The Conundrum of Plagiarism

Let’s establish one thing: An absolute prohibition on plagiarism would mean the end of art, since nothing is completely original. All art draws on art, directly or indirectly, and artists find their own way learn through certain kinds of imitation and reworking. In addition, covers, renditions, adaptations are art in themselves; when you play someone else’s song, you both give it honor and turn it into something new. Nor can art credit all its sources; there are too many, and the footnotes and credits would be pedantic. In some cases, an allusion is supposed to be familiar to the reader, viewer, or listener; spelling out the source would ruin the recognition that the listener, reader, or viewer might experience.

So any approach to plagiarism has to account for the millions of instances where it is not plagiarism at all, or where there is room for doubt.

Why, then, does plagiarism cause such a cluck-cluck-clucking? Why do people get shocked and ruffled when they spot it?

The reason is that it can amount to shameless stealing. When a novelist lifts entire passages from someone else’s work, passing them off as her own; when a published poem turns out to have been copied from elsewhere; when dissertations turn out to have substantial lifted portions, the person doing the lifting is receiving some kind of credit or benefit without giving credit in return. In addition, the person has evaded at least part of the work involved in creation. For this reason, schools used to have strict rules against plagiarism.

I say “used to” because even though plagiarism is still prohibited across most school systems, few bother to take the time to enforce the rules. Students have become savvier: instead of simply copying from the internet, they might run a text through Google Translate, retrieve something from deep in a fanfiction site, or even use an AI writing tool. I have asked my students what they think about this—and while some of them say plagiarism is wrong, others just shrug their shoulders and say that if it helps them get their homework done, “oh well.”

Teachers, too, need to get their grading done, so a lot of the time they will look the other way and assume that the piece wasn’t plagiarized, even if their gut tells them that it didn’t come from the student.

It’s not a question of being too “good” to come from the student. Sometimes the language seems peculiarly canned or even—beneath a veneer of platitudes—profoundly nonsensical. Take, for instance, the following three sentences (generated by The Good AI): “Humor is a form of communication that uses wit and sarcasm to make people laugh. It’s also used to communicate with others, as well as in everyday life. Humor can be found everywhere: on TV, in movies, books, magazines and even in the news.” They are entirely uncontroversial, but weird if you look at them closely. If humor is a “form of communication” (as established in the first sentence), why bother adding that it is “also” used to communicate with others? And what about that “everywhere” in the third sentence? Do “TV, movies, books, magazines, and …. the news” come close to constituting “everywhere”?

This kind of plagiarism involves not only laziness but cynicism (because someone is playing someone else for a fool). But the cynicism goes beyond the agent. Everyone takes part in it. Rituals like homework often take too much time to take seriously, so both the teacher and the student skim and skimp. Or, if the teacher doesn’t, the school does, and if not the school, then the disciplinary code. Students caught plagiarizing are typically given the benefit of the doubt and a chance to redo the assignment (which is the way it should be, until this too becomes an automated ritual: the student changes a few words so that the piece isn’t copied any more, credit gets given, and the matter gets dropped).

Like any teacher with more than a hundred students, I often grade homework quickly. But I also take time with students’ writing, and the time I take is only a fraction of what the students need. They are not learning to write. The language textbooks and tests emphasize short “writing tasks,” where, for instance, they must respond to a hypothetical internet post, fulfilling certain specific requirements. If they fulfill all the requirements, make no mistakes, and use appropriate vocabulary and tone, they get a top score. That kind of writing is so bland by design that it exists for the sake of the task alone, nothing more. On the test, you can’t copy from elsewhere (except through clever cheating), but on homework—the student figures—why not?

But what about subjects other than language? In public schools in Hungary (and, I suspect, in many European countries), high school students (and even university students, up to a point) are not expected or assumed to have original ideas in subjects where ideas come into play. To prepare for literature or history exams, they do not need any individual angle on the topics involved; instead, they need to know what has already been said about these topics. A teacher might encourage them to develop their own ideas or to compare two different perspectives, but in general they are expected to learn what the textbook says, period. In the U.S., much more lip service is given to students’ “own ideas,” but far too little to what it means to have an idea of your own (to the extent that it can be your own).

So copying from elsewhere doesn’t even have to come from laziness; it can come from the belief that you have nothing of your own to say anyway, or that no one really cares what you think.

That leads to the question: Why do some people choose to write? After the homework is done, after the work tasks are over, some people take to the notebook or computer and spend hours with words, maybe because they enjoy putting words together, maybe because they have something to say. How do you know when you have something to say, and how do you know that it is in some way yours? You don’t know, and yet you do. You figure this out over time, with certainty and doubts combined.

In that light, who can blame those who really don’t feel that they have anything to say, yet have to churn out some “writing task” anyway, if they take some of the burden off of themselves?

Yet everyone should learn the basic skills of writing—at least to the point where they know how to construct a coherent paragraph out of coherent sentences. (Many times in my life I have been able to resolve a business complaint or other official matter with the help of a strong letter.) They should also learn the skills of attribution: quotes, indirect references, footnotes, endnotes, bibliographies. They should practice certain kinds of creative writing—because the best essays and letters have an imaginative spark to them, and stories are essential to life. For the sake of these skills, there must be several major writing assignments per year, with several drafts (the first draft perhaps starting in the classroom). The rest is up to the individuals and how seriously they choose to take writing in general.

That’s a big undertaking for everyone, but with reasonable pacing, it can be done. Language itself is at stake here. Plagiarism at its most automatic, its least thoughtful, amounts to a regurgitation of clichés. It feeds on apathy and generates still more. When you think out a sentence, when you put it on paper and test it for sound and sense, you send the apathy scampering away. You may also get a temporary headache, or a sensation of thinking too hard, but language will tip its hat in awkward thanks, and over time the graces will grow.

The picture above shows one of Bob Dylan’s paintings, featured in his Asia series at the Gagosian Gallery on NYC’s Upper East Side in 2011, next to a 1950 photograph by Dmitri Kessel. This and several other likenesses (discovered after the exhibition went up) resulted in some controversy. My own opinion: This particular copying was dishonest in that the Gagosian claimed that the paintings were of scenes from Dylan’s travels, from his direct observations of life. But I do not perceive Dylan as the most honest fellow, and that is part of his particular genius. There would be no Dylan without a bit of trickery. Does that excuse something like this? No, but excusing is beside the point. Dylan is, and the world is richer for it.

Returning to Hesse’s Demian

My painted dream-bird was on its way in search of my friend. In what seemed a miraculous fashion a reply had reached me.

—Hermann Hesse, Demian, tr. W.J. Strachan

When I was twelve or thirteen, reading one Hesse novel after another, adults used to tell me, “You’ll outgrow Hesse when you get older.” Not only did this not happen—I have returned to Hesse’s work repeatedly over the years—but I now see that both they and I misunderstood his writing in different ways. I will focus here on Demian. (If you have not read it but intend to, please hold off on reading this post.)

