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{Fri 5 December 2008}   Who needs New Media?

I haven’t blogged for a month, but it’s not because I haven’t been writing. I’ve had my nose to the grindstone, studying the vast amount of course material for my wonderful new MA and writing bits and pieces for creative and critical exercises. I’m doing the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media from De Montfort University in Leicester.  The experience has been really positive so far, with hugely experienced course leaders (Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger) and a really talented and intelligent bunch of fellow students. The last two weeks have been a bit of a strain, though, because DMU has just announced that they intend to close the course due to the credit crunch. They say (but can we believe them now?) that those of us currently doing the course will be able to complete it.

Even in this dire economy, it’s hard to believe that they would contemplate axing this one – a true flagship programme for educating people for the online world (where there are more and more unconventional opportunities to make money when normal jobs fail).  As an online course, it also must surely be one of the courses with the fewest overheads and therefore the least expensive to run and to promote.

As Course Rep for my year, I’ve spent a lot of what should have been study time collating and representing to the university administration students’ expressions of dismay at their betrayal and questions about our academic future. Of course, I don’t mind doing this, as I really believe in the course, but I hope all the effort will prove fruitful and they’ll decide to revive it. Well, if they don’t, someone else must, because the electronic universe won’t tolerate that vacuum, but boo hoo! then for those of us who were silly enough to give our precious credit crunch cash to DMU!

If you’re interested in the future of new media education,  you might want to see what some experienced voices have to say about this closure at Chris Meade’s bookfutures blog. Chris is a director of The Institute for the Future of the Book in London. In two articles (so far), Chris speaks of his own surprise at the closure announcement, and heavyweights like Howard Rheingold who has taught on the course have joined in to label it incredibly shortsighted.

Sigh… we’ll see. In the mean time, at least I’m writing again, after such a long dry season. See my next posts for a couple of the creative writing exercises that have turned out okay, I think, or at least offer potential for further development.

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{Thu 22 November 2007}   Shining Chandelier
This little poem is whimsical and light (in all senses of the word!). It came to me last weekend during a writer’s workshop led by Alison Chisholm, hosted by the Geneva Writer’s Group. Alison gave us the fairly challenging exercise of writing in ten minutes a poem “about anything, except the view outside, or the difficulty of writing a poem!”. I knew instantly that I had to find a focus and a frame immediately, otherwise the nightmare of my creative writing exams at school would return… two and a half hours gone of a three hour paper and still staring blankly at a sneering white page…

The modern chandelier in the middle of the room at the Geneva Press Club provided such a focus. I noticed that its many bulbs created a concave meniscus as they seemed to yearn towards the floor, reminding me of Le Corbusier’s marvellous human-friendly wooden ceiling in the chapel at Ronchamps. My first thoughts about it were simple, and the frame that suggested itself for simple thoughts was haiku. What emerged then was this:

Shining Chandelier

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Reflections in me.

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Glow echoed in me.

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Light sources in me.

See a Wordle version of this poem



During my ongoing review of ancient scribblings by myself, I came across another essay that I very much enjoyed writing. Its subject matter, George Herbert’s 17th century anthology The Temple, is a wonderful example of “fine energies” being examined and released by “fine reasoning”, albeit inside a worldview that is entirely circumscribed by a belief in received interpretation of Christian scripture. Rereading it, I feel myself again seduced by the beautiful internal consistency of Herbert’s argument, won over by his sincerity, awed by his skill and respectful of his courage and his humility in facing his God.

It seems amazing that I wrote a 3000-word essay on a poem of just eight simple lines! Well, it was on The Temple as a whole, but as Dr. Ron Hall’s original question indicates, the themes of this great work are succinctly encapsulated in the tiny Bitter-sweet. This shows how powerful a good poem can be in stimulating and feeding meditation on huge life-changing subjects, and thus it should be no surprise, if one views the Bible as a poetic work (as argued in my previous posts Fine energies and fine (if erroneous) thoughts and Poetry and creativity in the press and in the Bible), that it has had the power to mould and move individuals and nations both to heights of achievement and, sadly, to depths of repression, as they reach for the perfection at which it hints.

