A Pre-Modern Brotherhood of Post Structuralists

The latest class in the Poetry in America series has started, Modernism, and the first poem being explored is In a Station of the Metro.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

The discussion forum starts off with

“his first attempt to write the poem resulted in a thirty-line draft; his second, six months later, was half that length; the next year, Pound produce the haiku-sized final draft.”

We are then asked, “How does Pound's poem accomplish so much with so few words?”

Pound’s poem’s power comes from compressed comparison. The comparison is implied and a verb isn’t even needed.

Pound kept whittling away at the poem until he was down to just fourteen words (not counting the title). Why stop there? Why not keep going until you get down to just two words to compare and contrast, “Faces : Petals”? Down to one word, “Apparition”? Or no words, like John Cage’s 4’33?

What is it that makes poetry poetry? Especially if we abandon the subject, structure, and sonance of earlier poetry? Are we reduced to just comparison?

It makes me think of Billy Collins’ poem, “The Trouble with Poetry: A Poem of Explanation”

In Collin’ poem, we find:

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,

As we think about what it is that makes poetry poetry, I think about my own writing. Why do I write like I do? How does this relate to modernity, capitalism, and the industrial revolution? Is it time for the next phase in poetry? Post Modern? Post Structural? Or, perhaps like our Pre-Raphaelite predecessors, a return to some of the beauty of previous art, perhaps a Pre-Modern Brotherhood of Post Structuralists?

Subsequent thoughts: As I go through the comments in the course, one person writes:

the poem first invoked memories of Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"

I respond:

I like comparing the Pound's crowd to Whitman's crowd. The apparition of these faces in the crowd; how curious you are to me!

Many of the other comments focus on apparition, particularly the ghostly aspect, and it makes me think of Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem Wraith

Benedict and Deleuze

The super bowl really didn’t hold my attention, so I headed off to bed early. But now, in the middle of the night, the meatballs and bean dip sit uncomfortably in my gut and I cannot sleep. After tossing and turning for a bit, I get up and try to write.

I don’t have a burning desire to write, like I often do. Instead, I am writing simply because it is what I do. Not only was it Super Bowl Sunday, but it was the last Sunday of Epiphany. We had a Baptism and our Annual Church Meeting.

The priest did a great job of tying the Baptism to the readings about transfiguration and focused on our own individual transformations. The annual meeting was upbeat and we all ate together afterwards as a church family.

I chatted briefly with our Seminarian. She spoke about how different Ash Wednesday was after she had started her discernment process. I commented about how even the Baptism felt very different. I looked at the child being baptized. I wondered what his life would be like, how God would touch him. I thought back to my own baptism, when I was a child. What was it like? For me? For me mother? For the minister? For godparents? What did they think would be come of me?

Phrases like “Changed from glory into glory” and “if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation” come to mind. I think back to my poem about Lent, “You have entered unchartered territory”.

I have not settled on my Lenten discipline for this year. Will I try to write a poem a day? What will I do with my personal devotion time? How do various study groups fit in? I keep stumbling into a few different ideas that seem at odds with one another.

One is the ‘Rule of Life’. It keeps coming up in different Lenten studies. I’m eager to jump into this, but waiting for Lent and for the studies to begin. Concurrent with this is my interest in the unknown, the unknowable, the unexpected, the unchartered territory. I think back to my readings about rhizomes, connected learning, and digital pedagogy.

Where does the Rhizome and the Rule of Life meet? How do I hold Saint Benedict and Gilles Deleuze in my mind together? It stirs a longing in my soul, to bring together these two thoughts in the midst of daily life.

I stumble across Deleuze’s essay Immanence and start reading the introduction. How I long to spend time reading it and finding others to discuss it with, in the context of the Rule of Life. Yet in a few hours, I will need to get on with my daily life.

I spend a little more time, looking at audio files I could download and listen to on my commute, but now I must try to get some sleep.

Relevance #Discernment #SavingSweetBriar

It‘s Groundhog Day, Candlemas, Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or day after the Iowa Caucuses, depending on your orientation. I was thinking of writing about these for my blog post today, until I came across this article

Sweet Briar College gets record number of applicants.