“I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?” This quote from the fifth chapter, which often also appears at the beginning of the book, has a complex meaning. The adults probably saw the concept of self-searching as immature; for my part, I probably took the characters of Demian and Eva, and the magic of the book as a whole, too literally. On my last reading, completed today, I understood much more.

In 2017 or 2018, when I had not been living in Hungary for long, I purchased a copy of Demian in Hungarian translation. Because of my beginner-level Hungarian, it was slow going (even with such a familiar text), so I set it aside for another time.

That time came last week, when the Poket edition came out—with a wonderful preface by Gergely Balla, who was to be interviewed and play his music at a Poket event in Budapest, on November 10. I wanted badly to attend the event but had to supervise a physics competition from 6 to 7 p.m. So, in the afternoon before my supervision duty, and during the hour itself (I just had to be in the room keeping an eye on things), I read the first three chapters from the Poket edition. Today I finished the book. It took a while for the Hungarian to resonate with me; my memories were bound to the English phrases and rhythms. But by the fifth chapter or so, the text was singing in my mind. Here, though, I am quoting from several English editions and translations.

The adults in my teenage years probably thought that “self-searching” loses importance when you grow up and have to take care of others. But Emil Sinclair’s self-searching in Demian is not solipsistic or narcissistic. The book’s philosophical refrains play against the changing, moving life of a young man in the world, so that with each repetition (about breaking out of the egg, or differing from the herd, or bearing a sign on your forehead), a new nuance is added. Moreover, the book moves continually through paradox. Seeking your true self requires the recognition that this is impossible; that there is something inside you that moves, acts, and knows but that does not reach the rational mind. It is through painting that Sinclair starts to find out who he is—but it is not only himself that he finds there.

Early on, through a conversation with Max Demian and through his own thoughts, he discovers that he must leave falsity behind: false oppositions (between “good” and “bad,” for instance), false morals, false education, false company, false occupations—or, in contrast, to accept them all as true, insofar as they accompany him a part of the way.

But Sinclair’s struggle goes farther and deeper. He asks Demian, and later his mentor Pistorius, whether following your fate means you are allowed (and even obligated) to kill people whenever you feel the urge to do so. Neither one gives a full answer, but both suggest that this is not the case. Being true to the self does not mean following every urge or feeling. Pistorius suggests that when you feel an urge to kill a person, it’s actually the person’s mask that you want to kill, because the human below the mask is like you. But even this thought remains unfinished, for Sinclair to work out on his own.

As a teenager, I misconstrued Demian himself. (He is an intense, reflective boy, a few years Sinclair’s elder, who befriends Sinclair and shares with him what seems like uncanny, otherworldly wisdom.) I took him too literally; I thought I would find a Demian in my own life and was disappointed when it turned out that no one, no matter how exceptional or caring, could live up to the role. Today I see Demian as a metaphor, or maybe a perfection and elongation of certain encounters that do happen.

In contrast, Pistorius, the organist and mystic, seems to be of flesh and bone. His relationship with Sinclair reminds me of many I have had in my life (whether I was the mentor or the one being mentored). My favorite passage in the book is where Sinclair breaks with him without meaning to, by saying a word that hurts him. The passage is tender and vivid—but also a metaphor in its own way, since our lives are filled with teachers and students, formal and informal, with whom we must make a break at some point, or who must break with us. In fact, this may be the essence of education itself: reaching the point where you break away.

For a long time we stayed in front of the dying fire, in which each glowing shape, each writing twig reminded me of our rich hours and increased the guilty awarness of my indebtedness to Pistorius. Finally I could bear it no longer. I got up and left. I stood a long time in front of the door to his room, a long time on the dark stairway, and even longer outside his house waiting to hear if he would follow me. Then I turned to go and walked for hours through the town: its suburbs, parks, and woods, until evening. During that walk I felt for the first time the mark of Cain on my forehead.

(Tr. Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck.)

This time, rereading the book, I took in every detail of Sinclair’s relationship with Pistorius: the way it begins (with Sinclair secretly listening to Pistorius playing the organ, first from outside, then from within the church), the things they talk about, the idea of Abraxas, the break with its guilt and acceptance, the memories of Pistorius long afterward.

What sets Sinclair apart, even from Demian, are not only the breaks he has to make with others, but his hesitations, pauses, misgivings along the way. Profoundly attracted to Eva, Demian’s beautiful, hauntingly androgynous mother, he does not know what to do with his desire, but it finds its own form, which has to do with the tender respect between them, his dreams at night, his painting, and the changes in the world that will soon force him to go his own way. Eva, like Demian, seems more god than human, but also part of Sinclair himself, even before he meets her.

The world itself does not stay still in Demian. At the end, a war is breaking out; a sadness and worry sets over things. Demian speaks at length about the dark times ahead. Sinclair has to say goodbye to Demian and Eva (but also learns how to find them) and give himself over to a duty that troubles and heartens him at the same time. The possible optimism (thoughts of a new world coming into being) are offset by the painful last kiss and Sinclair’s statement that everything since then has hurt.

But back to the search for self: Hesse may be hinting, throughout Demian, that while each person has a singular fate, unlike anyone else’s and not governable by social morals and rules, the self is not discrete but instead bound up with others; that we call out to others, even in silence, and they answer. In this sense and others, self-knowledge and self-loss may join together. This unity requires courage and brings loneliness and uncertainty. As Eva tells Sinclair, there are no everlasting dreams; one dream replaces another, and we can’t cling to a single one. If we could, though, would paintings, music, and literature exist? Would we? Don’t we depend on dreams’ coming and going?

A Few Days at Yale: ALSCW Conference Memories, Part 2

These three posts—the one about the trip and the two about the conference—barely graze the surface of all that happened. But it’s important to say something while the memories are fresh. The slower, more private reflections can take their time and probably won’t take the form of prose. So here we go: Saturday, October 22.

In the morning I attended the Shakespeare plenary session, which I loved. (My summaries might be slightly inaccurate, since I was holding a lot in my head at once and the day was so full.) Rebecca Rush spoke about the different kinds (and meanings) of rhyme in Shakespeare’s plays, with particular attention to Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In particular, she examined how rhyme can express traditional doctrine and mores on the one hand and spontaneous desire on the other. Robert Stagg spoke about the unfortunate tendency to smooth Shakespeare’s verse into perfectly regular iambic pentameter; he made an argument for honoring Shakespeare’s syllables. Then Lee Oser gave a lecture titled “Providential Groping in Hamlet,” which considered, among other things, the possible unity of the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy and the “providence” monologue—and with that, the unity of the play as a whole. (There was much more to it than that.)

After that, I skipped out for coffee with Martha. I came back for lunch. Then came the second session of the “Setting Poetry to Music” seminar.

