And working hard, which does not include blogging hard.
Damn you and your fine argument generating brain, J.Mkhl!
Actually, it's good, I'm just busy busy busy. I'll write soon, hopefully.
While others rise through their gravity, I sink through my levity.
The man has a quiet and careful way of speaking, with a sense of resigned optimism on the rim of his words. - Neo Tokyo Times
Family, friends and fellow-bloggers, I apologize for not keeping up with my posting. Or my letter-writing. Normally there are fits and spurts throughout the semester, but with the additional things I took on this year, it’s just been a generally bad 9 months for writing. There are a number of things that simply, as usual, didn’t make it into the blog: a Secton3er became pregnant and she and her husband are expecting any day now; relationships have endured, formed, crumbled; I’ve visited cities via plane, train, automobile; I’ve attended farmer’s markets; I’ve swung in a hammock and read about appalling crimes; I’ve taken long bicycle rides and increased my exercise in the gym; much food has been cooked from the garden (Neo-Tokyo should have visited and reviewed the garden!); I’ve planted some herbs for the summer; I’ve attended some fascinating law lunches/seminars/meetings/lectures. . .the list is endless. Along the way things fall out of the blog – not because they’re not valued, but because the blog has it’s own narrative shape. Moreover, the blog is *part* of life, a tiny and colored reflection of life, and as such cannot fully capture what it is to be alive, even for a single day. Also, correspondence fails. There’s only so much verbal/emotional energy you can burn in a day.
Well, as of the last post, Stanley Kunitz had just died (alas!) and I’d both finished my last immediate paper and heard the good news about S.D. Warren. Since then much has happened.
I’m shocked by the lack of interest in Kunitz’s passing (and tangentially, Kunitz himself) in the poetry blog(o/a)sphere. I’ve never really been on board with a lot of the popular web-poetics, but have always afforded them at least the respect of being carefully thought-out positions about a topic (poetry) which I deeply love.
But the lack of response was just profoundly alienating to me. To turn to the most linked-to poetry blogger, Ron Silliman – well, I think Silliman had a snide remark about a Lebanese poet who was 2 years older than Kunitz and still writing, but no mention of Kunitz’s death itself. While I applaud said poet’s longevity and wish them many more poems, this is really where the “culture war” manifests itself. You see, Ron’s about as embracing as Trent Lott; he just sets himself up to defend his own little camp, regardless of what good is done by the people outside that camp. I mean, it really does not matter that Kunitz set up a free library of poetry in N.Y.C. in which I read one of Ron’s freaking books. In a way it’s good strategy – you don’t mention any living “enemy” except in passing, you focus on your own clique, and you pretend like that clique matters (i.e., is some how central to the dialogue or respected by observers).
So, why do people read Silliman? Who knows? (I read Silliman for the same reasons I read Neo-Formalists.) I think it’s in part the patriarchal “daddy figure” aspect, and his ability to be civil, just so long as the dialogue is moving through the conversational gates of his choosing. It is very much like the rhetorical strategies practiced by the Christian right. (It’s not a choice, it’s a child : it’s merely SoQ, not PA). You shift the baseline of the conversation to encompass only what you want, to be discussed on your own terms.
I’d like to say I’d love to write Ron Silliman off completely, but, alas, for all his faults he does have some good points which are well worth considering in light of the overall poetry world. I just wonder if he felt a surge of elation, or sadness, or anything at all. Probably nothing at all. It’s hard to imagine any kind of object focused passion in his poetics.
Immediate Post-Final Travel
I attended a wedding in NC, which was pretty sweet. The bride and her father rode in on horses, and I chatted law and poetry with people who had set up a living program for the mentally disturbed. The rest of the weekend featured a walk in the NC arboretum, lots of good food, lots of driving (700 miles) and, unfortunately, not enough time to see anyone whom I wanted to see. All thoughout this I decreased my coffee consumption down to one or two cups a day. I was at the point where smelling coffee made me feel ill.
There’s been good news, about which I’m very, very pleased.
While this is buried in the center of the post, it’s really the most important news in the entire post. Perhaps in the blog itself. Certainly it’s more important than school odds and ends, packing, and finals decompression.
Final 4th Semester Paper
Still looming. Needs focus and greater depth of analysis, but by dropping one prong of inquiry and folding the implications into the first prong, I’ve managed to create some space in which to do it. I will have a very narrow window in which to work on it. This will be combined with my summer associate position (which requires it’s own on-the-side reading to get me up to speed).
