Sunday, July 13, 2014

Changing the world - week 3

It's been quite difficult for me to blog about the Coursera How to Change the World course I'm doing, for a number of reasons.  The first is that the problems and issues that we're exploring are vast and complex, and covering social goods, poverty, climate change, disease and health care, women;s rights, education and social change in seven weeks is rushed, and at times, feels superficial.  Another is that every time I learn something new, I'm ashamed that I didn't already know it. The world is a small place these days and if my neighbour is suffering, and I can help, I should make it my business.

My son tells me I don't need a university course - I should just spend a few hours on Tumblr, and I've done that and will continue to do so, but there's something to be said for having a formal, well-thought through structure for self-education, and for allowing some time (no matter what else is happening) to read carefully (rather than scan), think through that reading, and then, in a curated way, applying it to a local context where a little effort can actually make a significant positive difference.  How to Change the World is very thoughtfully curated, and despite the grandiose title, Michael S Roth approaches the issues carefully and humbly, acknowledging that he's learning along with us, and always allowing local and engaged activists to have the final say and present an insider perspective using a variety of media, and encouraging students to use a variety of tactics and media in the assignments. This week we've focused primarily on climate change, and though I well knew about the inherent challenges of our changing climate, the course has encouraged me to take a positive approach and to see every thing that I can do, whether it's as simple as assessing and then finding ways to decrease my own (fairly considerable, it turns out) footprint, or getting more broadly involved in sustainability projects, as valuable.  Every week I've begun by thinking "this is an issue that is particularly important to me."  This week, which is no exception, is Disease and Global Health Care, and I look forward to watching the videos, delving into the readings, and then applying the learning in a way that is relevant to my life and uses my capabilities.  It may be small, and a little superficial. I can't deny that I'm still ashamed about that.  But doing nothing or becoming overwhelmed is no solution to shame.  I have to start somewhere, sometime, and here, and now, seems to me to be right. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Poetry Monday: Czesław Miłosz

It must have been some 30 years ago when I went to hear Czesław Miłosz read his work in New Jersey at Princeton.  What I remember most was the intensity of his gaze, the way he lost himself in his words as he read, and power that resided as an undercurrent to the simplicity of his words (especially in light of the literary pyrotechnics I was usually drawn to at the time). It was a relaxing evening, involving, if I recall correctly (memory being entirely unreliable), wine, cheese and very little intimidation or pomposity, in spite of the grandeur of our surroundings and the size of the audience, given Miłosz' fame at the time. I've just re-encountered him and the poem below, through a course at the University of Iowa titled How Writers Write Poetry which I couldn't resist checking out (did I mention how easily distracted I am at the moment?) - you can still jump in - this one is totally ungraded.  The workshops have already spurned several new poems, as has my other MOOC course through Coursera How to Change the World, which I'll be posting on shortly if I can find a moment to summarise my thoughts between all the readings.  For now though, here's are a few of my favourite Miłosz poems courtesy of the Poetry Foundation to start the week. 


Ars Poetica:


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for July is out

The Compulsive Reader Newsletter for July has now gone out.  According to my reports, they have all been delivered, but if, for some reason, you don't have yours (or you want to preview before subscribing), just drop by our archive here for a copy:
Compulsive Reader News July

The newsletter this month has the usual bunch of reviews and interviews including Elizabeth Gilbert, Christos Tsiolklas, Sheila Kohler and lots more, as well as all the latest literary news, and three great giveaways (including some things you just can't buy).  If you aren't a subscriber, it's free, we only send out newsletters once a month, and you can sign up in a few seconds at the Compulsive Reader site:


Monday, June 30, 2014

Poetry Monday: Radiance at the podcast

A few weeks ago, I featured Andy Kissane's Radiance here on Poetry Monday, and as a follow-on to that, I invited Andy to drop by The Compulsive Reader Talks to read from his book and chat to me about the poems. Rather than send you over the show, I thought I'd bring the show to you, so here it is.  I think you'll enjoy it. Andy was a charming guest, and his readings particularly vivid. 
If you'd like to read the full review of Radiance, you can check that out here:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On Changing the World

I've just started Wesleyan University's How to Change the World course on Coursera.  Why?  Because I'm actually overloaded at my day job at the moment, in the midst of writing a difficult, troubled novel with a structural issue that needs resolving, working on a few long poems, and managing my family's busy, sometimes chaotic life (not always in that order).  Is that a good reason?  Probably not.  I should be cutting back, not taking more on, but you know, I think there's an argument in there about doing the counter-intuitive thing.  It's like taking time to meditate when you're so stressed and busy that brushing your hair seems like an unwarranted luxury.  I mean not everything I've been doing has been giving me emotional satisfaction, and thinking about the bigger picture and actually taking a little time to reflect always seems to improve my productivity.  Or maybe I'm just rationalising how easy it is to distract me at the moment.  

