Ned Buskirk

Who I am through what I do

Working creatively to produce inspiring results.

Below are excerpts and examples of my professional or creative writing. 

[I'm sure you'll want to read the entire 70+ page thesis after reading a mere few words from its introduction below. Send me an e-mail & I'll get it to you ASAP.]

 

The Master's Thesis


The purpose of this thesis is to draw effective pedagogy out of a literary genre that may have hidden worth in the very reasons that have so often kept it out of the classroom. Examining the exercises, approaches, techniques, etc. that the Beat artists used to create, this thesis establishes the beginnings of a curriculum meant to get students aware of their creative and very capable power in the context of the classroom and their lives. Using the ways that the Beat elements run off the beaten path, we can magnify and clarify where the Beat and conventional academia diverge; these differences and departures help create a new pedagogy, one that calls for a creative overhaul of the English classroom and uses breakdowns from the norm to make a positive change for the modern English student.


Introduction to "The Pedagogy of Beat Literature"

This is going to seem sneaky.

It’s going to seem as if I’m avoiding the obvious task at hand.

It’s going to seem like I’m evading an important question: the Beat question.

When writing about the Beats in any capacity, one is confronted with a half century-old question, one that’s persisted since John Clellon Holmes wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine, “This is the Beat Generation,” in which he introduced the Beat genre to the world. Namely, it’s this: Who were the Beat and what is their legacy and (perhaps a bit less than a half century-old and for the purposes of this thesis) how does this legacy help create a new effective pedagogy?

In George Plimpton’s Beat Writers at Work, a resource that provided an abundant wealth of information used to pack the following pages of this thesis, there is an interview with Charles Olson conducted by Gerard Malanga. It’s less an interview, and more an interviewer’s frustrating attempt to talk with a curmudgeonly old man, a man getting playfully annoyed, who avoids questions because he’s too smart and bored, who dances beyond the reach of seemingly sincere attempts at questioning, and actually leads the conversation, but in no way any interviewer, at least any interviewer who has any idea about where s/he wants the interview to go, wants to be led. Olson teases Malanga into exasperatingly pleading that he “take [the] questions seriously” (Plimpton 141). He compares Malanga to another interviewer he’d had “who never knew who [Olson] was” or “what [Olson] was there for,” but was simply using him “to represent poetry” (Plimpton 141). At one point in the interview, Olson demands Malanga to answer his own question instead of answering it himself (Plimpton 149). Charles Olson rants and teases, jokes and curtly avoids direct reply; there’s a lot of information relayed, but rarely in direct answer to any particular question. I read this interview laughing aloud, annoyed because there was nothing direct enough to include in my Beat thesis, but mostly enamored by this old curmudgeon and his wily-worded ways… but then I moved on, continuing my research.

But one day out of the blue, near the end of this thesis work, when the relentless question italicized above refused to relieve its persistent nagging, I happened to come across a research note referencing the Olson interview. Among other things, my note described the interview as a “nonsensical expression of unabashed freedom,” and with that, in a flash of inspiration, it suddenly dawned on me: It’s this interview with a famous old poet who “challenged poetic conventions,” and annoyed interviewer Gerard Malanga, that epitomizes “Beat” – the uncontainable, hard-to-pin-down, indefinable experience of what Beat is (Plimpton 134). As Oliver Harris points out, using words out of a Beat Culture exhibition catalogue, the Beats “assiduously worked to avoid” being “historicized and categorized” (214). Allen Ginsberg was quoted as saying “There is no Beat generation” (Morgan 187). That the Beat is indefinable is exactly its definition. It’s a breakdown of sorts that frustrates when we are compelled by the human need to define everything, but it’s this experience of the Beat that inspires the pedagogy found in this thesis. The point is to use this characteristic, one often represented by its breakdowns from convention, to allow the student, by any means possible, a way out from categorization and containment towards self-expression and discovery.

