Monday, March 29, 2010
2. My World Lit course calendar is shaping up.
3. I went to bed at 9:00; first step toward getting my mind and body adjusted to having to start my days two hours earlier now.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
2. The chicken soup at Yi Shen really hit the spot. It lifted my spirits as well as satisfied my taste.
3. The Deke and I enjoyed a lively dinner with the Pendletons: animated conversation, laughs with the kids, and juicy, thick, succulent, sweet, tender filet mignon. I don't know if I'd ever eaten filet mignon. I couldn't eat mine slowly enough. I wanted it to last forever.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Read "Happiness" by Jane Kenyon and share your thoughts about where happiness comes from for you in a poem, essay, or reflection.
You can read InlandEmpireGirl's reflections on capturing images, here, and we'll look for Silver Valley Girl's post later.
Jane Kenyon's poem will come at the end of this post.
It's a common idea, maybe even a common assumption, that the past is something to put behind us, that it's over with. The phrase, "that's history" means that what's come before us is done. It doesn't really matter. It's history. The common phrase I hear used often in relation to the past is "move on".
What's done is done.
Don't look back.
I've come to learn the past never leaves. It's alive, present, on the move, a constant visitor, a guest, often welcome, sometimes not.
When I'm most aware of the past being alive, the word I use is "ghosts".
I live in the constant company of ghosts.
They knock at my door, visit my sleep, hop in the passenger seat of my car, join my Kellogg friends and I when we have parties together.
Sometimes these ghosts haunt me. They demand that I not forget when I've been callous, insulting, exploitative, careless, arrogant, stupid, and heedless. I try to avoid these ghosts, distance myself from them, try to persuade myself that "that's not me anymore", but these particular ghosts beg to differ, insist that I not delude myself: they tell me repeatedly that I am what I was.
Most of the time, the ghosts who visit me do not haunt me. They thrill me, bring me happiness, remind me of where I'm from, where I belong, of what's real in my life.
Recently, over Presidents' Day weekend, I was with over a dozen of my Kellogg friends at Diane's home in Vancouver, WA.
Before meeting up with my Kellogg friends, Jane Eischen and met for lunch. We hadn't seen each other since 1974 and the moment we sat down and began to talk, the ghosts came flying in to Planet Thai. We talked for nearly five hours and Bruce, Sluggo, Rob, Liz, Rick, Peg, Tim, Jim, Darrell, John, Dennis, Joy, and countless other ghosts sat down with us, laughing, reminding us of old stories, nudging us to remember them, to speak of them fondly, telling us, as if we needed to be told, that if we are going to be authentic people, we have to relish where we come from, relish these friends and all they did for us, relish the joy of these ghosts.
By the time Sunday evening rolled around, I hadn't felt like dancing with my Kellogg friends, didn't know if I had the energy for it.
Earlier in the weekend, Diane and I had added Tom Petty to the mix of songs that were the soundtrack and the dance track for our get together.
Suddenly, "Learning to Fly" came over the speakers and I couldn't sit still.
I leaped to the dance floor.
I was fighting back tears.
The ghosts poured into the room, the ghosts of all my friends in the room, the ghosts coming from as early as 1955 on through, let's say, 1973.
They were the ghosts of Learning to Fly.
I was dancing with the friends I'd learned to fly with.
I learned to fly at square dance lessons, Sunday School, at the Little League field, at the Northwest Metal Workers Union Hall, dancing to live music, one band after another coming to town to play their version of "Honky Tonk Woman".
I danced to "Learning to Fly" and the ghost of Jake flew in the room and it was the year after we graduated and we were in Jake's rig and it was after midnight, maybe even after 1 a.m., and Jake said we needed some more beer and he went into Dick and Floyd's and came out with a sack of Oly and he pulled out an eight track of Beatles music and we drank Olympia beer and drove out near Cataldo where we wouldn't be bothered and Jake sang Beatles' songs and we drank beer and shot the shit and laughed.
I had to start work at 7 a.m., in just a few hours, but I didn't care. The beer was great. The music was perfect. The conversation was right.
I was happy to go to work drunk. If had to go throw up while pulling my first load, I'd do it.
Because I was with Jake and the Beatles and Olympia beer and I was learning to fly.
Jake's ghost made me happy.
All those other ghosts that danced with me and Sharon and Diane and Joni and Rick and Ed and Mike and Carol and Jake that night, they made me happy, too.
The ghosts keep my head on straight.
