Agree//disagree: a poem and its inspirations.

..or hidden musings on conversation, community & making stuff up.

On Saturday morning, I was sitting with my 3 year old at a cafe having breakfast, and a few moments of silence passed between us.  As my mind wandered vaguely to some of the things I’d read the previous night, these lines came into my head:

Agree, disagree

I looked  for a pen. I didn’t have one. So as a small child ate raisin toast, I typed the lines into Evernote on my phone and some more came tumbling out. I paused a little in between, thinking about discrete things I’d mulled over, mostly during the previous evening. This is the poem (which I later put into notegraphy – thanks Mariana), and some of the thoughts and influences behind it.

agree-disagree, a poem

The norms we

The seeds of inspiration for these lines – and much of this poem – came from Mariana’s Storify ‘The interpersonal contract in cMoocs’ , which I’d actually come across from Jeff Merrell’s post ‘Teaching Uncertainly #rhizo14’. Here, Jeff talks about an open blogging assignment/experiment he’s running – and how one of his student’s blog posts (Andee Weinfurner @andeew38) was picked up and woven into this storify ^ by Mariana. I was intrigued (and actually a bit surprised) that he and Mariana hadn’t known of each other prior to this, and touched by the depth and thoughtfulness of their exchange in the comments on Jeff’s post. It reminded me, again, what catalysts blog posts can be in developing deeper connections with people – when you take the time to listen, reflect and respond thoughtfully. I love that I found both Jeff and Mariana in precisely this way – and I guess it’s no coincidence that they found each other this way too. Perhaps this is something of the human connection that Jeff’s student blogger Andee asks about in her post.

I was intrigued enough to click on the link to Mariana’s storify and was blown away by all that it said. It’s about the way we’re relating to each other in #rhizo14 (and cMOOCs generally) and the impact that the lack of explicit norms might have in shaping the rhizo14 dialogue and experience. Mariana’s storify was what I was thinking about on that Saturday morning. In particular, this:

As I read this again some days after, I’m struck by how much of this passage I internalised – its influence unmistakably present in those first few lines that came into my head that Saturday morning. So once again, Mariana has challenged me to think and reflect about my own behaviour (‘Is this something I do?’ ‘What impact might it have on the tenor of the dialogue?’). We tend to be brought up to value debate, logic, to take a strong position on something and defend it – argue to the death. Conceding to another is often perceived as a sign of mental weakness. What impact does this have on our ability to see the grey, the nuances in complexity? How does this impact our willingness to listen – really listen – to what someone else is saying? How often are we already thinking about how we’ll respond – and cutting in – before the other person has even had a chance to speak? I guess that is what this is about:


As I wrote this that morning, I was also thinking about Nick Kearney (@nickkearney)’s post ‘Marram Grass’, and Mariana’s comment on that, which I’d also seen the previous evening. Is conversation the community in #rhizo14? (the precise thought I’d had a couple of weeks ago). If so, where are these conversations occurring? And what do we even mean when we talk of ‘conversation’ online? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot throughout rhizo14, and also as a result of concurrently helping coordinate a new L&D twitter chat (#OzLearn), plus the Sydney Third Place social/networking meetups – how is conversation taking place within these various spaces, what does it look like, what does it ‘feel’ like, similarities? differences? Is there ‘conversation’? Is there (emergent) ‘community’? It’s something I’ll be writing a more focused post on but this was all in my subconscious as I wrote these lines.

When trying to define something unknown online, you inevitably try to relate it to what’s familiar offline, in real life. And so it was on that Saturday morning. Thoughts of community conjured up visuals of church > nationalism > patriotism.

Of a nation
And unity – ?

Then, of course, there’s contrast:

Or distribution
And divergence
On their blogs

This ^ is actually a reference to divergent vs convergent thinking, raised by Maureen Crawford in a comment on my previous post, as well as in her own post ‘Networks are expanding our ignorance’. I recall distinctly this having a big impact on me as the realisation dawned that both ‘divergent browsing’ (e.g. rampant blog hopping…?!) and ‘convergent thinking’ (e.g. thoughtful reflection) are important and necessary, essential parts of the creative process.

