Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

Hugh Masekela and flugelhorn http://galleryhip.com/hugh-masekela.html

Hugh Masekela peers through his flugelhorn.

Today is the 76th birthday of Hugh Masekela, South African flugelhornist, composer, and singer. He is truly a world class jazz musician. His music, like so much of the apartheid era in South Africa, was an important part of the defiant political voice against apartheid South Africa.  His music is powerful, full of energy and emotion, blending African rhythms with American swing and South African politics.

The first time I ever heard of Hugh Masekela was in June of 1967. I was finishing my first year of college at Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey, California (1966-1967). I knew nothing about what was going on in South Africa at the time. My political awareness focused on anti-Vietnam war politics only. But that’s what dominated the political discussions on campuses everywhere then, not apartheid South Africa.

Masekela was slated to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival—June 16th, 17th, and 18th, 1967—Saturday evening on the 17th.  My 19th birthday was the following day on June 18th.  Some of the festival’s producers showed up on campus on day, looking to hire ushers to work during the festival run.

Hugh Masekela at Monterey

Hugh Masekela at Monterey

I wasn’t hired, but I had several college friends (lady friends at that) who were hired and I was able to get comp tickets from them for several shows. That’s how I was able to hear him play. Sadly, I remember very little about his performance. Wikipedia places his performance between Moby Grape and the Byrds. I remember Moby Grape and they were amazing musicians. I would get the chance to see them again the following year in February of 1968 in Lewiston, Idaho, at a dance club on Main Street called Caseys.  I was living in Pullman, Washington, at the time taking classes at Washington State University.  Caseys

caseys of lewiston

was unusual in the fact that the owner, Pat Patoray, was somehow able to book many of the major rock bands of the sixties, including Moby Grape.  The club was close enough to Pullman to make a relatively easy job of driving, as long as the Lewiston grade (also known as “The Spiral Highway”)  was passable, especially in winter.

The act I vividly remember is Otis Redding’s performance, the last act that night. I couldn’t find any seats inside the arena, but the festival tech folks had set up this enormous outdoor screen outside and somehow projected his performance on the screen. For the time, it was pretty amazing technology.

Hugh Masekela at Monterey http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/a-bloody-battle-over-monterey-pop-festival-19680406

Otis Redding at Monterey chatting with Jimi Hendrix

Check out the power of his song “Coal Train” from the 2002 film Amandla. Reminds me of the train symbolism in Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country.

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Jung quoteMy interest in Jung’s principal theories of psychology and myth stems from an initial curiosity about and fascination with T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Two epigraphs in ancient Greek from Heraclitus of Ephesus introduce the collection. One of the two reads as follows:

 “The way upward and the way downward are the same.”

 What fascinates me is the notion that despite the logical (in a scientific sense) impossibility of two opposites existing at the same time, an inherent truth, nevertheless, exists. Much of Eliot’s poem attempts to extract a sense of truth by confronting the wisdom of paradox. I don’t pretend to have any scholarly understanding of what Eliot is trying to “say”—I am a true believer of the idea that poems do not necessarily have to “say” anything; they just are— in these poems; in fact, without Joe Gilde’s marginalia, I would have little access to any understanding at all. The best I can hope for is an appreciation for specific lines in the work that hold a particular fascination for me. Just for a brief example, I offer the following from “Burnt Norton,” no. 1 of the Four Quartets:

Time present I recognize the misapprehension we have of time. We lack either the willingness or the spiritual strength to understand  any but the narrow definitions of time. By this I mean time is ether past or future—what has happened or what will happen. But what if we at least acknowledge the possibility that time is an illusion? My amateurish attempt describes Eliot’s syllogism is as follows:

Time present 2In other words time is both there and not there, and to attempt to comprehend time without a broader understanding is equivalent to—to paraphrase an Alan Watts metaphor—trying to grab a hold of moving water in a stream. Just as our inability to grab moving water does not disprove that water moves, so also our inability to grab a hold of time does not disprove the existence of time. The analogy that water, in this case, is like time works. The power of a moving river, like time, is “eternally present.” The river begins somewhere, though without maps we don’t know exactly where. Like time, the river “ends” somewhere, though we don’t know exactly where it ends. Because the water moves in a very specific direction—again like time because time does not “flow” backwards—we know or sense that it is going somewhere.

Further, we are all taught at an early age that if we are caught in a powerful current, we must not resist or defy the power of that current. Instead, to conserve our energy, we let it carry us along until, at the most opportune time, we can safely make our way to the shore and pull ourselves out. Like the powerful current of a river, we must not resist the powerful pull of time, must not get caught up in identifying the past and the future (though, like the river, we cannot reject the fact that “being a river” includes the source and the destination), and recognize that they, past and future, are the same. Just as the “passing” of time is a part of the whole of time, so a river’s current is a part of the whole of the river. The river cannot exist without its current and time cannot exist without its passing, cannot exist without its “past” and “future.”Time present 3The paradox of time occurs when we attempt to become more aware, more “conscious” of those ordinary yet significant moments of our lives. If we are controlled by time, we lose those “moments in the rose-garden.” We can live in the moment only if we are not “conscious” of time, but “only in time can the moment” be remembered. The paradox? “Only through time time is conquered.” 

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Online education has been around for many years. Thanks to a former colleague’s generosity, back in 2003 I got the chance to fool around with Moodle, a “learning platform” specifically designed for creating personalized learning environments for students.

