Tag Archives: teaching

Don’t Preach Me

Don’t preach me religion
like there’s something you can prove;
being good at treading water
doesn’t mean you can move.

Don’t preach me politics
from the safety of the status quo;
saying that you understand
doesn’t mean that you know.

Don’t preach me civic pride
like I don’t know much history;
acting like the bigger gun
makes the purer pedigree.

Don’t tell me to walk the line
when you’re circling around me;
I don’t believe your anything
has much to do with me.

Don’t preach me right and wrong
like there’s some space in between;
words like that make useful weapons
if you don’t know what they mean.

Don’t preach me morality
like some gold we’re gonna find;
being sane in a crazy world
don’t mean you ain’t lost your mind.

Don’t tell me to seek the truth
when your mouth is full of lies;
I don’t believe your anything
just because it’s super-sized.

Don’t preach me religion;
don’t preach me politics.
Don’t hand me your medicine
when you’re the one who’s sick.

Don’t preach me your civic pride;
don’t preach your right and wrong.
Don’t preach your morality;
I’ve got my own damned song.

14 JUN 2017

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The Failure of American Public Schools

The failure of the American public school system is that while we have emphasized the importance of those skills that “get things done” or that provide our children with the technological tool set to “compete” on a global scale, we have neglected to teach them the reasons WHY one should avail themselves of that technology. In addition, by eliminating the arts, we have removed the one source of study that provides insight into how all these technological skills fit together, how they construct a culture, how they inform an intelligent community, how they make life worth living.

When I look back at what I learned from the fine arts in school (back when they were part of the school curriculum), I wonder why they are not mandatory education.

From music (both instrumental and choral), I learned history, foreign language, mathematics, literature, geography, ratios, fractions, timing, physical and mental discipline, team dynamics and collaboration, listening, posture, breathing, improvisation, balance, poise, public speaking, and self-respect.

What I didn’t learn from music, I learned from art: proportions, composition, construction, optics, chemistry, preservation, creative visualization, theme, and color theory.

And what both gave me was a healthy introduction to religion, philosophy, anthropology, marketing, psychology, communications, politics, self-criticism, self-discipline and logic.

Only one or two of those things I learned in P.E. or playing sports. And while math and science as individual subjects may provide greater depth into some specifics, they certainly are pretty dry when you don’t have something meaningful to do with them.

The arts are not an elective.

Not for a culture or society that hopes to survive its technology. Not for a culture that wants to do better than just “survive”.

They are, and should always be, mandatory education.

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The words that rend my soul’s speech are my own;
they are not borrowed from another’s lines.
From someone else’s field, of their seeds sown,
come not the fruits due me at harvest time.

To posit otherwise is to admit
my life only an actor’s walk-on role,
with no responsibility or wit
of my own — no true joy, love or control.

So, each new moment becomes mine to make,
immersed in self-wrought ecstacy or hell.
How then, to keep from making more mistakes,
or at least, to recover from them well?

The secret: admit what you do not know.
From that small bit of knowledge, all things flow.

21 MAR 2006

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Stop all the clocks

Stop all the clocks! The hours must halt
their slow and steady marching on;
let all lay fallow in default
until this fickle mood is gone.

Stop all the movement of the sun
and stars against a sombre sky;
let fall in finish what’s begun
until this darkened thought goes by.

Stop wishing, stop your work commute,
leave off that endless exercise
until that dream that convolutes
and busies us lays down and dies.

Stop forward motion! Stop retreat!
Let all momentum slow and cease;
pretend, for once, the world’s complete,
and does not need to be policed.

Stop watching! Look for no more signs
revealing subtle Divine thought
Let that watch halt; do not rewind
its mechanism. Let it rot.

Stop all the clocks! Keep time no more
inside each minute’s careful cage;
let structure collapse on the floor,
and words escape the page.

Stop reading! Let the lines of text
begin to swim and blur to black;
throw out your plan for what is next.
That moment’s gone. It won’t be back.

24 JUN 2005

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Between Something Worth Saying and a Voice to Say It With

One of the biggest personal challenges I face as a poet is striking a balance between form and function, or between pose and purpose.