In his book Education and Ecstasy (about which, it’s interesting to note, Kenneth Rexroth, often referred to as the “Godfather of the Beats,” says the “ideas are right” (254)) George B. Leonard poses the question, “What, then, is the purpose, the goal of education?” (17). In answer to his own question he writes, “the achievement of moments of ecstasy. Not fun, not simply pleasure […], not the libido pleasure of Freud, but ecstasy, ananda, the ultimate delight” (Leonard 17). If this could be the goal of education, this “delight,” then it’s important to clarify those things about our current system of academia that are distracting us from achieving this end. In Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It, she describes the problem this way:

The real issue isn’t that our schools are too challenging. It’s the opposite. Among the top quartile of high school students, the most frequent complaint and cause of disaffection from schooling is boredom and lack of rigor. That also happens to be true among the lowest group, for whom low expectations lead to low motivation. Kids aren’t failing because school is too hard but because it doesn’t interest them. It doesn’t capture their attention. (75-6) 

In Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, he reminds us that students “do not have to be robbed of their creativity. Under instruction, they have unlearned to ‘do’ their thing or ‘be’ themselves, and value only what has been made or could be made” (40). And Ken Robinson, in Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, says “The emphasis in schools on academic learning has tended to value only one mode of knowing and, in so doing, has displaced others. This has been to the detriment of all of them” (200). In George Leonard’s opinion (one that is dated, but not irrelevant, and even seems echoed by more current literature) it’s the “Concentration on technical proficiency” that has gotten in the way of student self-realization, or as he puts it, it’s “become one of the very best ways to avoid awareness of self” (Leonard 123). According to Leonard, if we wish students to experience their academic life as an “ultimate delight,”

One of the first tasks of education, then, is to return man to himself; to encourage rather than stifle awareness; to educate the emotions, the senses, the so-called autonomic systems; to help people become truly responsive and therefore truly responsible. (127) 

In the face of these issues, academics should shift away from technical proficiency and move towards the students’ awareness to who they are through their writing. Instead of over-focusing on, as Ken Robinson would put it, the “academic learning” of writing, we might get our students enrolled in a type of work that creatively engages them, one born out of the exploration of where the Beat parts from the conventional and the breakdowns offer inspiration, thus cultivating in them the confidence required to create the life, not to mention the world, that they want.

Historically, academically, the Beat breakdowns with convention were considered more a problem than a resource. Kostas Myrsiades, in the preface of his collection of critical essays titled The Beat Generation, says, “the academy’s hostility towards the Beats has not completely abated” (ix). While I feel it is important to support the significance of studying Beat literature within a system of academia that might devalue the genre, getting into such a debate requires expending a great deal of time on mapping out a value comparison. Although my thesis will not attempt to prove the significance of Beat literature as a genre worthy of the canon, but will instead focus on how to teach the genre in a way that positively impacts the college student academically and personally, I will spend time supporting the fact that the reasons academia have not always embraced the genre are the very reasons it belongs in the classroom. Working out of this phenomenon, my thesis will attempt to establish the interest and relatable nature of the genre to the college level student, showing how to harness these connections in the classroom. Instead of making a case for the importance of Beat literature, the purpose here is to bring effective pedagogy in relationship with a genre of literature that may have hidden worth lying in the very reasons that have often kept it out of the classroom. The power of Beat Literature’s emergence was that it represented (or at least seemed to) individuality, uniqueness, and revolution. In the context of an environment that may seem too rigid and conventional, I want to use the genre to attract students through this perception, getting them into the work of learning for themselves and for what they want in their lives.

