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 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
I was hoping that the week after Easter would provide opportunities to rest and catch up a little. There are so many blog ideas in the back of my mind that I need to write, and so many upcoming events. Yet I’ve ended up with four meetings after work this week, some events I couldn’t make because of double booking, and Saturday I’m heading off to another event, while missing a second. As an aside, the weekend before Holy Week, I missed several events because of double or triple booking as well as because of my kidney stone.
On Saturday, I should be at a poetry group in the morning. Right now, I should be working on a poem for that group. Unfortunately, I’ll miss it, as well as their next big event. Instead, I’ll be going to Podcamp Western Mass. This is one of the longest continuously running Podcamps, and I think I’ve been to everyone, but I can’t remember for sure.
Podcamps are ‘unconferences’ originally around podcasting. These days, they tend to focus on all aspects of social media. As an unconference, there is no clear set agenda. People bring their ideas, their topics, then on a large grid on a wall they select rooms and times to get together to talk about the topics they are interested in. It is a great way for people to become more acquainted with social media, and there are often topics like Twitter 101. There are also topics that can get fairly esoteric. I try to go partly to learn new things and partly to give back to the community. I never know who will be there or what topics will catch my attention. Currently, I’m thinking about communities online as they related to learning, creativity, spirituality, and politics. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts about topics you’d be interested in at an unconference.
Then, in two weeks are two different conferences on my radar. One is the#WhatIMake conference. I’ve written a little bit about this earlier, and if I had more time I would dig out some quotes from Elizabeth Gilbert’s interview with Brene Brown which I mentioned yesterday, which are one of the best explanations about why #WhatIMake is such an important conference to go to.
Unfortunately there is another conference which is also very important to me taking place at the same time. Misisonal Voices is taking place at Virginia Theological Seminary.
A conversation about innovative ministries and missional communities in The Episcopal Church.
In my mind, this conference has a lot in common with Podcamp and WhatIMake, which very direct implications for the next few twists and turns on my spiritual journey. I am hoping it will be about creativity and innovation; about being a maker. I am hoping that I will arrive, not knowing what I will get out of it, and leaving surprised with new thoughts and ideas.
I’m thinking of listening to Podcasts on creativity on my drive down. I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcasts during my commute this week. I’m considering staying at a hostel on my journey back, for several reasons.
But now, I’ve already spent more time than I really have writing this blog post and I need to get on with the rest of the day.
Standing in the presence of great beauty
as portrayed by an artist in great pain
amidst a crowd of visitors,
driven up from the city.
What was his illness
and who were the people
he painted in the public gardens
How curious they are to me,
like the crowds of men and women
that caught Whitman’s attention
on the Brooklyn Ferry
Did any of them suspect
their place in history?
My great grandfather
was in the park in Arles
with Van Gogh.
My great aunt
rode the ferry
Now, we stand in museums
looking at Van Gogh’s paintings
We go to special poetry events
where Whitman is read and discussed.
young men are sitting in libraries
learning a quote
Cicero, Locke, and Bacon,
forgetting that Emerson also
was once a young man
sitting in the library
years before Van Gogh painted
or Whitman wrote.
For the past few days, I’ve been very focused on the story of Rachel Dolezal, the woman in Washington who has passed for a black woman for many years. You can see this in my recent blog posts. Why are we, as a country, so interested in this? Some suggest that it is because she lied. However, politicians lie all the time. So much so that there is the old joke:
How do you know if a politician is lying?
His lips are moving.
So, I don’t buy that it is because she is lying. Some of this may be because it is manufactured by conservative bloggers, who seem to dislike anyone who works for civil rights. Conservative blogs appear to be really enjoying this. Some of this may be because of issues of cultural appropriation. Although, when you look at it, it appears as if her she has appropriated much less and is much more friendly to the culture she is adopting from than so much cultural appropriation we see today.
For me, perhaps the biggest issue is one of identity. How do we identify ourselves? Black? White? Male? Female? Straight? Gay? There are many labels we can use on ourselves. There are many labels we can use on others and others can use on us. Yet these labels may not always feel right. We may feel that our real gender is different than our biological gender. We may feel that our sexual orientation is different from what is dominant in the culture. Perhaps, we may feel that our race or ethnicity is different from the race or ethnicity we were born into.
As an aside, it is curious to think about how social media is feeding this. As I write this, my youngest daughter says, “Can you guess what decade I belong in?” She had just completed one of those many quizzes that suggest our identity might be different from how we were born. Social media is telling us about the fluidity of identity.
Add to this, advertising. If we want an identity that will be accepted by others, all we have to do is buy the right products to look darker, lighter, have straighter or curlier hair, wear the right clothes, etc.
Recently, I’ve had some experiences that have gotten me thinking about my identity. Who am I, really? What do I desire? How does this relate to how people see me? How does this relate to how God sees me? How does what I desire relate to what God desires for me?
In one book I’m currently reading, “The Wounding and Healing of Desire” has a great line, “It is the wisdom of Christianity to understand that we are so wounded we do not know who we are.”
Now some people will suggest that at least we know who someone’s parents are. To go back to Rachel Dolezal, her biological parents are both white and say she is white. Yet this comes back to another idea from Christianity.
In Mark 3:33-35 Jesus says, ""Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.""
I would imagine that for her, and for many of us, doing the will of God means, at least in part, fighting for civil rights. Who is Rachel's father? Whoever fights for civil rights. Yes, Rachel perhaps has many black fathers.
Here, I will go to another verse. In 1 Corinthians 9:22 Paul says, “To the weak I became weak in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some of them.”
So, by becoming black, Rachel is standing in the tradition of the Apostle Paul.
Then, there is the artist angle. Rachel received her Masters of Fine Arts from Howard University as a white woman married to a black man. One aspect of art is to get people to look at the world around them in a different way. As a piece of performance art, intentional or unintentional, Rachel has excelled in this, propelling the discussion about the social construction of race into the limelight. This is an area I’m especially hopeful about. By getting more people to think about racial identity, she may do more than all the handwringing Facebook posts about police brutality.
This gets to why what she has done is so radical. It joins with a great Christian and artistic tradition of challenging the way we see the world, in the way we understand our identity, and ultimately, in the way we live.
This evening, the Walt Whitman class I have been taking online comes to an end. As a final exercise, we were encouraged to write a poem in the style of Whitman.
Last night, I went to the opening of "A Body in Fukushima" at Wesleyan. It is a powerful show, that I highly recommend. As I thought about the show, and thought about my assignment for the Whitman class, I thought it would be good to writemy thoughts about the show, al a Whitman.
A Body in Fukushima
Who were you that rode your bike to the train station, now abandoned to the radiation?
Who were you that steamed your rice, in a cooker now too hot with a different type of heat?
Who were you that mended the boats, the boats damaged by the tsunami, the boats that can no longer be repaired?
Who were you that danced by the one ton bags of radioactive dirt or photographed the dancer?
And those of you in years past who helped build the nuclear power plants. You saw Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Did you not worry that those promises of prosperity to your impoverish properties would be empty?
It is all part of a giant dance of survival, the deals we make to escape mind numbing subsistence work. But sometimes, the deals go bad.
Now, the cherry trees, that your ancestors nurtured so lovingly, bloom each spring, but the radiation keeps away the visitors, keeps away the former inhabitants. Their flowers, their smells, their beauty hidden behind the warning signs.
And what can we learn from the photographs? And what will those who come many years hence, after the radiation has decayed, what will they learn?