Actually I was about to press the "un-enroll" button when I decided to just have a quick look at the syllabus first, and before I knew it, I'd already gotten through the first 3 readings, watched the videos and become completely engrossed.  I'm ready to begin applying this kind of thinking to whatever else I'm doing - to energise me a little bit about all those other projects.  First topic is "Social Goods and the Commons".  This is a subject that holds endless fascination for me, both in terms of shared physical spaces (I have a few local ones in mind), and in terms of creative commons or collaborative work.  I'm excited about the very practical and relevant nature of the first assignment, and the way Michael S Roth, president of Wesleyan and also the course developer and primary teacher, has designed the course to allow the 200,000 (!) students taking it to align the notion of making a positive difference in the world with our own aesthetics and skills.  I've done this kind of thing (a MOOC if you like acronyms) before (notably ModPo - just look it up on my blog here for a week by week gush) and it's a perfect example of social goods and creative commons.  One of the readings which drew me straight in was this interview with the amazing Lewis Hyde, whose book The Gift moved me many years ago, and still provides a beautifully written treatise on what it means to create art (or as Atwood put it: "how to maintain yourself alive in a world of money, when the essential part of what you do cannot be bought or sold").  I can't swear that I'll do this course as fully as I'd like.  Depending on my workload I might dip in and out and just do the readings at night instead of reading a new novel (sorry to everyone who is waiting on a review...).  But what I will try to do is to share (pass on, as is appropriate for this kind of gift) the nuggets of insight that I might gain. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Poetry Monday: Andy Kissane

I really wasn't intending on reading Andy Kissane's Radiance for a while.  I'm in the middle of a few other books (including quite a challenging poetry book that is absorbing my attention), but since Kissane queried me himself, and since the book was published by Puncher & Wattmann, a local house that I respect greatly, I thought I'd just give it a quick leaf through (something I often do with new books - almost a reflex action). Before I knew it I was hooked and pushed everything else aside. There are a few reasons for that.  The first is that the poetry is actually very easy to read and drew me in immediately.  I'm not saying that poetry necessarily should be easy - I'm  not afraid of a literary challenge, but it's been a particularly hard couple of weeks, I'm a little tired, and I found the ease in Radiance appealing, especially since the accessibility didn't diminish the depth or power of this work in any way.  Another reason is the humour.  This work is wry.  I was really smiling, especially since the humour didn't diminish the pathos.  Finally (not really finally, because there are lots more things to say...), the work was meta-poetic, self-referential, and modern without losing its link with a strong poetic tradition.  I particularly like the work in Section II (what I've taken to calling "Oatmeal" because of its epitaph), some of which collectively shortlisted for the 2011 Newcastle Poetry Prize.

So far I've been unable to resist reading out loud (to the poor folk who have to live with me) "The Lost Ode of John Keats", "The Catch", and "Three Visions of Virginia Woolf."  If you happen to be in my vicinity, "Political Fruit" is most likely going to come spouting out next.  Fair warning.  Here's a tiny taste from "Rhubarb", which won Kissane the 2012 Coriole National Wine Poetry Prize.  More soon. 

Stewed with apples you give life to cereal,
you populate pies, you fold through whipped
cream with the swirling intelligence of a fool.

Is that why when we've nothing to say,
when we need to fill the air with dramatic chatter,
we utter your name: rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Compulsive Reader Newsletter out for June

In case it's still sitting in your spam box, or en route - it takes a day or two for all 10,000 of them to go out, the June Compulsive Reader newsletter has just gone out (mate, it's June here in Aus) and you can grab a copy from the archive here:

This month we've got a great batch of new reviews (and more still on site - I only include 10 in the newsletter but there are about 20 new ones since last month!), lots of literary news including the  Arthur C. Clarke Award winner, the RSL Ondaatje Prize finalists, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and many others, 3 new book giveaways (I love giving away books, even my own dogeared favourites - for reasons I don't entirely understand), and a link to the new podcast interview with Carmel Macdonald Grahame (and yes, you can get there by just clicking on Carmel's name here).  If you're not a subscriber, well, just become one - it's free and pretty simple.  Just drop by and put your email and name in - I don't ask for any other details and don't use the email address for anything other than the monthly newsletters - no one else will get your details either and you can unsub anytime.