I have a soft spot in my heart (not head) for poetry podcasts, as my “Donne A Day” podcasts attest, so when I saw Jo McLeay’s blog on “Poetry and Podcasting,” I needed to know more. Ruminating on her quest to find the heartfelt connection that can catalyze moments of deep discovery in the classroom, Jo hits upon a podcasting idea:
I have asked [my students] to choose a poem that appeals to them and to write a reflection which tries to express just what it is about the poem that speaks directly to them. Then, during class two or three students each class will read their poem aloud and speak about their poem. I have thought that we could record these and any discussion that ensues and think about making a podcast.
It’s a lovely idea and I hope Jo will pursue it. I also hope that some students will find that something about the way a poem is made speaks directly to them.
I’ve been thinking a good deal lately about why working in information technologies reminds me so strongly of the experience of reading, analyzing, and mulling over poetry. The connection is counterintuitive at first. IT is about precision, instructions, disambiguation. Poetry is about emotion, suggestion, rich and troubling ambiguities. True enough. But there are deep commonalities as well. In both cases, pattern recognition is vital and endlessly rewarding. The idea of the icon and the idea of the symbol are not too distant. The very malleability of both mediums is itself striking, an idea I was surprised and pleased to find ratified by The Mythical Man-Month, a book I’ve just begun reading. And for all its emotional potency, poetry is every bit as much about analysis, scrutiny, and precision as IT is. Poetry’s capacity for powerful intellection is one of the things I love most about it.
Finally, there’s something Orphic going on in both IT and poetry. Orpheus was the most famous poet of antiquity. His fabled artistic abilities included writing poetry (songs, really) so beautiful that even inanimate nature would be moved to tears. For many poets, Orpheus stands as the ultimate expression of magical language, language that is both abstracted symbolic discourse and a means of awakening the animistic forces within the material universe. More even than a connection between beauty and truth, poetry provides a connection between contemplation and action, between thought and will, between identity and love. As I said to my Donne class this semester, metaphor itself is a metaphor for love.
So when I think about digitization, a global Internet, graphs of acoustic waveforms, and the GUI I’m working in right now, I also think about stanzas, rhymes, syllables, homophones, scansion, and the ways symbols both gather meaning into themselves and radiate it outward at the same time. The Mythical Man-Month describes the pleasures of programming in terms of magic: a string of instructions (in a programming language) crafted by thought out of experience, and lo, there is action and endless possibilities of connection, perhaps even a poetry podcast borne out of a thoughtful classroom. To borrow ideas from Nicholas of Cusa, the poet’s philosopher, complication and explication (or gathering and sharing) become two aspects of the same thing.
None of this is new. Much of it, however, stands out in peculiar strong relief from the light this networked community now shines upon it.