Rachael Hinlicky, March 13, A.K. Ramanujan – “Elements of Composition” analysis
“Elements of Composition”, like much of A.K. Ramanujan’s other poetry, is an attempt by the poet to discover some truth about the complexities of human identity and experience. Through the poem Ramanjan illustrates human experience as complex in its makeup but at the same time uniform with and interconnected to everything else by illustrating the commonalities between all things in their changeability, composition, and their inevitable decomposition. Ramanujan’s interpretation of the unity of all life is developed throughout the poem through comparisons of his understanding of his own nature with his observations of life around him.
The first couple stanzas of the poem (stanzas one through five) seem to operate on their own as a means for the poet to express his perception of what makes him up as a person and how this is intertwined with the makeup of everything around him. He establishes this theme by explaining that “like others” he is composed of “elements on certain well-known lists”, later shown to be the elements of “carbon, even gold, magnesium and such”, illustrating not only his composition, but the composition of everything around him (l. 2-3, 7). He expands on this theme of the commonalities in all forms of life by further breaking down his composition into “earth, air, fire, mostly/ water”, which the Hindu religion asserts “all of creation, including the human body, is made up of these five essential elements”, again aligning his composition with the composition of all life (l. 4-5, Wikipedia.com).
While this first group of stanzas operates to describe the makeup of the poet and its commonality with all life in general, the second group of stanzas offer up another similarity between the poet’s nature and the nature of life in general. Here, the poet’s “self-tangled” nature becomes tangled with the nature around him in its constant changeability, seen when he states for example that he believes his eyes “can see/ only by moving constantly/ the constancy of things” (l. 10-12). This can also be seen in his uncle’s hands which are “making shadow plays of rajas” and then become fingers again, the sister’s fear at her life’s evolution, and the effects of change on a town after a riot (l. 15, 18). With the progression of the poet’s life and his eventual decomposition as well as the eventual decomposition of all things and the images of nature’s ability to change and adapt (the cherry trees and the caterpillar) Ramanujan illustrates that all of creation is similar in that nothing stays the same and that life is constantly changing and evolving.
The constant evolution and changeability of life depicted also functions to sets up the third commonality presented in the end of the poem of all creation’s ultimate decomposition.
Here, a reading of the elements that the poet states he is made up of take on another meaning in that they suggest that life “dissolves into these five elements of nature, thereby balancing the cycle of nature” (Wikipedia.com). This aspect of life can be seen in Ramanujan’s description of the “lepers of Madurai” as having “lion faces, crabs for claws”, illustrating the decomposition of these people’s flesh while they are still alive due to the effects of this gruesome disease (l. 28, 30). Furthermore, Ramanujan presents images of “insects that do not last/ a day” and “millennia of fossil records” in order to depict death and decomposition and its certainty (l. 41-42, 40).
“Elements of Composition” is made up of five sections, the first four of which have five stanzas that express a certain theme that sets up the theme of the next group of stanzas. The format as a result offers additional insight to the meaning of the poem, through its separation of the themes into sections that operate to illustrate a progression of life and a larger life cycle. For example, the beginning section of the poem suggests themes of composition and birth through the poet’s description of being made up of “father’s seed and mother’s egg” (l. 3). This is followed by a group of stanzas which illustrate the changeability of life and so in a sense could also suggest growth from childhood to adulthood. The third section of poem describes the decomposition of life, which comes after the final stages of evolution into old age (hopefully!), and so as a result the poem is able to express themes of life cycles through its formatting as well as with its imagery and symbolism.
The last section of the poem operates on its own to summarize this life progress and again illustrates creations unity not only in its composition, changeability, and decomposition, but also in its presentation of a circle of life in which the decomposition of life is necessary for the composition of new life. The most clear image of this theme can be seen in the image of the caterpillar that Ramanujan presents as “on a leaf, eating, being eaten” (l. 59-60). As the caterpillar is the perfect symbol for the evolution of life in its transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, and it being described as simultaneously eating and being eaten, the poem suggests that life cycles are unending and self-preserving in their ability to make new life out of old. For himself, Ramanujan describes this process as decomposing “into other names and forms/ past, and passing, tenses/ without time”, reiterating and solidifying the poem’s message of the unity of all life and illustrating its existence outside of time and form (l. 53-55).
Rachael Hinlicky, May 1, Charles Bernstein – “The Kiwi Bird in the Kiwi Tree” analysis
Charles Bernstein’s contributions to the cannon of contemporary poetry consistently explore and define the philosophies held by the poet of the abandonment of “restricted vocabulary, neutral and univocal tone in the guise of vice or persona, grammar-book syntax, received conceits, static and unitary of form” of traditional poetry, for a model that emphasizes “multiple voices and discourse, ruptured grammar and syntax, and blurred generic boundaries” (Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary poetry, pg. 909). “The Kiwi Bird in the Kiwi Tree” is an example of his meditations on the multidimensional qualities of language and syntax that suggests the artificiality of language conventions and the relationship between reality and this language. Through his use of puns, interchangeability of meaning, and his manipulation of form, Bernstein creates a case for the arbitrariness of words and the arbitrariness of reality due to his theory of reality’s dependence on and interconnectedness with language, which he saw as liberating in its fluidity instead of problematic it is unpredictability and evasiveness.
“The Kiwi Bird in the Kiwi Tree” is at once a poem describing a bird in a tropical location as the title suggests, while also presenting a narrative of the social conditioning of an individual through language by the poet’s use of duality in meaning in the phrases and puns he presents. This motif of the poem is presented in the first line where the speaker (presumably Bernstein voicing his opinions) states “I want no paradise only to be/ drenched in the downpour of words, fecund/ with tropicality”, which when interpreted in relationship to the title could be interpreted as a description of the paradise the kiwi bird exists in and the downpour of rain associated with tropical environments (l. 1-3). However, when taking into account Bernstein’s philosophy of the nature of language, the meaning of these lines shifts to depict a paradise in terms of perfection in established literary models and forms that the poet denounces and the downpour of limitless meaning of the words referred to in these lines. Additionally, it is in this early point in the poem that Bernstein initially sets up the motif of pun play in his poem as well, with the use of the word “fecund”, meaning either “fruitful in offspring”, suggesting the setting of the tropical bird, or “intellectually inventive”, aligning itself with the nonconformist methods of Bernstein’s poetry (all definitions, and there is a lot of them, I got from merriamwebster.com). The use of puns in order to depict a malleable and transformative image of language and reality is abundant throughout the poem, seen in words such as “relation”, “fundament”, “pinion”, “ply”, “bar”, “tolls”, and “tailor” (l. 3, 4, 6, 7, 8).
The next theme the poem presents is one of the socialization of a child through language that, like the images of the bird in paradise and the poet philosophizing, portrays duality and fluidity in meaning. Here the speaker equates words with “arms/ surround a baby’s gurgling: encir/cling mesh pronounces its promise (not bars/ that pinion, notes that that ply)” suggesting that before a child even learns to speak it is being surrounded and shaped by language (l. 4-7). To emphasis his point about the multidimensional qualities of language however, Bernstein’s use of puns is again utilized not only to reestablish the image of the bird of paradise in a cage with the use of “pinion” to describe a part of a bird’s body underneath the wing area, but also a theme of the musicality of language through the use of “bars” to suggest bars of music in which the notes described can “ply”, which in this context would mean move about freely on.
At this point the additional character of the “tailor” is introduced to the poem in order to depict restrictions in language and society and effectively suggests the interconnectedness of these two themes. The dual meanings of the word “tailor” as a person who makes clothing and the act of adapting to a particular end, illustrate this theme of compliance as well as serves to set up the illustration of the child’s initiation into the world of language and social constructs to which he must adhere. These constructs are defined as “the seam that binds, the trim,/ the waste” which are “spelled” out for the boy and lead him to the “toys or talcums, skates & scores”, illustrating the conventional developmental stages expected of him (l. 8-10). Additionally, through the speaker’s use of the word “tolls” to describe the consequences of this socialization and “scores” as the final stage of the boy’s development he effectively weaves the theme of musicality and duality in meaning back into the poem. The socialization of the boy also serves to illustrate not only the arbitrary and fluctuating nature of language but also of life itself, in that here it is depicted as societal expectations and categorizations that, like language, have no meaning except in their subjectivity and interpretation.
This commentary on the subjectivity of reality leads the speaker to his assertion that “Only the imaginary is real” in that it allows for the “mind’s acrobatic vers/ions” that are depicted and celebrated in the fluidity of language and meaning throughout the poem (l. 8-11). Bernstein ends the poem by declaring that the “first fact is the social body”, ironically contradicting his notion of the relativity of reality and facts (l. 12). The motif of duality in meaning is reintroduced with this statement and the subsequent “one from another, nor needs no other”, in that it is unclear whether the poet is referring to the “social body” in terms of the individual’s socially constructed form or the body of society that the individual encounters and reacts to. The implications of this blurred meaning are that it functions to mirror the theme of the interconnectedness and dependence of language, reality and society and suggests that meaning is relative and arbitrary.
Finally, the structure of the poem also serves to illustrate Bernstein’s philosophies as well as continues the entertaining aspect of the word play and fluctuation employed in the content of the poem. For example, at three different points throughout the poem Bernstein cuts a word in half and hyphenates it, picking it back up in the following line, to illustrate his theme of arbitrariness in language. Additionally, these hyphenated words mirror the meaning presented in their lines, seen for example when “encir-/cing” is used to illustrate the wrapping of arms around the gurgling baby through its wrapping around the text, as well as the acrobatic movements of the word “vers-/ions” from the end of one line to beginning of the other, depicting the flexibility of the mind (l. 5, 12). Additionally, the prosody of the poem and alliteration are employed to mirror the themes of the musicality of language seen for example in “the tailor tells/ of other tolls, the seam that binds, the trim,/ the waste”, “to toys or talcums, skates & scores”, and “one from another, nor needs no other” (l. 7-9, 11, 15).
As an exploration of the philosophies of poetry of Charles Bernstein “The Kiwi Bird in the Kiwi Tree” illustrates the relationship between language and reality, and through depicting the fluidity of language suggests that all of reality is subjective. Although these messages may seem unsettling, Bernstein instead suggests the beauty of this subjectivity in that it affords boundless opportunities for exploring the creative and imaginative aspects of language and poetry.
