In which I complete an assignment for my computers class

It’s been a while, hasn’t it. I last posted, saying I wanted to continue blogging. That was a year ago. Well then. Here’s the required stuff for one of my final projects for my computers class:

In my year long read through of the Bible, I’ve reached something of a halfway point in Isiah. The chapters I read today were 31-35. I found 34:6 to be pretty hardcore. “The sword of the LORD is bathed in blood, it is covered with fat– the blood of lambs and goats, fat from the kidneys of rams. For the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah and a great slaughter in Edom.” These chapters are very “God is gonna judge you, so you better get things right.” It’s a reminder that God doesn’t play around with sin.

Here’s a terrifying picture of a sword from a Pentecostal website.

SWORDsky

Maybe I’ll get back around to posting to this blog. We shall see.

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One Last Hurrah: Three Poets and Something New

This is it. My last post for class. It’s been an adventure and I can’t help but be glad for this assignment. It’s grown me as a writer and reader. So without further ado, allow me to look at not one, not two, but three Modern poets for my final post. (If you can’t tell, I’m playing catch up.)

Today I’ll be looking at three poets: Muriel Rukeyser, Elizabeth Bishop, and Sylvia Plath. And because I figured why not and this is the last chance I’ll get to do this the poet I’ll be comparing them to is…. Me. So be lenient with me (because I in now way am claiming to be as a good a poet as these here) and settle in for a long post.

First up is Muriel Rukeyser. I enjoyed her poetry and really, I just have a thing for social justice poets. So today, take a look at her poem “Mearl Blankenship” from The Book of the Dead and my poem below.

Anger is easy.
The thudthudthud of my heart,
pounding across my soul,
bringing tremors to my frame,
earth shattering quakes that rip apart
the weakness and fragility that held me captive.
It is more simple to see red that to offer a second chance.
If there were fury up from hell,
this jilted lover would take it out for tea and
take a sledge-hammer to its car.
Proving that niceties mean nothing
when storms of wrath—gales that upend worlds,
precision lighting pilfered from Zeus’ armory
by a Hera who will stand for betrayal
no longer—rage across the last fading
memories of amorous days,
more fair and beautiful than
wretched sorrow, but drowned in the
downpour.

One of my favorite things about Rukeyser is that she is unapologetic in her poetry. The Book of the Dead is a stylistic hodgepodge of tone, voices, and formats. It’s awesome. Mearl Blankenship has two distinct tones, one from the perspective of the speaker, and one from Mearl, who is given voice in the poem. Mearl’s letter takes up a good portion of this poem, and it’s heart wrenching to read. The final lines of his letter “But I am still here / a lingering along” brings the reality of suffering and and hopelessness of a man with no one on his side, continuing to plod along in life.

In a similar fashion, I end my own poem with a note a hopelessness. While ager is the theme of the poem, the conclusion of my poem points to how even with a mighty rage, not even anger can keep sadness away.

Next up is Elizabeth Bishop and her poem “One Art.” I found it especially lovely. I’ll be comparing it to my poem “Pink Lemonade,” which you will find below.

Our bench is gone.
The cool marble seat
that held you and I,
our first laughs and jokes,
and the spicy chai
that warmed my body and my heart.

That brisk April evening,
as we sat under the pink lemonade sky
and shared drinks and dreams,
was the beginning
of a friendship
I hadn’t dared to want.

And still the sky
is tinged pink,
looking over the
paths and sidewalks
we walked together,
that I called our own.

But we are no longer we,
you are long gone,
and my dreams
can hold you here no more.
The sky is pink lemonade,
and your name is sour on my tongue.

Both of these poems are about losing something. Bishop writes exclusively of the very idea and art of losing. Her clever rhyming stanzas are witty, but hide the more serious tone of the poem, until eventually revealing in the final stanza the loss of love. The lines “—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture / I love) I shan’t have lied” are a final shock to the reader, realizing that while losing petty things is common place, so too is losing the one you love.

In a similar theme, my poem is about loss.  While obviously more overt, my poem is about losing the one you love and about the memories of that person. Both Bishop and I cal back to similar phrases. For Bishop it is a whole line: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” For my it is the idea of pink lemonade. Both of these phrases help to keep the poems focused and concise.