They keep my past alive and keep the spirit of being from Kellogg, Idaho alive.
It's what makes me happy.
There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.
And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.
No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon.
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.
It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.
2. Out of the blue, Terry Turner called and we had coffee, got caught up on things and then
3. Terry invited me to join him and Nancy and Katie for clam chowder at Katie's place and we had a good time together.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Think of a destination you have traveled to that brought you happiness. Describe the place/trip and why this particular place brought you happiness.
InlandEmpireGirl remembered a spring break trip to Steamboat Rock, here, and I'll post a link to Silver Valley Girl's piece as soon as she posts it.
I've never really been able to explain it.
I've been told I should write an article about it.
An editor for a small journal in western Oregon said he'd be interested in publishing it.
But I could never explain it.
Now, eighteen years later, I still can't really.
I took a trip in late July and early August of 1992. I was on my way home for my 20th high school reunion.
I decided I'd take a really long route from Eugene to Kellogg and go out to Burns, on to Boise, on to Sun Valley to Stanley to Salmon and then go on a Richard Hugo tour of Montana.
It's the Richard Hugo tour of Montana that leaves me wordless.
It was simple.
I drove throughout western Montana, to Wisdom, Big Hole National Battle Ground, Butte, Walkerville, Hot Springs, Kicking Horse Reservoir, Philipsburg, Drummond and other Hugo landmarks. At the places I drove to I stopped, walked the streets (or the battlefield), found a private place, often the car, and read Hugo's poem about that place aloud.
Then came the ghosts.
I welcomed them.
Some of the ghosts Hugo created. Kathy. The family in Walkerville. The slender, red-haired girl who serves your food. Failed dreams. Cures that never work. Failed love.
My ghosts visited me, too. Ghosts from Kellogg. Failed love. Unrealized dreams. Kids I knew who suffered beatings, poverty, probably worse. They came back to me. So did Jim McLeod. He introduced me to Richard Hugo and wanted to ride with me, wanted to leave I-90 at Drummond and follow Highway 1 to Philipsburg and make our way to Anaconda.
Bruce's ghost hopped in the Honda, too. Bruce hadn't been dead very long, killed in a motorcycle accident near Kellogg. Bruce and I read Richard Hugo aloud to each other at North Idaho College. We loved to say over and over and over and over to each other, "and without salvation, Smelterville".
Hugo peered deep into the Silver Valley. He saw what was broken down. He saw the Cd'A River, "a stream so slate with crap its name pollutes the world."
Bruce and I loved Richard Hugo for knowing the valley we grew up in.
I drove Montana. Never had my Honda "found this forward a gear".
I drove forward to the past, the past I don't have words for, the almost prehistoric past of my eternal soul that Richard Hugo speaks to.
I drove forward to the present, too. To Kellogg. To my 20th high school reunion. To the weekend in my life when I fell in love with Kellogg all over again after a few years of separation.
My friends from high school inspired me to fall in love with Kellogg again.
So did Richard Hugo's ghost and the ghosts his poems invited to visit me.
I can't explain it.
I can only say it brought me a happiness that continues to grow.
(I don't know when I've been more astonished by Oscar nominees in a single year than by four of the five nominees a year ago for Best Actress. I haven't seen Angelina Jolie, yet, in The Changeling. I will. But Melissa Leo in Frozen River, Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, and the two performances I just wrote about moved me deeply, really got inside me, and entertained me in the deepest possible ways. I don't pretend to be a movie critic. I don't pretend to even know what makes a movie good. I don't even want to act like a critic. So I don't have vocabulary right now for the impact these four performances had on me. Maybe the best word is fierce. They are all fierce portrayals.)
2. The designers/landscapers measured the front and back yards. Another step forward.
3. While I watched those movies, drinking Tetley's British Blend black tea with milk seemed so right. It was.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
2. Joe came over and talked with me and the Deke about landscape design and plantings and other ideas for our front and back yard and things are moving in the right direction and by the middle of spring or so, our yards ought to be transformed.
3. I ate kind of a lunch counter dinner tonight, although the lunch counters at The Crescent or J. J. Newberry's or Woolworth's never served bread as good as the Farmhouse's Multi-grain bread from just down the road at Cottage Grove. But I sat at the kitchen counter and ate a salami and ham and swiss cheese and mustard sandwich, a pile of Lay's potato chips, a fat Nalley's crunchy dill pickle sliced into four spears, and an icy glass of Coca-Cola and daydreamed that I was at a department store lunch counter. That's just how my head works sometimes.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
2. I got so preoccupied with reading and grading papers and figuring out final grades that I forgot Coleen needed a letter of recommendation. Thank goodness when I suddenly remembered, I still had a couple of hours to write and submit it. Done.
