Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Nub of the Matter


Nub of the Matter

I hate to break this news to me,
but logic dictates I don't matter.
Out of not much matter, I am made,
and such matter as I do comprise
does not export significance.

Particles of matter disperse and reconvene anew,
I know. Any one state of particulate
coherence may be lovely (rhododendron
flower, son's smile) or may be me, whom
I like well enough, but in any case, what
so ensues? In relation to everything,
I'm merest particle of perpetual change.

Only matter can make me. I've already
been made up. Dissolution's penciled in
on a calendar Heraclitus keeps next
to his river of fire. Only God can make
me matter. This is the nub of the matter,
the God's honest truth.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom

Nostalgia for Nothing


Nostalgia for Nothing

The things I don't remember
about childhood are the ones
I miss the most: nights I
slipped quickly into untroubled
sleep, pine-boughed days through
which I tumbled and pretended--
I'm just guessing here. How exotic

the town of Childhood seems.
To think: I once lived there, or so
I tell me. Childhood is a village
with its own sun and moon,
a silver silo full of long days,
a golden clock-tower. It is
a place filled with people
who passed on from here.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How to be a Cat



*
*
*
*
*
*
*How To Be A Cat

Be the noble curator of your excellence, for
fate made you perfect. In all things, be precise:
standing, sitting, staring, walking, sniffing, eating,
sleeping, killing. Never look in mirrors,
which are windows for the insecure. Sleep
in a variety of comfortable places, which
were created for you alone. Make acquaintances,
never friends. The latter tend to cling.

All phenomena are potential enemies. Therefore,
stare, listen, listen, stare, sniff, stare, listen, sniff,
hide, stare, and listen. Never perform tricks. Leave
those to dogs, who need to be wanted and want
to be liked. Talk as necessary, but never just
to chit-chat. Crack the whip of feline fury as
you wish. Keep the blades of your four feet sharp
and retracted like long-held resentments. Let
your soul's motor idle and strum the taut cord
of your body. No one owns you.

God made you and likes you best. In a world
that's dubious, you are certain. You never
make mistakes. You are entitled to what
you want; otherwise, why would you want it?
No matter what else you may be undertaking,
never be reticent to stop and groom yourself,
for you are superb, and self-maintenance
doubles as self-admiration. You are a cat,
a form of beauty that enters stealthily,
naps, and agrees to be admired. You
are a cat. Everything is as it should be.


Hans Ostrom
Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Folk Music


Folk Music

Some strumming sums up sundown,
down on the brown bank by a riverside--
be it banjo, guitar, mandolin--or
some kind of eerie zephyr overloaded
with the recently departed. "How did it
get started--this music?" Good question.
Save it for later. Now we must listen
to thump, pluck, and twang, above which
is sung a rough, melodious tale. The song
roots us to a plowed heritage, a furrowed
alluvial communal pain, a bedecked extravagance
of crops, and fatal work. Yes, we must drop
what we're thinking and listen for and under
a spell, hear harmonies swell against apron,
shack-wall, levee, and archive. The instruments
are made of wood. So are the trees. The songs
are made of air. So is the wind. The people
are made of memories. So are the songs,
the folks' songs.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom

Wary Souls

Wary Souls

The soul enters
a public realm,
so soon becomes
the fool

by feeling it
must say or do
too much--dance
with Rule,

court Expectation.
Pride-inflation
balloons the soul,
who abhores

but can't elude
the puffery patrol.
Relentless baiters
of the soul,

ubiquitous louts:
shame on them.
Godspeed to those
souls who can

remain intact
and self-contained--
looking out of eyes,
sensing what is wise.

Wary souls--
seen them?
I have. They
wait and watch.

I watch and
wait for them
to exemplify for
me a better path.


Copyright Hans Ostrom 2008

This and That

Is there a large American media-outlet that can still practice worthy journalism? I doubt it. The NYT--either by choice or through incompetence--promulgated Bush's nonsense about about why we should invade and occupy Iraq. Tonight, CNN characterized Scott McClellan's "revelations" (Bush was more interested in propaganda than truth!) as a "bombshell." I can't wait for tomorrow's report concerning the fact that rain comes from clouds. . . .

