Guillame Apollinaire, Un Terrible Boxeur
(translation: Terrible boxer boxing with his memories and his thousand desires.)
On (Poetry and) Boxing by Jennifer L. Grotz
I almost never remember who wins a fight. That is, I will for a week or two, but even two months later, I won’t. I am the same with novels, especially the ones I love most: I never remember the ending. This is not how my father watches sports — he remembers individual plays and highlights, he remembers dates, he remembers scores. I remember sensations and details, but not the useful ones. I remember the look of exhaustion on a boxer’s face in the corner between rounds, for instance. Or whether my own palms were sweaty by the end just from watching.
Oates hypothesizes that “the habitual attraction of serious writers to boxing […] is the sport’s systematic cultivation of pain in the interests of a project, a life-goal,” i.e. the publication of a poem or book. “That which is ‘public’ is but the final stage in a protracted, arduous, grueling, and frequently despairing period of preparation.” Wallace Stevens called poetry “a violence from within that protects us from a violence without,” that is, “something that presses back against the pressure of reality.”
Which brings me to the second thing that boxing has taught me as a poet, which is to acknowledge and honor what I often refer to as duality, but is more accurately understood in this context as drama. “Every talent must unfold itself in fighting,”Oates writes, quoting Nietzsche. ‘That which is creative must create itself,” I say, quoting Keats.
Sad; so sad, those smokey-rose, smokey-mauve evenings of late autumn, sad enough to pierce the heart. The sun departs the sky in winding sheets of gaudy cloud; anguish enters the city, a sense of the bitterest regret, a nostalgia for things we never knew, anguish of the turn of the year, the time of impotent yearning, the inconsolable season.
— Angela Carter, Black Venus
Me: Dad, I’m taking you out for our annual Father’s Day Giants game. Pick a game and tell me the date.
Dad: [gives list of game/dates]
Me: OK, how about ______ game?
Dad: Sounds good.
Me: OK, I’ll buy the tickets.
Dad: No, I’ll buy them.
Me: Dad! I’m treating you! No! You’re missing the point!
Dad: No. You always want to sit in the fancy seats, like your mother, with your fucking artisanal pretzels or whatever. I like to sit with the ruffians, the hooligans. I’m buying. Deal with it. Buy me a $2 hot dog and just let me holler. That’s all I need. Your mother never lets me eat hot dogs. Or holler.
How can it be described? How can any of it be described? The trip and the story of the trip are always two different things. The narrator is the one who has stayed home, but then, afterward, presses her mouth upon the traveler’s mouth, in order to make the mouth work, to make the mouth say, say, say. One cannot go to a place and speak of it; one cannot both see and say, not really. One can go, and upon returning make a lot of hand motions and indications with the arms. The mouth itself, working at the speed of light, at the eye’s instructions, is necessarily struck still; so fast, so much to report, it hangs open and dumb as a gutted bell. All that unsayable life! That’s where the narrator comes in. The narrator comes with her kisses and mimicry and tidying up. The narrator comes and makes a slow, fake song of the mouth’s eager devastation.
—“People Like That Are the Only People Here,” Lorrie Moore (via kelsfjord)
Every memorable class is a bit like a jazz composition. There is the basic melody that you work with. It is defined by the syllabus. But there is also a considerable measure of improvisation against that disciplining background. A truly memorable class, even a large one, is a collaboration between teacher and students. It’s a one-time-only event. Learning at its best is a collective enterprise, something we’ve known since Socrates.
Online education is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It tends to be a monologue and not a real dialogue. The Internet teacher, even one who responds to students via e-mail, can never have the immediacy of contact that the teacher on the scene can, with his sensitivity to unspoken moods and enthusiasms.
-Mark Edmunson, “The Trouble With Online Education”
I struggle with this. On one hand, I believe above else that an equal education should be available to all, and I think it’s excellent that educational institutions that were once notorious for their inaccessibility have opened their virtual doors.
But I’ve long hesitated over how effective I feel online education can truly be. I rarely teach the same class twice. I would argue that being able to teach a truly effective class amounts to 60% knowledge and 40% intuition and observation. And let me be clear what I mean by truly effective: not the ability of a student to be able to regurgitate an iteration of facts back to me on a midterm (I don’t have midterms, anyway), but to take what they are learning and apply it to their own lives, interests, passions. Otherwise the knowledge is useless. I’ve wasted your time. And I ask my students to tell me if they ever feel like I’m wasting their time. If I can’t prove to you why certain knowledge is essential, I have failed you, not the other way around. I’ve gotten rid of a number of assignments from semester to semester this way.
As Edmunson writes, teaching very much is the ability to read a room, and to let its energy flow in a natural direction. Any teacher worth their salt can tell you this changes on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. I love that no group of students is ever the same. It makes teaching never get old. Here is an example: one of the most popular courses I teach is The Literature of Sport. Firstly, I could never have taught this course without the immediate feedback and input of my students, most of whom are athletes taking this course because they think it will be “easy.” Based on whatever alchemy the classroom creates from its combinations of minds—and while I start from that “basic melody” that Edmunson mentions, I end up coming up with reading and assignments as we go—it dictates what we all become mutually fascinated with. Last semester my students were largely concerned with the social commentary of sports, this semester they are more interested in ethics, risks, the individual philosophies in extreme sports. This usually means I am reading from sports anthologies until midnight and on weekends, but you know what? In no other class that I’ve taught do I see such a rapid switch from “haven’t read a book in five years” to “can’t wait to write you an argumentative essay on why fighting is integral to hockey.” Witnessing that kind of transformation is addictive.
The longer I teach, the less I go into every class with a definitive, minute-by-minute lesson plan. In the early days of teaching, I worried how I would fill up time. I would overplan. I would talk too much. Now I know better. I walk in with the previously assigned reading, maybe some things to watch or look at. But I trust my students. I trust them to start the conversation. And I trust myself to improvise what comes next based on that conversation.
I worry that online education misses this improvisation by a long shot. I worry that it’s an incredibly passive form of learning. I worry that it’s for the “already dedicated” students, students who have the patience to watch a video of someone lecturing for an hour. Believe me when I tell you that this is not most students. I think the questions we should be asking are “Who are we trying to engage? And are we doing it as effectively as we can?”