Saturday, April 30, 2005

Nazim Hikmet

My friend Barbara sent me this poem inspired by Nazim Hikmet which reminds me of a Neruda or Akhmatova poem.


by Barbara Paparrazo

It’s November, the boiler runs in the basement,
a low subliminal roar, the din of a fever,
like the great furnace of war grinding
its mill wheel somewhere, anywhere,
to feed the maws of power and greed.
I live far from the capitol but the gears
of empire are turning, mashing,
the clamor closer, louder.
O Nazim, where did you get your courage?
Imprisoned, you sang all the Turkish songs
at the top of your lungs – love ditties,
peasant ballads, even your own poems.
You knew walls were nothing,
chains were nothing,
and when a seamless white robe of a 14th century Sheik
appeared one night at your barred window in 1936,
you slipped through the iron grate
like a stream of water,
singing,the sound of a river
pouring from its source.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Poetrymind at Work!


Like the radiator that sits

in the kitchen passing gas;

like the mop with its head

on the floor, weeping;

or the poinsettia that pretends

its leaves are flowers;

the cheap paint peels

off the steamed walls.

When you have nothing to say,

the sadness of things

speaks for you,

-Ruth Stone from "In the Dark" (2004)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Wilderness of Mirrors

from NYT 4/17/05 magazine article “Agent Provocator”

--"How do I know that you are not lying to me now?
--"You don't know. I've lied for a living. This is what we call the "Wilderness of Mirrors"

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hymn to Vajrayogini

Primo Pensiero

I've seen you in capitals and side streets
of Mexican border towns, in back woods and tawdry carnivals

your black eyes peering out from beneath creased brown
faces following mine, to stop mind's chatter.

You are the bow and arrow dangling mid-space Presenting one shot
with aspirated HA --The vision I saw at Apple Hill 30 years ago!

I heard your approach just around the corner, a commotion
or slight hissing in New York City, where I last sighted you

dancing in the green market loping your body
to the rhythms of little Andean men moving feet in unison

your kind of tune--strings scratching to the sky,
a bit off key. With arms uplifted, you swelled with drunken steps.

I've seen you the odd one out, the one who speaks up,
whose silence deafens, who displeases through just being--

"Unwanted intoxicated female disturbing the peace,"
according to local police logs.

Your little crook'd finger leads me on, the sound of your bone
ornaments in the distance arouses me, your gait

spans continents and thunderous approach quickens my blood..
I 'll gladly drink from your kapala. any day.

I beg you to pierce my pride with your katvanga.
In olden times, I would burn, left out on a mountainside at birth,

whipped, subdued, or crushed. But I was rescued
through knowledge of you.

You summon all elements: rivers, oceans, mountains,
sky and winds to arrive at the Lava source,

swirling cauldron of prima materia
To pass through the cosmic cunt, the cervix of becoming.

Jacqueline Gens

"A Loose Cannon"

Reprinted from the LA Times 4/24/05

Does Writing Change Anything?

By Salman Rushdie

A butterfly flaps its wings in India, and we feel the breeze on our cheeks here in New York. A throat is cleared somewhere in Africa and in California there's an answering cough. Everything that happens affects something else, so to answer "yes" to the question before us is not to make a large claim. Books come into the world, and the world is not what it was before those books came into it. The same can be said of babies or diseases.

Books, since we are speaking of books, come into the world and change the lives of their authors for good or ill, and sometimes change the lives of their readers too. This change in the reader is a rare event. Mostly we read books and set them aside, or hurl them from us with great force, and pass on. Yet sometimes there is a small residue that has an effect. The reason for this is the always unexpected and unpredictable intervention of that rare and sneaky phenomenon, love. One may read and like or admire or respect a book and yet remain entirely unchanged by its contents, but love gets under one's guard and shakes things up, for such is its sneaky nature. When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced. We love relatively few books in our lives, and those books become parts of the way we see our lives; we read our lives through them, and their descriptions of the inner and outer worlds become mixed up with ours— they become ours.

Love does this, hate does not. To hate a book is only to confirm to oneself what one already knows, or thinks one knows. But the power of books to inspire both love and hate is an indication of their ability to make alterations in the fabric of what is.