And, as I started thinking about the process of blogging, what it feels like when you write a post (well, to me, anyway):

Moments of clarity

…simultaneously littered with uncertainty and self doubt, comparisons with others…the wondering of whether what you’re writing even makes sense, the feeling that you’re just  making it up as you go – and hoping that nobody notices (or that at least they don’t call you out too badly for it…)

and farcity

(And yes, I made up those words…cos there aren’t that many words that rhyme with ‘clarity’  or ‘parity’, and once I started, it was hard to stop. Too much fun. And it kinda fits with the theme.)

Embryonic thoughts put out to sea
Posting letters
up in a tree
planting rhizomes
weeds that spread
messages in bottles
we set them free

The sea references ^ are again Maureen-Crawford-inspired, with a little bit of Ryan Tracey serendipity added into the mix. Here’s the story: a few days ago, Maureen tweeted me this:


Initially I was just going to respond a simple (normal) reply of thanks…but decided that would be boring and responded by poem instead (harder in 140 chars than you might imagine! But it was Friday, I was feeling playful):


Just after I sent that I went and had a look at a link which Ryan Tracey (@ryantracey) had posted on my previous post…and was amazed to find it led to this:

Wow. How’s that for serendipty?! (We both agreed it was a little creepy….but as it turned out there were more serendipitous moments to be had….).

The bit about trees and rhizomes was, I’m sure, my mind casting itself back to this bit of Mariana’s Storify:



And then, later that night, well after I’d written it, I also took at look at another of Mariana’s storifies ‘Help stamp out nouns’, the ending of which communicates exactly the feeling  I was trying to convey with those made up words in the poem.

None of us really know what we’re on about: we’re just all fumbling around in the dark together. And maybe that’s (at least in part) what ‘community as curriculum’ really means. Making sense of what we’re making up. Together.

27 thoughts on “Agree//disagree: a poem and its inspirations.

  1. Maureen Crawford says:

    Tanya – Your post was deeply thought provoking. I will be back to comment further but I thought I would leave as a first response a poem I wrote. . .

    Cartographic Avocation

    The seduction of writing as exploration
    Is the prospector’s joy of discovery.

    Mining the flowing river of community
    Alert, aware, hoping for nuggets of gold.
    Navigating deep chasms whose verdant riches
    Use dreamland as their light source.

    Fulfilling cartographic avocation by plumbing the depths
    And drawing forth boundaries, contours, elevations, hidden resources.
    Adding unique pieces to the collective puzzle.
    Helping the universe take form.

    • dogtrax says:

      I, too, left a poem here before I saw yours, but reading yours, I was struck by the beauty of these lines:
      “Navigating deep chasms whose verdant riches
      Use dreamland as their light source.”
      Love that.

    • tanyalau says:

      Maureen! Thank you for this. I love, love your visual style, such beautiful imagery, I love every line, and the idea that I’m traversing these chasms with you – lighting the way with dreamland. I have a feeling we’ll continue travelling together for a long time to come. Look forward to discovering hidden treasures and exploring, creating and remaking the universe with you ; )

      • tanyalau says:

        woohoo! Thanks so much for this Maureen, love it. Great reading. On way to remix the remix.
        You’ve got an interesting accent…where’s that from? Sounds a bit of a combo of places…? That said, I am hopeless in picking accents!

      • Maureen Crawford says:

        Pretty solidly western Canadian. I have lived in both England and France but that was when I was much younger and I don’t think there are any left over vestiges of either in the accent.

