Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Budget Memo Slam

Blog friends:

Since last I murdered to dissect the memos of UH's Chancellor and President, each has pixellated another memo. (Previous readings of Greenwood and Hinshaw can be found here and here.) In the dawn wisdom of 4 a.m. Tuesday, the legislature decided against almost all of the newest proposed cuts of UH. In lieu of performing yet more close-readings of administrative memos, readings that net this blog far more readers than any more loving attentions to teaching or poetry (I must add), I am setting up a Budget Memo Slam. Vote for the best memo of the two that follow. Consider several questions as you weigh the scales of justice.

--Which memo best engages its audience?
--Which memo best addresses the audience of which you consider yourself a member?
--Which memo uses the best and strongest verbs?
--Which memo avoids the most clumsy, cliche-ridden, rhetorical fumblings?
--which memo shows the best control of detail?
--which memo shows the most considered use of Hawaiian words?
--which of these administrators would you follow to the barricades?

Please offer up your votes in the comment stream. 1 indicates an epic fail and 10 denotes a rhetorical perfect game. You may also provide a brief commentary as to why you voted as you did. The winner of the slam will get a copy of a Tinfish publication via the campus mail. If it ever arrives, she may enjoy reading it. Your deadline is Friday by high noon when I will tally the results and send out the prize. Feel free to suggest which publication will most suit your winner, as well.

The first memo that came down the transom this time was from Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw. Here it goes:

Mahalo to the many campus and community members who stepped forward to support UH Mânoa in response to our recent Budget Alert. Your active, strong response sent a loud and clear message regarding the damage that would be created by the proposed reductions of $59M in SB2695 (

Your actions, including visits, emails, phone calls, and testimonies, were impressive and impacting. I offer a special note of appreciation to the strong, passionate group of folks who spent many hours with us at the Capitol during the Committee hearing this group included our students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, donors, business leaders, emeriti and current Regents mahalo for your extra effort in being there and staying into the early morning hours.

The good news is that today the House Finance Committee reduced its proposed cuts of almost $59M for UH to only $2M; however, our contention is that no additional cuts should be made. So, unfortunately, our struggles are not yet over. Still alive is also another proposed cut of $10 million for UH ( this is in addition to our current reductions of $66 million which represents 26% of UH Mânoas State general funds. Please continue to keep in close communication with your legislators at (

In the remaining month of the legislative session, we must maintain the pressure and the presence of our voices. There are three activities we must all pursue:

· educating government and community decision-makers about the value UH Mânoa provides as a major generator of educated citizens, new knowledge, jobs and resources for Hawai'i;

· emphasizing the reality that the future of Hawaii depends on strong state support of higher education, especially to maintain its sole leading research 1 institution;

· demanding that UH Mânoa not be cut any more in fact, we need to be discussing restoration of support.

I will strive to keep the campus informed as developments emerge and I hope you continue to share your ideas with me:

Mahalo for your support,

Virginia S. Hinshaw
Chancellor, University of Hawai'i at Mânoa

The second memo comes in from President M.R.C. Greenwood of the UH system:

Dear university colleagues,

On Sunday evening, we wrote to you to let you know that SB2695, proposed HD1 (which can be found online at ), included a $59 million cut to our special funds budget. We explained what such a cut could mean to the University of Hawai'i's future and asked for your assistance. We are deeply gratified by your strong and impressive show of support for the University of Hawai'i in these crucial days at the state Legislature - and we are proud to say that your support has yielded positive results.

In response to our call for help in fending off this sudden move in the House Finance Committee that would have reduced the university's budget by an additional $59 million, our students, faculty, staff, administrators and community supporters came through to help us avert virtually all of these additional cuts. Your support sent a clear message that higher education is crucial to Hawai'i's future.

In a matter of 48 hours, our university and community network urgently spread the word and managed to garner more than 70 pieces of written testimony opposing the cuts. More than 100 people showed up at the Monday evening hearing to lend their support, with dozens staying into the early morning hours with us to give personal testimony in support of the university.

Thanks to all of you, at 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, the House Finance Committee voted to eliminate all of the cuts targeting the university, except a $2 million reduction from the Housing Assistance Revolving Fund. Your support, passion and commitment to this university made it clear to legislators that UH is vital to Hawai'i and its economy.

Because of your strong and impressive support, the university avoided cuts that would have included:
* $20 million from the Tuition and Fees Special Fund
* $15 million from the Cancer Research Special Fund
* $11 million from the Revenue-Undertakings Fund
* $10 million from the Research and Training Revolving Fund
* $750,000 from the Information Technology and Services Special Fund

While we are relieved to have this reprieve, we must remember that the legislative session is not over. Crucial decisions will be made during these remaining weeks of the legislative session, and we must remain vigilant, stay connected and continue to advocate strongly for the University of Hawai'i and our future. We must continue to ensure legislators understand that we have a major role to play in securing a sound economic future for our state. The state of Hawai'i needs to build intellectual capital as a resource for our future. In line with our strong strategic plan, we will continue to meet the growing demand for higher education as our residents turn to us to help them prepare to meet the challenges of an increasingly competitive workforce. We need to continue to share our success stories as a reservoir of talent and as a revenue generator for the state. With the faculty leading our efforts, 58,000 students are progressing toward their education goals and professionals are
entering their fields. The university also took in more than $400 million in research and training revenue this year, generating jobs and fueling Hawai'i's economy.

Most of all, we encourage you to share your personal stories of what the University of Hawai'i means to you. At the hearing last night, although many testimonies made a difference, it was the passion and clear impact of a UH education seen through the eyes of our students that truly resonated with our legislators. I thank our students on behalf of our institution for their perseverance and strength. The receptiveness of our legislators to take those comments to heart and support higher education in Hawai'i should also be recognized.

Your efforts underscored the pride we have in our important work and the university's vital role and responsibility as Hawai'i's sole public higher education institution. You illustrated in clear terms that - working collaboratively - we can accomplish even the most daunting tasks. We will continue to keep you posted on our legislative progress, and I encourage all of you to continue to be part of our efforts to ensure the University of Hawai'i continues to be a vibrant part of Hawai'i's future. Together, we can get the job done.

M.R.C. Greenwood

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On Teaching the Difficulties

We had the "accessibility" talk in my graduate workshop yesterday. Every semester I've taught poetry has featured some version of this conversation. In some classes, the question arises in monetary terms. One undergraduate class told me that they were going to make money off their poems; when I laughed, they told me I wasn't taking them seriously enough. "Do you want to hear about my small press's finances?" I asked, and then told them about the alternative economy I participate in as a poetry publisher. In other classes, the question arises out of the energy it takes to read poetry. One of my first students at UH wondered who on earth would work a long day at the bank and then go home and choose to read something difficult. (That circles back on money, too, I see.) Yesterday, the question was engaged on many levels, as befits a class of ambitious graduate students. We have been reading Susan Howe's Singularities these past two weeks. It's a book I've been obsessed with for 15 years now, the only one of her books I teach with any consistency, and so I've perhaps forgotten what a shock it is to read it for the first time. During the week several words popped up on our google group discussion board, among them "discomfort," "audience," "understanding," and "accessibility."

I love these words because we all think we know what they mean. So I began class by asking students to talk about what we mean when we say them. What is an accessible poem? What is an inaccessible one? Who reads these poems? The discussion quickly turned into a loop: accessible poems make us comfortable; inaccessible ones lack an audience (except academics, of course!); a lack of understanding makes us uncomfortable. And so on. One student wanted to know how to enter into the process of reading a Howe poem; it turned out she knew full well, but could not find the end of the scout's path. To be fair, no one was arguing for the easy, lounge chair poem, but everyone was weighing the quotient of "getting it" and "getting stuck," failing to communicate (another of those words).

To understand a poem is to have some control over it. To have control over a poem means you can write about it effectively, that you can quote it to good effect, that you can carry it around with you as an answer, or at least a well-formulated question. To fail to understand a poem is to be irritated. In workshop sometimes our irritation flares up because a student's poem simply cannot be adequately interpreted as written. The poem that doesn't work is out of our control. But so are many poems that do work. These are the poems we want desperately to "understand" (standing under, having a foundation, holding the poem up like Atlas an entire world).

Graduate students are, by definition, good readers. Lack of understanding understandably irritates them; it's a paper cut to their sense of themselves. So, on the one hand, I suggest relaxing a bit. Listen to the poem, let it sit for while, don't worry on it so much. On the other hand, trust the poem to mean, if not quite to be understood. But this still leaves important questions like, "how can a poem with a small audience (or even smaller than usual) act in the world?" "How can a poem influence its audience if that audience is so small?" "Should we expect poems to act, or do they describe the world?" And so on. Good stuff.

But how to work toward the idea that "not understanding" can be a poem's subject, that "not understanding" or "not hearing" or witnessing an absence in the archive needs to be enacted rather than told? How to illustrate the "narrative in non-narrative" that Howe claims for her work? The exercise I developed came in two parts. First I asked students to find a six line section of the book; in ten minutes they were to rewrite those lines to render them "accessible." Perhaps the most vivid of these translations was by a student who took "velc cello uncannunc" and spun it out as "European strings," thus preserving the poem's larger context as she elaborated on the imposition of western culture on the "wilderness." A couple of students had not completed their translations because they'd better understood the passages in looking at them more closely.

After we'd discussed the translations, what was gained and (mostly) what was lost in doing them, we turned to the second part of the exercise. Here I handed out a copy of our latest administrative memo from the President of UH, M.R.C. Greenwood about further possible cuts in the university's budget. (One student had kindly printed it out 10 times for me, as my office printer no longer works.) I read a paragraph of the memo out loud and asked students to render a few sentences of it inaccessible. "Do you mean to say that it's already inaccessible?" chimed one student, getting way ahead of me.

A couple students translated Greenwood into Howe, making the memo's language into a chant. Another punned on green and wood and budge and jet (hurts my teeth simply to repeat that!) One replaced nearly every noun with "what." And so on. In the discussion afterwards, we talked about how alert we became to the memo's language, how we did not simply let it flow past us as if it did make sense.

That gets us to resistance, the resistance students feel toward poetry, especially of the difficult kind. This resistance is the teacher's ally, I think, because it evokes such crucial questions as those we discussed yesterday. And, if we take the budgetary memos and make them into difficult poems, that skepticism leads us into difficult questions about the university and the state. Who will spend this money? How can we best argue for the value of a university? What happens when, as one of my facebook friends put it, the bankrupt rhetoric of a university administration meets the rather more literal bankruptcy of the institution?