Examining the exercises, approaches, and techniques that the Beats used to create, this thesis establishes the beginnings of a curriculum meant to get students to present  their creative and very capable power when completing their own writing, and, more importantly, their own personal endeavors. Using resources like Beat Writers at Work, and the writing techniques the Beat writers reference in their various texts, I’ll examine how they write, how they put words on the page, and teach the students how to harness these techniques for accomplishing their own work. If the pedagogy is effective, this work simultaneously allow the students to, as Allen Ginsberg so aptly puts it, “defy the system of academic” working in “beautiful expression of … revolutionary individuality” (165). Looking for those Beat resources that seem most likely to result in inspiration, motivation, and empowerment, I found that most commonly it’s where the Beat breaks apart the conventional that the student and teacher can find their greatest resources. Using the ways that Beat elements depart from the beaten path, we can magnify and clarify where the Beat and conventional academia diverge, using these differences and departures to create a new pedagogy, one that calls for a creative overhaul of the English classroom and uses breakdowns from the norm to make a positive change for the modern English student. As Steve Dickison, Director of the Poetry Center and a professor at San Francisco State University, puts it, in an interview on the topic of teaching Beat literature in correspondence with creative writing:

In the same way, [for] these people (the Beats), the work requires something of everyone. It requires something like transformation. It’s asking that. It isn’t asking for success. It isn’t asking for fortune. It’s asking for transformation. It can help to bring about something like transformation within its enactment, within its being played... (Dickison) 

Here Dickison points to what will always be the main focus to which I’ll draw my thesis: the transformation of the student through inspiring, motivating, and empowering pedagogy. Let’s draw the students after the Beats, and into a conversation that is as unique, courageous and individually impacting as their literature was meant to be.


 

The Lisp in Eighteenth-Thentury Literature: A Symbol for Sexual Deviation


A wildly fascinating read guaranteed to overhaul any assumptions you have regarding eighteenth-century speech impediments. GUARANTEED. Actually, in all seriousness, this is one of the papers I'm most proud about producing during my MA program at SFSU. ENJOY!


In her essay “The Century of Sex? Gender, Bodies, and Sexuality in the Long Eighteenth Century,” Karen Harvey says, “Recent work posits the long Eighteenth Century as the century of change in the ways in which bodies were understood, sexuality constructed, and sexual activity carried out” (899). In the literature of the time, this notion manifests itself in a variety of ways, one of which is through the use of a linguistic characteristic placed in a variety of contexts. The “lisp” used as a signifier for sexual deviation in eighteenth-century literature finds its way into a variety of texts and becomes particularly important in the context of the amatory novel, or in the popular literature that evolved from the form, a form concerned with the virtue and chastity (or lack thereof) of the female body.

Whether defined as simply “the act of lisping” or characterizing a child’s speech, dictionaries of eighteenth-century word meaning, constrain the definition of the “lisp.” Both Samuel Johnson and the Old English Dictionary severely limit their definition of the word in an oversimplification of the term. To maintain that the lisp is merely “the action or act of lisping,” limits its prevalence as a sexual signifier. In Jack Lynch’s A Guide to Eighteenth-Century English Vocabulary he only goes so far as to say that the “word means more or less the same thing today as it did in the eighteenth century, but then young children were said to lisp” (11). Lynch uses the famous words of Alexander Pope: “I lisp’d in numbers, for the numbers came” (11). Other than addressing the fact that these definitions leave something to be desired within the context of eighteenth-century literature, it should be addressed that the child’s “lisp” can be connected to the effeminate through its opposition to masculinity.

The “lisp” as a characterization for children’s speech does carry with it some associations that allow for application on whore and homosexual stereotypes. Tourville; or, the Mysterious Lover: A Sentimental Novel, published anonymously in London during the year 1800, contains the line, “‘Upon my honor, Duke,’ vociferated the fat Baroness […], with an infantine lisp, (which seemed to maintain a sort of conflict with the rough tones which nature had given her)” (28). The Baroness is masculinized with “rough tones” while at the same time effeminized with a contradictory childlike lisp. This instance provides an example of how the “lisp” evolved into a characterization for women, noting the movement from the weak and vulnerable child, to the same type of woman. While defining the “lisp” as merely “infantine” is inadequate, when in relation to notions of effeminacy, an example like the one from Tourville draws the important connection between the child’s lisp and its opposition to the masculine – the lisp can help define those other bodies that oppose the eighteenth-century concept of masculinity which was associated with honor, chivalry, and of course, the most elite association, royalty.

