Sunday, September 21, 2008

How do you preserve 'you'?

This post by Geoffery Philp, which was inspired by this post at Jahworld, helped make the poem below resound in my mind this week. Geoffery lists a set of criteria for evaluating a poem and the one that jumps out at me is; "The economic, connotative language seduces me into thinking and feeling about the subject in a new way".

Ad. for a Housing Scheme

Packed tightly like
sums. Their sheer
geometrical lines oppress
architecturally, appearing
disinterested, loveless, same.

People who drive past these houses
see them as stacked
ros to be quickly got through;
accelerate, almost
by instinct, to have them
behind their tail pipes
like bad dreams or carcases.

Mine, positioned
in from the highway, assails
few sensitive motorists, but I,
walking towards its box-
shape this twilight,
see it as part
of a grotesque tenement: my house
is ugly for being anonymous.

And now suddenly
the gray uniform buildings
intersect like years. Poised
only for home, I cross
into a harsh, formularized future
where houses and people flash smally and strictly alike.

by Anthony NcNeil

Thanks to Anthony Macneil, a whole class of thirty four students are now contemptuous of housing schemes. One boy said "Me, I will never buy a scheme house!" (Little does he know that there is often a huge gap between the house one wants and the house one can afford!) This poem is successful (at least to these students) because it made them think and feel about housing schemes in a new way.

It was successful by another of criteria suggested by one of Geoffery's readers: it made me think beyond the literal meaning of how houses in a 'scheme' all look alike, to the possible effect this has on the psyche of their inhabitants. It made me think of the anonymity of city life in particular and modern life in general. Are we less human, somehow?

Tell me about you- do your surroundings and way of life support, or do they erode your identity? What do you do to keep your face, your name, your thought processes, your self, distinct?


Daisy Soap Girl said...

In my neighborhood all the houses look the same except for a few minor details. We are all grateful to have a home we can call our own. We take pride in ownership and do things to try to set our home apart from the others. It feels as if I didn't choose the house but the house chose me. Is that possible? said...

Jack Mandora, Tony McNeill is one of my favorite poets and if you are exposing your student to his work, then I think you are doing a great job.

But isn't this the point of life NOT to make our houses/lives anonymous?

When we lost Tony, we lost one of the best voices who told us about ourselves as few other could...


Jacqueline Smith said...

Now I'm worried that my post might have sounded pompous. It is not my intention to belittle housing schemes, or developments where all the houses look alike for economic reasons. But I think it's worth thinking about how some aspects of modern life - like the practice of building housing schemes- tends to put us all in a bundle, lump us all into one big mass.

We buy these homes because that's what we can afford. Really, if we came into sudden wealth, most of us would hire an architect right away, describe our dream homes and set him to work. If we all got to choose, I bet you no two houses would look alike.

My mother's kitchen counter for instance is much higher than the standard, it's high enough so that her elbows rest on it naturally. She had it built that way so she would not have to bend over to wash the dishes or perform other chores, worsening her back pains. The rest of us suffer great discomfort when we try to do anything in her kitchen because the counter is at such an awkward height!

Hello Geoffery,
I do not know the first thing about Anthony MacNeil, I googled him to see if he had other poems, but the search results turned up all sorts of things that I don't have the time to sift through.

Yes, yes, that is the point of his poem, that in general we struggle against anonymity. But there is some suggestion in the poem that modern life imposes uniformity on us. My question is, what do we do about it?

Ruthibelle said...

I'm new here, found you through some other blog (I forget which) but I am now your new biggest fan (kinda)...

Modern society loves 'uniformity'... it irks me. ButI don't hhave much commentary on how housing projects contribute to that. My special grouse has always been with the education system. If only imitation were a difficultly acquired skill, and individuality, uniqueness and difference were more readily advocated! Oh the wonders we would behold in this world through each other!

As a University student, I always cussing that they put limits on our creativity, our self-expression (word limits, time limits, page limits...); throw up the past to us as somehow superior and constantly urge us to be like others (usually long dead and well, well gone others, or some unimaginative classmate who happened to master imitation) instead of encouraging us to discover our own selves, and delve deeper to unearth the individual diamonds of potential we all possess.

It's ironic though, that this same uniformity (aka anonymity?) seems to be the goal of almost all our international peace-keeping organisations and all the democracy-obsessed governments...

But what do I know? I am just a University student...

Jacqueline Smith said...


Hello and welcome, it's great to meet you!

That's a perfect example of what I am talking about! Isn't it ironic that so many aspects of the education system boxes us in? It's the one place that should encourage individuality. I have to go get breakfast for my little chickidees, and on to work, but when I find the time, there is more I want to say.

Thanks for your comments and have a nice day.

Jacqueline Smith said...

Right Ruthibelle, so where was I?

Does the education system box us in?

On the point of word and other limits, we probably need those to make tests standard.

But I agree with you on how much regurgitation is often rewarded and independent thought punished. Pity outspoken people like yourself!

My pet peeve though is with another aspect of asseement; how biased assessment tends to be towards the learner who has linguistic intelligence.

Now quite a bit of lips service is paid to how much we have different learning styles, and different kinds of intelligences. Much talk is also made about authentic assessment. A principle of authentic assessment is that we should both test what a learner can as wll as cannot do.

Most tests, (lets say CSEC for example) test our ability to read and explain ourselves- communicate. Look at the vocational subjects- agriculture, woodwork, automechanics, all have a 'theory component' which requires you to be able to read and assimilate material, as well as respond to items in writing. The theory and practical components are so weighted that if yu fail the theory, you are likely to fail the whole exam. Bear in mind that the exam is a written one, not an oral one. So a person might know the theory and be able to explain it orally, but be totally unable to put it on paper.

Now I am not advocating that we churn out a bunch of illiterates, I'm just saying let's reconsider how we do things.

If CSEC English A already tests whether you can read and express yourself in writing, why do you need to test this over and over and over, in every subject area?

Why not just test if a person can make a bed, sew a dress, or bake a cake? If you did, these persons would immediately qualify for some kinds of jobs which will never require them to write more than a few words at a time.

The point of this long rant is that the education system claims to acknowledge differences in people but when it comes to what really matters - how it evaluates what people can or cannot do- it blatantly ignores these differences.

Of course this has some terrible consequenses....

If our education system bundles us into masses, should anyone wonder where herd mentality comes from?

So the way we live does not embrace "individuality, uniqueness and differences".

You mentioned "international peace-keeping organisations and all the democracy-obsessed governments..." I can think of a few ways in which democratic goverments suppress (talk about ironic!) individual diferences, but I'm blank on peace-keeping organisations. Care to shed some light? said...

Jack Mandora, schools are meant to foster creativity perhaps not even at the university level. That's an individual choice

Yes, "modern life imposes uniformity on us," but it's up to us, InI,to find ways to x-press InI creativity.

You've found one way here. You have a unique name for a blog that captures some of the history and folk tradition of Jamaica.


Jacqueline Smith said...

Using a common blogger template! Thanks Geoffery:). said...

Content trumps style ;-)