If I were to do one thing differently, I would have asked the presenters to send me any slides, recordings, etc. a week in advance, so that they would all be on my laptop, ready to go. (But then, that probably wouldn’t have worked; people often have last-minute revisions or prefer to use their own devices.) There were a few small glitches with people connecting and reconnecting their devices—and for Lara Allen’s piece, I initially opened the wrong file. None of this really distracted from the session, though; it was all promptly resolved. It just meant that we had a little less time for discussion at the end.

The session opened with Lara performing an excerpt from her interdisciplinary performance piece The Hairy Eyeball and then speaking about Harry Partch’s music and its influence on the piece. Except for the glitch that I caused, it was riveting. (You can see more of her work on her website.)

One of the great highlights of the conference for me was the presentation by Fruzsina Balogh and Panna Kocsis, on the artist Lajos Kassák and the composer Béla Bartók, and artistic responses to their work by students of MOME (Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design), where both Panna and Fruzsina are studying. It looked at how the arts can translate into one another; in this sense it tied in with all the others and evoked many responses later.

Sebestyén Czakó-Kuraly’s presentation on two ways of setting Pilinszky’s poems to music (accompaniment and song) brought us back into the realm of the seminar topic. He spoke of the many definitions of poem and song, the close relationship between them, and how he had set two Pilinszky poems (in the English translation of Géza Simon) to music. He played both pieces; it was moving to listen to them again, there in that room. He also talked about the personal nature of the act of setting poetry to music: how it comes from a deep response to the poem, a sense of recognition and shock. He spoke of his experience setting Csenger Kertai’s “Balaton” to music, and about the wordless, intuitive nature of the encounter between poem and music.

I am not going to be doing any justice to the other presentations; there’s much to say about each of them, but I don’t want to weigh this down. Piotr Gwiazda’s presentation on Grzegorz Wróblewski—and the musical-visual setting of two of his poems on YouTube—stood out for its attention to the other presentations and papers (he referred to many of them as he went along). Many strands and sounds came together as he spoke. I enjoyed the fearless straightforwardness (and complexity) of the presentation, as well as the video itself. He brought up the idea—central to several of the presentations and to the seminar’s theme—that you can listen to a poem in a language entirely unknown to you and grasp something of its essence. Here is one of the videos (©Archiwum Literackie 2014).

Mary Maxwell then spoke of the challenges involved in setting the Roman woman poet Sulpicia to music. She brought up an idea that contrasted with what had been said before: that of standing outside the writer and judging her in a way, but doing so in order to understand and portray her better (the way many actors study a role). Ultimately she sought to convey the humanness of Sulpicia’s poems. (This notion of “judging” requires nuanced explanation; she discussed it in more detail during the discussion.)

Next, the poet Jennifer Davis Michael and the composer Nathan Davis spoke of their work “Bell of Silence,” in which the former’s poem was set to music by the latter, as a piece for SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and handbells. During the presentation, Nathan Davis sounded a bell; we listened to its long fade into silence. It was still dimly ringing, very dimly, when he muted it. You can listen to the piece here.

Kimberly Soby then spoke about the Korean-American composer Earl Kim and his musical setting of Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem “Listen to it rain” (“Écoute s’il pleut écoute s’il pleut”) in his 1983 work Where Grief Slumbers. There was a fascinating visual aspect to this: the text of Apollinaire’s poem runs vertically, like falling rain, and the melodic lines, too, convey a sense of falling. Soby explained how it worked musically, with the sparseness, instruments, and pitch intervals. (You can listen to it here.)

We were unfortunately running very low on time when Iris Zheng gave her presentation on musical settings of Tennyson. She brought the seminar together into a unity; her presentation brought back memories of Emily Grace’s from the day before, but also spoke, as others had in different terms, of the role of the composer as critic, one who delves into the poem and comes back with an unexpected insight.

The discussion afterward was brief but exciting, since people had so much to say and ask in response to each other.

I then headed to the neighboring auditorium, along with others, for the plenary session on Japanese literature, which got better and better as it went along, culminating in a talk by Keith Vincent on “Haiku and the Novel”—about the novelist Natsume Sōseki, who initially was a haiku poet, and about the relation between the shortest of poetic forms and the much longer form of the novel. He suggested that for Sōseki, haiku writing was excellent preparation for novel writing, since the novel, like the haiku, demands intensity of compression (a point that in turn brought Gergely Balla’s presentation to mind).

And then the banquet! We walked up to the Divinity School, where it was held, found our way in, and arrived just shortly before the feast began. It was delicious and celebratory. There were remarks by David Bromwich, the outgoing president, and David Mikics, the vice president and incoming president (each conference has a new president). Then Rosanna Warren introduced Ishion Hutchinson, who gave the much-anticipated poetry reading. Then Lee Oser, immediate past president, gave closing remarks.

I will close with a recommendation: Read Ishion Hutchinson’s “The Mud Sermon” (which he read, among other poems, at the banquet), “Little Music,” and “Reading ‘The Tempest’“—and then take your own road through his work (to the extent that any road can be anyone’s own, and to the extent that it actually is a road).

I made a few edits to this piece after posting it.

We did it! (A short summary of the trip)

Most of us are back in Hungary now. It will take a long time to assemble thoughts about this extraordinary trip—to Yale for the ALSCW conference, and to NYC for music, sightseeing, and visits—but it happened and was beautiful.

A brief rundown: We went to the U.S. primarily for the literature conference but also for a few days in NYC. (This trip had been in the planning since March.) Several members of the group arrived in NYC a few days before the rest of us. (The group consisted of seven Hungarian adults, a baby, and me; six of them presented in my seminar on “Setting Poetry to Music.”) We all met at Grand Central Station on October 19, had dinner there, and took the train together to New Haven. I walked with them to their AirBnB apartment—a spacious, sunlit first floor of a house near Wooster Square—and headed off to my own lodgings. The next morning, I came by for breakfast, and then we headed off to campus to look around. We visited the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library with its translucent marble walls and its map exhibit.

Then we took different directions for a while (I had lunch with my friend Ron) and met later outside the Humanities Quadrangle, where the conference was to take place. An old friend of mine, Jenn, came by to lend Gergő and Sebő her husband’s guitar. Another friend would lend a second guitar the next day. The Platon Karataev duo concerts we had scheduled in New Haven and NYC had to be cancelled, because they are not permitted under a tourist visa or ESTA waiver, but we had scheduled a private session at Yale’s Dwight Chapel, and they were also to record in a studio in Brooklyn. We then entered the quadrangle for a genial, flavorful reception and an evening of fine readings. (More about all of this later.) Afterwards I went with my friend Claudia (from Dallas) to the former Viva Zapata, now VivaZ Cantina.