Writing names the world, and the power of description should not be underestimated. Literature remembers its religious origins, and some of those first stories of sky gods and sea gods not only became the source of an ocean of stories that flowed from them but also served as the foundations of the world into which they, the myths, were born. There would have been little blood sacrifice in Latin America or ancient Greece if it had not been for the gods. Iphigenia would have lived, and Clytemnestra would have had no need to murder Agamemnon, and the entire story of the House of Atreus would have been different; bad for the history of the theater, no doubt, but good in many ways for the family concerned.

Writing invented the gods and was a game the gods themselves played, and the consequences of that writing, holy writ, are still working themselves out today, which just shows that the demonstrable fictionality of fiction does nothing to lessen its power, especially if you call it the truth. But writing broke away from the gods, and in that rupture much of its power was lost. Prophecy is no longer the game, except for futurologists, but then futurology is fiction too. It can be defined as the art of being wrong about the future. For the rest of us, the proper study of mankind is Man. We have no priests; we can appeal to no ultimate arbiter, though there are critics among us who would claim such a role for themselves.

In spite of this, fiction does retain the occasional surprising ability to initiate social change. Here is the fugitive slave Eliza running from Simon Legree. Here is Wackford Squeers, savage head of Dotheboys Hall. Here is Oliver Twist asking for more. Here is a boy wizard with a lightning scar on his forehead, bringing books back into the lives of a generation that was forgetting how to read. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" changed attitudes toward slavery, and Charles Dickens' portraits of child poverty inspired legal reforms, and J.K. Rowling changed the culture of childhood, making millions of boys and girls look forward to 800-page novels, and improbably popularizing vibrating broomsticks and boarding schools. On the opening night of "Death of a Salesman," the head of Gimbel's department store rushed from the theater vowing not to fire his own aging Willy Lomans.

In this age of information overkill, literature can still bring the human news, the hearts-and-minds news. The poetry of Milosz and Herbert and Szymborska and Zagajewski has done much to create the consciousness, to say nothing of the conscience, of those great poets' time and place. The same may be said of Heaney, Brodsky, Walcott. Nuruddin Farah, so long an exile from Somalia, has carried Somalia in his heart these many years and written it into being, brought into the world's sight that Somalia to which the world might otherwise have remained blind. From China, from Japan, from Cuba, from Iran, literature brings information, the base metal of information, transmuted into the gold of art, and our knowledge of the world is forever altered by such transformational alchemy.

[Last week we honored] the memory of Susan Sontag and Arthur Miller, great writers, intellectuals and truth-tellers. The old idea of the intellectual as the one who speaks truth to power is still an idea worth holding on to. Tyrants fear the truth of books because it's a truth that's in hock to nobody; it's a single artist's unfettered vision of the world. They fear it even more because it's incomplete, because the act of reading completes it, so that the book's truth is slightly different in each reader's different inner world, and these are the true revolutions of literature, these invisible, intimate communions of strangers, these tiny revolutions inside each reader's imagination; and the enemies of the imagination, politburos, ayatollahs, all the different goon squads of gods and power, want to shut these revolutions down, and can't. Not even the author of a book can know exactly what effect his book will have, but good books do have effects, and some of these effects are powerful, and all of them, thank goodness, are impossible to predict in advance.

Literature is a loose cannon. This is a very good thing.

Salman Rushdie, the author of nine novels, including the forthcoming "Shalimar the Clown," is president of PEN American Center. He gave this speech April 18 at the PEN World Voices Conference: "The Power of the Pen: Does Writing Change Anything?"

Monday, April 25, 2005

Dhondup Gyal: Tibet's First Modern Poet

Dhondup Gyal is considered the first modern Tibetan poet breaking through traditional Tibetan formalist elements. On the page, his verse appears almost projective. He began publishing in the 1980''s. Sad to say, he committed suicide in 1985. The two works published before his death are-"Dawn Pillow Writing" ('bol-rtsom zhogs-pa'i skya-rengs) and "History and Specificity of the Tibetan Tradition of Narrative Song" (mgyur-glu'i lo-rgyus dang kyed-chos). Note: I'm really interested in his scholarly work --if anyone knows how to get a copy in Tibetan or is working on the English, please contact me. Probably more recent publications such as Amnye Machen Institute's are available in Tibetan as well as Chinese editions. His most famous poem is "The Torrents or Youth" or, as in this case, "The Waterfall of Youth" published in English in "New Writing from Tibet; Song of the Snow Lion" edited by Frank Stewart-part of "Manoa's" series from Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. I’ve printed it here as is.