3. This morning I suddenly craved soft-boiled eggs over Great Harvest Whole Wheat toast and a cup of Tetley British Blend tea with milk. I fixed it. I loved it. What will be next? A craving for Marmite?
Monday, March 22, 2010
2. I like Perfect Look. I bring my ordinary head of hair, get an ordinary hair cut, pay an ordinary price, and get on with my ordinary day -- perfect.
3. The Valley River Center parking lot hosted a chincy carnival with chincy rides, a chincy snack trailer, chincy games, the works. I thought of that chincy little bunch of rides on North Division near Bridgeport in Spokane with a chincy little roller coaster and a tilt-a-whirl and a merry-go-round and maybe some sad horses (help me sisters!) and how excited I used to get to go down there and how when chincy outfits came to Kellogg and set up their chincy operations on Teeters Field or at the Old Airport or when the broken down carnival came to rip everyone off at Frontier Days, I'd get excited, but how the excitement wore off as I got to be a teenager and how when I looked at that chincy operation yesterday, I felt let down, unexcited, sad. I saw some excited kids there, though. They didn't care that it was chincy. I miss that.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
2. I lightened up my being this morning by pretending I was a motorcyclist and by pretending I was worthy, not to mention capable, of competing in the Orofino Endurocross. The lightness of the absurdity of this fiction felt so good that I decided to push it into the surreal and imagined my mother becoming an Orofino Eudruocross competitor. I wonder if this kind of wacky diversion from grading papers was what Mary Oliver had in mind when she thought about the imagination and lightness of being in "Spring Azures".....
3. I graded papers and read poems by students all day. I am proud of my ENG 106 students. They surrendered themselves to poetry. Many, if not all, fell in love with poems. That's my chief goal in teaching this course. I want students to experience the soul of poetry. I think they did. I'm happy.
In spring the blue azures bow again
at the edges of shallow puddles
to drink the black rain water.
Then they rise and float away into the fields.
Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy,
and all the tricks my body knows —
the opposable thumbs, the kneecaps,
and the mind clicking and clicking —
don't seem enough to carry me through this world
and I think: how I would like
to have wings —
blue ones —
ribbons of flame.
How I would like to open them, and rise
from the black rain water.
And then I think of Blake, in the dirt and sweat of London — a boy staring through the window, when God came
Of course, he screamed,
seeing the bobbin of God's blue body
leaning on the sill,
and the thousand-faceted eyes.
Well, who knows.
who knows what hung, fluttering, at the window
between him and the darkness.
Anyway, Blake the hosier's son stood up
and turned away from the sooty sill and the dark city —
turned away forever
from the factories, the personal strivings,
to a life of the imagination.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Three Beautiful Things 03/18-19/10: Corned Beef and Baby Swiss, Coffee from Kettle Falls and Ethiopia, Home
2. I got out the coffee bean grinder and pulverized some of those dark Ethiopian beans InlandEmpireGirl sent me for Christmas and enjoyed one holy and robust cup of coffee. I forsook the CoffeeMate. I went for the 2% milk and for this boy, that was perfect.
3. It's a marathon reading all these papers at the end of the quarter. It's an enjoyable marathon, especially because many of my students have written memorable essays, many of them investigating what they have come to understand "home" to mean for them.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
2. I began reading the final personal essays my WR 122 students wrote. Honest. Authentic. Eloquent. No one's faking it. No one's writing for the grade. These essays are real. These writers learned to trust their voices, the power of their experience, and their talent. I get to read more on Thursday.
3. Russell and Ken have decided to publish a short piece I wrote entitled "On Illness" in the Community College Moment. This morning, Ken and I walked to our offices together from the parking lot and he took the opportunity to praise my work in ways I deeply appreciated. I, in turn, took delight in telling him how much my students love his poem "Rag" and, I hope, delighted him when I told him he often appeared in student essays right along Pablo Neruda as students wrote about his poem and work by Neruda. If Ken wasn't delighted, I sure have been as my students have been moved and delighted by Ken's great poem.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Three Beautiful Things 03/16/10: Uncertainty and Teaching, Poetry Alive, Simple and Satisfying Sandwich
2. It also helps when a student tells me what s/he's learned by dropping by to say so or by writing me a note. When I teach ENG 106, Intro to Poetry, I do all I can not to wreck the poems with needless attention to terms, although I work them in. First and foremost, I try to open up the experience of the poem, its impact, how it moves us to think and feel. I'm happy to report that some of my students expressed appreciation for how we did things in this class. They felt encouraged. Poetry became accessible. Many enjoyed the experience of poetry. I'd like to think my students often forgot we were in school as the poems came alive. After all, not one of these poems was written with a college classroom in mind......