In Charles Bernstein’s essay “Semblance”, the experimental poet proposes an inventive and fluid approach to the use of words and sentence structure in order to create works of limitless possibility in meaning. He states that through the abandonment of “one-on-one associations” of words to a model which strives to illuminate new “associations made for each of them” words are transported from a one dimensional plane to a “perceptual dimension” that has no bounds besides the confines “of what can be thought, what can (might) be” (pg. 1112) . His essay actually reminded me a lot of the essay on “Projective Verse” by Charles Olson, in his emphasis on the “energy inherent in the referential dimension of language” (Olson’s views on the kinetic energy in poetry), which he felt could be released and explored through rejection of conventional relationships of language and structure, and by his assertion that “Structure… can’t be separated from decisions made within it”, mirroring Olson’s theories of structure’s dependence on content in poetry (pg. 1112, 1114).
However, his theories, while novel, intriguing, and alluring, to me, sacrifice an artist’s ability to communicate with his audience at the expense of experimentation and originality. While the notions of the “energy inherent” in words which have the ability to generate “circumspection about the nature and meaning” and multifaceted and limitless dimensionality in interpretation are appealing, I feel as though this model could also lead to confusion and alienation from his audience, I guess in part since I felt lost through reading parts of his essay (pg. 1112, 1113). For example, Bernstein suggests that through manipulation of word associations and structure the poet is able to expose the multidimensionality of language which defines the medium, and effectively “Making the structures of meaning in language more tangible” (pg. 1112). Although the notions of releasing the potential of language in this way for further understanding is romantic and attractive, I do not really think that shuffling the words of a sentence could ever lead to increased tangibility in meaning. In fact, Bernstein’s essay is not an easy read with his fragmentational sentence structure and his illustrations of the use of his theories, for example “For as much as, within the because, tools their annoyance, tip to toward”, which I suspect are employed to reinforce the validity of his claims even though their meaning is lost on me (pg. 1113).
He would reply however that “sentences that follow standard grammatical patterns allow the accumulating references to enthrall the reader by diminishing diversions from a constructed representation” and so in a sense are a means of mental regulation on the part of the poet that effectively stifle the possibilities of the medium (pg. 1113). So I guess in effect the relevance of Bernstein’s philosophies depend on what the purpose of poetry is understood to be. If the goal is to express ideas and communicate with an audience than I feel as if Bernstein’s notions conflict with the aims of the medium. However, if the emphasis is on expression of emotion and fluidity of meaning and interpretation, than these theories could be seen as in alignment with the purpose of poetry. Since I feel as though both aspects of poetry are of integral importance, I feel like a model which celebrates “know[ing] it makes sense but not quite why” verges on uniqueness for the sake of uniqueness, and maybe not for the evolution of the art form (pg. 1114).
*** I actually wrote my analysis on “Semblance” before I read and explicated any of Bernstein’s poetry, which I think had an effect on the way in which I interpreted his philosophies. After reading “The Kiwi Bird in the Kiwi Tree” and some of Bernstein’s other work and seeing how his philosophies are put into practice and how this lends to a poetry with extensive flexibility in meaning I actually have very different opinions of his essay on poetics.
Rachael Hinlicky, April 24, Elizabeth Bishop – “Sestina” analysis
Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Sestina” is an intoxicatingly beautiful illustration of the poet’s views of fate, and human power and potential. As the title suggests, “Sestina” is a poem in sestina format, mirroring Bishop’s attention paid to human control and agency in the content of the poem.
Besides providing evidence for Bishop’s capability in creating sophisticated and complex poetry, the format that she choose for her poem “Sestina” serves to add depth and meaning to the themes she presents throughout. Since a sestina is a “a lyrical fixed form consisting of six 6-line usually unrhymed stanzas in which the end words of the first stanza recur as end words of the following five stanzas in a successively rotating order”, Bishop’s choice in this formatting for this particular poem emphasizes her theme of human control and power (or lack of) to shape its destiny through the fixed and controlled nature of the sestina form, especially when it is taken into account that the child depicted seems to demonstrate agency through her ability to create art (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sestina). Additionally, with the repetition of six words found in the sestina format, Bishop manages to create a world in which her repeated words are brought into focus as molders and shapers of the lives of the grandmother and the child that the poem focuses on. These six words, (“house”, “grandmother”, “child”, “stove”, “almanac” and “tears”) are all transformed into principal characters in the poem that demonstrate agency and interact with each other in order to illustrate conflicting messages about the capability of human potential to shape its own destiny.
Initially, Bishop seems to present two characters in “Sestina”, those being the grandmother and the child. Taking Bishop’s life into account, it can be assumed that the poem is autobiographical in a sense, and that the grandmother and the child depicted are the poet’s grandmother and a young version of the poet herself, after the death of her father and her relocation to the home of her grandmother. However, on closer inspection, the items in the house of the grandmother demonstrate signs of agency and influence on the lives of the human characters presented. For example, inanimate objects that are transformed into beings with power are depicted as able to “sing”, “dance” and “say”, with special destiny shaping abilities being granted to the objects Bishop made use of in her sestina format (l. 11, 15, 25). In particular, the objects that Bishop aligns with the grandmother, the stove and the almanac, are shown to be of utmost importance in the fates of the two women, in their ability to predict or shape the future. To illustrate this point the poet describes the almanac as “clever” in its ability to foresee the future, and the stove as a “marvelous” invention that the grandmother practically “sings” songs of devotion and admiration to (l. 18, 38).
These objects that symbolize the forces that undermine human agency and control its fate are also items that are associated with the grandmother through her dependence on them, suggesting perhaps the grandmother’s views of human nature as at the mercy of outside forces and destiny. Through the grandmother’s attachment and reliance on these inanimate objects that exercise influence over the fates of the two woman, Bishop could be suggesting the grandmother’s fatalistic views of her lack of power and control over her life and the life of her granddaughter, especially in light of the death of her father. The resulting affect is that the grandmother is filled with grief, consistently hiding her tears from her granddaughter, and intimidated into submission, illustrated in the ominous depiction of the almanac that “hovers over the grandmother” and warns of its predictions for the future (l. 21).
However, the child presented in the poem demonstrates a more fluid and independent relationship to the objects that symbolize fate and lack of human control, seen in that she is not depicted as interchangeable and dependent on them as the grandmother is (the grandmother even displays similar characteristics to these objects, as she is portrayed as singing like the tea kettle and saying like the stove and almanac) and in that the almanac hovers only “half open” above the child (l. 20). Instead, the child is portrayed as having an action and power unique to herself in her ability to create alternative realities through her drawings. For example, in the midst of the almanac and the stove’s warnings, Bishop states “the child draws a rigid house/ and a winding pathway”, illustrating her creation of a world in which the roads cannot be foretold by outside forces and suggesting her ability to escape and shape her sometimes bleak or rigid reality through art and self-expression (l. 27-28). With the pride she feels over her addition of “a man with buttons like tears”, which can be read as a representation of her deceased father, the child illustrates more acceptance than the grandmother through her ability to recognize her own human potential and the resulting feelings of empowerment, instead of the grandmother’s defeated by life stance (l. 29). This is emphasized once more in the last line of the poem, “and the child draws another inscrutable house”, which implies the mysteries life has in store for a girl who can use her imagination to create works of art or art out of life (l. 39).
In conclusion, although Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sestina” appears to enforce themes of human powerlessness and its inability to oppose the forces that influence its destiny through ominous images and a despairing mood, Bishop offers a glimmer of hope for human potential and power in her depiction of a child who can create limitless experiences and opportunities through art. This theme of human agency through the arts and creation is mirrored in the format of Bishop’s poem, which depicts a world of mysticism and beauty through the poet’s mastery and control over her craft, seen in the complexities of the poem’s form. Additionally, with Bishop’s addition to America’s literary canon, the poet manages to erect a sort of poetry “Monument” (much like the messages established in Bishop’s poem of this title) to her father and human potential that is immune to the effects of time, nature and destiny, through its permanence and universality of themes.
Rachael Hinlicky, March 27, Agha Shahid Ali – “Postcard from Kashmir” analysis
As a postcolonial native of India and a self-appointed “triple exile” from Kashmir, Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry often focuses on alienation from his homeland and heritage and his resulting vague and idealized notions of his native country (pg. 887). “Postcard from Kashmir” is an example of Ali’s exploration of these themes in which he attempts to recreate his homeland through poetry. The poem endeavors to accomplish this by aligning the symbol of a postcard with his memories of his homeland in their inability to express the true essence of Kashmir.
In “Postcard from Kashmir”, Ali establishes the symbol of a postcard depicting his homeland of Kashmir for his memories of home through the poem’s title, and maintains the symbol throughout the entirety of the poem. In the initial lines of the poem Ali states “Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox” aligning his memories of Kashmir with the image of a postcard in their small and easily accessible size, suggesting that the time away from his homeland has narrowed his perception of it in its entirety (l. 1). The effects of his separation from his native land on his memories of it are depicted throughout the poem as diminishing the size and scope of this region of India and its features, making the symbol of a “four by six inches” postcard especially fitting (l. 2). The extent of this effect is depicted when the poet suggests that through his time spent away from Kashmir, he can now “hold/ the half-inch Himalayas in my hand”, illustrating that these massive and awesome features of the landscape of his home have diminished in size to the point where they fit neatly in the confines of his mind and the limits of a postcard (l. 3-4).
The effects of the poet’s separation from home have not only impacted his perception of the size and scope of Kashmir, but also shape his memories in a way that results in feelings of its perfection, demonstrated when the poet pairs images of his home with “neatness” and idealized descriptions of the features of Kashmir (l. 3). Ali establishes this theme by describing his home as “neat” and by expressing “I always loved neatness”, suggesting that even a region that witnessed “tense border disputes and armed conflict” can take on the appearance of simplistic idealism through time and distance (l. 2, 3, footnote pg. 889). This idealism and simplicity is extended to include the “colors” that “won’t be so brilliant” and the river Jhelum which waters will never be as “clean/ so ultramarine” as the poet remembers them, and consequently indicating to the poet that he cannot return to his home as he knew it (l. 7, 8-9).
