Inanna and Dumuzi get it on

Another voice note for my Mythology and Literature class, on the goddess Inanna’s choice of a mate, and the meaning of their meeting. Lightly edited, like the last one. If you’d rather listen than read, here you are:


“The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi”

A thought first more generally about what myth is, what our relationship to myth is.

It’s tempting to think of myth as something other people in other times have done and made, in order to give order and structure to their world. We might think that, given now to a scientific worldview, to empirical procedures for understanding how human beings work, how human societies work, how the cosmos at large works, on the greatest possible scale of stars and galaxies, the minutest possible scale of subatomic particles, that we’re no longer doing mythology – that mythology is something that we can see from the outside, from a remove, and gaze upon with interest, maybe some amusement, maybe a bit of condescension or admiration or nostalgia, depending on our disposition.

I want to suggest to you a different perspective though. That perspective begins from the notion that it’s only other people’s myths that look like myths. Your own myths don’t look like myths to you, they look like axioms. Let me note for you a couple of things that are very much part of our worldview, and that, if we see them from bit of a remove, may look more myth-like than we have been given to think.

The past. The future. Neither the past nor the future has any objective existence. Nowhere will you find the past, not even the instant that just passed. Nowhere will you find and be able to present the future; it does not exist anywhere. The past and the future are constructs of human mind. Our belief in them is so foundational that most of the rest of our beliefs depend upon them to even make sense at all.

I submit to you, the past and future, along a linear timeline as we conceive of them, are mythic, in that they are foundational, and they are collaborative constructs – nobody can make a myth on their own – collaborative constructs of our cultural imagination. And one mark that it’s myth is that we recoil from the suggestion that it’s “just a myth.”

So, if a myth is a world-arranging story, and the figures in the myths we’re looking at are animate, they’re characters, how then do we think about this reading for today, “The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi”? It’s more than just a boy and a girl meeting, flirting, fighting, and then getting it on. That’s just the surface.

We can ask what it is in the world of the Sumerians that this myth has the power to arrange, to put in order. Inanna is the goddess of love, of war, though I don’t think she’s prominent in that function here, of love and fecundity and increase. Also she has at her disposal the me, the gifts or powers of civilization. Dumuzi is the god of the vegetation, of the spring, of rebirth. He’s the classical dying-and-rising god; and in some contexts he was also the god of shepherds, a pastoral god, which explains his epithet, “the shepherd.” So what does it mean that the goddess of increase, herself, and the god of vegetation, himself, are getting it on?

Well, we can look at the terms in which their getting-it-on is expressed. You may have noticed the abundance of nature imagery, of agricultural metaphor. Fortunately this is just audio, so you can’t see me blushing as I read. Inanna is speaking:

My vulva, the horn,
The boat of Heaven,
Is full of eagerness like the young moon.
My untilled land lies fallow.

So there’s the agricultural dimension.

As for me, Inanna,
Who will plow my vulva,
Who will plow my high field?
Who will plow my wet ground?

It’s all thoroughly subsumed to this agricultural metaphor, of the sexual act as an act of well, farming, of planting seed that will then grow. The word “semen” is from the Latin word for “seed,” by the way. A little further on, we’re hearing from the narrator again:

At the king’s lap stood the rising cedar.
Plants grew high by their side.
Grains grew high by their side.
Gardens flourished luxuriantly.

Dumuzi and Inanna - cropped
Lovers embracing. Clay plaque, Mesopotamia, Isin-Larsa-Old Babylonian period, ca. 2000-1600 BCE. Baked clay. Basel, Erlenmeyer Collection.

Almost as if their sexual union either causes new abundance and growth in the natural world, or is one in the same as the abundance of spring, new growth, in the natural world – the world of nature that surrounds them, and the agricultural world, the fields that sustain the cities of Mesopotamia, the fields in which the natural world has been domesticated, put to human use. The fruit of their union is the whole of the green earth.

