Wormholes

It’s very difficult to have to manage various courses at once. It isn’t necessarily because the readings, homework assignments, and essays  themselves require too much time, but because a person’s mental efficiency tends to decrease with each additional task. This is the case especially when the tasks in a short time frame are totally different animals, i.e. translating sentences, then commenting on the creative writing of your peers, followed up with an interpretation of Descartes.

I’ve been tracking the progress of my own brain for a while, noting the extend to which my consciousness ‘expands’ and how quickly (I acquired this idea from a video game I played as a middle-schooler in which an antagonist reaches out telepathically to control his minions around the world). Each six months or so I could feel that my brain had increased its ability to process ideas and generate relationships between unrelated things. It was always in hindsight that this happened. Since I’m now 21 and not, say 17, I suspect that at this point the cognitive shifts are less overt, and have more to do with specifically political or philosophical themes based on previously uncovered assumptions.

The structure of college courses is inherently biased against this transformation, but Fairfield does its best with weekly freshman seminars encouraging students to self-examine. IAU was the most comprehensive educational experience I’ve had, because each of the courses were connected to one another, each of professors had known one another as friends for years (and in many cases decades), and it was understood that above all, taking in the sounds and sights and smells was our first priority. “Seeing relationships…”

Now, another curious relationship has appeared. On Tuesdays and Fridays I have both Roots of English Poetry and Poetry II, which means that I am studying both the emergence and evolution of the English language through poetry, and how to write poems in contemporary English. As you might imagine, the two professors are drastically different from one another, and I have my fair share of differences with both of them. For example, for class this morning we were supposed to read Sir Philip Sidney’s In Defense of Poesie,
in which Sidney compares the creation of poems to God’s creation of man. There are also references to knights and soldiers, and to the Romans and ancient Greeks who were a huge influence on the emerging New Science. So here we see that meaning and poetry are tied together, and that to have one you need the other.

Meanwhile, on the first day of poetry writing last semester, in Poetry I, our professor said that we should get the idea out of our heads that we need poems to mean something. When asked to provide a definition of poetry, the word “emotion” appeared in each of our definitions. But apparently poems don’t need emotion. They need language of course, but what else? Detail helps. Good poems, according to the message contained within the course, always have what we refer to as a “wormhole” or (in reference to a Sylvia Plath poem) a “crocodile moment.” That is, the part of the poem where the poet discovers something he/she didn’t know before, and now the journey is leading somewhere else. According to Robert Bly, the author of Leaping Poetry, the effect of Christianity on Western art has resulted in the death of such a “leap” since the 13th century. Bly says that the rebirth of the leap is most apparent in modern Spanish poets. He’s right; the poems contained in his book (with the original Spanish on the left page which I appreciate) barely have any sense of narrative at all, and you could almost take each line individually. The shortest poem is Japanese, by Shinkichi Takahashi: “Inside of one potato there are mountains and rivers.”

As you might imagine, both classes contain slightly more females than males. So in Roots of English Poetry, a significant amount of time is spent by the girls responding to the love poems written by these 16th century poets (i.e. deciding whether or not they seemed sincere). Meanwhile, my poetry writing class is nearly all female save for me and one other guy. My natural tendencies toward hierarchy and structure in modern poems get rather drowned out by a general preference for the sounds and forms of poets like John Berryman or Elizabeth Bishop.

These two viewpoints, between creating an experience vs. engaging in ritual, between the modern and the traditional, between freedom and discipline, between bizarre changes in sound and comparing women to flowers…

In the view of my poetry writing professor, we don’t experience the world in a linear way. This means that storytelling itself is a lie. So if I conclude that I will end up choosing one form over the other, is that too predictable? Too enclosed for a perpetually expanding consciousness? Too linear and too obsessed with devotion to shadows of ideals from civilizations that never existed…?

I and my fellow classmates are, so to speak, making the leap…

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