Shakespeare in the Classroom

This site examines Macbeth and the nature of evil. It actually says that evil is the opposite of humanity. It is a deviation from what is natural. (I can see problems with that definition.) But then the author goes on to say that evil originates in the human heart. It’s a start. Finally.

An article on what Hamlet meant to some African tribesmen. (Didn’t say what tribe.) They explained the plaly to the American telling the story. It was much different.


Ezra Pound

John Bruce’s Mt Hollywood has some interesting stuff out there. June 15 he has three entries on Ezra Pound. Thoughtful and interesting. Maybe it would add some spice to an otherwise boring presentation (on my part) in Freshman Comp II.

It is a scandal I didn’t know about. The following are short excerpts from the discussion. Very intriguing.

How it started

In the 1920s Pound became interested in the Social Credit economic theories of Henry George; at roughly the same time he seems to have played the London little-magazine literary scene for all he could get out of it, and he moved to Italy. Once there, he became attracted to fascism and the Mussolini government, though characteristically, he was less an adherent of formal fascism than he was hopeful of converting Mussolini to his own views on usury and Social Credit. Surviving documents show Mussolini’s staff never took Pound seriously, though he was able to wangle a half-hour audience with Mussolini at one point (the Duce ended the meeting punctually).

However, Pound began writing extensively for the Italian papers on Social Credit. The papers always seemed to regard Pound as a curiosity and even something of a joke, and since Pound’s ability to speak and translate foreign languages has been widely overrated, they ran Pound’s pieces in broken Italian as he wrote them with no editing or corrections, emphasizing the view that the Italians never saw Pound as much more than a curiosity.

Then what happened?

Pound was captured at his home by Italian partisans, who apparently were under the impression that there was a price on Pound’s head. (The US Department of Justice had in fact indicted Pound for treason in absentia, but the Army had higher priorities.) Pound was taken to a US prison camp near Pisa, where he ingratiated himself with both the prisoners and the warden. Meanwhile, the Justice Department dithered over what to do with him, and the Army finally threatened to release Pound unless Justice took him off their hands.

Not competent

Pound’s mental state raised concerns almost from the time he came under Army custody in Italy after the Second World War. The problem wasn’t that he was “crazy” in a traditional sense, although everyone involved seems to have thought that psychiatrists needed to be consulted. The problem that emerged was whether he was competent to stand trial, which meant that he understood the nature of the charges against him and would be able to assist his attorneys in his defense.

Pound apparently wanted to represent himself, and his view of how he would do this was to bring the jury around to his position on Social Credit and usury. His main concern was whether he would have the strength to address them for the four hours he felt would be needed to do this. By this time, his own attorney, the Justice Department prosecutors, the judge in the case, and the psychiatrists who had examined him were unanimous that he wasn’t competent to stand trial.

As a result, the judge held a hearing in front of a jury. All the expert witnesses agreed that Pound wasn’t competent.

What was wrong?

Over the years of Pound’s stay in the mental hospital, the psychiatrists brought in various people who’d known him in the 1920s to see if they thought he’d changed. Interestingly, nobody thought he was any different from the way he’d been 20 or more years earlier. He tended to talk a blue streak, his attention span was short, he leapt from subject to subject, but if pressed, he could give intelligent, well-considered answers to questions. Nevertheless, he seemed unable to deal with practical details of life, especially including the details of defending himself against a treason charge. The people who ran the hospital began to suspect he was exactly where he’d always wanted to be.
In fact, there’s a kind of Catch-22 about Pound’s situation. If he had ordinary judgment and ability to deal with day-to-day life, he could likely have helped his attorneys get him acquitted on the treason charge. But if he’d had ordinary judgment and ability to deal with day-to-day life, he wouldn’t have gotten into the trouble that led to the treason charge in the first place. His radio broadcasts, after all, were mostly just silly. He had the Italians shaking their heads over why he’d risk the trouble he did indeed get into over something as useless as the broadcasts.

His release:

Pound’s release from St.Elizabeths in 1958 came about in part due to the fear that he might receive a Nobel Prize. (If he got the Bollingen poetry prize, why not?) This was perceived as a potentially embarrassing event to the US if Pound were still institutionalized when he received it. An alternate scenario, also perceived as embarrassing, was if Pound were to die while in the institution, although all indications are that Pound’s wife was happy with circumstances as they were (not least that his mistress was in Italy with Pound in the US); Pound had no particular wish to be released; and St.Elizabeths staff had seen no change in Pound’s overall dotty mental condition.