The next morning, I attended a panel on Eliot’s The Waste Land, then headed into our seminar room to set up for the first session of “Setting Poetry to Music.” We had a fairly large audience (for a seminar), an inspiring round of presentations, and a lively, too-short discussion. (Again, more about this later.) Then we headed out to the courtyard for lunch. During our lunch, Tim came by with his guitar and cheer. In the afternoon, I presented in the seminar on “General Education and the Idea of a Common Culture.” Then darted out the door and rushed to Dwight Chapel.

About a week before our trip, I had written to the Yale chaplain, Sharon Kugler, to ask whether we could visit the chapel, which holds many memories for me, and whether Gergő and Sebő could play music there. She not only welcomed us but put us in touch with Dwight Hall staff to work out the details. This was an unannounced, informal, unofficial session, completely acoustic, with only the group members and a few others in the audience. The sound filled the space but was also crisp; you could hear every guitar note.

The video I shot (of them playing “Ki viszi?” is visually grainy, with a few clumsy filming moments (particularly when I was walking backward), but the sound approximates what this was like. Many, many thanks to Chaplain Sharon Kugler, the Dwight Hall staff (especially Debra Rohr and Alexine Casanova), Tim, Jenn, and Tony, and of course Sebő and Gergő.

In the evening we had dinner at a pizzeria of well-earned fame (which offered vegan pizza, among other delights). We were joined by my friend Lara Allen, who would be presenting the following day in the second session of “Setting Poetry to Music.” Delicious pizza, lively conversation and laughter. After an hour or so, I left the group to attend the ALSCW readings—but was so tired that I fell asleep in the auditorium and woke up only when the readings were all over.

The next day was packed again: an outstanding Shakespeare panel, coffee with Martha, lunch in the courtyard, the second “Setting Poetry to Music” session, a panel on Japanese literature, and then an elegant, rousing banquet in the dining hall of the Yale Divinity School. To top off the night, some of us went to hear the Algerian band Imarhan at Cafe Nine. They were fanatastic; the room swayed and danced.

The next morning, I took part in the ALSCW Council meeting, then met up with the group at the train station.

Before I forget, I should say that the foliage was almost peaking. October is my favorite New England season, especially in New Haven. I love it not only for the leaves, but for the tones of light.

The New York part of the trip was just as momentous and moment-filled, but since it was more personal in nature, I’ll tell, just briefly, about my own part. We all stayed, for different lengths of time (some for one night, some for two, some for four) on the top floor of a legendary old stone home in Queens (known as “The Castle”). On October 24, Sebő and Gergő recorded at Leesta Vall Sound Recordings; I had the joy of listening to the session. Then I brought the guitars back to New Haven (my first chance in days to sit back and let my thoughts roam) and returned them to Tim and Jenn. In the evening some of us got together at an Irish pub with good music playing through the speakers. Long conversations, both jovial and serious—the kind I treasure. Then we more or less went our different ways, except that a few of us stayed at the “Castle” until Thursday, and I took a walk with them on Wednesday.

On Tuesday I saw my friend Tara, who came down from Troy (New York) to see me. On Wednesday I walked around a lot and had coffee with my friend Lizzie. On Thursday I moved to an apartment in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn; I also saw Godard’s Breathless (À bout de souffle) at Film Forum and had dinner with my friend Sharon (who was my freshman-year roommate at Yale and plays violin in the New York Philharmonic). On Friday I did laundry in the morning (I miss laundromats, of all things), then had lunch in Chinatown with a former colleague. In the afternoon I headed up to my storage space in Washington Heights and managed, in just two hours, to move my things into a smaller and cheaper unit. From there I headed to Queens for a lovely gathering at my friend Liz’s. On Saturday morning I attended the Shabbat service at B’nai Jeshurun. This was a joyous but extremely brief return—I got to talk with Jenny during kiddush lunch, with Harriet briefly, and with others just barely, but the service itself had a boundless quality. Then I bounded off to Williamsburg, where I heard Hannah Marcus (also an friend of many years) play and sing in her Cajun band The Red Aces. A delightful end to the trip. From there I sped back to the place in Flatbush, gathered my things, and took a cab to the airport. The plane took off close to midnight.

Such a stretch of time in NYC is an unpaid luxury for me. It happened because I originally assumed we would have autumn break in the last week of October, as we usually do. In addition, I originally wanted to leave some room for a possible literary/musical event that we would hold in NYC. (The event didn’t come together, which is just as well, given that it might have led to visa problems for members of the group. But it is an idea and possibility for the future.)

Then it turned out that our fall break would be in the first week of November, beginning on October 31. It seemed that I could leave NYC no sooner than October 26, arriving in Szolnok on the 27th—so I figured, why not call it a week and stay a few more days, insto the fall break? But even that changed; it was later decided that we would have no autumn break at all, just a long weekend—so I changed my return flight and came back a few days earlier than previously planned, just so that I wouldn’t be absent an additional Wednesday, which is my longest teaching day of the week. Still, these extra days gave the whole trip a sense of time and lingering, even though it all went by fast. I have much more in my memories than I have laid out here. Also, the friends I saw, both in New Haven and NYC, are some of my dearest friends anywhere, so there was a fullness to it all.

Next time I will describe the content of the conference itself. For now, a few more pictures—and a special thanks to Zalán and Marianna, who took care of Sziszi and Dominó while I was away.

I made a few edits to this piece after posting it.

Too Busy for Balaton Biking?

When I do something like go biking in the Lake Balaton area at the beginning of the school year (and a little over a month before a big trip to the U.S.), I can imagine people saying, “Biking at this time of year? You can’t be very busy.” Well, no, I am extremely busy right now, but I make time for this and am glad. Besides, I see no reason to prove that I’m busy. Being busy isn’t always good; some projects, some aspects of life require slowness. So anyway, heck, I went.

In August I had gone on a shorter bike trip around Tihany (a historic village and peninsular district at Balaton). It left me wanting to come back. So when I saw the announcement for an all-day trip, I signed up. I thought things would be somewhat hectic work-wise, but not extremely so. As it turned out, the trip came during several crunches (deadlines, rushes, requests). But oh well! I had paid for the bike tour already! Nothing to be done! (And my advice: When in a crunch, take a bike trip. You come back with energy and perspective and can roll through the things you need to get done. Or at least that was the case this time.)

Getting out to Balaton from Szolnok isn’t all that easy. You have to go to Budapest and then transfer. Doing this early in the morning wouldn’t have gotten me to the starting point on time. So I stayed in Budapest on Friday night. In the evening, I led a service at Szim Salom, then went to my hotel. Around 6 a.m. I headed out to the Déli train station, then caught the train around 7.

It took a little over two hours to reach Balatonfüred. From there I walked to the bike tour’s starting point. It turned out to be a big tour, broken into several groups (by ability level). These bike tours are run in Hungarian and generally draw Hungarians, which is great. No English-speaking nonsense. (I’m kidding—I love the English language—but it is important to me to be speaking Hungarian in my free time.)