Finally we have come to Sylvia Plath. I’ll be talking about her poem “Lady Lazarus” and my own poem “Still.”

i can still
still
hear your voice
echoing in my heart

there was silence once
and
you filled the void
until it rang hallow

i can still
still
feel your body
holding me in sleep

the heavy warmth
and
the comfort of your arms
kept me alive at night

i can still
still
listen to your song
it will not leave me

though i long for it
quiet
my heart rings empty
i cannot escape you

Plath’s poetry is a level of brilliance I can only hope to one day emulate. Her voice in her poems is terrifying but excellent. One thing I enjoyed was Plath’s balance of repetition and difference. She uses just enough similar phrasing that it catches the eye and the ear, but not so much that it overwhelms. On the other hand, I make repetition my theme. Where Plath’s stanzas are all three lines with varying length and form, I kept my poem more firmly into a specific form. I absolutely love the final stanza of Plath’s poem:

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

The firm and assured tone of the poem is almost empowering, while my poem’s voice is that of submission and resignation.

And with that, I finish my blogging for Modern American Poetry. This has been a lot of fun, and I plan on keeping up this blog (although on a number of different topics, not just poetry). Although in the future I might put more of my own poetry here. Thanks for reading!

Love That Poem: William Carlos Williams and a Children’s Novel

One summer, when I was only nine years old, I begged my parents to send me to a week long creative writing class offered at a nearby school. Of the dozen or so children in my class, I was the only one who asked to attend. Every other student viewed the class as a form of punishment. My teacher spent the week focusing on poetry—which offended my prose sensibilities. I went to this class to write stories, not poetry! But sometime during the week, she read to us a book. A very special book. A book that changed the way I interact with poetry. Today I’m going to talk about William Carlos Williams and Sharon Creech’s short children’s novel Love That Dog. If you want to add something valuable to your library, go buy it. Right now. Go. If not, I’ll include a few passages from the book. But trust me on this, you’ll want it.

The entire premise of Love That Dog is that a young boy, Jack, is writing in a journal to his teacher. Each entry is in response to his teacher on the topic of poetry, whether a poem that the class studied, or that the boy himself writes. I can’t give you all of the book, but I’ll type up selected sections because it is excellent. This will be in contrast to William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Red Wheelbarrow.” (I would apologize for the length of this blog, but really, I won’t do the book justice unless I give you several key passages. So you’re in for a longer read this week.)

September 27

I don’t understand
the poem about
the red wheelbarrow
and the white chickens
and why so much
depends upon
them.

If that is a poem
about the red wheelbarrow
and the white chickens
then any words
can be a poem.
You’ve just got to
make
short
lines.

This is Jack’s first response to a poem by his teacher, and in it he questions the very nature of poetry. His next two entires are as follows:

October 4

Do you promise
not to read it
out loud?
Do you promise
not to put it
on the board?

Okay, here it is,
but I don’t like it.

So much depends
upon

a blue car
splattered with mud
speeding down the road.

October 10

What do you mean—
Why does so much depend
upon
a blue car?

You didn’t say before
that I had to tell why.

The wheelbarrow guy
didn’t tell why.

One of my favorite things about this book is that Creech uses the simple insights of a child to point out questions that most people have when reading poetry: What makes this a poem? What does this poem mean? Why? And Creech leaves these questions unanswered (for the most part), exemplifying that the nature of poetry is not to find some hidden meaning, but to create an image. While Williams set out to create images of things, a red wheelbarrow, for example, Creech uses Jack to create the image of a child, clear in the eyes of the reader: Curious, self-conscious, skeptical, and even a little bit silly. One of Jack’s later entries in the novel is to me one of the most simple but insightful pieces on the nature of poetry. It reads:

January 17

Remember the wheelbarrow poem
you read
the first week
of school?

Maybe the wheelbarrow poet
was just
making a picture
with words
and
someone else—
like maybe his teacher—
typed it up
and then people thought
it was a poem
because
it looked like one
typed up like that.

And maybe
that’s the same thing
that happened with
Mr. Robert Frost.
Maybe he was just
making pictures with words
about the snowy woods
and the pasture—
and his teacher
typed them up
and they looked like poems
so people thought
they were poems.

Like how you did
with the blue-car things
and the reading-the-small-poems thing.
On the board
typed up
they look like
poems
and the other kids
are looking at them
and they think
they really are
poems
and they
are all saying
Who wrote that?

Jack doesn’t see his own writing as poetry, just pictures with words. But that in itself captures much of what Modernism and Imagism set out to do: Create an image with poetry.  In this way, Jack’s poems, which are crafted to immolate writers like Frost and Williams, do exactly that, they create an image. But even greater than that is Creech’s poems, which create a different image, that of a young boy trying to come to terms with the idea that he writes poetry, and that people actually like his poetry. In the January poem, it is easy to read by Jack’s tone that he is uncertain about his poems, and does not know how to feel about his classmates interest in his poems (which are posted anonymously on the board in his class).

