Recently someone close to me asked my opinion about her poems. And another old friend is sending me his poetry book to review and edit. In fact, I did edit a book of poems for a former student about a year ago.
I find commenting on the poetry of others to be very tough!
When, in the seventies, I began writing poems fairly frequently, I did it for enjoyment and self-expression. As an English literature instructor, I was familiar with much poetry, most of it old. I did sit in on a colleague’s modern American poetry class, however, where I gained a deep appreciation for e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens. I’m sure I began to try modeling my work after theirs.
In the eighties, I was tremendously fortunate to become involved in the Macon Poetry Group and later the Georgia Poetry Circuit. Adrienne Bond got the poetry group started, and other members included Judson Mitcham, Seaborn Jones, Mike Cass, Adrienne’s sister Charlotte, and a few others. We were not a group of hobbyists. We were very serious about improving our ability to write good poetry. Members made detailed, constructive recommendations. There was little deflection to avoid hurting members’ feelings or vanity. Still, one (well-published) member admitted he only brought his poems after he was sure he had thoroughly revised them. Both Jud and Adrienne had been to the Breadloaf Writers Conference in Vermont, and their experiences there must have informed our discussions. Several of us subsequently attended writers’ conferences at Callanwolde in Atlanta, at Sandhills at Augusta College, even as far away as Birmingham and Indiana University. I gradually found my voice, at least some of the time, and I succeeded in getting a few poems published in minor literary magazines. You might say that some principles or rules were drilled into me by these experiences, except that I also learned that any rule about writing poetry can be broken for a reason.
So I feel that before I give constructive criticism to other people who have written, I ought to provide a disclaimer, or several. As a result of my experiences, I have developed biases and tastes as well as a recognition that there are all kinds of poets and poetry in this world. The kinds of poems I work to write are not the only forms of value, not the only ones that are published. Each poet has to decide on his or her form, but, as it was for me, individuals can learn from reading other poets and understanding their techniques.
My biases and tastes derived from the advice of William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Koch, and the good poets I was privileged to interact with. They include, but are not limited to the following:
* When possible, use short or even single syllable words with clear vowel sounds.
* Longer lines with five or six or more strong stresses carry more weight or seriousness than shorter lines. A caveat: I love the work of Williams who in some of his poems attempted to emulate American speech, using three beats per line.
* Deciding where to end a line is very important. It can be a full stop, or it can lean into the words in the next line.
* The more images and the fewer abstract and/or Latinate words, the better.
* Less punctuation is called for than in prose, but some mechanism should be used to indicate ends of sentences or transitions. Poems should convey complete thoughts in most cases rather than being a stream of words.
* Titles are very important and should bring something to the poem that you maybe couldn’t put in the lines of the poem, but it’s possible for the first line to also serve as the title.
However, these are only biases and tastes, even if I do share them with other poets. Out in the world of published and recognized poetry, there are prose poems, abstract poems that make little or no literal sense, Walt Whitman type poems that go on and on, and, of course, a panoply of rhymed and metered options, both old and new.
I will inject these ideas into my comments on my friends’ poems, but I wouldn’t dare to tell them what they should say.
Now, having considered all of this, I need to go back to work and write more poems.
It's still the pandemic and I'm still staying at home. Instead of walking at the park or on a walking track or at the mall, I'm walking on the road near our house.
I've changed my route since a cheerful young dog insisted on following me home if I went down Windy Hill to the cul-de-sac and back. Now, I leave home, turn left, turn right at Daniel Drive crossing the road, go past the university president's residence down to the Daniel Drive cul-de-sac, and home. I see some berry bushes before reaching the president's house, and I've been waiting to see if ripe berries show up. But the bushes are about 12 feet from the road, with a section of tall grass between the road and the bushes, and I'm constantly in mind of Dr. Houston Stallworth's admonition, "Take a quick look-see before you step." That bit of wisdom was imparted when my mobile home was being set up on his property in August 1968 before I began my 46+ year career at Fort Valley State, or as some like to say, "The Fort Valley State University." (It was a college then.)
Dr. Stallworth said this when we saw a relatively small rattlesnake on the lot where we were setting up. Those bushes on Daniel Drive today look like a prime location for snakes. In fact, I saw a black snake go into the bushes closer to the president's house just the other day.
