Friday, August 23, 2013

Hour One of 56

Friday night. Hot and muggy. The evening of end of the first week of school, although actually we've only had two days of classes. (Somebody must have thought that through once upon a time. A good way to start: two days on, a weekend off, a week of classes, a long (Labor Day) weekend, four days of classes. A gradualist approach. Letting teachers and students get their feet underneath them before the long march begins. Actually not so long, as I was talking about with my students. We have a modular schedule at our school which divides the semester into 14 six-day cycles. Each class meets for an hour four times a cycle. 56 hours. As compared to most schools where the class meets an hour a day for 90 days. Adjusting to having 34 hours less per semester for every class was one of the first major adjustments I had to make when I arrive at my school 15 years ago. There are benefits: more processing time, more conference time, less likelihood of burnout. But still, 34 hours is a lot to let go of. It means that we must try to be disciplined and efficient about how we use the time we do have.) Anyway, met each of my classes once. Felt myself bathed once again in the million and one simultaneous overlapping stimuli that put into motion even (especially) on Day One: some by active planning on the teacher's part, some by the fact that people are paying a particular kind of attention at the start, many more by the complex dynamics of having 20 people in a room taking their cues from one another about how this is going to unfold.

Somehow it puts me in mind of Stephen Dunn:


It makes no difference where one starts,
doesn't every beginning subvert
the tyrannies of time and place?
New Jersey or Vermont, it's the gray zone
where I mostly find myself
with little purpose or design.
An apple orchard, an old hotel—
when I introduce them
I feel I've been taken somewhere
I've been before; such comfort,
like the sound of consecutive iambs
to the nostalgic ear.
Yet it helps as well
here in the middle, somewhat amused,
to have a fast red car
and a winding, country road.
To forget oneself can be an art.
"Frost was wrong about free verse,"
she said to me. "Tear the net down,
turn the court into a dance floor."
She happened to be good looking, too,
which seemed to further enliven her remark.
It always makes a difference
how one ends, aren't endings where you
shut but don't lock the door?
Strange music beginning,
the dance floor getting crowded now.

This is a poem which delivers some notions about how poetry (or, within the framework of comparison I'm entertaining, the class as an entity) evolves by enacting that process. You begin somewhere. It probably doesn't matter where; it's the "grey zone," regardless. Whatever you do wind up saying at the start comes from someplace within, and is thus recognizable even if it seems random ("An apple orchard, an old hotel—when I introduce them I feel I've been taken somewhere I've been before..."). The beginning sets the direction, but soon enough the poem (class) takes on a life of its own, and leads into territory which could not have been predicted at the start. (I love the appearance here of the fast car, the girl who enlivens the conversation.) Then suddenly, sooner that you expect or might wish for, you look up and you're getting close to the end, just as the music was starting to cook, and people were feeling amped up enough to dance.

That's what most semesters feel like to me. Those last few weeks are always interesting, and for me this year will be even more so, for reasons that were perhaps most eloquently expressed by Uncle Will  (in another, even more intimate context) 400+ years ago:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

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