Poetry is not level ground, is steeplechase. But, like Stephen Collis, I hold to poems whose meanings live both within and without what one of my students, Jaimie Gusman, calls its "anyjar" or container. In a review of Hank Lazer's Portions in The Poetic Front, Collis distinguishes between the oulipian work of Christian Bok and the rather different formal limitations of Lazer as follows, "if I were to make the comparison, the difference between Bök and Lazer is that the former details the struggle to negotiate his constraint outside the poem, while Lazer shows us the struggle inside the poem, where it remains an (im)potentiality." It's the "(im)potentiality, or impish potentiality, that I so love, and love to teach, in "difficult" poems.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Decline and Fall of a State University, or, Another Flurry of Administrative Memos

As Spring Break ends, faculty and students at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa find ourselves caught in a stiff trade wind of memo-speak from our administration. I don't usually use the blog as a bulletin-board, but in the interest of forensics, I will copy in the two memos from President M.R.C. Greenwood and Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw. (I have blogged here and here on previous memos by these two administrators.) The bottom line: UH faces another round of deep cuts to its budget, cuts it cannot possibly sustain without there being permanent damage to the institution. Note that enrollments are soaring as UHM gets decimated with cuts and retirements (my department is losing nine faculty members to retirement this year alone, with no replacements lined up).

The first memo is from Pres. Greenwood. I have made comments in brackets throughout, comments that are rather more bitter than at first intended. My bitterness toward the administration hardly matches the ire I feel at the state. The short-sighted view of public education, at all levels, approaches the criminal--no matter how much money needs to be "saved."

Dear university colleagues,

As we approach the last part of this semester, we look forward to the success of our students. We will soon be facing one of the best parts of our academic year: the graduation of thousands of undergraduates, graduates and professional students from all of our campuses. We are proud of our students' hard work and of the work of our faculty and staff who enable our students to accomplish these milestones.

I wish I could deliver only a positive message to you today. But these are difficult times. And as you know, we are in the middle of a severe state budget crisis. Across the nation and in Hawai'i, publicly funded institutions have been facing budget cuts and downsizing to help balance state budgets. Here at the University of Hawai'i, we have done our very best to cope with these budget challenges. The university's budget has been reduced this year by $98 million and the executive budget proposal for the supplemental year beginning July 1, 2010 calls for a $100 million reduction, which is more than 20 percent of our previous general funds. This has already resulted in painful workforce reductions, fewer classes, and cuts in pay and programs.

The state House has proposed an additional $10 million reduction in the university's general funds (HB 2200, HD1), plus another $59 million cut in special and revolving funds. We are working hard to ensure that this does not happen. We are also calling on our community partners and supporters to help us impress upon legislators the vital role the university plays in our state. The House Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the $59 million in additional cuts (SB2695, proposed HD1) Monday, March 29 at 7p.m. in room 308.

The additional $59 million in proposed cuts include:
* $20 million from the Tuition and Fees Special Fund
* $15 million from the Cancer Research Special Fund
* $11 million from the Revenue-Undertakings Fund
* $10 million from the Research and Training Revolving Fund
* $2 million from the Housing Assistance Revolving Fund
* $750,000 from the Information Technology and Services Special Fund

The net effect of diverting such funds to the state general fund is a direct impact on our operating budget. Many of these funds are already being used to defray the $100 million cut and/or to retain and support critical projects and programs.

[Tinfish ed: This is a starvation economy, where the body begins to consume itself in the interest of simple survival.]

We understand that the Legislature is dealing with the extremely difficult task of finding a way to bridge the budget gap and that they recognize the importance of investing precious resources wisely. We are doing all that we can to encourage continued investment in the university and to illustrate how vital UH is to Hawai'i's preferred future.

[Tinfish ed.: it's time to cut the language of "understanding" from these memos. Of course "we" (whoever we are) understand that there's a crisis, but we need to fight for public education as a right). The verb "to illustrate" also does not pass muster here. Nor does the awful notion of a "preferred future."]

Since the beginning of the legislative session, members of the university community, including the administration, have delivered more than 130 testimonies, provided all requested information and have visited almost daily with members of the Legislature. It is our hope that our voices will be heard.

["It is our HOPE that our voices will be heard"!! My god, do more than offer testimony and hope someone's listening!]

Despite the difficult economy, the University of Hawai'i is performing well as we focus on our strong strategic plan designed to meet the needs of the state and our communities. Thanks to the strength of our faculty, the University of Hawai'i now ranks among the nation's top research universities in its ability to generate research and training revenue. We have managed to navigate through this economic storm by working together and making a number of painful sacrifices. Thus far, we have managed to do this without interruption of instructional days for students.

[Ah yes, the economic argument. We bring in money, therefore we are valuable to the state. As a poet who lives in an altogether different economy, I abhor this argument, at least in the way it gets used in these debates. Let's talk moral value, ethical value, inherent value, the value of engaging our students in crucial conversations--like this one. As for the lost instructional days, my eight year old daughter can testify to the loss of numerous Furlough Fridays from her education.]

Students attending our campuses understand that higher education is important as they build their careers or start new ones. Enrollment is at an all-time high with 58,000 students--including 8,000 additional students in the last two years alone. These students include people who have been hit hard by the economic downturn and are going back to school to re-tool for new careers. Students are relying on the university to help them prepare for jobs and compete in today's global job market, making the university an essential resource for Hawai'i. Our students are counting on us--and it will take our collective efforts to deliver.

[Again, fall back on the economic argument. Education leads to jobs. Not even sure this is true at the moment. But the real point here is that enrollments are surging while the university's labor force is being destroyed, to say nothing of its facilities, including buildings and library resources.]