Before Moodle, I tried out creating my own class web pages with assignment lists, deadlines, handouts, and so on. I could post them on the district server and students who at computers at home connected to the internet could access them on line. At one point, I paid to have my class pages hosted by an educational website hosting service and transferred files using a ftp client.

But when Moodle came around it was radically different for students. Moodle was interactive. Students could post their assignments on the platform, I could read them and give feedback, and then they could access my feedback and their grades. Moodle became an alternative classroom for many of my students who had challenges attending class on a daily basis for whatever reason (and there were many reasons). One year, 2006, as part of state grant, I got the opportunity to put together a hybrid English course. Half of the course was completed online, either at their homes or in a computer lab set up specifically for the course, and half the course was spent in my regular classroom, depending on what we were learning at the time. The senior research paper project was perfectly suited for hybrid learning environments. Instruction and demonstration took place in the regular classroom; the practice and research took place online. I continued to use Moodle and online learning for the remainder of my teaching career. In fact, thanks to the district IT dept., all of the original courses are still there for students to use.

Like the open-source software movement, the free online learning movement has exploded. What used to be a few lecture courses digitally recorded and posted on University web sites for free access has become a huge open-university system allowing anyone interested in pursuing academic-level learning to enroll in an amazing variety of university courses.

Coursera, for example, (whose vision for education, by the way, is “We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.” Wow.) is an educational platform that partners with top universities worldwide to offer free courses online. One particular course that caught my interest is Modern and Contemporary American Poetry offered by the University of Pennsylvania. So I enrolled because I love poetry, but I don’t have the discipline to sit down and read any with focus and purpose. Need the focus for the purpose.

So, University of Pennsylvania online poetry course, I’m gonna try you out. First reading: Emily Dickinson’s “I dwell in Possibility.”


I dwell in possibilityMust have read this poem a dozen times before I could get my own handle on it. What comes to mind with this dwelling and house stuff is the idea of poetry as the architecture of the soul. Don’t know where I got that. Just popped in my head when I started to see the poem from my own perspective.

Saying “I dwell in Possibility” sounds to me like an old fashioned way of saying “I live in possibility,” in the same sense of what some of us might say, “I live in hope.” Of what? Well, in the case of my childless, unmarried daughter, her parents “live in hope” that some day the kid will get married and we’ll have some grandchildren. Now, I don’t want to give up hope, so I guess we also live in the possibility that it will happen.

But what of the idea for Dickenson that “Possibility” is just a metaphor for poetry? I—or rather Dickenson— live in poetry or through poetry, so that the traditional purposes of a house share the traditional purposes of a poem? Just as we can live in a house—it protects us, keeps us warm and dry, staves off our enemies, it’s where we sleep and dream, take our sustenance, where we take our family, our guests—so also we can live in our (or through?) poetry. Perhaps, even under poetry’s protection. Our poems do all of the things our house does. Is poetry not “fairer” than “Prose”? Plenty of long-in-the-tooth discussions about that here. By a long shot it is. Does poetry not have more “Windows” and are the poets at these windows always doing what poets are supposed to do? The poet’s occupation (“This”) is to be at their windows at all times and to see (window=wind eye) what others lack the time or insight to observe. Plus most of them (poets) do a better job reporting what they see than I do. “Superior…Doors”? It’s just my take on this, but I just don’t buy the good professor’s view (which by the way he seems to go a long way to sell this idea to those confused-looking, but well-intentioned students) that this “house” somehow reflects a higher social class, so, of course, Dickenson is gonna have better doors than anyone else. I see those “Doors” differently. When I was younger, I read this A. Huxley book The Doors of Perception (sometimes while listening to the Doors). Not many folks can open those doors by themselves. They need a little help from friends, like Huxley. But what if Dickenson means “Doors” that lead to the inside of a poem (and outside for that matter; once in, you gotta be able to get out of the thing). Again, I’m talking about “Possibility” as poetic architecture.

All right, might be far-fetched, but I just don’t buy the idea that the only “Visitor” to Emily’s “house” are the social elite, the “fairest.” If metaphorically the house is poetry, “Possibility” is poetry, not everybody is going to stop by for a “visit,” because not everybody understands or comprehends the “house/poem” and that’s normal. I agree with the group that you have to work at it, like anything. But maybe “fairest” has a different meaning here: only visitors who are open-minded, non-judgmental, willing to take the risk of seeing the world as the poet sees it.

Finally, the good professor just glossed over what I believe to be the most important and interesting part of this poem: “The spreading wide my narrow Hands/To gather Paradise.” Man, I love that line. This is the poet’s reach. Note contrast between “wide” and “narrow” as if that which is “narrow”—narrow-mindedness—can be made “wide” which is, of course, what you need to do if what you want to do is “gather” (to understand, comprehend, or even collect) something as “wide” and limitless as “Paradise” which is somewhat of a paradox: “gather”ing requires a sense of limitation, of knowing when what you are gathering has been gathered; you cannot, in other words, “gather” that which is un-gatherable, know that which is unknowable. The beauty of this is that we have discovered that this is what Dickenson will do for us whenever we visit her “house.”

Can’t tell if, after reading the poem, the sigh I hear is one of relief for getting out of the poem with all my faculties or one of awe for staying behind.


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