In the mid- 1990’s, poet Allen Ginsberg asked me to contact Pen Club to see if there were any contemporary Tibetan poets. I called around and asked if there were any secular Tibetan poets writing but didn't get very far. Since then I've discovered numerous Tibetan writers inside Tibet and in exile through web searches and obscure footnotes. If anyone would like to work on some translations of these works, please contact me. Many of these new works can be found in the Tibetan journal "Light Rain" or (sbrang char) which can be found at the Latse Library of Contemporary Tibetan Culture in NYC.

(Please note --I could not preserve the formatting which is quite interesting)

Waterfall of Youth
by Dhondup Gyal
Translated by Tsering Shakya

The clear blue sky,
The warmth of the sun,
The fragrant flowers,
The majestic mountains--

Ai ma!

But even more beautiful than these
a cascading waterfall
before a steep cliff,


Brilliant rays, pure white, spread like a
peacock's feathers,
parrot's plumage
patterns on silk brocade,


The sound of the gushing water, clear and pleasing,
The music of the angels,
unblemished melody,
music of the gods.
pure in origin,


This is not an ordinary waterfall---
It possesses a majestic quality,
a fearless heart
incomparable in its pride,
a strong body
adorned in the finest jewels,
most melodious music,


The torrential waterfall,
The glorious young people of the Land of Snows,


In the year 1980,
the heartfelt power and creativity of the youth of Bo
The dignifying struggle
the music of youthfulness.

Kyi! Kyi!

Youthful waterfall
waterfall of youth

Where did you obtain
the fearless heart,
immeasurable confidence unbending pride limiteless strength?


The rainfall during the months of spring,
the new growth during three months of summer
the nourishment of hail and storm during the three months of autumn
the ice and snow during three months of winter,

And more!

Water from the snowy mountains and meadows, valleys, ravines,

In short!

Water of auspiciousness,
water of prosperity,
water of fulfillment,
water of perfection,
possessing the Eight Purities of Water,

The hundreds and thousands different qualities of water,

You are the water of friendship,
daring to leap from the ferocious cliff--
You are the water of the universe,
Courageously leaping into the valley below,
Proud to take on what's new

You have an open mind, strong body, and majestic appearance,
without arrogance or defilement,
your origins are deep,
having cast aside all impurities,
you have an unblemished mind, are slender in your youthfulness,


You are witness to history,
the way of the future--
the breathing and lifting of the snow land are written
on every droplet,
the rise and development of the Land of Snows
shine in each of your rays,

Without you!

Where can we whet the sword of language?
Where can we sharpen the sword of our skills,

Without you!

The tree of medicine cannot bloom,
philosophy and Buddhism will not bear fruit,


Lingering in your crystal mind
may be wounds of history,
scars of old battles fought,
lesions of ignorance,
the clotting of conservatism--
these are not possible,

The reason is!

You possess pride, majesty, and strength of youth,
will never let the winter ice stop you or
numb your mind---
a hundred slashes from a wrathful sword
can not halt your flow,

The reason is!

The waterfall's source lies in the deep snows,
its end is joined with the vast ocean--
your history is long,
it generates pride and dignity,
how melodious your chorus of time,
our inspiration and potency,

Have you heard? Waterfall!

The questions of the youth of the land of the snows,

How can you let a poet's house suffer from thirst?
How can you let composition's elephant suffer from heat?
How can you let metaphor's snow lion be covered in dirt?
How can you not nurture the orphan of dance and music?

Who will preserve the heritage of astrology?
Who will welcome the groom of science?
Who will wed the bride of technology?

Alas! Waterfall!

Your clear, bright and harmonious answers will reach our ears,
they are incised in our minds as a carving on rock,

In truth!

The thousand brilliant accomplishments of the past
Cannot serve today's purpose,
yesterday's salty water cannot quench today's thirsts,
the withered body of history is lifeless
without the soul of today,
the pulse of progress will not beat,
the blood of progress will not flow,
and a forward step cannot be taken,

Kyi! Waterfall!

Your gentle ripples,
droplets from your splashing water,

You symbolize the strength of the new generation of the land of Snows,
your torrent and thunderous sounds,


You show the hope sof a new generation--
our generations must not tread these paths,
conservatism, barbarism, ignorance, and reactionism, these have no foundation in our land,

Waterfall! waterfall!

