Archive for February, 2008

A Rhetoric for Lovers draft I

I don’t quite know what to do with this poem. Maybe after a few revisions it will be worth sending out. I hope you all like it.

A Rhetoric for Lovers


This evening I want to call you and hear
        you tell me about the small things
that happened in your day. I fail
        to see why I shouldn’t, but as yet
I have not picked up the phone.


I mean, we know each other well enough
        after a few dates that I really shouldn’t
worry about it. If you don’t
        want to go out, you won’t go out.
But love is so hard these days
        and so easy to scare someone away.


I should like to point out to you
        that I think we would both find
a night spent together to be
        both good and advantageous;
though I suppose that this fact
        will have to be taken on trust.


What is the point, my love,
        when strangers are making it
in dark corners, and troubled
        youths are fingering their triggers,
and suicide bombers are wrapping
        themselves in the dark, secret
love of their righteous death,
        of the two of us sleeping alone?


So i hope that when you hear
        your phone ring, you will
pick it up, and tell me how to
        know you. Although, as yet,
I have not dialed your number.



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Last weekend I went to the zoo with some very lovely ladies. It was nice to have a date. It was nice to see the animals. But those of you who have been to Brookfield Zoo all know what the real attraction is. Of course I’m talking about the Mold-A-Rama machines.

The Mold-A-Rama is a cool old machine that makes little plastic statues while you stand there and watch it happen. I don’t think that I can accurately convey the joy that one of these machines can bring to the human heart. You put your money in. You press the button and watch as the hydraulic mechanism pushes the two halves of the mold together. The machine makes a whirring sound. The air is filled with a cloying scent as the molten plastic is injected into the mold. After about three quarters of a minute, the mold separates and your beautiful Mold-A-Rama sculpture is dropped into the tray where you can retrieve it, still hot, into your own hands.

Many things in life turn out to be less than promised. But the Mold-A-Rama has never failed to make my heart sing with the pure, clean, joy of melted plastic.


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Well, as most of you probably know, five students were killed on the 14th at NIU, in the building next to mine. None of my students were killed, for which I am extremely happy. I’ve already lost one student this year to a car accident and I do not wish to ever repeat the experience if I can avoid it. Tomorrow I will see my students for the first time since the attack.

I don’t have anything much interesting to say about the attack. Except that I hope they put the shooter’s girlfriend (who talked him out of taking his medication) in prison for impersonating a human being.

I think that my feelings about the tragedy are best expressed in the words of the WWII era song “Wartime Lullaby,” as sung by Elton Britt. The lyrics are not really relevant but the sentiment express my feelings, so I will print them here.

to the tune of Away in a Manger

Hush thee my baby, lie still in my arms
safe from the terror of war’s great alarm.
Nestle up close to thy mother’s warm breast.
Sleep little baby and hush thee to rest.

Hark the swift planes flying through the blue sky
where daddy is keeping his vigil on high.
Lie close to thy mother, my baby my dear.
Soon the glad signal will sound the all clear.

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Valentines Day: a poem

Valentines Day

Saturday. The dentist. I was paying
my bill when the girl at the counter
was given a bunch of red roses.
This made me think of you;

how the red petals were like
the red highlights in your lovely
hair; how they made the room
swing and how they belonged
wherever they had been placed.

Then I wanted to send you flowers
and I suppose a romantic guy
would have found a way
to get your address and surprise you
with them, but I didn’t do that.

So instead I just wrote you
this poem and I hope you manage
to stay warm on the fourteenth
which, I am fairly certain, is going
to be a cold day in February.

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At least once a week, when I am at Northern Illinois University, and on my way to teach English composition, I am stopped in the hallway by a confused student who is looking for a certain room in “reevous” hall. The first few times this happened, it didn’t strike me as anything special. But after I got comfortable and began to think of the English building as my home away from home, I began to wonder about its history.

Reavis Hall (pronounced “rev-us”) is named after the influential educator, William Claude Reavis, who lived from 1881-1955. Mr. Reavis began his career as a teacher in rural Indiana and eventually became a professor of education at University of Chicago. Reavis published a number of books on educational administration, including The Elementary School, its Organization and Administration, and War and Post-War Responsibilities of American Schools.

As Chairman of the commission on appointments and field services, Reavis showed a high level of competence. When Illinois school district 158 hired him in 1949 to survey the north side of Lansing in order to determine the feasibility of a new school, he not only did this effectively, but also accurately predicted what the level of enrollment would be in 1960 to within eight students. There are a number of schools named after Mr. Reavis. Most notable of these is Reavis High School, in Burbank IL. as well as endowments and fellowships for people majoring in education administration

In the course of my research I learned that when Reavis Hall opened its doors in 1957, my own mother was one of the first students to attend classes within its walls. At that time, Reavis Hall fostered both English and Education classes.

