All in Columns

"Forma” is a Latin word with a range of meanings. Because it is Latin, it sounds good. Because it has a range of meanings, it makes for a good journal name. In our previous issue, David briefly explained some of the reasons we chose this name. I’d like to to use this opportunity to explain it a little more. 

Ideas are spiritual, the food that the soul feeds on, without which it starves, on which its health depends. We are fascinated by the complex relationship between the words “idea” and “form.” At CiRCE, we are concerned that the modern man undervalues ideas and forms because he does not see how they link the temporal and the eternal. 

Four Tips for Cultivating Classroom Conversation (With Some Help from G. K. Chesterton)

Within the Christian classical education renewal, Socratic conversations, seminars, and colloquies are an essential element. At the very least, schools and homeschools all speak of the Socratic approach as a distinctive of the classical approach. Everyone is doing it, everyone is advertising that they do it, and everyone wants to be doing it well. Many of us, then, are in search of tips to make that sort of classroom conversation a bit more, say, conversational. It can be supposed, with reasonable certainty, then, that this is why you are reading this article. Alternatively, you might be reading it in order to find out what foolish things I might say, so that you can kindly correct me. In either case, welcome. 

3 Contemporary Poets Worth Reading

One fallacy that the classical Christian education movement might be vulnerable to is chronological snobbery in which we fail to appreciate contemporary literature on the grounds that it is contemporary.  It is also possible that we might not read contemporary literature because we don’t know what merits our time and, it’s true, it is more difficult to know what is worthy because this work is not ‘time-tested’. I have selected some books that have proven rich and remunerating and are in close and informed dialogue with poetry’s past.  All of these authors know the formal tradition well and some use them in ways familiar to their poetic ancestors, but many use open verse that borrows and haunts those old forms in remarkably skillful ways.  All tradition is a conversation. 


Four Modern Novels (Almost) Everyone Should Read

We are entering the third phase of cultural barbarism. The first phase occurred when we began to abandon the knowledge of our literary heritage, and the second when we abandoned the literature that assumed that knowledge. The phase we are in now is one in which our literature is untethered from much of anything except itself. We are cultural barbarians who don’t know what these writings are even for, so we employ them as kindling to stoke the fires of our ignorance.

The Romantic Problem & the Path to Modern Music

Gustav Mahler had a problem of epic proportions.  He was clearly the inheritor of both of the great strands of musical Romanticism:  the increasingly chromatic harmonic language that started with Beethoven and led up to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, as well as the sonata form that had begun with Haydn and had been explored by all the great composers from Mozart to Bruckner.  Mahler knew, however, that it was all coming to a close.  He was going to be the last in a long progressive line of tonal composers.  He believed tonality and the sonata had finally become exhausted.  Every possible chromatic interaction had been tried, and the form had been stretched to the breaking point. In his 9th Symphony (his last to be completed), Mahler prophetically said goodbye to everything: to the optimism of the Romantic artist of the 19th century, to the tonality that he loved, and even to his own life (Mahler knew that he had a heart condition that would take his life the next year).  Mahler knew that the 20th century was going to be what Auden eventually calls “The Age of Anxiety.” The loss of tonality, and the end of the nineteenth-century progressive optimism preceded the First World War through which came the loss of European civilization as it had been.

How Not to Teach Poetry

You might think that loving to read (or even write) poetry would make you qualified to teach poetry, but it doesn’t. I can still recall that sinking feeling in my stomach when, after reading a poem to my 10th grade class, I realized that I had to say something about it. It was a helpless feeling: “If you cannot simply see the beauty of what we read just now, what can I possibly say to make you see it?” It’s a bit like Chesterton explains in Orthodoxy: the things we are most convinced of are often the ones we find most difficult to explain or defend, like if you were suddenly asked why civilization should be preferred to savagery: the multiplicity of reasons is so overwhelming response is impossible. 

Let Us Attend

Has it ever been harder to get and hold a student’s attention? It seems that we suffer from a cultural attention deficit disorder every bit as much as from the more well-known cultural amnesia. Excessive stimulation assaults our senses while fragmentation creates discord in our souls.

Yet, the most important skill our students need to practice, the skill on which everything depends, is the ability to pay attention. We can learn how to cultivate this faculty, or we can ensure that most of our teaching goes to waste.