Commentaries - April 2008

A list of Bohemian pleasures. Ted Berrigan's "3 Pages" is a list poem, surely. He mentions ten things he does every day (including "read lunch poems," surely a reference to Frank O'Hara's book of that title) but the PoemTalkers - Randall Couch, Linh Dinh and special guest erica kaufman - had trouble counting them. We got to nine, and pondered. erica then suggested that she "would count 'NOT ENOUGH' as being ten." The last line of the poem.

Those American things (heart attack, Congressional medal, second home) that immediately precede the last line...well, for Berrigan, they don't add up.

So our PoemTalk poem this time is a summing-up poem (Berrigan hinted as such a quality) that sums up by affixing "not enough" to the total. We four liked this sort of life, were turned on by it. Oh, set us down by the waters of Manhattan.

Aside from O'Hara there are further literary references here in this poem about leading the literary life. By the Waters of Manhattan is the novel of another important New Yorker poet, Charles Reznikoff. Al says: "'NO HELP WANTED' as a placard turns around the usual, 'You're an American boy, get a job.'" Ahabian resistance to progress and accumulation and reason, in a world of Starbucks. We found the rhetoric of folk song here, and we saw indeed deep traces of Moby Dick's irrational-rational aestheticism. "Hunting for the Whale" is one of the "ten" things a Berrigan poem does for us every single day.

For the purposes of introducing the idea of the list poem to people not used to seriatic ways of modern and contemporary poetry, we agree that this poem is the perfect instance with which to start. "Teachable" in that sense.

The poem is dedicated to Jack Collom, and our Linh Dinh phoned Jack himself for his thoughts. Listen to PT #5 and find out what Jack told Linh.

Recorded in the Arts Cafe of the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia, PoemTalk #4 was produced by Al Filreis, edited and engineered by Steve McLaughlin. PennSound's Ted Berrigan page is a treasure trove of great recordings, including the famous 1981 reading of his Sonnets in their entirety. Our poem can be heard here. The poem was read on the radio show "In the American Tree" in 1978, during an interview conducted by Lyn Hejinian and Kit Robinson on KPFA, Berkeley.

"3 Pages" was published in Berrigan's book Red Wagon and here is a link to the text.

I've been reading the blog of a former student and now someone prominent in marketing (his field is "persuasion"). The blog is called Artificial Simplicity. Here's an advertising guy who quotes George Oppen: "Clarity for my sake. That I may understand my life ..." and commends Jane Jacobs.

Scott's entry today is called "Innovation in the classroom: an homage," and it's, in part, about my teaching. "He taught and taught me that the point of the humanities classroom was not to communicate a particular idea but rather to get students excited to think in a new way. (It's still my goal for early meetings with a new client). What his methods — now widely adopted — created was an ongoing discussion and debate which went on all week."

Working in a pickle factory made Theodore Roethke — oh, call him Ted — a regular guy and a poet apt for Americans' appreciation, since they appreciate big, strapping regular guys and poets are big, strapping regular guys.

Okay, so I exaggerate. But only a little. Click here for my account of a Cosmospolitan essay about poetry that pretty much makes this argument.

Gerald Graff is now arguing for a pedagogical formalism. What is apparently a counter-intuitive argument is — to my mind anyway — consistent with his advocacy of meta-pedagogy, a teaching of subject matter that is always in some sense about the teaching (the form of the teaching), such that "content" matters less than one might think under the liberal rubric of "teach the conflicts." In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, Graff and a colleague argue in favor of "formulaic" teaching. Here's a paragraph:

Unfortunately, bad formulas have been so pervasive in American schooling that it has become easy to dismiss formulas altogether. In attacking formulas, we feel we are being democratic, striking a blow against top-down oppression and defending the diversity of student voices. If it is true, however, that certain formulas can help students engage in true democratic dialogue, then it's time to rethink that logic and stop using "formulaic" as if it were a four-letter word.

Here's a link to the whole article.

And here's a link to an earlier entry here on Graff's early 1990's proposal that we teach the conflicts.

Thanks to Val Ross for sending me in the direction of this piece.