Monday, September 29, 2014

"American Poetry Managerial Decision," by Hans Ostrom

"And now out of the dugout strides the pitching coach, Cotton Mather. He signals for the closer, Emily Dickinson."

"That's right, Chuck, Manager Frederick Douglass has decided to remove starting pitcher Walt Whitman  and take his chances with the diminutive right-hander."

"Well, Juan, Walt had  very little control tonight, and his line-count was way up there. I think it's  good move, Juan."

"Me, too, Chuck. I mean, you have to like Whitman's swagger, the way he sings himself, but it's hard to argue with Douglass's move. Dickinson has been in these situations before!"

"You  bet, Juan--and here's Emily throwing her warm-up tosses to catcher Henry "The Hammer" James.  Her lines get there in a hurry, but she also has that uncanny ability to take a little something off the rhyme. She keeps the other team off-balance!"

hans ostrom 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Of Rock and Roll," by Hans Ostrom

Straight-ahead, drive-it-through
rock n roll: sure, I understood it.
It was and is a loco-motive, a choo-choo train.
Noisy. Fun. I liked it.

R&B: well, to me
it seemed to be an octopus-shaped
alien ship covered in purple velvet,
wielding hammers, rolling out
blues in rhythms, landing here
to deliver the news about love
and work and sex and being
Black in Whiteville and being White
in Whiteville and desperately needing
the news. R&R never quite

did the same thing for me. It's probably
about more than taste or eras.
R&R, for all its value, seemed
like a filtration process; rhythm-and-
blues did not seem that. Seemed
a vast cultivation.


hans ostrom

"Recruiting More Students and Colleagues of Color at Liberal Arts Colleges: The Ten Essentials," by Hans Ostrom




(These are some remarks I'll give today for a panel on institutional change at the 3rd national Race and Pedagogy Conference, which is happening now where I teach, at the University of Puget Sound.  This successful conference is the brain-child of Professor Dexter Gordon, Director of African American Studies and the Race and Pedagogy Initiative,  and Professor Grace Livingston, who teaches in the program (as do I) and many, many collaborators.)

My main point of reference for this discussion is the University of Puget Sound, where I’ve taught for many years, but the discussion is really about the liberal arts college, as a model of higher education in general, and diversity, not about Puget Sound per se. 

I think that over the past decade and especially in recent years, the discussion about liberal arts colleges and diversity has shifted.  I’ve observed a change in the terms of the argument for diversity, from a kind of “it’s something we ought to do/it’s our obligation” to “it’s a matter of survival.”  In other words, the demographics have caught up with liberal arts colleges, which haven’t adjusted quickly enough.

So one organizing principle of my ten essentials, which I’ll distribute in a moment, is that a sense of obligation, progressive notions, public relations, and so on, aren’t enough to push the change that needs to occur.

A second organizing principle is that liberal arts colleges probably have to be more self-critical as they re-examine their assumptions, their ways of doing things, how they are perceived, and the rhetoric they use to describe themselves.  [refer to the Whitman example].

Third and last, I’d like to say that some good things came of the old model, which by and large sprang from a sense of noblesse oblige.  Real changes in co-curricular programs, curricula, defining academic and administrative positions, supporting conferences like this have occurred over the last few decades at many if not most liberal arts colleges. But that way of doing things has probably yielded all it can yield, so that now some long-delayed fundamental change must occur.  With that, . . . here is the list:

1.            Think of diversity as a necessity, not just  “a good thing.”

2.            The Board of Trustees/Regents (etc.) must regard diversity as a necessity.

3.            Find out who in the institution opposes diversity, and why, and be prepared to persuade them otherwise or move ahead without them.

4.            Find out what students and parents of color, colleagues of color, and the local community really think about your college and diversity.

5.            Spend the money.

6.            Consider the degree to which the college’s rhetoric about itself is exclusive or insular.

7.            Stop rejecting “vocation-speak”; employment after college should be of primary concern to liberal arts colleges, and it's connected to the concerns of all prospective college-students and it's of special concern arguably, to students from a variety of ethnic minorities.  (Recall that at least 5 of the original 7 liberal arts were what we might call vocational: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, and geometry, the other 2 being music and astronomy.)

8.            Achieve  a critical mass of students and colleagues of color ASAP.  What constitutes a critical mass? The students and colleagues of color, among others, will let you know. Until then, carry on.

9.            Find out in what venues and circumstances students and colleagues of color are most likely to be alienated and respond accordingly.

10.          What are you willing to change about the “liberal arts college” paradigm?

Hans Ostrom, Professor of African American Studies and English, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington USA


Some Sources:

[the list of the original 7 liberal arts can be found on numerous sites online]

“The Most Economically Diverse Liberal Arts Colleges,” The Upshot, New York Times, Sept. 8, 2014.

