Sunday, January 30, 2011

To Stop Feeling Futile

We discussed "Song of Myself" in poetry tutorial today. I have not yet read the whole thing, but I think it is beautiful. My favourite section so far is the following passage:
Through me forbidden voices,
Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil'd and I remove the veil,
Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur'd.

I do not press my fingers across my mouth,
I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart,
Copulation is no more rank to me than death is.

I believe in the flesh and the appetites,
Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle.

Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch'd from,
The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,
This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.
What I recognize in this passage is courage - the courage that must have been necessary, in Whitman's time, to stand up for the status of the body and the value of sex. Evidently this courage would be necessary even today, as people were laughing in my poetry class about his erotic language.

What Whitman reminded me is that poets must write for the people, and that poets must stick true to their vision. Poetry is not just a vehicle for excessive emotions. Poetry has the power of vivid and sometimes frightening imagery, as well as memorable phrasing - they use these tricks all the time in advertising - so it does have, in part, the responsibility of nurturing new values, of changing the societal landscape.

I am only twenty. It is stupid to be anxious over whether or not I will end a writer, just because I don't always have a poem in progress in my mind. I do not yet have the vision Whitman or Wordsworth had. The important thing is that I've pushed myself. But beyond that, it doesn't matter if I don't get published or not this year. I've done a lot of work this school year already: I've started to learn about poetic theory; I've memorized many poems; I've pushed myself to read more, and to read with an open mind, and read not only famous poets but less respected ones as well. Because if I really want to call myself a writer, I need to live and breathe literature - the common as well as the canon.

For now, that's enough. No need to feel that my efforts are futile. I might not even become a writer if things don't work out.

School is getting better. I don't mind the labs or physics classes as much anymore. It is foolish as well to think that science is not useful. These will probably be my last physics classes so I'll just have to enjoy them while I can. No need to feel that they are wastes of time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How soon, unaccountable, I became sick and tired

I haven't been posting much lately. In fact, I haven't been writing much lately at all - no poetry, no ideas for poetry. I've been feeling lazy, tired, sick.

Part of it is school. I just don't really like my classes, other than Fantasy&Horror and Poetry. Apart from those two courses, this term I have Practical Physics, Classical Mechanics, and Basic Statistical Mechanics. In fact I added Classical Mechanics after dropping two classes - Introduction to Real Analysis, and Theories of Sexuality: Contemporary Perspectives. The former I dropped because I did not have enough energy to sit through another math class for a semester; the latter I felt was too philosophical. I'd bought the textbook--non-refundable--and I was sitting through the second class and halfway through I realized I had no idea what the professor was talking about, and moreover that I felt sick discussing sex through a lens so philosophical. I preferred the approach we took in UNI255, investigating studies of actual human sexual behaviour, not examining vague declarations how sexuality is "liminal" or how it simultaneously "permeates, fuels, and yet subtracts itself from the predominant economy of exchange in capitalist societies" -- which is basically saying nothing, nothing, nothing at all.

Subsequently I swallowed my pride and emailed the whole class to resell my non-refundable textbook for a slightly lower price, then dropped the course, and math. I needed a 5th course, and I'd sat through the first class of Classical Mechanics and it's the only core third-year physics course I lack, so it was the logical choice. As well, Adrienne, Desmond and Cassie are in the class.

Recently, though, I've been overwhelmed by the despair that I get from studying science. I had a long chat with Adrienne tonight about this and I recalled this poem by Walt Whitman, entitled "When I heard the learn'd astronomer".
When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in
the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
I used to dislike this poem, used to think, "What does Whitman know about astronomy and physics?" But perhaps he knew more, because right now science makes me feel just sick to the core. In my childhood I remember being entranced by the planets, the cratered face of Mercury, the smooth icy crust of Europa under which lay a vast subterranean ocean. This fascination with space is what drew me to physics in the first place. But this fascination is gone and in its place only a deep sense of loss.

In my Fantasy&Horror class, we read Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories" -- his treatise on the genre of fantasy literature. In it he talked about "recovery", the regaining of a clear view of our universe. And he says, "We should look at green again, and be startled anew (but not blinded) by blue and yellow and red. We should meet the centaur and the dragon, and then perhaps suddenly behold, like the ancient shepherds, sheep, and dogs, and horses— and wolves. This recovery fairy-stories help us to make."

This is what I need. Recovery. The power to behold even the planets and stars anew. This light only literature ignites, only language calls forth.

Monday, January 17, 2011

To The New Year

My new years' resolutions.

To sleep more. To sleep on time. To learn how to manage my time. To write more. Perhaps more importantly, to write without self-censorship. And to write without shame: to transcend that paralyzing emotion. To not worry about whether written works are successes or failures. To write a little every day - it adds up. To experiment with a larger amount of poetic forms and imagery. To get published. To read more. To survey, absorb, and experience different kinds of writing and of literature. To become more aware of language, and how writers in the past have used it. To learn how to rhyme in more interesting ways. More broadly, to become more involved in the arts: to play piano more frequently, to become exposed to different types of music. To help in the fight against sexual discrimination of all kinds. To develop the vocabulary necessary to talk and argue convincingly about sexuality. And again, to talk without sex and its associated subjects without shame. To join an anti-homophobia group. To develop a personal philosophy. To stand up for my own principles. To accept responsibility; to reflect on faults; to look on the world with unwavering humility and wonder. To forgive when understanding is not possible. To remember, cherish, love.

Here's to the new year, everyone.