Northern Illinois University was a great deal smaller in 1957, than it is now. According to my mother, the newly built Reavis Hall was on the outskirts of the campus. To get from Altgeld Hall, which housed classrooms back then and not administration offices, students had to cross what my mother describes as “a frozen tundra.” With no stadium or residence halls on the opposite side of Anne Glidden Road, the prevailing winds could pretty much roam freely from the Rocky Mountains until they got to Reavis. According to my mother, it was a real project to get there and students had to be very careful in bad weather, lest they get blown over on their way.

In fact, when Reavis Hall was built, the Kishwaukee river flowed east of Altgeld hall. It has since been diverted to run past Reavis.

Today Reavis Hall is no longer on the outskirts. Since 1957, the NIU campus has expanded to the point that Reavis is closer to the center than the outside. The intervening space between it and Altgeld has been more or less completely filled. With the construction of the Holmes Student Center, Founders Library, Zulaft Hall, and any number of smaller buildings, students can now reach Reavis without trekking across an open plain. The Convocation Center, Lincoln and Douglas residence halls, and of course the Stevenson building all serve to mitigate some of the wind that threatened to knock over my mother and her classmates.

Although the building is now fifty-one years old, Reavis is still much in use today. As the central hub for the First Year Composition program, Reavis Hall is visited by nearly every student that attends the university. Both undergraduate and graduate level English classes are held every day of the week in its “smart” computerized classrooms. Every spring, Reavis Hall hosts the Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media, which attracts presenters from all over the country. In addition, Reavis is used for various community activities such as the Muggle Academy for Jr. high and high-school students to enjoy the richness that literature has to offer.

Just last year all of the windows were replaced with more efficient and prettier looking tinted windows. Reavis is now warm in winter and cool in summer instead of the other way around. In addition to that, a number of the smart classrooms were recently upgraded with Sympodiums, which are a next-generation computer that allows instructors to write directly on the screen and save their notes. Reavis Hall may be a little aged, but it certainly isn’t too old.

The recent upgrades will insure that the building is capable of providing service to students and teachers for a number of generations to come. Plans may be in the works to add Reavis to the list of buildings with wireless internet capability. There are still a few classrooms that are not smart, due to the fact that a number of professors prefer a more traditional feel for their room. As time passes, however, these will probably become upgraded as well.

Because I lack the aptitude for educational administration possessed by the man after whom the building is named, I find it hard to tell exactly what the future is going to hold for Reavis Hall. However, two things are likely to remain constant. Reavis Hall will continue to provide opportunities for students and teachers to interact in a comfortable atmosphere, and undergraduates will most likely continue to mispronounce the name.

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Ok. So I got up early and immediately downloaded Detours from iTunes. Now I have listened to it once and am going for a second listen.

The Good

It doesn’t sound like rehashed seventies pop-songs (a la songs like Steve Mcqueen or Hard to Make a Stand). This is a major improvement over her last few albums. Also Bill Bottrell’s arrangements are significantly less stupid and less bubble-gummy than the stuff on C’mon C’mon. So I really like that. It doesn’t sound as unique as Tuesday Night Music Club, but I can live with that. This is definitely a move in the right direction for an artist who has played it  safe for too long.

The Bad

Compliments aside, this album has one significant problem: too many of the lyrics sound like teenage girl poetry. These songs are full of big concepts with very little detail. For example, the opening lyrics of Make it Go Away: “I stare into / some great abyss / and calculate / the things I’d miss” I mean what exactly am I supposed to do with that, wear black lipstick and tell my parents that they just don’t understand me?

The Ugly

There’s nothing ugly about Sheryl Crow. She’s the most beautiful woman on Earth.

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Sheryl Crow’s new album Detours comes out next Tuesday and I am going to get it off of iTunes as early as humanly possible. Normally I wouldn’t care much. You see, I’ve hated Sheryl Crow’s music ever since her second album came out, but if the single is any indication, this is going to be a good album.

When Tuesday Night Music Club came out, I was totally blown away. Here was a music that expressed the bittersweet way I looked at the world. A song like Can’t Cry Anymore is incredible in the way it combines a profound sadness with a hopeful outlook and a certain amount of gallows humor. Every song on that album is a work of art as profound as a Van Gogh painting.

Nearly everything she has released since then has been complete tripe. Ms. Crow has released album after album of rehashed seventies songs that show nothing of the promise of that first album. Every time a new cd was released I would buy it thinking maybe, just maybe…. but no.  It’s depressing. I mean I don’t think about it every day or anything, but there is a tiny part of my soul that has been profoundly sad ever since I heard the opening notes of Maybe Angels. It’s not a bad song.

None of her music is bad. In fact, even her worst album (c’mon c’mon in my opinion) is actually quite good. The thing is, any schmuk could write that music. It’s all so obviously commercial that at some point it starts to sound like the fucking partridge family. I wanted to hear music that was promised by her first album.

Which is why I got so excited this morning when I downloaded her new single, love is free. Something about it just sounds both slightly less commercial and more profound at the same time. Let’s face it, Sheryl Crow could record the chicken dance and it would sell a million copies. So she doesn’t need to worry about writing “sellable” hits any more.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and hope that the new album lives up to the promise of the single as well as the promise of her, now fifteen year old debut.

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