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Tuesday, September 1

September 1, 2015

Violence: Today we started with the poem “The Second Coming,” by William Butler Yeats. We could have a whole class just on this poem (or at least on Yeats), but besides the fact that it’s one of the greatest poems of the 20th century, I chose it, in part, because of the idea that “the center cannot hold.”

Yeats wrote this poem just after World War I, which was a huge shock to much of Europe — Western Europe especially. It was the war that wasn’t supposed to happen. And it was unprecedented in its brutality. So if the first stanza, in particular, seems bleak, it’s understandable.

However, for the past 70 years — ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki — the center has, by and large, held. The Western world has been spared violence, and all of us have grown up in a world that would have seemed unbelievably safe and secure to previous generations. Few of us experience violence in our own lives; besides the relatively peaceful nature of the world, the move from an agricultural society to an industrial, urban and centrally-planned one has meant that almost none of us have ever eaten something we’ve killed, seen someone or something wounded or dying, or even experienced how savage nature can actually be.

We’ve been lucky, in other words. But I believe the decline in violent lives is inevitably part of the increase (or what seems like the increase; it’s hard to tell) in violent literature.

We won’t always be that fortunate. The center won’t hold forever. Until then, there’s plenty to discuss.

We began with three of the four points on our continuum of literary violence. This hierarchy does not mean that one type of violence is “better” than another. It does suggest that the higher orders (3 and 4) tend to be present in more sophisticated works. (One reason that horror is often treated as a lesser genre is because, especially in film, it has a tendency not to rise above Level #1.)

We can classify violent acts in literature on the following scale:

1. Sensation: Violence that occurs to deliver a visceral kick, establish a mood or set a tone.
2. Revelation: Violence that occurs to reveal some previously-unknown aspect of a character, setting or society.
3. Culmination: Violence that appears preordained and occurs to provide necessary catharsis. (Often results in restoration of the established order.)

We’ll get to the fourth, and rarest category Thursday. Your assignment for then is to take the violent act you read or saw over the summer (which you wrote down on your index card the first day) and try to classify it in one of these three categories.

Radio: Today you got more details about the expectations regarding weekly listening (Radio 9.1.15 – Weekly Listening Guidelines). Your first reports are due next Tuesday. If you have any questions or issues, let me know.

The rest of class was spent playing around with the recorders – figuring out how they work and experimenting with placement. Warning: you were all in very quiet spaces this morning! It won’t always be quite so easy – that’s a guarantee.

A reading assignment (an essay by Scott Carrier) was handed out and is also for Tuesday. There is no immediate homework for Thursday.

Siren: A lot of ground covered today. The important points for old-timers and newcomers alike:

  1. Know the seven reasons we would decide to cover a story.
  2. Know the parts of a newspaper front page, and the parts of a story. (There was a handout.) Even in a digital age, most of this terminology still applies on a daily basis. And print isn’t (quite) dead yet.
  3. Remember: all copy for the Sept. edition is due on the 14th.

Style: Today you shared your poems in the style of T.S. Eliot’s cat poems. The new style was handed out; it’s a packet of short stories by Lorrie Moore. Please read these stories and take notes for Thursday.

We also detailed how exactly note-taking should be approached. Here’s the review list: Style 9.1.15 – Notes details, and here are the little paragraphs we read about why we’re doing this: Style 9.1.15 – Why.

Survey: Poetry: Today we read some poems from Chapter 2 of Three Genres; you chose poems you liked and shared what you liked about them. Lots of good, smart observations — well-done!

No assignment for Thursday, when we’ll watch the documentary Where Poems Come From, but you will need to read Chapters 1 and 3 in your textbook (which I’ll try to give out tomorrow) for next Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Survey: Fiction:Today you filled out a questionnaire and then shared some of your answers. There is no homework for Thursday.

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