Creech, using the voice of Jack, also brings to light the issue of free verse poetry, in a very humorous manner. When Jack talks about using short lines to make poetry, he is referencing how Williams’ poem uses short lines, broken at seemingly random intervals, for formatting. And so Creech has Jack do the same thing. In a stylistic homage to Williams, but also in giving the character Jack a voice of his own, Creech allows Jack to emulate poets he has read, and grow as a writer as time passes.

Overall, I think Love That Dog is a book most children should read. It introduces poetry in a fun, entertaining, and impactful way. (Spoiler alert: The middle of the book is really sad.) The way Creech brings poets from different times in history together to teach children about poetry is beautiful, and well worth a comparison to William Carlos Williams, who happens to be one of my favorite poets. So go read Love That Dog. And maybe keep some tissues handy.

Langston Hughes deserves the hug Walter Dean Meyers would give him

Two weeks in a row of intense poetry dealing with racism are good for a person, but in a painful way. (Also I may have been procrastinating on homework by reading a sad children’s novel, but don’t tell anyone.) Langston Hughes embodies well the difficulties faced by people of color in the early twentieth century. So much so that it can be emotionally exhausting to read the frankness of pain and suffering present in his poetry. But this week, I’m powering through a stuffy nose and an aching heart to talk about Hughes’s poem “Come to the Waldorf -Astoria” and Walter Dean Meyers’ poem “Harlem: A poem.” (This may in fact be an excerpt from his novel Harlem, but the internet is not being very resourceful today.)

One of my main reasons for comparing these two poets and their poems is that they both focus on the location of Harlem and New York, dealing with racial issues present within the area in both their lives, which happen to overlap some. Hughes uses “Come to the Waldorf-Astoria” to bring to light the disparity between the white upper class in New York during the Depression and the impoverished blacks. His stanzas are an ironic form of hyperbole and seem to grow in intensity and black humor. Hughes contrasts the idea of a hotel where black people can neither work nor stay with the idea that it is so incredibly open, and at a $10,000 price tag! The constant juxtaposition is discomforting, and serves to make the reader realize how problematic and the situation is.

On the other hand Walter Dean Meyers’ poem about Harlem takes on a more positive light. It reminisces Harlem as a place of music and joviality, although it recognizes at times the more somber realities. One of my favorite stanzas goes

In Harlem
Sparrows sit on fire escapes
Outside rent parties
To learn the tunes.

Meyers creates an image of Harlem not brought low by poverty, but creating music that even the birds admire. Harlem is a place of musical beauty, with dancing and culture all around. It is a mix of cultures and times, all jumbled up together, but still a place he calls a home.

While Hughes makes references to current events within his poem, citing the hotel and some famous artists, Meyers looks back in his poem, remembering even Hughes as a formative creator of what Harlem has become for him. Both poets use these allusions to make the poems more real, not merely ideas or satire, but something that can and does exist within the real world.

It’s refreshing to take the hurt of the past and see how it has grown and flourished. While it is impossible to say that life for African-Americans is completely great, things tend to go in the right direction, and that’s worth celebrating in the small things.

 

Claude Mckay still speaks today: Teaching new lessons to a new generation

I told myself that I wasn’t going to do another spoken word poem for class after my two week special. But I think there’s something important about how spoken word as a genre deals with social injustices. So as I read the amazing and powerful sonnets of Claude McKay, I found myself reminded of the poem “Sons” by Terisa Siagatonu and Rudy Francisco. Today, I’ll be discussing “Sons” and McKay’s “The Lynching.”

Both of these poems deal with issues plaguing the culture of the time and how it is passed on through generations. McKay deals with how lynching was both commonplace and a terrifying reality in his life. Francisco and Siagatonu take up the issues of rape culture and victim blaming present in many aspects of American culture today. Although they deal with similar issues of race and injustice in the world, the two poems are vastly different. McKay makes us of the traditional sonnet form, using a familiar style in contrast to the horrors he depicts to unsettle the reader. The poem “Sons” is spoken word, which is often used to deal with issues of social justice. As the poem goes on Francisco and Siagatonu grow louder and more impassioned, bringing the listener in emotionally.

The use of children and the idea that cultural injustice is passed on through teaching is present in both. McKay finishes his poem with the lines “And little lads, lynchers that were to be, / Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.” McKay contrasts the image of children dancing with the awful truth that lynching has already been ingrained into them as both acceptable and fun. Likewise Francisco and Siagatonu say that “Rape culture is the worst kind of teacher our children are learning the most from.” Broken ideologies are not passive. They are actively taught by authorities, parents, and news outlets. Francisco and Siagatonu mirror the idea McKay puts forth, that racism and injustice are not merely symptoms, but lessons taught and learned. Perhaps in reading and listening to these poems, we can learn that although injustice still remains in the world today, it is possible to correct the lessons being taught to the next generation, and instead teach them justice.