Students and faculty say the number of applications – which increased from 751 at this time last year to 1099 this year — is just another sign of a community that has banded together to pull itself back from the brink.

I decided to retweet it, and so I checked to see if the #SavingSweetBriar hash tag was still active. It is, and from there I found an even more interesting article

Making the Most of Stakeholder Revolt: The Recapturing of the San Diego Opera and Sweet Briar College.

This article starts

Over the past few years, NPQ has been tracking nonprofits whose stakeholders rose up to save them after their boards voted to close the doors. They are in a larger field of organizations that have felt the sting of stakeholder rebellions when a board has somehow broken faith with the community it serves.

I skimmed over the beginning section and the part about the San Diego Opera. I haven’t been following that story as closely as I’ve been following the Sweet Briar story. The section on Sweet Briar starts off presenting some of the history, and then has this quote:

There was a failure of faith in the mission—probably over about a ten-year period—from what I can tell and have observed since being on the inside. There was a belief at the highest leadership level that women’s colleges weren’t relevant anymore. A lot of that was coming from generations of administrative leaders and board leaders who were from classes of an earlier date, when Sweet Briar was the option because…

This particularly jumped out at me, and I’ve included the quote, leaving out the reason people had gone to Sweet Briar on purpose. You see, this Sunday will be my last day as Clerk of the Vestry of Grace and St. Peter’s Church in Hamden, CT. I have loved serving on the vestry. For those not acquainted with Episcopal Church governance, being Clerk of the Vestry is a kin to be secretary of the board of directors.

It is a difficult time. Like Sweet Briar, we have had dwindling participation and have had to rely on our endowment. As a board, we have explored cost saving measures while trying to stay true to the mission. I’ve brought up what happened at Sweet Briar at Vestry meetings. If we had been a different church with different leadership, our story might be more like Sweet Briar’s. As I read the paragraph, I thought of how it would read if it were talking about various churches:

There was a failure of faith in the mission—probably over the past few decades—from what I can tell and have observed since being on the inside. There was a belief at the highest leadership level that churches weren’t relevant anymore. A lot of that was coming from generations of administrative leaders and board leaders who were from churches of an earlier date, when you went to church because…

I remember singing Hymn by Paul Stukey

I visited Your house again on Christmas or Thanksgiving
And a balded man said You were dead,
But the house would go on living.
He recited poetry and as he saw me stand to leave
He shook his head and said I'd never find You.

I don’t know if there were people at Grace and St. Peter’s who believed this, but it certainly wasn’t the case when I got there. At Grace and St. Peter’s there remains a strong faith in the mission, worshipping God, feeding the hungry, visit the sick, sheltering the homeless.

I don’t know what God has in store for Grace and St. Peter’s. I don’t know what God has in store for me, but I know that the mission still matters, and like Sweet Briar College, it will continue in unexpected ways, even when many people question its relevancy for today.

#DigiWriMo: Stranger Danger, Will Robinson

One of my goals for #DigiWriMo is to be more engaged in other people’s blogs and hopefully to have others more engaged in my blog. Years ago, I used to participate in various blog swaps and I work as a social media manager, so there is nothing really new about this for me.

One person who has been really good at this, at least in the early moments of #DigiWriMo is Sarah Honeychurch. She’s been commenting on my posts, thank you Sarah, and responded to Joanne Fuchs tweet about blogging once a week, “I find having a supportive audience in events like #DigiWriMo helps me.”

So, I went over to Joanne’s blog, where her most recent post was Yes, Virginia. You Can Ask Your Own Questions!. Joanne sounds like the sort of teacher I would want my inquisitive eighth grader to have. Joanne was talking about helping students form questions around “letters from service men from different wars”. It fit nicely with the story I heard Arnie Pritchard tell Friday night about This Business of Fighting based on his father’s letters.