Since my Daniel Drive walk is a little short, I thought I'd try turning right out of my driveway, walking down to the next driveway, then turning back and heading to Daniel Drive. And guess what I discovered--blackberries along the road in the grass! Today was my second day bringing a small paper sack and picking the ripe ones. It is hard to step between the little plants, not quite bushes or vines, and not step right on top of some berries. While I was concentrating on where I was planting my feet, a truck driver stopped along side of me and said, "Watch out for rattlesnakes!"
"I am," I said, and I gave the ok sign with my fingers. But I admit that I watched my step even more closely on the rest of my walk.
I'm fascinated by the way different experiences that we have connect. That's why my stream of consciousness is so active (and I leave people behind in my conversations so frequently). Today’s blackberries remind me of the times, only two years ago, when our granddaughter Alana was three, or maybe it was when she was two. My daughter-in-law Andrea, Alana, and I would go to the berry patch in a vacant lot around the corner from their house in Grant Park, in Atlanta. I didn't think anything about snakes there, although, I admit, I did see a snake in the weeds on the edge of their property when they first moved into their house in Grant park.
Maybe I can write a poem about snakes and berries some time. But for now, a stream-of-consciousness blog will have to suffice.
Greetings from Georgia (and from Aiken SC, which is almost in Georgia)!
I'm thankful that we had a good year. I wish we could have seen more of our friends and family far and near. We did visit Herman's family in Tifton and Albany, Georgia, and even went to the beach house near Inlet Beach in Florida with Herman's cousin Sharry and her husband James (Sackor). We saw Mikelle, Teresa, and little Savannah in Atlanta when they visited Alex's family. (Mikelle is the daughter of Sharry's twin, Garry.) Herman, Aaron, and I spent a few days in Hilton Head, so that box is checked off.
Herman's uncle Raleigh and my sister Nancy shared genealogy information with us. From 23andMe and Ancestry.com, we've learned that I am 2% Mali and Senegalese and Herman is (wait for it) 2% Swedish!
Alex's store, Taproot Hydroponics, is in its 7th year. Aaron has been with his company as an industrial electrician/trouble-shooter for 5 years. Our daughter-in-law Andrea has become a licensed real estate agent. Herman is working on projects, including a portable wheelbarrow garden. And I'm teaching online, meeting with my writers group (and sometimes actually writing), working for my church including our Little Free Pantry (Herman built it), and volunteering with the Lions Club of Fort Valley. I'm practicing my violin a little, and Herman plays his guitar all the time.
Alex and Andrea moved to a new house in Avondale Estates, near Atlanta. It goes without saying that our time with our grandchildren Ashton (to be 3 in February) and Alana (just turned 6) is the highlight of our lives.
Merry Christmas to you, and we hope you have a happy and fulfilling new year!
Why I joined the Lions Club
Last night, I received a pin as I became a Charter Member of the new Fort Valley Lions Club.
In recent books by Jonah Goldberg, Ben Sasse, Ben Shapiro, and others, I’ve read again and again that a good and strong culture depends on healthy involvement of its people in community. Their arguments are convincing. I was involved in community during my 46 years as a college professor and college administrator and during my years as a parent of sons who were active in our community. But I have been less involved lately.
I still am active in my church, which has a very small membership and thus a limited reach. But I reasoned that I’m a hypocrite if I advocate community involvement on the one hand but generally follow my individualist proclivities instead of being active myself.
Then up sprang an announcement in my Facebook feed. I had until June 10 to become a Charter member of the new Lions Club. I live in a small Middle Georgia city that has its issues. But those who were seeking charter Lions Club members are people who I believe work towards constructive solutions, not to promote one faction or another. The International Lions Club is well known for its charitable work and strictly forbids political engagement by its members as members.
I remembered that my dad, a true individualist who didn’t approve of simply giving handouts, did join and advocate for the Optimists Club to contribute to his community.
So I got in touch with the club organizers. Now I am Lion Anna, and I will do my best, given my availability and my abilities, to serve Fort Valley.