Putting natural increase in terms of sexual union allows human beings to participate in natural and cosmic processes, and not just to participate in them, but in fact to influence them. The world-arranging story that is a myth has a place in it for the human teller of the story. And in fact one thing to watch for as we encounter the myths of a number of different cultures over this course is, what kind of place does the myth give to the human participants? Are human beings made focal and central, or are they one presence co-equal among many? The Haida term for human being, according to Robert Bringhurst, the translator of Ghandl, whom we’ll be reading some weeks from now, is “ordinary surface bird.” Puncturing perhaps human pretensions to a special role in the cosmos.

A passage from a book called The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, on ceremonial observances around Inanna and Dumuzi’s marriage, I think sheds further light on the role this myth played in the cultural life of at least one of the Sumerian city-states. This is about the city of Isin:

[The City] celebrated yearly the marriage of the goddess Inanna to the god Dumuzi or Tammuz…. Since the goddess is an incarnation of the fertility of nature, and her husband, the shepherd-god Dumuzi, incarnates the creative powers of spring, it is understandable that this annual union of god and goddess signifies and is the reawakening of nature in spring.

Notice that dual verb – it signifies the reawakening of nature in spring, it also is the reawakening of nature in spring. The author, Thorkild Jacobsen, continues:

In the marriage of these deities the fertility and the creative powers of nature themselves become manifest. But why, we may ask, should human servants of the gods, the human ruler and – so it seems – a priestess, transcend their human status, take on the identity of the deities Dumuzi and Inanna, and go through their marriage? For this is what took place in the rites.

You got that? Every year, early spring, the king of the city takes on the role of Dumuzi, the high priestess of the temple takes on the role of Inanna, and in a ritual I believe most of whose details are lost to us, they, in those roles as god and goddess, consummated the marriage that ensured the return of natural abundance in spring.

Why does it make sense to them to do this? Jacobsen speculates:

The answer to that question lies back … in a remote prehistoric age when the gods were not yet anthropomorphic rulers of states and cities but were still directly the phenomena of nature. In those days man’s attitude was not merely one of passive obedience; it called for active intervention, as it does among many [quote unquote] primitives today. It is one of the tenets of mythopoetic logic that similarity and identity merge: “to be like” is as good as “to be.” Therefore, by being like, by enacting the role of, a force in nature, a god, man could in the cult enter into and clothe himself with the identity of these powers, with the identity of the gods, and through his own actions … cause the powers involved to act as he would have them act. By identifying himself with Dumuzi, the king is Dumuzi; and similarly the priestess is Inanna – our texts clearly state this. Their marriage is the marriage of the creative powers of spring. Thus through a willed act of man is achieved a divine union wherein is the all-pervading, life-giving re-creative potency upon which depends, as our texts tell us, “the life of all lands.” (198–99)

Okay, that’s a lot. All that is to say, the sexy bits are not just to make readers or listeners hot and bothered. They have a profound cosmological function: they make human beings participants in the generative powers of nature and the cosmos.


The image atop, left to right, like in a news photo, where protestors are:

Inanna, winged, with arrows for shoulders
Utu, sun god, he comes bladed out of the hill
Enki, god of the fresh waters, his shoulders running with fish
Isimud, Enki’s vizier, two-faced

Pound read myth as if it were the morning paper (Don Revell). Remember papers? The colour in it, Inanna’s joy, is from a pot I left on the hot stove & it cooked dry.

Inanna comes into her powers

In twenty years of teaching I never really learned to lecture. I prefer to learn what I think in the moment in collaboration with my students. Even in large courses, meant to be lecture classes, I work mostly by Socratic discussion. But Zoom and the like are too slow and rigid for that sort of work. So, in this pandemic spring, I’ve had to broaden my game.

Every week or two, I’ve posted for my students a “voice note” – a mini-lecture, basically, that I record off the cuff, or from a few lines of notes, and upload. With the quarter winding down, and these materials vanishing in the rearview mirror, I thought I’d transcribe and post them here.

This is the first voice note for my ENG 339 Mythology and Literature class – on two texts in Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer’s Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth. In transcribing, I’ve edited very lightly, and added in some of the primary text.

You’ll see that my goal is less to provide answers than to stir questions. Here is the note if you would rather listen.