This isolation from his homeland is reinforced when Ali states that this postcard “is home./ And this the closest/ I’ll ever be to home” and employs the image of an overexposed photograph on a postcard to illustrate his overly romanticized view of his beloved homeland that leaves him feeling unable to return(l. 5-6). With the last stanza of the poem Ali’s inability to return home is suggested to be the result of fear that reality will not live up to his idealized memories of Kashmir, illustrated when he suspects that his “memory will be a little/ out of focus” and replaced with an image of “a giant negative, black/ and white, still undeveloped” (l. 11-12, 13-14).
The form of “Postcard from Kashmir” seems to mirror the themes of the diminishing and simplifying effects of memory presented in the poem. The poet’s thoughts and descriptions are succinct and clear, seen for example in the simple sentences “This is home.” and “My love/ so overexposed” (l. 5, 9-10). Additionally, ideas are grouped neatly into concise stanzas, aligning the structure of the poem to Ali’s memories of home in their tidying up and making accessible his perception of Kashmir. The simplistic form of the poem could also lend itself to the tone which can be seen as the melancholic and pensive, and in quiet reflection to himself.
In conclusion, “Postcard to Kashmir” illustrates the effects of Ali’s memories on his homeland of Kashmir as idealized and simplified to the point of no return, and aligns the poem with the sentiments of loss and exile depicted in Ali’s other work.
Rachael Hinlicky, April 22, Charles Olson – “Maximus, to Himself” analysis
As Charles Olson was referred to and referred to himself and his epic book of poems as “Maximus”, the poem “Maximus, to Himself” can be interpreted as Olson’s meditations to himself about himself and his relation to the world and others. In “Maximus, to Himself” he goes about this through the use of a conceit, as well as through manipulation of his form which serves to illustrate his reflections about himself, his interiority and his isolation.
The central theme of the poem, of the author’s inability to know himself and his resulting feelings of isolation, is stated in the opening lines of the poem where he states “I have had to learn the simplest things/ last” (l. 1-2). The simplest things can be interpreted as the poet’s perception of himself in that it is the closest and most intimate aspect of our reality that we filter our experience of the world through. It also is an especially poignant remark by Olson since it really does seem that often people know very little of themselves and their place in the world and their relation to others, and that this issue seems to be one that follows people throughout their lives. This theme of his difficulty understanding himself and the isolation this brings about is summarized throughout the rest of the poem through the use of a conceit of the sea and the life of a seaman, first observed when he states that “even at sea I was slow, to get the hand out, or to cross/ a wet deck”, which could stand to symbolize his inability to reach out for help or transverse difficult situations in his state of isolation (l. 3-4). Olson reinforces the use of the sea as a metaphor for his isolation when he states “The sea was not, finally, my trade. But even my trade, at it, I stood estranged/ from that which was most familiar.”, depicting the link between his trade as a sailor and his isolation from his self and his inability to escape these feelings even after he has left his trade (l. 5-7).
However, before Olson returns to his use of the sea as a metaphor for his isolation from himself, he offers up a thirst for knowledge as a means to self-discovery. He explains that “I have made dialogues, have discussed ancient texts,/ have thrown what light I could, offered/ what pleasures/ doceat allows/ But the known?/ This, I have had to be given” illustrating again that the simplest things are the things that keep evading him, even in light of his studies and growing intellect (l. 28-34). Olson reinforces his claims that studying is not the way to knowledge of the self when he states “I know the quarters/ of the weather, where it comes from,/ where it goes. But the stem of me,/ this I took from their welcome,/ or their rejection, of me”, suggesting again his seafaring background and the knowledge this afforded him, but his persistent inability to perceive his inner most self (l. 42-47).
With the shift in form, portrayed by Olson as “2” or presumably, the second chapter in the chronicle of his life, the poet revisits the conceit of the sea as a means for expressing his feelings of isolation from himself. Here he states “It is undone business/ I speak of, this morning,/ with the sea/ stretching out/ from my feet” illustrating further along in his development he is still experiencing feelings of a lack of fulfillment in his search for self-knowledge (l. 52-56). Additionally, since the sea is used as a symbol for his separation from himself and he is observing it “stretching out/ from my feet”, Olson could be implying that he is no closer to self-discovery, and probably will never reach his goals of self-realization especially if the marker of “2” is used to denote a more advanced point of his life (l. 55-56).
The maker of “2” to illustrate a later stage in the poet’s life is also a way in which Olson manipulated the form of the poem in order to illustrate his vision. In other instances of the poem, he utilizes form in order to depict introspection and other quiet and personal meditations by far right indentation and short simple statements. For example, in his first meditation he states “that we are all late/ in a slow time,/ that we grow up many/ And the single/ is not easily/ known”, which illustrates a reflection on the descriptions of his life that pertains to all of humanity, and its isolation from itself (l. 12-17). Additionally, he plays with line placement in order to illustrate or emphasis what he is attempting to convey in each line, seen for example in the beginning of the poem where he states “I have had to learn the simplest things” with the placement of the final word of this sentence, “last” on the following line, signifying the anticipation for knowledge about the self that perhaps never comes (l. 1-2).
In effect, Charles Olson’s poem “Maximus, to Himself” is a hauntingly beautiful expression of a man’s search for his innermost identity that Olson accomplishes through the utilization of an extended metaphor of the sea as his isolation from himself, as well as through his manipulation of the form of his poem. As the sea stretches out in front of the poet in the end of his poem, the resulting hopelessness was palpable to me and made a personal and heart felt impact.
In Charles Olson’s essay Projective/ Verse, the innovative modernist poet emphasized the adoption of “projective verse” as opposed to the more conventional closed forms that were experiencing popularity at the time. In the introduction to is essay he depicts the closed forms of verse as old and antiquated, used “a hundred years ago”, and proposes that if poetry is to stay relevant “it is to be of essential use”, which to Olson meant that it had the “breath of the man who writes” in it that can be communicated and relevant to its audiences (pg. 1053-1054).
In the first section of his essay Olson explains some of the philosophies that go into creating “OPEN”, “COMPOSITION BY FIELD” or projective verse (pg. 1054). The first of these is the poem’s “kinetics”, which Olson describes as the energy in the verse that is transferred to the reader. He develops his point of the kinetics in open verse by stating that “the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy discharge” and that it is this consistent moving energy that should influence the musicality of the poem, instead of the rigid reliance on the fixed meter of a metronome (pg. 1054).
His second point about the makeup of projective verse is that it follows “the principle” which to Olson meant that “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT”, implying that the form of a poem should always be dependent on the content or meaning that the content is depicting, instead of the adoption of a predetermined rigid form (pg. 1054). This can be seen in much of Olson’s work that the book presented, even “Maximus, to Himself” that I looked at for my explication. Here, Olson used the content of the poem to influence his form, which displayed emotions of self-mediation and anticipation.
Finally, Olson’s final point about the composition of open verse is that this principle of form’s dependence on content “be made to shape the energies that the form is accomplished” (pg. 1054). He calls this marriage of his two earlier principles “the process of the thing” and states that it insists that “ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO FURTHER PERCEPTION” (pg. 1054-1055). He emphasizes the poems constant movement, which can mirrored in his conception of the importance of kinetics, musicality, and development.
In totality, I feel as if Olson’s definition of projective verse emphasizes the marriage of the poem’s energy and an open and fluctuating form to create a poem with movement, development and “breath” (what I take to be life, or vitality) that is easily transferred to its audience (pg. 1055). This much more modern approach to poetry is displayed throughout his work to create emotional poems with spirit, and a life of their own.
Rachael Hinlicky, April 8, Eunice de Souza – “Sweet Sixteen” analysis
Eunice de Souza’s poem “Sweet Sixteen” illustrates with condor and humor the misconceptions that arose from her overly sheltered life as a female Indian Catholic. While often comical in its depictions of the girl’s naiveté, the poem also illustrates how shame and fear are used as tools for the regulation of feminine sexual behavior.
The structure of the poem is informal and lends itself to the conversational style presented in the beginning of the text. However, the poem is split up into two stanza that illustrate distinct themes, the first being the sexual education Souza and her peers received, and the second stanza illustrating an instance in which the results of this puritan education have rendered the girls naïve and ill prepared.
The poem starts off informally and conversationally in tone when Souza states “Well, you can’t say/ they didn’t try./Mamma never mentioned menses” (l. 1-3). These lines however do not only set up the conversational style of the poem but they also present the irony and humor presented throughout the poem, since it would seem that nobody did try if the speaker of the poem approached puberty without any knowledge of the changes that were about to occur in her body. The poet then goes on to describe the ways in which the adults in her life did attempt to educate her about womanhood and sexuality, which through the next couple lines of the poem is depicted as to be through fear and shame. For example, in line four the poet states that “A nun screamed: you vulgar girl/ don’t say brassieres/ say bracelets”, illustrating not only the complete absurdity in her strictly religious culture which Souza uses as means for her humor but also the amount of shame and embarrassment that women are taught to regard their bodies with within it (l. 4-6). This shame is further depicted when she states that the nun “pinned paper sleeves/ onto our sleeveless dresses” illustrating even more clearly the absurdity in the amount of embarrassment these girls were taught to live with if they were taught that bare arms were too reveling (1. 8-9).
If the mother functions to illustrate the hands-off approach to the girl’s sexual education and the nuns to sexual regulation by means of shame and embarrassment then the preacher functions to keep the girls sexual conduct in line by fear and intimidation. The poet describes for example that he does not speak, but instead “thunders” and his messages are warnings (l. 10). He instills in the girls fear regarding men and the influence of human passion by cautioning “Never go with a man alone/ Never alone/ and even if you’re engaged/ only passionless kisses”, depicting masculinity and sexuality as threats to the young women (l. 11-14).
All of these characters in the poem create in the speaker the ignorance and humor that can be seen throughout and lead up to the second and last stanza of the poem in which the girls’ naiveté is depicted. Here, the young woman illustrate just how unprepared their culture’s approach to sexual education has left them, when the speaker states with certainty that it is possible “getting preggers and all that, when/ you’re dancing” (l. 17-18). Although comical and absurd, this simple exchange depicts just how little the girls know about their bodies and sexuality and although this situation is not one that can be seen as particularly threatening, it does suggest that the women are in trouble in their future encounters with men and sex.
