The multiple-choice exam as an ad hoc poetic form attracted me even before I saw the clever and funny things John Ashbery did with it. My Freud Quiz is as much an homage to the mulitple choice form as to the bearded inventor of psychoanalysis in his little Berggasse flat in Vienna. I think I like the structure not only because of its familiarity but because of my love of alternative possibilities.
Last night I was reading the May 2012 issue of Harper's and I came across an essay entitled "Ignorance of Things Past" by editor emeritus Lewis Lapham. The essay is full of recollected pith, some of which is surprisingly bland: "a morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable" (Thomas Jefferson). But it was when I reached a new graf headed "History is work in progreess" that the imp of the perverse reared its head and I created "History, a Multiple-Choice Exam," draft one, which follows:
History is (1) A 'work in progress" (Lewis Lapham, Harper's, May 2012) (2) "A waste of time" (Hilda Cortez, who sat next to me in Art History 76 sophomore year) (3) A sphinx that "to the defeated may say 'Alas!' but cannot help or pardon" (W. H. Auden, "Spain 1937") (4) What happens when thesis meets antithesis or when Newton's second law of mechanics meets "Hegel's Vacation" (5) The compulsion to repeat (Freud) (6) "Now and England" (T. S. Eliot) (7) "Long Ago and Far Away" (Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein) (8) "Everything only connected by 'and' and 'and'' (Elizabeth Bishop) (9) A "hail Mary" pass (Doug Flutie) (10) Something that occurred prior to a) Auschwitz b) Hiroshima c) Watergate d) the fall of the Berlin Wall e) your birth, dear reader. Nine months prior, give or take a few days. f) all of the above conjoined by ampersands
Maybe, but the reverse is also true, and the old canard that male poetry editors like it when the women talk dirty implies bad faith on the part of the males and bad morals on the part of the females and is as reductive as concluding from a man's appreciation of, say, Marianne Moore's poems that the chap likes scholarly and quaint. There's more to Moore than that, and a poem with the tits to start "Fuck me" is daring not so much because of the grab-you opening but because that's a high standard of intensity for the rest of the poem to live up to.
Do (some) male poets have a weakness (or a yen) for lustful poems by women on the order of Olena Kalytiak Davis, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Kim Addonizio, Jennifer L. Knox, Nin Andrews, Deborah Landau, Moira Egan, Cynthia Hungtington, Sharon Olds? Sure, but the length of that list and the fact that it could be twice as long lead to a different explanation, and I would argue that female sexuality is an area of experience that had not until recently been explored quite as candidly and with language as frank and sometimes even deliberately crude as you find in the best American erotic poetry. After the 1960s you could tell there was a void in the literature and you knew you could do something about it. Taking advantage of the opportunity, talented women have given us some wonderful erotic poems.
Now the idea of "gendering" neutral objects fascinates me. In Grench and Ferman, I mean French and German, the nouns are grammatically either masculine or feminine. I believe this is for arcane reasons having more to do with signs than with meanings, and there are oddities aplenty -- in French the word for the female breast (sein) is masculine and the word for the male chest (poitrine) is feminine. There was always a semantic difference between gender and sex, and though it has been obscured tremendously in recent usage, it's a pity if the distinction is lost, and "the difference between gender and sex" has real possibilities as a title.
That said, don't you love the idea of assigning a sex to the parts of speech -- or to individual poems? Please then, dear reader, guess the sexual identity of the following works: "Ode on a Grecian Urn." "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." "The Waste Land." "In Memoriam." "The Sick Rose." Though all were written by men, I'd say at least one of these is female.
Read The Iliad and you are in a universe that is male and tragic. Read The Odyssey and you are in a universe that is female and comic. Mark Van Doren said that. The Odyssey has the greatest cast of female characters: Calypso, Nausikaa, Circe, Athena, and Penelope. But that is just one reason The Odyssey is feminine.
A more challenging case is that of "To His Coy Mistress" (Andrew Marvell) versus "To His Mistress Going to Bed" (John Donne). Set the poems before a group and ask for its preference, and you'll see a 50-50 split on which they like more -- and which they consider more acceptably masculine. It's always the women that have the strongest opinions.
Reading a poem without knowing the identity of the author, as during certain prize competitions, you invariably wonder whether the author is old or young, man or woman. Researchers Camille Pascale and Robert Petit tested themselves and were 80% wrong. Guessing the age and the sexual identity of twenty poems anonymously presented in a variety of typefaces, they were wrong sixteen out of twenty times. This happened repeatedly. They concluded that the whole endeavor was a blind alley. (See Camille Pascuale and Robert Pettit, "Blind Judgment: The Poetic Case for Gender Neutrality.")
