Room for Debate recently rounded up (NYT) writers’ thoughts on why poetry matters. Sandra Beasley’s response (NYT):
“Does poetry matter?” Yes. No one watching a competitive slam by students would doubt it. Every elegy drafted for President Lincoln “mattered,” even the trite or amateurish ones. Elegies by Walt Whitman, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes and Stanley Kunitz mattered then, and have since endured.
What’s at question is poetry’s vaunted status above other artistic disciplines. “It’s poetry and power all the way!,” President Kennedy wrote to Robert Frost, after Frost spoke at his inauguration. He didn’t write “It’s ballet and power all the way!” and it’s probably for the same reason we do not have a Sculptor Laureate.
But Jonathan Farmer found some of the odes to poetics a tad overwrought:
You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.
Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann investigates how culture affects people’s experience of schizophrenia:
[S]he interviewed adults with schizophrenia who live in three different places: Chennai, India, Accra, Ghana, and San Mateo, California. She asked each person to describe his or her auditory hallucinations—how many voices they heard, what the voices said, where they felt the voices were coming from.
Luhrmann found many similarities across the three cultures, but also some important differences. The people from Ghana and India generally found hearing voices to be a positive experience, describing the voices as benign and playful, involving sex, or as spiritual encounters. The 20 people interviewed in California expressed opposite sentiments, describing the voices as angry, hateful, noisy, and violent. One American subject described the voices as giving directions “like torturing people, to take their eye out with a fork, or cut someone’s head and drink their blood, really nasty stuff.”
The differences across cultures, Luhrmann argues, can be explained by several factors. In India and Ghana, people were more likely to hear what they thought of as voices of family members, while in the U.S., schizophrenics tended to regard the voices as strangers, which made them more threatening. She thinks this could reflect differences in family structure—extended families are tighter in Ghana and India than they are here, where we’re more likely to live alone.
A new project collects artistic renderings of computer viruses:
Inspired by the “dark side of computing,” Amsterdam-based designer Bas van de Poel has launched an illustrated online guide to some of the world’s most destructive computer viruses.
The Computer Virus Catalog charts twenty viruses dating from the 1960s to the present day. Some are fairly harmless – from an animated worm wishing users Happy New Year and one which triggers lichen-inspired visuals when keyboards are inactive – while others have wiped out entire hard drives and caused billions of dollars in damage.
“Luckily, I never got infected by any of these viruses myself,” de Poel told me. “However, I did got affected by the stories behind some of these viruses. The moment I found out that the disastrous Melissa virus is named after the author’s favorite exotic dancer, I knew I wanted to explore this dark side of computing creatively.”
(Image: LSD, illustrated by Clay Hickson, overwrites computer users files’ before displaying a hallucinogeic-inspired video)
Ron Padgett is a master of scale, adept at tiny poems, long poems, and prose poems, too. Here are two from his recent Collected Poems, published by Coffee House Press and winner of both the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The first is titled “Song”:
Learning to write,
be a good person and get to heaven
are all the same thing,
but trying to do them all at once is enough to drive you crazy
The second is “Poem”:
Trade places with an animal?
Have a muskrat read my books
while I scuttle through the woods in terror?
Padgett has many admirers among poets, among them John Ashbery, Thomas Lux, Alice Notley, Charles Simic (“As is often the case, leave it to the comic writer to best convey our tragic predicament.”), and Tom Clark (“These poems mingle the nervy sophistication and cosmopolitan experimentalism of a thriving international avant-garde art tradition with a kind of hillbilly twang that’s unmistakably American.”).
It’s the tenderness and the whimsy that captivate me.
“Glow” by Ron Padgett:
When I wake up earlier than you and you
are turned to face me, face
on the pillow and hair spread around,
I take a chance and stare at you,
amazed in love and afraid
that you might open your eyes and have
the daylights scared out of you.
But maybe with the daylights gone
you’d see how much my chest and head
implode for you, their voices trapped
inside like unborn children fearing
they will never see the light of day.
The opening in the wall now dimly glows
its rainy blue and gray. I tie my shoes
and go downstairs to put the coffee on.
That’s the call from the scientists at this year’s International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia:
According to new research — a series of seven studies recently published in the Lancet medical journal — scientists estimate that HIV infection rates among sex workers could be reduced by between 33 and 46 percent if the activity were not illegal. “Governments and policymakers can no longer ignore the evidence,” asserted Kate Shannon, an associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and the lead author of the study. The research, conducted in Kenya, India, and Canada, found that high rates of violence against sex workers, police harassment, and poor working conditions — all circumstances exacerbated by sex work’s illegal status — combined with lack of access to HIV prevention and care significantly increased the risk of infection among sex workers. According to recent data from the World Health Organization, female sex workers are 14 times as likely to have HIV as other women, yet fear of arrest and stigma often prevents them from seeking medical care. (A Kenyan woman quoted in the study added that when doctors at the health center she visited realized she was a sex worker, she was denied treatment.)
In a report issued earlier this month on how to combat HIV transmission in high-risk populations, the World Health Organization said the same:
What unites these groups is that their activities are either illegal or heavily stigmatized in many parts of the world. That means that they are unlikely to seek out medical help or advice simply because they don’t want to be arrested for being gay or having sex for money. In the case of adolescents, many live in countries where they need parental permission to get birth control or medical care. So they, too, must hide their activities from doctors to avoid being “turned in” to their parents.
Have smartphones and Facebook ended the golden age of the spy novel? Charles Cumming worries that it “may be that technology strips the spy of mystique”:
Once upon a time, spies like [John le Carré's] Alec Leamas could move across borders with ease. Passports were not biometric, photographs were not sealed under laminate, and there were no retinal scanners at airports (which, incidentally, can’t be fooled by fitting a glass eye or wearing contact lenses manufactured by ‘Q’ branch). … Nowadays, travelling “under alias” has become all but impossible. If, for example, an MI6 officer goes to Moscow and tries to pass himself off as an advertising executive, he’d better make sure that his online banking and telephone records look authentic; that his Facebook page and Twitter feeds are up to date; and that colleagues from earlier periods in his phantom career can remember him when they are contacted out of the blue by an FSB analyst who has tracked them down via LinkedIn. The moment the officer falls under suspicion, his online history will be minutely scrutinised. If the contacts book on his Gmail account looks wrong, or his text messages are out of character, his entire false identity will start to fall apart.
“All of this has affected storytelling,” continues Cumming, who describes how he circumvented the issue as a novelist himself:
One of the most vivid arithmetic failings displayed by Americans occurred in the early 1980s, when the A&W restaurant chain released a new hamburger to rival the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. With a third-pound of beef, the A&W burger had more meat than the Quarter Pounder; in taste tests, customers preferred A&W’s burger. And it was less expensive. A lavish A&W television and radio marketing campaign cited these benefits. Yet instead of leaping at the great value, customers snubbed it.
Only when the company held customer focus groups did it become clear why. The Third Pounder presented the American public with a test in fractions. And we failed. Misunderstanding the value of one-third, customers believed they were being overcharged. Why, they asked the researchers, should they pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as they did for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald’s? The “4″ in “¼,” larger than the “3″ in “⅓,” led them astray.