. . . .Has anyone explored the possibilities of lunar power? Before I concede that I'm a lunatic, here's what I mean: the gravitational competition between Earth and Moon yanks the oceans around, creating huge forces of water that are not unlike the forces of water in dams. Why couldn't some smart engineers come up with a design for under-water turbines, strategically placed at, say, the Tacoma Narrows?

. . . .I'll need to be convinced that Obama can beat McCain. I know he beat Clinton, but McCain's campaign may be even more competent than hers--imagine that. And so far, I can't name one state that "voted" for Bush that won't vote for McCain.

. . . .I do wish someone would ask McCain and Obama who their favorite poets and novelists are. I realize there are four or five million more pressing issues out there, but I think the answers would serve as an ink-blot test.

. . . . .Tomorrow I'm going to hear a lecture by an expert in Science, Technology, and Society; by a biologist; and by an archaeologist who specializes in Holy Land digs. The topic is "Creation and Science." The Jesuits perceive no tension between humankind's science and God's creation, nor do I. For the sake of argument, let us assume that something, some force, created what is. Scientists study what is, or at least what they think is. What's the problem? I do not subscribe to the "intelligent design" "theory" because it is anthropomorphic. What we deem "intelligent" must seem moronic to any entity more intelligent than we are, including God. There's a good chance we are, at best, the rubes of the galaxy, if not of this sector of the universe. After all, we have fouled our nest. Not even birds do that.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What I'm Reading Now

Not that you asked, but here's what I'm reading (and I usually have 5-6 books going at once, a practice that drives some people with different reading habits figuratively crazy):

The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day's autobiography--of interest to those wanting to know more not just about her but about radical politics in the early 20th century (socialism, anarchist-movements, organized labor, "distributism," anti-war movements, etc.), the Catholic Worker movement, whether politics and religion can intermingle effectively, women and religion, working-class life in Chicago and New York City, and the progressive/populist strain in Catholicism. Oddly enough, Day experienced the great S.F. earthquake, although she and her family were living in Berkeley, so their home wasn't destroyed. Apparently, the quake-proper lasted over 2 minutes. Of course, animals felt it coming as early as the evening before, she and others report.

Early Christian Rhetoric, Amos Wilder--older brother of Thornton.

The Beggar, by Naguib Mahfouz--Egyptian novelist, winner of the Nobel Prize.

The Walls of Jericho, a novel by Harlem Renaissance writer Rudolph Fisher. This partly for work, as I agreed to write an article on Fisher.

Selected Poems, A.R. Ammons. He was born in North Carolina but is associated, too, with New England. Free verse, but highly attentive to sound; rooted in everyday life, as W.C. Williams's poetry is, but Ammons strays from imagism and often writes tight little conceptual or meditative poems. I rather like this philosophical aspect of his poetry. He's also a master of very short poems. He can be whimsical, like cummings.

My books were finally paroled from storage, but they are in a half-way house situation--still sitting in boxes, awaiting the construction of shelves. More slowly than the tortoise, I'm cataloguing them on LibraryThing.

That's my bookish update. I'll leave you (or someone) with an epigram from Oscar Wilde: "A cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

More Epigrams

Epigrams are satisfying to try to write also because they are free-standing assertions, the rest of the essay having disappeared or never materialized. This situations is quite pleasing when one wearies of encumbering his or her opinions with evidence. Sententiousness Lite! I do encourage you to write epigrams, of which there cannon be an over-abundance.

Some additional epigrams:

1. No one has ever said to me, "Your Majesty, I beseech you"; what a curious oversight.

2. There are no beautiful cities.

3. It's no accident that we haven't heard much about Pavlov's Cat.

4. If regret were the same as repair, I'd feel better about the past.

5. The Earth is a function of the sun, which is an obscure star, so let's not get ahead of ourselves.

6. Destiny is a manifestly melodramatic concept.

7. Hope is one way wisdom expresses fondness for folly.

8. Reason is like a long, well mapped road. We should take it as far as it goes but know it will stop; then we must rely on something else.

9. Poverty is hell.

10. Evil is inexplicable.

11. Memo to self: You are here because some people were generous and other people were mistreated; therefore, you should be thankful and mindful.

