The Clemente Program being run from Australian Catholic University in close partnership with range of Welfare Organizations such as Mission Australia, was started some years ago by an American, Earl Shorris. Shorris had a vision that poverty stricken Americans needed a way in which they could reclaim their dignity, their creative spirit, their intelligence. He wrote a book which became a best- seller Riches for the Poor. What Shorris meant by “Riches” is not what most people might think. He was not centrally concerned with getting people off the streets by getting them jobs where they could earn a wage, he was concerned with finding ways in which people in real need could regain their creative, intellectual, spiritual dignity through engaging with education, study and the creative arts. Shorris was clearly on the money! In Australia the Clemente program has fostered 10 years worth of students through a Certificate in Liberal Arts Course which – after completing four courses- gives them immediate access to University. I have been teaching in this program for around 10 years and I can vouch for the amazing transformations I have seen in students going through this program. In yesterday’s class I was astonished to hear the range of insights and experiences that this group of students brought to the poetry that we were studying. One of these students, new to the group yesterday, has in fact posted a wonderfully creative blog (this is part of their assignment work) on a poem by Judith Wright “The Wattle Tree”. This particular student, like others in the group are really homeless, yet they come to class to find a means of drawing the best part of their spirit into focus. Something inside begins to regenerate as they make contact with poetry, with the arts and find a way of speaking from their own experience. The poem we explored yesterday was in fact a poem about Alchemy (changing lead into gold) and Alchemy is in fact what was happening in class yesterday. If you listen to the audio clips below you will get some sense of the nature of this Alchemy.
Here now is a summary of yesterday’s in-class work (for the benefit of the Learning Partners- volunteers who come after class to help these students one-on-one).
we had an extremely successful day yesterday discussing Judith Wright’s poem “The Wattle Tree” and then completing a short written exercise on this poem. It was wonderful for all of us to hear what members of the class had to say about this amazing poem. There were those who correctly identified the fact that the poem was about the creative force in nature. A tree drawing its life blood out of earth, water, air and fire (sunlight). Then there were those who also saw that the tree was celebrated as a kind of transforming apparatus, changing the basic raw elements of life (earth, water, air, fire) into “Gold“. Then there were those who began to see that the poet was trying to link her own process of writing with the process of creation of the wattle tree itself. Miraculously she was seeing the creative power of the tree as a model for her own creative power, a power that could take the raw stuff of life and turn it into a song of Gold. There were some of you who saw her search as parallel to your own search, a search for wholeness, for completion, for a transformation from one kind of living to another kind of living. Some of you seemed to feel that this poem contained a powerful message- conveyed in the form of poetry, art- for how we should look at the possibilities in our own life. We might have been through difficult, traumatic times, but -if we learn from the Wattle Tree- we do have the power to turn difficulties into something quite different, Just like the Wattle tree has the amazing power to turn dirty, colourless, “stuff” into amazing Golden Coloured Flowers that mirror the Sun and maybe even mirror God…
So let’s listen to the poem again:
Judith WrightThe Wattle – Tree
The tree knows four truths-
earth, water, air, and the fire of the sun.
The tree holds four truths in one.
Root, limb and leaf unfold
out of the seed, and these rejoice
till the tree dreams it has a voice
to join four truths in one great word of gold.
-Oh, that I knew that word!
I should cry loud, louder than any bird.
O let me live for ever, I would cry.
For that word makes immortal what would wordless die;
and perfectly, and passionately,
welds love and time into the seed,
till tree renews itself and is for ever tree-
Then upward from the earth
and from the water,
then inward from the air
and the cascading light
poured gold, till the tree trembled with its flood.
Now from the world’s four elements I make
my immortality; it shapes within the bud.
Yes, now I bud, and now at last I break
into the truth I had no voice to speak:
into a million images of the Sun, my God.
Here is the white board summary of what we tried as a short writing task:
The session yesterday finished with a brief look at Shakespeare’s amazing Sonnet 130 “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun”. In this poem we heard how Shakespeare likes to debunk what is fashionable, what is elegant, what is superior. He was really a kind of anarchist who dared to say in this poem that his mistress (or girlfriend) might not be conventionally beautiful (her breath stinks, her hair is like black wires, when she talks she sounds really ugly…) but despite this she is worth more than all the conventional beauties in the world who have been “belied (lied about) with false compare” (He is talking – I think- about the way women are in the habit of conforming their appearance to the kind of deceptions that men – and the media – provoke in them: blond hair, cherry lips, white breasts, perfumed breath etc etc etc…. Shakespeare dares to affirm that he loves his mistress just as she is!
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damasked, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress when she walks treads on the ground. And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare.
Lecture/ Seminar Part 1
Lecture/ Seminar Part 2