Archibald MacLeish drove this movement. He estimated, correctly, that after the 1956 election the second Eisenhower administration had no special political interest in keeping Pound institutionalized, while enough time had passed to let memories fade, and the consensus was that Pound had served his time for whatever it was he’d actually done.

Easter Weekend

I didn’t look at the college calendar correctly and I scheduled class for Easter weekend. But they close the college up. We’re supposed to start poetry this week. They actually want to have class. I need to call the library tomorrow and see if we can have class there. Otherwise they recommended IHOP. I don’t want to go there for class, though. I’m loud when I teach.

“I have sought for happiness everywhere, but I have found it nowhere except in a little corner with a little book.” Thomas A Kempis

Poetry Stuff

This would be a fun site to copy for class on poetry next semester.

July 20, 2004 is “The Five Stages of Poetry Reader Grief.” Love it.

Here for your amusement, are Joan Houlihan’s Five Stages of (Poetry) Reader Grief:

Given a reasonably intelligent reader, the default explanation for his or her not being able to understand even a smidgen of the poem cited seems to be that they have not been properly educated in the art of reading. Therefore, their reading takes a predictable course, one that follows Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief:

1. Denial

This stage is filled with disbelief and denial. You can’t believe someone seriously wrote these words and presented them as something worthy of your attention.

2. Anger/Resentment

Anger at the situation, the baffling words in front of you, the poet and his or her poem, perhaps others– reviewers, editors or book publishers–is common in this stage. You are angry at them all for causing the situation and for causing you pain.

3. Bargaining

You try to negotiate with yourself to change the experience of reading this poem. You see the poem as an isolated instance, something idiosyncratic and not likely to recur. You make deals with yourself to “work harder” and “read more” poems of this type, to “give them a chance” when you’re not so tired. You might bargain with God, “I’ll be a more disciplined and patient reader if you’ll just give me a hint as to what this one means.”

4. Depression

You realize the situation isn’t going to change. The poem happened, it was published, you will never understand it or why anyone sees value in it, and there is nothing you can do to change that. Acknowledgement of the situation often brings depression. This could be a quiet, withdrawn time.

5. Acceptance

Though you haven’t forgotten what happened, you are able to begin to move forward and approach another poem, try to begin again.


Today was the intro to poetry at the college. I am not sure that my class feels any less afraid of poetry than they used to. But at least they’ve heard/read some poems and have an idea what they mean.

The problem with poetry is that sometimes you have to read it more than once. Sometimes you have to know some history. Such as Who is Brother Lawrence? in order to read Browning’s “Soliloquoy in a Spanish Cloister.” Some archaic (old fashioned) language. What’s a mistress? (wife) What’s a maid? (virgin) …

Next week we’ll be reading another 12 poems, which they should already have covered in their own reading. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

We talked about possible final exam questions from the poems we read today.

And, because I didn’t think we got off Easter weekend, I have 2 sets of papers from each person to read and grade.

I had someone show up today who has been absent the last four classes. She hasn’t turned in or asked for the information for the last two papers. Why is she still coming to class? Of course, I had two folks show up who haven’t been to class in weeks. They did come with some of the papers though. One guy is missing the last paper and the one before it and he didn’t turn in his rewrite for his research paper. Sometimes you have to wonder. Wht are these people thinking?

Oh well.

Students, papers, Fs

(Kept private until 2008.)

I was grading my first essays for this semester this week. That just about killed my week. There is not a lot that is more of a bummer than a college essay with 72 marks against grammar on the first page. That was the first essay. The second essay wasn’t any better. I did finally get some decent papers, towards the end of the bunch. (I saved the ones from students I knew wrote well till later.)

I know some of my students are my age and older. But it is the younger students who seem unable to use their computers to do grammar and spell checking. I have one student who thinks that every time he pauses he needs a semi-colon. That’s going to be a tough habit to break.

The papers were a short story analysis. They had to read three Flannery O’Connor short stories and write on one or all three. They could pick which they wrote on. But they had to have quotes from the story in their paper. They did okay on the quoting part.

I actually had my last semester college kids write a process essay. They did fairly well on that one. Some of the other types were much harder.