Top Five Moments of 2012

It’s that time of year where people make lists. Lists of resolutions, new ideas, plans for the future. Lists of best and worst of [fill in your cultural category of choice here]. These lists, at least for me, fall into the category of festival literature. Festival literature is, by its very nature, designed to both commemorate as it moves us forward. These texts mark the passing of time but also indicate that time is still in motion as we move out of the seasonal dark of winter and into the light again. (Of course, festival literature is an extraordinarily Western concept.) For awhile now, my friends Walter and Dan and I have had our own form of festival literature– our top five moments of the year list. Typically, this list is come up with on the sly, over a pint or a cup of coffee, during our annual post-Christmas get together. Here’s my list, slightly amended from what I told Walter (and it’s kinda of longer than 5 items).

1. Kyle and Terry–two new additions to the family–sister’s boyfriend and mom’s fiance–who not only have made themselves people I care about, but they did so because they’re just awesome people.

2. New experiences–this has been the year of having experiences: Chicago trip with the siblings, Boston in April, Austin in Sept. for RSVP, Ohio for Lily’s birthday. Some of these were blended work and pleasure trips, some not. Some weren’t even trips. Shopping, lunch, and that cool bar with Emiy in Tulsa. Sarah Vowell over spring break. Going to Matt and Katy Henricken’s Burning Chair poetry series in Fayetteville. Painting with a Twist with the lunch bunch girls for Christmas and eating Hawaiian food after was such fun. I want more of this. (And yes, I packed 8 things into one item here.)

3. Wait, wait don’t tell me live. I laughed so hard my cheeks tingled. They tingle when I remember it too.

4. The Periodical Poetry Index went live!

5. I’m deeply proud of the two essays my PerPo collaborators and I wrote.

Commonplace: Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth

“I’ve said I was fast. The Way We Live Now in four afternoons lying on my bed! I could take in a block of text or a whole paragraph in one visual gulp. It was a matter of letting my eyes and thoughts go soft, like wax, to take the impression fresh off the page. To the irritation of those around me, I’d turn the page every few seconds with an impatient snap of the wrist. My needs were simple. I didn’t bother much with themes of felicitous phrases and skipped fine descriptions of weather, landscapes, and interiors. I wanted characters I could believe in, and I wanted to be made curious about what was to happen to them.”

–Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth

I almost read like this, except I also read the “fine descriptions.” I have a strange compulsion to read about spaces.

Commonplace: Alfred Lord Tennyson, “CXVI,” In Memoriam

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

–Alfred Lord Tennyson, “CXVI,” In Memoriam

Handel by Accident

Quite by accident, I ended up at a Handel concert this morning. First Presbyterian’s Chancel Choir and the Dallas Chamber Orchestra performed the first half of Handel’s Messiah. While the boy soprano was cute, the rest of the soloists were superb, especially the mezzo-soprano.

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Commonplace: Alfred Lord Tennyson, “XXX,” In Memoriam

With trembling fingers did we weave
The holly round the Christmas hearth;
A rainy cloud possess’d the earth,
And sadly fell our Christmas-eve.

At our old pastimes in the hall
We gambol’d, making vain pretence
Of gladness, with an awful sense
Of one mute Shadow watching all.

We paused: the winds were in the beech:
We heard them sweep the winter land;
And in a circle hand-in-hand
Sat silent, looking each at each.

Then echo-like our voices rang;
We sung, tho’ every eye was dim,
A merry song we sang with him
Last year: impetuously we sang:

We ceased: a gentler feeling crept
Upon us: surely rest is meet:
‘They rest,’ we said, ‘their sleep is sweet,’
And silence follow’d, and we wept.

Our voices took a higher range;
Once more we sang: ‘They do not die
Nor lose their mortal sympathy,
Nor change to us, although they change;

‘Rapt from the fickle and the frail
With gather’d power, yet the same,
Pierces the keen seraphic flame
From orb to orb, from veil to veil.’

Rise, happy morn, rise, holy morn,
Draw forth the cheerful day from night:
O Father, touch the east, and light
The light that shone when Hope was born.

– Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam

The Case Against Homework

Apparently France’s president is advocating no homework for school students, mostly because students from more socio-economically advantageous households are likely to have support for doing said homework. Louis Menand suggests, well, I’m not quite sure what he suggests, but it sounds like no homework and more enriching after school activities like violin lessons and sports, etc. To a certain extent, I understand the naysayer rationale here–homework is busy work, teachers have to grade all that homework, etc. But here’s the deal as an English professor and as someone who taught high school, albeit briefly: there is not enough time in class to read, discuss, and write about texts. For instance, when I taught high school English IV, the senior level class, we had to make it from Beowulf to Macbeth in a semester. Not the school year, the first semester. And I say had because that was the time range the students were tested on by the school district, not by me. There’s no way to do that without the students reading on their own time. And as a professor now, all I can say, is that the students who didn’t have the discipline of homework in high school have a much harder time adjusting to college. I’m not saying all homework is worth it, but I know that you spend a lot of time working by yourself in college outside of the time spent in class. If you’ve been through K-12 and no one has taught you how to manage working by yourself, you’re going to have a rude adjustment period, especially since most colleges expect at least an hour’s worth of prep upon the students’ part per college hour. So a 3 hour course should equal 3 hours worth of class prep per week exclusive of time to write papers or do projects.  It also assumes students read at a fairly fast pace. I know it takes me an hour or so to read for every class. I don’t normally consider this time class prep mind you; class prep is probably another hour not to mention all the preplanning hours before a course begins. But I’m a fast reader to begin with (I read all of Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending in four hours Sunday morning), most students are not, mostly because they haven’t been given the practice.

Review of Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree

Christina Nehring’s review for Andrew Solomon’s book on parenting children with disabilitiesFar From the Tree, is perhaps more about her own experiences parenting a child with Down’s Syndrome than perhaps Solomon’s book (which is the case with most good book review I find). Yet, it’s a compelling, one-hanky read. I was crying–not tearing up, actually crying–by the end.