Our minds will follow your course,
our blood will run like yours,
in the currents of times to come,
however, the difficulty of the way,
Youth of Tibet, relinquish fear,

Our people!
A new path is opening in favor of you,


The new generation in the land of snows
we are marching to gether,


This harmonious song
is the anthem of the youth of the Land of Snows,

The bright road,
pride in understanding g
people in responsibility, joyous life,
song of struggle,

The youthful waterfall will not diminish,
Its waters will never be impure,

This is!

The waterall springs from the voices of the youth of Tibet

This is!

The waterfall flows from the mind of the youth of the Land of Snows.

Dhondup Gyal 1953-1985 "Waterfall of Youth"
Manoa - Volume 12, Number 2, 2000, pp. 9-13
University of Hawai'i Press

The translation is quite uneven but one still gets the powerful energy of the poem. I’m sure in the Tibetan there is a strong melodious element and driving rhythm.

ADDENDA: May  24, 2016

You Tube is a resource for the contemporary Tibetan Literary scene. Here is a marvelous recitation of Dhondup's poem in Lhasa dialect by students from Qinghai University. One can experience here the musicality and sonic qualities of the poem

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Wild Leeks

Wild Leeks

by Jacqueline Gens

You don’t see them at first
till you stop and look
slowly at the loose leaves
and winter debris
scattered across the forest floor.
After awhile, tufts of greenery emerge,
thousands of tender shoots ,
still too early to pick.
This is the method I learned from Yettie--
Sephardic Jew from Salonika--
once my neighbor on Packers Corner Road.
To gather morrels one year, we sat on
the ground until we noticed our field of vision
shifting to nascent specks of white.
She's here because of her grandfather's second sight
reading in tea leaves that things
were not as they seemed.
They left the dinner table, food half eaten,
for distant Aegean Isles surviving the war
because of his divinations.
The real miracle-- year after year
the leeks grow only in this one place.
Each spring, I try to remember
Their irony taste, drawn from deep humus,
decayed pine, juniper, crushed maple leaves,
moss, and rotted wood--
Often, I forget the wild leeks of Keats Brook Road
I can't remember how we ended up
in this New England neighborhood—
my mother, Olga (like Yettie), worlds from her native Shanghai
where bombs fell, first from Japanese then American planes
as she rode her bicycle through the city
to collect bread rations from the Jewish ghetto.
Her heroic stories our dinner conversation for decades—
We knew that daily ride through fear: sounds, smells,
her chronic hunger, the blown up bits of pregnant women and children
"It’s the shrapnel that kills you, you know, not the bombs."
We allowed her the telling over and over
surrounded by her collection of Americana.
She’s here in the woods now
buried over the hill on Carpenter Road,
Some years, I do remember the harvest
of wild leeks with their bitter vitality,
my mind a continuity of pungent smells and thoughts:
family, friends, survival, the old world still here
growing on a hillside in Vermont each year---
regardless if we live or die,
holding forth as though eternal
in a wild assembly of tenderness.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

IO & others

Some recent spring poems


Twice, I imagined her name called, once
when my lover came to visit, and then again,
in the root cellar where I strained in the dark
to listen among potatoes and onions.

Twice daily, I called out to her-- I O
toward the back pasture from which she came running
to enter the barn and charge into her stanchen
awaiting hay, and that greater reward, grain.

I squatted on a three-legged stool
tipping forward, my face pressed into her Jersey flank,
right forearm barring her feisty kicks
while I massaged hard udders to let down her milk.

Each time I heard or said her name,
I thought of that other cow driven insane
by furies when thoughts assailed my mind of L.
making me crazy--

Until a tension released itself through her milk’s flow
as I grasped two tits and the warm stream
poured out into the stainless steel bucket
and we both came into Egypt-- I, out of despair.


The Lilac Thief

This year I looked for lilacs
off the beaten track
in yards no longer tended –
It's in those forgotten places,
abandoned lots littered with debris,
broken shards and plastic bottles,
I find the deeper purple of old bushes--
their crushed bloomets falling into my arms
I snap from gnarled branches, the night already moist.
No one notices their heritage
plumage mingled with the weeds of choke
grass and mulberry stands grown unruly--
except for the local lilac thief,
that one, who stops to follow
the scent of unseen blossoms.


