is falling straight down in lines. To my mother,
of my life, I describe what I had for brunch. The lines are falling
now. Fate has put little weights on the ends (to speed us up) I
to tell her—sign of God’s pity. She won’t keep me
she says, she
won’t run up my bill. Miracles slip past us. The
are immortally aligned. God’s pity! How long
it feel like burning, said the child trying to be

Monday, April 22, 2013

Letter to Kafka

Berlin-Charlottenburg, April 10, 1917
       Dear Sir,
       You made me unhappy.
       I bought your "Metamorphosis" as a gift for my cousin. But, she is incapable of understanding the story. My cousin gave it to her mother who doesn't understand it either. The mother gave the book to my other cousin, who also didn't find an explanation. Now they have written to me: They expect me to explain the story to them as I am the doctor in the family. But I am at a loss.
       Sir! I have spent months in the trenches exchanging blows with the Russians without batting an eyelid. But I could not stand losing my good name with my cousins. Only you can help me. You must do it, as you are the one who landed me in this mess. So please tell me what my cousin should think about "Metamorphosis."
       Most respectfully yours,
       Dr. Siegfried Wolff

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Stanzas, Sexes, Seductions" by Anne Carson

It’s good to be neuter.
             I want to have meaningless legs.
                          There are things unbearable.
                                       One can evade them a long time.
Then you die.

The ocean reminds me
             of your green room.
                          There are things unbearable.
                                       Scorn, princes, this little size
of dying.

My personal poetry is a failure.
             I do not want to be a person.
                          I want to be unbearable.
                                       Lover to lover, the greenness of love.
Cool, cooling.

Earth bears no such plant.
             Who does not end up
                          a female impersonator?
                                       Drink all the sex there is.
Still die.

I tempt you.
             I blush.
                         There are things unbearable.
                                      Legs, alas.
Legs die.

Rocking themselves down,
             crazy slow,
                          some ballet term for it —
                                       fragment of foil, little
             little drunk,
                          little do,
                                       little oh,

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jorie Graham on Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus

I often teach a painting of Caravaggio’s, Supper at Emmaus. Christ is sitting before us in an alcove against the “back wall” of the painting. We face into a dinner table covered with things for the meal. We are quite sure that the edge of this table is identical with the absolute front of the canvas. But then one undergoes a troubling sensation. The basket of fruit, the edge of the wicker basket, sticks out into our “actual” space, our here and now. The host suddenly recognizes the stranger at his table as Christ and throws open his arms, like this. [Gestures.] His left hand comes out, beyond the border—further than the sacramental grapes in their wicker—out here into the same air that you (and I) are breathing in the National Gallery. At the same time, his right hand penetrates the crucial illusionistic space, the alcove in which Christ sits. What he does, by going like this, is enact what it is to be “taken” by surprise, to be, suddenly, in that spiritual place where the otherness of the world, of possibility, “turns” one’s soul—taking one off the path of mere “ongoingness” onto the other path of “journey.” At any rate, the host’s gesture connects that immortal-because-imaginary space Christ occupies, with the mortal one of the gallery in which I am standing breathing my minutes—and you suddenly realize Caravaggio has activated what I call the “sensation of real time”: the time of the painting’s represented action has crossed over into the time in which my only days are taking place. So you cannot read the painting without being inside the terms of the painting, which are these graduating degrees of temporality: mortal time, immortal time, represented time, actual time, the “time” of process. The activity of the painting is to do that. The host is crucified in this position—a position the artist is also in—saying, You reader and you subject (God, Christ), I have put you two together. It’s my job. That’s what the meal is. That’s what we eat.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Five Poems about Poetry

by William Carlos Williams

As the cat
climbed over
the top of
the jamcloset
first the right

then the hind
stepped down

into the pit of
the empty

Notes on the Art of Poetry
by Dylan Thomas

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,,,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,, ,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

Poetry is a Destructive Force
by Wallace Stevens

That's what misery is,
Nothing to have at heart.
It is to have or nothing.
It is a thing to have,
A lion, an ox in his breast,
To feel it breathing there.

Corazon, stout dog,
Young ox, bow-legged bear,
He tastes its blood, not spit.

He is like a man
In the body of a violent beast
Its muscles are his own...

The lion sleeps in the sun.
Its nose is on its paws.
It can kill a man.

My Heart
by Frank O'Hara

I'm not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don't prefer one "strain" to another.
I'd have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says "That's
not like Frank!", all to the good! I
don't wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart--
you can't plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.

