April 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
The picture above is from a wonderful online site.
Go look at it. Then talk to me about the time machine you’re building and what I have to do to get a seat. Remove 20 years from my body, let me go back in time…nothing would make me happier. Not fame, wealth, power, God…
Though, really, who knows. The past might be nastier than it looks, even if you researched the wheres and whens to avoid. No iphone with 2,500 pictures of the cats and grandkids. No fine chocolatier in every neighborhood. No instant books.
Friday, the niece-nurse came and we talked for hours (about time travel, among other things) even though I was direly sleepy with a bad cold. She’s cut her hair short and it looks great. She’s a cozy niece. I know she’ll take it as a compliment when I say she’d make a great cat. Yesterday—such a lovely day here in New York City!–we went to Petco and I mooned over the wall of shelter cats in cages. The small tortoiseshell mother with her five-month kittens. The grey and white cat with an eraser-pink nose curled into a perfect circle. The tall cat with brilliant yellow eyes and fluffy, long black hair that spiked up around his neck like a ruff. Only when I give in to the lure of Petco and browse the felines do I understand the kind of man who wants to sleep with every pretty woman passing by.
Then, last night, I dreamt I was looking for the manuscript of Me and You, which was a version very different from the published book, a manuscript oozing with sex and character, messy, unfinished, waiting for me to dive back in. It’s always the case for writers that the books you dream are richer and more alive than anything you’ve written or will write: they represent everything we know that consciousness hasn’t room for or the ability to handle. They’re the children kept in the attic because the parents are too brittle and high-strung for the dark magic of childhood; and you know what years locked in an attic will do to people. It’s like that and also like what years in a cellar do to fine wine or whiskey.
I recently read an article in the New York Times about computer programs that can now grade essays. It’s deeply depressing. The only reason I got A’s in the classes I got A’s in was because I wanted the professor to admire me, to hear my ideas, to read my sentences. I know that’s not the case for many students, but even for the ones who never think about it, I believe it matters. Writers who can’t get published will tell you that writing for nobody isn’t writing at all.
The end of the piece tells you everything you need to know (other than the software specifics; if you’re interested in that, go look it up).
Mark D. Shermis, a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, supervised the Hewlett Foundation’s contest on automated essay scoring and wrote a paper about the experiment. In his view, the technology — though imperfect — has a place in educational settings.
With increasingly large classes, it is impossible for most teachers to give students meaningful feedback on writing assignments, he said. Plus, he noted, critics of the technology have tended to come from the nation’s best universities, where the level of pedagogy is much better than at most schools.
“Often they come from very prestigious institutions where, in fact, they do a much better job of providing feedback than a machine ever could,” Dr. Shermis said. “There seems to be a lack of appreciation of what is actually going on in the real world.”
Of course I think the problem should be addressed from the other end. But even when it isn’t, I don’t think Dr. Shermis understands the power of being read, even cursorily. As for teaching students how to write more smoothly, thoughtfully, logically, etc, other people quoted in the article said what I would: if machines can do that, they can do all the writing themselves. Then we might as well go back into the trees.
Not that that would be a bad thing. If nothing else works out, being a young ape in a forest with no humans anywhere sounds pretty nice. I know there’d be leopards or panthers or tigers. That would be scary. But no forest should exist without them.
I should move to Costa Rica. I’m thinking about it. Charles doesn’t want to go.
National Poetry Month
When a poem
speaks by itself,
it has a spark
and can be considered
part of a divine
Sometimes the poem weaves
like a basket around
two loaves of yellow bread.
“Break off a piece
of this April with its
raisin nipples,” it says.
“And chew them slowly
under your pillow.
You belong in bed with me.”
On the other hand,
when a poem speaks
in the voice of a celebrity
it is called television
or a movie.
“There is nothing to see,”
says Robert De Niro,
though his poem bleeds
all along the edges
like a puddle
with yellow tape
at the crime scene
“It is an old poem,” he adds.
I was very young
when I made it.” –
April 5, 2013 § 1 Comment
I have a bad cold and can’t write much. The skin doctor told me the plot of a zombie show while I wasn’t allowed to open my mouth. I don’t like zombies. They have no charm, no wisdom, no horrible beauty or seductive evil, nothing that a good monster needs. Much scarier: phone calls from the dead.
I have two gifts for you, pretty pictures and climate news. Stick with the pictures if you don’t want the worrisome stuff. And remember that April is poetry month so there are likely some interesting events near you (for US residents only). Poets.org, national, and poetshouse.org, New York, list events. Go listen to some young or old or middle-aged poets! I’m talking to you.
Recent weather news from around the world:
“’Tsunami of Rain’leaves at Least 54 Dead in Argentina.”
“Australia broke 123 weather records in 90 days this summer. In January, Sydney hit a record 114 degrees and the south Australian town of Moomba hit 121.3 degrees”
“The British livestock industry is in crisis with tens of thousands of cattle and sheep having died in the cold. Cereal farmers have not recovered from last year’s deluges and winter crops and vegetables lie rotting in sodden, frozen, or snowbound fields.”
The Arctic, of course is warming and melting at breakneck speed, and the U.S. drought continues.
(for my email readers mkdiehl.squarespace.com for editing; etsy.com/shop/margaretdiehl for jewelry.)
There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.
History, with its hard spine & dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,
Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.
Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,
Having outlived every threat, will gratify
Only the mind, which is where it will exist.
For kicks, we’ll dance for ourselves
Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.
The oldest among us will recognize that glow—
But the word sun will have been re-assigned
To a Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device
Found in households and nursing homes.
And yes, we’ll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,
Eons from even our own moon, we’ll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once
And for all, scrutable and safe.
Tracy K. Smith