Summer Prep and Pack
Everything is now going into boxes, except for the dust which is going into my eyes and nose. I have to split all my possessions between winter/fall/school storage and summer job/travel. If all goes well I should be able to get a new (very used) car by the beginning of summer. I have never owned a car that was a) manufactured within 6 years of the owning year or b) had less than 200K miles on it at the point of purchase. This will not be an exception. If all goes well this summer, I’ll be able to make a little cash, which will translate into a) my very used wheels, and b) paying off my last summer at the PD’s office. I’ll also be able to shift some debt around into a better configuration. It’s so freaking expensive to move/travel. Sigh. Bitch, bitch, moan.
My great uncle managed to scrimp and save and put himself thought law school by working at night – he then started working in a small firm and was in the courtroom very soon. Shows you how far “law school” has lurched off course. Or perhaps I’m not plucky enough to get a 50K a year/20hr/wk night job.
It's with great sadness that I report the death of Stanley Kunitz at age 100. (This certainly tempers my elation over the Warren decision).
Stanley was a very warm and giving man, whose generosity to younger poets was legendary. He helped to establish Poet's House in NYC, and was a mentor to scores of young poets. The obit above speaks about his pacificism, his growing up in Worcester, his education, and his deep spiritualism. I'll reprise some things I've already written about him on the blog (during the 1L study poem series), include some of his prose, and repost his great poem "The Testing-Tree." Those last 9 lines are amazing.
Stanley Kunitz was born in Worcester, Mass., in 1905. He won the National Book Award,the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the Pulitzer Prize,the Bollingen Prize, a Ford Foundation grant, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, Harvard's Centennial Medal, the Levinson Prize, the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Medal of the Arts, and the Shelley Memorial Award. He served for two years as Consultant in Poetry (Poet Laureate) to the Library of Congress, was designated State Poet of New York, and is a Chancellor Emeritus of The Academy of American Poets. In 2000 he was named United States Poet Laureate. A founder of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., and Poets House in New York City, he taught for many years in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. He lived in NYC and Provincetown.
The joke is that he was a very good poet until his 70s, when he became a great one.
Before the poem itself - a prose bit from Stanley, from the introduction to his book, "Passing Through:"
And yet one finds to one's dismay that the poetic imagination resists being made the tool of causes, even the noblest of causes. The imagination lives by its contradictions and disdains any form of oppression, including the oppression of the mind by a single idea.
Poetry, I have insisted, is ultimately mythology, the telling of the stories of the soul. This would seem to be an introverted, even solipsistic, enterprise, if it were not that these stories recount the soul's passage through the valley of this life-that is to say, its adventure in time, in history.
If we want to know what it felt like to be alive at any given moment in the long odyssey of the race, it is to poetry we must turn. The moment is dear to us, precisely because it is so fugitive, and it is somewhat of a paradox that poets should spend a lifetime hunting for the magic that will make the moment stay. Art is that chalice into which we pour the wine of transcendence. What is imagination but a reflection of our yearning to belong to eternity as well as to time?
In an age defined by its modes of production, where everybody tends to be a specialist of sorts, the artist ideally is that rarity, a whole person making a whole thing. Poetry, it cannot be denied, requires a mastery of craft, but it is more than a playground for technicians. The craft that I admire most manifests itself not as an aggregate of linguistic or prosodic skills, but as a form of spiritual testimony, the sign of the inviolable self consolidated against the enemies within and without that would corrupt or destroy human pride and dignity. It disturbs me that twentieth century American poets seem largely reconciled to being relegated to the classroom-practically the only habitat in which most of us are conditioned to feel secure. It would be healthier if we could locate ourselves in the thick of life, at every intersection where values and meanings cross, caught in the dangerous traffic between self and universe.
Poets are always ready to talk about the difficulties of their art. I want to say something about its rewards and joys. The poem comes in the form of a blessing-"like rapture breaking on the mind," as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.
Often, the "big names" of poetry cause people to clench up - to think, "my god, I've got to analyze and be clever from the get-go." Relax. There is no test here. Read the poem aloud. While normally I advocate multiple reads (as one would read a monologue in a play at least twice to become familiar with it), today I will give you a key: the poem, much like Galvin's, is in the voice of a mature speaker recalling his childhood. The poem turns on a boy, somewhat alienated from society, making a bargain with the deity or with fate, tested and proven by throwing stones against a tree trunk (and it seems Stanley nailed all three in his own life).
Some of you might catch the parallels with Rousseau's "Confessions:"
One day, while musing upon this melancholy subject, I mechanically amused myself by throwing stones against the trunks of trees with my usual good aim, that is to say, without hardly hitting one. While engaged in this useful exercise, it occurred to me to draw a prognostic from it to calm my anxiety. I said to myself: "I will throw this stone at the tree opposite; if I hit it, I am saved; if I miss it, I am damned." While speaking, I threw my stone with a trembling hand and a terrible palpitation of the heart, but with so successful an aim that it hit the tree right in the middle, which, to tell the truth, was no very difficult feat, for I had been careful to choose a tree with a thick trunk close at hand. From that time I have never had any doubt about my salvation!
