Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cynthia Wachtell's Son

Huffington Post Blogger Cynthia Wechtell
astronomy - the science that deals with the material universe beyond the earth's atmosphere.

astrology - the study that assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs.

     Suppose that, hoping for a credit towards a Science degree, you signed up for a course on astronomy and were taught astrology instead.¹  You discover that neither your teachers nor their professors know the composition of stars;  many cannot even tell the difference between a sun and a moon in the night sky.

     Eventually, this practice is stopped.  Which bothers you more?  The bait-and-switch operation or its cessation?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #64

     Please take a moment to read Cynthia Wachtell's "No Place for Poetry on My Son's Common Core ELA Test".  Don't sweat the details pertaining to any one particular program--Common Core, in this case.  The central point is that for decades poetry has been disappearing at every level of our education systems, from kindergarten to graduate school. 

     To quote Ms. Wachtell:  "We are now seeing a form of literary expression disappear without any discussion of whether it has a role to play in modern education."

     Poetry's revival would be a fait accompli if it had what Walt Whitman enjoyed during his lifetime:  "great audiences".


     That ain't gonna happen any time soon.

     The art form would thrive in a public that has a clear-eyed understanding of what poetry is, what it does and, above all, how it does it.


     That ain't happening either.

     In the end, poetry will have to settle for Cynthia Wachtell's son.

     Two questions leap out us:

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #50

1.  Why is this happening?

     That is easy to answer.  The cycle of apathy and ignorance has caught up with us.  As a society, we don't know the basics and we don't care to learn them.  How can we be surprised that poetry is going the way of Classical Greek and Latin? 

     Did we really think that contemporary poetry's 0% success rate would never have an impact on people's attitudes toward canonical poetry?  Apathy/ignorance has made poetry arcane;  absent from our common culture for over half a century, has it become obsolete?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #42

2.  Can any good come of this?

     When we say we aren't "teaching poetry" any longer, what do we mean?  Are we speaking literally, as in rote memorization of verses and practices that would help us perform poems?

     No.  That boat sailed half a century ago. 

     Are we referring to the elements of poetry?  Sonics?  Rhythm/meter?  The things that allow us to write, critique, teach or evaluate verse?

     No.  We haven't done that in decades either.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #97
     What we are really talking about jettisoning is the interpretation of poetry to the exclusion of all performance and prosodic considerations.  In my view, this is addition by subtraction.  By allowing the question "What does it mean?"² to die we move away from the cryptocrap factory and the "need" for English-to-English translators...toward...toward...Cynthia Wachtell's son.

     Ms. Wachtell got off to a rocky start with this disturbing piece of Content Regency:  "My son did not get it. He thought the woman was real. So I decided to teach him a bit about poetry."

     She recovered immediately with this:  "It was an appealing notion to sit side by side with him and talk about words, lines, and rhymes."

     Poetry involves "words, lines and rhymes"?  Not cryptograms, heart farts and homily wannabes?  Who knew?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #104
     Ms. Wachtell hits full stride by showing more interest in technique than the two biggest poetry organizations have demonstrated in the last decade:  "We studied the poetic elements of the works: alliteration, meter, similes, and rhymes."

     She finishes off with an observation about performance that seems to have eluded many:  "My son no longer halted at the end of each line of poetry, whether the punctuation warranted it or not."  Obvious?  Sure.  In fact, it is something that instructors could have confirmed by conferring with any Shakepearean actor, any performance coach or, if too lazy to venture beyond the School Staff Lunchroom, any Theatre Arts teacher.

     Compare Cynthia Wachtell's remarks with the indifference toward technique shown by others within the poetry world.  If Ms. Wachtell and her son are representative of the literate public we might conclude that the only educated people not interested in poetry are--you guessed it--poets.


¹ - Actually, it's not as absurd as it sounds.  The terms "astronomy" and "astrology" were once interchangeable.

² - ...as opposed to "Why will you remember this?"

    Your feedback is appreciated!

    Please take a moment to comment or ask questions below or, failing that, mark the post as "funny", "interesting", "silly" or "dull".  Also, feel free to expand this conversation by linking to it on Twitter or Facebook.  Please let us know if you've included us on your blogroll so that we can reciprocate.

    If you would like to contact us confidentially or blog here as "Gray for a Day" please use the box below, marking your post as "Private" and including your email address;  the moderator will bring your post to our attention and prevent it from appearing publicly.

    We look forward to hearing from you.


Earl Gray, Esquirrel

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments and questions are welcome.