9/22/17

On the Oppositional Element

The second volume of the Robert Frost Letters is out, and I've busted my budget to get my hands on a copy.  The first volume was lengthy and rich, and clearly only the tip of the trail.  A couple of fragments, from WH Pritchard's review (from the Fall, 2016 issue -- am catching up on my reading), Hopkins Review:


I was determined to have it out with my youngers and betters as to what thinking really was. We reached an agreement that most of what they had regarded as thinking, their own and other people's, was nothing but voting -- taking sides on an issue they had nothing to do with laying down.

Frost sets himself against "clash" in the classroom; debating and disagreeing was well enough for coming lawyers, politicians and theologians,

...but I should think there must be a whole realm or plane above that -- all sight and insight, perception, intuition, rapture ...Having ideas that are neither pro nor con.  The differences that make controversy become only the two legs of a body the weight of which is on one in one period, and on the other in the next.  Democracy, monarchy, puritanism, paganism, form, content, conservatism, radicalism, systole, diastole, rustic urbane, literary, colloquial, work, play. I should think too much of myself to let any teacher fool me into taking sides on any one of these oppositions. 







Of course this is the same guy who likened writing free verse to playing tennis without a net.   And of course he had his political views, but clearly he's  talking about the the classroom here, and particularly within the humanities.   

As a perpetual student and long time teacher, I'm left wondering what the classroom really is.  I've often said my two kids have been my greatest teachers.  The husband has taught me what love is.  And I've learned more from the scorpion, the ground squirrel, the scrub jay, and the mountain than I have in any classroom.  What's all that to do with humanities, or literature, in particular? My old friend Jack used to say, All learning is conversation.  

It would follow that I've been imagining Uncle Walt, Father Frost, and Grandmother Emily having a post-modern beer in a dusty bar called The American Sublime.  

When I come back to earth, it doesn't end well.  The beer too hoppy.  Walt makes a pass at Frost, Frost takes a poke at Emily, and she ends up eyeballing the door. 

In my own teaching or presenting, (often outside the halls of academia, and often within it, as an outlier), I've the luxury of saying things like: 

When we speak of writing formal poems, we often place an emphasis on the technical aspects: scansion, the integrity of the line, the requirements of the various fixed forms, etc.  In the midst of all this, it’s easy to forget that the reason versecraft exists is to create a vocabulary in which to describe what the ear already knows.  In other words, prosody, or the study of the meters, is useful in providing the terms with which to talk about poems, but not so much in the making of poems. 

More and more, students and facilitators are telling me they're interested in learning versecraft, are interested in the fixed forms, want to know what makes a sonnet tick, desire a working understanding of the iambic line, and even express an inexplicable interest in rhyme.    

On the one paw, I'm delighted New Formalism (a movement I've long been associated with, though I'd no idea it existed at the time), has begun to shed some of its archaic and stodgy reputation.  On the other paw, I find myself astonished by how quickly a pendulum can swing...I've been seeing formal work alongside vers libre in all manner of journals and anthologies of late -- something unheard of twenty years ago -- has there been a profound shift in aesthetics, receptivity, consciousness, reading habits ?  

Or are poets and editors ....(gasp) ....fashionistas ?





No matter, Poetry says, I've a way of dismissing these things.







Excellent, says Politics, I've a way of clinging to them.

Ah, the Humanities, oh the Classroom, egad, and mother of crisis, Politics! 

From deep in the bowels of myth, tradition and consciousness, science gurgles, religion coughs, and the eyes and ears of social media flicker on and off.  

This might be construed as the rough beast stirring, a random electrical blip, or an innocent, wide-eyed blink. 





Yes, I've no choice but stick with poetry.  It's a good thing in the end, I suppose, when one's inclination is also one's bane, one's practice, and one's sanctuary.  Below, a mighty fine introduction/meditation on the subject, (Natasha Tretheway), and a sampling from the 2017 Best American Poetry, out last month, in which yrs truly appears, in full feather jacket:




And a couple of other little poems of mine, from the current HR: