Where there’s emotion there’s poetry

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The media has been promoting poetry. On both sides of the water. In the US a piece called Still, Poetry Will Rise in The Atlantic claims Americans are seeking solace and wisdom in verse. The most popular poem last week was He Tells Her by Wendy Cope. A coincidence because this was already chosen for PoetryFeedHE. You can read it here. In the UK Words for Solace and Strength in the The Guardian suggested a page full of poems for people in times of stress. None of these appear in this weeks PoetryFeedHE. To have the coincidence twice over would be too much of an… er…well… coincidence.

Why do we turn to poetry in the first place?

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Wherever there’s emotion there will be poetry. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is recited at weddings. Canon Henry Scott-Holland’s Death is nothing at all at funerals. Poetry honours birth as in Sylvia Plath’s Morning Song and remembrance in Seamus Heaney’s Digging. Then there’s the fantastical Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, the alliterative Night Mail by W.H. Auden and bleakness like no other in Remembrance by Emily Bronte. Writing from the University of Hull, I have to include Philip Larkin so here is Aubade and An Arundel Tomb. All that is left of us is love.

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This week Leonard Cohen died. Many will have paused to recall thin tatty volumes of poems read by candle light and scratched LPs with achingly familiar covers. The voice, oh that voice, dragged across broken glass, late at night, thick blue smoke of french cigarettes and thin spirals rising from patchouli incense, the ashes falling dangerously onto the floor cushions. Songs of Leonard Cohen 1967. Songs of Love and Hate 1971. Music blurring the lines between poetry and song.

leonard-cohem-poems        leonard-cohen-songs

The news reminds us there will always be winners and losers. The world is built upon binary opposites; dark and light, sweet and sour, sickness and health. Sometimes we need one to appreciate the other.

Poetry mirrors life. Poems seek us out and present universal truths. They are hands to hold onto. Always there in hard copy of digital text, torn out, printed out, framed, slipped between the pages of albums and books. Then forgotten. We move on but the words remain. As the last line of Wendy Cope’s poem says The world goes on being round.

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then he gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind
And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him, and you want to travel blind
And you think you maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with her mind
Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river
She’s wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they wil lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds her mirror
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind

Songwriters: Leonard Cohen Suzanne lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Images from pixabay and amazon

TEL-People, language and poetry

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With regard to TEL-Tribes I’ve gone a bit anthropological. Not as in going back through the centuries because TEL-People are relatively new but other defining features of an anthropological study include physical characteristics, environmental and social relations, and above all, culture.

Two previous posts The Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL-People and Why don’t I speak French explored what it means to be afflicted blessed with the acronym TEL. The story continues and today’s post is about communication.

TEL people speak a number of languages.

There are layers of technology language starting with code and ending with Help-desk-speak. TEL-People might be positioned anywhere on this continuum. Then there are the languages of teaching and of how students learn from multiple perspectives i.e. staff who teach and support learning, everyone else and students themselves. TEL-People need to be multi-lingual and segue from one to another in chameleon fashion. The problem is how the language of technology tends to align to a positivist view of the world while everyone else tends towards more interpretative approaches.

Compare these.

  • Illegal object
  • Address violation
  • Bad Command
  • Abort – Retry – Fail

with

  • Well, it all depends what you mean by
    • technology enhanced learning
    • student engagement
    • pedagogic innovation
    • excellence in teaching

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Where language complicates issues the TEL-People can get caught up in the misunderstandings of others.  In a sector where words matter, there is a tendency for some to seek out a more obscure vocabulary in order to demonstrate their academic significance. At a time when more people than ever are being offered the opportunity to experience a higher education, should we not be seeking to simplify communication. rather than complexify  it.

There’s an art and a skill to clear writing. Not dumbing down but looking for ways to transmit messages unambiguously which don’t have the reader reaching for a dictionary or simply giving up. TEL-People tread a fine line between the binary approach of technology, black or white, yes or no, and the endless shades and permutations of educational research.