David Leonhardt, “Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class, Poor,” New York Times,  Sept. 8, 2014.


Katherine McClelland and Carol J. Auster, “Public Platitudes and Hidden Tensions: Racial Climates at Predominantly White Liberal Arts Colleges,”  Journal of Higher Education Vol. 61, No. 6, Nov. - Dec., 1990. 607-642.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"He Is Not a Random Man," by Hans Ostrom


A headline mumbled to me,
"Random man pricked with syringe,
told 'Welcome to the HIV club.'"
He's going to be okay, the man,
because of immediate medical attention.

Except that a headline writer
tried to turn him into a random man.

He is not a random man. He is
the man he is, none other. He
may have been randomly pricked.
But random pricking does not

a random man make.


2014 hans ostrom




Samuel Johnson on Patronage





Monday, September 22, 2014

"Practice Safe Poetry," by Hans Ostrom

How well do you know
the words you're using in poems?
How many other poets have used them?
How many of those poets are infected?

Practice safe writing. Do you know
the proper way to put a condom
on your cursor--or someone else's?
How clean are your pens?

When reading poems in public,
consider wearing a helmet
and safety glasses.

Be aware of your surroundings.
Check for enforcers sent from
various Schools of Poetry. Never

get between an ambitious poet
and a prize or a high poetic office.

Get your poems tested!


hans ostrom 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Chekhov's Pistol," by Hans Ostrom

In this play I play
the role of William Shakespeare,
who is inside one of his sonnets on stage.
"I" stand in the glass cube (the sonnet),
on the walls

of which the words from the sonnet
appear. "I" shout the words
in random order. "I" strike
the words, curse, and stomp.

Someone pretending to care
comes and lets me out of the
cube. "I" introduce myself
as Bill S., an actor-playwright.
"Hi, Bill!" everyone shouts.
The set shifts.

I'm pushed under a kitchen
table: yep, an American play.
I fall asleep and snore and am
kicked by actors who are
drawing on their experience,
expressing truth, blah blah.

The American playwright
is in the audience, and under
orders from his management,
he acts like he's drunk,
bellicose, and talented.

No longer "I," "I" get out
from under the table and "kill"
all the characters with
a Renaissance sword--
revenge and all that shit.

Now Chekhov comes on stage
with a pistol and shoots me dead.
Dude, it is very cool. The actor's
from Sweden.

hans ostrom 2014

"We're Very Agreeable," by Hans Ostrom

How lovely of us to help
others keep us under surveillance
with devices we have solemnly,
enthusiastically purchased. A
good citizen is an informed citizen.

Some of us stand in line and ready
to trample each other to get mitts
on the new stuff. We're eager
to help states and corporations
know where we are and what
we're p to. Lovingly we tap

our devices with finger and thumbs.
We message, instantly! We opine.
We stay in touch. We stay in range.


hans ostrom 2014

"Mere Dissolution," by Hans Ostrom

Too tired to attend
the Entropy Conference in Antwerp,
Professor A.P. Ledlox stayed home.

He sipped cryptic broth
and fell apart emotionally.

He stared out the window
at an alleged landscape
(smears of gray and brown).

Oh, for a whiff of
a young woman's neck, oh
for a swim in an alpine lake, oh
for chrissakes shut up, he
told himself: It's

dissolution, mine. Yearning
will not halt or decorate it.


hans ostro 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Prizes," by Hans Ostrom

Paradigm-shift 327.B.3 (revised)
stipulates that anyone expressing
or harboring interest in winning
prestigious prizes, awards, honors,
etc., shall receive it or them. Oscars,
Nobels, National Book Awards,
Pulitzers, Grammies, Laureates,
Man Booker Prizes, Woman Booker
Prizes, Dude Booger Prizes, etc.

After a brief period of mass-elation,
everyone will become unenthusiastic
about such crap. Total devaluation
of such prizes will ensue (the process
began long ago, truth to tell).

Whether more important matters
shall occupy us . . . shall remain
something else to hope for.

At least celebrity will come
to look like a deflated soccer-ball
withering on a dry lake-bed.



hans ostrom

"Anatomy of a Common Misfit," by Hans Ostrom

Sometimes he observes
neighbors, how they drive cars,
converse with each other, walk,
stand, live; and it seems to him

they're really comfortable
with these tasks of living.

He feels awkward by comparison;
and he compares. He feels
not comfortable.

He wishes he had sought
special training in his 20s,
not on the tasks themselves
(he knows how to do them,
and he does them)
but in the being-comfortable
part. Comfort with what
is alleged to be routine.

Now he can't change,
even if he wanted to.
The most he can do
is pretend to have
adapted properly. And
that's not so bad. He'll
leave genuine easy
living to the neighbors,
whom he waves at
in terribly awkward ways,
for example.

He belongs to a demotic
species--the Common Misfit.


hans ostrom 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014