Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Poem of the day #29

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room
William Wordsworth

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Poem of the Day #28

Elegy for Jane
Theodore Roethke

My Student, Thrown by a Horse

I remember the neck curls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidling pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,
A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing;
And the hold sand in the bleached valleys under the rose.

Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure
Eve a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw;
Stirring the clearest water.

My sparrow, you are not there,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiny shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.

If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in their matter,
Neither father nor lover.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Poem of the day #27

Adrienne Rich

Thinking of Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)
astronemer, sister of William; and others.

A woman in the shape of a monster
a monster in the shape of a woman
the skies are full of them

a woman    'in the snow
among the Clocks and instruments
or measuring the ground with poles'

in her 98 years to discover
8 comets

she whom the moon ruled
like us
levitating into the night sky
riding the polished lenses

Galaxies of women, there
doing penance for impetuousness
ribs chilled
in those spaces      of the mind

An eye,

          'virile, precise and absolutely certain'
   from the mad webs of Uranusborg

                                                     encountering the NOVA

every impulse of light exploding
from the core
as life flies out of us

          Tycho whispering at last
          'Let me not seem to have lived in vain'

What we see, we see
and seeing is chaining

the light that shrivels a mountain
and leaves a man alive

Heartbeat of the pulsar
heart sweating through my body

The radio impulse
pouring in from Taurus

          I am bombarded yet      I stand

I have been standing all my life in the
direct path of a battery of signals
the most accurately transmitted most
untranslatable language in the universe
I am a galactic cloud so deep     so invo-
luted that a light wave could take 15
years to travel through me     And has
taken     I am an instrument in the shape
of a woman trying to translate pulsations
into images     for the relief of the body
and the reconstruction of the mind.

from The Facts Of A Doorframe

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Poem of the day #26

A Kite is a Victim
Leonard Cohen

A kite is a victim you are sure of.
You love it because it pulls
gentle enough to call you master,
strong enough to call you fool;
because it lives
like a desperate trained falcon
in the high sweet air,
and you can always haul it down
to tame it in your drawer.

A kite is a fish you have already caught
in a pool where no fish come,
so you play him carefully and long,
and hope he won't give up,
or the wind die down.

A kite is the last poem you've written
so you give it to the wind,
but you don't let it go
until someone finds you
something else to do.

A kite is a contract of glory
that must be made with the sun,
so you make friends with the field
the river and the wind,
then you pray the whole cold night before,
to make you worthy and lyric and pure.

Language never gets easy.

I just survived a Philosophy Intensive, which means that in the last 30 hours, 12 of them were spent in a class covering Analytic Philosophy.

Huh, and when you put it like that it doesn't look too bad. Suddenly I feel less hardcore than I did before I started this post.

Anyhow, one of the things were were covering in class was the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, specifically his work on language. (I wrote my paper on his Mysticism. And that's the last you're ever going to to hear of that paper, because for complete lack of excellence it ranks right up there with the stories where I mistook architecture for plot and finished conversations by people jumping down holes in the ground.) In addition to really kicking off Ordinary Language Philosophy, one of the things Wittgenstein worked on was the theory of private language vs. public language.

This is where it gets interesting, I promise.

Okay, so one of the things that has been thought about extensively over the last couple millennia has been how we acquire language. The general consensus was that language was something that arose internally. When we were children someone pointed to a cookie and said "cookie," and so when we wanted that thing we went to the pictures in our minds, found that it was called "cookie," and asked for it. Language is primarily internal, arising from private experiences and sensations we learn to put names to.

And then Wittgenstein came along with a bag full of wrenches and threw them at everything. He said that language arrises from shared experiences, experiences that we've decided on a name for. It is essentially public, and essentially experiential. Even in the example of the child pointing at the cookie, the important part is not that the child wanted to name the thing a cookie. The child wanted a cookie. (Speaking of shared experiences, pretty sure that one's common…) We don't walk around with a catalogue of names of things in our head, we walk around with a collection of actions in our heads.

From this it follows that language is essentially culturally constructed. (And if you add the fact that experience is filtered through "language," experience is culturally constructed, and so is reality, but that's a head trip I've barely even started synthesizing yet, much less decided if I agree.)

Speaking of experiences that make sense within culture...
So that's interesting.