Many of you have heard me say repeatedly that investing in the university makes sense for the state's economic future and that we should be viewed as part of the solution to the state's economic challenges. The university, with the Manoa faculty leading the charge, pulled in more than $400 million in external research and training funds last year, creating jobs and fueling the economy. Further cuts would drastically hamper that ability. With your help, we will continue to highlight the importance of maintaining the state’s investment in higher education.

[Ah yes, more on those grants that bring in money. Try to change the argument, Pres. Greenwood, rather than subscribe relentlessly to the terms demanded by the government and its "free enterprise" minions!]

We are not resting on our laurels. Through our newly launched Hawai'i Graduation Initiative, we have committed to increasing our number of graduates by 25 percent by 2015. Developing an educated workforce--particularly in critical areas such as health care, teaching and engineering--is in Hawai'i's best interest.

[More on the workforce that we are creating. But we wouldn't stand on our laurels, would we?]

We also understand that as the state's sole public university, we have the responsibility to do more. We are expanding our outreach to Native Hawaiian students and working hard to improve access, particularly for those in underserved areas and underrepresented communities. We are increasing our efforts to eliminate barriers to higher education, including cost. With the costs of higher education on the rise, we have quadrupled our amount of available financial aid. And we continue to work to improve our efficiency, to achieve more with every dollar available to us.

[The word "efficiency" is telling. Of course Native Hawaiian students are important, but this gesture, which is all it is, is too typical of a rhetoric that excludes other students, for whom a public education is also crucial.]

Of course there's much work to do. It's hard not to notice the poor condition of our facilities. The backlog of deferred maintenance is big--more than $300 million worth of work lies ahead. While the bleak budget offers numerous challenges, it also offers opportunity. You may have heard about Project Renovate to Innovate. Using General Obligations bonds issued by the state, if appropriated by the legislature and approved by the governor, we would be able to create jobs with our shovel-ready projects and take advantage of the current climate of lower construction costs to complete long-overdue repairs and improvements on our campuses. It's time that university facilities on all our campuses reflect our mission as a 21st century institution of higher education built on excellence. With steady progress, we will get there.

[It certainly IS hard to notice that my building is in a state of disrepair, that the classrooms are moldy, that I just bought my own office computer, that the elevator only mostly works, that there is no consistent wifi in the classrooms, but I'm sure that "Project Renovate to Innovate" will cure that by force of its cute name alone.]

With your help, we are committed to charting the right course for the university, particularly in these critical economic times. We will continue to advocate strongly for our future and we invite you to join us in that effort. Letters of support to state legislators and simply sharing your personal stories of what the university means to you will go a long way. Working together, we will make it through this budget crisis and continue our journey of success for the benefit of Hawaii and its people.

[Letters of support! Letters we can HOPE will be heard? Surely the time has come for something a bit more dramatic?!]

M.R.C. Greenwood


This message was sent on behalf of President MRC Greenwood.
Please do not reply to this message.
It was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming email.

[Of course not.]

Announcement ID number: 1269841776-17363
Announcement distribution:
- All faculty, staff, and students at all campuses

The second memo came under the title of "Budget Alert." Alerts via email to the university community usually denote a theft or attack on a student, a petty crime, or a tsunami. I suspect that the memo that follows, from our Chancellor, incorporates aspects of all these categories, from attack to crime to metaphorical tsunami. It begins with the almost obligatory Hawaiian word of greeting (obligatory among administrators new to our shores):

Aloha! I want to keep you updated on the news regarding the budget. You may have heard earlier that the State House had unfortunately proposed additional cuts of $10 million for UH. Over the weekend, we learned of another bill SB 2695 ( which proposes additional cuts of almost $59M to UH.

[I like the casual, "you may have heard." Would that be in the preceding administrative memo of last night?]

The proposed cuts to the UH budget include: Tuition and Fees Special Fund - $20 million; Research and Training Revolving Fund - $10 million; Revenue Undertakings Fund - $11 million; Cancer Research Center Special Fund - $15 million; Housing Assistance Revolving Fund - $2 million; IT Special Fund - $750K. Mânoa’s share of the $59M reduction would be in addition to the “hit” taken by UH Mânoa this year of $66 million, or 26% of our State general funds.

All of these proposed cuts would impact tremendously on UH as a whole, but certainly most heavily on UH Mânoa. These proposed cuts are all extremely damaging – for example, the State proposes to take fees and tuition funds that students have paid for specific purposes and for which we have provided financial aid including scholarships, federal grants, and loans, to pay the costs for other agencies. Such actions would truly endanger Mânoa’s ability to serve Hawai'i as a research 1 university now and into the future – in essence, this would push Mânoa past the “tipping point”.

["In essence" and in deed. The starvation economy in full effect. Now they're going after muscle and bone.]

There is still about a month left of legislative decision-making, so the process is not yet done, but we must be active in educating government and community decision-makers about UH Mânoa. We empathize with the difficult decisions the legislature has to make, but, with this additional budget reduction, they would be making the decision that the State of Hawai‘i cannot support its only research 1 university, UH Mânoa, for our citizens. That is a chilling message for higher education in Hawai'i.

[Here we don't have "understanding" but "empathy" for the legislature. Cut it out.]

It’s critically important for UH Mânoa students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends to let our legislators hear about the value UH Mânoa provides as a major generator of educated citizens, new knowledge, jobs and resources for Hawai'i and also about how damaging these proposed reductions would be. We have already had to take many impacting actions to meet the current financial reductions:

[It's the language of "talking" and "hearing" again, which sounds terribly passive, considering the stakes of the matter. Let's talk action. Even the word "education," though we know it to be an active process, seems hollow at this point. Call out the picketers. Organize rallies. Make some stink lidat.]