History consists of facts. But history books and classes are selective—all facts cannot be taught, and all facts are not known. Biases of teachers and authors who do the selecting inform and distort our understanding of history. This is especially true when it comes to the Civil War/War between the States. Unfortunately, these biases have contributed to discord in our nation.
In this blog series, I will stick to my personal observations as much as possible, and I have first-hand experience of the widely divergent ways in which the Civil War is taught. I call it the Civil War because I am from the North, and from the Land of Lincoln at that. My fellow Georgians call it the War between the States or the War of Northern Aggression.
Where I grew up, in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln was a hero. We learned about how his family lived in a lean-to in a harsh winter in Indiana, how he read books using a fire for light, and how he loved his mother, Nancy Hanks. And we understood that, as president, he ended slavery. As we got older, we learned that some northern states had slaves and about the Dred Scott decision. What we did not learn was to hate the South. I had ancestors from Minnesota who fought for the Union and possibly some who were held in the. Andersonville Prison. I think we just felt that what the South did was in an earlier time in history that we were glad was past.
Northerners seemed to have some respect for General Robert E. Lee, and I accepted that. We little girls who loved horses knew all about his horse, Traveller. An article I read recently about Lee, penned due to the current problems around celebrating any confederate icons, suggests that after the war he facilitated peace talks between the North and South, so we might not have been wrong entirely.
My mother told me, humorously, that southerners in Arkansas told her she was sweet, even if she was a damned Yankee. Little did I know that I someday would become a damned Yankee—or some thought so, even though I am a midwesterner!
Some people in the small Georgia city I moved to at age 23 were kind and courteous. But some stared at me and seemed hostile—largely because I came to work at a historically black college, I’m sure. Everybody knows everything about everybody in a small southern community.
I may already have heard, but I soon had evidence that the white townspeople considered the Civil War (the War between the States, to them) to be the war of Northern Aggression. The concept of States’ Rights (that I actually believe in) turned out to be what they believed the war to be about. They stated directly that the war was not over slavery but about northern economic aggression and State’s Rights. The northern towns I grew up in were very patriotic, especially on July 4. Georgians barely celebrated the Fourth until the Bicentennial except with family picnics and concerts held in the black communities. Black people were more likely to celebrate Juneteenth. I learned this as I did research for an article in the Macon newspaper while I was serving as a faculty intern.
Other factors leading to southern bad feelings toward northerners include the political situation during the period of Reconstruction and the terrible economic conditions later caused, among other things, by erosion and the boll weevil that decimated the crops so that the South was less prosperous than the North.
We may think all of these things were long ago and not relevant to prejudice existing today. But the southern Democrats turned Republican—and now many are supporters of President Trump--for reasons not always related to small government or the Constitution. And only two years ago, I learned that one homeowner in town is still bitter because his family lost land three or more generations ago during Reconstruction.
All in all, northerners don’t realize what the South has been through—and that even Lincoln and his fellow Republicans allowed slavery to exist until there was no hope of maintaining the union. And southerners still are being taught a version of history that makes them appear to be the victims—brave and rebellious victims. Unfortunately, black people, Hispanics, and Asians sometimes experience the resentment of those who lost the war.
How history should be taught still is a hot potato, and states are requiring opposite things in textbooks as we speak. Meanwhile, a large number of students in most states cannot even pass a U.S. citizenship test.
It would be good if we could sort out ideas versus motives and cultural failings. Yes, colonists cheated native Americans, had slaves, and didn’t give women rights. Yet they handed down a constitution that has set forth the means of correcting such wrongs. Like northerners and southerners today, the first citizens in the United States were influenced by existing conditions in their culture all at the same time as they put forth the philosophy of individual rights. It would be good if their valuable contributions could be taught alongside the lessons of how not to treat our fellow human beings—and how not to allow power, money, and the media (who seek both power and money while we can only hope they are following journalistic standards) to warp our feelings for each other.
Prejudice since the 50s--what I know
[Blog 1 in a series on the topic of prejudice and its effect on communities and the nation. Purpose: To seek a way forward, both socially and politically.]
Current state of affairs. The continued existence of emotionally-charged prejudice in the United States is an impediment to education, and such prejudice is kept alive by self-interested media and politicians. Yet, the history, economics and philosophies we need to know and understand to make wise decisions in our communities and in the voting booth must be taught.
