A Dante Figure
You know what, fuck
everyone except for me
A DANTE FIGURE
fuck that other shit
do you even know what it is
A gifted child couldn’t
take the bone from its mouth
I brought an icicle home
made the pillow wet
tore apart the pillow: refutation
It will be hard to be shown
where the friend went
rarely straight down
Life Has Its Culverts
and this is one
streaming with feeling for them
Picture Hate’s Neighbor
with the trash all over the lawn
and all the shouting
I’ve had an inner earful of it lately
--oh you’ll take it, my man, you’ll take it
but this pipe may be too hot for you...
So let’s say it was in the woods
an owl was tweeting
fuck, man, I was scared
when I asked What did you get tired of?
The chidings, said the shade
and I was like, mee too!
And I got to drink blood
and see all the punishments
and learn what they were for
and this one guy, holy shit
was so OK with what he’d done?
As on a sheet of brass it is embossed inside me
The look on his face quite replaced my own
And I got to meet Grover Cleveland--anyway
Some motherfucking study questions
such as What showed my course
to be downward?
and Why me and not you?
Or were you as well
It Ain’t Hard To Tell
So close your eyes and hug your pillow
listen to me
I was an icicle, God
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Thursday, December 11, 2003
I caught two plagiarists while I was going through final papers for my Romanticism course. That makes a total of three this quarter--that I’ve caught, anyway. It seems to be a rising epidemic on this campus, and others too I’m sure. What bugs me is knowing that some of them are doing it and not getting caught: the ones, that is, that have the minimal amount of brains required to shell out the fifty bucks to one of those copyright-protected essay companies, instead of just copying any old thing off the web that I can bring up easily by Googling key phrases.
Several students who wrote on Keats’ sonnet “Bright Star” were coming up with the same incorrect reading of a key passage, and then I saw that one of them had cited the source of the reading: some dreadful Gale Group publication called Poetry for Students, that purported to offer an “analysis” of the poem. Here is Keats:
Bright star! would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.
The Poetry for Students author perversely understands “Not in lone splendor” in line 2 to mean that the star is not alone in the sky (that it has lots of other stars to hang out with), thus rendering unintelligible the entire contrast upon which the sonnet is built (the speaker wishes he were eternal like the star, but not alone like it). The interpretive violence made necessary by this reading becomes ever more ludicrous as the poem progresses, so that “yet still stedfast, still unchangeable” in line 9 modifies the star instead of the speaker (the word “No” must be ignored outright), and accordingly, it must be the star, not the speaker, that is “Pillow’d” on the speaker’s beloved’s breast in line 10, etc. Don’t ask me how that would work or what it would look like. One student initially had the correct reading, but revised it, I’m pretty sure, under the pernicious influence of this “study aid.” I’m not blaming the students for this, of course (at least not the ones that actually cited the source). But this is the kind of thing that I have in mind to warn them about when I tell them that they should only use scholarly publications (books from university presses and refereed journals) as secondary sources for their papers--at least when their papers are on pre-contemporary texts.
This sometimes leads to confusion and suspicion: confusion as to what constitutes a scholarly vs. a non-scholarly publication, and suspicion about the claims to authority underwriting the “scholarly” / “non-scholarly” distinction. This suspicion is a healthy one, of course, and one I share in many respects. Just because a text bears the imprimatur of the academy doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed to be correct or helpful, as we all know. But there is a certain amount of pressure within institutional hegemony that serves a valuable function: making sure, for example, that past cultural contexts and reading practices remain available and are responsibly curated; that grammatical, syntactical, and rhetorical codes no longer actively in use can be accessed reliably when necessary, and so on.
One thing this causes me to reflect upon is how little most contemporary poetry I can think of, whether “mainstream” or “experimental,” demands any kind of grammatical or syntactical sophistication from the reader. This is not to say that much of it is not “difficult,” but its difficulty is of a far different kind from the difficulties of Shakespeare or Milton or Johnson or Shelley. Rather than a difficulty of figuring out what it says, it is often a difficulty of contextual interpretation, of figuring out why it says what it says. And I’m not saying that this is a bad thing! But what is disappearing is the tendency to use poetry as an analytic instrument as well as a catalytic one. This is not just a problem involving undergraduates in the general population; an alarming number of poets I’ve talked to admit to reading almost no poetry written before 1900. Whole zones of textual expression and experience completely off their radar!