Although “Sweet Sixteen” is humorous in tone, it also depicts the problematic stance of some cultures in their attempts to sexually regulate young women. Souza illustrates how avoidance, shame and fear all create in a young woman an ignorance about her body and sexuality that leaves her unprepared for the real world in which she lives and a sense of embarrassment regarding her own body.
Rachael Hinlicky, April 29, Amiri Baraka – “A New Reality is Better Than a New Movie!” analysis
“A New Reality is Better Than a New Movie!” aligns America’s capitalist/materialist culture with a new movie and a new reality with the revolution against this culture that Amiri Baraka intends to ignite through his poem. This new reality is depicted as “better” in its emphasis on equality and on human worth, and as a result a threat to the stability of America.
The image of American culture that Baraka is rebelling against is depicted throughout the poem as exploiting, brainwashing, and demoralizing. Allusions to America’s media culture as a vehicle for population brainwashing are illustrated with the movies and Hollywood influence that the poem centers on, seen for example with the poet’s description of it as “feverish nearreal fantasy of the capitalist flunky film hacks” and his later assertions that it cannot capture the reality of the lives of everyday people and their suffering (l. 2). Additionally, his emphasis on “screens of america” suggests a widespread brainwashing device, providing people with images like “the joint blows up” in order to distract them from the injustices and inequality in their culture (l. 5). This unfair distribution of wealth and equality is another critique the poet sets forth against American culture. These bosses who are making “100,000 for every 200 dollars”, and further exploiting the people through inflated prices, are aligned with descriptions of politicians, and the Hollywood creators who produce films to brainwash audiences that the poor and disheartened are portrayed paying to see (l. 12). Bosses and the “money world” I think serve as the biggest enemy of the people in the poem, through their ability to demoralize and weaken the public and diminish their humanity through the monotony and struggle of being “Hypnotized by the machine, and the cement floor, the jungle treachery of trying/ to survive with no money” (l. 11-12).
This image of “a new movie” or Baraka’s critique of American culture is set in juxtaposition to his depiction of the “new reality”, or the socialist redistribution of wealth and power the poet is championing for in his poem. Baraka insistently describes the bleak circumstances in America with “reality” and the “real”, and so in opposition to the illusions of the media that have to be cleared away with revolution (l. 3, 19). His portrayal of this new reality is as “the true technicolor spectacle” in which “all over the planet, men and woman, with heat in their hands, demand that society/ be planned to include the lives and self-determination of all the people ever to live”, and in effect an appealing and hopeful image of unity and equality (l. 19, 21-21).
While exposing the issues Baraka felt existed in America in the 1970’s, his poem also functions as a call to arms to the revolution he is advocating, seen particularly in the formatting and language of the poem. For example, the poem’s non-structured and flowing cadence suggests the informality of a rally over and against more traditional styles of poetry. This rally-like quality is seen additionally in the informal and slang language employed by Baraka, for example “superafrikan mobutu”, “leopardskinhat” and “pale ho’s titties”, suggesting the sense of brotherhood or the us and them quality established by Baraka in the poem (l. 7, 9). With the style of the poem establishing a sense of comradely and informality Baraka is able to address his audience directly and push them towards action when he poses “You don’t like it? Whatcha gonna do, about it??”(l. 18). Additionally, Baraka only uses capital letters in the beginning of sentences and refrains from using them for proper nouns, such as “america’, “rockafeller” and “lumumba” suggesting again his theme of equality through revolution.
“The Myth of a Negro Literature”
Amiri Baraka’s essay “The Myth of a Negro Literature” serves to bring attention to the artificiality of the contributions of black American authors during his time by suggesting that they either aim to adopt models of American white popular media or white academia. He proposes instead a model for expressing the black America experience that draws influences from American black music, specifically the blues and jazz, based on his views of this music as a “profound contribution to Western culture” in its originality and as a more accurate reflection of the black American in its “fusion between African musical tradition and the American experience” (pg. 1078).
Baraka’s perception of the cultural importance of black American music is made apparent in the beginning of his essay where he depicts the blues and jazz as unique forms of black expression in that they are “direct and instinctive”, and in effect contrasting this music from the imitations of established Western culture by black artists he was reacting against (pg. 1078). Additionally, since the blues and jazz are native of American culture with African influences, they signify to Baraka the emergence of the African American where there was once only the African, who is an active contributor to the culture identity of America. The significance of these art forms is also portrayed by Baraka as a means of preserving African heritage in that all material culture was “eradicated by slavery” while only the more “abstract” aspects of African culture, like its music, were allowed to remain (pg. 1078). Baraka believes however that it is not the preservation and production of African arts that black Americans are responsible for but black American arts in which these African traditions “actually exist” (pg. 1078). He feels that these aspects of African American culture have been “translated and transmuted by the American experience” to create works with cultural significance in their originality and as representatives of an essential part of American black life and American culture (pg. 1079).
Although Baraka emphasizes the native American and culturally integral nature of African American music, he also draws attention to its creation on the fringes of society and its separation from the American mainstream. While this cultural separation could be seen as detrimental for the expansion and celebration of black arts, Baraka depicts this separation from white culture as the black artist’s “strength” in that in enables him to observe the culture of the mainstream while it is his separation, or his “no-mans-land, that provided the logic and beauty of his music” and in effect the development of black American culture in general (pg. 1080). It is in light of this separation from American white mainstream culture that Baraka advises black arts to create their own cultural identity since perceives it to be impossible to use the tools of the “white middle-class mind” to describe a black American experience that it isolated from and cannot understand (pg. 1081).
Essentially, Baraka warns against the utilization of white cultural tools to recreate black American culture and identity based on his opinions that they can only produce works of “emotional sterility” instead of a black American culture with its own “symbols”, and “personal myths” which he perceives as essential to any great literary heritage (pg. 1080, 1079). Instead, he puts forward that artists attempting to realize and express their uniquely black American experience look to models found in jazz and blues music because these forms of black American culture demonstrate originality, authenticity, emotion, and a fusion of African heritage and life on the fringes of American culture.
Rachael Hinlicky, March 6, Christopher Okigbo – “Come Thunder” Analysis
Although Christopher Okigbo’s “Come Thunder” is abundant in images of war and destruction, certain aspects of the poem suggest that it serves more as a battle cry for a people threatened by hostility than as a lament of defeat and remembrance of what once was. Okigbo presents this duality in his poem through descriptive imagery, as well as symbolism of destruction and rebirth. One image in the poem that weighs heavily upon its meaning is the presence of thunder and the elements and forces associated with it. Although thunder could be seen a horrific and unstoppable threat, the poem’s title of “Come Thunder” suggest instead that this is a welcomed force to the speaker and his people, and so in a sense could be aligned instead with themes of revolution as opposed to those of destruction. This image of thunder could be contrasted to another symbol that Okigbo uses throughout the poem of stones and metal, which could then symbolize the control and power of the force oppressing the speaker’s people.
The beginning two stanzas of “Come Thunder” first suggest a call to revolution through their depiction of celebration in the face of adversity. Although these lines also portray threatening images of war, the speaker in the poem seems to be rallying his listeners with a remembrance of their cause and past triumphs, and consequently in a sense takes on the role of a leader for his people. The images of a “triumphant march” and dancers, for example, suggest past victories that the speaker does not want his people to lose sight of in the face of the threat of “the thunder among the clouds…”(l. 1-2). This threat is reiterated in the second stanza through the lines “Now that the laughter, broken in two, hangs tremulous between the teeth/ Remember, O dancers, the lightning beyond the earth…”, however, with the speaker’s command that the dancers remember this lightening the theme of a battle cry is one again established (l. 3-4).
However, it is this impending threat that dominates the third stanza of the poem and alters the meaning of the impending storm. Here instead the speaker emphasizes the imminent war that is threatening his people, seen in lines such as “The death sentence lies in ambush along the corridors of power/ And a great fearful thing already tugs at the cables of the open air” (l. 6-7). However, this threat seems to be also aligned with images of stone and inorganic elements, such as “iron dreams” and a “path of stone”, a theme that is carried out later in the poem as well (l. 9). These images of earthly elements are linked with language that suggests military control and power, which could be seen as something directly opposite to a revolution with a noble cause. Additionally, if the images of thunder are associated with this rebellion, the images of stone and metal could also be seen in juxtaposition of these fire-like elemental forces.
The fourth stanza of the poem also aligns a revolution to elements associated with fire and light. The speaker sets up the tone of this stanza by first expressing the hardships his people have been enduring through these years of war, while at the same time evoking images of fire, lighting and light, seen for example in lines such as “The myriad eyes of deserted corn cobs in burning barns witness it” (l. 12). However, it is the fourth line of the fourth stanza that depicts the ability of fire to bring about new life and as a result suggests themes of the rebirth of a people through their revolution. With the focus of the first three lines of the stanza on images of fire and light, and the introduction of mysterious “magic birds” Okigbo could be illustrating the mythical creature of the phoenix, which through its death by fire is reborn from his own ashes (l. 13). In this way, the symbolism of fire and lightening can be seen less as an inescapable death of a group of people, but instead a necessary means to a resurgence and rejuvenation of the speaker’s people. Finally, the imagery of the inorganic material is put up against the images of fire in the last stanza of the poem, where the speaker states “And the secret thing in its heaving/ Threatens with iron mask/ The last lighted touch of the century…” (l. 17-19). This solidifies the meaning of these images as the threat comes not from thunder or fire, but from and iron mask which threatens to put out the last torch lite out of impassioned rebellion.
Rachael Hinlicky, April 15, Fahmida Riaz – “Virgin” and “Come, Bring Your Hand Here” analyses
After reading through Fahmidah Riaz’s poems “Virgin” and “Come, Bring Your Hand Here”, I felt as though the latter could be read as a reflection on the more bleak time of Riaz’s life presented in the former, from an emotionally and spiritually improved state. The two poems by the Urdu feminist poet illustrate parallels in imagery, symbolism, and tone that when read in reaction to each other could serve to illustrate Riaz’s overall theme of celebration of feminine power through pregnancy and the futility she perceives in the restrictions of feminine expressions of sexuality.