Nearing Summer Solstice

At Tires for Less on Route Nine
while waiting to exchange snow studs
for all season tires past the April deadline
--vehicle housekeeping--
A young skin head
with spider web surrounding his naked
elbow, strips each lug
which hits the floor as he moves on his haunches,
feral menace with a drill bit.
I pace the pavement
looking down at the Connecticut River.
At the edge of blacktop next to a field of low
lying wildflowers and scrub brush,
broken glass and butts. Two
monarchs catch my attention, then flecks
of orange move among purple cones,
a different butterfly, with fur edges.
This day is long and suddenly I have time
to wonder how it is they know to convene
in this dump by the hundreds--
oblivious of trucks and cars speeding past,
their movements counterpoint
to my noisy irritation, calmed a moment
until spider boy calls me over.

Jacqueline Gens

Revisiting Frank O'Hara's "To the Harbormaster"

To the Harbormaster

I wanted to be sure to reach you
though my ship was on the way it got caught
in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable
to understand the forms of my vanity
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder
in my hand and the sun sinking. To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
of my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

(O'Hara, 217)

Frank O'Hara's poem "To the Harbormaster" was among the first poems I read as a teenager growing up in New York, then newly enamored of poetry. I happened upon it in the New York Times as part of his obituary in 1967. I had already read Keats, Rimbaud, and Ginsberg but this poem deeply stirred me unlike any other. For years, I remained haunted by the poem's heartbreak and courageous tenor, the authenticity of its feeling tone with its underscore of trieste but with verve. Before search engines on the Internet, I looked for this poem for decades-- it remaining but a half-realized memory from a chance newspaper encounter, the obituary long discarded and the poem too.
Some 37 years later, I remain equally affected by O'Hara's honest declaration of sadness and wisdom.

At its heart, "To the Harbormaster" serves as an apology for the perceived imperfections of mortal life and one's own limitations. Ginsberg in his introduction to "Howl" refers to the "secret or hermetic tradition of art 'justifying' or 'making up' for defeat in worldly life, to the acknowledgement of an "Unworldly love/That has no hope/Of the world/And that/Cannot change the world /To its delight--" (William Carlos Williams from "Rain")" Ginsberg further likens this compensation to the "imagination of art to reveal our deepest natural ground": love, hopeless yet permanently present to the heart, unalterable." (Ginsberg ix )

For Ginsberg, this strategy is played out through filial loyalty to his mother's mental distress and his poetics of empathy radiating out from his sense of sacramental relationships. For Keats, one sees a different strategy, for instance, in "Ode to a Grecian Urn." Who can not remember those words--beauty is truth, truth beauty? For Keats, the beauty of art is but the foster-child of silence and slow time and yet, that is all there is --the truth of our human condition.

O'Hara in "To the Harbormaster" achieves his justification of art compensating for life, primarily by means of the extended metaphor the speaker uses in addressing the Harbormaster while equating himself with the vessel with the emphasis on body = boat, the sea as life and journey, and the waves as a force of nature driving the vessel but also hindering its final arriving. It does not really matter who the Harbormaster is--God, a Lover, the lover as god, the Muse? For O'Hara, the Harbormaster is simply that omniscient presence overseeing the forces of life and death--not the navigator of these realities. This poem is about the journey itself which the speaker knows, like Keats, is already enroute for untimely death or lack of fulfillment. This knowledge is not philosophically abstract or adolescent but keenly, almost humorously, assented to. The speaker, after all, is "hard alee with my Polish rudder/in my hand" going head-on--"toward the sinking sun." toward the harbor, the shore where he is not yet arrived. Although self-deprecating in his apology (I am unable/to understand the forms of my vanity), this speaker is living life to the fullest while he can. Those lines, "hard alee with my Polish rudder/in my hand" are among the sexiest ever written with a candor almost unrivalled. Here the speaker's courage leaps out at one with the word "alee" with its onomatopoetic resonance with glee, his sheer joy in the face of inexorable mortality. One thinks, too, of the rudder as the vessel's innate energetics, the life force of the speaker, not just his libido/cock of which the imagery so graphically suggests. He may also be referring to his creative impulses, not just the more obvious allusion to sex. What is clear here is that the speaker contains a high degree of certainty in his own self-assessment although he is less clear about his destination and the Harbormaster, be that presence lover, muse or the most unlikely--deity.

O'Hara employs a brilliant technical strategy in his irregular metrical scheme alternating at times between tetrameter and pentameter lines which seem to mirror the broken vessel in troubled waters but still buoyed up by the steady, at times, majestic gait of the poem's tempo.

I want/ed to be /sure to /reach you
though my /ship was/ on the /way it /got caught

The poem simply does not scan well and this serves a purpose because the theme of the poem is really about how various forces, both inner and outer, disrupt the voyage of the boat.