A High-Toned Old Christian Woman
by Wallace Stevens

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"High and Bright and Fine and Ice" by Darcie Dennigan

When the motorboat man asked me to love him

I whispered precipice
the word for the no-more-boyfriend feeling

because precipice contains ice (practically twice)
because I wanted teetering—

What? he said

His ears from the engines—so hard of hearing—his hands always so hot

Mid our first winter—I’d clung so long to the dock
he had to crowbar my fingers off

Each digit cracked so cleanly
Would you say they break like icicles? I asked sweetly

I knew I was nothing! But if I could sustain one song—
I is, I is, I is I is I is

I could be: ice

Sex on the bathroom’s cold marble counter was best
I whispered statuette, monument

What? he, sculpting my legs, said


The child? I named her Cecily
It sounded like iced lily

For pure, I said pristine
At the ocean, I said brine

Isle for vacation; for flowers, edelweiss

But when I said (only of late, late!) I choose ice
Brittle pearls broke behind my syllables

Did he hear me?
Again, twice, thrice:

For my love
we would need to live
in a great pyramid
We would need to sleep
beneath the continental shelf
with Antarctic crust blanketing us
The only driveway to any kind of house
is an iceberg-ridden Northwest Passage
When I whispered universe
you were to translate it as
one bright line
one bright rime

Thursday, March 14, 2013

On failure and perseverance towards the living impulse

You write something and there’s no reality to it. You can’t inject it with any kind of reality. You have to be patient and keep going, and then, one day, you can feel something signaling to you from the innermost recesses. Like a little person trapped under the rubble of an earthquake. And very, very, very slowly you find your way toward the little bit of living impulse. - Deborah Eisenberg

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why Schools Need the Arts

There are habits of learning (like “sticktoitiveness”) that the arts foster.

The tangibility of the arts: the presence of a something that was not there before the artist/student created it. From this emerge the learning outcomes of imagination (possibilities that the student invents and/or considers) and agency (the student’s central role in effecting these ends).

A focus on emotion, out of which students learn about expression (giving shape to their own feelings) and empathy (recognizing the emotions of others).

Ambiguity: the arts deliberate delivery of multiple meanings from which students learn about interpretation (making sense) and respect (for others’ sense making).

Kids who struggle in reading seem able to memorize all their lines for the play.

When the arts are included, more students show up at school and furthermore, they stay to graduate.

Kids who have left high school show up at community art centers and direct shows.

Visual arts give students the opportunity and courage to express their inner lives.

Musical ensembles give students a sense of community and mattering.

Playing a dramatic role enables students to experience almost first hand the suffering of a grieving friend.

The safe haven that students find in the arts classroom and the difference they experience between arts teachers who treat them like colleagues who can make their own choices and non-arts teachers whose expectations are set and constrained.

The passage from childhood to adulthood is both thrilling and perilous and at this challenging time of life, these students find that arts learning helps them with the pressing agenda of self-discovery.

The arts teach students to think in important ways that other subjects do not - beyond the right answer to critical analysis and interpretation.

What is beyond measure often has the most value - imagination, agency, emotion, expression…

Arts learning’s more authentic often holistic means of assessment: just as it seems laughable to reduce our estimation of expression or imagination to a numerical score, we need to be more mindful of the injustice we do to all learning areas by restricting them to the playing fields of right or wrong - math and science, like the arts, are fueled by good questions (not just right answers).

How many more of us would be able to participate as makers and audiences in the timeless and particularly human conversation that the arts perpetuate.

- Jessica Hoffmann Davis

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Olympian calm of form in Tarkovsky’s "Mirror"

Tarkovsky always maintained that he used the laws of music as the film’s organising principle. He considered film to have much in common with a musical ordering of material, where emphasis was placed not on the logic, but on the form, of the flow of events. And form for him was ultimately linked to time - the duration and the passage of time in each shot. But he did not approach time as an abstract, philosophical concept; rather, it was an inner psychological reality and he believed that one of the aims of the film director was to create his unique sense of time in a film, which was independent of real time.

This Olympian calm of form is what prompted those of Tarkovsky’s colleagues who were expecting intense scenes between the protagonists to call the film dull; it is what turns the burning shed from a destructive accident into an epiphany, and why the grenade the military instructor throws himself on is a dummy… Tarkovsky admired Checkhov for removing the first page of his stories, in order to eradicate the ‘why’. He himself removes pages throughout the story, leaving us with fragments, whose meaning and motivation is not easily decipherable. We are left instead with a feeling for a particular mood, atmosphere or emotion – and a world of juxtapositions and correspondences, to which we must bring to bear our own sensibility. - Natasha Synessios

Watch it for free here, or without it periodically stalling for $3 here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

from “No Word, No Sign” by Aaron Kunin

There’s no word for you. There’s no word
for what you do to me. For what you do,
somehow, and you don’t know you do it,
to my mind with just your voice, so that

everything I once was sure of seems wrong;
for what you do to my way of seeing,
so that I start to doubt my own eyes if
what my eyes report isn’t just like what

I hear you say; and for what you do to
my voice to keep it from talking, to keep down
every word somewhere where I can’t remember
it: for this, there’s no word. To me

you’re like a machine without a purpose,
whose purpose is to cast doubt on every
idea that my mind is thinking, and
the end of every idea is you.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

When religion is at its best

Religion is at its best when it becomes a countercultural force; when it has no power, only influence, no authority except that which it earns, no claim to people's attention other than by the way it creates values that cannot be found elsewhere. It is then that it loses its perennial tendency to corruption and becomes again what it once was - a startling new voice, redeeming us from our loneliness, framing our existence with meaning, and teaching us to remember what so much else persuades us to forget - that the possibilities of happiness are all around us. - Jonathan Sachs

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Darwin & Machiavelli On Reading

