Friday, July 29, 2011

the big day

Update, August 12:  here we are, having done the deed!

Those zebras are going to have to wait yet another week, because suddenly, after 20 years and two children together, my beloved and I decided to tie the knot----you know, officially and publicly, with a license---because who knows how long same-sex marriage will stay legal in DC., and who knows how long until it's legal in Maryland?  So the big day will take place down in the big city and the ceremony has been hastily cobbled together this week around the theme of  "unconventional"--best expressed by our 8-year-old son's decision to wear a black tuxedo, accessorized with a sombrero.  Really.

Here are words I find appropriate on such a momentous little occasion.  I just read that e. e. cummings was criticized for his failure to grow as a poet, and one reviewer called him "a case of arrested development."  But I'm with Edward Estlin: I say that keeping that beginner's wonder at "the root of the root and the bud of the bud" through decades is what grows the tree called life [called love] so sky high.

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
....................................i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

~ e.e. cummings

Visit Kate for more poetry love at Book Aunt, and think of me and Fiona, the Spice Girls (spouse girl + spouse girl = Spice Girls) on Saturday morning!

Friday, July 15, 2011

we interrupt this poetry blog remark on how thrilling it was for our whole family to attend a midnight showing of You-Know-What 7 Part II last night.  Recently at The Miss Rumphius Effect Tricia had a Poetry Stretch in which she mused about the "small moments" our children may remember (check out Steven's clever, frozen-moment spincentric response, among others).  While this moment together at the Avalon Theatre in DC was not small--and I know that my daughter's entire childhood has been colored by Harry & Co (though I'm proud to say that her favorite character has always been the distasteful, complicated, ambiguous Snape)--the yawning, flaky day we're having today and even the cheat for my younger son, who has now seen three movies without reading the books first, is totally worth it.  Too bad I have no commemorative poem to share.

So here's something else to amuse (and I'll get back to those zebras another week when my EfficientOrganizedBrain has returned from vacation). One of the things I like best in the series is parsing the linguistic and connotative meanings of all the spells and incantations:  flash poems, you might call them, and try "Wingardium leviosa" with that thought in mind.

One of my personal favorite moments of the film was when Professor McGonagall begins to protect Hogwarts Castle with the spell "Piertotum locomotor," which brings to life the statues and suits of armor of Hogwarts' walls and halls to "Man the boundaries, protect us, do your duty to our school!" [spoiler alert] Then she turns to Molly Weasley and says with a kind of dizzy, desperate pleasure, "I have always wanted to use that spell." (This line is not in the book, I find.)

As the animated warriors pound towards the boundaries, all I could think of was the scene from "Bedknobs and Broomsticks,"  the 1971 Disney film in which the fledgling witch Miss Price brings a similar army to life against the Nazis using Substitutiary Locomotion and a very different incantation:  "Treguna mekoides tracorum satis dee." 

It's a scene with a much more humorous tone from that of the Deathly Hallows battle, but shows equally the magical power of the right words.  As you embark on your weekend, "protego!"

Find more powerful incantations over at  A Year of Reading with Mary Lee.

Friday, July 8, 2011

what I like helps you figure out what you like

I've been thinking a lot about the essay I found earlier this week, "In Praise of Promiscuous Thinking," on Charles Bernstein’s Attack of the Difficult Poems and David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless.  Both are books that, as essayist Joel Brouwer says, "have things to say about how to read poems in general, as opposed to this or that specific poem." Both are also books that I would never read, although of course I'm intensely interested in how good poems do what they do, in what makes a poem "good."

Why wouldn't I read them? Because I know what I like and what I don't, what combinations of words tingle the tips of my synapses (flowing all around into every sensory cell not to mention my spiritual human heart) and what combinations leave me flat, bored or even exasperated at the waste of perfectly good words. In other words, I don't need any help to figure out what is a good poem; it's a fairly black-and-white situation. (I think most kids who have any opinion would say the same thing.)

But wait! Didn't I read Brouwer's essay with the same tingling delight as a really great new poem? Why? What did I get out of it that made me want to share it? What has kept me thinking all week about it?

