Monday, January 28, 2008

A defense of poesy

In my position, I teach mostly seniors. Some graduate students, some juniors, an occasional bunch of sophomores, but mostly seniors. And term after term, I find myself, in every literature course, putting on the same pep-rally-cum-lecture sometime during the first couple weeks of the semester, the one in which I explain why poetry is worth our study, and try to convince the dubious students that they have all the tools they need to read poetry.

How is it that I need to be putting on this show every term? To senior English majors? What part of the system is failing them, convincing them that reading poetry is an activity shrouded in mystery, one that requires the mediation of some ambassador from the secret priesthood of poetry interpreters? They report to me that they don’t read poetry in other period classes, or that the syllabi in such classes make only occasional and brief nods in the direction of poetry. They report that the reason so many English majors choose to specialize in 20th-century American literature is that poetry in 20c courses gets seriously subordinated to the likes of Faulkner and Sallinger. And then they show up in my early British courses in order to fulfill a breadth requirement and are petulant and inconvenienced by the presence of so many line-breaks on the reading schedule.

Listen here, folks: poetry pretty much WAS literature until about three hundred years ago, and criticism on poetry laid the foundation for pretty much all the work that gets done in this profession. To understand poetry in English, a reader must have the following advanced qualifications: fluency in English. Sometimes not even that, if you’re reading a poet whose work communicates much of its content through its sound, like Hopkins. If you teach English but hate poetry, ask yourself whether your hatred doesn’t have, fundamentally, to do with your fear that you don’t get it. And if, in honesty, that’s at the root of things, get over yourself, and stop communicating that shit to your students.

I know, of course, that the erudite and sophisticated readers of this blog need no persuasion, but that’s really my point: poetry isn’t, wasn’t in the past, and shouldn’t be the province of the erudite and sophisticated. It’s pop music without the scaffolding of the music. And no one should feel intimidated by Coldplay.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Shoe post (with a nod to Dr. Virago)

I hate to advertise for wealthy and heartless corporations, but did you know that at NIKEID.COM you can build your own running shoes, select colors to suit your every whim, and even have a short personalized motto embroidered on the back (so that, presumably, the folks you smoke will have something to read)? I've got my eye on a pair of Shox Cogs. I'm either going to look like the most fabulous thing on the road or like a Pride parade. Possibly both.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First exhale.

Every semester, during the first two weeks of the semester, I require that all my students come meet with me outside the formal structure of class for 10 minutes or so. It's a fairly easy way to get the semester's conversation going, because it seems magically to dispel that anxiety that students have about talking in class, and it helps them begin to feel comfort in coming to talk to me. So it's a good thing, and I'm glad I do it.

But lordy, it does take up every ounce of time and thought for that two-week period. Beginning the day at 10ish with the first meeting, having them packed solid at every moment I'm not teaching, then extending into the darkness of winter evening... Don't get me wrong. I like learning that Student A is a the philanthropic scion of a hoteliering dynasty, or that Student B has a 15-year-old child, or that Student C speaks Welsh, but when its all over and done, I can't say I'm disappointed that I can, for instance, eat my lunch and pee between classes.


I have posted before about a certain well-known scholar in my field whose inexplicable insecurities (I'm trying to be sympathetic and kind in assessing it this way) have manifested themselves in really irritating ways. Well, s/he is at it again. I wish I could reveal the particulars of the current episode, but I fear that my thin pseudonymity is too frail a shield and I don't wish to tarnish someone's scholarly reputation. But really. The pervasive and even shocking sense of entitlement and self-aggrandizement in every freaking interaction I've had with this person is so off-putting that I'm surprised, frankly, s/he has had such a successful career. One would think folks would grow tired of the bullshit, no matter how smart the mind. I have.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Blogging and school: incompatible activities?

1) Because of time, or the utter lack thereof...

2) Because students find their way to the blog, and the classroom persona that one has carefully constructed is compromised, or at least complicated...

3) Because it feels redundant to post, repeatedly, as I undoubtedly will, that I'm drowning in work and motherhood, and sleeping 4-5 hours a night, and I haven't even got my first batch of papers yet...

Okay, seasoned academibloggers. Now is the time to share your wisdom. How do you negotiate these challenges?


