Poem for New Year’s

(The last section of John Logan’s The Bridge of Change.)

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Who can stand these juxtapositions of person and place and time? I walk across the Bridge of Change where I have so often watched by the towers of the Conciergerie. Now, water laves a little higher up the stair from the River to the Quay, hiding some of the steps from me. Boats nudge at the edge. I walk along the Boulevard past the great gold and blue corner clock, the ornate wrought-iron gate and fence of the Place of Justice (its name changed from the time of kings), past the shadow and spire of Sainte Chapelle. I cross the Bridge of Saint Michel into the Latin Quarter. But I do not look for the Street of the Cat Who Fishes or the Street of the Harp. I turn right, wandering a bit, and suddenly, as if by chance, find myself at this street, and here I will wait, for it is our street, Rue Gît le Coeur: Here Lies the Heart.

Father, Son, and Holy Pay-out…

… the trinity of America’s Christian diploma mills, the three-point theology of our creedal unaccrediteds, the pivot-point ministry of our basketball brethrenUD loves to watch dribblers for the deity at work on her soul.

These college students “focus,” says one team’s coach, “on bringing glory to God in whatever we do,” and losing games by hundreds of points is what they do to bring undecideds like UD to the Lord.

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But the scoffers! O lord, the scoffers!

They are blocking UD’s prayer shot.

Want to make some money? Start a divinity school offering a Bachelor of Theology degree in Pastafarian Studies, and round up some buddies. Troll the coaching forums or hang out at the Final Four, tell coaches you’re the USM Noodly Appendages head coach, and you’ve got an open date on some Saturday in November. Book the game, show up, lose by 100, and cash your $50,000 check.

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To grapple with the theological implications of all this, go here.

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UD thanks Dave.

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Update on one of America’s universities:

- Their website doesn’t load and they don’t have a Wikipedia page

- They do have an regularly updated Twitter:

Are u interested in playing basketball or volleyball for the Champion Tigers? Call 501-623-2272 for more information on our sports programs!

- The person that Twitter says is the school’s president, Eric Capaci, is also listed as the school’s head basketball coach …

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Okay, try this.

Take this painting of Saint Sebastian …

St_Sebastian_3_Mantegna

… and imagine him pelted with basketballs rather than arrows. This puts Champion Baptist squarely in the martyrdom tradition.

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Wow. This here’s getting to be a big national story real quick. Google News is going razorback wild!

Now ol’ UD‘s gonna make a perdiction. You jest set there and listen.

Champion Baptist University is in Arkansas, and you don’t gotta read too much University Diaries (put the word ARKANSAS in my search engine) to know that pret’ near the whole state of Arkansas is one big fat insult to the word university. So this here latest thing don’t help.

Airgoe, UD makes the following perdiction. We’re gonna be hearing from Mike Huckabee any minute. Somebody’s gotta step up and defend the state, and that’s gonna be – gotta be – our next president. Y’all hold on and see if I’m not right.

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Attendance: Just a smidgeon over two hundred souls. ‘Course now it’s famous, everybody’s gonna claim they was at the game.

And I know you’ve heard this before on this blog, but I’ve just gotta say it one more time: The whole spectacle was paid for by you and me. Your education taxes at work.

UD now talks about a series of modern …

… New Year’s poems. She’ll start with this one. It’s in the form of a New Year’s letter to a friend.

Modern poets bring a number of intriguing ideas and feelings to New Year’s. I’m not saying these ideas and feelings necessarily add up to what UD (consult her taste, at length, here) calls a great poem. But they tell you something about us, in 20… uh… 14.

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Letter to GC has the slangy fragmented musing down in the dumps thing characteristic of many of our time’s poems. Although it begins

I say most sincerely and desperately, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

it really has little to do with the turn of the year. No references to the weather, to the passage of time, to resolutions, to change, to renewal, to failure to renew, which tend to be the established New Year’s themes. Rather, the poem has to do with the poet’s familiar, year-round, right on the edge of psychological menace, unhappiness. She writes desperately and is in a desperate place:

Having rowed a little farther away from the cliff
Which is my kind of religion
Adrift in the darkness but readying oars
How can there be too many stars and hands, I ask you

She starts her letter to her friend with the precise coordinates of her mental instability as the year begins, the good news being that she finds herself, at this turning point, a little farther from falling off of a cliff than she has been. Yet so unstable is her condition that she has made a kind of religion of staying afloat despite her fragile “adrift in the darkness” reality.

She needs a lot of help: stars to guide her in the dark, and helping hands from other rowers on the same “wide water, without sound” on which Sunday Morning‘s riser perilously floats.

The rest of the poem will discuss a major modern malaise: self-consciousness. The Romantics could write things like

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time

but we’re too cool, too hip for (as Dana Levin writes in her penultimate line) the drama of feeling. These days, feeling itself is a problem – a personal problem, and therefore also an aesthetic problem. We can’t write Blakeian poems anymore, but we’re still subject to the same intense emotions as the Romantics. How, then, to write? How to convey our emotions verbally?