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Image by Simon Rae 

Academia is an environment which is always looking for new ways to say old things. On the CreativeHE Community this week  the topic is Exploring Creative Pedagogies and Learning Ecologies. One question asked was the difference between ‘pedagogies‘ and ‘ecologies‘ compared to ‘creative teaching methods‘ and ‘learning environments‘. As a TEL-Person I thought they were different ways of saying the same things. Crossing disciplines in my work I see this often. Maybe by re-framing what we already have in new sets of clothes we can encourage people to review and rethink what has gone before. Or maybe it just alienates. This is the problem with language. Meaning and interpretation are not always the same and when it comes to learning and teaching the TEL-People have to be at home within the full range of potential possibilities.

It’s not too far a leap from the elitism of words to poetry. Yes, TEL-People can be poets too…

School nearly killed verse for me.  Alexander Pope did not translate well to an inner city comprehensive.  The curriculum today is more contemporary but for too many people school was the beginning and the end of poetry for pleasure and fun.

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Sam Illingworth and I aim to change this. Every Friday lunch time we will be bringing you a poem to have with your sandwiches or chips. Subscribe to our site https://poetryfeedhe.wordpress.com or find us on Twitter #poetryfeedHE for opportunities to read, reflect and share your thoughts. Yes, PoetryfeedHE begins today.

‘You could do much worse than have lunch with a verse.’

We hope you’re hungry!

The VLE and Machines of Loving Grace #nationalpoetryday

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Yesterday was #nationalpoetryday. When I think the digital in the poetry world it’s Richard Brautigan’s All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace which comes to mind. Brautigan offers a vision of a cybernetic future from 1997. This is the year  the report from the Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Higher Education was published. In Brautignan’s cybernetic ecology, machines have freed us from labour and watch us live the Utopian dream. In the Dearing Report, the VLE represented a more efficient and effective future, internationalizing higher education, reaching the parts people couldn’t reach, crossing traditional barriers of time and distance and so on and on and on…

It didn’t really happen did it?

The internet bought us the global village as predicted by McLuhan at a time when television represented cutting edge technology. Now we have the internet. Social media has given a voice to everyone with access. VLE have revolutionised higher education – or maybe not.

In Our Digital Capabilities Journey Kerry Pinny describes a 25% response rate to the Jisc Discovery Tool at her university. When I piloted this self-diagnostic digital capabilities tool earlier this year, a professional services department achieved over 80% response rate (not the TEL-Team or ICT I hasten to add) whereas a Faculty scored so low it was meaningless. 25% would have been a dream. Kerry asks how to reach the other 75%. I wonder this too. The V in VLE seems to have passed so many people by.

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

Liz Bennett @LizBennett1 and Sue Folley @SueFolley from the University of Huddersfield facilitated a D4 Learning Design workshop at Hull this week. The focus was digital capabilities but in a covert, through the back door, approach. Using Appreciative Inquiry and focusing positive rather than negative or deficit thinking, we constructed learning activities which blended face-to-face and online interaction. Inevitably the discussion turned to VLE adoption and the question of reaching the unreachables. I’m never sure whether to laugh and cry at how we need subterfuge to trap people into dealing with VLE but was also struck by Sue’s comment that everyone across the sector has the same problem.

Its nearly 20 years since the Dearing Report. What ever we’ve been doing, in that time it isn’t working.

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Both Dearing’s Committee and poet Brautigan saw technology as the future. Well, the future has arrived and I don’t see the VLE as having made a great deal of difference. There are pockets of excellent practice but overall the dominant model of use remains a digital despository document. Video may be more prevalent but ultimately it’s supplemented read this with watch this. How about do something with this instead?

Postmodernism is vanishing into the wings. Learning analytics is stepping centre stage, bringing Big Data with all its positivist baggage of targets, metrics and ranking with it. SCoT also seems in danger of disappearing. The Social Construction of Technology suggested the development of machines was dependent on the people who used them. The potential of the machine for change was not enough. In the 1960’s, McLuhan told us how new technology would replicate existing practice and in the 1980’s Bijker and Pinch were predicting new technologies would not determine human action but be shaped by it instead.

If a higher education is the passive transmission of knowledge, memorised and regurgitated for assessment, the VLE is perfect. We have made it into what we want it to be.

The question is – where do we go from here?

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All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.


Image sources