When I arrived, Felső Tízezer’s “Semmi pánik 2” was playing over the loudspeaker (maybe from the radio or a Spotify playlist)! I signed in, found my group, met the leader, and waited for things to get organized. After a few announcements and photo shoots, we took off.

We had a great leader and a spirited group. Before my first Balaton bike tour, I didn’t think I liked biking in groups. I love biking alone because of the reflection and quiet that this allows. But one advantage of the group is that you get to experience it together, traverse terrains you never would have known of, and learn from a pro. We went up and down steep dirt-rock paths. We flew through fields. We cycled through many a lovely, old, hilly town. Saw vineyards, cows, horses, rolling hills, the lake in the distance. All day long. There were refreshment stops along the way where we could have a (delicious) snack. At the end, we had dinner and wine-tasting at a restaurant.

The trip had another wonderful aspect, which I was only vaguely aware of in advance: its theme was the 2022 coming-of-age movie Együtt kezdtük (We started out together), which was set and filmed in the Balaton area; one of the main actors, Toma Hrisztof, was in our group. As it started to dawn on me what was going on—the teenager in our group, Gábor, adores the film and had all sorts of questions for Toma throughout the day, and we visited some of the actual shooting sites—I was actually glad that I hadn’t realized in advance, because it was such a nice surprise. Toma is kind and thoughtful—he took interest in the rest of us and asked me lots of questions about how I learned Hungarian, what brought me to Hungary, etc.

And I just looked and saw that the film will be playing at the Tisza Mozi here in Szolnok beginning this Thursday, so I got a ticket! How exciting: to see the film after visiting some of the filming sites and spending the day with one of the actors and with others who showed so much excitement about the film.

The bike trip ended on a happy note. A delicious beef stew, tasty local wine for dinner. Lots of conversation. Then a few of us took off to catch the earlier train (at about 6 p.m.) and talked along the way. I had originally planned to take the later train, which would have gotten me back to Balatonfüred by 9, but this seemed like a good ending point. The panzió where I was staying had a reception office that was open only until 8. The owner had agreed to give me the key later, but it seemed simpler to check in on time. Then I could relax and maybe leave earlier in the morning than I had planned. I had a lot waiting for me when I came back.

That is how it worked out. I checked in at the lovely Aqua Panzió (where I hope to return) around 7. My room had a little balcony with a view of Tihany, so I relaxed out there for a while, then planned my return trip to Szolnok. It turned out that if I left Balatonfüred at 4:50 a.m. and didn’t miss either of the two transfers, I could get back to Szolnok before 9, which would allow me to reassure and feed the cats and then catch up with a translation. In the morning I woke up very early, dozed off again, and woke up at 4:30. I got up, scrambled, got out the door by 4:40, walked briskly to the train station, and caught the train just barely. Everything went well with the train transfers and the plans; I finished the translation and will soon be going to a klezmer concert at the Szolnok Gallery (formerly one of Szolnok’s synagogues). Then I will still have the whole evening to get ready for tomorrow.

This is probably my last Balaton bike trip of 2022, because so much is happening in the next two months, and then the weather will get cold. But boy was it great.

I will sign off with a video of birds on, around, and above Lake Balaton.

Meanings of Craving

George Szirtes’s wonderful and bracing essay “Landscapes of Desire” in the second issue of The Continental Literary Magazine sent thoughts twining through my mind. He asks about the differences between words with overlapping meanings: desire, craving, lust, passion. He writes:

One might have a craving for food or drink or tobacco, for possession of an object, or for something more abstract, like comfort, or fame. The word implies a form of dependency in that one cannot live without, or cannot resist, the thing craved. In any case, it suggests something potentially illicit. Maybe, in English, it is simply because the word crave rhymes so neatly with the word deprave. It is excessive, intemperate, well beyond the supposed Golden Mean.

Desire is nobler than that. We all claim to understand and indeed to glory in it. It takes the best out of the notion of passion. Passion and desire are the driving forces of a heroic, if potentially tragic life. But craving? Does that not imply something slavish? Isn’t there something a little humiliating about it?

He goes on to discuss the poems in the issue of the journal in terms of the words he brings up. According to Szirtes, desire is elegaic, aware of the loss it contains; craving is aware only of itself and the moment.

Yes. But not quite.

I use the word “crave” repeatedly in my essay “To Crave the Edges of Speech: Reflections on Cz.K. Sebő’s New Album,” which was published in the online version of the same issue of The Continental. After reading Szirtes, I see that I should have defined the word a little, or maybe justified my use of it. I knew what I meant by it, and no, it isn’t quite as enclosed and delimited in my ear as it is in Szirtes’s. Instead, it’s sharp, compelling, and possibly pure.

There’s a kind of spiritual craving where you want something so badly that you are set in motion willy-nilly, even though you may have many reflections on what is going on. There is nothing humiliating about this. It can be surprising and enlightening. It can open up years of learning.

Hermann Hesse writes of this in Demian: “If you need something desperately and find it, this is not an accident; your own craving and compulsion led you to it.” In the original German, this reads, “Wenn der, der etwas notwendig braucht, dies ihm Notwendige findet, so ist es nicht der Zufall, der es ihm gibt, sondern er selbst, sein eigenes Verlangen und Müssen führt ihn hin.” Now, “Verlangen” could be translated as “longing,” but “Müssen” suggests urgency, compulsion. So the sharpness of craving comes through.

Or take Walt Whitman’s “Song of Prudence,” with these lines: “Whatever satisfies souls is true; / Prudence entirely satisfies the craving and glut of souls, / Itself only finally satisfies the soul, / The soul has that measureless pride which revolts from every lesson / but its own.” Here’s a paradoxical idea: that you can crave your way into prudence.

That is exactly where the beauty of craving lies. If we only had longing, desire, etc., we would sit around and do nothing but contemplate the yearning and the loss. Craving sets a person in motion, which can be toward the good. Yes, in craving you are carried. You do not necessarily know where you are going, even if your object seems clear. Some of the best changes in life happen because of this.

It has happened to me with music. I remember distinct times over the decades. Music touches on everything and goes past everything; its motion brings everything along with it. I have been hurled by music. Into the unknown, into new ways of life.

There is nothing humiliating about being hurled into uncertainty. Craving may be certain and specific in some ways. But in others it’s a complete unknown. What you think you want may only be the catalyst.

Craving is immoderate, yes. But even moderation must be taken in moderation. Only excess (not all kinds of excess, not excess to the extreme, not excess that blocks out thought, not excess that treats others badly, but still a certain kind of excess) allows a person to tip over, and sometimes this is the best thing that could happen.

It has its dangers too. People seized by craving can discard responsibilities, histories, awareness of others. But danger lies everywhere, even in the safest of things. It is possible to live too carefully, too courteously, too containedly. Moderation, too, has its excesses. A certain kind of craving keeps them in check.