We can convey our events; we can say in poetry what happened.

We are getting such lovely flourishes from our poets
Fathomless opportunities for turning literacy into event

We have much more trouble conveying our true feelings. The poet can say at the beginning of the poem that she sincerely wishes CG a happy new year; but that’s Hallmark sincerity. What presents itself to the poet as a problem is expressing her personal, deep, and authentic feelings in her poetry.

I would be disingenuous if I said “being understood” were not important to me
Between the ceiling of private dream and the floor of public speech

So here she assumes the voice of someone like John Ashbery – not lyrical but discursive… Even rather absurdly self-consciously over-discursive (those quotation marks around being understood which dissolve the possibility of being understood even as they write being understood). And note the tortured negative, and the tortured subjunctive, feel of the line… We’re very far from sincere direct address. Yet where, between inexpressible obscurantism and inauthentic social chatter, can the poet locate the language of emotional authenticity?

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

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The imagination and its products so often rebuff purpose
And some of us don’t like it, and want to make it mean
I would never shoot you, even if you were the only meat around

This is the modern poet impatient with the obliqueness of the modern poem, the modern sensibility. She wants her poems to mean something, dammit, not just dance cleverly around things, the way she, in her religion, dances around that cliff. Why futz with fancy language no one’s going to understand? You wanna tell someone you love them, you say I love you so much that even if I were starving and you were meat I wouldn’t shoot you.

Humor… humor’s one way to go… A joke being, as Nietzsche said, an epigram on the death of a feeling …

Anyway, I empathize with your lower division semester (which sounds
kinda Dante, to me)

The poet commiserates with her professor friend’s upcoming teaching in a lower division (and as with the work of Charles Wright, she references Dante – true religion, if you will – in that skittish clever modern way she says she’s kinda trying to avoid); and she does confess, as her poem ends,

I want to be approved of, so much
Despite the image I’ve been savoring, the one of the self-stitching wound
Yes, I want to write that self-healing wound poem, the one with
cocoon closed up with thorns

It’d be great if she were, say, Andy Warhol; but actually she writes because she’s vulnerable and wants love and approval and understanding. She is very far from being a closed up cocoon.

So – a post-romantic lament at the turn of the year… These days, as she says… these special year-end days prompt thoughts of our current, particular, predicament.

La Kid, Singing With Rufus Wainwright…

aniakchonors13

… at this year’s Kennedy Center Honors.

Honoring Billy Joel.

(Click on the image
for a better view.)

“Maybe there is a place for fraternities as hothouses for future alcoholics who engage in sometimes violent behavior.”

Reflections on the modern American distillery.

Two great American universities meet on the field!

And the tweets keep coming.

My Marketing class had a higher attendance than this Beef O’Bradys Bowl.

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If you watch the Beef O’Bradys bowl, look for me. Trust me you’ll be able to find me, there are 200 people in here.

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What can UD say? Your education tax dollars at work.

“Indeed, about the only employment these events have created are the growing numbers of academics dedicated to refuting the inflated numbers.”

Dummies make the cutest commissioners.

“The exchange’s public relations staff has helped [Scott H.] Irwin shop his pro-speculation essays to newspaper op-ed pages, according to emails reviewed by The Times.”

Here’s a link to the New York Times story.

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And here’s a link (UD thanks Stephen) to where one of the people written about in the NYT piece seems to threaten to sue.

“[T]he larger issue is clear to anyone who pays taxes in Massachusetts and follows sports in New England: UMass upgrading to the top level of college football was a terrible idea.”

Well, at least Massachusetts taxpayers are also paying for a new law school the state doesn’t need. That’s some consolation.

The sun’s streaming in to South Station Boston…

… at 10:44. Across from UD at a long wooden table sit a father and son on their way to Plymouth. “Going there to take pictures,” says the father. He wears a pilgrim hat; his son wears a three-quarter.

While we wait for our train to DC, Mr UD walks around the busy station. At its center, next to the holiday train display, people gaze at the big schedule and gate sign as if in a saint’s presence. Their awed uptilted faces are lit by the streaming sun.

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Here we go. Business Class, Acela, Washington DC. Pulling away from rickety old Boston – Mr UD and our cabbie went back and forth about all the construction zones and how you have to sit in traffic around them for hours – UD ponders the failure of this city, over many years, to appeal to her. To her it feels wintry, rickety, past it.

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A dream UD had last night:

She is sitting beside Luciano Pavarotti on a comfortable couch. He is in despair. UD puts a consoling arm around him and says:

The line between dignity and farce in opera is a thin one and not all productions manage to cross over into dignity.

“This will no doubt upset professors who ask why $836,000 can be hustled up to pay off a coach with a .083 winning percentage, while academic needs are being run on a budget held together by Scotch tape.”

But in the world of big-time sports, who listens to them? What do you think this is, an institution of higher learning?

UD has told you about U Mass (gruesome posts aplenty here), so you aren’t surprised that this absurdity has now fired at great expense their new coach, and will soon hire at great expense another new coach. No one comes to the games, so it’s not clear to whom this activity has any relevance.

