Tuesday, 15 November 2011
Goodbye to classes
Richard Strauss : Metamorphosen, Studie für 23 Solostreicher. Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan, direction.
Next week we are going to China. I don't know whether I will be able to blog from there. We shall see. But in the last two days I have finished two classes at university before passing them on to colleagues who will complete the term with them.
I feel quite sad at leaving them. In general I enjoy teaching very much - it's a way of talking about what I love anyway and spending time with people who are learning to love it in their own ways.
Can people be taught to write poetry? Not without hearing and reading it first, or at least being aware of it as a quality in perception, so that is where I usually start. And I don't even think of teaching it, not as the passing down of certain precepts. I think good teaching is intelligent conversation with a growing understanding of what might be said and how.
And of course there is the relationship with the people that constitute a class. You cannot get to know them thoroughly. Class isn't that kind of place. But you can like seeing them, talking to them and grow to miss them if they are not there.
People can sense if you like what you are talking about and thinking about. They can sense that the subject matters, that it is about something important, that something gets sorted through in this way of writing, saying or singing, and in talking about it. That in itself it isn't something anyone has to be taught: people know it, but they rarely speak about it. Talking about it can be taught. In poetry, the importance arises out of the speaking. It is like speaking a whale into being. Poetry is the act of speaking things into being, even, at times, becoming the thing that is coming into being.
Poetry is not like political rhetoric or advertising: it isn't there to get you to do things. It isn't even there to get you to be things. It is about how being is possible, in language if nothing else: it is about the kind of being that language can give life to.
So you toss this around the class, with this or that example, often - with luck - with some laughter. Laughter at the sheer ingenuity and cheek of the thing. I don't think poetry is a product of solemnity, but it is serious, deadly serious if you like. It is a properly serious form of laughter. Even the saddest and most tragic of songs is better for that unheard laughter.
Shall we be incongruous with the music. Why not?