I tend to resist exegesis to a certain extent, but I believe the question the poem ultimately asks is were these the right things to bargain for, after a dreamlike sequence that mobilizes some dark themes. The poem was written during the Vietnam war, if that helps any of you. I was hoping the poem might suggest our current testing is perhaps not the most important thing we are facing, nor should we think that the satiation of our individual selves are the appropriate end to the formation of our wishes.
On my way home from school
up tribal Providence Hill
past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
I scuffed in the drainage ditch
among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
rolled out of glacial time
into my pitcher's hand;
then sprinted lickety-
split on my magic Keds
from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
with my flying skin
as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
over that stretch of road,
with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
that on the given course
I was the world's fastest human.
Around the bend
that tried to loop me home
dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
riddled with rabbit-life
where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
and a stringy old lilac
more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
remembered a door in the
long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
brushing the stickseed off,
wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel's hair,
spotting the print of the deer
and the red fox's scats.
Once I owned the key
to an umbrageous trail
thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
gave me right of passage
as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
practicing my Indian walk.
Past the abandoned quarry
where the pale sun bobbed
in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
where the ferns gave foothold,
I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
with the stones in my pocket
changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
to the slightest leaf-stir.
I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
at fifty measured paces,
of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
Jehovah of acorns,
watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip's War
in its annulated core
under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
I have only three throws
bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon,
while the air flowed saffron,
I played my game for keeps --
for love, for poetry,
and for eternal life --
after the trials of summer.
In the recurring dream
my mother stands
in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
she is wearing an owl's face
and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
I pass through the cardboard doorway
askew in the field
and peer down a well
where an albino walrus huffs.
He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
staining the water yellow,
why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
That single Model A
sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
where the tanks maneuver,
revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
Where is my testing-tree?
Give me back my stones!
Unfortunately, there is no Ride of Silence in DC. (DC has a very apathetic biking community.) But for my further flung readers (including my hometown, which does have such a ride) please consider spending part of your afternoon on a bike, on the road.
I'd mentioned that last semester I was lucky enough to assist with some minor research for Richard Lazarus on his American Rivers brief (party) on the SD Warren case. When the case was argued in mid Feb, some of the hearty research assistants camped out on the sidewalk to hear the oral arguments given to the Supreme Court.
Today the Court unanimously affirmed today in an opinion by Justice Souter (No. 04-1527).
That'd be 9-0.
This is pretty damn awesome - Lazarus is a wizard.
I think the walk-away import of this is that the states' abilities to regulate how clean they want their rivers to be and what those rivers can be used for (anything from industry to recreation) via the 401 standards has been strongly affirmed by SCOTUS. One of the questions that came up at oral arguments was "Could a state simply ban all hydroelectric power plants on its rivers?" The response that should have been given (and the post decision truth of the matter) is "Yes." However, although handing the political ball to the states is important, if we want to to view this as an environmental victory, we have to remember that there *must* be local involvement (political will) to keep our waters clean in all 50 states. A state can probably still abdicate its power and simply approve anything that comes down the pike by chaging its water quality standards.
The Flower of the Grass
Is not the third movement or the crescendo,
where the skill of months, years, shows
itself, is translated to air, to ear,
where you know it's peaked, is passing.
Instead, as argued, often,
the first movement, or the last,
or the walk to the concert hall,
before even the frisson of each instrument
seeking to balance itself, despite others. Even before that.
Or after. Any day of well-health,
or if not that, any day, no matter
that you might have done something better,
more worthy of yourself. No matter
that you’ve been foolish, confused, that
at any time, you could have said “no”
at any time, said “yes.” Or even accepted.
Regardless, this is the flower of the grass,
the moment ignored on the way to elsewhere,
the face unseen, or looked through,
as you remember or dream another.
This is the flower of the grass, regardless;
the easy breathing afternoon,
the day which falls and passes
as the day is. As the day must do.
Um. I just don't know what to say about this one. I mean, we all do stupid things, but 12Xmph? This is greater DC; it may be that you have to shoot at a cop to get pulled over for a traffic violation if you're in NE or SW, but you can't expect there not to be significant police presence on the major arteries leading into the capitol.
I don't know if the offramp thing was an attempt at escape, as the article implies (because the GW is narrow at spots and that may have been the only place to pull over) but man, that just looks bad. But, as always, we'll never know the facts. Perhaps he just gave into temptation at whateverAM and gunned it on a well lit but deserted straight away. If so, I feel for the guy.
