Our local hospital is pioneering the use of can openers
for brain surgery, hip replacements and bypasses.
This will apparently save the NHS so much money
(they said on Central News) that if successful
every household in the country
is to be given its very own can opener
and trained to perform such operations at home.
The Minister for Health is certain
it will also be possible to remove teeth, warts and verrucas
with can openers that have had only minimal adaptation.
In time the money saved from the entire population
undertaking major procedures on each other in the kitchen
with only negligible rising of mortality rates
will be used to commission a state-of-the-art laser can opener
connected to a computer the size of just one tin of baked beans
which nonetheless will have parts with such precision
your lover will be able to put you to sleep
and open up the serrated edges of your heart.
It’s National Poetry Day so what’s to do but give you a poem. This is by the funny, wondermentalist, and all-round clever word manipulator, Matt Harvey. Matt is quite often to be found on programmes such as Radio 4′s Saturday Live, and he was Wimbledon’s first Poet in Residence back in the summer. Or if he’s not performing at a venue near you he’s writing poems about the home of all things alternative and complementary, Totnes. The poem is from Matt’s new collection, Where Earwigs Dare (Green Books, 2010), which also features slugs, leeks, cows, bread, kippers, bees, and water coolers, and contains the memorably-titled poem ‘If I said you had a bit of problem would you hold it against me?’ Buy it — you’ll love it.
Daily diaspora of signals, neural
sparks, paperless clutter, fact-opinion.
I am viral, extra-mural. I am plural.
I’m the ‘e’ in evolution. I’m Darwinian.
I’m the encroacher. I’m the great Instead:
of letters, notes, talk, postcards, memos, syntax –
the phisher-king preying on the easily led
the spam that seeks to fertilise your inbox.
I am the information superhighwayman
demand your time with subtle menaces
and blandishments to tempt you to reply to them –
I breed, though I am neither male nor female.
I’m victorious. I am legion. I am email.
(Reproduced with permission)
I’ve been blogging for just under a year now, and will be carrying on for another. I will endeavour to keep it e-learning related a fair bit of the time, although it may well stray off the subject on occasions. In all honesty there’s not been a lot of e-learning going on in my life over the summer, folks. On a few occasions over the past year I’ve sent the link to my blog to friends if I’ve posted about something I thought they might be interested in, and then got terribly excited when the ‘Stats’ section showed I’d got (comparatively) lots of hits. “You must get out more, Rosie”, I hear my lone reader saying gently to their computer screen.
A few weeks back I had my first experience of being tweeted about. I’m not on Twitter and as yet I’m not persuaded I want to be. The first time I logged on to it, some months ago, the laptop I was on instantaneously caught a virus which resulted in a £40 trip to the local Computer Doctor. However, at the end of August I went to the Greenbelt Festival and had a great time, then wrote a poem, ‘If heaven (2)’, in response to having been there. I sent it to a few friends who had also been there, and one of them, media gal and writer Jo Ind (formerly a journalist on the Birmingham Post), tweeted it about the place. Now, as Jo is apparently an ‘influential’ tweeter, as Topsy tells me, this meant my poem got sent to lots of people and they forwarded it on to other folks and it ended up back on the Greenbelt Blog. I was delighted that the poem seemed to be enjoyed by people, and the buzz of it all was fun for my five minutes of fame.
I tend to think that (some) poets are often still quite suspicious of the flickering unstable screen of the web. When the poem was first put up on Jo Ind’s blog some of the line breaks were wrong, so it wasn’t presented correctly. Jo corrected this straightaway when I pointed it out, but I fully understand the nervousness of poets at having their poems misrepresented or just not copied correctly on the internet. And to put something up on the web is of course to publish it. The paradox of this in relation to poetry is that a poem on the internet has far more likelihood of reaching a wider audience/readership than if it is published in many a slim volume…
In addition to my academic job at Wolverhampton I have also ‘gone back to big school’ myself this term as I’ve started a part-time MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Manchester Metropolitan University. There are numerous reasons why I’ve started it: I’ve known about the course for some years, and the calibre of poets who contribute to it (Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Michael Symmons Roberts, Jean Sprackland) speaks for itself; I have found previously that the structure of attending a course is productive for me in terms of my own poetry writing; I grew up on the south Manchester/Cheshire borders, so there is a conscious revisiting of my home city and my connections with the wider area; and — not least — I was quite ill last academic year and was off work for an extended period. What that gave me was some time to step back from my job and to consider whether there was a way of my doing this course that I had been circling around for some time. So when I returned to work in April of this year I negotiated a temporary cut in my contract and was fortunate enough to get a place on the course.