But the conceit makes it great: the idea played with in the dance hall of poetic improvisation. The idea is that some poems are male and some are female and that male poets may write female poems and female poets may write male poems and it's a radical idea but like all such ideas it stands or falls not on its truth value but on its value as a stimulus to thought and discussion.
As Ern Malley observed, "a poem is both the means and the end." But, Eric Rice rejoined, "some poems are more equal than others." Elaine Fried said "some poems have cojones" but was opposed as sexist by Jane Splice, who favored the "tits" locution used above.
Philosophy 101, Spring 2012, 4 credits. Professor Koeningsberg. Authors include God, the Greeks, Dante, and World War II. Shotgun formation, man in motion, play action pass and quarterback sneak are among the options examined in the huddle. There is a final exam, eventually and inevitably The syllabus is divided in five parts: -- Ethics: From Kant to cant. "The categorical imperative and six ways to make it work for you" (W. Allen, 1968). -- Metaphysics: What was God doing on the day before he created the world? Does the heart have reasons of which reason is unaware? Is there an invisible presence like a spirit or a motion rolling through all things? The example of the insomniac dyslexic agnostic is studied along with the curious incident of the barking dog.in the night-time. -- Aesthetics: "How does the nature of beauty differ from the beauty of nature?" (Collingwood)..The English translation is so baroque you're constantly checking the Greek or Latin on the facing page to make sure you're not dreaming. The "eternal feminine": fib, fiction, or fickle fabrication? -- Epistemology: Why "I don't know" is the best answer to "How do we know what we know?" Did human nature change on a certain day in 1910 when Virginia Woolf said it did? -- Politics. Competitive utopian thinking meets its match in a grand parade of dictators and world-beaters from Alexander and Napoleon to Hitler and Stalin. The inevitability of the "blame game." The difference between justice and poetic justice is subsumed in an appreciation of certain poems by Donald Justice, pictured above. And the incomparable Marilyn Monroe, below, playing the middle-aged man's Platonic blonde ideal in The Seven-Year Itch or singing "I'm Through with Love" in Some Like It Hot -- DL
According to a board of experts from the business community, which of these sentences applies to "Occupy Wall Street"?
-- "It is not a tea party." -- "Tax the Rich," OK, but it depends on what the definition of "rich" is -- "Tattoos, body piercings, a pungent aroma, and in her other hand the gender studies major held an iPhone" -- The question is, "Will Marie Antoinette subsidize Madame Defarge's knitting business?" -- The way to circumvent "obstructive nihilism" is to eliminate loopholes and lower marginal rates and then move to Basel 3 and higher capital requirements
According to a blue-ribbon panel of economists, money managers, investment bankers, and security analysts, which of these sentences applies to recent acitivity on Wall Street defined in the customary fashion?
-- "We're kicking the can down the road." -- "China may crash. It's a bubble waiting to happen." -- "Of course, if theres's a double-dip recession, all bets are off." -- "Multiple levels of organizational hierarchy lead to managerial dysfunction." -- Big pharma is singing the Neil Sedaka hit "'Breaking Up is Hard to Do'
True or false: The controversial new Calvin Klein's billboard campaign was released in select American cities during the week of October 17 but was immediately suspended in thirteen states by court injunction.
Thanks to Ed Rush for contributing this week's quiz.
Think of a seven letter word that will make sense in the first blank. Switch the letters around to find the words that make sense in the remaining four blanks:
His fortune was _ _ _ _ _ _ _ to the sea And _ _ _ _ _ _ _ with each ship's success or wreck. One day, _ _ _ _ _ _ _ to catastrophe, He staked his fortune on a drier deck, Which he _ _ _ _ _ _ _ and shuffled, till he struck The _ _ _ _ _ _ _ on the golden wheel of luck.
(from Wit Twisters by Arthur Swan)
Put your answer in the comment field, OK? And see if you can invent a similar brainteaser.
<<< Whenever peace -- conceived as the avoidance of war -- has been the primary objective of a power or a group of powers, the international system has been at the mercy of the most ruthless member. >>> Makes you think, doesn't it? Well, of course, as a characterization of the 1930s this seems right on the mark. And now? -- DL
It's Bastille Day, a Thursday, yes, it's 2011 and to honor the occasion we quote an American song from a man who loved Paris and the song was done as a duet in a picture that also featured the blonde ice goddess de nos reves" and a man who made magic with his trumpet and because we know you love games and because so do we (oui) we ask you to identify the songwriter the song the movie and the singers who played Dexter and Mike in this excerpt from the bridge
Dexter: I drink to your health Mike: Nah! Let's drink to your wealth Dexter: You're my bon ami Mike: Hey, that's French! Dexter: Liberty! Mike and Dexter: Fraternity!