“The Huluppu-Tree”
“Inanna and the God of Wisdom”

I should say at the outset I’m not going to try to define myth or mythology for you. I would like rather for us to arrive at definitions gradually as the evidence of our perceptions accumulates. Any definition I give you now is bound to be partial and incomplete and is likely to shortchange you by reducing the scope of your possible readings.

I’ll say just one thing, maybe it’s two things, to characterize myth. A myth is a supercharged story – a story that radiates meaning, radiates meaningfulness. And in part that’s because a myth is a story that has the power of explanation to it. It has the power, for its adherents, to explain how something came to be, or how certain arrangements in the world came to be the way they are. So a myth is not for entertainment, though we may find them entertaining when they become literature, or movies. A myth in its original context is an act of worldmaking.

So, looking at Inanna’s first text, “The Huluppu-Tree.” Inanna is the Sumerian goddess of love, and of war, and in some contexts of increase, of fertility. In this poem, we have her as a young woman, and we see some of the characteristic features of Sumerian myth right from the outset. The opening lines:

In the first days, in the very first days,
In the first nights, in the very first nights,
In the first years, in the very first years,

In the first days when everything needed was brought into being,
In the first days when everything needed was properly nourished,

If you read them aloud yourself, what you cannot help but hear is the intensity of the patterning and repetition. And it might seem hard to move the story forward, when the language is so bent on circling back on itself and saying itself over again with the slightest of modifications. Hold that in mind – the question of what the myth is, the mythology is up to, with these repetitions, these circlings back.

sapling
Relief vessel. North Syria, Mari. Early Dynastic period, ca. 2500 BCE. From Wolkstein and Kramer, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth

And those repetitions have a graceful resemblance, if you look at the image on the facing page, it looks like a fragment of an image of somebody attending to a sapling, or two saplings, at the base of what’s probably a date palm. And see how the representation of date palm and of the waters under the surface of the Earth are both patterns that gain their force and intensity by taking a motif – crosshatching on the tree trunk, a sort of sinuous curve in the water under the earth’s surface – taking a single simple motif and repeating it ad nauseam. There’s a visual equivalence there to what we’re seeing in the repetition of the language.

That water under the earth, under that thin crust of earth, that’s the god Enki. Enki is the god of the sweetwaters, and in the Mesopotamian worldview, the sweetwaters, the freshwater, lives just below the surface of the earth. If you think about what happens digging a well, you dig a certain way into the earth, and water, when you hit the water table, water starts to flow through the soil into the hole that you’ve made. That’s the power of Enki. Enki is closer than some of the other gods, An, Enlil, to the underworld of Ereshkigal, because he abides under the surface of the earth. That’s not a coincidence. It’s significant to this journey of his that’s being described as he sets sail for the underworld. The underworld is adjacent to his territory, unlike for the other gods.

He set sail; the Father set sail,
Enki, the God of Wisdom, set sail for the underworld.
Small windstones were tossed up against him;
Large hailstones were hurled up against him;
. . .
The waters of the sea devoured the bow of his boat like wolves;
The waters of the sea struck the stern of his boat like lions.

Now it’s a curious thing that his journey to the underworld seems – incidental. The story of his journey ends with the waters of the sea striking the stern of his boat “like lions.” And then – story over. Scene switch. Suddenly we’re being told about a tree planted by the banks of the Euphrates.

At that time, a tree, a single tree, a huluppu-tree
Was planted by the banks of the Euphrates.
The tree was nurtured by the waters of the Euphrates.
The whirling South Wind rose, pulling at its roots . . .

Bad editing? Fragmentary tablet? Missing text? Is “At that time” a thin patch over a gaping hole? It’s more likely that the phrase hints at a cause-and-effect relationship that we need to suss out for ourselves. Two things are put adjacent, Enki’s trip to the underworld, with the near-swamping of his boat, it’s a contentious, agonistic journey, and then, adjacent to that, the growing of a tree by the banks of the Euphrates. The implication is, in one being beside the other, is that the one causes the other. Enki, the God of Wisdom, voyaging into the territory of the Queen of the Underworld, gives birth to something, makes a new being possible. And that new being is this huluppu-tree.

