Sunday, June 8, 2008

JK Rowlings's Harvard Address, WSJ War Poetry

Via Instapundit - the text of Rowling's commencement address at Harvard.

My first thought was along the lines of "wow, that's *cool*." I'm not sure who it was cooler for - Rowling's, giving the send-off speech for 'the' premier American college, or Harvard, having a world-wide icon talking for them.

Probably cooler for Rowling. I imagine Harvard can get pretty interesting people most years.

What I found notable about the speech was the outward focus of it. I suppose that one might have guessed at this (would a British citizen really come to America and urge a group of graduates to ignore the rest of the world?). But Rowling did not stop there - she explicitly urged the graduates to "imagine" the lives of other people living under oppressive regimes. Granted, she framed this within the context of being exposed to first-hand accounts of oppression, but still - the idea that we can (and should) make assessments of the lives of people in other cultures (and, where applicable, judge those lives wanting) was refreshing.

Equally interesting was the supposition that those Harvard grads had not yet failed at much of anything. Which...might well be in the eye of the beholder. No matter how successful those students might appear to the rest of the population, I reckon there are more than a few who count their losses as legion.

As satisfying as it is to imagine the verbal smack-down to a group of over-wealthied, hyper-attaining, well-positioned Ivy League graduates - you have been blessed all of your lives, no matter if you admit it or not - I think it's not quite right to sneer at these kids for 'not failing like the rest of us have.'

I don't think world is not often changed by those who use an ordinary standard for 'good enough'.


Via Bookslut: Wall Street Journal's pick of war poetry.

Any list that includes Kipling is, I think, on the right track. Owens is another good choice.

I have noted a tendency in the poetry readings that I have attended these last few years - bright earnest college kids, college-bound kids, and a handful old enough to be grandparents to me. A few veterans. A few whose work - even when I disagree with the argument - is break-taking in impact.

Most though - most single a single note at the microphone.

The poet says , war is bad.

Really, say I. For I have heard this: war is bad, water wet, fire hot, and gravity makes things fall down. There's an insufficiency of poetry in that, and a paucity of fact. Even worse, though, is war poetry which states there is nothing worse than war, combining a grievous lack of imagination with the lesser sin of falsehood.

War is bad, the kids say. Very, very bad.

Indeed, I say. Tell me more.

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