The poem's almost total lack of end stops (only 3 out of 17 lines) often proceeded by a caesura and then followed by phyrric feet (in bold above & below) in some of the lines to follow, simulates the pitch of a boat in stormy waters (waves) --break, pitch, then diminish. In any case, whether consciously or intuitively, the lines are halting and broken metrically and this seems to mirror the rocking motion of the boat itself.

The next few lines following the opening lines cited above illustrate how the feminine endings and almost excessive passivity in the language contributes to the tone of self-reflection and egolessness in the face of some larger oceanic feeling:

in some moorings, I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable

Needless to say, beginning and ending a line with "and" is not the stuff of great poems. However, O'Hara gets away with it precisely because of the clarity of the speaker's presence in the midst of so much uncertainty.
Another notable feature of this poem is that O'Hara chooses not to break the
poem into stanzas, a more likely strategy given the three or four distinct statements. Instead, O'Hara merges these distinct thoughts into one another which serves to build up a well-spring of feeling--primarily of sadness culminating in the emotional arc of the poem in the speaker's humble offering, "To /you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage of my will.

The choice of the word, "cordage" in line 10, of course, is reminiscent of Hart Crane whom O'Hara must have held in great sympathy. This line is an exquisite figurative declaration of the speaker's real intent in this poem. The journey may be disrupted continually through the speaker's own lack of will, his distractions and forces beyond his control, yet he is unencumbered in his offering of his imperfect body (hull) and soul (will). This is like a marriage vow to one's beloved. Thus, "To the Harbormaster" is a poem tinged with the arrows of Eros, of an unrequited love, although we do not have any such information beyond the speaker's offering to the anonymous but present harbormaster.

Unlike many O'Hara poems, "To the Harbormaster" does not exhibit the bon vivant hedonism or camp observations of a removed spectator but deep emotional involvement shaped by the extended metaphor which does indeed serve to "carry" forth (like a boat) the speaker's poignant sensibility. What saves this poem from out right sentimentality is the speaker's innate wisdom of acceptance and bold honesty:
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

The extended metaphor finds its final release in the image of the waves which are an even a greater presence than the Harbormaster. The waves function as the oxygen of the poem, an elemental state of being as natural and rhythmic as breath itself. The notion of the water element as the province in which the extended metaphor takes place is paramount to understanding the essential attitude of the speaker's healthy state of mind--his "sanity." It is precisely the waves, the speaker tells us which are empowered "with the reasoning of the eternal voices" and therefore the strength of humanity. So what seems to be the overall meaning conveyed its that there simply are cycles and forces of life which have their own natural wisdom--whether in the end they disrupt our journey, as they most surely will, or not. The eternal voices are non-other than than all of us, mortal voyagers, on each our own journey back home from whence we came.

I love this poem. I wouldn't recommend it as a study in lineation or for its many weaknesses which, like the speaker himself, pale before the greater forces at work and which might have been delivered in more muscular lines. However, it is the receptive and feminine qualities of the poem's language which serve to create the calm atmosphere of acceptance underlying the speaker's artful compensation for his ship wrecked vessel:

…The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me.

These lines are ominous--especially the heavily stressed spondees jumping out so uncharacteristically and so beautifully executed --like a doomed Ophelia. Nevertheless, the speaker declares, "I trust the sanity of my vessel" as we all must too-- our bodies the ephemeral yet equally powerful counterpoint to the eternal voices of our humanity.

O'Hara, Frank, The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, edited Donald Allen,
University of California Press, Berkeley, 1995.

by Jacqueline Gens, 2005

Friday, April 15, 2005

Some Recent Insights

Pedagogical Teaching View For An Introduction To Tibetan Literature

In creating this course for the Pedagogy 2 class (Marlboro College/Spring 2005) out of my many years research into Tibetan culture and literature, I found a surprising number of pedagogical views that seem to suit the topic at hand. My own line of inquiry grows out of the basic ground that uncertainty leads to the discovery of new or perhaps one can say, fresh ways of perceiving the world and expression. This is a state of mind most poets know well. “Make it New” poet Ezra Pound, proclaimed at the dawn of the modern era. As a poet myself, daily I face the blank page in terror and discomfort awaiting that first flash of insight, seed language, or cluster of thoughts to arise. It has taken me decades to understand how important it is to allow oneself in the learning process, as in the creative, to stand in “bewilderment” as poet Fannie Howe said, and face the unknown.