Some Americans resent, distrust or hate others based on race, ethnicity, non-traditional gender identity, advanced education or their political affiliations. Also, some Americans set race, ethnicity, gender, non-traditional gender identity, or political affiliations above the value of individual rights and freedom, and they resent, distrust or hate others based on perceived low education level, religious affiliations or their political affiliations. I have friends in both of these camps as well as other liberal and conservative friends who use moderation to express themselves and are less apt to express hatred.
Highlighting and exploitation of prejudice today. The tendency to dislike, or even hate, the “other” is not new, but mass media and social media exploit these divisions today. Political parties, valuing power over effective solutions, also are exploiting these divisions to the point where resentment and distrust overshadow consideration of economic and philosophical principles.
Racial prejudice in the past. Clearly, many of our problems in the United States began with slavery, followed by segregation. These institutions existed mainly in the South. Racial prejudice did exist in the Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin communities I lived in or where my relatives lived by the time of the 1950s. However, I, like many, especially children, was nearly oblivious to it. Here is a retrospective, based on my personal experiences:
Attitudes of Midwesterners in the 1950s. In late 1945 or early 1946, my mother took me as a baby to visit my dad who had not yet been discharged from the Army and was stationed in Arkansas. She enjoyed telling the story of my calling a black man at the bus station “Daddy” and his replying, “I ain’t your daddy, honey!” She would have used the word negro, which was normal at the time. I didn’t detect prejudice, but only amusement, when she told the story. My Swedish grandmother in Minneapolis seemed to be more concerned about the Irish than the negroes. She particularly disliked Irish tenors. Like most Midwesterners, except those in large cities, I rarely saw black people.
What I was taught about race. I was taught that we should use the word “tiger” in “Eeny-meeny-miney-mo” because the other word was not nice. I was taught that it is not nice to stare, and particularly when we drove through southside Chicago on the way to Ohio. In fact, we kids were told to roll our windows up. A black child, Albert, joined my fourth grade in Wheaton, Illinois. I came home and asked my mother how I was supposed to behave toward him, and she told me to be nice to him the same way I was to other people. He didn’t stay long, so I don’t remember him well. But in what seems like a contradiction to what she tried to teach me, my mother was against using colors such as chartreuse, hot pink, cerise because she said they are negro colors. I didn’t argue with her, but I wondered what that really implied.
Limited exposure of white students in small towns or cities to African Americans. I did observe black students at Wheaton Community High School, but they were two, three or four years ahead of me, so I didn’t get to know them. They were smart and they were popular, especially because the guys were great football, basketball and track stars. I learned later that their families had come to Wheaton before the Civil War. It didn’t occur to me until I experienced black culture first hand to wonder where they went to get haircuts, where their homes were, or other such things. They were just there, they were cool, and everybody knew their names.
There were no black kids at Oshkosh High where I finished school in 1963. We saw black people fishing on the bridges in town, and an upper-middle-class black family attended my Lutheran Church for a while after they came to Oshkosh and bought a brewery. Later, black families migrated from Chicago to Wheaton and from Milwaukee to Oshkosh, but this was after my public-school years. I do remember one of my Oshkosh High School girl friends saying that she just loved Johnny Mathis.
I saw no black students at Oshkosh State College in 1963-65. Even during 1965-1968 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I saw very few African Americans. In fact, I mainly remember seeing interracial gay male couples on State Street.
A friend of mine who grew up in a very small town in western Oklahoma (and who, like me, has taught at an historically black college in Georgia for decades) says that she had no real contact with black people as a child, either. She and her siblings were taught to respect other people and to believe in equality, and they learned in school that segregation is wrong. Only later did she discover to her dismay that many people in her community had prejudice against blacks.
What we believed and were taught in school. In the 1950s, we learned in school and saw on television that civil rights were being granted to African Americans, and segregated schools were going to be integrated, beginning with first grade. We were taught that these events were very positive and important. We weren’t against the South—we thought one southern girl’s accent was charming, and when I was in elementary school, we liked to play games including Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveller. But we also loved Roy Rogers’ Trigger and Gene Autry’s Champion. I developed a love of jazz starting in fifth grade based on exposure to Gershwin and Louis Armstrong.