Oh. Heh. Brouwer writes illuminatingly about why he likes poems but doesn't like Poetry, and about his experiences of reading poetry criticism as well as poems, and about his reactions to these two books.  Because his whole point is that there is no point in telling people what to like or why, in reading his critique of poetry criticism, I'm free to decide how I agree, or disagree, or agree with reservations, or agree resoundingly, as with:

"By a lovable criticism, I mean a criticism that allows space for its readers’ imaginations without compromising its own convictions; which ventures its ideas rather than asserting them; which would rather start a conversation than end one; which not only speaks but also listens; which admits and embraces uncertainties. A lovable criticism is a criticism willing to make itself vulnerable, willing even to embarrass itself." *

In reading about another person's inexplicable personal preferences, exquisitely explained, I come to a renewed and refined understanding of my own inexplicable preferences, which leads me to want to try explaining them as exquisitely, in case what I like helps you figure out what you like.  It is a strange and ambiguous process--not very black-and-white but certainly not grey--which leads directly to my first rule of poetry teaching: "Share Only Poems That You Love," and its corollary: "Don't Expect Every Child To Love Them Like You Do."

With a new appreciation for the purpose of criticism, later this week I'm going to compare two zebra poems previously referenced here thanks to Andromeda:  one that I love and think is good, and one that I think is a waste of perfectly good words.  It'll be a good challenge for me, and maybe it will help someone else better understand what they like when it comes to poems.

The sweet and searing round-up is with Elaine at Wild Rose Reader today.

*This passage is enlightening as it is, but try substituting any number of  items in place of  "lovable criticism"--poem, teacher, spouse!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

because it's lovable

I have carefully resisted invitations to "StumbleUpon" or "digg" all the gloriously random but gripping content of the internet for the same reason that I never make marshmallow treats at home:  because I love them too much.  That makes accidentally Stumbling Upon something I really digg even sweeter and stickier.

Consider this, from a review of two new books on the why of poetry by poet Joel Brouwer:

"So for both Bernstein and Orr, poems have “inner lives” and are capable of “coming to life” as we read them, and there are reasons to love them. All this would suggest that poems are, as a class, inherently meaningful and appealing. But Bernstein is committed to the idea that any effort to understand those meanings is not only doomed but misguided, and Orr arrives at the underwhelming conclusion that if poems happen to appeal to you for some reason, then they will appeal to you for that reason.

Both authors appear to be practicing criticism as tautology. The meaning of a poem is that we ask ourselves what it means. If the poem is valuable, it’s because it is. Orr approvingly quotes Italo Calvino’s conclusion to his essay “Why Read the Classics?”: “The only reason one can possibly adduce is that to read the classics is better than not to read the classics.” Such an argument seems easily defended, but also irritatingly easy, and I can foresee it eliciting one of two perfectly reasonable reactions from readers. The first would be to get peeved and demand that the critic stop pussyfooting around already and tell us what he thinks we should think, so that we can agree or disagree with him and get on with it."

And then:

"You may be thinking all this sounds like a lot of ivory-tower horse****. That may be, but beneath it lies a simple and straightforward concern. I worry that contemporary readers and writers of poetry and poetry criticism, a constituency you’d think would be capable of being in uncertainties and eager to dwell in possibility and all that, are too often too quick to judge one another’s ideas right or wrong. I don’t want to oversimplify Bernstein as having nothing more to say than “difficulty and experimentation are good; accessibility and received forms are bad,” and Orr as having nothing more to say than “if you gave poetry a chance, you might like it!” I propose that we greet simplistic and reductive rhetoric not with more of the same but with lenity and mischief. I propose that the next time someone tells you that blogs, Twitter, critical theory, Garrison Keillor, the AAP, the AWP, the MLA, the MFA, Billy Collins, publishing conglomerates, obscurity, accessibility, John Ashbery, hip-hop, online publishing, Charles Bernstein, David Orr, or anything or anyone else is “killing poetry,” you proffer your responding deposition in the form of a spear of summer grass. I propose we desert our posts in the poetry wars and wander off in search of more creative and intimate ways of interacting with criticism.

I don’t need Bernstein’s or Orr’s critical positions to be correct or incorrect—I don’t need them at all—but I want them to be . . . oh, let’s say “lovable.” (I choose the term in part because it’s embarrassing, vague, and dorky; criticism marked by cool, clear confidence is exactly what I’m trying to discredit.) By a lovable criticism, I mean a criticism that allows space for its readers’ imaginations without compromising its own convictions; which ventures its ideas rather than asserting them; which would rather start a conversation than end one; which not only speaks but also listens; which admits and embraces uncertainties. A lovable criticism is a criticism willing to make itself vulnerable, willing even to embarrass itself."

Do go and read the rest of this incisive (in the way that marshamallows and Rice Krispies are incisive) and entertaining consideration of how poetry matters.