So that’s something to watch for in these myths. They very often won’t explain the most important aspects of their explanations. You need to work that out for yourself. What does it signify that it is the God of Wisdom, and not any other, who makes this journey, for instance?

So, I’m not going to walk you through the whole text, that would take us forever. But I wanted to look at those opening lines to articulate two kinds of thing to look for. One, the repetition. It’s possible to just skip over it as an annoying or tedious feature of another time’s sensibility. I encourage you instead to really sink into it, allow it to be a kind of musical cadence that’s not getting in the way of the storytelling but actually belongs to the storytelling. And then see what the felt experience of those repetitions is for you.

The other point, then, is that often the deepest significance of the story is unstated, is left implied, and it’s for us to make the inference. Sometimes the inference depends upon cultural knowledge that we don’t have, unless any of us are Sumerian, and I doubt anyone here is. Some of that cultural knowledge will be given to us in the notes, so be sure not to skip the notes at the back of the book that annotate the poem. And some of it doesn’t depend on cultural knowledge and we can think and feel through for ourselves.

With those thoughts in mind, I encourage you to spend a little time with the serpent, the Anzu-bird, and the “dark maid” Lilith, who make their home in the tree.

Then a serpent who could not be charmed
Made its nest in the roots of the huluppu-tree.
The Anzu-bird set his young in the branches of the tree.
And the dark maid Lilith built her home in the tree.

Nobody knows what an Anzu-bird is! That’s why it’s left untranslated. Whatever cultural knowledge we need there is lost to us. But the maid Lilith, we get a little cultural context from the note at the back of the book:

In Hebrew legend, she was the first bride of Adam; but insisting on her own equality, she refused to copulate with him, for she did not want to be underneath him. She fled from Adam and remained forever outside human relationship or regulation, possessed by an avid, insatiable sexuality.

Think through, feel through, what it is for Inanna, this young woman, teenager really, coming into her womanhood, to encounter the figure Lilith in this tree that is supposed to be made into Inanna’s bridal bed. And, what might a snake be or stand for? You’ll probably hear an echo from Genesis, and that’s not accidental, this text is a lot older than the story in Genesis, and probably influential on it. What else is a snake? The snake is something that sheds its skin, the snake is commonly a phallic symbol, this in particular is a snake that cannot be charmed – how do the different qualities of these creatures suggest the conflicts, the struggle, the nature of the struggle, that lnanna is in right now?

Turning to “Inanna and the God of Wisdom.” Again, I don’t want to overdetermine your reading. I want just to point to a few things maybe to dwell with, because they may help open up the poem to you.

One in this one is the notion of the me, pronounced “may.” What do you think the me are? I mean, we get long lists of them, we see what they are each individually. What does the word me mean, what is a me, what are the me, such that they can be treated as physical objects, loaded in a boat and taken from the stronghold of one city, Eridu, and brought by a somewhat fraught and dangerous journey, chased by demons of various different shapes, to the docks of another city, Uruk, Inanna’s city?

Inanna and Enki
Plate XV, source of the poem, is the obverse of a large six-column tablet, no. 15283 in the Nippur collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

“My father has given me the me:

He gave me the high priesthood.
He gave me godship.
He gave me the noble, enduring crown.
He gave me the throne of kingship. . . .

He gave me the dagger and sword.
He gave me the black garment.
He gave me the colorful garment.
He gave me the loosening of the hair.
He gave me the binding of the hair. . . .

He gave me the standard.
He gave me the quiver.
He gave me the art of lovemaking.
He gave me the kissing of the phallus.
He gave me the art of prostitution. . . .”

All of the major gods of Sumer are associated with one of the cities of what we now call Mesopotamia. When the me have successfully been brought to the city of Uruk, and given to the people of Uruk, and it seems to give birth to more me, violating laws of conservation of matter and energy. . . . When all of these me are now in the hands of the people of Uruk, what does it mean for Uruk? And does this mean Enki and the people of Eridu are now without the me? Are the me like coins and dollar bills that if you grab them up, and take them from one place to another, the place you took them from no longer has them? Or are the me more like love, of which it is said, the more you give away the more you receive – it’s not a fixed quantity.

