Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Get Up Before Dawn

Yesterday, I did a seven-minute automatic-writing exercise with the students in my creative-writing course, "Songs and Poems Were All We Needed" (it's a poetry and songwriting course). Then I had them do some things with the texts they'd written, which led to each of them having one sentence to write. We put all the sentences together into a poem, added a few conjunctions, and gave the poem a title and an author: Rose Thornton, who was also well-known as a war correspondent in World War II.


Get Up Before Dawn
Rose Thornton (1914-1984)

I just sit on my floor in the spot that gets warmed by the sun,
and my problems are my own to solve.
I see my neighbours’ rose garden.
To some, nightfall brings nightmares and fears; to me, it brings comfort and ideas.
So I eat, eat and eat.
Then, if I could, I would fly amongst the stars, unburdened and unfaltering.
Soon, my right hand starts cramping, and I find that quite annoying.

I can’t stand people before dawn, if ever,
yet the warmth of her bed still lingers on her skin
while I’m unhappy. In conclusion, same shit, different day — but at least tea’s ready
because the dragons bring the ashen rain. The world is dying, but my heart’s aflame.
Talk instead of touch, and that’s all right. The week goes by, and we meet again.
So I carry the financial weight of our little family.
It’s as if there’s something in the darkness waiting for me to wake up.



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Monday, September 16, 2019

"pale, absorbent fields of paper": A blackboard on Geoffrey Brock's "Family History: Oct. 15, 1848"

The fall semester has started, so it's time for another blackboard. This is from my Contemporary Poetry course this morning. As an introduction to the course, we discussed a poem by Geoffrey Brock from his book Voices Bright Flags, which we will be discussing for the next two weeks.


Family History: Oct. 15, 1848
Geoffrey Brock, Voices Bright Flags, 58

The instruments were various:
the hollow pens that spilled their inks
on pale, absorbent fields of paper;
the notion that land belongs to men;
apologetic rhetoric
("the force of circumstance" and "hard
necessity"); the trade in rum
and viruses; and guns, of course;

and love: in Texas, a decade after
New Echota and the Trail of Tears,
an Alabama Cherokee
with rivers of hair and broken eyes
married a white man. He was disowned;
she fell into the pool of us and drowned.

Note from Voices Bright Flags 99:
The parenthetical quotations (which I found in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States) are from Sen. Edward Everett's explanation of his decision, in 1836, to vote to ratify the Treaty of New Echota, which authorized the forcible relocation of the Cherokee Nation from the southeast to present-day Oklahoma.
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Tuesday, May 07, 2019

"I found I was standing": Three blackboards on Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"



The blackboards from my class's discussion on 6 May of a passage from Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. This passage, to be precise, which is the last paragraph of the novel: 

            I found I was standing before acres of ploughed earth. There was a fence keeping me from stepping into the field, with two lines of barbed wire, and I could see how this fence and the cluster of three or four trees above me were the only things breaking the wind for miles. All along the fence, especially along the lower line of wire, all sorts of rubbish had caught and tangled. It was like the debris you get on a sea-shore: the wind must have carried some of it for miles and miles before finally coming up against these trees and these two lines of wire. Up in the branches of the trees, too, I could see, flapping about, torn plastic sheeting and bits of old carrier bags. That was the only time, as I stood there, looking at that strange rubbish, feeling the wind coming across those empty fields, that I started to imagine just a little fantasy thing, because this was Norfolk after all, and it was only a couple of weeks since I’d lost him. I was thinking about the rubbish, the flapping plastic in the branches, the shore-line of odd stuff caught along the fencing, and I half-closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it, and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field, and gradually get larger until I’d see it was Tommy, and he’d wave, maybe even call. The fantasy never got beyond that—I didn’t let it—and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

"So he had fallen": A blackboard on James Baldwin's "Go Tell It On The Mountain"

The blackboard from my class's discussion on 4 October, 2018, of a passage from James Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain. This passage, to be precise:

So he had fallen: for the first time since his conversion, for the last time in his life. Fallen: he and Esther in the white folks’ kitchen, the light burning, the door half-open, grappling and burning beside the sink. Fallen indeed: time was no more, and sin, death, Hell, the judgement were blotted out. There was only Esther, who contained in her narrow body all mystery and all passion, and who answered all his need. Time, snarling so swiftly past, had caused him to forget the clumsiness, and sweat and dirt of their first coupling; how his shaking hands undressed her, standing where they stood, how her dress fell at length like a snare about her feet; how his hands tore at her undergarments so that the naked, vivid flesh might meet his hands; how she protested: “Not here, not here”; how he worried, in some buried part of his mind, about the open door, about the sermon he was to preach, about his life, about Deborah; how the tape got in their way, how his collar, until her fingers loosened it, threatened to choke him; how they found themselves on the floor at last, sweating and groaning and locked together; locked away from all others, all heavenly or human help. Only they could help each other.  They were alone in the world.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