I think that, as in the best poems, some of its power comes from its universality. Although I do not believe the Bible to be an accurate historical or empirical record of, nor a blueprint for, human development, I do believe that, along with many other writings of similar poetic power, it contains universal truths which attract those who experience their lives as a meaning-making journey, whether their medium be primarily that of the emotions or that of the intellect.

So… here’s my encounter with Bitter-sweet and The Temple:

Taking the poem Bitter-sweet as your point of departure, discuss the methods used in, and the effects achieved by, Herbert’s blending of “complaint” and “praise” in The Temple. (Dr R. Hall)

Bitter-sweet

Ah, my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament and love.

George Herbert

After an oppressively didactic introduction in The Church-porch, Herbert opens the heart of his work with a series on the Passion of Christ. Despite the Judaeo-Catholic legalism of the preceding section, it is clearly these poems, with their Protestant emphasis on salvation by grace, that are intended to set the context for the major part of The Templei. The remainder of The Church is a meditation on the nature of the relationship with God exemplified in, and made possible by, Christ’s Passion. When Herbert imitates his God, as suggested in Bitter-sweet, he clearly has in mind the Christ who could complain to his Father, “…take away this cup”, yet in the next breath say, “…not my will, but thine be done”ii.

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Yesterday we hosted one of our regular Shakespeare readings at home. The company was jolly and the food delicious, if very simple (crudites with organic hummus to start, then homemade veggie soup with homemade crusty bread at the halfway point, and strawberries and Lindt Lindor Extra Dark choccy balls for the final act!). With the help of some French organic cider and a very good Pinot Noir, the group launched into Measure for Measure with great energy, scrambling bravely over the rocky bits (French velvet and English kersey) and breaking out every so often for a spot of outrage or insight as we are wont to do. We were delighted by the variety of temperaments our readers captured in both large and small parts, with a menacingly sepulchral Angelo, Lucio as a canny, sassy, irreverent ne’er-sit-down whose wordplay gleamed like swordplay, Francisca sporting an Irish accent, a self-righteous Elbow, a truculent Barnardine, the passionate virgin Isabella, and all the other characters whose hilarious and shocking contrasts only fully emerge when embodied.

The play was, as always, very timely. We yielded willingly to the Bard’s genius in creating characters, situations and wordplay that make us laugh uproariously while reflecting on themes of moral hypocrisy, the unequal values placed on the testimonies of women and men, the power-relationships of relative rank, money, reputation, class and gender, over-legislation and interference by the state, and the obsession with sex as a focus for legislation and judgement due to supposed “public interest”, with repression the chosen tool despite the evidence of history that it is neither possible nor desirable to “geld and splay all the youth of the city” (Pompey to Escalus, MforM Act II Sc i).

These topics are so ubiquitous and familiar still from our own everyday politics that it’s hard to blame anyone who takes up an attitude as cynical as Lucio’s, determining simply to follow whichever path (and suck up to whichever power source) is likely to lead to the greatest personal licence right now. However, in Shakespeare’s time one had a lot less choice about one’s position and advancement in society (at least relative to those who live in more or less democratic cultures now — I know that the majority of the world still lacks this privilege). Why don’t those of us who can in the 21st century require our leaders and opinion-formers in church and state and media to concentrate on education, health, gender equality and poverty relief or any of the other things where their intervention could actually be useful, rather than spending our time and our money on the prosecution of people whose service exists because of society’s need and desire to use it?

I say this in connection with “The madam, her girls and a city in fear” in the Mail&Guardian. How much has changed since Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure? Well, I smiled as I thought that it seems clear that the primal needs and the political motivations of the players haven’t altered at all, but at least there is a possibility that Mistress Overdone may get more airtime. That, at least, brings a bit of balance to the exploitation equation.

Overall, the play’s a peachy preach on a theme that’s too little heard these days:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5

And I love the open question at the end… did Isabella say yes to Vincentio?



