20.03.03, Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey
Suddenly, after months of thinking about war but having nothing besides the media to focus our attention on it, there are signs of it everywhere we look. I returned home from school yesterday to discover notices in the lobby of our building outlining security procedures for air attacks. “Apparently there’s a bomb shelter in the next building,” Glenys said with an eghads look.
It’s highly unlikely there will be any spillover of this conflict into Turkey. Although it is possible that Turkey will soon be engaged in a conflict of its own with the northern Iraqi Kurds. We’re not hearing much about what it currently happening at the Turkey-Iraq border.
A pair of men tested the generators in a nearby building this morning. They rumbled to life with the clanky growl of an old mechanical beast that’s been hibernating. A short while later, as Euan and I were doing our usual Magpie count out the window, a jet roared over the campus at great speed heading southeast, as if to confirm that Turkey has indeed opened its airspace to coalition forces. Vanloads of Jandarma tool around the area incessantly. We start to try to interpret these signs.
Being a new dad in times like these is an uncanny and confusing experience. It’s jarring to look at my son and see so much innocence and wonder and be thinking about people dying and suffering off in the distance. I told my son what was happening because we always tell him everything that’s happening (“Daddy’s licking oatmeal off his thumb Euan!"). Again I had Oppen to put some texture to this feeling I have for my son with regard to the war:
My daughter, my daughter, what can I say
I cannot judge it.
We seem caught
In reality together my lovely
Meanwhile, life goes on, but in a much different way, with a much different feeling to it, naturally. I greeted one of my students yesterday and asked her how she was. “Uptight,” she said. It’s difficult to teach or sit for classes when your mind is elsewhere. I sit in my office and stare off into space for periods of time, my mind reeling. When I snap out of it, I realize I must get my act together, and I start to scurry in my head even more.
I’ve made last minute adjustments to the syllabus of my American Poetry class in an attempt to keep focus on both poetry and the war. I put Oppen’s Of Being Numerous, Williams’ Introduction to The Wedge, and selections from Reznikoff’s Testimony on for this week. This work has generated good discussion and, to the extent that they want to, has allowed my students to use class discussions as a forum for their thoughts and feelings about the war.
On Thursday’s class I read from Of Being Numerous and asked my students to listen with an ear toward the poem and with an ear toward Baghdad, to see if this poem in any way enabled them to focus on the war. When I asked them if the poem helped or hindered their attempt to focus on the war several students said they went into and out of focus about the war, but that the poem helped them focus on experience and what that is. How do you experience something you’re not experiencing? If war is meaningless, then what is poetry?
I read the Williams stuff I posted to the list on Thursday. Poetry isn’t a turning away from the war, it is the war, “merely a different sector of the field.” How can that be?
We talked about objectivism as a poetry of attention. Attention to the very facts of existence and to time, what that dialectic produces in the mind and in language.
We had also read for that day selections of Charles Reznikoff’s amazingly affecting poem Testimony. Two students introduced the poem and got a discussion going about the discrepancy between the lack of emotion in the language and the deeply emotional effect that that language produces when you read it.
Then a student named Berna compared the poems to “the media,” to news. I told the class about one of Pound’s definitions of poetry: “Poetry is news that stays news.” It turned out to be the perfect way to account for the relevance of reading a poem that was published in the 60’s, and which incorporated images of WW2 and Vietnam, to focus our attention on a war that was happening while we were talking.
I ended class about 8 minutes early, but then something very unexpected happened. None of my students got up to leave. None of them even stirred. There was a short silence and then another student picked up the discussion again, and we continued talking as if class was still in session.
But the atmosphere in the room had changed completely. I was no longer presiding and everyone was there by choice. The classroom turned into a meeting place. What a freaky feeling it was to have everything change so dramatically like that with no apparent activity to produce it. I felt a lot calmer after this class than I have in days. The two students who exited the classroom with me told me in Turkish to take good care (“kendine iyi bak”). Normally they just say, in English, “See you.”
ScottPosted by Brian Stefans at March 24, 2003 01:57 PM