From the Portfolio of the Past: The Ballad of the Bard Aspring Monday, Jan 28 2013 

The untrustworthy steed.

The untrustworthy steed.

I believe I wrote more in summer 1991 as a fellow and graduate student in the Summer Institute of the Acadiana Writing Project than any other time in my career.  Looking through the collected drafts and handwritten manuscripts that I happily preserved from that time, I’m astonished today at the output!  Here’s a satirical piece recounting a true misadventure that happened on one of the more memorable commutes to the University that summer.

The Ballad of the Bard Aspiring, Recounting His Mechanical Misfortunes

June 1991

A bard aspiring went a’riding,
The Cajun prairie he did traverse.
With quill in hand and parchment for writing,
This day would bear a curse.

Through rice field, meadow and farm
His course he pursued apace,
Bound for Hub City, there to charm
The elite of the scribal race.

His trusted steed, Ford by name,
Devoured the miles with ease.
But where the rain in Rayne falls mainly on Rayne,
The mechanical brake!  It failed to seize!

Oh, pedal, why to the floor sinkest thou?
And givest me not my stop?
Why, oh why, must ye fail me now,
And to the floor so sickly drop?

Thus the bard queried the brute
As Ford went sailing along.
But the bard with fate could not dispute,
So he uttered a prayer and a song.

The end of the course loomed ahead.
An octagonal pot bid “STOP!”
The bard turned the wheel, to the shoulder fled
And amidst the rocks did stop.

So on to Goodyear the bard reported.
The mechanic quickly found fault.
“Master cylinder,” said he, “must be aborted.
A new one will make Ford to halt.”

In a matter of minutes the surgery was done.
The new vessel with fluid was filled.
But when put to the test, brakes there were none!
The mechanic must not be too skilled?

So back to the rack, another repair.
This caliper should do better.
But it failed—oh, what despair!
This cost will make bard a poor debtor!

Another guess—it’s the axle seal!
So mechanic made haste with his work.
He redid the gasket, the brake to heal,
But alas, Ford still had the quirk.

“What now?  What now?”  the mechanic wailed.
I have reached the end of my wits.
To repair this beast, I have miserably failed.
My spirit hath plunged to the pits.

But a happy end was not deserted.
Mechanic consulted his friends.
And when all their wisdom was concerted,
They tied up all the loose ends.

So with brakes anew, Ford took to his course.
Though broke, the poor bard was secure.
And mechanic, now happy, had found a new source—
Ask your friends if you want to be sure!

Humble Rewards of the Teaching Profession: A Most Humble Ephiphany! Tuesday, Jan 22 2013 

One of the most liberating epiphanies that became clear to me  as a graduate student in the early years of my career was that, if students suceeded, I really shouldn’t take my role in their success too seriously.  If I can claim any role in their success, in fact, that claim more likely owes to the fact that I nudged them in a direction and empowered them to discover rather than that my efforts at direct instruction caused “knowledge” to distill somehow in their brains.  I successfully published an  article in the 1994/95 Louisiana English Journal developing such a thesis, the ideas in the piece based on my reading and understanding of the late Dr. Walker Percy, a Louisiana essayist and novelist whose work captured my fancy in those days.  I lately enjoyed re-reading the article that I hadn’t read in well over a decade, and here’s an excerpt that serves the point.

From “The Loss of the Teacher: Implications of Walker Percy for the Classroom”

Perhaps the best place to begin discussing the implications of Percy’s ideas for the classroom is the consideration of the title given this essay, “The Loss of the Teacher,” a metaphorical turn on the title of Percy’s essay “The Loss of the Creature.”  Percy makes some of his most direct comments on the shortcomings of the scientific-objective educationist bureaucracy in that 1958 piece, and most notably absent in the ideal learning situations he desribes is the teacher.  Using the example of an imaginary “citizen of Huxley’s Brave New World who stumbles across a volume of Shakespeare in some vine-grown ruins and squats on a potsherd to read it,” Percy goes on to explain that this intellectually-curious explorer has aconsiderably greater opportunity to discover meaning in the sonnet than would a Harvard sophomore reading the same poem in an English poetry course.  Why?

Dr. Walker Percy, a Louisiana writer from my home town of Covington whose ideas shaped my own in grad. school.

Dr. Walker Percy, a Louisiana writer from my home town of Covington whose ideas shaped my own in grad. school.