• We’ve already reduced the number of UH Mânoa faculty, staff and administrators by nearly 6%, or 370 positions. Deeper cuts mean more such losses, resulting in more reductions in services for faculty, staff, students and the community.

• With the current cuts, we are already struggling to provide students with the learning experience and services, such as counseling and advising, that they need and deserve. Additional cuts will also require us to further reduce class offerings and enlarge class enrollment.

[Please enumerate the value of counseling and advising at at university where students often take 5, 6, 7 years to graduate because they cannot get into classes. Talk to us about the need for mental health resources at a university with a suicide problem. Talk to us about the value of small classes, the loss in value of teaching only by large lecture!]

• Our campus has made significant progress in reducing energy usage through Mânoa Green Days and faclities upgrades – our campus has stepped forward in many ways to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

[Closing the library over Spring Break doubtless saved money; probably also saved students from doing research; we all know that Spring Break is a time to prepare for the semester's final push, which includes research papers.]

• Some legislators suggest we can easily accommodate the cuts through higher tuition. We recognize that relying on higher tuition alone to meet budget reductions places a heavier financial burden on Hawai'i students and their families. There are already more requests for financial aid than our resources can fill.

["Some legislators"--that's Fox-speak. Name them. Tell us to write directly to them. Tell us about places like the University of Virginia, which is a de facto private school that rejects a lot of in-state students, but offers a wonderful education to kids from New Jersey.]

• Our UH Mânoa libraries, truly a resource for the campus and the community, have reduced their annual budget to purchase new books by more than two-thirds - from $1.1 million to $300,000.

[That is criminal. I remember in the mid-1990s the university stopped buying books, so that the collection resembles nothing so much as the Soviet Encyclopedia.]

What can we do? We all need to inform our decision-makers about the value UH Mânoa provides and the harmful impact of these budget cuts – and encourage our colleagues across Hawai'i to do the same.

["Inform to transform" would be a better slogan, perhaps. But really we need to do more than "inform" and "encourage" at this point.]

Here are some suggested points of emphasis:

[This is promising, but to whom do we address these points? Parents, legislators, students? And how do we disseminate our points?]

1. UH Mânoa is doing its part in these tough economic times to cuts costs – but the size of these proposed budget cuts will damage our ability to educate people, serve the community and conduct research–all essential activities for creating a stronger future for Hawai'i.

[Let's forget "the stronger--or preferred--future" for now, and concentrate on the devastations of the present.]

2. We’re enrolling more students with fewer resources. Many students are transitioning from UH Community Colleges to Mânoa - utilizing our strong partnership with Community Colleges through improved articulation and recruitment efforts. Record enrollments in UH Community Colleges means UH Mânoa must also be well prepared to meet those students’ needs. Many more Hawai'i students and families are becoming aware of the top-notch academic opportunities we offer at UH Mânoa and choosing to pursue higher learning here instead of leaving Hawai'i.

[Yes, because they can't afford to leave Hawai`i; that's not so much a choice as the mandate of a bad economy.]

3. UH Mânoa is an economic generator. Every dollar invested in UH Mânoa generates $5.34 in spending in Hawai'i, ranging from student expenditures to research purchases—few enterprises offer that type of return. Cutting dollars to Mânoa reduces our "generator" effect.

[OK, make the economic argument once again. Where is the ethical, moral argument? The argument that citizens of a democracy are OWED an education?]

4. Research at UH Mânoa attracts an average of $1.2 million a day - more than $400 million a year - in research and training grants, most of them from outside Hawai'i. These funds improve our economy, create jobs and produce advancements in a wide range of areas, from health to technology to cultural understanding – such research improves all of our lives.

[Research improves our lives--HOW? Spell it out!]

All of us should be tremendously proud of what UH Mânoa contributes to Hawai'i. Now is the time to share that message with decision-makers ( who are determining our future ability to sustain and build on those contributions.

Mahalo for being part of the Mânoa 'ohana.

[More Hawaiian words in closing.]

Virginia Hinshaw
University of Hawai'i at Mânoa


This message was sent on behalf of Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw.
Please do not reply to this message.
It was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming email.

Announcement ID number: 1269879657-3681
Announcement distribution:
- Faculty, staff, and all students at the UH Manoa campus(es)
- Faculty and staff at the UH System Administrative Offices

I will cut my own prose a bit short here, as I need to prepare for a committee meeting later today, which is followed by a graduate seminar.

[Appendix one can be found here: "The legislature finds that due to the extraordinary fiscal circumstances the State is facing, non-general funds must be reviewed and scrutinized to determine if there are excess balances available to be transferred to the general fund." .]

[Appendix two: a couple of readers have pointed out that I have not made any positive proposals, nor have I distinguished between the two memos, the second of which advocated a push-back against the legislature. Please put proposals and corrections in the comment stream. Maybe we can come up with something.]

