Of course we cant tell the prankster from the prank

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and tested senses of imagination and reality. Of course we can’t tell the prankster from the prank, but why bother? Rather than despairing, however, that I am (still!) teaching poetry to generations of students for whom Ripley’s Believe it or not! has nearly edged out Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith,” I take comfort that poets like Marianne Moore and Russell Edson still make sense to my wards. It is not unusual for me to begin the opening sessions of an elective course “American Poetry and Poetics” with this epigraph from Moore. 1 Would anyone, then, find poetry an “infliction”? I don’t think so. Twenty years ago, John Barth cited “the very substantial decline…in reading as a source of information and entertainment, and the attendant, quite measurable decline in verbal skills among both students and their teachers” as reasons to safely predict a bleak future for fiction not only in the U.S. but elsewhere too. He characterized students’ addiction to the electronic media as their “general aliteracy” (p.357) the truth of which I have grudgingly known for myself and regretted among other things in my profession. 2 K. Narayana Chandran 1 This is a 4-credit elective I have offered now and then to M. A. Semester III students at the University of Hyderabad. Although there is no explicit prerequisite for this course, all students in this class have read some introductory texts in two compulsory surveys called “American Literature and Thought: From the Puritans to the Present, I and II.” 2 John Barth’s prognostication is dated 1990; three years before that date, we hear another voice, rather dissimilar to Barth’s in every other respect than on the deleterious effects of the electronic media on young mental habits of thought, pronounce thus: “It scarcely seems that this generalized accessibility offered by the new cultural goods is strictly speaking a progress. The penetration of techno-scientific apparatus into the cultural field in no way signifies an increase of knowledge, sensibility, tolerance and liberty. … Experience shows rather the reverse: a new barbarism, illiteracy and impoverishment of language, new poverty, merciless remodelling of opinion by the media, immiseration of the mind, obsolescence of the soul…” (Lyotard 1987/88:63). Words much stronger than Barth’s indeed!
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3 It is quite unbelievable to me therefore that a batch of 20-odd students in their early twenties regularly come to my classes every semester. There we read and enjoy English poetry and discuss the language poets use, and what use we (the television-watchers, text-messagers, bloggers, and social networking people) have for poetry and poetics. One of the poems upon which we often spend considerable time is Moore’s “Poetry” (1919). And the poem does seem to make sense to us–in varying degrees and kinds. Some students even essay a study of Moore who predicted for them this new-age experiment of life, in lines that zigzag through
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