Because, as Percy explains, the Harvard student […] cannot see the sonnet with the eyes of the discoverer  because of the “educational package” which obscures the poem, which makes it harder to get at.  A principal component of this educational package, along with the glossy anthology, the freshly-painted cinderblock walls of the classroom, and the Curriculum Guide which specifies the presentation of this particular poem at this particular moment in the learner’s development, is the teacher, that purveyor of behavioral objectives who interprets the curriculum guide and assigns the poem as an object to be learned.  Huxley’s unwitting explorer, on the other hand, lays calim to the sonnet with a sense of sovereignty, or ownership, which invests the poem with significant personal meaning, even though that meaning may not be the same as the interpretation provided in the teacher’s canned explication.  Percy emphasizes the lesson of his illustration: “In truth, the biography of scientists and poets is usually the story of the discovery of the indirect approach, the circumvention of the educator’s presentation.”  Accordingly, the teacher who has not paused to consider how unimportant he or she might be in the learning process of students should be properly humbled.

Richard’s Gully Tuesday, Jan 15 2013 

The Gully at flood stage

The Gully at flood stage

Places names are sometimes as curious and fascinating as the actual places they name.  Running the length of the small town of Eunice, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, is such a place: Richard’s Gully, the principal “waterway” of the Prairie Cajun Capital of the World.  (Richard is pronounced Cajun, as “ree-shard”–if you don’t say it right, you mess up the local color!).  The photo here shows Richard’s Gully above flood stage, almost out of its banks at the Maple Avenue crossing no more than a half mile from our house.  Ordinarily, the gully is little more than a glorified ditch with a sluggish, sometimes stagnant flow.  The observations in the piece that follows were noted at such a stage of low water.

Richard’s Gully
Composed 1994

In the beginning

nature created a slough, a natural morass;

but men with shovels and draglines enlarged upon the idea,

as men do with nature’s ideas,

likely because they wanted to get rid of rain water they didn’t want in their houses,

regrettably not because some aesthetic soul saw a picture of Grand Canyon

and thought a scaled-down mud model would accentuate the flat Cajun prairie;

so they gouged a channel

deep and jagged and ragged

and piled the black excavated silt high to make a levee

shored up with dump-truck chunks of busted concrete and asphalt

left over from unwanted parking lots,

and man said, “Let there be Richard’s Gully.”

And man saw that it was good.

Thus Richard’s Gully was finished

as the earth was gashed and slashed and piled high

in the interest of improving man’s life on it,

and the job’s been touched up upon ever so often

with more shovels and draglines and industrial-strength herbicide

since nature has an annoying tendency to undo man-made modifications,

as any woman who has touched up gray streaks in her hair will swear with vehemence,

but men and women do these things to alter creation

because they are subduing the earth.

Today Richard’s Gully is sprouting chicken trees and willow wisps

slithering through crevices

in scum-encrusted heaps

of busted concrete and busted asphalt,

and sprouting colorful crops with genus species nomenclatures

like Miller Lite and Pepsi Free and Diet Coke

rising out of sludge-lined banks

like shiny seedlings

in a metallica garden

in a fetid ecosystem

where stagnant, larvae-infested pools

laced with sewery strains

of dish water and urine and decomposed armadillo flesh

nurture festering, feathery tendrils

of green pickled slime

floating in the murky shallows

of a nauseatic sea

teeming with base putrefaction.

Richard’s Gully is a man-made morass,

the polluted brain child of industrious citizens,

and a moldy monument to man’s condition.

No one lingers long

on the shores of Richard’s Gully.

Inflatulation (in blank verse) Wednesday, Jan 9 2013 

Another exercise from high school English teaching days, cerca 1993.

Hie thee hence, tthe simethecone solution!

Hie thee hence, the simethecone solution!

Inflatulation

O, what vile, pestilent congregation

Of vapours descendeth upon this place!

Curling the hairs of my nostrils, clouding

My senses with the stench of decadent

Flatulence, suspended as noxious fumes

Drifting languidly in the atmosphere.

What oppressive, stifling element is

This I breath?  Surely, my heart waxeth faint,

And I gasp for untainted sustenance

Ere I perish, choking on this foul blight!

Point of View Thursday, Jan 3 2013 

Matters of perspective?

Matters of perspective?

A relic from days bygone when I played with word ideas and pictures with eighth graders.  Good days!  (In retrospect?)