The Sicilian captive, a dramatic tragedy written by Charles Symmons and published in London during 1800, depicts a king, perhaps the most obvious stereotype of the masculine, who has an aversion to “wooing” his love. Ramiro, the King of Arragon, asks his friend to woo a woman in his stead, saying, “I am awkward / In this new craft of wooing; used to war, / I cannot catch love’s sweet and lisping accents. /  Then aid me, Raymond. Nature, when she form’d thee, / Prepared her finer mould, and fix’d persuasion / Resistless on thy tongue” (Symmons 49-50). Here the “lisp” is represented as not only a way to persuade and woo one into submission or love, but it is also thought by Ramiro to be the opposite of masculine; a King should concern himself with war, not love.

There do exist lexicons that define “lisp” in a way that more aptly addresses the word’s usage in eighteenth-century literature and, in so doing, helps reveal how the word might have performed within the popular texts of the time. Published in London during the year 1799, The New Pocket Dictionary of the French and English Languages defines the French phrase “Parler gras,” which literally translates into an English version of “fat talk” or “to speak thick,” as “to lisp” and “talk indecently” (Nugent 163). Rather then classifying “lisp” as merely a speech defect, this definition represents a connection between lisping and a character type – specifically, a type of person inclined to deviate from polite language. This particular type of deviation is a “polite” one when compared to Gordon Williams’ definition in the Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature published in 2000. Williams defines lisping [as] a wanton affectation” (820) and then provides several examples of pre-eighteenth-century literature that associates “lisp” with the word “wanton” or “sexually lawless” and “unrestrained; loose; lascivious; lewd” ("Wanton." Dictionary.com). Williams’ examples of how this designation of the word “lisp” is used include Geoffrey Chaucer’s description of the friar in The Canterbury Tales, saying how “he lipsed, for his wantownesse” (820). He also describes how in Act I Scene III of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s 1606 play Woman-Hater, a character says to a whore regarding a potential lover, “hug him about the neck, give him a kiss, and lisping cry, good Sir; and he's thine own” (Williams 820). (there are many more, but for the sake of time) To add an extra dimension to the word’s definition, later in the dictionary, referencing A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew, a 1699 dictionary which compiles words of English cant and slang, Williams defines the word “snuffle” as to “Speak through the Nose from a Cold or worse” (1267). Williams notes that the dictionary’s use of the word “Worse” means syphilis, and that it probably echoes Richard Head, who documented the lowlife in his own fictional writings, and used the phrase in his work The English Rogue published in 1665...


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The Authenticity of Bob Dylan


A paper on Bob Dylan.

What more do I need to say? Or write?


The concept of Bob Dylan’s authenticity is one in direct relationship to, and influenced by, all the versions of Bob Dylan. To define his authenticity is to define everything that Bob Dylan is. The conflict with this authenticity arises out of an inclination to contain him within a single musical identity. When considering the ‘realness’ of the musician’s persona, whether it is as an authentic folksinger, a protest songwriter, a country music artist, or a blues performer, one must take into account that Dylan’s continual transformation of his persona is in fact the essence of his authenticity. This authenticity is characterized by a myriad of voices and changing styles allowing for the ability to guard against the unfortunate inclination of a consumer society to pigeonhole him into a single musical identity.