What I mean by this is that as an artist progresses in their technical ability, in their experience with the creative process, and in the journey of self-discovery that ultimately results in maturity (or vintage) as an artist, we often say they have found “their voice”. To experience someone who has found their voice is to listen to the sound of a tree, to know that what sound comes from them originates from unseen roots in the soles of their feet and radiates upward and outward. Such voices rumble with a kind of authority that masterfully, yet without effort, blends the personal and the universal into a single stream of consciousness that, even if you don’t agree with the flow, you cannot help but be affected by when you hear it. Some artists never quite achieve that level of sophistication (although sophistication is not exactly the right word here), and you can sense it. They put on a great show, and to most observers they appear to be something quite special. But to other poets, I think, the distinction between a Voice and a Stage Whisper is apparent. A lot of people sham at having a Voice. They speak as if they had one, or as if trying to convince others they are someplace at which they have not yet arrived.

The problem is, of course, that the destination changes. And like any relationship, the voice and the words it finds to speak are often troubled by the little things. The two questions, “where am I going?” and “who am I going with?” always seem to be asked in the wrong order. As a result, the line between message and medium is often blurred, or lost altogether. I don’t think, for example, that Sylvia Plath’s intention was to inspire legions of pale, depressed, overwrought and hyper-sensitive ingenues who dwelt forever in the house of sadness and tragedy. Or that TS Eliot really wished for everyone who followed in his footsteps to mimic his worst traits (overbearing and perhaps a bit poncy and academic) and somehow forget his playful side. But that’s the way it goes, particularly when those who TEACH poetry approach it from an academic standpoint and by necessity must focus on only a small part of an entire persona in order to come up with a punchline for their Doctoral theses.

More to come later.

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A Tale of Two Saints

Two saints of diametric views
one rainy Sunday morn, did choose
to spend some time in long debate
on gods and men and life and fate;

each sought to prove his deity
more just and great (such vanity)
imagining the sad world pined
for their opinions, wrought sublime.

While neither knew the other’s gods
(or quite why they were at odds),
their hearing dulled and eyesight poor
each stood on their respective shore

with little buckets rimmed in salt
distilled from the sea, to assault
with proofs that just their deity
encompassed true salinity.

They splashed each other well enough
and neither one could be rebuffed
until both soaked through to the skin
they paused; and as the tide came in

a voice was heard above the swell
that neither knew (at least, not well)
and it said, “just act like the world
is not for man, but for the squirrels.”

Then buckets half-lost in the sand
the two saints laid down, hand in hand,
and in the fading daylight’s spark
saw the horizon’s distant arc

and gained perspective, sitting there,
the ocean in their underwear —
and laughed, because their points of view
were equal parts hogwash and truth.

Two saints went to the shore one day;
and from that beach, none went away.

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Upon Being Invited to Study the Great Books Online

Thanks for the invitation. I must say, having looked into facilitating my own Great Books curriculum at several times in the past, that the concept is neither unfamiliar to me, nor uninviting. However, my reason for declining at present has little to do with the scope of the program, but more with the medium. I have participated in a number of online study groups, interest groups, etc., over the past ten years, and have found that while they do promote a degree of intellectual stimulation, and do foster a sense of camaraderie among participants, they by their very nature limit the exchange of ideas because they have as their foundation a sense of anonymity. It is very easy to expound one’s ideas, and wax philosophic, in the vacuum of not having to look another person in the eye. It is gratifying, particularly to one’s ego, to have the group linger on a thread of your own creation for endless iterations. However, too often it seems that is where it ends. Having a cluster of pen-pals, so to speak, does not improve my opportunity to have intellectual (or otherwise stimulating) conversations in real life, with people that I encounter in the flesh on a daily basis. Without that level of personal contact, having an exchange of ideas to me is stale and flat.

I don’t say that this particular curriculum or this forum will lead to that end. For me, however, particularly since my own meaning of an educated liberal extends FAR beyond the narrow, and one might even say, self-destructive, confines of Western culture, that at this point in my life, your group is not for me. It smacks too much of knowledge for the sake of knowledge alone, as some kind of barometer by which one can compare one’s education to others and somehow feel more justified in holding opinions, and grasping the illusory reins of control over a life that to be understood must be tasted in the flesh, rather than by sucking the aged marrow from its volumes of bones.

That’s a long way of saying, thanks, but no thanks.

However, I wish you success in this venture, and again, appreciate the invitation.

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