And if the me are not a fixed quantity, and Inanna can take them from Enki, bring them to her people, without depriving Enki of them, then two questions. One, why are they represented as physical objects? And two, why does Enki work so hard to get them back from Inanna, when he has nothing to lose from her possession of them?

The WTF?! moment

This quarter I’m teaching, online, two large-format classes, 60 and 75 students apiece. Most of what I do in a classroom depends on being in a classroom, so the change has been reinvention, as much as translation.

And I’m disheartened, teaching this way. The talents I have, I mostly can’t use, & the talents I need, I mostly don’t have. For instance, it would be great now if I could lecture, but I don’t know how to be the One Voice for long. That’s neurosis not humblebrag. I fill up with self-doubt unless I can see, hear, pick up thru mirror neurons, & pheromones probably, where others in the room are at.

The image above is from Francesco Hayez, Odysseus Overcome by Demodocus’s Song (1813–15). The rhapsode D. was blind & he couldn’t see how his song about Odysseus landed with Odysseus.

I’ve been recording ten-minute “voice notes,” it takes me hours to do one, and they’re dull boring blades. I want the rapid back-and-forth of live thinking, students and me building an ad hoc thought-structure collaboratively, and neither Zoom meetings nor Canvas discussion boards really allow that.

I’m lucky, of course, to have this problem. It means I have a job, a home, my health. If our pandemic has gifts to give, one must be a reminder not to take what you have for granted. A roof and four walls. Good governance. A hug. It’s truly good it’s here when it is. Oh, man, I miss hugs. I haven’t touched or been touched by a person in 6 weeks. Except for a cat or two, I count cats as people.

Well, here’s a thing I’m happy to have done. I took a prompt I use often in class discussion, and converted it for work in our flung remoteness.


The Odyssey and WTF?!

A WTF?! moment happens when, reading a text, you go “what the fuck?!”

You can get through some texts without any WTF?! moments. Others, like the texts we’re reading for this class, are one WTF?! moment after another.

Being a literature student – or a professor of literature for that matter – means leaning into the WTF?! moment. That’s really all there is to it. The rest of literary analysis is some skills you pick up.

However, the WTF?! moment is often uncomfortable: You may feel uncertainty, confusion, ambiguity. You may have a cherished assumption thrown into question. You might be offended or disturbed.

A couple of WTF?! moments I have, reading Inanna, Queen of Heaven [our 1st text]:

  • Often one thing happens, and then another, with seemingly no connection between them: Enki journeys to the Underworld, and then a tree grows by a river.

I feel alienated from the text – it won’t tell me why what happens happens. I also feel curious . . . are there clues, in event A and event B, that suggest how A and B are connected?

  • I can’t tell whether a figure is telling the truth or lying: Inanna says she’s going to the Underworld to attend the funeral rites of Ereshkigal’s husband, and that sounds plausible, but then the thought is dropped – was she lying? telling a half-truth? or does she mean it, and then forget about it?

I feel frustrated by the text – I can’t get into the head of the character I want to identify with. I’m also intrigued . . . should I try to figure out Inanna’s motivation? how to do that? or should I accept that her motivation is opaque?

To read the text as a literature student, I set aside my alienation and frustration, after noticing and acknowledging them, and instead go with my curiosity, my wondering.

Your assignment, as a group: Create a WTF?! database for the Odyssey.

Everyone should contribute at least once. There are two ways to contribute:

1. Identify and describe a WTF?! moment about the text.

2. Lean into a WTF?! moment someone else has identified.

If you do no. 1. A WTF?! moment can be of any scale. If it’s on a small scale – a word choice or a line – be sure to identify book and line number, so others can find it. If it’s on a large scale – something that happens across the book – be sure to give one or more specific examples.

If you do no. 2. “Lean in” doesn’t mean answer so much as think it through. If someone brought up this WTF?! moment in class discussion, what would you add? You could give another example; sharpen the description of the problem; identify other problems connected to it; or, possibly, suggest one or more possible answers.

Everyone should make at least one substantive contribution. More is welcome.

The database should be finished by next Tuesday (May 5) at class time.

E-mail me if you have questions!


It’s a term I’ve come to use for koan-mind.