These contrasting themes expressed in “Virgin” and “Come, Bring Your Hand Here”, of the pinnacle expression of femininity through pregnancy and the waste feminine potential through sexual repression are illustrated in the two poems through their images and symbolism which interact with each other in order to illustrate Riaz’s feminist philosophies. The imagery depicted by the poet seems to be illustrated in binary opposition, functioning perhaps to depict the conflicting emotions and conditions that cannot coexist simultaneously. “Virgin” for example is heavy handed with images of death and infertility, such as “parched tongue”, “scorching desert”, and the “slaughtered beast” (l. 2, 4, 5). Conversely, “Come, Bring Your Hand Here” seems to speak against the sterility illustrated in “Virgin” through the poet’s depiction of images of life and fertility, seen in “child”, and “flowers, buds, branches” (1. 3, 41). When these images are analyzed in terms of the subject matter of the poems they illustrate two sets of symbols that work throughout each poem and speak against each other, of the devastation caused by repression of feminine sexuality and the beauty that can be born from its expression.
In addition, the tones of the speakers in Riaz’s poems, like the images and symbolism presented, lend themselves to a reading in reaction against each other in their distinctions. In general, “Virgin”’s tone seems to be one of sadness and desperation, seen for example in that the speaker has her “head bowed on my lap” in a setting that has exhausted her emotionally and physically (l. 4). Contrarily, a sense of peace and happiness is expressed in “Come, Bring Your Hand Here”. More particularly, pleading is a theme in tone that is depicted in contradiction in the two poems, in “Virgin” as a prayer unanswered, and in “Come, Bring Your Hand Here” as gratefulness for prayers answered. While the speaker in “Virgin” is pleading to God for “A drop of water! For my life hovers near the verge”, illustrating the deteriorating effect of the social restraints on her, the speaker in “Come, Bring Your Hand Here” seems to be experiencing the relief begged for in “Virgin” (l. 20). This is illustrated when the speaker states that “Peace has come to my wild spirit” and that “Every hair of my body/ Feels comfort from the palm of your hand” (l. 8, 11).
While Riaz’s poems “Virgin” and “Come, Bring Your Hand Here” illustrate themes of female sexual repression and the celebration of new life on their own, when read in reaction to each other, the theme of the dangers of feminine repression and the wonders of feminine sexuality are really brought into focus.
Jessica Bush, A.K. Rarnanujan “Where Mirrors are Windows…”, March 4, 2013
“Where Mirrors are Windows…” is an essay examining the intertextuality of Indian literature, in particular poetry, and how the many instances of it reflect the culture of India that goes beyond the scope of literature. Ramanujan claims that there are two ways of thinking of Indian culture: Indian culture can be thought of as “Singular at the top and plural at the bottom” and as an analogy of a hologram (1115). In regards to the first one, Ramanujan translates this metaphor used to explain Indian culture as being “one but written in many languages” (1115). Those who believe in this notion believe that Indian traditions are organized hierarchically as a pyramid: Traditions of the pan-Indian Sanskritic Great Tradition, the singular, stand above the many local ‘little’ traditions which contain the plural; Ramanujan prefers the pluralized version of diversity.
The analogy that shaped the hologram is rather interesting since it causes Ramanujan to question the practicality of the notion that “any piece of [the Indian culture] is a true representation of the whole” (1116); he relates this to the cells in the body in which a biologist claims that cells can be considered samples of the entire body of that person. How can something be “in uniform texture, the replication of one structure in all systems of a culture” (1116)? Each version of a tale, regardless of the language used to express it and the time it is told, remains wholeheartedly the same and is devoid of pockets in space and time” (1116). In combining the notions that Indian diversity is comprised of a hierarchical diversity that still, no matter the language used, still represents the culture seems rather contradictory. Ramanujan states this contradiction best in a closing line of one of his paragraphs: “At its best, it is a form of monism; at its worst, it is a form of cultural imperialism, an upstairs/ downstairs view of india.” Clearly, the diversity within India cannot be reflected in the variety of languages used to express Indian literature and still remain a part expressing the whole.
Ramanujan argues that the diversity in Indian literature is “indissolubly plural and often conflicting” but has a consistent structure that is made up of two solid principles: context- sensitivity and reflexivity of various sorts (1116). Certainly each form of literature, whether it is folklore or poetry, is contingent on its surrounding culture. Yet it is not merely a reaction or a product of the environment. Instead, it can be thought of as in relation to Newton’s Third Law. Newton’s Third Law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This means that every product is a result but also a cause of another result. This dual contingency helps to maintain the solid structure which appears on the outside as “neat little tents, only from a distance” (1116). Furthermore, these ‘products’, or forms of literature, are based off of the three kinds of reflexivity which invert, subvert, and convert their neighbors (1116).
The three related kinds of reflexivity are responsive, reflexive, and self-reflexive: ‘responsive’ is the relationship that develops and is reflected by two types of literature; ‘reflexive’ is when one of the types of literature uses another to relate to in order to reveal something in thyself; ‘self-reflexive’ uses thyself to make an inference of itself. Each of these kinds of reflexivity accepts the notion that texts come in a simultaneous order and share an intertextual relationship across genres. Certainly each text has its own individual impact on the culture but one must understand that there is an impact; it is not possible for a text to be a separate entity, to occur in a linear historical fashion, and to be unlike its counterparts (1116-1117).
From the essay, in its entirety, one can conceive of the thesis of the essay: literature of all forms is not a product of its own but another product associated with those that comprise the subject. Mimicking Carl Jung’s “The universal Truth,” each poem relates to similar problems felt by those who fit a similar mold. While they are mostly correlated, there are variations that mark the work as an individual which is essential to marking one’s own path.
Christopher Okigbo “Come Thunder”, March 6, 2013
Christopher Okigbo is well-known for poetry full of cross-cultural religious references that extend across all boundaries. Prevalent in majority of Okigbo’s poetry is the religious and cultural icons such as Idoto the water goddess and the Prodigal son; Idoto is taken from African culture whereas the Prodigal son is a Christian story. The separate voices borrowed by Okigbo allow his poetry to reach an assortment of people from different cultures. With this capacity, Okigbo can be viewed as superior given that he can take on different roles. This superiority is also evident in “Come Thunder” with the voice of the poem being reminiscent of the Prodigal son. With Okigbo assuming the role of the prodigal son, the poem is eerily prophetic which is evident from an audience that reads the poem years after it was published. Since Okigbo successfully takes on a combination of these two superior forces, a definite theme emerges from the poem: those superior to humans C?ntrol and shape life’s destiny which cannot be changed stopped or destroyed.
The setting of the poem is of a celebratory time full oftriumphant dancers laughing about their native perception that happiness is soon to come. To these people, the “lavender-mist of the afternoon” is indicative of peace that can be and will be achieved (5). But what leads to the ultimate demise of these people that aligns them with depleted beings such as “the drowsy heads of the pods; the homestead’s abandoned in this century’s brush fire; the myriad eyes of deserted corn cobs;” (10-12)? Okigbo subtly incorporates images that are indicative of destiny. Oneknows that destiny is not only “a nebula immense and immeasurable”, but also unavoidable (8). As Okigbo watches this triumphant scene, he is knowledgeable, as if God, of what inevitable must happen. “The arrows of God tremble at the gates of light” because he is knowledgeable of the savagery that is soon to come once God commands it (14). He begins to pull at the invisible “cables of the open air” calling for the water goddess, Idoto, to tum this light into “a night of deep waters” (7-8).
Clearly a motif in the poem is the invisible forces that take precedence over those that are visible and concrete. The way in which God manifests himself is within nature allowing his plan to be carried out this way. Nature plays a main role in this poem as contributing to the destruction of society. Okigbo forces the reader to not glaze over the power of nature simply because human actions and interactions seem to affect them more; he constantly reminds the civilians to “remember… the thunder among the clouds; remember… the lightning beyond the earth” (2, 4). Nature has caused those in the distance, the examples in stanza 4, to fall to destruction. Okigbo uses these examples to ascertain his prophecy that “the last lighted torch of the century” will bum out as planned (18).
Wole Soyinka “Telephone Conversation”, March 11, 2013
A facet of Wole Soyinka’s philosophy worth mentioning is his denigration of Western Imperialism. While this denigration is not an uncommon feature of poetry, the way in which Soyinka expresses his distaste is. The poem “Telephone Conversation” reenacts a conversation had between himself, as the narrator, and a woman conceivably representative of Western Imperialism. The conversation begins with Soyinka confessing to the landlady on the other end of the phone call that he is an African (ll. 5). Once this confession occurs, the lady begins to question the appearance of the narrator: “HOW DARK?’… ‘ARE YOU LIGHT/ ‘OR VERY DARK?’ (ll. 10-11). Once this superficial question is heard by the narrator, he begins to play with these dimensions of appearance. He tries to relate his skin color to various shades of brown- shades that he assumes a person of “pressurissed good-breeding” would be knowledgeable of; yet, he is wrong. These attempts at aligning his skin color with certain shades of brown prove fruitless since an image cannot be contrived by the landlady. With this, the theme of the poem is apparent once Soyinka closes with his last question “Madam’… ‘Wouldn’t you rather/ ‘See for…yourself?’ (34-35). Ultimately, Soyinka’s fruitless playful rewording of the dimensions of dark and light proves the meaningless nature behind the Western world’s emphasis on appearances.
The narrator purposefully aligns the landlady with physical appearances thus reducing her to a superficial and senseless human being. She is first described as having a “lip-stick coated, long gold-rolled/ Cigarette-holder” voice which somehow proves that she is of “pressurised good-breeding” (7-9). Once the narrator hears the senseless question ‘HOW DARK?’ … ‘ARE YOU LIGHT/ ‘OR VERY DARK?’, he then begins to look at the physical nature of his environment. He notes the buttons on the phone, the “stench/ of rancid breath” of the red phone booth,” the “red pillar-box,” as well as the red double-decker tour bus found in London (11-14). These images cause him to come to the realization that he is among her kind of people: the original Western Imperialists, the British. With this realization, the narrator begins to feel like an outcast amongst a series of red images.