But that’s not really craving you’re talking about, someone might say. It’s more like a state of spiritual urgency. Well, then, to settle that question (or to unsettle it), let’s look up “crave” in the beloved Online Etymological Dictionary.

Old English crafian “ask, implore, demand by right,” from North Germanic *krabojan (source also of Old Norse krefja “to demand,” Danish kræve, Swedish kräva); perhaps related to craft (n.) in its base sense of “power.” Current sense “to long for, eagerly desire” is c. 1400, probably through intermediate meaning “to ask very earnestly” (c. 1300). Related: Craved; craving.

What is prayer, if not craving of a sort? Where would craft come from, if not from a certain craving?

Art credit: Michael Pickett, The Old Piano.

Looking Back on My Books

Twice, while in NYC, I left a teaching job to write a book. Teaching was too consuming to allow for that kind of writing in spare time; each time, I needed to focus fully on the book. It’s different here in Hungary; teaching here is consuming too, but not nearly as hectic or exhausting. Anyway, in both cases I left the job completely; I didn’t keep any benefits. It was impractical, but it was the best decision for me. Thanks to the second departure (though I had no idea this would happen at the time), I was able to come to Hungary. At that point the book was almost done, and I was ready for a new plunge.

The first book, Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture (2012) came partly out of my experience teaching in NYC schools, where teachers were expected to incorporate group work in the lesson regardless of the topic or content. The insistence on small group work (in an already noisy environment) came at the expense of sustained thought, dialogue, introspection. The group emphasis was apparent not only in schools, but in the surrounding “culture” (I put it in quotes because it’s a tricky word) and social media. The book also took a closer look at solitude and its complexities, with forays into Petrarch, Sophocles, Newton. In that sense the book came out of something longer and larger: a life of involvement with language and literature, a life of solitude (in many senses of the word) and companionship.

Some people complained that it was too much about education; others complained about the literary and other digressions. Still others complained that it wasn’t like Susan Cain’s Quiet. (Why on earth should one book be like another one?) But overall, it found a wonderful audience and has been quoted in books and articles that I respect. And when I return to it, I am surprised by its details and depth. Work, thought, and life went into it.

With my second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, something went wrong with the marketing and readership. In some ways (though not all) I think this was the better book: tighter, punchier, more concise, but also long-lasting. Unfortunately it reached the wrong readers before it reached the right ones. The initial reader reviews were written by people who clearly hadn’t read even the introduction, or if they had, they had skimmed through it, making their own judgments instead of paying attention to what I was saying. Here’s the full text of a review I received on Goodreads:

When I saw this title on NetGalley I felt it my duty to read this and write the slangiest, most sarcastic review possible. Unfortunately, Diana Senechal has sucked the passion out of my plans. Mind Over Memes is basically a snooty English teacher’s collected opinions on how young people do, and especially how they say everything wrong.

I do have to emphasize that the author is thoroughly learned in what she is writing, and the passion of hers is clear. The problem is that this comes across as incoherent babbling to me; pretentious, holier-than-thou, grammar nazi, babbling.

There are so many tangents and grammatical anecdotes that I really struggled to keep focused on the topic at hand. And really, none of these anecdotes seemed to have any relation to her points. Also, to be frank, this book made me feel like trash, like stupid, illiterate, memeing trash. Here I am, the Meme Queen, crying as I reign over my garbage domain. I try to see what’s up in the adult world and I get slapped in the face. God, this book is depressing.

First of all, the book isn’t about young people or young people’s language at all! All the words and phrases I take up are used by people across the generations. When I did bring up young people in the first chapter, it was sympathetically. I told a story (imaginary, but based on a true story I had been told) about a summer internship interview where high school students had to summarize a project in thirty seconds. I thought this was unfair to those who could not express themselves quite so quickly or glibly. The pressure to be glib is hard on the young and old alike, but maybe especially the young, who are competing for college admission or for their first jobs.

Second, the book isn’t telling anyone, young or old, what they are doing wrong. The point is to call certain words and phrases into question: to think about where they come from and what they mean. There’s no finger-pointing, no English-teacher snootiness here. And for God’s sake, there’s no grammar-Nazi babbling. As for digressions, the chapters are tightly structured and focused, with a little bit of whimsy too.

Third, the review doesn’t mention anything specific about the book. Not a quote, or a detail, or even an overview. What kind of review is that?

So what went so badly wrong? First, there was the problem of the title. I had wanted it to be Take Away the Takeaway, but the editor said the marketing team found that too vague (and subject to misinterpretation in the UK—not that it has received much distribution there). My next choice was Verbal Resistance, which almost made it, but at the eleventh hour the marketing team rejected that as well. They finally settled (with my halfhearted consent) on Mind over Memes, with that lumbering, confusing subtitle (Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies). There are two problems with this: first, the book has nothing to do with internet memes; second, the subtitle gives the impression that a lot of chiding and correcting will be going on. In fact, it seems that the book will be criticizing passive listening and toxic talk themselves. (Not so: one chapter questions whether listening is passive at all, and another questions the overuse of the term “toxic.”)

Another problem was the write-up on the back cover. The endorsements are great. As for the book summary, I wrote the initial version, but then someone on the publisher’s end changed some of the wording. In particular, this inserted sentence could throw the reader off: “Too often our use of language has become lazy, frivolous, and even counterproductive.” This really does sound snooty, old, and weary; it doesn’t convey the tone or content of the book.

Still another problem, I think, had to do with where the galleys were sent for review. NetGalley is not the best place for this; reviewers receive a free advance copy in return for the review but are not bound by any obligation to be thoughtful or even to read the book carefully. The book did receive thoughtful reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Quartz, as well as a superbly insightful review on Amazon by Dana Mackenzie, but beyond those, a few nice comments elsewhere, and the dismissive reviews mentioned earlier, there was silence. I think people were steered away from the book before finding out what it was. (The book events are another matter; I had lovely events for both books, at bookstores and at the Dallas Institute.)

Both books have their flaws. Sometimes I get so carried away with a turn of phrase that I don’t realize how silly it sounds in context. If I were to go back, I would change some of the ornate language to something simpler. Also, Republic of Noise has too many quotes; I could have relied more on my own language and observations. But on the whole, both books are highly readable, and the subject matter is at least as relevant as it was then.

My point is not to complain about the publisher (in both cases, Rowman & Littlefield, though the first was specifically R&L Education). They accepted both manuscripts without the intervention of an agent, they were very nice and responsive along the way, and I continue to receive small royalty checks. Nor do I think I could have insisted on a different title (I tried hard) or back cover description; those are areas where the publisher does have the last word. But I think one lesson to learn from this is that the publisher and author must have a common understanding of what the book is. If there’s a misunderstanding, then the publisher will be pulling to present it in one way and the author in another.