Joanne also reminds me of Paul Bogush and I wonder if they’ve met. As an aside, another participant of #DigiWriMo this year is Geoffrey Gevalt. I read his bio and looked at the Young Writers Project. It made me wonder if Geoffrey knew Steve Collins and Youth Journalism International. I sent Steve a Facebook message to see if they knew each other. They should.

All of this is prologue to the key focus of this evening’s #DigiWriMo post. The other week, my daughter Fiona texted me, letting me know that there was some guy at her school teaching the kids about Internet Safety. Now I want the internet to be safe as much as the next guy, probably more so, since my job is social media manager for a health care organization, but I often find a lot of the internet safety talks, at best, misguided. They focus on online predators and stranger danger, and less on more important issues like cyberbullying or how you can help online friends in times of danger.

Stranger danger: I’ve never met Sarah, Joanne, or Geoffrey face to face. Yet if I ever get a chance to, I will jump at it. They sound like my kind of people. I have met lots of other people face to face after getting to know them first online, including my wife. Knowing how to judge and get to know people that you meet through the media, whether it be online, or any other form of media is an important skill. It applies equally to getting to know authors, musicians, journalists, politicians, and others.

Yes, online predators are a danger, but I believe a greater danger may be accepting uncritically what various media personalities are saying. Learning how to think critically about what we experience through various media can address both of these dangers.

Later this week, I will be speaking at Career Day at my daughter’s junior high school. I will be talking about being a social media manager, and what it takes to do that well. Perhaps key areas I’ll focus on include the value of meeting the right people online, collaborating with them, and how to better judge what we consume online.

The Roads to #DigiWriMo

For the past several years during the month of November, I’ve often participated in National Novel Writing Month. #NaNoWriMo. Over the years I’ve completed two first drafts of novels, and worked on several others. I’ve written the 1,666 words a day to get to 50,000 words for the month. I’ve had friends act as readers of draft, and gotten feedback from them.

It has been a valuable writing exercise, and I enjoyed meeting some of the other #NaNoWri participants and write-ins and dinners, but I’ve never gone back and edited the novels, sought to publish them, or shared them with a wider audience.

In January of this year, I participated in a couple of MOOCs. One was on the poetry of Walt Whitman. It was part of a series, and I later participated in one on Emily Dickinson. They would good courses, but I felt even more disconnected from the participants than I did with #NaNoWriMo.

I also took a course on using Moodles to set up a MOOC. It was very helpful on the technology side; how to configure and administer a MOOC. The community was much more vibrant, and while it wasn’t a focus of the course, we did drift into discussions of pedagogy. It was there that I learned about connectivism, which led me to participate in another MOOC, a different sort of MOOC, a connectivistic MOOC called #Rhizo15.

It was great, and I remain connected with the people I met through that event. There was talk about wandering in that course and I brought in my poetry to it. This brings me to the title of this post, The Roads to #DigiWriMo. It isn’t one path. It is a bunch of paths intertwined.

So let me return to the poetry path for a moment. I decided to make writing a poem a day my 2015 Lenten discipline. It went well, and some of the poems aren’t all that bad. I joined up with a group of Episcopalian poets and met with them from time to time. Through them, I learned that Yale Divinity School was having a conference on poetry and I attended.

It was a deep religious experience for me that has brought back into my consideration a path I had looked at years ago, but not wandered down, the path to possible ordination as a priest. I have met with my priest. We have met with my bishop, and my priest is setting up a discernment committee to explore this path more fully with me. I’ve thought it would be interesting to have a parallel, online discernment group. I set up one part of it on Facebook, and I expect this will intertwine with my #DigiWriMo explorations.

One of the speakers at the Yale Conference was Christian Wiman. I’ve been reading his book, My Bright Abyss. In it, I found a wonderful quote, “existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person”. Mixing the ‘journey’ metaphor with the ‘narrative’ metaphor, it seems like this quote is the starting point, the first mile marker on my #DigiWriMo journey.

I am looking forward to mixing a bit of poetry, novel writing, technology, and explorations into pedagogy and my spiritual journey together with what others are posting in #DigiWriMo. I hope you’ll join me and hang on for the ride!

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