My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organized or better constituted than mine, would not, I suppose, have thus suffered; and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature. - Charles Darwin

When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them. - Niccolò Machiavelli

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Whitman's Radicalism

All the subtlety and wisdom of Whitman's language...seem like accidents befalling a genial carpenter or fireman or popular journalist. Here is Whitman's radicalism. It is a matter of voice, rather than of ideas. When Whitman spoke, there was no institution supporting him, not even that invisible institution that is an agreed-upon tone, a place on the spectrum of roles. Despite the radicalism of Emerson's philosophy, he was instantly recognizable - whether speaking from a podium or in his essays - as a man of refinement and education. But with Whitman, one couldn't be sure. Maybe he didn't really know what he was doing. Maybe his exquisite poems were really accidents. If so, he might very well be the new kind of man he claimed to be, more in touch with nature than the rest of us; offering in his person and in his poems (an actor and his text?) the spectacle of a man saved from the duplicity of culture, as a saint in former times offered the spectacle of a man saved from the Fall. - Paul Zweig

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"A Mexican Guitar" by Frank O'Hara

Actors with their variety of voices
and nuns, those arch campaign-managers,
were pacing the campo in contrasting colors
as Jane and I muttered a red fandango.

A cloud flung Jane's skirt in my face
and the neighborhood boys saw such sights
as mortal eyes are usually denied. Arabian day!
she clicked her rhinestone heels! vistas of lace!

Our shouting knocked over a couple of palm trees
and the gaping sky seemed to reel at our mistakes,
such flashing purple insteps and careers
which bit with lavish envy the northern soldiers.

Then loud startling deliberation! Violet peered,
hung with silver trinkets, from an adobe slit,
escorted by a famished movie star, beau idéal!
crooning that dejected ballad, "Anne the Strip."

"Give me back my mink!" our Violet cried
"and cut out the heroics! I'm from Boston, remember."
Jane and I plotz! what a mysteriosabelle!
the fandango died on our lips, a wintry fan

And all that evening eating peanut paste and onions
we chattered, sad, of films and the film industry
and how ballet is dying. And our feet ached. Violet
burst into tears first, she is always in the nick of time.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The words of my book nothing, the drift of it everything. - Walt Whitman

New research continues to emphasize the importance of mind wandering for learning. It turns out that not paying attention is one of the best ways of discovering new ideas. Reading books, whether silently or aloud, remains one of the most efficient means of enabling such errant thinking. As our bodies rest, our minds begin to work in a different way. New connections, new pathways, and sharp turns are being made as we meander our way through the book, but also away from it. There is no way to tell if anyone is actually paying attention anymore as I read, including myself. This seems to be one of the great benefits of reading aloud, that you can think of something else while you do it. We may be holding the book together, but our minds are no doubt far apart by now. The fairy tale is the first story of childhood because it tells of such leaving behind (parents and home), of entering the dreamscape of the woods - and the mind. It tells of the crooked path of change. How can one know where reading books ends and dreaming in books begins? - Andrew Piper

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Letter from Pound to Eliot

Why dunt you NEVER talk TURKEY
                                                   I don't mind earning the rent, but whazz use of a letter all full of irrelevance. If I interrupt the flow of soul, life of reason, luminous effulgence of internal mediatation, stop playin tennis against Palmieri and in general lower the TONE of the tenor of my life, I gotter be PAID.
                                                   Why don't you say / will you do IO quid worth of hack work?
                                                   I mean if that's what you do mean. and say how many pages of typescript is necessary to keep the goddam M. 1 Econome from shaving off the last 8/ and 3d. I take it all I gotter do is to talk about Britches, not necessarily read the ol petrification?
                                         so DO be specific / Rabbit Britches indeed!!!
                    whaaar he git the plagazization of Rabbit aza name ANYHOW//
and as it we. stop my doing an article already begun on three blokes that aren't yet mortician's, I spose I cd. be aloud to make an occasional confronto between Britches' dulness and the serious unreadability of a few blokes that would write if they could, but at any rate don't pretend, like the buzzardly [lacuna]
proposed title of the article
                              Testicles versus Testament
           an embalmsamation of the Late Robert's Britches.
all the pseudo rabbits / Rabbit Brooks, Rabbit Britches / whot-ter hell / your own hare or a wig sir???
I spose I can cite the what I once said of Britches?
I managed to dig about IO lines of Worse Libre out of one of his leetle bookies. ONCT.
and then there iz the side line of Hupkins / couldn't you send and / or loan. In fact the pooplishers OUGHT to donate a Hup-kins, and the Pubkins LETTERS so az to treate Britches properly.
bak ground for an articl that wen't be as DULL oh bloodily as merely trying to yatter about wot be WROTE
Something ought certaintly to be done to prevent the sale of Oxford Press publications / thaaaar I AM wiff yuh.
and now getting to BIZNIZ / whatter bout that vullum of ez/?
who iza sleeink in THAT.
       and PUTSCH to the last degree. . . .

- Ezra Pound in Rapallo writing to T.S. Eliot in London in 1936 in response to Eliot's invitation to contribute an article on Robert Bridges to The Criterion.