  2. dogtrax says:

    A poetic response to your poem (which I desperately wanted to hear you podcast)

    What kind of mailman puts your letters
    in the tree?
    I wondered as I stared up at the blue sky
    of the sea
    thinking again about how you communicate
    here with me
    across these spaces; such silent faces,
    we rarely see
    finding threads that we bind together
    in community
    while down here on the ground we spread
    rhizomatic seeds
    – Kevin

      • tanyalau says:

        Kevin – you made me smile, think, and touched me with your poignantly witty poem. Every time I see or hear something you’ve made, I’m astounded by your talent and the way you cleverly weave deep meaning, wit and humour in your art. And you seem to do it so effortlessly. I’m so glad you threw out that challenge to remix your poem that first week – it’s given us ‘permission’ to play, I’ve rediscovered a dormant love for poetry, and realising the ability to explore complex concepts through art has been such a revelation to me – probably one of the best things I’ve got out of rhizo14. I’ve really got to thank you for that, because were it not for that invitation, I might not have been brave enough to play.
        And – yes, I will thank you in the form of a vocaroo : ) Maybe not tonight (I actually have a sore throat – what are the chances, eh?) but tomorrow. Promise.

      • tanyalau says:

        Ok – I made good on the promise…it’s very late here but I had insomnia so just had to get up and do this. I’ve included a little message to you as well.
        You can tell it’s late cos there are heaps of pauses – brain is clearly tired and confused as to why I’m trying to communicate instead of sleep :p . I should really sleep now instead of trying to do another take, so here it is:

  3. mdvfunes says:

    Well, this post has summed up the last few weeks for me. Thank you.

    I have read many summary posts and yours is different. I ask myself, why? Much of what I read online is about ideas – summarising, clarifying, adding to ideas or concepts. Sometimes we are just showing off that we know ‘big words’, other times genuinely trying to help understanding.

    Yet, your post ‘feels’ different. Yes, there is the poetry which speaks to a different way of knowing. But that is not it for me. I read it again. Your post is about people first, how you are getting to know them and within that frame about the ideas we are all sharing. Your ask: What does online conversation even mean? I think your post is a beautiful demonstration of how online conversation, beyond the ‘noise we make online’ like Nick says in his post, can happen.

    I am enjoying getting to know you a little and I can honestly say that reading your post today has made me feel optimistic about what might be possible when we engage in open education. A feeling familiar for me in DS106 but not usually outside it 🙂

    • tanyalau says:

      Wow, thank you Mariana, I’m really truly touched by your comments. I think it’s interesting that you say this is about people – yes, I guess you’re right. It’s the people and how we form relationships (if you can call it that? perhaps I should say ‘relationships’!) online, and how that connection develops that has always fascinated me. It’s interesting in the context of social media because, as you and Nick explore on his blog, so much of our communication online is driven by the ‘noise we make’ – and also, I’d suggest – the quantity rather than quality of connection. And it seems, social media is intentionally designed to encourage this (e.g. prominently displaying numbers of followers, connections, friends etc on profiles, tallying retweets, favourites, shares and likes…). I sometimes wonder whether and how it might change the way people interacted online if this information wasn’t accessible, or at least not displayed so prominently.
      But I’m glad I made you feel optimistic – I actually have a lot of optimism in the future of open education – lots of exciting things happening and I’ve been buoyed by my experiences so far. The best bit has always been the amazing people I’ve met. I don’t think online ‘conversation’ will ever be or feel the same as face to face conversation – it is such a different medium – but we can at least, get to know enough of someone online to want to meet them in real life, which is something, I guess.
      Thanks again – and it’s been great getting to know you too, I love reading your stuff and I’m always amazed by how perceptive it is and how much it makes me think, reassess, and question things.

  4. keith.hamon says:

    Wow. I think one of the best things about a great learning space is how the conversation reverberates and echoes, getting richer and richer. Your post is one of those rich echoes for me, and I’m so pleased that I found it. Everything about your poem is rhizomatic: its inspiration, its production, its echoes in the poems of others.

    • tanyalau says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Keith, really appreciate it – and that is a very astute observation about conversation in a learning space. This is something I’ve definitely noticed especially in great online learning spaces (I guess it may be easier to see and track down some of the reverberations in written rather than oral format?), and observing and tracking down some of these reverberating threads of conversations in these spaces is something I’m quite fascinated by.