There is also an Online version of the Creative Writing MA programme at Manchester Met, but — perhaps ironically — I knew I didn’t want to follow the MA that way. I wanted to be there in the classroom with my fellow students. I am, however, hoping to ‘gatecrash’ the online poetry group at some point this year and will no doubt post on this blog about that experience.
So I trundle up to Manchester once a week for 24 hours and enjoy the extraordinary student drag that is the ‘universities’ part of Oxford Road. It’s a very buzzy, very ‘street’ kind of area and I like the energy of it. Thus far the course has been a crash course for me in modernist and twentieth century poetry and poetics — we read two poets a week. As someone who focussed on the Victorians for my original postgraduate studies I seem to have managed to bypass modernism pretty much entirely in terms of my studies so far, so I’m learning a lot, and also getting a good sense of how twentieth century poetry has developed.
The downside is that I have to write an essay. Over Christmas. I want to do this like a hole in the head. I always knew that the more obviously academic side of the assessment was going to be a challenge in the sense that it’s the ‘developing my writing’ aspect of the course that has ultimately led me to choose to do it. I know, of course, that reading and writing are intimately related, and as yet I don’t really know how the reading I’ve been doing this term will rub off on my own writing in the long term (although we’ve been pastiching the poets we read each week, which I’ve really enjoyed). But assessment is assessment, and I’ve got an essay to write. And — worse — we have to come up with our own title. Too much choice! Oh the tyranny of infinite possibilities! I woke up in the middle of the night the other day thinking “Is there a genuine way I can link Thomas Hardy and Adrienne Rich — or am I pushing that too far?” My sympathy with my own students — who probably have several essays to write over the Christmas vacation — is going up by the hour…
Session 3 of the Victorian Vision Online involved the class each having to find a Victorian song, post up the lyrics, and tell their classmates something about it. This made an interesting swerve as the online exercise after an in-class session on Victorian poetry where in some ways the discussion had been more ‘highbrow’, considering the ways in which Victorian poetry found itself marginalised in the period and struggling to find a sense of its own purpose and role as the novel took centre stage. The idea for this session online came from a colleague of mine, Hilary Weeks, several years ago.
For the first time thus far with the VVO sessions I don’t send the class a reminder/prompt email about the session. I figure by this point in the term they should be into the groove of the sessions and able to follow the programme of when they happen. Sure enough they don’t have any problems getting on with the task. I log in on Monday morning, after three days, and find lots of posts. I had posted a number of links to suggested websites where I thought students might find examples of Victorian songs but they have also used other resources. One student posts that she spent Sunday afternoon listening to a CD of Victorian songs, and her chosen song is a poem called ‘The Lost Chord’ by Adelaide Procter, set to music by Arthur Sullivan in 1887. She is surprised and even a little outraged that she can find so little reference to Procter anywhere.
There are quite a lot of hymns and Christmas carols posted up — a good reminder that the Victorian period is one of quite a lot of faith as well as doubt — and I’m often impressed by the level of analysis that the class are giving to their finds. A terrific discussion kicks off starting from someone posting ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, written by Cecil Frances Alexander and published in 1848 (it ends up as a ‘thread’ of 19 posts). The discussion goes all over the place, and is popular probably because so many of the class can remember singing this hymn at school. A debate starts as to whether children should have to sing hymns in school at all and it ends up in a discussion of religion as the opium of the people and class suppressor when someone finds the now omitted second verse:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.
Another student makes the most of my encouragement to the class to interact with each other well on the forum and posts all but the last verse of a popular music hall song. With the subject line of ‘What happens next?’ he invites classmates to suggest how the song’s story turns out. Great stuff.