The Success of Poetry and Education
Dear Unknown Friends:
We are serializing the definitive, beautiful 1965 lecture Poetry Begins Somewhere, by Eli Siegel. And—from a public seminar titled “The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method: The Solution to Our National Emergency in Education!”—we print a paper by Patricia Martone, who is an Aesthetic Realism consultant and New York City teacher.
I have the honor and happiness to comment here on two of the greatest facts in human history: 1) Eli Siegel has explained—after centuries—what poetry truly is. And 2) the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method is the means—proven for years, including in public schools in some of the most troubled neighborhoods—of students’ successfully, eagerly learning. It is the means of ending racism and other cruelty at last.
The Aesthetic Realism explanation of poetry and Aesthetic Realism’s historic, infinitely kind success in the field of education are inseparable. I love Mr. Siegel with all my mind and life for showing that the difference between real poetry and what may look like poetry but is not that, is the most important difference in the world. That difference stands for the fight in every person—including every child in a classroom and every teacher. The constant fight in us, which Aesthetic Realism describes and explains, is: Should I see this world as something to know, to value justly, to respect; or should I have contempt? Mr. Siegel defined contempt as “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.”
Aesthetic Realism shows that poetry says: There is value in every instance of reality, including what is ugly; when you see anything truly—accurately, widely, deeply enough—the words with which you tell of it will have music, beauty. Poetry finds in any object—whether a rose or an ailment, a kiss or an insult—the structure of the world itself: the oneness of such opposites as delicacy and force, surprise and everydayness, quietude and stir. “In reality opposites are one,” Mr. Siegel wrote; “art shows this.”
The Purpose of Education
The purpose poetry is true to, the purpose that impels every authentic line, Aesthetic Realism explains, is also the purpose of education and of every child’s life: to like the world honestly. That purpose is completely contrary to the thing Aesthetic Realism has—so greatly—shown to be the source of “learning disabilities” and also of all cruelty: contempt, the feeling, “This world is not much good. I should get away from it, not let it get within me. I don’t have to be fair to those representatives of the world, facts or people or subjects taught in school. I should beat out the world—manage things and people or get rid of them in my mind.”
(I note here too that many, many poems now praised in schools are not true poetry, but arise from the very contempt which has people sneer at each other and be unable to learn. False “poetry” comes not from an intense desire to see something truly, but from the desire to manipulate the world—in the form of words and ideas—to make oneself important.)
Schoolchildren and other Americans are suffering now from one of the largest instances of contempt in history: an economic system that has made millions of American children poor; makes “middle class” parents work two or more jobs, without benefits, and worry about feeding their family; makes high school students hopeless about finding decent work when they graduate.
The True Seeing of Ugliness
Americans—including schoolchildren need to see that ugly thing, profit economics, the way Wilfred Owen, in the poem Mr. Siegel discusses here, sees an ugly thing: the effect of poison gas during World War I. They need to feel, “I despise this—but the world as such is worth seeing, worth feeling justly, and I want to know it! I want to see the ugly thing I am meeting—this profit economy that is making me and others suffer—with great exactitude, not use it to hate everything.”
Children and other Americans need to learn that the profit system comes from human contempt: it is the seeing of people not in terms of who they are and what they deserve but in terms of how much money you can get from them. They need to know what Mr. Siegel explained: that the profit system has failed in the last years of this century, because it is unethical. Children in America now need desperately to use the economic contempt that has robbed them to be clearly against contempt anywhere—in economics and in themselves.
And the Aesthetic Realism teaching method grandly shows that the world itself seen truly through any subject can defeat a child’s contempt and despair—and enable that child at last to learn, with pleasure and pride!