Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Assigned listening at the University of Florida

The good news: two of our song settings of poems have been assigned at the University of Florida!

The bad news: that doesn't necessarily mean much of anything.

You see, I was a child academic, a college professor at a tender age (and at a terribly expensive university). So I know as well as anyone that it's not necessarily significant to be assigned or taught in the college classroom.

Teaching writing, for example, I once assigned a piece of short fiction that had appeared in a campus literary magazine. I remember its title, "The Cow," but not the author (I'd sorely like to lay my eyes on it again).

When I brought the author into class, it turned out to be a lesson in the relative irrelevance of authorial intent. I led a long discussion of the story that found all manners of meaning in it, and then we interviewed the author, who was only a few years older than my freshman students. Turns out, the guy was inarticulate when put on the spot - he had basically nothing to say about what his story meant or why he wrote it.

And then there was the time I assigned the Carl Reiner/Steve Martin comedy The Jerk in my "Self and Identity in African-American Literature" course. Recall, Martin's script begins with the very white hero declaring, "I was born a poor black child ..." This leads to a spirited spoof on race-based identity, which ... my 18-year-old students were totally not ready to take seriously, at least not coming from a child academic who himself was not even black (though I was certainly poor).

Anyway, a couple of days ago I put up a post about two song settings my band Eleanor Roosevelt did from Technicians of the Sacred, Jerome Rothenberg's great anthology of poetry culled from ritual and ceremonial sources. I sent the post to Jerry Rothenberg and to the translator of one of the two pieces, Allan F. Burns (the other translator, W.S. Merwin, is more elusive).

Allan wrote back:

Thanks, Chris, for the link. I’ve shared it with my class since I’m teaching “Language and Culture” this term. All the best and I hope your music is going well.
Allan is Professor of Anthropology and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

The piece he collected and translated that we set to music is "Perhaps" by a man named Alonzo Gonzales, who is Yucatec Maya. It appeared on the Eleanor Roosevelt record Walker With His Head Down (Skuntry, 2007), which is available at independent shops in St. Louis and via digital download.

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