Keeping it Simple with Ezra Pound

For a long time, I’ve enjoyed Ezra Pound as a poet. His poem “In a Station of the Metro” both fascinated and conflicted me when I first read it in high school. Being told to copy his style in a poem of my own as an assignment made me realize that it is far easier to ramble on about something than to capture a feeling in a concise image. So in respect of his quality imagist poem, and because his Cantos require more footnotes than T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” I’ll be taking a look at “In a Station of the Metro” and the poem “Solstice” by James Scott Smith.

“In a Station of the Metro”

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

I decided to compare these two poems because they are different, drastically so. Poud has two lines, simple and concrete. A quick image. On the other hand, Smith’s poem is long, drawing out the moment longer and longer, feeding the reader more and more images until it is almost overwhelming. Where Pound gets away without a single use of a verb, Smith makes a point to use verbals like declining, descending, and becoming. Smith is focused on the action, whereas Pound is focused on painting a picture of a single moment.  But I love both of these poems, and they both make me feel something. Despite the differences in style and focus, both poems create in the reader an understanding of an experience.

Pound gives us a flash of experience from a Metro station, while Smith gives us a theological idea from the feeling of being out on a cold night in winter. Both experiences are different and portrayed in vastly different ways, but both also leave the reader with a more nuanced understanding of the experience. It is in the metaphor, the idea of petals on a wet tree, that the reader sees the Metro station. And likewise it is in the metaphors of night biting the ear and rasping the cheek. These two examples of metaphor show how despite stylistic choices, the use of metaphor can always express a more full expression of experience.


Super Late Sickness and Snow Day Two for One Spoken Word Spectacular

I’ve been sick. Also it snowed. Life gets crazy. So this week I’ve got a two for one special!

First, I’ll be taking a look at Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “The Haunted Oak” and this lovely spoken word poem by two teenage girls. (If the video had proper citation, I would love to give credit where credit is due to these two talented young women.)

Both of these poems deal with some serious issues of racism and prejudice, which is why I wanted to compare them. Dunbar uses the voice of a personified old oak used to lynch a black man to bring to light the crimes committed in the name of racism. The narrative voice switches in the first and last stanzas, from a man first questioning and then realizing the horror and injustice that happened at the tree. The somewhat confusing switch in narrative voice reminds me in part of the two young women switching off the duty of speaking their poem, playing off the other for emphasis as much as for meaning. Both poems have two speakers. In Dunbar’s, the speakers are more difficult to identify, while the poem dealing with being Jewish and Muslim in America today makes sure the listener is fully aware of the change in speakers. For the very change brings weight to their words.

For today’s second comparison, I’m dealing with Gertrude Stein’s “Patriarchal Poetry” (Click here to watch some students recite part of the poem) and the following spoken word poem that I will henceforth call “Dear Mr. Anonymous.”

To start with, I’ll go ahead and say that good feminist poetry is one of my favorite things to stumble upon.  So I thought I would love Patriarchal Poetry. I thought wrong. Stein’s repetition and total refusal to recognize regular conventions is poetry is off-putting and rough. But Stein’s use of repetition and inversion of traditional standards leaves the reader uncomfortable. And perhaps that is important. We are not meant to read Stein’s poem and get away with a casual enjoyment. We are supposed to think, to question, and to be brought outside of our comfort zones. This mirrors the effect that “Dear Mr. Anonymous” has upon a listener who is not from a background of marginalization. The speakers challenge the way of life and perceived difficulties of those with privilege so as to discomfort the listeners. They use different methods than Stein, thankfully. Where Stein refuses to match a standard, these two poets fit well into the genre of spoken word and use it to their advantage. I found it interesting that in a genre of poetry generally thought to make use of rhyme, rhyme is scares in “DMA” whereas Stein’s unconventional use of words that both rhyme and sound similar to confuse and disorient the reader.

