Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Mighty Jungle

That's the song we sing to Sadie every night at bedtime: In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight. Kind of a terrifying song, really: that's why it's good. From what I remember, all the best kid songs and stories have a kernel of terror in them.

My contribution, number ninety, to the hundred poems for Obama's first hundred days is now up at Starting Today. A riff on Whitman expressive of the sort of disappointment raised by huge hopes. But the "residual pride" I mention there is unerased. Obama means more to me than his imperfect and sometimes unjust policies—I'm not proud of this contradiction, but I feel it the same way I wake up every day with an optimism unshaken by all the evidence to the contrary my intellect's capable of gathering.

That may be my ultimate project, or at least my ultimate conundrum: reconciling what I know with what I feel. Sometimes I approach this with thoughts of Jameson's "cognitive mapping." Sometimes it's a more furtive and instinctive approach.

The work I'm doing now seems to demand the privacy of infrequent blogging; I don't want to talk about it too loudly for fear of inflating expectations. But of course I'm also just hella busy. The end of the semester is almost upon me, and then I might find myself posting here more often.

Reading a book about May '68 in Paris for my semi-secret project: Andrew Feenberg and Jim Freedman's When Poetry Ruled the Streets. Nice title, and as a first-hand account with documents it's invaluable, but I find myself in my bourgeois way wishing for something a little more objective. A typical sentence: "Formerly busy bureaucrats, housewives, shopkeepers, and grocery men interrupted the banal process of making a living to find out what life was all about" (29-30). It may very well be literally true, but as special pleading it sticks in my craw. And in spite of that "housewives," so far it's entirely a book about men. Where were the women in this movement? Was there a female equivalent to the book's hero, Daniel Cohn-Bendit? He's often the only named participant, as in this sentence describing a meeting between student representatives and the rector of the Sorbonne: "At midnight, finally, Roche received the representatives, among whom were Cohn-Bendit, three professors, and two members of UNEF [Union Nationale des Etudiants Francais]" (23). Well, there's lots more book left.

In the last weeks of my poetry class we're talking about "substructure," a term usefully descriptive of much of what postmodern poetry gets up to: poems that use the structure of narrative or argument or other modes of discourse without satisfying the usual ends of those structures. It sounds a bit banal when you put it that way, but structures ought to be less interesting than the poems they are capable of producing. When the structure is the most interesting part then you have conceptual poetry, which I'm not uninterested in but it doesn't grab me. There's that head/heart reconciliation project/problem again.

It's time for Sadie's nap, time to luxuriate in these half-disclosed privacies, time to stop writing and plot my return to it.

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