Monday, March 22, 2010

Epic Simile (Fail): Political Rhetoric and the Health Care Blanket

I am both a literary and a political junkie, forever trolling the internets for rhetorical gems from both genres. When political rhetoric bares its ugly head, especially when this past weekend's health care "debate" reached its highest pitch, this dual citizenship of the word can provoke something akin to an itch or rough patch that flares on the skin. I hope I've mixed enough metaphors in that sentence to vaccinate you, fair reader, against the rhetorical ills that are to come in this post. I don't know that poetry can kill a man, as Stevens claimed, but a bad metaphor can surely sicken you, even as the good metaphor can boost one's immune system. So first let me share some of the healthy stuff from the internet, a "Sample: Epic Simile" that comes off the teaching page of a Dr. L. Kip Wheeler at Carson-Newman College in Tennessee. The professor asks students to "note the clever inversions between land-creatures and sea-creatures" in this simile from Homer's The Odyssey, as translated in 1963 by Robert Fitzgerald:

"During his meditation, a heavy surge was taking him, in fact, straight on the rocks. He [would have] been flayed there, and his bones broken, had not grey-eyed Athena instructed him: he gripped a rock-ledge with both hands in passing and held on, groaning as the surge went by, to keep clear of its breaking. Then the backwash hit him, ripping him under and far out. An octopus, when you drag one from his chamber, comes up with suckers full of tiny stones: Odysseus left the skin of his great hands torn on the rock-ledge as the wave submerged him. And now at last Odysseus would have perished, battered inhumanly, but he had the gift of self-possession from grey-eyed Athena."

There were very few uses of figurative language in Sunday's debate on the House floor. Mostly there were references to "this flawed bill" on the part of Republicans and many allusions to fear: constituents, we were told, are "deeply afraid" of this bill, therefore it must be voted down. John Boehner's speech was possessed of a kind of counter-poetry, replete with repetitions of "no," up to "No you can't" after he asked if members had read the bill. But its counter-poetics was one of plain speech, lacking figure.

Ironically, its repetitions more resembled those of President Obama's speech to the Democratic caucus on March 20th than they did the figurative blanket that soon follows, though Obama's rhetoric of fear tropes the Republicans': "Do it for them. Do it for people who are really scared right now through no fault of their own, who've played by the rules, who've done all the right things, and have suddenly found out that because of an accident, because of an ailment, they're about to lose their house . . ." His repetitions of "this is a tough vote" are pragmatic, while his call to Lincoln's language is poetic (both in Lincoln's wording and in the way Obama weaves it through his speech): "I am not bound to win, but I'm bound to be true. I'm not bound to succeed, but I'm bound to live up to what light I have." The legislation is less scary, according to this argument, than would be the failure to pass it.

It was left to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia to add the figurative fireworks during Sunday's debate. You can see her speech here:

Capito's epic simile starts with a blanket. She knows that her listeners will think of blankets as a comfort. But her blanket is not benign because it covers us all (like insurance, come to think of it). If health care legislation is a blanket, then it has been woven by strong arms that make deals; if the blanket was meant to comfort, it is in places too short and in others too long; if its meant to cover the huddled masses, then they discover that it is actually a "wall" between them and their doctor (the government as a smothering mother, in other words); if the blanket is made of fabric, it is a fabric with holes in it; the promised patches made of the flowery fabric of promises (those that will not be fulfilled). She then moves out to the children who are playing outside, little knowing that they will pay for this legislation when they are older. The drapery of legislation ends up mixed with the deaf ear of the government, which refuses to listen to the heartbeat of America.

At this point, I want out from under the blanket of her rhetoric. When, inspired by Rep. Capito's speech, I google "rhetoric as blanket," I am rewarded with a blog post from this weekend about Barack Obama's alleged need to use a teleprompter (something he did not do on Saturday before the Democrats). The simile here is "Barack Obama is like Linus," needing a security blanket. Of course the blanket is blue:

"President Barack Obama is a lot like Linus Van Pelt. The President is a perplexing contradiction in terms. Obama, like Linus, is said to be exceedingly intelligent and full of potential. A Linus-type philosopher/theologian Obama preaches the gospel of social hope and change. Linus quoted Scripture, while Obama tends to reference statements similar to those spoken by theorist Karl Marx.

Yet while verbally exuding confidence, both Obama and Linus are a paradox. Both flaunt self-perceived intellect while diametrically exhibiting a predilection to insecurity. Linus rarely appears without a blanket tossed over one shoulder, and Barack refuses to leave Pennsylvania Avenue without the teleprompter packed in the presidential U-Haul©."

Leave aside the teleprompter ad hominem swipe, and you find buried under this blanket the notion that "the gospel of social hope and change" is connected (somehow) to his "insecurity" in speaking. The security blanket he carries with him, either his gospel or his teleprompter, covers over a profound lack of security. So the security blanket reflects (if a blanket can be said to reflect) blanket assumptions on the part of Obama, blanket statements, the blanketing ideology of, say, Karl Marx. Communism is, after all, the biggest blanket of them all.

George Lakoff has famously described the opposing metaphorical fields of liberal and conservatives. Liberals use metaphors of typically feminine "nurturance," while conservatives those of the "strict father." Strict fathers do not hand out blankets; it's mothers who do. Their blankets aim to nurture but they either smother or fail altogether to cover the children we are, according to the conservative reading of the liberal metaphor.

Interestingly, there's a blanket hidden in Obama's speech of Saturday, which also has holes in it. "And now we've got middle class Americans, don't have Medicare, don't have Medicaid, watching the employer-based system fray along the edges or being caught in terrible situations. And the question is, are we going to be true to them?" Being true to our citizens is tantamount to mending a fraying cloth. It's women's work, like much of what Democrats (and Richard Nixon) have tried, and failed, to do over the past 60 years.