    • tanyalau says:

      aww, thanks Jeff – I really appreciate that. There have certainly been posts of yours that have done the same for me. Phrases even…’half baked thoughts’!! Thanks for all that you have inspired.

  5. Maureen Crawford says:

    The poetry – ripe for the taking and remaking – just keeps spilling out of me! This is a full on invitation to all of you to hack my poem (below), claim for you own the phrases that feel like your embryos and start kneading your playdough!

    Stranger’s Voice

    Yesterday a friend sent me a poem I recognized.
    Although I am not the author
    It feels like one of my embryos that
    Had perhaps been given to a surrogate.
    The vocabulary, cadence and tone familiar
    The sentiments, message and metaphors
    All ones I play with,
    Knead and roll into
    Long, play-dough snakes,
    Coil into spirals, mark with
    Half-formed impressions.
    I did not write the poem,
    I know it for one of my own.

    Today I found a poem I wrote
    Years ago.
    It does not feel like one of mine.
    I do not remember composing it
    Cannot predict the next phrase.
    A stranger’s voice
    Poignant, haunting
    The mystery words held in a tight bud
    Revealing nothing until
    Nurtured with the water of my eyes
    Slowly a petal of memory opens
    And leans towards the light
    Of illumination.

    Ownership of words, ideas, poems
    Exist in time, in currency of usage,
    Intention, presence.
    Pencil to paper is only the beginning.
    Poems take on a life of their own
    Have many lovers.

    • tanyalau says:

      Thank you for inspiring me
      With your visual poetry
      Love your woven imagery,
      Our poetic repartee

      It’s catching
      and outrageous

      Poemfluenza, or –

      I’d better now just
      End this stanza.

      There’s a cheesy poetic reply totally not doing any justice to your beautiful imagery-laden one. It was funny though, the first two lines came into my head and was going to stop at 4. I then started writing a proper sentence, which incidentally, coincidentally? happened to rhyme…then I thought what the hell, let’s just turn the whole thing into a poem. Yep. The lunatics really have taken over the asylum. And are slowly infiltrating our brains…..
      I shall think of doing a proper steal of your words so I can do it justice. These will definitely be coming with me:
      “Slowly a petal of memory opens
      And leans towards the light
      Of illumination.”

  6. Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) says:

    Wow Tanya, what a wonderful and evocative poem. I read it 4 or 5 times over to cost the word but loved how you explained it with your learning and experience with your connections and blog comments. It’s amazing how many things, comments, explanations, observations, perceptions stay with us and get interpreted and redefined in our own manner and contexts so that we can make sense of it. Loved this post!

    • tanyalau says:

      Aww, thanks Helen! It is – I’m so fascinated by our process of sensemaking – especially with others. I’m sure – I know – I haven’t even captured a fraction of the subconscious influences and inspirations – there were definitely other things I’m sure were bubbling under the surface (there were other related things I’d seen and read at that night…) but these were just the things I remember consciously thinking of.
      I wonder if serendipitous events work this way – subconscious thoughts bubbling to the surface, triggered by something related that we see or hear….(I’m sure there must be some sort of research on this, but it’s fun to speculate, and contemplate….)

  7. balimaha says:

    hey Tanya, this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read on so many levels… I only came across it now (!) and I think I’ll be dreaming about it tonight. So so so beautiful in so many ways. I was first attracted by the poem and then by all the connections you make and then by all the ways in which your writing made me think and feel and react. So beautiful. Thank you

    • tanyalau says:

      Wow. Thanks Maha. Really appreciate you stopping by to say so, thank you. Such a touching comment. I desperately need to write a follow up post as there were lots of amazing poetic / artistic remixes and collaborations that emerged from this too (Kevin’s remix of our poems, then Mariana and Clarissa doing some amazing visual remixes of the remix…then the #11poem collaboration)…have been working on and off on a storify (forever it seems!) to try to chart it…hoping to finally have a bit more time to finish and post that soon! (I think I may have mentioned this in the autoethnography too…). Thanks again Maha. You’ve given me some good motivation to get back onto it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s