Although the narrator is presumably an outcast, he begins to express to the reader that this does not deem him as inferior. The narrator begins to play with the seemingly distinct terms ‘dark’ and ‘light’ by mentioning shades that blur this once distinct line. The narrator chooses to describe himself in shades such as ‘plain or milk chocolate,’ ‘West African sepia,’ ‘brunette,’ ‘peroxide blonde,’ and ‘raven black’ (ll. 19, 22, 26, 30). Certainly he is being facetious in describing himself in this manner. However, one would assume a woman that deems herself superior to the African being that she is of good-breeding would be able to conjure up an image in her head with these descriptions; yet, she cannot. Her response to the listing of shades is ‘THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?’ (ll. 27). The fact that this “lip-stick coated” woman is unaware of such shades points to Soyinka’s message: A person’s intelligence cannot be assumed merely because one comes from a superior culture or family. On the contrary, the narrator is revealed as being knowledgeable and worldly making him far superior to the Western Imperialist lady.
The easy way in which Soyinka turns physical appearances on its head denounces the world’s admiration for such a society. By using the unworldly lady as an example, the Western world is in fact sheltered and narrow-minded whereas Soyinka, a man of African descent but able to adapt to English culture, proves where value should be placed. A valuable asset to society should not be judged on appearances but on what is on the inside. The woman had a prejudged notion in her head that was entirely limited and narrow minded. She was unwilling to take one step outside of her comfort zone, which are her prejudices, and give the narrator a chance. This proves the world’s ineptness in judgment of what is valuable and what is not.
A.K. Ramanujan “Self-Portrait”, Jessica Bush, Dr. M.A.R. Habib Modern World Poetry March 13, 2013
The premise behind A.K. Ramanujan’s “Self-Portrait” seems to touch on two separate dynamics expressed by both himself and another Indian Poet, Tagore. Certainly one would find it hard to argue that Ramanujan is not speaking about his quest to find his identity given that the title is called “Self-Portrait”; the poem also uses diction borrowed from the lexicon of self- reflection seen in words such as ‘shop-windows,’ ‘laws of optics,’ and ‘portrait’ which contribute to his conundrum over his identity (11. 3, 4-6). Yet, there is an interesting duality played out within this ostensibly simple poem.
Initially, I began to read the poem from the perspective Ramanujan touches on in his essay “Where Mirrors are Windows.” Within this text, Ramanujan claims that Indian culture is composed of”indissolubly plural” traditions that are contingent on its environment but also produce “individual variants” (1115-1″117). More simply put, Indian literature, as an example, is derived from its environment but makes its own name by defining its uniqueness. For Ramanujan, this uniqueness comes from” his dislocation from his upbringing, his family, his identity. In his biography, we learn that Ramanujan moved to the United States at the age of 30 after receiving his B.A. in English literature. Although this new culture help shaped his cross-cultural poetry, it also conjured up feelings of loneliness. But what does this loneliness come from? Is it due to the distance from his family? Is his identity crisis a result of not being able to break free of this Indian mold?
To me it seems as if Ramanujan is unhappily imprisoned by his physical features passed down through his parents. He describes his reflection “in shop-windows” as “resemble[ing] everyone/ but myself” (11. 2-3). Although he is well-aware of the “laws/ of optics,” or the fact that a reflection is always reflecting what you look like, he sees nothing but “the portrait of a stranger… often signed in a comer by my father” (11. 4-9). From this, one can see that Ramanujan feels that he does not know he is other than what has been given to him by his parents which are purely physical aspects; he merely sees a creation of his father.
The last line alluded to the poem “Crossing” written by Tagore due to the fact that Tagore was battling his own identity. This battle was primarily a premature resistance to the notion that all of gods living creatures are manifestations of him. For Tagore, it was hard for him to accept the fact that every action he made was not only hurting his self but hurting God as well since he, in fact, was God. From this perspective one can, in a way, relate the speaker’s identity crisis to Tagore’s crisis. Clearly the speaker in “Self-Portrait” has digested the realization that he is a manifestation of God. Since every living being is a manifestation of God, he must “resemble everyone/ but myself” (ll. 1-2). Yet with these realization, his existence seems pointless- “date unknown” (11. 7). He then deems himself as nothing more than a piece of artwork that has been “signed in a comer/ by my father” (11. 8-9). From this perspective, the speaker’s identity and existence are put into question.
The last part worth mentioning in the poem is the way in which the sentences are juxtaposed as a whole. To me, a blurred reflection of a person is made. If you glance at the poem, lines 2, 4, 6 and 8 are extended longer than the other lines making them seem drawn out. Yet, if you trimmed them down, an image of a person could appear. The effect that the drawn out lines have is reflection of a person’s reflection. Reflections are never entirely clear when looking into a mirror and can definitely be drawn out in certain mediums. Yet this also alludes to the message behind Ramanujan’s poem: The fact that he cannot see a clear reflection of himself indicates that he is unable to see his true identity.
Agha Shahid Ali “The Dacca Gauzes”, Jessica Bush, Modern World Poetry, Dr. M.A.R. Habib, March 27, 2013
Agha Shahid Ali’s “The Dacca Gauzes” is certainly commemorating the memory of a time when value was placed on the quality of items rather than the profit of the item. A poem eloquent yet simple in its description of a sari has become a distant memory in a society where British Imperialism, once again, has corrupted the mindset of the government. This refined Bengali muslin is evocative of a time in Indian history when value transcended money- a point in history that is as misunderstood as Oscar Wilde’s stake in the aestheticism movement. Aestheticism advocated beauty which pervaded very facet of life and denied that there was a need to generate a meaning from this perceived beauty; another way of defining the aestheticism is with the popular phrase “Art for art’s sake.”
Ali purposefully begins his poem with an epigraph taken from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray:
… for a whole year he sought/
to accumulate the most exquisite/
With Dorian Gray as, initially, a symbol of overwhelming beauty connoting an energy that produced sensuous pleasure in viewer, one can see why he would want to collect the exquisite Dacca gauze.s. The effect that a beautiful object has on its obtainer or viewer is similar to the first stanza of Ali’s “The Dacca Gauzes.” He describes the fabric as being as transparent “as woven air, running/ water, evening dew:” (ll. 2-3). The impact beauty has on someone is purely spiritual. Although beauty in visible form can affect a person’s spirit, it ultimately transitions into an invisible force felt within the soul. This effect may be simple but to an aesthete it is all one needs. This simplicity can be equated to the time in Indian culture when Dacca gauzes were made purely for pleasure of the senses. To wear this cloth was to wear a glorious and pure piece of artwork that soothed the soul.
Yet now this time in history has been lost to the capitalistic values of Western Imperialist nations and has now become “a dead art now, dead over/ a hundred years” (ll. 4-5). Nobody now knows what pure beauty is due to the corruption of capitalistic values and to the disturbance of history. Similar to how Parliament tried to hinder the Aesthetic movement by accusing Oscar Wilde of being a Sodomite so did Imperialist Britain to India. History was disrupted by cutting off “the hands/ of weavers” therefore silencing the “looms of Bengal” (ll. 19-21). Imperialist Britain transformed the simple yet beautiful ideology behind the artwork and materials of India into a mere commodity waiting to be sold. By downgrading the fabric of the Dacca gauzes to cotton, a cheap fabric produced in Britain, Dacca gauzes were mass-produced but lost their aesthetic quality; transcendental beauty has not been lost and the Dazza gauzes now felt course.
The most nostalgic yet beautiful moments of the poem happen to be when the fabric is equated to the spiritual beauty emphasized by aesthetes. The grandmother claims that the transparent fabric equivalent to “woven air, running/ water, evening dew” can still be felt at dawn when the feeling ofthe air is “dew-starched” (ll. 2-3, 28-29, 31-32). Here we can see the aesthetic quality that the Dacca gauze possesses. While it may be sad that the woman can no longer physically feel the fabric she is still able to spiritually feel it since its beauty is equivalent to the splendor of nature.
Eunice de Souza “Sweet Sixteen”, Jessica Bush, Dr. M.A.R. Habib Modern World Poetry April 8, 2013
Not only is Eunice de Souza a woman from India with a highly obscure name but she is also a female poet from India who had written in a highly obscure way for the time. A poem written by de Souza was overtly different in style and content from a female, or even male, Indian poet at that time. In contrast to the “melodramatic self-dramatization and slack- sentimentality” prevalent in Indian poetry, de Souza’s poetry consisted of subjects that touched on her painful upbringing in the Catholic community in Goa, the former capital of Portuguese India, and the effect of being purposely tricked about the biology of a woman (774). The theme prevalent in “Sweet Sixteen” addresses the confused and sheltered mind of a girl that is duped by the Goan Catholics encouraging them to “repress their sexuality and ignore their bodies” (774). By mimicking the confused mind of a child, de Souza adopts this voice by confidently speaking in a certain and controlled tone unaware of the false knowledge that she is feeding her friend Phoebe. Ultimately, de Souza’s goal is to explain the reason for the repressed product that is the young girl by shedding light on the flaw.e.. d social code of the Goan Catholics.
De Souza takes on the voice of a young girl convincing the audience of the ineptitude and confusion that lies in the girl’s mind. The voice of the young sixteen year old appears to be totally in control and certain of the information that comes out of her mouth. For example, when the girl’s friend Phoebe asks if a girl can “get preggers… when dancing,” the girl “assured her/ [she] could” (17-20). The certainty of the girl’s answer is evident when she states that she assures her that becoming pregnant while dancing is possible. However, the certainty is undermined with the ignorance to an event that most people certainly know about as well as the incorporation of the term ‘preggers.’ The term is derived from the culture that de Souza was raised in, a culture that was heavily sheltered and lied to about issues about sexuality. The usage of the term reminds the audience of the culture she was a part of generating sympathy for the characters due to this mistreatment.
In a broader sense, de Souza is heavily criticizing the manner in which the Goan Catholic society was structured. To them, the Goan Catholics believed that lying about sexuality was a means to preventing females from becoming pregnant, or preggers. As already stated, the nuns and priests of the Goan Catholics instilled fear in the females claiming that pregnancy could occur practically anywhere, even while dancing; their “Mamas never mentioned menses” which is another sign of sheltering the young girl from her sexuality. Not only did they aim to prevent them from pregnancy but they believed that females should not be deemed as sexual objects whatsoever. In order to hide them from the subjection of guys, they altered their clothing- “She pinned paper sleeves/ onto our sleeveless dresses” (ll. 7-8)- as well as told them they could not kiss passionately until after they were p1arried. Clearly, de Souza felt that the method of the Goan Catholics was flawed since it prevented the young girl from having any knowledge about any matters. This method reduced them to stupid objects that were, in fact, vulnerable to their society.