Beginning this course amid a great deal of personal confusion at entering an unknown discipline for the first time, that of education, I soon found a spark to ignite my interest with D.N Perkins’ illuminating article, “Mindware and the Metacurriculum.” Perkins presents two key observations that framed my final project found in the following quotes:

Mindware does three jobs, all of which concern the observation of thought. It works to pattern, repattern, and depattern thinking.

I am an advocate of what is often called infusion—integrating teaching of new concepts in a deep and far-reaching way the subject matter instructions.

Since how mind functions happens to be the principal theme of numerous Tibetan literary works beginning with the great poet saint, Milarepa in the 10th century, I was intrigued. Perkins’ thesis that we need to know how to know better and that intelligence itself is learnable debunks the reliance on conventional measurements of determining intelligence. For as he points out, reflective intelligence offers the best target of opportunity for education because it is the most learnable of the three -neural/experiential/reflective.

In teaching Tibetan literature, one of the primary questions I ask my students is “Why Tibetan Literature? Or what does Tibetan culture have to offer Western culture at this point in history? For me, the answer is precisely in the Mindware which embodies Tibetan culture where pattern, repattern and depattern are the cornerstone to Tibetan worldview with its long inquiry into the primordial nature of mind in contrast to solidified dualistic thinking. We live in a world bifurcated by dualism—us & them, good & bad, rich and poor. Where such schisms prevail with a limited capacity for a deeper reflective thinking, as a society-- we are “stepping on the throat of our own song,” as one poet put it.

Thus, in this context, education may serve a noble cause in teaching individuals how to think and how mind functions for it is only in our ability to pattern, repattern and depattern, through acts of continuous reflection that we can meet the challenges of the 21st century. Tibetan culture, in general, has something to say to us about how a society can manifest so much wisdom with so little material goods, how the primacy of feeling stands in stark contrast to conventional mindsets. In short, Tibetan culture is a civilization passionate about mind and it might be interesting, if not useful, for us to consider what such a society might be like in terms of human development and to hear what they have to say. In the Tibetan language there are hundreds of words for mind detailing in minutiae its most subtle movements.

An infusion of properly relating to how thinking functions as part of an instructional design can only benefit an individual (and society) by providing an entrée into more creative modes of problem solving which requires stepping outside the box with keen perceptions and a mind willing to stand in bewilderment of the unknown. It is said in the Tibetan tradition that wisdom and compassion are the two wings of a bird. Without one or the other, there can be no flight. In teaching this course or any other, my intention is always to reach beyond course objectives and goals to touch the nerve of more enduring understandings. Like my subject matter itself, I find that educators can, and often do, appeal to the highest and deepest.

The primary pedagogical view point which strongly influenced how I evolved the delivery of this course, it’s syllabus, course strategies, rubrics comes from Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding By Design, particularly-- the six facets of understanding and the “backwards design” model. Here again, we stand on lofty ground as to the human potential for intelligence and wisdom beyond easy conceptual frameworks. To me, the ‘backwards model’ seems to embody a precise methodology for introducing training in reflective thinking to accompany subject matter instruction. Moreover, (according to these authors) the values of a deeper understanding can be transmitted and one’s capacity for them enlarged in how learning is processed individually and in the culture of learning itself—the classroom, whether virtual or not.

In putting together the course overview by means of the UbD template as well as the rubrics (template found at Thinking Gear), I found myself focusing on the ‘six facets of understanding’ in how I shaped the course content to enable well-rounded project oriented assignments allowing for explanation, interpretation applications, perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge. Readings tend to emphasize explanation, interpretation and perspective while the project assignments lend themselves more to empathy and self-knowledge arising out of the applications required for each project.
Needless to say, I come to all this as a novice. I can now see that implementing an instructional course design means spending hundreds of hours dedicated to the task of creating a learning environment which demands presence to the learners themselves, where there is never any one answer but a multiplicity of viewpoints or applications. Where truly the teacher is as much a learner as the learner, a teacher.

Works cited or consulted:

D.N. Perkins, Mindware and the MetaCurriculum fromCreating the Future: Perspective on Education and Change ed. Dee Dickinson

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Understanding By Design, ASCD, Alexandra, Virginia, 1998

Jon Mueller, Authentic Assessment Toolbox, especially Mueller’s Glossary

Tiffany Marra, Authentic Learning Environments

Thinking About Rubrics