12. A cold night is nobody's friend. A mild evening is nobody's enemy.

13. Receiving an award is a way in which one's obscure future tricks one's gullible present.

14. If, in a stressful situation, you don't know what else to do, then drink some water, eat some food, and take a nap.

15. Atheists should have enough faith in atheism not to try to convert believers.

16. If you feel compelled to smell left-over food to determine whether it's edible, it isn't.

17. Never stand in line to give someone money.

18. If in doubt about your behavior, tell the truth and then apologize.

19. Humility is the temporary suspension of the amnesis that led one to forget he or she is flawed and unimportant.

20. Whatever a cat does is done for a good reason, which is not always apparent to humans.

21. God is everything added together plus one.

22. Grace is the sum that results from adding love to absurdity.

23. Faith is getting out of bed after you have slept and going to sleep after you have been awake.

24. Of course we must seek answers, and of course we must expect that when we find them, they will have changed the questions.

25. A system which demands conformity is not sure about its rationale for being and is probably in flight from its inherent flaws. A system is more likely to adapt and to thrive when it is able to absorb creative tension and the interplay of difference.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Epigrams

I've always liked reading epigrams. Sometimes they're jokes, as in Twain's "Wagner's music is better than it sounds," sometimes they're bits of folk-wisdom ("A stitch in time saves nine"), and sometimes they're philosophical appetizers, as in "Narrative is the art of making time legible," which I think Kate Haake wrote, but I'm not sure--she may have adapted it from someone.

I've long wanted to write epigrams; perhaps very short poems qualify as such. When I have the pithy phrasing ready, the wisdom-part fails me, and when I'm able at least to fake some wisdom, the pithiness isn't there, but I decided to forge on and write some.

Epigrams

1. Most epigrams are too sententious to love but too brief to resent.

2. Epigrams are linguistic actors pretending to be wisdom; they are the bit-players of philosophical drama.

3. A good question is a great gift. A great question is a revelation.

4. Ultimately, competition is tedious, and cooperation is intriguing.

5. Prayer is the art of being still when your mind wants to be in flight.

6. Poetry is a way language plays with humans.

7. All friendships should last longer.

8. All novels could be shorter; even in almost perfect novels, there's at least one extra word.

9. One's name is an accident that feels like an inevitability.

10. If you're illiterate, you can't read this, but you will not have missed anything.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Blog-Map of Sweden

I just found a blog-map of Sweden. What's not to like about that?

http://bloggkartan.se/klick/

I wonder if there's a blog-map of the U.S.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ecology

It's a bit disorienting for me to witness and experience the problems we--the U.S. and the rest of the world--are having with starvation, global warming, fuel, and poverty.

I don't know exactly why, but I got involved with what was known as the "ecology" movement as early as 1970. By involved I mean chiefly interested: I started doing some reading. Like The Population Bomb. Silent Spring (of course). Ray Dasmann's The Destruction of California. A book called Nixon and the Environment. Oddly enough, a philosophy professor of mine at a wee community college ended up crafting a manifesto for Deep Ecology. His name is George Sessions. He brought ecological thought into a year-long history of philosophy--in 1972. Well done, George. He used an article by Lynn White--called something like "The Judeo-Christian Roots of the Ecology Crisis." Not a terribly popular article at the time, but now, guess what: even fundamentalist Christian churches are interested in the environment.

Then I joined Friends of the Earth, which at the time was considered the more radical counterpart to the Sierra Club. I don't think Friends of the Earth exists anymore. They published a newsletter called Not Man Apart, the title of which is an echo from a poem by Robinson Jeffers. I wrote letters to Congress. I remember sending some money to a project aimed at saving eagle-habitats. The (bald) eagle is doing all right now, but I can't take any credit. The amount I sent in was minute, and who knows whether that project helped at all? One throws some cash into the abyss of time and hopes it helps.

The dire predictions about over-population, over-consumption, bad planning, and laissez-faire economics seem to be coming true. A question I had back then was whether capitalism was compatible with environmentalism. Communism, of course, was no bargain for the environment, chiefly because in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe, it was trying to match the U.S. and the West factory for factory, bomb for bomb. So my question wasn't and isn't a loaded one. I just always wondered how a system driven by the illusion of unlimited supplies, unlimited amounts of land, and "need" where there is no need (I do not anything they want to sell me on TV for $19.95, but wait, there's more) could last in a finite system.