Mirroring the Mind, Jessica Bush, Dr. M.A.R. Habib Modern World Poetry, May 1, 2013
Sylvia Plath’s Mirror discusses the role and the impact a mirror plays in a woman’s life. The “silver and exact” mirror hanging on the wall proclaims itself as an egoless, objective and reliable object devoid of”preconceptions/ unmisted by love or dislike” (11.1-3). As the poem develops, however, the mirror’s self-perceived objectivity is contradicted by Plath’s infiltration of subjectivity throughout the diction used, the images presented, and the form chosen. This subjectivity refutes the notion that a mirror reveals one’s true exterior and makes a deeper claim: The mirror is nothing more than a reflection of one’s own personal expectations voiced by her insecurities.
The diction used by the mirror develops from objective to subjective over the span of the poem. Amidst the mirror’s objective certainty by the phrases from lines one and two-‘no preconceptions/ Whatever I see I swallow immediately,” is a developing ego illustrated by Plath’s metaphor as the mirror being “The eye of a little god”; the need to equate the self to a god is evidence for a growing ego. Within the second stanza, the mirror’s ego is fully developed. The mirror begins to accuse candles and the moon, objects used in order to see one’s self, as being liars; something purely objective would not make a statement as this. Also contributing to the full development of the ego is the language correlating to the image of the mirror as a lake. As “A woman bends over me” and “rewards [the mirror] with tears and an agitation of hands/,” the mirror sternly states “I am important to her” (ll. 10, 14-15). The mirror is fully aware of the control she has over her by ascertaining its significance in her life. Yet one must remember that the mirror, in reality, is nothing more than our own expectations, what we want to be. Therefore the woman is thus drowning in her own insecurities as the result of her negatively-contrived personal perception.
Plath purposefully creates powerful and overwhelming images in the reader’s mind to convey the oppressing feeling felt upon looking in the mirror. Initially, the mirror appears as an inanimate object devoid of emotions; “I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. Whatever you see I swallow immediately’ (11. 1-2). Yet Plath cleverly shows the development of consciousness with the relationship the mirror has with the opposite wall:
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over (11. 6-9).
This first, yet silent, interaction with another object parallels the relationship between a person and its image in the mirror. Both the woman and the mirror are separated by different forces but openly admit that this relationship is very dear to them almost to the point of love. In other words, the woman’s image consumes her and rules her as well as does the relationship between the mirror and the wall. Although the language suggests that the mirror is controlling her, one now knows that this is actually the woman’s expectations; the woman allows her insecurities to control her. Plath’s last lines claim “In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman/ Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish” (11.17-18); the mirror is casting control over the woman by figuratively consuming her. Plath is also addressing the woman’s dependence on the mirror by reducing her to a fish. The lifestyle of a fish is not only mundane and routine, as is the woman’s routine use of a mirror, but is also dependent on water as survival. With this image, one can clearly see the development of the poem going from a detached and removed object to an all-powerful object. The woman’s expectations have led to her demise.
The poem is constructed in a manner that emulates the development of a person’s ego and insecurities. Considering time plays a key role in life, many components of the poem change as the poem proceeds until its end. The tone of the poem perhaps changes the most over the course of the poem with the mirror perceiving itself as trustworthy and objective and changing to conniving and subjective; in a way, the mirror mimics the style of Hitler by gaining one’s trust and then using this trust to control them. Not only does the ego grow in the tone but in this progression of the identities of the mirror. Regardless of the claim that the mirror is an “eye of a little-god, four cornered,” the mirror still identifies itself as an inanimate object (ll. 5). In the second stanza, however, the mirror identifies itself as a lake, one of the 8 essential elements of a human being’s life. Clearly, the ego is about to implode. Yet as mentioned this is not the ego of the woman- the woman becomes the prey. This perception of the woman as a prey is revealed through the violent lexicon chosen by the mirror. This violence is evident in the war metaphor where the woman is “searching [the mirror’s] reaches for what she really is” but unfortunately is rewarded with drowning (11. 11). The battle between the predator, the mirror, and the prey, the woman, has resulted in death, an unmistakable and unavoidable fate of war. Essentially, the woman’s negative reflection on herself has generated this internal battle leading to her demise perhaps initially figuratively but eventually literally.
Charles Olson “Maximus, to Himself’, Jessica Bush, Dr. M.A.R. Habib Modern World Poetry, April 22, 2013
Charles Olson’s “Maximus, to Himself’ cleverly analyzes the internal struggle of Maximus in determining his apposite and sole identity. Maximus must ascertain between each of the identities he has acquired over time and decide which is most reflective of his true self. The path to find this identity can be defined by the opening line “I have had to learn the simplest things/ last” (1-2). In other words, the discovery of the self will be when simplicity can be achieved which will coincidentally occur last. The progression of this notion is endorsed by the diminishing sizes of the stanzas reflecting the expected progression from complex to simple. While the stanzas are juxtaposed to appear as stepping stones indicating that the path to simplicity is linear and easily accessible, this is simply not the case. When one feels that they are able to understand the message behind one of the stanzas, the following stanza confuses the reader causing them to restart the thought process. Along with this, the closing stanza being ostensibly the simplest is when the progression unravels; Maximus is back to where he has started, at the ocean. The search for his true identity becomes far more complex due to the acquiring of contradicting notions rather than the shedding of such. Thus, the path is overtly cyclical and complex rather than linear and simple.
A prevalent motif addressed in “Maximus, to himself’ is the numerous amounts of identities and perspectives throughout the poem. A rather interesting fact of the poem is that an authentic voice, representing the identity, can never be attributed to the narrator; even the title “Maximus, to himself’ suggests an ongoing dialogue rather than a monologue rejecting any chance of discovering who Maximus truly is. Although we are unclear of whether it is Maximus or Himself speaking, a few perspectives are obtained about the voices. One of the perspectives is from “a wind/ and water man” whereas another is from a man who deemed that living on the “sea was not, finally, my trade.” Clearly these are two opposite perspectives: one endorses the sea whereas the other rejects it. The effect this has on the reader is utter confusion- how can he be a part of the sea and at the same time reject it? This lends itself to the notion that the path to finding his true identity is far from linear and simple but complex.
Another interesting image is the many reiterations of the sea. To me, Olson views the sea as a place where he can search for his true identity amongst the many versions of himself. Yet just as the sea is dark and uncertain in real life so is the sea within the poem. This fear prevents Olson from searching for the known and allows him to remain motionless as suggested by the Following stanza:
“they show daily Who do the world’s businesses
And who do nature’s
As I have no sense
I have done either” (ll. 22-27).
A person’s every day actions controls how the world is maintained. Yet, Maximum cannot contribute to this perpetuation because he is stuck without a certain identity. He can never get on the path to this discovery because each time he assumes he has found who he is it appears as if he is set back. Even the ending indicates his paralysis in discovering who he is:
“It is undone business
I speak of, this morning, with the sea
from my feet” (11. 52-26).
The search for his identity and even his contribution to society is incomplete. He still stands on the outskirts of the ocean unable to search for who he is in the depths of the sea. Although this last stanza is perhaps the simplest, it also contains the saddest point in the poem. Maximus remains motionless due to the many contradicting layers of worry and confusion which have weighed him down to the point of paralysis.
Charles Olson “Projective Verse”
Charles Olson’s essay “Projective Verse” is a response and even a rejection of the “closed forms of New Criticism” which advocated “unity, balance, and subtle indirection” (1). In opposition to this notion, Olson and the members of the Black Mountain school were interested in the “dynamic transfer and discharge of energy” (1053). This meant that poetry should be a reflection of the spontaneous process and the time this process is a part of. In regards to the self. Olson perceived an individual as a reaction of their environment therefore encouraging them to deplete their enlarged ego in order to open themselves up to these spontaneous reactions (he defined this as ‘objectivism’) (1053).
In order to explain how one “works in OPEN, or what can also be called COMPOSITION BY FIELD”, Olson begins by generally expressing the “kinetics of the thing,” proceeds to the principle, “the reason why a projective poem can come into being,” and specifying how the “principle can be made so to shape the energies that the form is accomplished” (1054). In concluding that “form is never more than an extension of content,” the process is successful when each perception cohesively leads to another perception in one sole direction (the energy can never flow from content to form) (1055). Olson then begins to deconstruct the Non-projective while simultaneously building a poem, “Single Intelligence,” from it source: the body of the poet.
Olson disregards the value heavily placed on closed forms such as abiding by constructing stanzas in order to suit the prescriptive value on traditional rime and meter. Instead, he redefines the inspiration for the structure of the poem. He suggests that the form of a poem, while still being an extension of content, emerges from the pace of the poet’s breathing as well as the acquisition of his ear (1055). The ear and the mind work as a union in focusing on syllables of words (how words juxtapose in beauty) whereas the pace of one’s breathing determine the metric and ending of the line (1056). Olson also considers the other objects visible in the field of composition: the image, the sound and the sense. In a broad sense, these objects maintain the structure of the poem by stabilizing the content and the context “which has forced itself, through the poet and them, into being” (1057).
Olson believes the way to generate a “stance toward reality outside a poem” as well as a new perception of the poem is a matter of”objectism” (not to be confused with objectivism). From this perspective, the poet accepts that he owes his “small existence” to nature. If he becomes “participant in the larger force” by acting on the aforementioned roots of a poem, his small existence is transformed into a larger size, a projective size. Although the individual may be at the disposal of nature, the individual is responsible for projecting this verse. Due to this responsibility, the poet must fully digest what he has heard and observed in order to carry out the requirements of field of composition.
Elizabeth Bishop “Sestina”, Jessica Bush, Dr. M.A.R. Habib, Modern World Poetry, April 24, 2013
Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “Sestina,” uses the traditional form, the sestina, as a means to serving a larger purpose. Although the sestina indicates that the traditional iambic pentameter is used, Bishop does not include a specific meter. In tum, this points to the notion that one may stray away from tradition in order to convey another purpose. The character in the poem that the traditional form is attributed to is overtly the grandmother, a melancholic woman discouraged by the way life has happened even though she has abided by each and every rule set in stone by the almanac which takes on many forms. Yet the fact that the traditional form of the sestina is disrupted by the lack of meter also points to the other character in the poem: the child.
