12 April 2008

Two Powerpoints

I find the contrast between the two powerpoints I'm making today quite humorous. They also illustrate the idiosyncrasy of my education--I pretty much only write about things I'm interested in. To hell if they don't match other people's conceptions of classic English major subjects.

And now to write my 20-page medieval exegesis of T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets." Sigh.

10 April 2008

The Poets are at their Windows

This is my favorite poem from the Billy Collins reading at BYU the other month. His description of the "hard work" of writing is extremely true: if only those cooks and clerks understood how hard staring out windows is! I'm not sure of the stanza spacing of this poem, since as I said, I hear it aloud, and I'm copying the text from Amazon's product description. Oh well. Enjoy it anyway.


The birds are in their trees,
the toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.
They are at their windows
in every section of the tangerine of earth-
the Chinese poets looking up at the moon,
the American poets gazing out
at the pink and blue ribbons of sunrise.
The clerks are at their desks,
the miners are down in their mines,
and the poets are looking out their windows
maybe with a cigarette, a cup of tea,
and maybe a flannel shirt or bathrobe is involved.
The proofreaders are playing the ping-pong
game of proofreading,
glancing back and forth from page to page,
the chefs are dicing celery and potatoes,
and the poets are at their windows
because it is their job for which
they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.
Which window it hardly seems to matter
though many have a favorite,
for there is always something to see-
a bird grasping a thin branch,
the headlights of a taxi rounding a corner,
those two boys in wool caps angling across the street.
The fishermen bob in their boats,
the linemen climb their round poles,
the barbers wait by their mirrors and chairs,
and the poets continue to stare
at the cracked birdbath or a limb knocked down by the wind.
By now, it should go without saying
that what the oven is to the baker
and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.
Just think-
before the invention of the window,
the poets would have had to put on a jacket
and a winter hat to go outside
or remain indoors with only a wall to stare at.
And when I say a wall,
I do not mean a wall with striped wallpaper
and a sketch of a cow in a frame.
I mean a cold wall of fieldstones,
the wall of the medieval sonnet,
the original woman's heart of stone,
the stone caught in the throat of her poet-lover.

-Billy Collins

05 April 2008

April 2008 General Conference: Saturday Morning

Once again, I'm live-blogging conference. Refresh for new comments as the talks are given.

10:26 - D. Todd Christofferson as the new apostle, eh? I was really banking on a spanish-speaking apostle this time, but oh well. Looks like lawyer-affirmative action strikes again. I wonder what Hugh Nibley would have to say about the population of lawyers in the apostles . . . . Also, I'm interested that the Young Women and Relief Society were acknowledged separately. I was under the impression that the Young Women was more of a program than an actual Church body. I may have to change the way I think about the YW program.

10:40 - Russel M. Nelson (Apostle) - "The gospel is an individual matter--each is born individually, thus each is born again individually." "We cannot be released as parents." Yay! A talk on parenting! (I apologize in advance that I'm probably going to latch onto every quote having anything to do with children. You understand.) "The Church is to assist and not replace parents in their duty to raise children." Teach your children to believe in God, to honor their parents. It seems that parenting is a matter of rhetoric, largely--learning to pursuade and not force. "Salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter." I should really write sometime about the distinction between salvation and exaltation--it's really one of the most glorious principles of the restored gospel because it clears up so many things.

10:54 - Ronald A. Rasband (Presidency of the Seventy) - Experiences as the building blocks of faith: sounds like the doctrine of the personal essay. :D Everyone needs "a personal treasury of experiences." I think this is one of the reasons I write personal essays--because I want to remember my store of experiences.

11:03 - Cheryl C. Lant (Primary General President) - The gospel as a family tradition--interesting idea. At first I have a bad reaction to this, since we don't want people being members of the Church simply because their parents are. They need their own testimonies. But how often is a person's family tradition a barrier to their reception of the gospel? And I think there's a difference between making the gospel a tradition and simply being a member. It means making the gospel more than a checklist; it ought to be something we celebrate and enjoy. In that way, the gospel as a tradition can be a positive thing: "traditions of righteousness," not something we mindlessly do, but something we want to return to because it meant something to us as a child.

11:14 - Kenneth Johnson (Seventy) - Ooh, scientific analogy! Discovering the principles of the gospel as scientists have discovered natural laws. I like this analogy because it allows the teachings of the Church to change easily with new revelations--we're discovering new gospel principles, line upon line. President Monson: "Youth need fewer critics and more models." Additionally, no matter how much we want to change them, gospel principles are not a matter of common consent, just as natural laws. George says, "Who votes that gravity goes down?"

11:27 - Joseph B. Wirthlin (Apostle) - Interesting to hear testimony of the personality of the First Presidency. Addressed "the erroneous idea that all within the Church should be the same." Have compassion for those different than us. "Don't be held back because you feel inadequate." "Church leaders ought to be mindful of the limitations of members." "To those who have strayed because they have been offended, can't you set those things aside?" "To those who have strayed because of doctrinal concerns, we don't apologize for that. . . . But the foolishness of God is stronger than men." Way to tow the line, Elder Wirthlin, you rock!

11:53 - Henry B. Eyring (First Counselor in the First Presidency) - "The keys of the Priesthood remain on the earth so long as we have faith in them and that they are being passed down." Disobedience and loss of faith caused the loss of the priesthood in the Apostasy, as the apostles died without passing on the keys. Sustaining our leaders requires repentance for our own sins. So long as we are faithful, the Church will remain on the earth. This talk seems really old fashioned to me--talking a lot about what we have to do to keep the Church from falling under condemnation and how the Church is being prepared for the return of the Savior.

UPDATE: Ha ha, well so much for the other sessions. Saturday morning is always my favorite anyway.

02 April 2008

April is the Cruellest Month

For National Poetry Month, I'm going to share a few of my favorite poems, both by me and by much better poets. I can't promise it'll be every day, but I'm going to try. This will be a bit of a stretch since I'm not a huge reader of poetry, but maybe it'll force me outside my shell and get me to remember the ones that I like. I like the idea of reading poetry, but actually doing it is pretty hard. Very few collections of modern poetry are readable outside of a classroom setting, with someone to guide you through them.

I'm sorry for the cop out of starting with such a famous poem, but I can't help thinking of the irony that April is NaPoMo when I read these words. Also, for a student at BYU with no spring break forthcoming, at least the first part of April is always the cruelest. This is also one of the more lucid passages from "The Wasteland"--besides the chess match, which I also love. I like Eliot's very British reflection on the character of the seasons. It seems that as a suburbanite, I tend to not notice their character as much as I do the inconveniences they cause me. I'd like to be more British in that way--to have a knowledge of the seasons planted in my brain.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

-T.S. Eliot, "The Wasteland" (lines 1-11)