Dylan’s ability to represent various identities in his music originated in the roots of folk and, more importantly, from the influences of Woody Guthrie, a rambling musician famed as the voice of the people. In Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan expresses the powerful impact Guthrie’s music had on him saying, “My life had never been the same since I’d first heard Woody on a record player in Minneapolis a few years earlier. When I first heard him it was like a million megaton bomb had dropped” (229). Dylan associates himself with Guthrie very early in his career by releasing the ode “Song to Woody” with lyrics that acknowledge Guthrie for his ability to capture the world and its people. Dylan sings, “I'm seein' your world of people and things,
/ Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings.” The influence of Guthrie on Dylan is also captured in Dylan’s response to reading Bound for Glory, which he describes as a “huge” “hell of a book,” with words that encourage the reader “to create a world worth living in” (Chronicles 245). Guthrie urges to “keep on trying to tell your message, and keep on trying to be a picture of man” (295). In the biography Wicked Messenger, which primarily focuses on the Dylan of the 1960s, Mike Marqusee sums up Guthrie by quoting John Steinbeck saying, “Even during his heyday as a performer, Woody was being turned into an American exemplar: ‘He sings the songs of a people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that people,’ said John Steinbeck” (Marqusee 27). Marqusee goes on to say, “Dylan embraced Guthrie as a model of personal authenticity” (307). Dylan’s association with Guthrie connects him to a definition of authenticity that proves problematic following his initial success in the music scene of the early 1960s, an authenticity affiliated with the folk music movement and expected by its patrons.

During the early 1960s the definition of authentic folk music was under the strain of the music’s own revival. By the time “Dylan arrived on the scene wearing his Woody Guthrie mask – a mask of authenticity” – the “folk revival notion of what constituted authentic folk music was itself an artificial construct” (Marqusee 41). And even though the young people of the time “came looking for the authentic” in the genre of folk music (Marqusee 39), Dylan described folk songs as “evasive,” where “the truth about life […] is more or less a lie” (Chronicles 71). It is impossible to consider Dylan as an authentic folk artist by this definition, so his authenticity is established in his ability as a talented musician whose commitment to the art of music supersedes any one genre of music. Dylan proved capable of evolving with the times, beyond what was expected of him, consuming the folk music influences around him and dispensing the music as his own unique sound.

Although the folk music of the time was inauthentic by Dylan’s definition, he was still successful in jumpstarting his career with the genre, moving to the forefront of the folk community with his unique use of voice and powerful lyricism to tell the stories of the American people. From the lyrics bemoaning the heartbreakingly “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “a maid of the kitchen” who “emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,” to the poignant ballad “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” a bitterly sad tribute to the murdered Medgar Evers that draws attention to the serious flaw that was American society, Dylan was able to tell the stories of the oppressed like no other musician could during the time. By taking old folk songs of the American people, including “Pretty Polly” and “Down on Penny’s Farm,” and producing new lasting folk songs like “Masters of War” and “Hard Time in New York Town,” Dylan not only transformed himself into one of the most influential folk artists of our time, but he also transformed the folk genre as a whole. Dylan describes his venture into folk music in Chronicles, saying, “…what I did to break away was to take simple folk changes and put new imagery and attitude to them, use catchphrases and metaphor combined with a new set of ordinances that evolved into something different that had not been heard before” (67). Wielding a powerfully genuine talent, “no matter how firmly Dylan disclaimed any representative function, his voice was heard more than ever as the voice of and for the social crisis that everyone now agreed was gripping the country by the throat” (Marqusee 265). His authenticity lay in his commitment to the art of music, using it to communicate for the people in his songs and touching the lives of his listening audience...


 

A few creative pieces published or blogged here and there...


Some of the buildings in San Francisco…

Some of the buildings in San Francisco are shrouded in long white sheets, like how I dressed up as a ghost when I was a child, Halloween after Halloween, but these ghosts have no eyes and often speak Spanish. Sometimes colors bleed out from their insides, splattering the sidewalks.

There is a lone tree sitting in the shadow cast by one of these towering apparitions. The rocks surrounding the tree’s base, contained by its square of soil, look like pigeons nestling into the earth.

It’s at this moment, standing before this lamely thin tree swaying in the shadow of a Spanish speaking ghost dripping coral pink, that I recall for the first time since I can remember the little notes my mother would place into the lunches she made me for school. I can visualize the fantastic white paper, so out of place, tucked under a peanut butter, jelly and butter sandwich, so significant and bright, set against the internal light blue of my Smurfs lunch box. I remember this same slip of paper crumpled with the malleable bottom of my eventual brown paper sack. As long as she made me lunch, she wrote me notes. I don’t know when it began or ended, but of course there are definitive amounts of paper, food and time floating where truths are found. Thousands of pounds of food, hundreds of pounds of notes, limited amounts of time… and I can’t recall what a single one of the notes read.

