Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Owls are Not What They Seem

I learned from Neil Gaiman's journal this morning that to-day is National Poetry Day in England. Gaiman wrote a nice one called "Conjunctions", which seems to link stars with fish. It seems to make an interesting statement, to me, about how artists digest inspiration.

I thought I'd contribute a poem, even though I'm not English. I'm an anglophile, though, so I figure that's close enough. Here's mine;

Breakfast Transmissions Last Past Lunch

All astronomers are in the tunnel
But some of them look up at balls of gas.
Negative nights posit a numb funnel.
Fattened actors cop a vacuous task.
The parsecs of pancakes can't rouse dreams like
Glass onion nebulae cockroach congeals.
Strange soup is sent delivery by bike
And sore eyes smashed see dotty cotton reels.
Observable ink etched an old talon;
Far off fossils lingering in ether.
Soup covered telescopes by the gallon.
Lunch left throats dry as a moulted feather.
False black borders mark a bromide prison.
Spectral sickness stabilised the prism.

Of course, I can't think about stars right now without thinking about Astronomy lab last night, which didn't help the food sickness or whatever I was still getting mild nausea from, as the lab involved working in the dark and alternating between looking at brightly lit gasses through a spectrometer and squinting at my paper in the dark. I was in a group with the three high school girls again and I felt a little like Donald Duck with Huey, Dewey, and Louie, especially since they seemed to have a better handle on what to do this time than me, and my contribution mainly consisted of reading off numbers from the vernier scale.

You know, I hope I never get to the point where I can't admit there are teenagers who might be better than me at things, or know things I don't. Yesterday my American Literature teacher asked the class to tell him who Anne Bradstreet was referring to in the title of her book of poems, The Tenth Muse. He looked around the class impatiently as no-one answered. He asked us to think about what was most important to Puritans.

"You're saying . . . it refers to God?" I said.

"Yes!" he said, continuing with his lecture. Which seemed wrong to me--I didn't think a Puritan would count God as one among a number of Greek mythological figures, even Anne Bradstreet, who used a lot of classical allusions, but I think expecting people to understand God was the tenth muse would have not only been blasphemy on her part, but rather unlikely for anyone else to pick up on. Since the book was published by her relatives in Europe, I thought the title likely referred to Bradstreet herself, something supported by the Wikipedia entry which lists the book's full title as The Tenth Muse, lately Sprung up in America, or Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight, Wherein especially is Contained a Complete Discourse and Description of the Four Elements, Constitutions, Ages of Man, Seasons of the Year, together with an exact Epitome of the Four Monarchies, viz., The Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, Roman, Also a Dialogue between Old England and New, concerning the late troubles. With divers other pleasand and serious Poems, By a Gentlewoman in those parts. Seems like a lot of titles were mouthfulls back then. Half the time I expect them to start out with When the Pawn . . ..

Also, though, I hope I never get to the point where I can't tell someone they're wrong when I know they are. I'm not sure I can blame my literature teacher for this, as he seems to be only the latest in a number of teachers who seem compelled to avoid telling students they're wrong at all cost. I'm beginning to suspect this is some kind of iron clad directive imposed by the administration.

Yesterday, one student said she thought Bradstreet's poem differed from her others in that it rhymed. Though in fact all of Bradstreet's poems we read featured a strict rhyme scheme.

"Hmm," said the teacher. "Do you mean the fact that it rhymes is like or unlike her other poems?"

The student hesitated, ". . . unlike."

"Okay," said the teacher. "She is using a very formal meter here . . ."

Would it really be so insulting to simply say, "Actually, no, this is pretty typical of her work." Left with the impression she's in some way right, the student is ultimately going to be confused if she looks back and sees what looks like rhymes being pretty prevalent.

As hard as I find the Astronomy lab, I do find the teacher's willingness to tell students they're wrong very refreshing. Maybe science classes are the last bastion of rigour, just like the restrooms in the science buildings are the last ones with decent water pressure in their sink faucets.

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