On a different subject: So for many years I was involved, in one way or another, with the music industry, or rather with the industry that talks about the music industry. I miss having a print / airwave soapbox for my incessant musical meditations. So I've decided that I'm going to add brief summaries to this blog's "Heavy Rotations" section (bottom right), not because you want it, but because I have to say it to someone or other, and my kids are sick of hearing it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Happy thought

In case you missed this on Blogging the Renaissance...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Game on.

Semester now fully underway, and after seven months away from it all--the bureaucratic craziness, the impossibility of doing all the things that must be done in the allotted time, the keeping straight of names--I am most struck by how much energy it takes to be ON for so many hours a day. I'd forgotten.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What a Renaissance Girl does for her birthday

1) Sleep in until 10am.
2) Decide against working on the chapter, even though I'm three paragraphs away from finishing it and it's about to get crowded by a semester's worth of teaching/grading and I want to get the proposal in the mail.
3) Throw the ski racks on the car and go XC-skiing for hours, with great music on ipod (Midlake, Hothouse Flowers, Mutemath).
4) Pick up Thing 1 from school and stop for gelato.
5) Board games.
6) Meet the whole fam for Vietnamese food.
7) Dessert (the aforementioned gelato [pistachio and kiwi], and killer oatmeal-orange-chocolatechip cookies invented especially for me tonight by Kids'FabDad) and Thing 1's Magic Act.
8) Dogpile with boys.

The best birthday I've had in years. Seriously.

Friday, January 4, 2008


Chapter-revising/writing surge building up a good head of steam: 2 spankin' new pages today, and that was BEFORE I found a giant piece of astonishing and overlooked archival info that will CHANGE THE WORLD! (admittedly small)! (of scholarship on a largely neglected author)! Tonight, after I oxygenate my brain with a little outside time, I'll hit it again. No devotional lyric is safe when I'm around! Mwahahahah!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A little light at the beginning of the tunnel...

Maybe my first impressions about 2008 were too hasty. In the last two days: revised to page 25 of my 35-page chapter; ran many fast miles (have I mentioned that I obsess about running?--but then, I obsess full-stop, so there's that); ate Ethiopian food with three delightfully silly girls, one of whom called me "foxy" though she is in no apparent position to gain from such folderol; got dogpiled endlessly by kids and suffered only minor repeated injuries; and got a fix of new music. Plus, is it too cheesy to say that I am capable of being, well, inspired to do good in the world by seeing a movie so calculated as "The Great Debators"? So be it! I will do good in the world!

And I will do it in fabulous shoes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

RG’s year-end yardsale: an essay in numbers; or, Sugar-crashing; or, An optimist would call it a year-beginning yardsale

7: Days until my semester begins

4: Pages I’ve revised for my book proposal’s sample chapter

35: Pages remaining for this last week of leave

3.5: Days at MLA

1: Long-lost friend reconnected with, warmly and with much affection

1: Enchanting blog-buddy lunched

108: total, in dollars, of mine and Sporty Americanist's tab at this fabulous joint (price includes no alcohol, though the chef did send out a lovely refresher of cranberry juice layered with, I think, pumpkin-orange juice and dusted with scallions)

3: Days I’ve spent obsessing about my quest to recreate that roasted mushroom broth

94: Days until my next meal at Green Zebra

3.5: Days spent in Chicago without my kids

3: Years until the MLA moves to January and out of everyone's vacation week (yay!)

2: Number of cute little Things who dared use the moto-sled of power on the sledding hill today

2: Crashes, but good-natured ones, with poofs of snow and red-cheeked squeals

6: Hours since they went home with their dad

12: The anniversary I guess I won’t be celebrating this year

37: My age, as of next week

0: My odds, I’m now realizing, of finding a new partner who’s thrilled to meet a late-thirties mom of two who is freakishly close with her much-admired ex, to whom she will always be secretly comparing him. Not that I'm in the market for a new partner

7: Speed, in minutes, of my miles on the treadmill at the hotel in Chicago—fueled by conference adrenaline and at approximately 500 feet above sea level

9? 9.5? 10? who knows? I’m guessing, because I don’t come equipped with an instrument panel: Speed, in minutes, of my miles tonight on the unplowed ice sheets of the suburban/rural Intermountain West, appx. 4800 feet above sea level

1000: My approximate weight, in pounds, though I may not be a reliable gauge

0: Today’s quotient of perspective, sanguinity, and all-around New Year’s zest