I shouldn’t forget, though, what an accomplishment it was to write and publish these books. So many people talk about writing books, or start writing them and never finish. I know that I can pull off something like this and will rearrange my life as needed in order to do so. Also, both books opened up new eras of my life. The first book led to the Hiett Prize and a long association with the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture; the second, in some ways, brought me to Hungary. Who knows what the next book will be and where it will lead.

Yes, indeed, what about the next book? Well, there has been a book of translations, Always Different: Poems of Memory (Deep Vellum, 2022) which was every bit as big a project as these two books. My next book or two will likely be translations too. But then what, after that? I have been submitting stories for publication; if a few get taken up by journals, then I may be able to publish a collection as well. Poems, too, come now and then, and they are getting better. I also have an idea for a nonfiction book, but as with my previous books, I don’t want to talk about it until I have at least a manuscript in hand (which may be a few years from now). In any case, I expect some books of different kinds in the coming years.

That is why I treasure this time at home in the summer; so much is possible in this stretch (which goes by fast). Even though I don’t get as much done as I’d hope, I do a lot. I love the peacefulness of it: having the whole day to focus on things, without having to rush anywhere. This is hard to explain to people who don’t live in this way, but do I have to explain it? No, just live it, and do as much with it (at the different levels of doing) as possible.

I made some additions and edits to this piece after posting it.

An Award, A Poem, and Two Concerts

Twice in my life (so far) have I received a translation prize. The first was when I won the Scott Prize in Russian upon graduating from Yale. The prize was in recognition of my senior thesis, which consisted of translations of contemporary Russian poets and commentary. The second came just the other day: an Honorable Mention in the Jules Chametzky Translation Prize, for “Scissors,” my translation of Gyula Jenei’s “Olló.” This Honorable Mention was even more honorable than it may appear; usually this prize has only one winner, and this honorable mention comes with a cash award and an interview. But beyond that, the poem is one of my favorites in Gyula Jenei’s work, and I am fond of the translation too. I am honored that the MR editors and judges loved this poem.

“my grandmother will have other scissors too:”—the poem begins—”smaller, larger, / sharper—but most of all i will love the pair that has, below / the rings, on the wide-opening, ornate handle-necks, / the likeness of a man and woman embossed.” You can no longer make out the faces, but the grandmother claims that they belong to Franz Joseph and Sisi. The poem continues with the grandmother contemplating the two heads through her “one-templed spectacles” and telling stories: of the boy’s own family, of the coronation of Charles and Zita, “heaps / of tales she happily tells.” While she is telling her tales, the boy cuts something or other with the scissors, and the faces come close without actually touching.

only the rings make
a metal clap, and the blades scrape, and then the past
dissolves into the future, and then they bury my grandmother,
and i forget her stories, all i remember about them is their
having been, and only the scissors have remained, and
the sewing box with the thimble, then the thimble got lost too.

It goes on from there to my favorite part, which I won’t quote here, since you can read it. The poem is full of surprising gestures. Here’s a physical object that has remained over the years: the scissors (which I have actually held in my hands, yes, the scissors of this poem)—but they are about as vague as memory itself, since the faces have been worn and polished over time. But through this wearing down, some essence comes through: a statement, a retraction of sorts, and a final image and truth. The poem has tenderness, memory, forgetting, a sweep of history, and a pair of scissors whose clapping and scraping you can hear even if you never get to hold them.

I remember translating the first draft of this poem during a long break in my school day on a Wednesday morning (I think it was a Wednesday, in the fall of 2018). I remember thinking: How do I go back into the world after this? But I did, and it worked out well.

So, that’s what I wanted to say about the award and the poem. As for the two concerts, yesterday I had an exceptional evening. First I went to hear the Platon Karataev duo at the Esernyős in Buda. What a beautiful concert it was, and what an attentive audience. Several times they mentioned how much they appreciated the audience’s quiet attention. Here’s a photo taken by the venue’s photographers, I think.

Sebő then had to rush across the Duna (and southeastward a bit) to the Akvárium’s Petőfi Terasz, where he gave a wonderful Cz.K. Sebő/capsule boy concert. Many of us likewise went, as audience members, from the first concert to the next. There I did take a picture. But much better pictures and videos were being taken (see below); if the official video ends up on YouTube, I’ll include it here too. I loved hearing the songs and sounds find their way: a song he wrote that morning, some songs that are changing over time, some songs still in the works, songs ceding to sound and sound to songs, songs leading into songs, all together forming something joyous, thoughtful, and melancholic that I could get swept into alertly.

At that concert, the (very large) audience was listening closely for the most part, but there were a few loud people as well. Two young women planted themselves in front of me—when they could have stood to the right of me, blocking no one’s view—and proceeded to talk and gesticulate. The woman sitting next to me (around my age or a little younger, and intensely listening too) motioned that I could sit closer to her and see. I was grateful for that. The Petőfi Terasz, being outdoors and free, draws a mixed crowd, some there for the concert, others for entertainment and drinks. The music and listening won out; it was a beautiful show. But I don’t understand people who talk loudly without even bothering to move to the side or the back. (Update: From the photos I later realized that one member of the noisy pair is the lead singer of a band whom I have never heard live but three of whose albums I have. That’s even more disappointing. In the future I’ll just ask noisy people to move or be quiet, whoever they may be.)

So this leaves me with the thought that attention—in the form of reading, listening, conversation, or something else—isn’t just one of the best things to give or receive; it’s also essential. Where would any of us be without it? Isn’t despair the sense that no one is paying (or receiving) attention? And if we can’t give attention to everything (at least I can’t), isn’t it good to have a few people, things, and occasions to devote it to?

I added a little to this piece after posting it. The last picture is by Dávid Bodnár, courtesy of the Akvárium Klub Official. You can see the whole album here.

Update: Here’s the video of my Chametzky Prize interview with Aviva Palencia, a summer intern at The Massachusetts Review.

Setting Poetry to Music (25th ALSCW Conference seminar, October 2022)

In October 2022, at the 25th ALSCW Conference at Yale, I will hold a seminar on “Setting Poetry to Music.” Paper proposals have been coming in; for those still hoping to participate, the deadline for proposals is June 10 (please follow the instructions in the Call for Papers)! So far, the seminar participants include three invitees from Hungary and a number of other presenters (from both Hungary and the U.S.). The full roster will be established by the end of June.

The seminar description is as follows:

What questions and problems do composers encounter when setting poetry to music? How can music enhance, transform, or distract from a poem that already stands on its own? How might the music follow or depart from the poem’s inherent rhythms and tones? How might the musical rendition become an artistic creation in its own right? This seminar will explore these and other questions in relation to a wide variety of poems and music. Papers may take one of two directions. Those analyzing others’ musical renditions of poetry should plan to present a short paper (5–10 pages), possibly with an accompanying sound recording. Those presenting their own musical renditions or poetry should play it (through or a recording or on an acoustic instrument) and then comment on it briefly. The poems considered may be in any language, but any poem not in English should be accompanied with at least a basic translation or summary. The presentations should be prepared with a general audience in mind. Composers, songwriters, musicians, poets, scholars, teachers, students, and others interested in the subject are welcome to submit proposals. (Note: This seminar is not about songwriting or poetic song verse in general; it focuses specifically on poetry set to music.)

