Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Signs of Life

Which has basically been topsy-turvy since early May. In that time, I've gone to Europe, spent a few weeks hanging out in Ithaca, changed apartments here in Evanston, spent a week in Arizona with the in-laws, and now slowly unpacking, reading Plonsker applications, and ruminating over how best to spend the precious few weeks remaining before classes start again. Of course as I ruminate, the time goes by! I have a number of projects on the fire but they're all in early, creative stages—this is a great place to be except when I start worrying about summer's end and what I might tangibly have to show for them.

Severance Songs has gone through a full revision and I'm waiting for a little feedback from friends before I send it on its rounds again. I've got a big stack of books on the subject of ecocriticism and I'm slowly looking through them with an eye toward launching my pastoral book from the ashes of my dissertation. I'm working on my syllabi, most intently right now on a modern poetry course: after some dithering I've decided to emphasize teaching the students to fish rather than filling their creels for them. That means less of a survey and more of an intensive study of a handful of the greats, followed by their seizing the initiative and writing about a poet of their choosing. "Modern poetry" is a vast acreage and if I had world enough and time I'd make the mix of poets more international, but for the first time I teach a course like this I think it's wiser to stay closer to my own areas of expertise, which means American modernism. So we'll start out with Whitman and Dickinson, ancestors of us all, then read healthy chunks of Williams, Eliot, Pound, and Stein. After that I'd like to shift the emphasis to the contemporary, and to get a little more diverse vis-a-vis race, politics, and gender. My pedagogical theory here is, familiarize yourself with the strategies of these six poets and there's no poem whose tactics you won't be able to figure out.

Still and all, what I'd really rather be doing is continue to read George Oppen, whose complete published oeuvre is now at my fingertips, having picked up a probably mispriced copy of the Selected Letters for a song online. I'm not uncritical of Oppen's ascetism, his underdeveloped feminism (at times in the Daybooks he sounds just like D.H. Lawrence), or his ontological one-mindedness (what he refers to in the letters as his "metaphysical vertigo"). But I find him to be an excellent, sober, keen-sighted and dry-witted companion on what I can only describe as a search for the roots of my own poetic impulses—a quest for renewal, to see clearly what it is I'm about, as I shake free of the chatter and clutter of a childless life when there was more time, or so it seems now, to dawdle in cul-de-sacs or to give basically uninteresting work second and third chances. Besides, I love reading letters (alas for the dead art! there's only blogs now), especially letters like these in which the poet himself is in pursuit of fundamentals and there's only small leaven of gossip and publishing chit-chat to wade through.

All this, plus Sadie, plus my lingering wish to get a good D&D game or something like it going again. When I haven't even seen a movie in ages. (Except for WALL-E, in Arizona while my aunt was babysitting—excellent.)

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