There’s a wonderful article in The Guardian today where Robert Fisk explores the Bard’s evocations of the feelings and actions of men in battle situations and shows how relevant and accurate they are to our wars today. Oh, to see so clearly and write poetry that penetrates and grips and lasts and keeps on speaking!

See http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article2403298.ece



{Sun 25 March 2007}   The Priesthood of the Soul
I have just found in an old backup file some essays of mine on subjects close to my heart, which I had feared were lost. They were created in WordPerfect in 1992 and 1993 on my first computer – a 7.5kg whopper of a laptop which I abandoned in about 1997, I think. I have no idea whether these thoughts and approaches would be considered to have any validity now in any current education programme, but part of me doesn’t care. I just want to affirm and reconnect with my experience of “flow” at the time and also to reconsider now these influences which I know have formed and informed my approach to poetry.

As I read through them, and read the markers’ comments again, I am amazed both at the intensity with which my mind was working at the time, and at my concurrent inability then to absorb either the praise or the criticism that the markers gave. My relative maturity now enables me to see how much care was taken by the markers in their thoughtful comments and I am embarrassed to realise how little I valued them then. My driving need for approbation and reinforcement prevented me from realising that people were offering me exactly these simply by taking my writing seriously enough to offer me thoughtful feedback.

I have no record of the mark I received for this one, but the lecturer actually wrote a five-page response to this twelve-page essay which begins as follows:

The Priesthood of the Soul: The relationship between Imagination and Reason in Keats.

The Romantic obsession with the apparent dichotomy between Passion and Reason is given a new twist in Keats’s unique theology:

Call the world … “The vale of Soul-making”…. There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions — but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself…. Spirit-creation … is effected by three grand materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years — These three Materials are the Intelligence — the human heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind) and the World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul… As various as the Lives of Men are — so various become their souls (Letter 123, 335-6).i

That Keats favours a chemical metaphor for the processes of both poetry and human experience indicates how much his rational and his imaginative faculties complement each other. In The Chemistry of the Poetic Process, Stuart M. Sperry minutely demonstrates how much Keats borrows from his scientific reading to develop his poetic philosophy.ii He shows that Keats sees poetry as a process whereby the material world’s beauties and travails are absorbed via the senses and distilled, through an inner contemplative-experiential mechanism called ‘intensity’, into an essence of thought. Such thought, however, cannot be equated with rational conclusions arrived at through logic. Sensation acted upon by the imagination (the agent of intensity) produces a fresh complex of sense-stimulating beauties which open up new avenues for exploration. For the reader, the poem then forms an acutely tuned part of his material world and invites him to a similar experience of intensification and distillation of thought. In consequence, the reader’s appreciation may differ from the poet’s. Keats’s own capacity for existing in uncertainty allows his readers to fashion their own souls as they choose. In one letter he asserts that poetry can lead man into contemplation and through it to an active awareness (by which he means sensitivity to potential pathways rather than any single, absolute conviction) which could transform humanity (48, 103-4). This is how the poet functions as priest of the soul in ‘the vale of Soulmaking’.

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{Sat 24 March 2007}   Green thoughts in green shades

Today, I was thinking of changing my presentation theme; then I remembered this stanza from Andrew Marvell’s poem The Garden that was a favourite of mine at varsity:

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

In many ways, this is what I’m doing on this blog, I guess, so I think I’ll stick with the green shades! A friend last night suggested that I was possibly being a little over-enthusiastic in my intention to post something on my blog every day (a not-yet-achieved goal), and I do confess that the blogging I’ve done so far has possibly taken up a tad more of each day than I originally intended, but I hope that the annihilation of all that’s previously been made will make space for green thoughts that are fertile and bursting with life and potential! Meanwhile, in the other room, my hubby is creating far other worlds and other seas in Second Life… sigh… is that where all cyber roads eventually lead? An alternate reality?

