06 October 2007

So Much Depends on What You Meant By That


I like to (try to) teach William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" because it makes the kids hostile, skeptical, uncomfortable, or defensive. Here is the whole thing:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

They want to know where the beef is ... where's the poem in that poem? And I stand there in blue jeans and tell them that sometimes art is "conceptual." And this one is a manifesto of sorts, or at least a meditation about what poetry is, what it does, and what it's for. But Williams can say as much. And, I'm fairly certain, he did. But even if he didn't we know he's a poet (a poet/doctor) and an esteemed one, we approach him through the actually flimsy but metaphorically sturdy pages of the Norton anthology. But, the students say (or maybe some brightly ideal, imagined one would) "what if I found this written on a napkin in the bathroom at Applebee's?" What is it without its canon armor and hermeneutical apparatus? And, praytell, "would it have been worth it, after all ... If one, settling a pillow by her head, Should say: “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.” Eliot was too nervous to leave his poems to "interpretation," so he made them labrynthine, footnoted, and obscure, with erudition by the barrowful.

Anyhow, this is just to say to say that 1) I ate the plums in the icebox 2) they were delicious, sweet, and cold and 3) I'm looking forward to seeing this new documentary called "My Kid Could Paint That," about an alleged four year old abstract expressionist named Marla Olmstead whose work has been compared to Kandinsky and Pollock and who has sold $300,000 worth of paintings. It's like those Rothkos that make you nervous when you go to the museum with your mom and you want to perpetuate the idea that you are the ambadassador of the arts to your family and can explain why it's art to paint a canvas half blue and half a different blue. Could your kid paint it? Does it matter? Either way, I have a feeling that this is why they don't pay us grad students in the humanities any money. They're not totally sure we're not just fucking with them.

3 comments:

Adam said...

so much depends
upon

onion-skin
paper

flimsy with power
beside the white pupils.

this is only to say

nothing,
but ideas.

Madhurima said...

My class recently read some fiction by Zoe Wicomb, who's a tough nut to crack. My students really didn't like her. Then we read a critical essay by her, which was harder still, and my students loathed her. After we figured out that she was being hard on purpose, because she felt that fragmented narratives are the only politically responsible way to write, they went a little easier on her. I don't know that I like any of their reactions. Does that make me a bad person?

Madhurima said...

The Daily Show's take on Modern Art:

http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=123814