3. I wanted something simple to eat when I returned home from night class and it dawned on me that I couldn't remember the last time I fried up a little bacon, fried a single egg over almost hard, and put the bacon and egg between two slices of buttered toast to make a fried egg and bacon sandwich. So simple. So quick. So delicious.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Three Beautiful Things 03/15/10:Falling in Love -- at a Final Exam! , Pickle Face-Off, I'm a Low Maintenance Low Budget Man
2. In a taste test conducted at the kitchen counter, InlandEmpireGirl's dill pickles are far better than Nalley's Crunchy Dills. One problem, though. The Nalley pickle is more loaded with memory. One bite of the Nalley's Crunchy Dill and I was back at the family dining table eating grilled American cheese sandwiches on a break from a day long game of Canasta. InlandEmpireGirl's pickles taste sublime. The Nalley pickle, though, is packed in the brine of daydreams and memories.
3. Dinner? I'm easy: pot roast, green beans, boiled russet potatoes, butter, and pepper. Works every single time.
Monday, March 15, 2010
2. I devoted my entire day to reading the essays and poems of my ENG 106 students. I'm not 100% caught up yet, but I'm getting close and am in fairly good shape for the onslaught of late papers and final exams I'll face starting tomorrow.
3. Sometimes I just start frying stuff...like tonight I started with about a quarter pound of hamburger and then I fried some potatoes and then I thought, well, hell, I'll put grated Trader Joe's sharp cheddar cheese on top of the fully peppered fried hamburger and fried potatoes, and I put that in the microwave to melt the cheese and I fried two eggs and took the bowl of fried meat and fried potatoes and melted cheese out of the microwave, threw the freshly fried eggs on top, busted the yokes, and so I created a great fried hamburger, fried potato, sharp cheddar cheese, fried egg bowl. I washed it down with Western Family Original low pulp orange juice.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Three Beautiful Things 03/13/10: GJ Bacon Cheeseburger, Have Non-Dairy Creamer -- Will Travel, Students Get Personal
2. Got some shopping done at Albertson's and decided to buy a container of non-dairy creamer for the car. One thing I really like about drinking coffee at 7-11 is the non-dairy creamer, but Dari Mart only offers half and half and I like non-dairy creamer better than half and half so I'm going to have non-dairy creamer in the car so I can have my coffee the way I like it wherever I go. And I hear non-dairy creamer keeps.
3. It's true for me as well as my students: getting behind is demoralizing, especially when it's illness that stops me from working for a while. On the other hand, slowly catching up is energizing, encouraging and I made more progress today. My evening dessert was reading my ENG 106 students' "Where I'm From" poems. Very tasty work. Fun. Illuminating. Invigorating. I have about sixteen more left to read. Then I'll read their work poems: it'll be like ordering another dessert from the menu. (Similarly, I'm stoked to read my WR 122 students' personal essay and see what happens to their writing when they are free of the shackles of research writing and freely explore their own experience and insights without negotiating other sources.)
Saturday, March 13, 2010
That's my headline for today. I stopped by Dari Mart for a coffee and cinnamon twist and as I was pumping my brew, a Dari Mart employee stepped into the store from a back room and said, "Sir, you must put your hood down in the store." I suddenly realized I was wearing my ghetto gear: my maroon North Idaho College hoodie -- and my hood was up. I recoiled. I complied. With a twinkle in my eye, I fake complained: "Now the world will see my unkempt hair." The Dari Mart lady sized me up and replied, "You look mahvehlous."
Wow. In a mere thirty seconds I was street and got flattered. Not bad for a harmless community college instructor.
2. Margaret, Jeff, Michael, and I hadn't had coffee together for a while and it shows. Look at all that's gone askew in the world. I'm happy to say, thougt, that we sat and talked for nearly three hours this afternoon and I think you and the rest of the world will see that things have already improved as we pretty much figured everything out.
3. My ENG 106 student, Kate, and I sat down for our weekly 11:00 talk and we sprang from reading Stephen Crane's poem, "Do Not Weep, Maiden, for War is Kind" to discussing what it means to develop and cherish a free mind. It's challenging.