Later in the Sixties. In around 1966, I visited with my aunt and my older cousin, a trucker, in a small town in Ohio near Toledo. I was very disturbed when in reaction to new developments in trucking, my cousin said at the dinner table, “I’ll work with ‘em and I’ll eat with ‘em, but I won’t sleep with ‘em!” His experiences and things he was taught, whatever they were, had led to racial or perhaps homophobic prejudice. On the other hand, a different aunt and uncle who lived in a two-story house in Toledo found their neighborhood changing from entirely white to entirely black except for them. Yet, they ended their lives in their home, and I heard no negative race-based stories from them or about their experience living there.
I can’t really be proud of my “oblivious” childhood, with my being largely unaware of racial prejudice but also being unaware of real black people and their lives. Still, it does seem like a better start than being taught to look down on or hate people based on race.
In the South. Growing up in the South obviously was different. I asked a white friend of mine, an author who grew up in a very small town in Georgia, about her experiences, and she said, “As a writer, I'd love to write something set in the 40s and 50s, but can't because I know my happy memories were set against a backdrop of mean-spirited exploitation and really vicious inequities.”
Some of my black students from small towns in Georgia encountered few whites in their daily lives while others, or at least their parents, had to work for and with whites. From some of my black students I learned about views southern blacks held about white people (and perhaps northern blacks held them as well). I learned we smile too much (I hope I don’t but I’m not sure), there is doubt about how good a job we do at bathing, and most of us don’t seem to be able to dance (I’m guilty on this one). To this day, most in the black community do not trust local white political leaders.
As for the attitude of whites: After we finally got black law enforcement officers in our town around 1976, black officers showed up at a small traffic accident in front of a store I patronized. The perfectly nice white lady at the cash register looked upset. She cried, “Who’s in charge of those sheriffs?”
Effects of past efforts towards tolerance. School desegregation was intended to give equal education to all children, throughout the nation, not just in the South, but also to integrate society. The Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. moved things forward. Yet, as we see in 2019, integrating society and reducing prejudice have proved to be an enormous challenge. This must be because old habits, superstitions and prejudices die slowly. But it also is because people with power and in power resist change or, worse, use prejudice to get and keep power.
I believe increased knowledge of history, economics and philosophies will enable more of us to make wise decisions in our communities and in the voting booth. It will be hard to teach children and harder to teach adults as long as overcharged prejudice is prevalent--and, with it, incorrect theories and views about economics--and even encouraged by media and politicians. The only way forward is through education, but despite valuable books being published recently such as Suicide of the West by Jonah Goldberg and Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal by Ben Sasse, it is hard to see how education can be improved and pervasive enough to make a difference unless some other factor in the equation changes.
In this series, I will explore, from my perspective, whether knowledge of the past or of other factors can lead us to a solution. Future topics will include:
I'm happy to say that I have a new blog published by the New Conservative Movement: https://www.newconservativemovement.us/blog/2018/11/10/disagreeing-and-staying-friends
Wouldn’t it be nice if political decisions were based on knowledge of the issues involved? Or perhaps more importantly, wouldn’t it be nice if voters and those in the media understood accepted knowledge about significant issues?
A majority of Americans, according to polls, do not approve of the current administration’s tariffs, at least not tariffs on our allies. Most people assume trade wars will result that will increase prices here and reduce the ability of Americans to sell exports abroad.
They are right. But that is not all. An article by Greg Ip in the July 10 WSJ shares with us established and proven theories that an import tax is equivalent to a tax on imports. This is true for several reasons.
When we shut out imports from trading partners, we essentially deprive them of money to buy exports. So our tariffs cause more than a trade war or a matter of tit for tat. He states, “If the U.S., for any reason, cuts its imports from a trading partner, that country’s economy and currency both weaken, so it buys less from U.S. companies.” If, by any chance, the tariffs increased demand for our products, “the resulting boost to prices and jobs would put upward pressure on inflation, interest rates, and the dollar, further hurting exports.”
This year, Ip says, “The dollar has risen sharply . . . , mostly because of rising U.S. interest rates but also because U.S. tariffs have weighed on the currencies of Canada, Mexico, and China.” So we are on the way to hurting exporters already.