For the whole poem, go to this lovely site: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/marvell/garden.htm



{Fri 23 March 2007}   Each mortal thing selves

What is it to be oneself? To which of the many values I hold should I be true? Every morning I wake with thoughts like these already challenging me. They sometimes nudge, sometimes scream. Which set of compromises will I engage in today? Are these compromises betrayals, or are they the appropriate negotiations of an adult and flexible mind?

The first stanza of this sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins has been playing over and over in my mind for days now. It contains the essence of the thing that I am crying out for: that I must “selve”, be congruent, be able to say “What I do is me”. But how? Kingfishers do it naturally, without thought, but that is not within the capacity of humans, it seems.

Unless they’re saved, of course. GMH’s resolution in the second stanza is that “the just man” is more than himself. When he is just, he expresses not only his own righteousness, but that of Christ, which is “more” than any other mortal being can do. The picture he conjures of the consequent elevation of man and the implied adoring gaze of God upon this composite expression of Christ is at once beautiful and alienating to me. I think GMH is saying that we find and express our true nature in Christ, and that it is as natural for us to do this as it is for kingfishers to catch fire and dragonflies to draw flame, but this does not answer my cry. If kingfisherness is enough for the kingfisher, why cannot Tia-ness be enough for me, and for any god who looks on me? The theological answer is original sin, of course. The kingfisher cannot sin, and is not born with the burden of the sins of previous generations. It is only we humans who are trapped like Sisyphus before we are conceived. As I think of this, I feel ill. I am actually nauseated by the injustice of this theology!

I also find the masculine language alienating – it’s all about a male Son relating to a male Father through men. And yes, I’m fully aware that “man” and “men” in this context probably are intended to be inclusive of all (saved) humanity, but the patriarchalism still narks me.

And yet, and yet, I still love this poem, all the way to the last full stop. Its internal logic and the pulse of its argument are compelling. I love the way most of the lines begin with a strong beat which drives its conviction home. And the transcendence it suggests is possible still speaks to my longing.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying, What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

(poem text copied from Poetry Connection)



{Thu 22 March 2007}   tree and roses
tree and roses

i see
an abundance of roses,
waiting for the tree that cannot move
to come to them;

they
climb-twist, wave-scent,
petal-plunge, dip-dance,
grow, grow…

oh, blow, speed, plant
these seeds there
around the tree
(that, or this, or any of these,
may grow more easily, and faster
than any tree!)

grace it with delicacy,
protect it, love it
with laughing thorns
that scratch and tickle
its deep-grooved bark;
that these sweet roses
may draw blood from any outside hand
that knows not the dance
of tree and roses.

poet, i love you;
i long for you, to hold
you and walk through
roses with you,
dripping lifeblood.

teach me.



{Wed 21 March 2007}   World Poetry Day 21 March 2007
Did you know that March 21st is officially World Poetry Day?

I’m just catching up with this news (I know, I know, where have I been…?) Anyway, here’s what I’ve found so far (in case anyone else is just as ignorant as I apparently was). Anyone can Google for this info; I’ve just selected sites that interest me. (I’ve ignored most of those that are help-for-teachers type sites which seem to consist of suggested lesson plans):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Poetry_Day

This seems a good day to consider adding to Wikipedia’s entries on Poetry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Poetry

Here’s the official UNESCO World Poetry Day site:
http://www.unesco.org/poetry/bienvenue.php?initia=english
and another mention at UNESCO:
http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.php-URL_ID=12329&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

and the UK getting in on the act:
http://www.countmeincalendar.info/show_campaign.php?banner_area=3&calid=7&camp_dates=21%20Mar%202007&campaignid=267&categoryid=

and Canada (Arc Poetry – goodlooking mag):
http://www.arcpoetry.ca/portage/

and next, Iran: This was exciting to me – a possible point of unity amongst all the suspicion? http://www.iranmania.com/News/ArticleView/Default.asp?NewsCode=50308&NewsKind=Current%20Affairs

and that’s all I have time for now. Enjoy!



et cetera