But I can imagine the words “love” and “my” and “neddy” written in blue ink on those tiny slips of white paper.

And I do imagine it, standing by the tree waving within the ghost’s great shadow.


A Memory

I saw large birds in a clump, together. I saw two shiny black birds in a clump. I saw two glimmering tarry black birds entangled in a school yard. I saw two oily birds entangled in some dead grass and dirt at the corner of a school building.

In a coffee shop a girl touches her chest while she talks, placing her whole hand against the skin that her dress leaves exposed. Her eyes widen and she speaks in a way that her teeth seem revealed to the world for the first time, her mouth opening like a curtain. She touches her chin, slowing her speech.

I saw two black oily birds entangled in the dust and dead grass at the corner of a yellowed high school building.

The girl smiles and stares into someone’s eyes.

I saw two glimmering, dripping, oily black birds entangled, in love, inside one another, rolling in the smoky sunlight. Rolling. Dripping. Shining. Entwined. Entangled.

I can smell her musk from where I sit. It is not perfume. It is lady’s musk. A musk that my second high school girlfriend wore, the tom-girl, the one that giggled me in love with her, the one I walked up to in the pouring rain after the game, on the field while I wore a cheerleader’s outfit and she wore a football uniform, with black smears painted under her eyes, and the rain fell, rolled, dripped slick on our faces, over our open eyes, down our light skin, off our young lips, and it felt warm and we kissed, the bleachers emptying, the field empty, the grass muddied, slowly drowning in water at our feet, and the kiss entangled, entwined, buried. All of it in total silence. Quiet, quick, holy.

As I got closer, I could see that the birds were nothing but a black plastic bag standing upside-down on its handles, floating on school property by the nature of a breeze, tickled by the lifeless grass and untouched by the dry dusty soil.


Two People Don’t Belong

 “I hear Spanish.”

John sat across from her at their tiny, round table. He acted as if he hadn’t heard her. Their hands briefly touched in the center of the green marble circle on which their coffee steamed and he knew it wasn’t going to work.

He looked out the window. Across the street a barbershop’s awning hung red over the sidewalk. Bill’s Barbershop. The lettering on the awning was printed so high up that the top of the words were cut off. It annoyed him that someone would spend the time, energy and money to put up an awning with the shop’s name, but so carelessly. A man sitting on the opposite side of the windowpane, nodding rhythmically with a smirk smeared across his face, turned in his chair to face John. John quickly looked down at his coffee.

“Nooo - I hear Italian,” she said, looking around the café.

John rolled his eyes. Slightly.

“What?” she asked defensively.

A fly.

“I have to use the bathroom,” he said.

A fly crawled up the window directly behind her.

John stood and, seeing that there was no bathroom door in sight, stepped to the counter to ask an employee if there was one he could use.

With his pants unzipped John stood, unmoving, looking at the sign about the toilet. It read: Dear Bathroom Patrons: Please try and keep “it” (poops) in the toilet. Much Appreciated, the Plumber/Bathroom Cleaner

John briefly thought about what might have caused the Plumber/Bathroom Cleaner to put the sign up.

As he peed, he thought how he didn’t want to return to the café, to his girlfriend and their table with two coffees. He felt comfortable here in this small white space, a foggy window illuminating him, a tin fan whirring above his head. There was no sink and no mirror. That comforted him too.

He sighed with effort.

God help their children, he thought.

He went back to their table, fully intending to end it all. The seven years of their relationship followed him.

When he sat down in his chair with a soft groan, he happened to look up across the street at the barbershop awning and saw, for the first time, written in cursive on the bottom right side of the sign, the words: just a little bit off the top