I had never gone into the issue as deeply as we did this weekend before, but I had thought of language as a cultural construction before. It's one of the things that comes up if you move a lot. (Just trying referring to the boot of a car in California and see how far that gets you.) And it's also something that comes up if you're writing or studying writing. It's why you often need to know where or when someone comes from before you interpret their work, or you're left thinking as all those poets talking about courtly love as creepers who can't even talk to women. Where if you know that the genders were entirely segregated at the time of the writing, you know that the poet isn't a creeper for not talking to his lady love. (He's a creeper for other reasons. :D)

One of the things I was wondering this summer was whether a common language is actually an impediment to communication in our world. We have so many people who speak English, and because of our shared media and art we all talk fairly similarly. There are, or course, exceptions-- Singlish being one which comes to mind-- but generally most people who talk English are fairly comprehensible to each other. However, we don't all come from the same culture. Yes, we come from similar cultures, but our experiences range from subtly to very different. And yet, we all have the same words for things. So we assume we're talking about the same things, when sometimes we really aren't.

I beg your pardon?
I thought of this again when #Occupy protests started spreading around the globe. Because yes, in the USA when you say "Bank," you're talking about an institution which has some serious institutional flaws. More Regulation Needed, Please. However, that isn't necessarily the same everywhere. In Canada while the USA financial system ours was the most stable in the world. So when people hear on the news that "the financial system is corrupt and flawed and needs to be changed," and then they go out and protest it, they're protesting an issue that might not even exist in their country. If it does exist, it's certainly not going to be fixed with the same solutions here! But because the words are the same, we assume the experiences and references are the same.

tl;dr version: Define your terms.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Poem of the day #25

The secretary chant
Marge Piercy

My hips are a desk
From my ears hang
chains of paper clips.
Rubber bands form my hair
My breasts are wells of mimeograph ink.
My feet bear casters.
Buzz. Click.
My head is a badly organized file.
My head is a switchboard
where crossed lines crackle.
Press my fingers
and in my eyes appear credit and debit.
Zing. Tinkle.
My navel is a reject button.
From my mouth issue canceled reams.
Swollen, heavy, rectangular
I am about to be delivered
of a baby
Zerox machine.
File me under W
because I wonce
a woman.

From Circles On The Water.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Definitely the image of the day.

Poem of the Day #24

John Terpstra

The location and number of stars in the sky is determined by
the trajectory of individual branch tips, each of which bears
responsibility for a single pinprick of light.
     As well, the individual bent of each branch is the result of its
having scanned the black dome for an unlit location.
     These are, of course, preposterous hypotheses, and it is
likely that only those who are willing to admit to an uncommon
empathy with trees would ever entertain them.
     In any case let it follow that when a tree falls the lights dim.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dark Age Ahead: Living without Community.

For International Studies, I got to read a bonus book, and the one I chose was Dark Age Ahead, by Jane Jacobs. (It was awesome.)

The main crux of the argument that Ms. Jacobs puts forward is that North American society is heading for a Dark Age, because of the decline of certain pillars of our civilization. And she points out that a Dark Age occurs when a civilization no longer even knows what it's lost. The people assume that they live at the pinnacle of their nation's glory while it's crumbling underneath them.

So what are these pillars? She outlines five, the crumbling of each which has led to a whole host of other problems we regard as the normal state of affairs.
  • Community and Family
  • Higher education
  • The effective practice of science and since-based technology
  • Taxes and governmental powers directly in touch with needs and possibilities
  • Self-policing by the learned professions
Most of these I'd heard discussed, but I'd never really heard the Community one taken apart. That is, aside from the THE DECLINE OF THE WESTERN FAMILY OUR SOCIETY IS CRUMBLING thing that we're all so tired of hearing. So it was very interesting to me to hear the stats taken apart. And because I believe sharing is caring, (lol), I reproduce the info for you here. ^_^

So what IS going wrong with Community and Family? Well, basically our society is set up currently to make sure they are very difficult to keep together. Jacobs cites two main ways our communities are rigged to fail, and the first is the fantastic cost of shelter.

The family, after all, is the smallest unit of a community, and to keep that community housed we almost have to never be in the house. When a family spends over 30% of their income on shelter costs, it is regarded as unaffordable. Contrast that with the common budgeting advice that 50% of your income goes to housing.