 

Galleries for restless legs no. 1

I wanted to make a gallery of places we could go together without leaving home. Turns out, that might take so long, the covid crisis’d be over before I was done.

That’d be okay.

Instead, installments. Here’s one with a few videos that make my world new.


Videos many with animals

Wildlife.jpgCreatures make a log their bridge
 

Leopard.jpgA leopard mothers a baby baboon
 

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/vcBn04IyELc/hqdefault.jpg?sqp=-oaymwEZCNACELwBSFXyq4qpAwsIARUAAIhCGAFwAQ==&rs=AOn4CLCrDYG_4yVkPfm0wQQnbvY398VtMgBeethoven’s Fifth, with toy toboggan
(Doodlechaos)

Space TimeHow Will the Universe End?
(PBS Space Time)

video conf.jpgA Video Conference Call in Real Life
(Tripp and Tyler)

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 8.32.50 PMPatrick Stewart reads Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116
 

cats and dominoes.jpgCats and Dominoes
 

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/958qchBNs60/hqdefault.jpg?sqp=-oaymwEZCNACELwBSFXyq4qpAwsIARUAAIhCGAFwAQ==&rs=AOn4CLBmfnImKOqFcZTrEUbcVRLLKd7JYwAcoustic Heart Sutra
(Kanho Yakushiji)

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/KtiJAexxSPo/hqdefault.jpg?sqp=-oaymwEZCNACELwBSFXyq4qpAwsIARUAAIhCGAFwAQ==&rs=AOn4CLBY3X2aHaxGFctXjLeq1ReeEVCjbgConversations with My 2-Year-Old
“The Cookie”

betty boop.jpgBetty Boop in Snow White, “The St. James Infirmary Blues”
Performed by Cab Calloway. TW: gender and racial stereotypes!

cohl.jpgFantasmagorie (Émile Cohl)
Said to be the first animation ever

jones.jpgJames Earl Jones at the White House
Othello’s testimony to the Venetian Senate

Assignment: The Song Project

I am having such fun with my Early Modern Literature class! Yesterday we spent a whole 80 minute class close reading a single poem by John Donne, “The Sun Rising,” & while yes there was a bit of restlessness (two texting violations) (I get it, seamless time & attention are hard, weird, scary even), in the main they were on it, smart, engaged, perceptive. We went that long on one poem only because they were into it – I had other stuff ready I set aside. Loving this group. Anyway here’s an assignment they have – to put a poem we’ve read, & a song they like, in conversation.


The Song Project

The preamble

This project asks you to connect the songs (music) you listen to to the songs (poems) they descended from. For real! The shapes and tropes on your latest playlist – unrequited love, spiritual longing, political protestthey have a history, they come from somewhere. Several somewheres, actually, and one is the body of work we’ve been reading this quarter.

[We’re reading lyrics by Skelton, Wyatt, Ralegh, Marlowe, Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, Jonson, Wroth, Donne, Herbert, Herrick, Marvell]

The assignment

Compare and contrast, in terms of form, structure, technique, and rhetoric, one of the poems we’ve read, with the lyrics of a popular song.

The details

Not “popular” as in a lot of people like it. “Popular” as in a modern or contemporary song created for a mass audience. Possible genres include pop, indie, hip-hop, rock, folk, blues, R&B, country, showtunes. If in doubt, check with me.

Forget about the music. You’re working just with the lyrics on the page. Pick a song whose lyrics pack the literary punch of a poem.

Pick a song and a poem that on at least one dimension – structure, technique, rhetoric – are strikingly similar, or interestingly different. (Note that I don’t list content. Content shouldn’t figure large in your comparison.)

You’ll bring a draft in point form to work on, in class, in small groups. Details below.

The final product will be an essay, with thesis, roughly 2500 words. Follow format guidelines in the syllabus.

The procedure

Here’s how I would like you to proceed. The approach may seem time consuming, but it builds on skills you’ve been developing all quarter, and helps ensure your reading has both breadth and depth. Notice that you don’t begin to formulate a thesis until late in the process. If a thesis begins to occur to you earlier, that’s great – it’s the process working for you – note it down, but don’t get locked into it. Keep your mind open and flexible; let your reading keep developing.