Oh yeah. U Mass professors. And I guess students.

Your Education Tax Dollars at Work

After the successful extra-point attempt went into the stands, the mostly-empty stadium provided its loudest ovation of the night in support of the fans who tried to keep the ball away from security by throwing it around the seats.

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UPDATE: The situation at this particular university event is drawing a lot of commentary. Read some of it here, and revel again, on this Christmas day, in the blessings of being an American taxpayer.

Cautionary Tales from the Quiet Car

The Amtrak Quiet Car is the best invention since central heating. Washington to Boston’s a long haul, but you’re sitting in a laptop library with a cafe one car down, and the hours pass calmly, happily.

I’m not saying the lav on a train is a thing of beauty after six hours, and I’m not denying the jostle as passengers leave and arrive. I’m saying who would have thought transport by rail over many hours would evolve into a semi-trance with long water views and private screenings of the international news?

Yet precisely because of the peculiar utopianism of the place, its deliciously infantile and also somehow self-righteous shushing, the Quiet Car makes people bizarre. Here are two cautionary tales – of silence loved not wisely but too well – from UD‘s ride yesterday.

The one outstanding exception to the universal hush of the Quiet Car is of course the conductor. He gets to blast through barking small talk as he takes our tickets. Lady, always print the bar code. Where’s your bar code? Don’t just print the first page lady. Why don’t people know to print the second page? I need to see your bar code was the recurrent theme as our guy blasted through.

On one of his blasts, a woman a few seats in front of UD made the mistake of telling the conductor to shut up. This is the quiet car she told him. She told the conductor.

Are telling me or asking me? You think I don’t know this is the Quiet Car? You keep your mouth shut lady and mind your own business.

UD will admit to being shocked by the conductor’s aggression (his face flushed, his eyes flashed), but the Quiet Car seemed to bring out equal intensities of silence love and noise defense in these people, and the results were ugly.

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Then there was, a little north of Connecticut, UD‘s own series of unfortunate events. She was sitting comfortably, one foot resting on her backpack, when she heard faint but unmistakeable Christmas music. Sound of any kind was bad enough in the Quiet Car; but Christmas music? Was Amtrak asinine enough to pipe carols into the Quiet Car??

Or was it one of her neighbors? She stood up and looked around for the source of the offense but though it felt nearby and weirdly insinuating she couldn’t locate it.

Finally she made a general announcement to the car. Would the person playing Christmas music please turn it off, she said.

Yes, said a disapproving voice. There’s music in this car.

But the music did not stop, and UD once again began beating up beastly Amtrak in her mind…

Until she remembered that Mr UD had, just before they left DC, bought a new little radio – a thin black number – and that UD had packed it in the backpack under her feet.

Frantically, guiltily, humiliatedly, she pulled up the backpack and extracted the radio which it seemed her feet had pressed against and turned on.

It was somehow like that scene in Pnin where Pnin irritatedly returns to the campus library a book he still wants to read. Someone has recalled it. (‘Mrs Fire, permit me to ask something or other. This card which I received yesterday – could you maybe tell me who is the other reader?’

‘Let me check.’

She checked. The other reader proved to be Timofey Pnin; Volume 18 had been requested by him the Friday before. It was also true that this Volume 18 was already charged to this Pnin, who had had it since Christmas and now stood with his hands upon it, like an ancestral picture of a magistrate.

‘It can’t be!’ cried Pnin. ‘I requested on Friday Volume 19, year 1947, not 18, year 1940.’

‘But look – you wrote Volume 18. Anyway, 19 is still being processed. Are you keeping this?’

’18, 19,’ muttered Pnin. ‘There is not great difference! I put the year correctly, that is important! Yes, I still need 18 – and send to me a more effishant card when 19 available.’)

Headline of the Day

MISSOURI PROFESSOR PART OF MAJOR HUMAN FOSSIL FIND

“[R]aising my eyebrows in the general direction of college football.”

Why is Forbes writer Josh Freedman raising his eyebrows at college football?

There are so many reasons. But the one he has in mind is ye olde charitable deduction:

T. Boone Pickens gave $165 million to a charitable foundation attached to Oklahoma State University for a new football stadium and new housing and dining options for OSU athletes. Whether that is worthy of charity is not even the issue here: Less than one hour later, the foundation invested all of Pickens’ donation money – plus another $37 million in other donations – into a hedge fund run by Pickens.

Ya follow?

After taking Pickens’ money and reinvesting it into Pickens’ hedge fund, the school borrowed money (tax-exempt) to build the stadium. By borrowing at this lower, tax-exempt rate while investing the original donation and keeping the gains of that investment, the school was attempting to earn money simply off of its tax-favored status.

Got that?

Be sure to read Freedman on luxury seats and executive salaries too.

It’s all a little hard to follow, but the main thing you need to know is that it’s your money paying for this – the seats, ol’ Boone’s largesse…

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