So to keep the house over the family's head, wage earners within the house are told they must work more hours at a high paying job. (We also have a cultural belief that the only real reason someone wouldn't work outside the house is because they're lazy, but that's another topic.) This both means that people don't have the energy for activities in the larger community-- which is bad for the continued existence of the larger community as a functioning thing-- and puts a great deal of strain on the family as a unit. If you're only home long enough to watch tv, sleep and possibly entertain, what is that going to do to your relationship? According to the 2001 Canadian Census, 23% of people ever married had that marriage end in divorce at the time of the census. And of the people married within the ten years before the report, that number jumped to almost a 40% fail rate.

Related facts? Possibly.

So to deal with the cost of renting (never mind buying a house) people can either work more hours, with all the risks that entails, or push their expenses off into debt. We do live in a consumerist society, where to not-purchase is to be anti-social or a failure, after all. Debt isn't something she specifically touched on in the book, but I think it's something that is also setting up our culture to be in deep, deep trouble.

Jacobs does points out that we are also dissolving our communities with the way our transportation is set up. Our suburbs encourage long commutes to work, because a.) god forbid you should live near where you work, and b.) all those green lawns take up a lot of space. This could be partly avoided if people used public transit instead of travelling along super-congested super-freeways, but using public transportation is both an admission of failure to consume-- (Translation: you are anti-social and/or a failure, see above)-- and just not seen as a viable choice.

Jacobs points out that public transit-- as competition for major automobile companies-- has been the target of systematic attacks by those companies. General Motors spent the 1920s though the 1950s buying up electric trolley lines and replacing them with expensive and inefficient bus lines. And then once that had been completed, the car manufacturers had to move to vilifying busses in the public consciousness so that every family would need a car. (Then they moved to promoting the essential right of every person to own a car, so that a family will have two to four vehicles. Perhaps next we'll be sold multiple cars, one for work and one for off-roading? Oh wait, that's already happening.)

So where are we now? North Americans now spend so much time on their long commutes, after working more hours per year than the Japanese, (and that's saying something), that driving fatigued is running neck and neck with drunk driving as the source of traffic fatalities. Enrolment in community activities (including voting, which has FAR-REACHING repercussions) is falling like a stone, and average household debt (Which at the time of the Great Depression was at 30% or so of household income), exceeds 100% of yearly income.

And we all think this is perfectly normal.

Dark Age Ahead, by Jane Jacobs.
Vintage Canada 2005

Friday, October 14, 2011

A quote from my other english reading.

Metaphor states a mystery. It collapses the membrane between the thing itself and the image of it. The formulation is that of an equation, X=Y. But unlike mathematical equations, metaphor participates in absurdity, because X is also utterly different from Y. Say the moon is a thumbtack in the sky. A the risk of belabouring the obvious, the moon is not like a thumbtack in most senses. It does not feel hard and it cannot be held in your hand, for example. But for a fleeting moment you see the two terms of the metaphor as married and you understand the truth, which is a third thing, which is transcendent, beyond either of the two terms. I believe now that metaphor, which a cannot be taken literally because it has paradox at its heart, must be our most accurate way of starting the transcendent.
-Jeanne Murray Walker: Saving Images

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Poem of the day #23

Holy Sonnet X
John Donne

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou are not soe,
For, those, who thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but they pictures bee,
Much pleasre, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe got,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie
Though art slave to Fate, Chance, kings and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, though shalt die.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Poem of the day #22

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
William Wordsworth

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
    Beside the springs of Dove,
A maid whom there were none to praise
    And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
    Half hidden from the eye!
--Fair as a star, when only one
    Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could known
    When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
    The difference to me!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Poem of the day #21

The cat's song
Marge Piercy

Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother's forgotten breast.

Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I'll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat

You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty time the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees. Jump between roofs?

Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.

Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word

of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.

from Mars and her Children

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Poem of the Day #20

Love a child is ever criing
Lady Mary Wroth

Love a child is ever criing
   Please him, and hee straite is flying,
   Give him hee the more is craving
   Never satisfi'd with having;

His desires have noe measure,
   Endles folly is his treasure
   What hee promiseth hee breaketh
   Trust nott one word that he speaketh;

He vowes nothing butt faulce matter,
   And to cousen you hee'l flatter,
   Lett him gaine the hand hee'l leave you,
   And still glory to deseave you;

Hee will triumph in your wayling,
   And yett cause bee of your fayling
   Thes his vertus ar, and slighter
   Ar his guiftes, his favours lighter,

Feathers ar as firme in staying
   Woulves noe fiercer in theyr praying.
   As a child then leave him crying
   Nor seek him soe giv'n to flying.