 

If you don’t read H.D. after a bad breakup, you’re doing it wrong.

Last spring, I got dumped. It was pretty bad. Last spring I also took a Survey of American Literature class. It was pretty rad. Although we never covered H.D. in class, my curiosity had me looking for awesome female poets in the anthology. I stumbled upon H.D. by chance (As it was intended, the acronym had me unsure about H.D.’s gender). I read her poem “Eurydice” and fell in love. Then I read as much of her poetry as I could get my hands on, finally writing a paper on her for the class. H.D.’s poetry is excellent, but it’s hard to articulate how much “Eurydice” echoed with me without remembering the bittersweet sorrow of a terrible breakup. So with that in mind, this week I want to talk about “Eurydice” and the song “Manhattan” by  Sara Bareilles. Take a listen, and stay with me. It’ll be worth it.

H.D. defined the imagist movement. She didn’t start it, but scholars agree that she embodied it. It is impossible to read “Eurydice” without imagining several of the intense images H.D. evoked in her writing. I especially enjoyed her use of the idea of both a breaking rock and a blooming flower near the final stanza:

hell must break before I am lost;

before I am lost,
hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.

The contradictory images of breaking and blooming echoes the paradox of the entire poem: Life in death. H.D. gives a voice to Eurydice, and in doing so creates a speaker who once held out hope of returning to life, but when she is let down by her love, instead turns the situation around. Eurydice says she is more happen in Hades than she ever would have been if she returned to life with Orpheus. The images are striking. Eurydice is flourishing in the land of the dead, which is broken before her spirit. She turns the pain and torment of death into joy and growth.

The song Manhattan doesn’t mirror the mythic theme of Eurydice, but the emotions of the two works are similar. Eurydice begins in sorrow and eventually grows into self-empowerment. Manhattan remains sorrowful, but holds out hope towards the end of the song. One of the starting images of the song, reminds me of H.D.’s imagist style.

I’ll gather up the avenues
And leave them on your doorstep
And I’ll tip toe away
So you won’t have to say
You heard me leave.

Again, two close but different images dominate. The first, of the speaker physically gathering the streets, as if they were something to be held and moved, is beautiful in the depiction. Then the image of sneaking away echoes the secretive nature of the speaker’s leaving. She does not openly return the streets, or leave while saying goodbye. This is a private and lonely retreat, but obviously a heartbreaking one. The speaker of Manhattan, like H.D.’s Eurydice, does not want to leave the ideal land. But both eventually come to find that their new locations, the West Coast and Hades respectively, are better places for them. The “you” of each poem, the implied man who has hurt the speaker, is left in the place of origin, but despite sorrow, both women come out stronger for leaving and being satisfied.

The poem and the song are starkly different is many ways, but both use images to portray the loss of love and how it is possible to grow stronger through such loss.

I’m sorry T.S. Eliot, Humor Poetry wins today

This blog post is dedicated to my best friend Sara, who has spent a good portion of her life having emotions about T.S. Eliot and The Wasteland. (But I’m not talking about The Wasteland.)

One of my first interactions with T.S. Eliot outside of a classroom setting was in John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars. During the novel, the main character Hazel goes with her boyfriend, Augustus, to Amsterdam. On the airplane, she reads “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” much to the amusement of Augustus, who is not literarily minded at all. The poem plays a small part in the book, but it made me smile to see one of my favorite Eliot poems in popular young adult fiction. (Then I cried, because that book is sad.) The point is, despite Eliot’s high class writing, his poetry is still approachable today.

And then I discovered “The Love Song of J. Alfred Capslock” by Aaron Belz. And it is magnificent.

The way in which Belz writes both as a tribute to Eliot but still manages to poke fun at Eliot’s high strung style and content is masterful in a playful way. Where Eliot writes pages of precise craft with copious footnotes for the less educated reader, Belz jumps right into the current dialect of the internet and texting age, appropriating Eliot’s character as lost and confused in an afterlife for the present age. The complete contrast of language between the two poets leaves me wondering at first if they even should be compared. And then I chuckle again at Belz and know that the humor alone is worth the comparison.

Eliot is know for his complexity, verbosity, and the fact that no one can really figure out what exactly The Wasteland means. His knowledge and ability to make allusions to literally anything and everything is part of what sets him apart from other poets. Reading Eliot without footnotes is just a bad idea. So to read Belz portraying Eliot in such a simple manner, with language and content that a sixth grader would have a perfect grasp of, is a refreshing and humorous contrast. It feels a little rude to say that “The Love Song of J. Alfred Capslock” has won my affections for the day, but really, I’m still giggling at how excellently opposite of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” it is.