So, when the House of Representatives voted as a body yesterday, they all had in mind (conscious or un-) the figure of the blanket. They had to ask if they wanted to be under a blanket or outside it, if they wanted a protective or a smothering blanket. The word itself was not a blanket, for it meant so many things. For some, the blanket was oppressive, ill-sewn, smothering; for others, the blanket was fraying, but necessary. This time the menders won, by the barest of threads. But as the Republicans might say, a win is a win. The Democrats sewed it up.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Writing Off of DICTEE: A Lesson Plan

The creative writing workshop need not be all talk; workshops are also places where things are built, sturdy objects like cabinets and window frames and old-fashioned toys. So to illustrate how DICTEE works from the inside rather than from the safe distance at which we often regard works of literature, especially the "difficult" ones, I made up an exercise for my graduate students. I'm pretty sure it would work for advanced undergrads, as well. Here are the directions I gave them (the 45 minute idea proved pure folly):

DICTEE exercise

I will give you a very healthy amount of time for this, at least 45 minutes. Do this in groups of three, and do it with colleagues you don't know in the class.

You have six documents in front of you:

“Aloha `Oe”: words and music by Queen Lil`uokalani

Congresswoman Patsy Mink, “Statement Before the House Commerce Committee Subcommittee On Commerce, Trade, and Hazardous Materials Product Liability Reform,” 1995;

Selection from DA JESUS BOOK:

USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, February 25, 2020, report on Kilauea:

Honolulu Police Department, How to Acquire a Gun:

47-491 Lulani Street, Kaneohe, House for Sale:

Choose at least FOUR of these documents and create a narrative/story/idea stream with them.

Then, write between the documents (or on top of them) in ways that are personal, political, cultural, etc.

Give your piece a title. Prepare to discuss it.

[May I have your permission to blog on this exercise? SMS]

I chose the documents almost at random, although they are all about Hawai`i and range from song to real estate, handguns to Kilauea volcano, and a Pidgin translation of Genesis to the testimony of Congresswoman Patsy Mink about the effects of DES on mothers and their children. Aside from the emphasis on this place, I had very little in mind for the documents, thinking the exercise would work better that way. I knew full well that serious issues were raised in the documents, from the status of Pidgin and Hawaiian languages to handgun violence to the high cost of property (and the issue of development) in Hawai`i. I also knew that I had chosen documents about at least two famous women from Hawai`i, Queen Liliu`okalani, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawai`i, and Patsy Mink, the first Asian American woman in Congress. So there seemed ample documentation. The results would not be as focused as are Cha's, nor would they be autobiographical. But other of Cha's genres would participate--from document to poem to image.

Here are three images from class groups:

[Kevin W. and No`u R.]

[Jaimie G. and Marcus A.Y.]

[Lyz S. and Kate S.]

Aiko Y. and Davin K. did not do a collage, but Davin sent me a poem; the end goes like this, and combines material from several of the documents as it connects Eve to Pele, childbirth with the volcano, women with bad medical practices perpetrated on their bodies, and the Puritan prurience of American culture.


Always this odd device designed for women,
claimed away from women,
from the beginning;
Akamu possessing Ewa from the start
Inheritance of body by body,
chest of chest,
rib of rib:

She da wahine for me.
Her bones, come from my bones,
Her skin, come from my skin.
Dis one, I goin give her da name ‘Wahine’
Cuz God wen take her outa me, one guy.”

The oneness from the separateness,

claiming the body that stands apart from the body,
and yet is still made whole in da eyes of Ke Akua.

This dalkon shield, extended limb.
IUD, body’s I.E.D. waiting for implosion.
Tampon in my cleft, waiting to cleave me twain.

This shield of dalkon, increased member.
IUD, I.E.D. of implosion—waiting in carnate.
Plug in my column, waiting, hurtling into
tampon death.

Always dichotomizing, categorizing, probing with instruments.

Midwives displaced:
no holistic body, space embraced by women.
Only the “draped” area.
The cold stirrups.
Vulcanologists probing and assessing the pahoehoe folds
with aplomb, excess.

Cold speculum of devices into Pele, raw.

And now Aiko send me hers:

A substantial and valuable part of the science of volcanology is based on simple but careful observations.

What is reported felt:
SO2, H2O, CO2,
all of which are clear and colorless gases,
rates of dense white plumes and thin, wispy blue ones,
about one-tenth the diameter of a strand of human hair.

What is reported felt:
SO2, H2O, CO2.
Well-behaved, collated gases
unfurl their flaming hair,
red and colorless glass.

When the volcano ”reinflates.”

The concrete details:
Newly remodeled, top to bottom, custom cabinets and remnants of state-of-the-art appliances.
2/2/2, w/d & over 600 sf of decking w/panoramic view of
the rubble of the Koolau mountains
--in excess.

And the people far and wide gathered
And the people came together and held hands
And silence was lost in the voids after words
And the obligatory strains swell to a crescendo:

Unfurl the banners and let them wave
over this land, our inheritance.

We stand and we sway
We shed tears
strong in our convictions
to conspire or act alone.

I didn't write anything, but made a list of the women I found in the documents:

Queen Liliu`okalani
Patsy Mink

Eve was the first woman; Pele built the Hawaiian islands from her lava streams; Queen Liliu`okalani wrote the famous song "Aloha `Oe," and was deposed by American businessmen; Patsy Mink fought the pharmaceutical business, even as she, like Eve, was a first woman and, like Queen Liliu`okalani, she also lost in politics when she ran for the Senate against the old boy establishment. Like Cha's mother and the Korean heroines and Joan of Arc, they are part of a typology of heroic women. There's something there. And marvelous languages (click the links to the documents and you'll see). And for some strange reason, my imagined piece ended with a speaker looking out over Kane`ohe bay from the house listed for sale and chanting T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land.