When we first moved to Tacoma, we had to recycle everything voluntarily. We'd load up newspaper, glass, metal, cardboard, and plastic, and take it out to a place near the dump. They paid pennies per pound, and we always had a mock celebration when we'd get a $1.50 for a whole load of stuff.

I am well aware of Jimmy Carter's faults, but I still don't know why the U.S. didn't listen to him about energy. Okay, I do know why the U.S. didn't listen to him. Because he was drowned out by the din of corporations and the advertisers' fondest dream, Ronald Reagan. And because no one likes to plan ahead more than about a week.

When it comes to things like the Civil Rights Movement and a comprehensive fuel-plan, I get very impatient with the theoretical arguments and free-market or states'-rights excuses (respectively, in reverse). In fact, the federal government does need to step in during crises and do the right thing, and people have to let corporations and states know that they, the people, are going to go along with the program. Eisenhower had to send troops to Little Rock. White citizens of Arkansas had to back off and take their lumps.

Somebody needs to set some tough-ass mileage-standards, jump-start renewable energy-sources, and tax the living daylights out of the oil giants to grab back some of that stolen cash and inject it into research, etc. I know the arguments about how "the market is working" to create new kinds of cars and reduce fuel-consumption, but the market never works fast enough, and the market doesn't plan ahead beyond the next quarterly stock-report. If the Saudis accidentally put "too much" oil on the market, the original Hummer would be back on the market, driven by soccer-moms and soccer-dads who can't resist advertising (and who can't park the damned beast). Actually, big gub-ment, as Reagan pronounced it, comes in handy sometimes, for pragmatic reasons. And Reagan himself believed in more big gub-ment than did Carter. Reagan began the gigantic deficits, and he injected billions into the military-industrial complex. He just didn't like things such as unions (workers' right), federal limits on corporations, and stuff for poor and working people.

And so ends a Friday rant.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Glimpse in Words

One of my favorite detective novelists is Georges Simenon, who wrote many dozens of short, crisp novels featuring the Parisian police-inspector, Jules Maigret, an ursine man who's both methodical and intuitive, who smokes a pipe, drinks beer and liquor, and who often goes home for lunch, for which Madame Maigret has fixed him a chicken roasted with herbs and wine. There's always a believable psychological angle to the plot--usually nothing bizarre, usually something rooted in common human behavior, such as jealousy, envy, or insecurity.

I was reading one of the few translated Maigret novels I hadn't read before--Maigret Among the Rich--and encountered this description of Maigret, who's arrived on the scene of--you guessed it--a murder, but the victim is a well known French aristocrat:

"[Maigret] had to get used to the unfamiliar setting, to a house, to a way of life, to people who had their own peculiar habits, their own way of thinking and expressing themselves.
With certain categories of human beings, it was relatively easy, for instance with his more or less regular customers or with people like them.
With others he had to start from scratch every time, especially as he distrusted rules and ready-made ideas.
In this new case, he was laboring under an additional handicap. He had made contact, this morning, with a world which was not only very exclusive but which for him, on account of his childhood, was situated on a very special level."

I glimpsed just a wee bit of myself in this description--not that I imagine myself to be a detective or French. But I share the fictional Maigret's sense of nonconformity, which is nonetheless encased in apparently conforming behavior. What could be a more conformist job that policing? And yet Maigret has to get used to every new situation--because he doesn't trust "rules and ready-made ideas." He remains something of a foreigner in his native land. Among the rich, he feels especially strange because he's not rich but also because his father worked for the rich. My father didn't work for the rich, but I still feel strange among people who have substantial wealth. Like Maigret, I feel as if I should keep an eye on them to see how they go about things--what their rules and ready-made ideas are. Doing so doesn't make a lot of sense; it's not as if I'm going to live amongst them or be their friend. Nonetheless, a certain wariness seems to be called up by the situation, and I liked glimpsing a representation of that in this description of Maigret. (I also like the fact that Simenon has Maigret think of the people he usually investigates and arrests as his "customers.")

