Ginsberg and the Card Catalog

A librarian at the university took some high school students on a tour and asked if they knew what a card catalog was.

Corner of Clark and College, just because.

No hands.

Most library catalogs are now completely electronic. The card catalog, of course, was the cabinet with the long drawers filled with index cards used to find books.

The librarian was amazed at this generational gulf and later put one of the library’s antique card catalog cabinets in the second floor stairwell rotunda like a museum piece.

This was two years ago. And ever since she told me this story, I’ve asked my speech students the same question.

I get the same response.

The same thing happens when I mention the name Allen Ginsberg.

(O victory forget your underwear we’re free)

My wife and I heard Ginsberg read several years ago at an Overland Park bookstore and the sound system was terrible.

(the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,)

I try to use this experience to show students that technical failures shouldn’t cramp your style.

(I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,)

Anyone? Ginsberg?

Blank stares. So quiet you can hear an iPhone vibrate.

Poetry certainly isn’t at the top their reading list. Then again, I don’t think reading in general ranks very high for them. It’s disheartening but not surprising.

Well, my faith in students increased considerably after a recent round of speeches. One student said he liked to fix problems through civil disobedience and speaking out.

Another student talked about living in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. He was separated from his family as they ran away. Luckily, he found refuge with an elderly woman in the chaos. The woman was nice enough to take him in, but she beat him mercilessly for several months.

After the war, he was reunited with his family but was forever changed. He was angry, withdrawn and disengaged from everyone. But he learned he didn’t have to live a bitter, reclusive life. He moved on and eventually came to America to study.

I listened and couldn’t help smiling, thinking these are the same students who sit in class staring at me like so many clams.

The gulf is ever-expanding between generations, but the kids have experiences to share, too. The moment we stop learning something from one another is the day they close the lid.

  1. #1 by Kirsten Shaw on February 1, 2012 - 2:23 am

    Poetic as always Matt. Lets hope they never bring the card catalog back cause I sure as heck don’t want to have to type on those tiny little cards:-)

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