Since the class ended, I've heard from two of the students who teach English 100, who say they want to adapt the exercise for their classes. Students are often stunned by the need to make an argument, lacking the material structure on which to hang their ideas. An exercise like this one shows them how they can create narratives by putting documents in different sequences.


Tinfish Press has just published a new chapbook by Gizelle Gajelonia entitled 13 Ways of Looking at TheBus. This often funny collection of 13 poems revises significant American poems, even as it chronicles rides on Honolulu's bus system. Gizelle has an amazing rewrite of The Waste Land that places the poem in Hawai`i; it likely influenced my speaker's chant at the top of Lulani Drive in Kane`ohe.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Words Off the Wall [Pre-Write Tour of Honolulu's Contemporary Museum]

[Quala-Lynn Young, left]

[Judy Fox, "Sloth," from "Snow White and the Seven Sins"]

[Fay Ku, from "Burden Lightens Piecemeal"]

[Elizabeth Berdann, "Emma"]


Today, Quala-Lynn Young (or Lynn, or Q), Curator of Education at the Contemporary Museum on Makiki Heights, gave a tour of the current show to a group of 12 writers in hopes that they will write poems on the art for an event called Words Off the Wall on April 18. Among the writers was my colleague, Anne Kennedy, and many of my students, fresh from poetry boot camp. Lynn, who took Form & Theory of Poetry from me last semester and is currently the "salty" one in my undergraduate Poetry Workshop, has been imagining this event for months, and has talked up the current exhibition for as long as that. The museum describes this as "four exhibitions concurrently in which the artists work in different media and styles but have a common denominator in their interest in the figure." These artists are Fay Ku, Elizabeth Berdann, Judy Fox, and Allison Schulnik, the first of whom is herself in residence in the gallery.

Lynn told us that when Fay first arrived at the gallery she drew several faces on a sheet of paper. Several days later, Lynn looked in and all the faces had been erased. Ku says that she always begins from the face (but never works from photographs or live models) and goes where the faces take her, erasing until the lines are right. On her studio wall at present is a drawing of three women at the top of a palm tree, at the bottom of which an octopus curls itself like a root system around the tree's trunk. Ku explained her love of octopi (including her love of their taste), as well as her fascination with palm trees, which she encountered during a residency in Las Vegas (the seventh of the Hawaiian islands, since so many people here travel there to gamble and take in shows). The palm trees, she admitted, are cliches, but she opts to "own them in some way." The octopi she found at the Waikiki aquarium, and likes their mirroring of the palm's tree's fronds. Ku works with large pieces of paper when she can, since such large sheets present her with "her own world."

Ku is an artist who can talk poetics. When asked to talk about her large piece, "Burden Lightens Piecemeal," which features a woman with long braids dragging what appears to be her dead double, who is being pecked by crows and ravens, she told us about the autobiography of the famous 19th century Siamese twins, Eng and Chang. But not only did she tell us about the twins, the one who died and the one who remained attached, but also about the ways in which we attach ourselves to our pathologies, her research on funerary practices in China--where unmarried women and children are not buried, but left out for birds to consume--and talked about how definitions accrete for us over time.

Fresh from Ku's room with its "Mad Dash" and "Where Ghosts Live" and "Alarmed Mermaid" and "Taking Down a Giant" drawings made of graphite, ink and watercolor, we moved into room of work by Elizabeth Berdann, an artist obsessed by "the plasticity of bodies." Berdann has the portrait of a buttocks inside a gold frame, the kind you might put grandmother's face in; she makes tiny pieces you have to peer at; she uses found objects from flea markets. And she has an old chair called "Chair of Insults" (1992). On this old chair are doilies carefully sewn with sayings like "Let me know when you've written your book" or "If I loved you / I would tell you" or "You're the dog in the photo" and so on. Heirloom of insult. But from insults and tongues we moved into "the dog room," where Berdann's loving sketches and paintings of dogs are on display. As a new mother, she discovered a world at the height of her daughter's stroller, the world of the canine. Her portraits of these dogs are detailed, loving, and odd, as are the later pieces done after she developed breast cancer.

Around the corner from the dogs are the old women, a row of them on one side of a corridor, the other side of which is the wall to the outside. One of them, Emma, can be seen at the top of this post. Berdann painted these women (on copper plates) when one of her residencies placed her across the street from a nursing home. I was most struck with these portraits, for my own reasons, and want to go back to visit them. Each face peers out of a steel frame that is either in the shape of a heart or of a diamond. The faces are wrinkled, fallen, lovely in their age, yet off-putting because we are not accustomed to finding beauty there.

The attraction-repulsion effect of the nursing home corridor was heightened when we moved to the work of Judy Fox. Fox's "legendary beings" range from Krishna and Lakshmi to Snow White and her Seven Sins, surreal dog-like gnomish objects in bright terracotta that combine the qualities of vegetables with those of sex organs. Odd effects. One of the two men on the tour spoke of the feeling he got looking at these objects knowing that someone might be looking at him, wondering if he found them arousing. They were more, as the artist herself says, "icky cute" objects, funny/disturbing "characters," some of whom looked to be zipped up in surreal symbolic vests. By the time I arrived at Allison Schulnick's short videos of appearing and disintegrating hobos and clowns in states of nature I could handle no more.

On April 18 at 2 p.m. the Museum will host a reading by the writers, with a reception to follow.