(1) Print out a few copies of the poem, and a few of the song, to work on.

(2) Do our noticing practice – wide open, anything goes – on your poem.

(3) Do our noticing practice – again, wide open – on your song. Steps (2) and (3) are to get to know the texts well. Write your findings on the texts you printed out.

(4) Now put your poem and your song side-by-side. Do a focused noticing practice, first of the poem, then of the song, paying attention just to structure – stanza size and shape, rhyme scheme, turn, refrain (and/or chorus, bridge). Again, write on the texts you printed out.

(5) Do focused reading practices of poem and song, paying attention, in turn, to

1. prosody (rhythm and meter)
2. line (end-stopping, enjambment, caesura)
3. imagery (including appeals to sight, sound, smell, taste, touch)
4. figures of speech (metaphor, simile, personification, paradox, pun)
5. rhetorical stance (who’s speaker, who’s spoken to, to what purpose, who overhears)

Depending on your poem and your song, there will be a lot to say about some of these things, only a little to say about others – but if you’ve chosen poem and song well, there will be interesting likenesses and differences in the same categories.

(6) Identify the likenesses and differences that are, to you,

1. most interesting
2. most surprising
3. most important
4. most revealing
5. most disturbing

Write a long paragraph exploring each. If in (5) you focused on what is there, here you focus on what it does. You’re brainstorming and getting your thoughts in order, but this is also raw material for academic writing – so when you ask a question, make a claim, or express an insight, back it up by citing the relevant passage in the poem or song.

(7) Out of all the writing you’ve done, and especially for step (6), has any overarching insight begun to form into what the poem and song have in common, or do differently? If so, write a short paragraph expressing and developing that insight. If not, review everything you’ve written, see what stands out to you as most interesting or provocative, and write.

(8) Condense that paragraph into a draft thesis statement that makes an interpretive claim about what the poem and the song have in common, and/or do differently, in terms of form, structure, and/or technique. (If the paragraph in (7) doesn’t work out, back up and write another one. Or you might need to back up further … use your judgement.)

The deadlines

M 11/18  A packet comprised of: your most interesting findings for (4) and (5), typed up in point form; the song lyrics themselves. Four copies.

F 12/6  Final song project.


The image atop is from a blog post by Simon Costin (founder of the Museum of British Folklore and director of the Museum of Witchcraft) on visiting Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage. Oh all the connections in this light.

 

Assignment: Memorization and recitation

I’m a forward-leaning poet. Of the works of our many-stranded canon, I swoon to those that lean forward in, & out of, their own times.

Also, I swear by a practice learned in a rearguard setting, private boys’ school in the English model I suffered in 4 years: memorization & recitation. It does get the work down in yr bones.

Here’s how I’ve tried to make that work for my Western dears.

Memorization and Recitation Assignment

A great way to get into the bones of a poem is to memorize and recite it. The process yields insights into the music, structure, and rhetoric of a poem that a more analytical approach can miss. So you’re going to memorize a poem and recite it to the class. Poems in the course outline that are underlined are eligible. I’ll post a sign-up sheet for recitations soon; they’ll begin in about three weeks. Please

do not choose a poem by the poet you working with in your song project;

do not sign up for a poem if two people have already claimed that poem.

Some further guidelines:

Choose a poem to which you feel an emotional or imaginative connection.

First concentrate on memorization. The key here is repetition. Read a line or phrase off the page, put down the poem, say the line or phrase from memory, check what you said against what’s on the page, and repeat till you have it right, without too much effort.

Break the poem into manageable chunks, e.g., quatrains. Let the rhymes be the mnemonic device they maybe originally were. Same with the rhythm, if it’s highly regular.

Once you can recite a chunk (even if effortfully) practice it, either silently or out loud, whenever you can – standing in line at Panda Express, waiting for the bus, going to sleep at night. (Especially going to sleep. A study trick every student should know.)

Check periodically against the poem; don’t memorize a wrong version by accident.

Be sure you understand every inch of the poem. The literal meanings of the words, the sentence structures, the figures of speech at work there.