Simenon happens to be a fine novelist, not just a fine detective novelist. But as wildly popular as he is--he's in Agatha Christie's league--his books are an acquired taste. If you pick up one and "get" the comparatively low-key but tautly written approach, you'll want to devour the rest. If not, not. Unlike Christie's books, however, Simenon's move quickly. Simenon doesn't rush, but he doesn't dawdle, either.

Maigret's among my favorite fictional detectives--along with Miss Marple, Sherlock (of course), Kurt Wallander (Henning Mankell's Swedish policeman), Nero Wolfe, Poirot, and Sam Spade. Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone is appealing, as is Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins. Maigret might have a slight edge over them all, in the sense that I never seem to tire of following him around his fictional Paris and other locales, including his drafty office, his cafes, and his bistros. He seems to fit in, but in fact, the world doesn't fit him so well. The world takes some getting used to, in Maigret's opinion.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ezra Pound on Gloom

Here is a relatively early poem by Ezra Pound:

Ballad on Gloom

FOR God, our God is a gallant foe
That playeth behind the veil.

I have loved my God as a child at heart
That seeketh deep bosoms for rest,
I have loved my God as a maid to man—
But lo, this thing is best.

To love your God as a gallant foe that plays behind the veil;
To meet your God as the night winds meet beyond Arcturus' pale.

I have played with God for a woman,
I have staked with my God for truth,
I have lost to my God as a man, clear-eyed—
His dice be not of ruth.

For I am made as a naked blade,
But hear ye this thing in sooth

Who loseth to God as man to man
Shall win at the turn of the game.
I have drawn my blade where the lightnings meet
But the ending is the same:

For God, our God is a gallant foe that playeth behind the veil.
Whom God deigns not to overthrow hath need of triple mail.


The diction here is pre-Modernist, especially for Pound, who would soon advocate the overthrow of almost everything Victorian and Edwardian in poetry, but the sentiments are certainly Modern. God isn't quite dead yet, in the sense Nietzsche meant that phrase, but God is certainly complicated, even inscrutable, in the poem. The speaker, however, remains distinctly heroic--and male. The last line is darned good: If God decides not to overthrow you--well, that's when you'll really need to be tough.

Is the poem really about gloom--despair and depression? Maybe. It's certainly full of roiling gray emotions. I'm not sure we've advance all that far, since the poem was written, with regard to gloom. I think many people still see depression as a choice and regard the pharmaceutical treatments of it as mere snake-oil. True, pharmaceutical companies have an interest in peddling new pills; on the other hand, one may follow the trail from a pill back to the science, in most cases, and "the mind," whatever we consider it to be, is encased in the brain, which is an organic thing, which can malfunction because of chemical problems. It is only natural for humans, especially American ones, to believe that gloom can be overcome by the will, or by talking (therapy), or by battling with God (Pound). Even if there is some truth in the value of will, therapy, and a desire to do cosmic battle, one may (ironically) be better prepared for all this activity by getting the right brain-medicine. If you get a bacterial infection, anti-biotics are just the ticket. It's not really that much of a stretch to see that if the brain isn't hitting on all chemical cylinders, some chemicals might work. But of course we cling to the old mind/body dualism, one of the most intractable of the old beliefs.

Ironically, Pound himself would end up being sent to a mental "institution" for many years, partly as a result of his having made radio broadcasts in support of Mussolini during World War II (treason). He also seemed unfortunately obsessed with Jews, and even referred to Roosevelt using an anti-Semitic slur, in the Cantos. Probably something organic went wrong with his brain, something to turn him a bit paranoid. He might have been diagnosed as "bi-polar" in this day and age. A pill might have helped. Who knows? He certainly was a scrappy fellow and a combative poet--willing to take on God in this poem. It's interesting to see him in his pre-Modern phase, using antique diction but expressing post-Darwinian sentiments. Sleep well, Ezra.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lingo Online

Luckily, no one consulted me when computerese was being developed. I don't think I would have come up with "download," for example. I think I simply would have used "capture," "seize," or "receive." "Thanks for sending me the file. My computer seized it." Instead of "upload," I probably just would have used "load." I used to load a variety of trucks with a variety of things--lumber, stones, bags of cement, tools, topsoil. "Up"-load seems kind of redundant.