Friday, March 12, 2010
2. I made a guest appearance in the American Working Class Lit. section today and read my paper, "On Needing Richard Hugo". It worked. Students asked good questions and a couple stayed after to talk with me some more about the essay.
3. Slowly, paper by paper I'm getting caught up: it means I'm feeling better. Finally.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Three Beautiful Things 03/10/10: Poetry and Sex, Hamburger and Eggs, Cinnamon Twist and Coffee -- at Dari-Mart
2. Sometimes, in the evening, it's time to open up the diner so I fried some potatoes in bacon grease, fried a heavily peppered and garlic powdered half-pound hamburger patty (80/20..fairly fat), and fried a couple of eggs over medium. I broke the eggs, let the gold yoke run, grabbed a bottle of ketchup, and dug in.
3. Okay, Jeff. You recommended Dari-Mart for coffee and donuts. I tried it today. Perfect. I'm happy. Those Dari-Mart cinnamon twists are great and I loved the coffee.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
2. It's been a while since I cooked up one of my most reliably satisfying small meals: grilled bacon and sharp cheddar cheese sandwich on Farmhouse sunflower seed bread and a bowl of Trader Joe's Creamy Tomato soup. Yes, I grouse about all the beautiful people and all the crazy privileged North Eugenites who shop at Trader Joe's. It's fun to make a drama out of it. I'll tell ya, though, their tomato soup makes it worth it for me. It's tasty. It's creamy.
3. The Ansonia. It's where Whitworth student who spent their Jan term in San Francisco stayed and I've heard so many great stories over the years about the fun so many of my students in the early 80s had at the Ansonia and now thanks to Susan-Louise and Bill Davie and I'm counting on Colette, the stories are resurfacing and my memories of my students' memories are feeling really good.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Three Beautiful Things 03/08/10: My Papa's Waltz, Good Conversation, Closing the Time Gap with Susan-Louise
2. Friends and fellow teachers ask me if I miss teaching the Shakespeare course. I don't. Part of the reason is that if I stroll down to Michael McDonald's office, we have really great talks about the plays and what we understand to be the mind of Shakespeare at work. It's more enjoyable talking with Michael about Shakespeare than it is to teach the course, oddly enough. He's doing some acting, he's philosophically minded, he's really, really intelligent without being a boor, and our conversations go places with Shakespeare, movies, what we think about teaching, and other stuff untraveled in the classroom. We had one our conversations today. It was uplifting for me.
3. Speaking of uplifting. Susan-Louise and I took some time out of our evening to continue to get reacquainted. Over twenty-five years have passed since she was a student of mine at Whitworth and we have become reacquainted in the Westminster basement online and through the wonders of Facebook chat. So much has happened since we were youngsters at Whitworth and it's fun to learn more about Susan-Louise and to answer questions she has about me. A lot of time gap closing is happening in the Westminster basement. It's so deeply satisfying.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Three Beautiful Things 03/07/10: Illness and Time and Learning and Teaching, Alien at Trader Joe's, Carl's Jr. Cures All
2. I find many of Trader Joe's products tasty and convenient, so I shop there, but I feel really out of place, out of my element in that store. I enjoy shopping in TJ's with a hoodie on, the hood pulled tight around my face, making every effort I can to avoid looking at people and to be invisible. (However, if Kelly's working, I love seeing her and every once in a while I run into a friend.) Mostly, though, I feel like a mule in a pasture of sleek, expensive horses.
3. I shook off my Trader Joe's experience by having a bite to eat at Carl's Jr. and about half way through my Famous Star with Cheese, just after I'd washed down a bite with some Dr. Pepper, I looked at my half-eaten burger and said to myself: "Hmm. That really tastes good to me." And it did. I realized I wasn't just scarfing the fast food fast. I enjoyed that burger. It hit the spot. And it was ordinary. It inspired me to think, again, about how much I enjoy 7-11 coffee. And how Jeff recommended I try the doughnuts and coffee at Dari-Mart. And I will.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
2. For the first time in over two weeks, I graded papers and will continue tomorrow. Beginning to get caught up relieves pressure and it feels good to have the energy to do my work.
