From Harriet the Blog, the topic of the 2011 Great American Think-Off: Does poetry matter? http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2011/01/a-very-serious-question
January 8, 2011
December 29, 2008
I’m too self-skeptical to make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I’ve set the following goals. (These could also be considered my list of Big, Fun, Scary Things for 2009.) This list is subject to additions, deletions and alterations at any time.
- Find a permanent job. I’ve been doing the IT contracting thing for a while now, but that puts me in a volatile sector in a volatile career field. Choosing a place to settle down is a gamble. What if they have massive layoffs, or move the office to a distant state? (Both have happened to me, and I had been happy in those jobs.) What if the company looks good on paper, but turns out to be another Dickensian, Dilbertesque or Kafkaesque environment? (I’ve worked in all three. A sense of humor is mandatory.)
- Start learning Polish. I’ve often threatened to learn a second language. In addition to high school Spanish, and German and Koiné Greek in college, at various times I’ve toyed with Italian, French, Latin, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Icelandic. I couldn’t ask for a cup of coffee in any of those languages. Polish, with its scarcity of vowels, is intimidating, but I admire Polish culture and have enjoyed many Polish writers in translation.
- Start learning yoga. I have the For Dummies book. I don’t intend to become a human knot, but I would like to become more fit and less stressed.
- Start meditating. I’ve meditated sporadically, by which I mean about five times a year, for a couple of decades. I need to start revving down my type-A personality. I might even begin sleeping eight hours a night. (Why is everyone laughing?)
- Write a play. I’ve written plays before, but that was in my dadaist period; they made no sense and were completely unstageable. (As I recall, one ended with the destruction of the universe.) I’d like to script something that could actually be performed.
- Write song lyrics. I’ve written the lyrics for two or three songs in my life, and I still don’t know what I’m doing. I hope to learn. Composing melody is beyond me.
- Write at least one poem a day in April. I do this every year for National Poetry Month, but I think it still counts as an adventure. I usually end the month with at least one or two keepers.
- ScriptFrenzy. This is the cousin to National Novel Writing Month; the goal is to write a full-length film screenplay in one month. Unfortunately, ScriptFrenzy coincides with National Poetry Month. (There goes my “eight hours of sleep” goal.) I’ll be collaborating with my wife, Anne, in this adventure.
- Create my personal website. I’ve owned the domain for years. I keep tinkering with the site design. It’s time to just do it.
- Publish a piece of fiction—for pay—in currency, not copies. Just to prove I can.
- Make a good start on that philosophical-epic-dramatic poem I have notes for on a million scattered scraps of paper. (Working title: “Polyphanic Idiographies.”)
- Recycle the abandoned items on this list for 2010.
October 28, 2008
I admire Thomas Paine greatly; he’s rather high up in my pantheon of saints. He was a brilliant polemicist, and he sacrificed everything to fight for human liberty. But he was not a subtle philosopher.
One error he falls into, and he’s certainly not alone in this, is the general statement of the form The purpose of X is Y, rather than A purpose of some X is Y. Examples of this fallacy are “The purpose of government is to protect our rights,” and “The purpose of art is to delight and instruct.” As if every thing of class X must have the same purpose, at all times and places, for everybody!
My own belief — and this is a prejudice, not a reasoned position — is that the purpose of each thing is to be what it is. The purpose of the Rembrandt’s The Night Watch is to be The Night Watch. The purpose of Rembrandt was to be — not an artist — but Rembrandt.
Admittedly, this makes the question of purpose somewhat tautological (how can anything not be what it is?) — but perhaps I don’t really believe in “purposes of.” (See how prejudices fall apart when you start thinking?) To explore this topic properly, we should define what we mean by purpose, and how a thing’s purpose differs (if it does) from its use.
Some other shortcomings in Paine:
- He traces human rights back to a mythical state of nature, without explaining why that time (even if it existed) should have a special authority today.
- He believes, against all evidence, that people will act rationally, and in their own interests. (Greenspan is in good company.)