I don't know about surfing the internet. I think that's what we call, in the business, a mixed metaphor. If you tried to surf over or through a net, you'd get caught and take a terrible tumble because nets are for catching things. Surfing the electron ocean, maybe: that might work. Crawling on the web seems problematic, too. Who came up with "spam"? That seems like kind of an insult to a perfectly good artificial canned meat, which I think was invented during World War II. I think it was a kind of army-ration first.

"Podcast" I don't quite get either. To "fly-cast" is to cast an artificial bug out onto the water, in hopes that a fish will be fooled. When you podcast, you really don't cast pods at anybody, do you? I guess they wanted to distinguish broadcasting on a small scale from regular broadcasting. Why not say narrow-casting, then? Or thin-casting? Micro-casting?

I don't like PC, either--personal computer. Computers operate because they're impersonal; that's the whole point--all those impersonal zeros and ones, codes etched in silicon, hard-drives whirring. "Laptop" is pretty inaccurate, too. Almost no one places those things on a lap. People use tables or floors.

But, as I think I've mentioned before, poets aren't to be trusted to name commercial things. A car company asked poet Marianne Moore to name a car, and she named it "The Tyrolean Turtle-Top." I'd probably come up with something like the Ford Fate, or the Chevrolet Post-Colonial. The Angst would be a good name for a German car. If it were a convertible, you could call it the Doppelganger, with two dots over the a. I wouldn't mind driving a Volvo Brooder or a Saab Morose. Perhaps a Ferrari Vengeance. The Renault Cogito, named in honor of Descartes. The Toyota Tedium, for those long commutes. A Honda Absurdity.

What line is one on when one is online?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sonnet: More of the Same?

A while back I was reading one of John Ashbery's books of poems, Where Shall I Wander [no question mark], and in there is a poem that alludes to sonnets as "more of the same"; of course, Ashbery's poem's in free verse, and, as I guessed would be the case when I began reading it, he ends it at the 13th, not the 14th line--one final passive-aggressive insult to the fair sonnet-form. Ashbery is very clever.

And he does have a point. The ever-increasing number on the sonnetometer, which began ticking in the Renaissance, must be in the billions now, and perhaps this suggests that the form is a formula with which to beat poetry over the head. Another way to look at the issue, however, is to view the form as ever-adaptable, as only an illusory formula, rather like the rules of baseball, with its phantom strike-zone, its phantom tagging of the bag at second base, the four illusory "pitches" in an intentional walk, the trench the pitcher digs next to "the rubber," the third- and first-base coaches' "boxes," from which the coaches routinely wander, the "foul pole," which is really the "fair pole," and on and on, ad infinitum.

In honor of the sonnet's mercurial form and in response to Ashbery's 13-line non-sonnet, I have, unfortunately, made the sonnetometer tick once again.

Sonnet: Less of the Different

(after Ashbery)

A sonnet's "just more of the same"? Uh, no.
It's rather like less of the different.
There is no formula involved, you know.
True, syllables and lines and rhymes get spent
At predetermined intervals: mirage
Of order. Inside, sonnets are a mess
Of words, a slew of syntax, a barrage
Linguistically set off; are nonetheless
Provisionally impish--and as free
As freest verse to chat up any ear
Or signal any eye. The form, you see,
Is just a well mapped route from which to veer.
A sonnet is a disobedience
Of sounds, a flaunt of form, a tease of sense.

Hans Ostrom

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Shapiro on Auden and Baudelaire

Somehow I just stumbled on a short essay Karl Shapiro wrote about a poem by W.H. Auden--actually the essay's about Auden himself. I found the thing on the Kenyon Review website. Shapiro's piece appeared in the 100th volume of the review, apparently. It's classic Shapiro--brash, brusque, opinionated, and against the grain. And quick. Shapiro's prose is always in a hurry, whereas his poems, though not ponderous, take their time.

He exalts Auden, says Auden's reputation is secure whereas T.S. Eliot's is not, and refers to Baudelaire as, I think, a furniture salesman and a travel agent. I feel safe asserting that this is a way of saying that, as a poet, Baudelaire is over-rated. On the other hand, I've met some great furniture salespeople and travel agents, so I don't know that Karl had to denigrate them as he was going after Charlie. Shapiro argues that the one thing a poet should not ask himself or herself (in his or her poetry) is "Who am I?" He suggests, however, that if most poets in the 20th century followed that advice, 90% of the poetry would disappear. I think he may have said the same about politics and poetry once , meaning 180% of the poetry would disappear.