3. I liked the different responses friends and family made to my Grandma Dream. I was especially happy that Susan D. read it and that it was a bit of light in her remembering of Michael Q.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
I went to sleep last night thinking I might dream about Michael, hoping that I might dream about all the great times we had going to and renting movies, eating burgers and other similar food at some of our favorite places to eat, talking baseball, loving the 49ers, really loving the Celtics and, most of all, talking about teaching and ideas. Michael was not only a very intelligent man, he was forcefully intelligent, too often overbearingly intelligent, and our conversations remain among the best I've had. Those conversations were deeply formative (not just informative) regarding how to teach, what to teach, and so on.
I didn't dream about Michael.
I dreamed about my Grandma Woolum who died in Nov. of 1991.
In my dream, the snow was deep and the back streets, Courtland, Glass, Empire, as well as Standard and Cincinnati were difficult to drive through, so I parked the car and set out on foot to find Grandma's house.
Grandma hadn't been dead long in my dream. In my dream, as I walked through the snow, I flashed back to seeing her. She was alone. She was bed-ridden. She was full of vitality, memories, stories, and disappointment in my dream's flashback and so she haunted me as I went in search of her house.
Finally, after some trudging, I got oriented and found her house. By the time I reached it, spring had arrived. New flowers in new flower beds, put in by the new owners, were beginning to bloom and the owner had brought a rug out to the front porch it air it out.
Grandma's house had been remodeled. It looked like a miniature church, a contemporary church. The house swept on a curve back toward the alley and then back toward Bridgeport again. It was dramatic. It was far more beautiful and dramatic than her little house could ever have been.
I was stunned.
The new owner was happy to meet Lula Woolum's grandkids. By now, my sisters were with me. I'd been alone, but suddenly they appeared and we marveled at the new house and then, as so often happens, the dream ended.
So I didn't dream about Michael, I don't think. But I loved seeing Grandma's house in its remodeled splendor and loved seeing that it was a part of a renaissance of improvements on East Bridgeport, from Nevada, west to Division.
2. Michael, Jeff, and I had a great time together at Allann Bros. talking about everything we could pack into 90 minutes.
3. I hadn't heard from Susan D. for quite a while. Her email was sobering. It informed me of the death of a mutual friend from many years ago. In addition, her email opened the way for us to become connected on Facebook and now I know about Susan's work and that she has children and other stuff. I am enjoying getting reacquainted.
Here's the transcript.
KWRS: We'd like to thank you Profess--
Bill: I'm not a professor. I'm an instructor.
KWRS: Sorry. We'd like to thank you Dr. --
Bill: I'm not a doctor. I hold a masters degree. Don't hype me. I'm Bill Woolum, Instructor of English at Lane Community College and I have a masters degree.
I've never been a professor.
KWRS: Okay. You did teach at Whitworth, right?
Bill: Yes. But not as a professor. I was hired as an instructor and paid as one.
KWRS: Oh. But didn't you do what professors do?
Bill: Yes. But I wasn't working toward tenure and I wasn't a professor elsewhere, so I was hired as an instructor.
KWRS: Okay. Well it's good we got that straightened out. Thank you for coming on with us.
Bill: You're welcome. Anything to keep Christian music off the air.
KWRS: You don't like --
Bill: Hate it.
KWRS: OOOkay. Now, Mr. Wool--
Bill: Call me Bill.
KWRS: Now, Bill, you said you'd like to pretend you had said, as Muriel Rukeyser actually did, that "If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day.For there would be an intolerable hunger.” Why did you want to pretend to say this?
Bill: Well, it takes the onus off trying to figure out what Rukeyser meant and just lets me reflect upon this quote as if it were mine.
KWRS: Okay. Well, dig in.
Bill: For starters, had I said this, my emphasis would be on the hunger, that poetry nourishes a hunger, and second of all, had I said this, I would not be talking about poems only, but poetry in general.
KWRS: Wait. Are you saying that poetry happens outside of poems?
Bill: Definitely. I think poems are a fairly small, though significant, slice of the poetry pie. Poetry is what occurs when language is used musically. Poetry is first and foremost music. It's the making of music with language that we seem to hunger for because we do it all the time.
KWRS: We do?
Bill: Yes. Gosh. Where to start? Nicknames. That's a great place to start. Nicknames almost are fun to hang on people as much for the way they sound as for what they say. Take Willie Mays. He was called the Say Hey Kid. Say, Hey, Mays all sound like and and baseball fans and people on the streets of New York loved to call out to Mays: "Hey Say Hey!" There's no logical reason for my friend Jake to call me Billy Boy. I see him and he says, "' 'sup Billy Boy", but it sounds good, the "B" sounds, the balance of it, it's great.
