Wednesday, May 24, 2006

death in the arts

Stanley Kunitz

Stanley Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905. He attended Harvard College, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1926 and a master's degree in 1927. He served in the Army in World War II, after a request for conscientious objector status was denied. Following the war, he began teaching, first at Bennington College in Vermont, and later at universities including Columbia, Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, and the University of Washington.

About his own work, Kunitz has said: "The poem comes in the form of a blessing—'like rapture breaking on the mind,' as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life."

Kunitz was deeply committed to fostering community among artists, and was a founder of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Poets House in New York City. Together with his wife, the painter Elise Asher, he split his time between New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts.

He died at the age of 100 on May 14, 2006.

The Long Boat
When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

So why am I writting about a dead poet today, its not one of the 'big' issues? I guess because today it seemed symbolic of the death of the arts. Things like music, art, literature, and yes poetry, are seen as the frivous extras in life - certainly in education. I am fortunate to live where my children can attend 'excellent' schools in the country, yet by the time the come to middle school, Art becomes an extra, Music you can take at the loss of "real" class time and the 'important' subjects are stressed.

Yet its been shown over and over that early music education improves a child's ability to understand mathematics, art study as well. This also follows the brain developement of a child. When a child starts school its the right brain that is developing - it needs to be feed a love of music, shown art, have stories read to it to nurture and feed its developement. The right brain is about larger concents, imagination - it is not about letter memorization, math fact regurgitation and reading ability. Those are the domain of the left brain which doesn't start developing till your average child is 9years old or in grade 4. So what does this mean about the typical child's education? We do it backwards. Instead of forcing letter recognition, math facts and so on down their throats at earier and earier ages we should be showing them spacial math in music, in the compostion of a painting, teach them to love words by reading to them good stories - feed that right brain. Later when the left brain is developing and these foundations have been laid is the ideal time to teach symbols, facts and memorization.

But in our competitive society putting off math facts for art and music, letter recognition for literature and poetry would be considered insane. There is no way to prove your child is better, no state test to evaluate progress - and sadly this will always be so.

My youngest will be 9 in July and has struggled with reading and math - and is even in the 'special help' program in her school. I've always been very active my children's education, but I must say I never really did any of the 'phonic games' that came home - I just kept reading to her (we have about 600 children's/youth books in the house and I unhooked the TV). She is now reading at an "appropriate" grade level and is writting her own "books" (jam-packed with spelling errors, but I can read them). I never worried too much. Just as a never paid any attention when the kingergarten teacher worried about handwritting and 'not colouring inside the lines'. I put the pictures in frames on the walls and bought more art supplies that let them draw their own lines.

Am I raising artists and writers? Maybe, maybe not. One of the highest entrance success to medical school undergrad programs is a degree in music.

On Mother's Day my youngest wouldn't show me the "prescribed art gift" she had made in art. She was furious with it - she had been told there was only one way to do it and that was it. Drawing inbetween the lines again. We are scrapping it (although I think its very beautiful) and she is going to show me what she wanted to paint.

One of a my kids favourite poetry books is one of mine from childhood and Alligator Pie is still our favourite. Its by Canadian Children's Poet, Dennis Lee...

Alligator Pie

Alligator pie, alligator pie,
If I don't get some I think I'm gonna die.
Give away the green grass, give away the sky,
But don't give away my alligator pie.

Alligator stew, alligator stew,
If I don't get some I don't know what I'll do.
Give away my furry hat, give away my shoe,
But don't give away my alligator stew.

Alligator soup, alligator soup,
If I don't get some I think I'm gonna droop.
Give away my hockey stick, give away my hoop,
But don't give away my alligator soup.

feel free to add your own verses. . . . .


glenda said...

Hi, wandering day...So many parents don't even give their children's education another thought...loved the poems, especially the floating away in the boat, metaphor so for much in lfe.

Callooh said...

it is, isn't it - reminds me of another poem - The Journey, by Mary Oliver.

our children are so important, and I don't just mean my own, its frightening how fast they are 'grown up' now, and if its not unchecked consumerism in the west, its child labour elsewhere - and from these teachings come our future leaders... okay stepping off of the soap box now...

(my own kids call me lecture mouth when I really get going...)

Lenren said...

Loved the poems...just checking in, hope eveything is going alright! :) Amber

Callooh said...

Things are a smooth as they get ;-)

2 birthdays this week (am now the mother of a teenager!) my daughter turned 13 and my son 11 - my little one has to wait till July, poor thing....

I've been able to recite Alligator Pie since I was about 10 myself, and now my kids can, kinda cool....

thanks for checking in!
- ann

Sothis said...

Hey, so two good things came out of Worcester! (I was born there, too. I've always called it the "armpit of America." Avoid it if you can.)

It is sad about schools dropping art, music, and most anything creative. I remember having to choose between art and an extra science class. Even though my art teacher said I had talent, I went with an Advanced Bio class. I still wish I would have taken the art class.

At least I had a choice. I still wonder how art and music can be dumped but how sports at the high school level can get so much emphasis. Art, poetry, and music are usually commentary on the age in which they were produced. As so little flourishes today, what will that say about us 100 or 1000 years from now?

Callooh said...

I too choose science... but my dad gave me private art lessons on the side, I was very fortunate that way - I think he was secretly disappointed when I went for a science degree instead of an art one, but who knows. I thought I would be pleasing everyone, but ended up just disappointing myself. sigh.

Trying to pick this stuff up now, its a little tricky, but worth it I think (hope)....

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