All four of these poems struck me hard this week. Stein and Dunbar wrote in a context of dealing with marginalization at a cultural level. These two spoken word poems bring to light today how issues of marginalization still run rampant in American culture. Perhaps the encouragement is this: Where there is injustice and oppression, there will always be poets fighting back.

Someone should have told me Robert Frost was terrifying

I first read Robert Frost in Elementary school, in a creative writing class that focused on poetry. We read his “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Then in Middle school, while reading The Outsiders I was introduced to “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Somewhere along the road, I was introduced to the well known “The Road Not Taken.” My boyfriend likes to recite “Fire and Ice” to me whenever Frost comes up in conversation (which is more likely than you would think, but put two English majors together, and what do you expect?).  I mention all of this because I’ve practically grown up learning to read Frost. And yet even when I think I know something about a poet, I realize I still have a lot to learn.

I was not prepared for the dark side of Frost, the side my teachers all seemed to keep tucked gently away in a corner where no one would ever discover him. During one of my readings of “The Witch of Coos” I had to physically put down my poetry book and stop reading simply because I was so terrified. This week, I’ll be taking a look at this poem and a poem by North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti: “The City Jail.”

Both of these poems make use of a speaker on the receiving end of some sort of supernatural tale. Frost has a visitor listening to a mother and son recount the tale of an ambulatory skeleton. Bathanti’s speaker is a young boy learning simple moralism through the reference to the shape in the window of the city jail. Both Frost and Bathanti reject simple moral lessons, though. Instead Frost paints a chilling picture of a potentially mad woman haunted by the past. Bathanti likewise rejects the idea of the family myth of the man in the window and instead creates for the speaker a rarity in which morals are not simple, but necessary to avoid the terrifying fate of the specter that haunts him even into adulthood.

Neither poem leaves the reader feeling safe or at ease by the end. Frost leaves the reader wondering if any of the events with the skeleton actually happened, and wondering at the character of the Mother. Bathanti leaves the reader without ever addressing the issue that the speaker actually does see the man in the window, a make believe character of the speaker’s parents invention.

I still love Frost. “Birches” is one of my favorite poems. But now that I know that Frost is much more than my teachers ever let on, I think I love him all the more.

I Hate Walt Whitman

I hate Walt Whitman. I have a very complicated relationship with the man. Mostly by way of his poetry, seeing as he’s been dead for some time. This week, in my reading I was forced once again to reconcile myself with Whitman. You see, I don’t dislike his poetry. In fact, I enjoy a good portion of it. But reading Whitman gets tedious, quickly. It’s the love-hate of “This poetry is so good that it makes me feel emotions and now I am upset with the poetry” that makes me hate Whitman at times. So today, I’ll be looking at Whitman in comparison to a poet I was recently introduced to. 

Here’s Whitman’s “I Hear It Was Charged Against Me”:

And here’s John Blase with “Surely, This”:


Both of these poems deal with the poet recognizing the self and different identifiers. The speaker in Whitman’s poem addresses the accusations of destroying institutions. The speaker then distances himself from these imposed identifiers and uses a new category with which to identify: “The institution of the dear love of comrades.” The speaker supports the dear love, so much that he seeks to establish it in “every city.” 

Likewise, in his poem Blase uses his speaker to address similar identity issues. The speaker in Blase’s poem intentionally identifies as religious over spiritual, explaining the significant difference between the two and then moving towards the emphatic statement of the sparker’s identity. This mirrors the same structure that Whitman uses: An introduction of identification issues within culture, and a shift towards the speaker’s self identification.

Although these two poems share similar ways in which ideas are presented, there is a stark contrast in almost all other aspects. Stylistically, Blase writes in much shorter lines, making use of enjambment to bring focus to certain thoughts. On the other hand, Whitman ends every line at the end or a clause, fixing each idea firmly for the reader. At the same time both ignore traditional end-rhyme scheme in favor of unrhymed poetry, 

Whitman addresses serious issues in his poetry, many of a political nature. Blase deals with serious and personal issues regarding religion. Both men use their poetry to convey their strong emotions about what they find important. I enjoy Blase for his frank and real treatment of his faith, while at the same time I find Whitman frustrating for some of his straightforward dealings with the issues of being human and living in the United States when he did. So perhaps it is not that I hate Walt Whitman, but the emotions he manages to elicit from me with his poetry. 

Church Culture and Consent

I work with the youth group at my church. With a rowdy group of kids from ten to eighteen, you get a lot of different personalities and habits. I love my students, and their individuality makes me love them even more. But recently I’ve noticed a trend within the culture of not just this youth group, but the church itself. And it has me worried.

One of the high school boys I work with likes to hug people. That’s not really the big problem though. The problem is he especially likes to hug and touch girls who tell him to stop. I am one of those girls. Almost all of my interactions with Mr. Hug involve him intentionally trying to touch me when I tell him not to do so. His understanding of consent is skewed at best. So I’m doing what I can to get him to understand that there isn’t a single situation in which touching someone when they say no is okay. Because I’m afraid that if I can’t impart this lesson in him soon, he’s going to rape someone and think nothing of it.

The problem isn’t just with one kid in youth group, though. The problem is that one of my fellow leaders does the same thing. He intentionally ignores and goes against the wishes of his friends, especially of the female persuasion, to enter into their personal space and touch them. While I know my fellow leader much better, and I am mostly confident that he would never rape someone, he’s not setting the right example for the students he claims to be leading.

And there are never any consequences for either of these people in my life. When I lecture the high school student, he laughs me off as oversensitive. My leader friend merely chuckles and tries harder to invade personal space. None of my fellow leaders or church authorities ever say anything to these people. Without consequences, my church is sending the message that these behaviors aren’t just normal, they are expected.

When Church culture says that it’s okay for guys to ignore the rules of consent in interaction, the Church is saying it doesn’t care what women have to say about their own boundaries and bodies. And when leaders model behaviors that enable young men to ignore consent, they teach (even sometimes unconsciously) that a woman’s wishes are secondary, especially at church. This sort of teaching is dangerous. It excuses inappropriate behavior in male students, and if left unchecked, could mean the difference between a “good Christian boy” respecting a girl’s desire to not have sex and rape. Until consent becomes an important lesson for both genders in all Christian communities, the Church is enabling potential abuse.

Starting a Blog or: The Ethics of Blogging for a Grade

I’ve wanted to blog for years. Reading blogs is an important part of my internet lifestyle. I’m also a writer. So blogging has always been something I’ve wanted to do. The trick is actually putting forth the effort. Planning out posts, posting on a regular schedule, actually having something that people besides my mom will want to read. These are all big obstacles that kept me from really blogging before. But now, I have the right motivation. Or do I?

When I signed up for my Modern American Poetry class, I mostly knew what I was getting into. Reading some of my favorite poets, talking about excellent poetry with other English majors, and generally growing as a writer and reader. The professor had mentioned that he might require us to blog. I thought that was cool. I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this class. But now I’ve come to a conundrum.

What are the ethics of blogging for a grade? My blog posts will be thirty percent of my grade. Thirty! Even though I’ve wanted to blog for a long time, is it really appropriate to start a blog for the sole purpose of passing a class? I’m not so sure it is. It seems like a certain amount of betrayal to potential readers. But then again, plenty of people blog for the sole purpose of making money. Heck, even writers of poetry and fiction, while I know there is a certain love for writing that goes into choosing that profession, write to earn a living. And well, if writing for money is alright, then perhaps writing for a grade is too.

It still seems strange to me, so I’ve given myself extra tasks this semester. This isn’t going to just be a poetry blog. This is going to be my blog. I’m going to talk about things that are important to me. Like Feminism, Christianity, and of course gaming. It’s going to be a hodgepodge of topics, but then again, so am I. So in the next few weeks, I’ll be officially blogging for school, and doing my best to post at least one other post every week on another topic. Because I’m not just blogging for a grade.

I’m blogging for me.