"My name is Kathy H.": Two blackboards on Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"


The blackboards from my class's discussion on 29 April of a passage from Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. This passage, to be precise, which is the first paragraph of the novel: 

My name is Kathy H. I'm thirty-one years old, and I've been a carer now for over eleven years. That sounds long enough, I know, but actually they want me to go on for another eight months, until the end of this year. That'll make it almost exactly twelve years. Now I know my being a carer so long isn't necessarily because they think I'm fantastic at what I do. There are some really good carers who've been told to stop after just two or three years. And I can think of one carer at least who went on for all of fourteen years despite being a complete waste of space. So I'm not trying to boast. But then I do know for a fact they've been pleased with my work, and by and large, I have too. My donors have always tended to do much better than expected. Their recovery times have been impressive, and hardly any of them have been classified as "agitated," even before fourth donation. Okay, maybe I am boasting now. But it means a lot to me, being able to do my work well, especially that bit about my donors staying "calm." I've developed a kind of instinct around donors. I know when to hang around and comfort them, when to leave them to themselves; when to listen to everything they have to say, and when just to shrug and tell them to snap out of it.  
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Wednesday, May 01, 2019

A blackboard of stills from the James Ivory film of Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day"

The blackboard from my class's discussion on 15 April of a set of stills from James Ivory's 1993 film of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

"That's true what Harry says": A blackboard on Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day"

The blackboard from my class's discussion on 8 April of two passages from Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. These passages, to be precise:

              "That's true what Harry says. You can tell a true gentleman from a false one that's just dressed in finery. Take yourself, sir. It's not just the cut of your clothes, nor is it even the fine way you've got of speaking. There's something else that marks you out as a gentleman. Hard to put your finger on it, but it's plain for all to see that's got eyes."

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              I was naturally a little surprised by this, but then quickly saw the situation for what it was; that is to say, it was clearly expected that I be baffled by the question. Indeed, in the moment or so that it took for me to perceive this and compose a suitable response, I may even have given the outward impression of struggling with the question, for I saw all the gentlemen in the room exchange mirthful smiles.

Monday, April 29, 2019

"It has never, of course, been my privilege": A blackboard on Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day"

The blackboard from my class's discussion on 1 April of a passage from Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. This passage, to be precise:

It has never, of course, been my privilege to have seen such things at first hand, but I will nevertheless hazard this with some confidence: the English landscape at its finest – such as I saw it this morning – possesses a quality that the landscapes of other nations, however more superficially dramatic, inevitably fail to possess. It is, I believe, a quality that will mark out the English landscape to any objective observer as the most deeply satisfying in the world, and this quality is probably best summed up by the term ‘greatness’. For it is true, when I stood on that high ledge this morning and viewed the land before me, I distinctly felt that rare, yet unmistakable feeling – the feeling that one is in the presence of greatness. We call this land of ours Great Britain, and there may be those who believe this a somewhat immodest practice. Yet I would venture that the landscape of our country alone would justify the use of this lofty adjective.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

"Mrs Kawakami was quiet": A blackboard on Kazuo Ishiguro's "An Artist of the Floating World"

The blackboard from my class's discussion on 18 March of a passage from Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World. This passage, to be precise:


            Mrs Kawakami was quiet for a moment, as though listening for something amidst the sounds the workmen were making outside. Then a smile spread over her face and she said: 'This was such a splendid district once. You remember, Sensei?'
            I returned her smile, but did not say anything. Of course, the old district had been fine. We had all enjoyed ourselves and the spirit that had pervaded the bantering and those arguments had never been less than sincere. But then perhaps that same spirit had not always been for the best. Like many things now, it is perhaps as well that that little world has passed away and will not be returning. I was tempted to say as much to Mrs Kawakami that evening, but decided it would be tactless to do so. For clearly, the old district was dear to her heart – much of her life and energy had been invested in it – and one can surely understand her reluctance to accept it has gone for ever. (126-127)

Friday, April 05, 2019

"Being at Takeda's": A blackboard on Kazuo Ishiguro's "An Artist of the Floating World"

The blackboard from my class's discussion on 4 March of a passage from Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World. This passage, to be precise:

            'Being at Takeda's', I told them, 'taught me an important lesson early in my life. That while it was right to look up to teachers, it was always important to question their authority. The Takeda experience taught me never to follow the crowd blindly, but to consider carefully the direction in which I was being pushed. And if there's one thing I've tried to encourage you all to do, it's been to rise above the sway of things. To rise above the undesirable and decadent influences that have swamped us and have done so much to weaken the fibre of our nation these past ten, fifteen years.' No doubt I was a little drunk and sounded rather grandiose, but that was the way those sessions around that corner table went. (73)