Friday, December 07, 2012

Getting Into Nothing University

I actually completely agree with Vendler. I just wish she had said straight out that Harvard needs to look for people it can teach how better to make nothing happen, rather than trying to prove that they might make something else happen. I think we give the game to the forces of reaction by trying to show that Homer, Dickinson, Picasso and Wittgenstein (of all people!) made "something" happen too. (Scare quotes very needed here.) No, they helped nothing survive their age. Without them we'd only have all this something, something, something.

Anyway, she says prospective students should be asked: "Who is the poet you have most enjoyed reading?” I paused for moment. It's the sort of question one thinks one has answered a hundred times already. But then a clear answer emerged.

There are really two* experiences that I've had with poetry that could be considered intense experiences of "enjoyment". The first was as an undergraduate in a comparative literature program (which I, somewhat regrettably, dropped for philosophy.) I read Keats' "Ode on Melancholy": "And if your mistress some rich anger shows, imprison her soft hand and let her rave..." The second was many years later, as a PhD student, suffering intense melancholy (as one does at that stage of intellectual development) and stumbling on Tony Tost's "I Am Not the Pilot". The light here really was bright, blindin' and bewildering. I was high for days.

These are the two poets I would mention. If you're trying to get into Harvard feel free to steal those answers. I think loving those two poems really intensely accomplishes nothing, of course. And that accomplishment should get you into Harvard.

*Obviously my enjoyment of poetry is not limited to two occasions only. But these are the two occasions that pop to mind as the "most" enjoyable. They are certainly the moments during which my enjoyment of poetry formed itself into an appreciation also.

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