KWRS: So poetry is everywhere?
Bill: Everywhere. Poetry is language made memorable. It's funny what we remember, maybe even against our better will, because the poetry is so good. The pollsters who did this study weren't interested in poetry, but how secular we'd become, but they found out that a way larger number of people could recite that a Big Mac was “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame-seed bun” than knew the 10 Commandments. It may have to do with better marketing, but definitely, the Big Mac jingle is more memorable, more muscial: it's better poetry. But, when the Bible's poetry works, well, almost no one ever forgets. For example, it's not what it says but how it sounds, I think, that makes "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" memorable. When I was a kid, I loved just saying that to myself, but I didn't know what I was saying. I loved the sound.
KWRS: But poetry is more than sounds, right?
Bill: Yes, it sure is and we love the figurative elements of language, too. In fact, sometimes with the figurative the music follows right behind. For example, my friend Ed drove logging trucks for over thirty years. One day a fellow log truck driver nicknamed him Rooster and proclaimed over the CB Radio: "Hey fellas, Rooster's bringing in a load. He thinks he's the cock of the yard." And it stuck. The image worked. The metaphor worked. And so did the great sound of "he's the cock of the yard." I think Yeats might wish he'd written as fine a line as "he's the cock of the yard"! One other example. Cars. Ford wants us to think we are riding a young wild pony while behind the wheel of a Mustang and just think of how sleek a wild feline the Jaguar is and then you know why that car has its name.
KWRS: How about the Pinto?
Bill: Hahahahahaha! Not very good poetry is it! I felt the same way when I drove a Gremlin. But a Thunderbird. Powerful.
KWRS: So it sounds to me like you are saying poetry almost comes naturally to us.
Bill: I think I am. I don't really know, but human beings seem to take an untutored delight in rhyme making, creating figures of speech, using profanity in colorful ways, creating slang that sounds just right, and on and on. Of course, some of the tightest, most muscial, and most figurative use of language is in jokes. Jokes kill when the music, rhythm, meter, etc. is right. Likewise, Cockney rhyming slang. And rap. Whether raps are spoken without music or rapped to music, the ingenious rhymes, the folding over structures, rap is poetry and it feeds a hunger to take delight in the sounds and rhythms of language and to make figures.
KWRS: So there's a lot of poetry going on that never makes it to the school classroom.
Bill: Infinite amounts. And once we bring schools into this discussion, we are talking about poems. I'm very wary of the power institutes of higher learning exert in determining what is good considered a "good poem", what is "worthy of study" and I'm even more wary of how students seem to be taught to read poems.
KWRS: You are?
Bill: When I teach Intro to Lit.: Poetry, my biggest task is to try to persuade my students out of these sorts of ideas they have about poems: First, that poems are about hidden meaning; second, that they have to read between the lines (I tell them don't bother...the lines are a lot better); that poems have to be deciphered, like they will need to send in boxtops and get a poetry decoder ring; that (and this is the biggest absurdity) poetry is abstract. Abstract? What? Sure, there are a small number of poems that deal solely in the realm of ideas, but the vast majority of poems are picture books. Poems, more often than not, are a feast for the senses. Abstract? Who tells them this shit? Oops. Sorry. Not on KWRS. Hope you are on tape delay...
I mean what's all this mystifying of poems? Maybe it's T.S. Eliot's fault. Maybe students first tried to read poetry by reading The Waste Land...but, by and large, except when poets are experimenting with breakdowns in language or purposely writing obscurely, poems are accessible.
When Robert Pinsky was Poet Laureate he started the Favorite Poem Project. People up and down the class ladder from every part of the country and people of all ages shared their favorite poems. His book "American's Favorite Poem's" helped Pinsky document that poetry has a strong presence in American culture, not just in the academies.
Oh I could go on and on. I just want to make sure I make the point that all of us who love poems have got to find access to the great poetry that doesn't get published by University run journals and University run publishing presses and by Publishing Houses whose editors often share the prejudices of the University toward poetry.
In the 1996 edition of Best American Poetry, Adrienne Rich went out of her way to give attention to poetry that had appeared in the smallest of presses, that was not the kind of poetry produced in University Creative Writing Programs.
She defied the gatekeepers. She pissed off (whoops, sorry KWRS) one of the chief gatekeepers, Harold Bloom, who, like many who teach literature and regard themselves as the protectors of taste, sanctimoniously lambasted Rich.