It's a little weird to think that I know the courthouse, the jail, and (probably) the judge. I wonder how the 12 day experience will be for him? He's probably not quite like the average guy you get in there. Actually (and I don't mean this to sound snide) he's probably going to learn a hell of a lot and get a perspective that most of us just won't have. It's a pretty humane jail, so he's probably safe enough.
Here's an interesting question - what happens with Google, etc.? Obviously, the news story will be cached by Google, meaning that whatever take it has on the incident will be preserved for prospective employers, bar examiners, and the idly curious. I mean, it's one thing if my internet tom-foolery gets googled by a prospective employers. I yam what I yam, yknow? (Good luck to any who want to wade through the poetry and punditry to find something that I wouldn't just say to anyone who asked.) But this guy? Cripes.
Let's go a bit further and suppose I decided to mount the high-horse and spout off about this guy (whom I don't know at all) - that's probably going to be easily found on one of my archive pages, where GULC will appear, along with Wash, DC, and, most likely, Alexandria, given my frequent bicycle jaunts through there. What if I were just having a bad day, was tired of my commute, and wanted to slam a guy who can obviously afford to keep a swank car during his first year of law school? That would become part of the searchable record as well. We're used to thinking of the internet as a transient medium, but it's really potentially infinitely archiveable. (As many short-tempered poets have discovered to their chagrin.)
You'll notice that I've been pretty careful not to leave anything for the engines to link up to our mystery student; no use piling on. Sheesh. The only thing I guess I really want to say is that it's a shame, and I hope the remediation/punishment is going to do some good without sending his life into the toilet. But I betcha the girlfriend ain't impressed.
Righto - I apologize for the lack of study poems recently. For those looking for a quick break, I give you one of my favorite Robert Frost poems. It's pretty unfashionable to like Frost, and there are many good reasons younger poets should be wary of him. (If only Sandberg's Heart could have been transplanted into Frost's body. . .)
Anyway - here's one of his best. Beyond being a good poem, it has a particular resonance for me as it reminds me of the abandoned Higgenbotham homestead in the woods by Nightingale Brook in western Connecticut. You're just strolling along and then you come across a great rectangular fieldstone cellar (with 2 foot thick trees growing out of it) in the forest floor. And then you look up and see the residual architecture (form) of human life - the walls in the woods, the overgrown orchard, the shade trees over the weathered cemetery. . .but woven into what's now just woodland.
Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is nor more a town.
The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry-
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
And there’s a story in a book about it:
Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast northwest.
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
You must not mind a certain coolness from him.
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched form forty cellar holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty Firkins
As for the woods’ excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone’s road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
The height of adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.
And if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home. The only field
Now left’s no bigger than a harness gall.
First there’s the children’s house of make believe,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
Weep for what little things could make them glad
Then for the house that is nor more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny’s
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it,
So can’t get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn’t
(I stole the goblet from the children’s playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.
Or perhaps it’s just the barometer plunging, which might play more havoc than usual with my information-stuffed head. In any event, now that my final exam is done I feel like crap.
Hopefully I’ll be able to regain some semblance of normalcy for the paper writing process which must begin tonight, full force. Negotiations and Mediation in a Public Interest Law Setting, promises to be interesting, as I’ll be using Haidt’s ideas to explore concepts of validation and bias within. . .within. . .within. . .well, most likely the Public Defender/Client relationship. You see the problem. Anyway, the Law and Philosophy (Emotion, Cognition, and the Law) paper is somewhat more focused at this stage, but it’s a more ambitious argument, one that goes a bit further out on a limb. I’ll be arguing that even given indications of an innate or shared morality (or moral consensus on crime, see Robinson), we still don’t make it over the H.L.A. Hart positivist gap (meaning we just don’t criminalize conduct we agree is immoral). The really interesting part of the paper is that I hope to show the gap’s narrowed – basically that, given innate morality or broad moral consensus, Hart’s arguments that lead up to the gap are much weaker than they look, while Lord Patrick Devlin’s are much stronger then they look. This isn’t a position I’m entirely happy about, per my own politics, but waddayagonnado (not just a small town in Australia). No sense in pretending the argument can’t be made, the only thing to do is to make it and then look at ways of shooting it down. While I’ll be using homosexuality/Gay Marriage as two examples to show the revivification of these old arguments in light of recent advances in cognitive neuroscience, I think they apply equally well to abortion, the death penalty, and so on. Ack.
Thanks for the backchannel comments on the exams posts (and others). I wish I had time to respond more fully to all of them, but I’m still in the final burn stages of 2L. Keep on pushing fellow travelers!