In any event, it was good to be reminded of the iconoclastic Shapiro, his admiration of Auden, and his having been unamused by Eliot, or at least by the effects Eliot had on 20th century poetry. Here is the link:

http://kenyonreview.org/blog/?p=662#more-662

Monday, May 5, 2008

Books on the Bed

I've kept books on the bed for as long as I can remember, at least since grade school. To those who co-inhabit interior spaces with me, the habit is often and understandably annoying. Why can't I just keep books on shelves and a nightstand (now there's a good word, nightstand) like everyone else? I do. It's just that I like books on the bed, too. Before I go to sleep, I like to have a wee heap of books to paw through. If the heap's not there, I get a little panicky. Sometimes I'll pick up one book, read a page or so, become dis-satisfied--it might be a good book, just not right for that moment--drop it, and reach for another. This behavior is less impulsive, if not less compulsive, than that of Samuel Johnson, who, upon becoming dissatisfied with a book, immediately stopped reading it and hurled it across the room.

Of course, I quickly accumulate too many books on the bed and am induced, by myself or someone else, to thin them out. Sometimes they fall off in the night, like sailors going over the side, into the ocean, their ship tossed by the tossing and turning. Sometimes a book will end up in the bed. I don't quite know how this happens, but it does. If this were the Sixties or the Seventies, and I had a lot of money and time, and I lived in New York, I'd probably have an "analyst"--a Freudian psychiatrist--and I'd talk to him or her about the books on my bed. Nothing would come of the analysis except a larger bank-account for the analyst, who would spend summers at Martha's Vineyard, in a cottage, where he or she would keep books on the bed.

Currently, the bed-library (it changes all the time) includes the following: There Is Confusion [how apt] a novel by Jessie Redmon Fauset; On Dialogue, a light philosophical book about communication, by David Bohm--quite intriguing, actually (Bohm liked to have people sit in a circle and talk--about no particular subject, at first--as way for them to observe how they communicated, unveil their prejudices, stances, poses, and habits; Waiting For God, a book of essays and letters by Simone Weil; the Poems of Edward Thomas (a World War I era poet, killed in the war); Classic Fiction of the Harlem Renaissance, edited by William L. Andrews; The Hollow, a Hercule Poirot novel by Agatha Christie; God's Trombones, by James Weldon Johnson--a book of poems based on sermons; if more people had read this book, they wouldn't have been so shocked by what the Reverend Wright has to say; Political Ideologies: Their Origins and Impact, by Leon Baradat; The Seven Dials Mystery, by Agatha Christie; and an Oxford hardback edition of the King James Bible. Plus a notebook and a few pens. Occasionally a Russian-blue cat (the color is actually gray), who is unamused by most books but will deign to sniff one or two sometimes. What could possibly be in a book that a cat doesn't already know, with great and final certainty?

Neither Christie novel has grabbed me so far. I've read a bunch of the stuff in the HR anthology already. Baradat's book is okay. I've read God's Trombones, but I want to read it again. Same with Edward Thomas. I like to dip into Weil's book. If I go with the KJB, I'll probably look at some psalms. Who knows? Maybe I'll write in the notebook. Or go to sleep. Or see what the other person is reading. I might replace this heap of books with a new heap tomorrow. Right now, that sounds like a brilliant idea. Okay, Bohm it is--On Dialogue. We'll see how it goes. Bedside reading is one thing; bed-top reading is quite another. The latter is the mark of a true bibliophile.

How To Write A Poem: A Poem

How To Write A Poem

First, clear the area of critics.
Next, grab an image or a supple
length of language and get going.
It’s all you now. Mumble, sing,
murmur, rage, rumble, mock,
quote, mimic, denounce, tell,
tease. Recall, refuse, regret,
reject. Dive, if you dare, into
psychic murk. Down there grab
the slick tail of something quick.
Hold it if you can. Meanwhile,
bellow, bellyache,
cry, or call, for all I care. I care.
Invent like the conning, conniving
poet you are, you lying spitter
of literature, you. Make it for
yourself and fit it to you. You
might as well. Readers, editors,
teachers, preachers, and publishers
aren’t your friends. Other poets
are busy with their own poems
and other problems. Famous poets
are off being remarkable geniuses,
eccentric visionaries, sunken wrecks,
dead, dead-drunk, or pains in the ass.
Say what you see, see what you say,
write it for love and for free. Own what
you write and give it away. Language
will always love you back, so lay
a wet kiss on the words, and when and if
in doubt, remember: what you want
to be is to be writing.

