CLIO, the Muse of History
A TIME MACHINE
Gloom and solemnity are entirely out of place in even the most rigorous study of an art originally intended to make glad the heart of man. [E. Pound]
WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?
In his famous little book titled The ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound warns apprentice poets that their imaginations are trapped in a temporal valley. Their view of what poetry is—what poetry can be—is constrained to what people are used to doing in their little valley. He recommends reading stranger things: Hebridean work chanteys, children’s counting-rhymes, poems from dead languages and far-flung climes. This class takes his advice.
If you’d prefer to read and imitate contemporary American poetry, I’d certainly understand, but in that case you should resign your spot here. This class is all old news. This class is a Time Machine. First stop: seventy thousand years ago, at the dawn of the Cognitive Revolution. We’ll lurch forward from there, week by week, opening the porthole and taking literary air-and-water-samples as we go, so to speak, advancing as close to yesterday as a ten-week term permits.
A psychopomp is a spirit-guide to the Underworld. Virgil was Dante’s—that’s the paradigm case. Yuval Noah Harari is ours. He’s written an exhilarating book, titled Sapiens, which presumes to track the history of our species from its animal inception to the present. We’ll read two chapters each week, to finish the book by term’s end. Concurrently, we’ll be sampling short scraps, dollops and biopsies of the literatures written either during or concerning these changing times. Each week, we’ll try to find ways to use the stories from Sapiens, in conjunction with the associated verse, as inspiration for new writing of our own.
Clio is the Muse of History, the muse of celebration, record, encomium. She’s one of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne: the fruit of Lightning on Memory, if you will. Our pace will be lightning, our territory, memory. It ought to be a good deal of fun.