Sunday, September 16, 2012

Freshman Composition

Freshman Composition in the 1350s?
Henricus de Alemannia Lecturing his Students
from Laurentius de Voltolina, 1350s

Thanks to my husband Gerry McCartney for this slide,
which he uses in his presentations to illustrate the challenges
of classroom instruction -- chatters, sleepers, daydreamers!
It was ever thus!

My freshmen
settle in. Achilles
sulks; Pascal consults
his watch; and true
Cordelia -- with her just - washed hair,

Stern - hearted princess, ready to defend
the meticulous garden of truths in her highschool notebook--
uncaps her ball point pen.
And the corridors drum:
give us a flourish,
flourescence of light, for the teachers come,

green and seasoned, bearers
of the Word, who differ
like its letters; there are some
so wise their eyes
are birdbites; one

a mad grinning gent with a golden tooth, God knows
he might be Pan, or the sub-
custodian; another
is a walking podium, dense
with his mystery -- high

priests and attaches
of the ministry; kindly
old women, like unfashionable watering places;
and the assuming young, rolled tight as a City

thought-salesmen with samples cases,
and saints upon whom
merely to gaze is like Sunday --
their rapt, bright,
cat-licked faces!

And the freshmen wait;
wait bristling, acned, glowing like a brand,
or easy, chatting, munching, muscles lax,
each in his chosen corner, and in each
a chosen corner.

Full of certainties and reasons,
or uncertainties and reasons,
full of reasons as a conch contains the sea,
they wait; for the term's first bell;
for another mismatched wrestle through the year;

for a teacher who's religious in his art,
a wizard of a sort, to call the role
and from mere names
cause people
to appear.

The best look like the swinging door
to the Opera just before
the Marx Brothers break through.
The worst -- debased,
on the back row,

as far as one can go
from speech --
are walls where childish scribbling's been erased;
are stones
to teach.

And I am paid to ask them questions:
Dare man proceed by need alone?
Did Esau like
his pottage?
Is any heart in order after Belsen?

And when one stops to think, I'll catch his heel,
put scissors to him, excavate his chest!
Watch, freshmen, for my words about the past
can make you turn your back. I wait to throw,
most foul, most foul, the future in your face.

by American Poet Barry Spacks (b. 1931)

For this poem & more on Freshman Composition
see my new blog post
"Back to School: A Scent of Knowledge"
on The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

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