Lady Mary Wroth-- 1587-1652

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Still breathing, still kicking, still cruising youtube.

International Studies class was today! So far it's always been interesting, both because of the subject matter and because I never have any idea what to expect. ;-) At any rate, today we popped up to the Algonquin Hotel in Saint Andrew's to listen to a talk. (Related note-- that hotel won at life. They had free coffee and the building was FABULOUS.

The main thrust of the talk was about how mis-information-- another way of saying Stereotype-- impedes communication. It also started me thinking about how treating someone as though you can know them because you know their religion, occupation, hobby, financial standing or what they look like is an enterprise doomed to failure, but that's something I need to let percolate a bit more.

But thinking about stereotypes made me think of the Jesus Dub videos. The Vintage21 church put them together to demonstrate what popular culture thinks The Church is all about, and how much of a hilariously bad idea it was to run an organization that way. So both to say "this isn't what we're about!" to people outside and "this isn't what we should be about!" to people inside. Anyhow, without further ado-- the videos!

He also played the Star Wars theme, but sadly I missed it.
Another reason the Algonquin Hotel won at life? They have a piper on staff.

Really, I think nothing more I could say about the awesomeness of the situation could possibly shed any more light.


Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go weep over my French in preparation for tomorrow's exam.

Poem of the Day # 19

The Art of Response
Audre Lorde

The first answer was incorrect
the second was
sorry      the third trimmed its toenails
on the Vatican steps
the fourth went mad
the fifth
nursed a grudge until it bore twins
that drank poisoned grape joyce in Jonestown
the sixth    wrote a book about it
the seventh
argued a case before the Supreme Court
against taxation on Girl Scout Cookies
the eighth held a news conference
while four Black babies
and one other      picketed New York City
for a hospital bed to die in
the ninth and tenth swore
Revenge on the Opposition
and the eleventh dug their graves
next to Eternal Truth
the twelfth
processed funds from a Third World country
the provides doctors for Central Harlem
the thirteenth
the fourteenth sold cocaine and shamrocks
near a toilet in the Big Apple circus
the fifteenth
changed the question.

from Our Dead Behind Us

Monday, October 3, 2011

Poem of the day #18

Sonnet 116
William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true mindes
Admit impediments, love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever fixed marke
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandring barke,
Whose worths unknowne, although his higth be taken.
Lov's not Times foole, though rosie lips and cheeks
within his bending sickles compasse come,
Love alters not with his breefe houres and weekes
But bears it out even to the edge of doome:
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Poem of the day #17

Night of the Scorpion
Nissim Ezekiel

I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
Parting with his poison--flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room--
he risked the rain again.
The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the Name of God a hundred times
to paralyse the Evil One.
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the sun-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made
his poison moved in Mother's blood, they said.
May he sit still, they said.
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your sufferings decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of evil
balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh
of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
they said, and they sat around
on the floor with my mother in the centre,
the peace of understanding on each face.
More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through
groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist,
trying every curse and blessing.
powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.
He even poured a little paraffin upon the bitten toe and put a math to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rite
to tame the poison with an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting
My mother only said:
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
and spared my children.

from Nissim Ezekiel: Collected Poems 1952-1988

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Poem of the Day #16

The Flea
John Donne

Marke but this flea, and marke in this,
How little that which thou deny'st me is;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled bee;
Though know's that this cannot be said
A sinne, nor shame, nor losse of maidenhead,
     Yet this enjoyed before it wooe,
     And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two
     And this, alas, is more than wee would doe.

Oh stay, three lives in one flee spare,
Where wee almost, yea more than maryed are.
This flee is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, w'are met,
And cloyserd in these living walls of Jet.
    Though use make you apt to kill met,
    Let not to that, self murder added bee,
    And sacriledge, three sinnes in killing three.

Cruell and sondaine, hast thou since
Purpled thy naile, in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty bee,
Except in that drop which it suckt from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and saist that thou
Find'st not thy selfe, nor mee the weaker now;
     'Tis true, then learne how false, fears bee;
     Just so much honor, when thou yeeld'st to mee,
Will wast, as this flea's death tooke life from thee.
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