This seminar will differ in some ways from a literature seminar in that we will spend some time listening to the musical renditions of poems (which participants will either perform or play through a recording). Also, the topic is flexible; some presenters might take it in visual and other directions. I am eager to see what proposals come in.

I am honored that the three featured guests at the Pilinszky event in March will be the featured guests in the seminar as well! Csenger Kertai, Gergely Balla, and Sebestyén Czakó-Kuraly will all be presenting; they all won Petőfi Literary Fund grants to cover the trip. (Update: Seven Hungarian adults and a baby will be going on this trip; six of the seven are presenting at the conference!)

The ALSCW (Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers) “seeks to promote excellence in literary criticism and scholarship, and works to ensure that literature thrives in both scholarly and creative environments. We encourage the reading and writing of literature, criticism, and scholarship, as well as wide-ranging discussions among those committed to the reading and study of literary works.”

I have attended ALSCW annual conferences in Worcester, Nashville, Dallas, and DC. They are not only interesting but lots of fun. I have held and participated in numerous seminars (sometimes three different seminars in a given conference) and especially love the range of topics, the geniality, the participants’ willingness to hear contrasting views and approaches. Also, the ALSCW supports poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers through grants, prizes, and publications; the poetry and other readings at the conferences have introduced me to writers who have since become favorites. And let us not forget the Saturday night banquet, where the conference comes to a jovial close (there is an ALSCW Council meeting on Sunday morning, but otherwise no conference activities). I am especially excited about this year’s location, since Yale is my triple alma mater (B.A., M.A., Ph.D.), and I spent about fifteen years in New Haven all together (including two years from 2019 to 2011, when I wrote my first book, Republic of Noise).

This year’s conference has many other exciting seminars and panels as well, on topics ranging from Proust to Ulysses to “General Education and the Idea of a Common Culture” to “Figures of Civil War” to “The Art of Confession” to “Aesthetics of the Sublime in Japanese Literary Arts.” And it will be our first conference since 2019, since we had to cancel twice because of Covid. Many thanks to David Bromwich, the president of the ALSCW; Ernie Suarez, the executive director; conference committee member Rosanna Warren, and others for bringing this to pass. While nothing is certain until it actually happens, this conference will take place unless a large and unforeseen obstacle arises. It is now only five months away.

Photo of Yale’s Harkness Tower by Chris Randall.

Update: So many people submitted paper proposals for the ”Setting Poetry to Music” that we will have two sessions! The presenters include composers and songwriters, poets and other writers, visual artists, scholars, teachers, and combinations of these. Six of the participants are from Hungary and twelve from the U.S. I look forward to the presentations and discussions! Here is the lineup for the seminar itself; you can also download the full conference program and read some of the papers.

Setting Poetry to Music: Session 1 (Friday, October 21, 10:30-12:30 a.m.)

Gergely Balla, Independent Musician/Songwriter, “It Cannot Answer: A Platon Karataev Song Inspired by the Oeuvre of Sándor Csoóri”

Claudia Gary, Independent Writer/Artist, “Song as Conversation”

Emily Grace, Catholic University of America, “A Study of the Interpretive Potential of Two Settings of John Donne’s ‘Batter My Heart’”

Todd Hearon, Phillips Exeter Academy, “‘Caliban in After-Life’: Reimagining Shakespeare’s Monster in Words and Music”

Kata Heller, Eötvös Loránd University, “Rap as a New Type of Poetry? A Discussion of the Genre within the Scope of Holi’s ‘Roadmovie’ (‘Sírok és nevetek’)”

Anna Maria Hong, Mount Holyoke College, “H & G: From Novella to Opera”

Csenger Kertai, Independent Writer, “Kaláka’s Musical Interpretation of Attila József’s ‘Tudod, hogy nincs bocsánat’ (‘Mercy Denied Forever’)”

Alyse O’Hara, University of Connecticut,“Performing on the Theme of Consent in Sir Walter Ralegh’s ‘The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd’”

Setting Poetry to Music: Session 2 (Saturday, October 22, 1:45-3:45 p.m.)

Lara Allen, Independent Artist, “And All Round Me Spirits: Invoking Harry Partch”

Fruzsina Balogh,Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design,and Panna Kocsis,Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design,  “Music and Poetry in the Language of Contemporary Hungarian Visual Art”

Sebestyén Czakó-Kuraly, Independent Musician/Songwriter, “Accompaniment or Song: Two Musical Approaches to János Pilinszky”

Piotr Gwiazda, University of Pittsburgh, “Listening to Grzegorz Wróblewski on YouTube”

Mary Maxwell, Independent Scholar, “Setting Sulpicia’s Songs”

Jennifer Davis Michael, Sewanee: The University of the South, and Nathan Davis, The New School College of Performing Arts, “Bell of Silence”

Kimberly Soby, University of Connecticut, “Examining Word Painting in the Vocal Works of Earl Kim”

Iris Zheng, Independent Scholar, “Composition as Criticism and Creation” 

A Festival, a Book, and a Conference

The Shakespeare festival is arriving soon! On April 22, the Verseghy Ferenc Public Library and the Varga Katalin Gimnázium will hold a day-long event filled with acting (by students from six different schools), sonnets, songs, games, lectures, workshops, an art contest, a jury, and more. Everyone is welcome! (At Varga we have no classes on that day.) This festival has been in the planning for two years. It had to be postponed a year because of Covid, but now we can actually hold it, in three weeks and a day from now!

Next, my translation of Gyula Jenei’s poetry collection Mindig más (Always Different: Poems of Memory, published by Deep Vellum) now exist; the publisher has already received copies from the printer! Gyula and I will receive five complimentary copies each, and I am ordering many copies for events. We intend to hold at least two events here in Hungary, and if everything works out, I will give readings in Dallas and NYC as well. The official pub date is still a few days away (April 12), so I will make a new announcement then.

Finally (for now), the ALSCW has released its Call for Papers for the October 2022 conference, which will take place at Yale. I will be leading a seminar on “Setting Poetry to Music,” which may feature guest presenters from Hungary, if everything works out! More about that later—but in the meantime, if you are interested in presenting a paper in any of the seminars, please follow the instructions at the top of the document.

I should have a few more announcements very soon, but that is enough for now.

(The photo is of my students’ performance of Hamlet scenes at the Verseghy Ferenc Könyvtár in June 2019.)

  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

  • ABOUT THIS BLOG

    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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