Also, have these questions in mind: who’s speaking, to whom, and to what ostensible purpose? and what purpose might there be under the ostensible purpose?

You have it fluently memorized when you can recite it at double speed without error.

Then you can turn your attention to recitation. The goal here is a heightened naturalness. You want to sound like a person speaking to other persons. With that in mind:

Don’t let the meter force you into monotony. Poetic rhythm is fluid and variable; let your fluency in English, not an abstract idea of meter, guide your enunciation.

Don’t overstate the line end. As a rule of thumb, you can add about half a comma to whatever other punctuation is there. (More if there’s a rhetorical reason for it. Less if there’s an enjambment you want to convey.)

Listen carefully, a number of times, to readings of poems posted on Canvas – especially ones you find effective or moving. Where does the reader speed up, slow down, pause, emphasize?

Finally, practice, practice, practice. Recite your poem to friends, to family, to strangers, to me (remember those office hours). Get and learn from our reactions. A poem is an offering of beauty; offer it beautifully.


The image?

Many-stranded, forsooth.

It’s from an exhibition at the Met on the early modern meeting between the Islamic and European worlds. The deets:

Reciting Poetry in a Garden

Object Name: Tile panel

Date: first quarter 17th century

Geography: Country of Origin Iran, Isfahan

Medium: Stonepaste; polychrome glaze within black wax resist outlines (cuerda seca technique)

Dimensions: Panel with tabs: H. 35 1/4 in. (89.5 cm)
W. 61 3/8 in. (155.9 cm)
D. 2 1/2 in. (6.4 cm)
Wt. 300 lbs. (136.1 kg)
Each tile: H. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm)
W. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Tiles

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1903

Accession Number: 03.9b

A lush landscape provides the setting for a picnic, complete with fruit and beverages in Chinese‑style blue-and-white vessels. Two men sit in conversation, one writing and holding a safina (an oblong format book typically containing poetry), flanked by a man standing on the left and a woman on the right carrying a covered bowl decorated with Chinese designs. The patterned robes, silk sashes, and striped turbans resemble costumes depicted in seventeenth‑century Persian drawings and paintings.

Orientalism? Go on, say it. I’ll respond, try to.

 

Afternoon of a Tweet

I recently finished my first asemic work in colour. True to its spirit of metamorphosis, it went through many titles, & conceptions. In the end I’ve called it Afternoon of a Tweet: Fantasia Upon a Text by Donald Trump. I’m playing on Mallarmé’s L’aprés-midi d’un faune of course, & Debussy’s Prelude to it, which perversely enough came after.

My text is a tweet in which Trump defends his obscene & criminal family separation policy. The page becomes a wide bright river of hungry ghosts, apostolic patriarchs, enraged fertility goddesses, spooky mind bugs & children stranded & bereft. The images, made by rocking handwritten journal pages on a scanner, rely on pareidolia, the tendency to see faces & forms in abstract patterns, to take shape.

On the title page, a brow a bump & a bump make Someone’s face in profile, & a row of overlapping columns, pinched at the right spot, makes a crowd, its shoulders jostling.

Page 0 (30)
How it starts.

Why red black & blue. Notwithstanding what I say on the final panel (just below) the colours came first – those were the Sharpies I had on hand – & the reasons later.

Page 51 (30)
How it ends.

But they were reasons I learned as I worked had been building in me for a while.

When I saw the invitation to Tweet my reply, I thought, Oh yes, friend bird, I will.

I write more about making the images here. Here are two more of them. Their base phrases are both anagrams of “sinister purposes,” a phrase taken from the tweet.

Page 24 (30)
I respire sunspots
Page 25 (30)
to inspire US press

Mallarmé & Debussy, those 2 had a faun they could pull some Classical balance & elegance thru, wherein to frame the lascivious peregrinations of their protagonist. I, like you, have been stuck with Donald Trump, a figure shall we say without proportion. So the results are often comical, grotesque.

I admit I worry I might be thought to have made light of evil tho I don’t feel I have.

And to being a bit queasy at having made things beautiful out of ugliness.

I mean to mock & condemn, console with bitter laughter, rouse indignation.