“America First” is not America first if our businesses and agricultural enterprises who export to other countries are seriously damaged. Voters need to know that. It is the obligation of politicians and the media to be informed and to inform.
Voters have a hard time knowing and understanding the ramifications of the health insurance market and its relation to health care costs. It seems that being allowed to buy insurance across state lines should provide price competition and lower costs. We know that employer benefits can provide cheaper options for people lucky enough to be working for large enough employers, although some benefits are gold standard and a little more costly. And the seemingly free employer-provided health care enables doctors, hospitals, and drug companies to keep prices high and provide services that aren’t even needed in some cases. So some think that allowing small business to group themselves to buy insurance will work. There is talk of sending the problem to the states in the form of Medicaid grants instead of modifying or eliminating the Affordable Care Act.
On July 2, Regina Herzlinger and Joel Klein published an opinion piece in the WSJ proposing that the IRS help solve the problem by giving all workers, not just employers, the right to use pre-tax dollars to purchase health insurance using Health Reimbursement Arrangements. This would enable them to choose from tighter provider networks that can negotiate cheaper prices. They claim Congress doesn’t even have to pass this proposal because the IRS can simply adjust its technical definition of Health Reimbursement Arrangements.
All branches of government have complicated our health insurance and health provider markets for going on 100 years. It didn't start with the ACA. An article last year in the Chicago Tribune tells how extensive employer-provided or group insurance got started: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-obamacare-health-care-employers-20170224-story.html. Basically, wage controls after World War II with a loophole allowing employer-provided benefits jump-started the group insurance concept that was used to compete for workers and it is still with us today.
Today, Congress—or the IRS—will have to sort out all the contortions in the health care market that have been introduced by government over the years in order to move us back towards a free market. And they have to do it without getting themselves voted out of office. We shouldn’t hold our breaths.
I know a man who was walking in the woods when a tree fell nearby. He now won’t walk in the woods if there’s a wind. I can’t agree with this conclusion. However, I do try to stay inside during a lightning storm. My chances of being hit by lightning are not great, but I would be a potential receptor, and people do get struck by lightning. My practice is based on my understanding of probability and frequency.
It’s human nature to attribute causation to preceding events. I got a new CPAP machine and then I got pneumonia, so the new machine must have caused pneumonia. In actuality, there’s no proof of this, and even if there were a connection, there are many other variables.
My question is, when are people taught about probability, the significance of frequency, the post hoc propter hoc fallacy, and the basic scientific process of considering and eliminating variables when evaluating results of an experiment or event? Is it in public school or only in some college classes? (I used to teach reasoning in freshman English, and I think I first learned about the scientific method in high school science, but then I’m a member of the first wave of baby boomers.) It’s important to identify when and whether reasoning is taught in our country, because our ability to be fair and to discriminate among good and bad news stories and Twitter or Facebook posts depends on our ability to reason.
I have Facebook friends who post singular and terrible incidents of injustice, and news media do this as well. Since the majority of my FB friends are African-American or liberal, the posts I’m talking about usually portray racial injustice. (I have no doubt that if the majority of my FB friends were, say Trump supporters, they would be posting their own, totally different, singular cases of injustice.) The cases posted are, many times, singular occurrences, not representative of a wave of injustice. However, as Sen. Tim Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio have testified, and I also can testify, white police do rather frequently harass young black males, pulling them over and worse. The number of young black males who were not committing crimes or even threatening the police, but who were shot by white police, may be too great to be considered unusual or an aberration. So at some level of frequency, individual injustices add up to a bigger social problem just as the frequency of lightning strikes leads to the admonition to stay in during a thunder and lightning storm.
When we listen to the news or see news on Facebook and Twitter, we really must ask ourselves if each report represents a probable concern, a concern that occurs frequently, a concern that is widespread. To get to the bottom of things or work towards a better future, we must be able to tell the difference between probable, provable causes and red herrings. If we draw premature conclusions and react to every news article or post we read, we will fan the flames of hatred and fear. But we should not close our eyes to social problems. Or go outside when there’s lightning out there.
Observations on the subjects of friends, family, country, cultures and nature.