Mar 8, 2009


Here are some topics for conversation. Feel free to introduce others.

If you're somewhat serious about contemporary poetry, do you prefer Richard Wilbur or C.K. Williams? Why? Karen Volkman or Sharon Olds? Why? Or pick any pair of poets to compare, especially if their sensibilities seem fairly different.

Is it reasonable to say that contemporary American poetry can be described according to the traditions created by Walt Whitman on the one hand and Emily Dickinson on the other?

Should I have been surprised--I was--to read recently that England's G.M. Hopkins thought highly of Whitman? (One source was Randall Jarrell; I don't recall the other).

What have you heard about the fairly new category of poetry, called Ultra-Talk? If so, do you understand it, and, at the risk of over-generalizing, what do you think of it? Is it a natural descendant of Whitman (and Wordsworth before him), along with our love affair with wit and irony?

Consider sports as tribalism, or even nationhood. Do you or should you care if a pro sports team somehow captures the character of its city? Or is winning the only realistic, reasonable concern? In your utopia, is it ordained that, no matter how good their quarterbacks and receivers are, the Steelers should be known for linebackers and tough running between the offensive tackles, while it's okay for the Cardinals, or Seahawks, or 49ers to be understood as a passing team--flashy and dramatic, but frilly and inconsistent?

Or shall we say, "As long as they win, it's OK"? Does that make us shallow? Desperate? Are we hanging our identity on a sports team that might not have a single player from our area, or whose style of play is at odds with our climate, topography, economy and politics, our way of being in the world?

What other larger issues are attached to football, baseball, or other sports?

Speaking of city identity apart from or including sports, let's say you can afford a vacation in only one of the following: Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati. Which do you choose and why?

How about those birds. Do you prefer the cardinal or the gold finch? Or one of the raptors (sounds like rapture)? Why? Is it their behavior? Their way of being beautiful? Their song or call? Whatever your answer, what does it say about you?

At your favorite diner, with, say, two people you know very well and two more you've just met, you're in the midst of a well-intentioned, philosophical bull session about "the way things are" or "why things are the way they are" or "how we got here from there." (Yes, that might all amount to the same question; I'm trying to expand the invitation).

In this setting, one person announces that he or she is a devout member of this or that religion, and the dialogue stops. The person of faith--let's call her/him Sally-Ted . . . . Sally-Ted has not overtly tried to convert others in the group, has not been abrasive or condescending, but has only said, "Well, I'm a ________, so I think and feel this way about that."

Can an open dialogue, including rational debate, continue? Why or Why not? And if you think well-intentioned debate can continue, can you explain how? What are a few of the steps the group would need to include to keep discussion going productively? (I thought of adding "a cordial way," but let's allow for some honest emotion, even if it's slightly uncomfortable--it could still be "well-intentioned" and "productive." Or could it?).

From the porch,
J Banjo

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