Rich's Best of 1996 collection reached deep into the many pockets of the USA where poetry is made and so the poetry worked in various ways and not all of it worked in the ways that Harold Bloom and countless others like him think poems ought to work if they are to be deemed to be a part of the world of high minded poems.
KWRS: So is there a hunger for the poems taught in college classrooms and published in journals and by publishing houses?
Bill: It's interesting. About every time Atlantic magazine or some other august bugle sounds the death knell of poetry, someone like Pinsky comes along and discovers the funeral should not be scheduled just yet. Or Garrison Keillor comes along and makes poems readily available every day through his Writer's Almanac. I think the more people realize that a person doesn't need special powers or even a college class to have a really wonderful experience with poems, the more poems will flourish. I think Keillor helps that idea along really well. So did Ted Kooser when he was Poet Laureate, as did Billy Colllins. Kay Ryan is headed in a similar direction (and she's headed to my place of employment in May!)
KWRS: Well, thank you, Bill. I'm not sure you ever said what you think that quotation means, but you certainly have a lot on your mind.
Bill: You are welcome. And could you wait a few minutes until I've had a chance to get out of the building before you put on Amy Grant.
2. This work we are doing with the copious nature of Kim Barnes' thinking and explorations is helping my students see how, in In the Wilderness, in Barnes' words, "it's all connected". It's rewarding. Some of my students are surrendering to expanding their ways of thinking.
3. I had a fun time writing a fiction. It's as if I were being interviewed on Whitworth's radio station KWRS. I'm responding, in the interview to this idea: “If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day.For there would be an intolerable hunger.” It's a quotation by Muriel Rukeyser. The interview is here.
Friday, March 5, 2010
2. It might be a misfire, but I love confronting my students with the idea that if they are going to insist on being cool, the deepest pleasures of poetry will pass them by because a person cannot have his/her cool on and simultaneously be waylaid by poetry's beauty and impact. It really helps in making this point to be what I am: totally devoid of cool. Or coolness. Or coolocity. Or El Coolerino (if you're not into the whole brevity thing).
3. I'm giving all I can to my work, but not too much. That's the goal. Rest. Keep rested. I rested well today after my Rafa Nadal performance in Intro to Lit: Poetry today.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
2. I wish I could devote every minute and hour of my teaching days to Robert Grudin's thoughts on Copia and the way he invites us to develop open, generous, forgiving, unpunctuated, and free minds as we try to understand truth and invites us, as we begin to work out those truths to do so with minds that are open, generous, forgiving, unpunctuated, and free. The book? Robert Grudin, On Dialogue: An Essay in Free Thought.
3. I confessed to my evening class that learning to think freely, to welcome all ideas (as best I can), to not prejudge others' views, to try to look at and understand things from as many points of view as possible has done more to bring my Christian faith alive than anything else I've ever done. Sometimes I have to say this. I'm not interested in "witnessing" to my students, but I hear students say things about the narrowness of Christianity and once in a while I just have to let it pop out that this open, genial, listening, generous-minded, forgiving, lenient, free thinking middle-aged man they've been working with is a Christian.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
2. I was going to take the elevator upstairs and as the doors opened on the cafeteria level, I spotted Michael looking for a table. He was alone. I bagged my elevator travels and imposed myself upon Michael's solitude, which he didn't seem to mind, and we had a great conversation. It did more for helping me heal than any herbal extract, medicinal herbal tea, or megadose of Vitamin C.
3. Jane E. did it. I'm pretty sure Bill D. did. They read the entirety of kellogg bloggin' once they knew it was there. Others, my sisters and Bridgit H. and Jane K. , for example have read nearly the whole thing by following it regularly. Now Susan-Louise has gone back to the beginning of kellogg bloggin' and started to read. Whether she reads the whole blog is not as important to me as is her interest and the fact that she finds my thoughts, stories, recollections, and poems worthy of her time. I really like that.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Three Beautiful Things 02/28/10: Old Testament Friendly, Old Students Talking Divorce, Long and Wonderful Chat
2. They were my students at Whitworth nearly thirty years ago and now we get together in the virtual basement of Westminster Hall and talk things over. Today, the subject of divorce arose. It's a raw topic. At Westminster Hall, the discussion has been insightful, compassionate, supportive, and painful.
3. Susan-Louise and I chatted on Facebook last night for about three hours as a way of getting reacquainted. She was last a student of mine in Jan. of '83. We might have had some conversation around campus after that, but it's been nearly thirty years and our long chat last night made me very happy. This reunion with Whitworth students is working really well for me!