Hans Ostrom

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Technology and I

I've been invited to present at many a panel-discussion in academe, but I think the most surprising invitation so far came about two weeks ago, when someone invited me to speak about how I use technology as a professor. The invitation seemed as counterintuitive as inviting a hermit to speak about social etiquette.

One of the presenters, a professor of political science, really is gung-ho about technology and pedagogy. He revises a student-centered departmental blog with bunches of links every day. He uses Moodle and wikis and facebook. He's 15-20 years younger than I and brings a certain comfort-level to this stuff that I probably don't. He's enthralled by the possibilities. It was fun seeing him unveil some of what he's doing.

--Not that I'm uncomfortable with technology. Just slow. And occasionally skeptical. I never liked overhead projectors, for example: more trouble than they're worth. The same goes for Blackboard.

But I think a professorial web-page (on which one can post, for example, syllabi), facebook (on which one may create academic-related groups), wikis (group-writing-projects in cyberspace), and podcasting all have huge potential, so I'm slowly getting involved in these. Of course, email has been a godsend for teaching and scholarship.

In 1984, I attended one of the first "computers and composition" conferences in the U.S.--near Salt Lake City. What we thought would happen with computers and composition really didn't happen--the totally wired writing-classroom, in which the PC would be a kind of textbook. But of course computers have affected contemporary rhetoric, and the teaching thereof, in innumerable other ways.

Interestingly, two of the most skeptical colleagues at the presentation were far younger than I--humanists who, I suspect, both think all this technology is merely decorative. Instead of seeing possibilities, I think they see wasted time--or something. Another colleague just seemed confused or wearied by all the possible combinations--a blog linked to LibraryThing, youtube, and facebook--wikis on Moodle, gravy on noodles--help!! She had that too-much-information look.

I rather like just rummaging around the technology-dump, like a bear, picking things up to see if they're "edible" (useful). I'm not an enthusiast, per se, but I love the possibilities the technologies sometimes suggest.

Writing a blog has been a very nice surprise, and as I told the group, watching students write blogs and reading the blogs have been a fulfillment of something composition-studies has been interested in for 30+ years: trying to create "real" rhetorical situations (as opposed to the artificial 5-paragraph "theme" that only the prof reads) for students. Writing a blog is a great way for students or anyone else to work on writing, no matter what else the blog achieves. I think writing a blog can also help students take their academics more seriously, for they may start sharing their viewpoints with the world, may craft points of view, get responses, and evolve as thinkers.

There's a certain percentage of faculty, staff, and students that is way ahead of me on technology-and-academics, and it will only widen the lead. But I'm surprised by how relatively interested, curious, and engaged I am--especially compared with some younger folk.

And I do have to put in my usual defense of Luddites, who were not so much opposed to technology as they were in favor of keeping their jobs. When the van backs up and robots start unloading Robo-Profs to teach English, I'll probably already be out in the virtual pasture, blogging or podcasting.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Wave in San Diego

A Wave in San Diego

A wave begins as a shrug
in the Pacific. Its shape is
the form beginning takes
just before becoming dissolves
into not-any-more. A lovely
curve of water lifts itself and
is carved by its own foamy,
bladed edge. You can't say
for sure the sudsy bubbles
frothing sand a minute later
were ever that wave, nor can
you prove they weren't of
that wave. You can believe
you remember the wave,
but that belief dissolves. You
can take a picture, or several,
but you will have a picture, or
several, not the wave. Perception
rolls through mind like a wave,
breaks on a shore of forgetting,
and more waves are always coming
until mind ends. Waves of perception
start with a wrinkle in reality,
take and give shape simultaneously,
as when for example you stand looking
at a wave in San Diego.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom