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!

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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.

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.