This child is representative of new age, free will and disruption of order; the fact that she draws a rigid house, old tradition, with a winding pathway, straying from the tradition, indicates these themes previously mentioned. Yet, Bishop purposefully does not grant agency to the living objects in the poem. Instead, typically inanimate objects such as_ the almanac, the iron kettle, the Marvel Stove are personified and given control over these characters. Not only are the objects personified but they are also given mobility evident in the structure of the stanzas- each of the words changes places in the 7 lines of the seven stanzas. There are two interpretations ofthe poem: the child is deviating from the control of the objects that have long controlled her grandmother or the child is, unknowingly, doomed to fall into the same path as her grandmother.
Clearly the grandmother is a symbol of servitude and tradition unwilling to stray from the path that has been designated to her by society. The grandmother surrounds herself with objects that perpetuate her domestic role in society such as stoves and teapots. As “the iron kettle sings on the stove/ she cuts some bread and says to the child,/ It’s time for tea now” (ll. 11-13). She often sits “beside the Little Marvel Stove, reading jokes from the almanac” (ll. 4-5). Although she is in a comfortable place, she cannot hold back her tears from making her “teacup full of dark brown tears” (ll. 22-23). The sad part about her fate is that she believes her tears to be a part of this life that has been given to her- “her equinoctial tears” (ll. 7). Although her lifestyle has made he upset, the grandmother is comfortable with being controlled by the objects that surround her.
There are aspects of the poem that imply that the child will stray from the roles that have been instilled on her grandmother and devise her own path. For instance, the poem does not abide by the traditional sestina which usually is written in the iambic pentameter. This could be indicative of an underlying meaning: the child is deviating from the traditional form and forming her own path. Yet, there is a variety of imagery which conclude that the child will eventually follow the path of her grandmother. Despite the “winding pathway” drawn from the door of the “rigid house,” the almanac still possesses control over her fate evident in the following excerpt:
“the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.
Time to plant tears, says the almanac” (11. 33-37).
Clearly, the child is being controlled by her surroundings despite the fact that she is unaware of this. The almanac is even altering the child’s dream by placing tears in the garden which will breed new life that is, unfortunately, a result of the almanac. With this, we can see that the child is along the same path as her grandmother and will eventually be immersed in her own accepted tears.
Amiri Baraka “Somebody Blew Up America”, Jessica Bush, Dr. M.A.R. Habib, Modern World Poetry, April 29, 2013
Both Amiri Baraka’s essay “A Myth ofthe “Negro Literature” (1962) and his poem “Somebody Blew up America” (2002) focus on the subcultures, the visual components, of America. Yet from the very start of Baraka’s poem one notices a shift in the tone chosen for this piece which counters the tone used in his essay. In “Negro Literature,” Baraka is emphasizing the positive role separate subcultures play in American society: While separate, they are not hierarchically different. Yet in “Somebody Blew up America,” a hierarchy is established between the subcultures mentioned as a result of the overt negativity towards a particular subculture. By analyzing the allusions used and their surrounding condescending tones, a clear attack on Politicians is made. I’m not certain of every allusion but majority of them point to Baraka’s direct distaste for the White Politician from all parts of the world. In general, Baraka has adopted a bleak outlook on life: evil pervades reality thoroughly by manipulating appearances and tricking most beings into believing what is good is evil.
A clever tactic Baraka uses in this poem is the multitude of ways in answering the question “Who?” Baraka’s “who” questions range from specific, “Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers To stay home that day Why did Sharon stay away?” to ostensibly broad “Who own the air Who own the water?” By asking a question, Baraka is forcing the audience to examine their knowledge of said question. Yet, this is more than just an IQ test. The type of questions asked is labeled in the legal world as “leading questions.” Baraka purposefully concentrates the poem with the more specific questions particularly in the beginning which, for the reader, consciously causes him to strive to answer each question, whether broad or specific, with some white politician. To me, this caused me to see the inspiration behind the poem as reckless and brash.
Not only does the questioning tactic produce two separate reactions but the style of the writing does as well. Baraka cleverly leaves out punctuation and capitalizes letters as deemed necessary; in the above example, the first letter in the phrase “To stay home that day” is capitalized emphasizing what the 4000 Israeli workers were told to do that day. This sentence also is void of any punctuation until the end of the phrase “Why did Sharon stay away?” which happens to be at the end of the line. As previously indicated, these tactics all aim to emphasize specific aspects of the events. While the voice Baraka uses is meant to be passionate it also produces an adverse effect synonymous with the leading questions: the rushed tone generates a rash passion that can easily be aligned with racism. In support of this thought is the local dialect chosen- one associated with urban dialects (as a disclaimer, I personally do not think those who use urban dialects are stupid in comparison to ‘more accepted by professionals’ dialects). But this use of urban dialect is limiting Baraka to a certain subculture. This limitation causes him to appear narrow-minded regardless of how inhumane and evil the White politician has been throughout history. To me, he is only giving into the evil in this world.
The diversity in the tactics used point to Baraka labeling himself as a bitter black man purposefully or accidentally. The voice chosen combined with the structure chosen portrays the poem as nothing more than a brash response to the events of September 11, 2001. Most importantly, Baraka has abandoned the inspiring message received in “A Myth of the Negro
Amiri Baraka “The Myth of a “Negro Literature”, Jessica Bush, Dr. M.A.R. Habib Modem World Poetry Monday, April 29, 2013
The excerpts available in Volume II of The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry for Amiri Baraka’s “The Myth of the Negro Literature” coherently generalize the message behind Baraka’s poetry: American Negro art must be rooted in the hardships experienced by American Negroes and inspired by their survival of such experiences. Echoing Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Baraka primarily rejected “Negro Literature” being initially grounded in suiting the interests of middle-class white society. Not only must a Black American separate himself from the “Euro-American models” but he must separate himself from African art as well (1077). The fact of the matter is certain African art is not relevant to American Negro culture and one’s reality is relative to one’s experience. The experience of the American Negro is not the same experience as their ancestors or of those living in the, then, newly African nations (1079). The American Negro is a product of America and their unique experience must be expressed.
Jazz and Blues, in a way, are thought of as pioneers in defining the subculture labeled American Negro art. This music reflected the American Negro’s experience and set it apart from the rest. Although the separation of American Negro art was necessary the intent is not to estrange the African Americans from society but to prove their existence. Certainly Baraka felt it necessary for African Americans to separate themselves from white culture to reveal their existence outside of the “predictable fingerpainting of white bourgeois sentiment and understanding” (1080). Yet he believed they needed to be set apart in order to be appreciated as essential to reshaping American culture, to become a part of the image. Baraka chooses music as one of the subjects of the essay because of White America’s warm inception to it (a large portion of artists like the Doors, Elvis, Led Zeppelin, Cream were heavily influenced by Blues musicians and, in some cases, to the point of stealing their songs). While once being labeled as African Negroes, they were now accepted as American Negroes (1078). Embedded in this music was a distinctive melody, a jarring tone, a shocking set of lyrics of stories describing the culture’s personal and social battles with others as well as their own. Although many audiences could not relate, they could momentarily experience and respect these hardships while subconsciously throwing away outdated notions of American culture.
Clearly, Baraka, as well as the rest of the culture, commemorate and respect the music of American Negro art. Yet, why is it that their music was heard upon its inception and not their literature? In contrary to the originality generated by the music, Baraka considered the literature of the American Negro writing in protest of or “glorifying the concept of the white superiority” (1079). In other words, they were imitating and writing about other ideas rather than creating their own ideas. In turn, Baraka saw American Negro writing as mythic, a mere fiction, since it cannot reach “the central core of the America which can cause such protest” (1079). He proves this with the metaphor ofthe ‘invented America.’ Reminiscent of Baraka and Charles Olson’s notion of poetry as “Everything must be” made to fit into the poem,” Baraka aligns the creation of the poem with the creation of a Negro’s America (632). Like the traditional poet who fit components into the structure of the poem as did the Negro writer who wrote in terms of an invented America (1079). In speaking about a poem as well as America, one should be defined by the components in its entirety. It should not be shaped by what was important to European poets such as Alexander Pope but what is important to an authentic American such as Ray Charles.
I found the conclusion rather moving because of his belief that the undeniable distinctions between the cultures of the Black and White man are their strengths. While certain Blacks may find this oppressive, and indeed it became oppressive, a person’s identity is all one really has. Just because the American Negro subculture is not aligned with White culture (I’m not using the term bourgeois because there is more to white culture than just that group) does not make them unequal on a hierarchical level. Each culture is composed of separate elements that are unique in itself similar to the notion that no individual on this earth is the same. This is not oppressive but exciting since life would be incredibly mundane if there were not variety in music and art. From this perspective, this separation of identity is necessary for a fulfilling life.
Charles Bernstein “Semblance”, Jessica Bush, Dr. M.A.R. Habib, Modern World Poetry, May 1, 2013
Charles Bernstein published his essay “Semblance” in 1980 redefines language as a means that is highly connotative rather than denotative. It is a highly motivating and generates opportunity from language- a mood that is missing from Charles Olson’s projective verse. He uses the poem as the focus claiming that the language within is “a centrifugal force that seems to trip it out of the poem, turn it out from itself, exteriorizing it.” What forms from this force are “textures, vocabularies, discourses, constructivist modes of radically different character” which are not an integral component in a “predetermined” structure. Instead, language is a part of “shifting parameters” and is constantly interacting with other parts of language. Simply stated, language is never attributed to one part of the spectrum. Any form of language can be used in any manner or form. This delusion that we have gained is because of the traditional forms of poetry in the past. For example, we must remember that a chair is merely called a chair because of the deconstruction theory. This expresses that the highly arbitrary and subjective nature of labeling occurs by labeling what things are not (a chair is not a ball so it possibly could be a chair). Therefore, the subjective definition, over times, evolves into an unmovable standard objective definition. From this angle, language needs to return to its roots and be thought of as being on a “uniplanar surface” and highly accessible for a poet in using words.
(1) Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own by Lisa Riva, 22 March 2010
In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf provides insight into the causes and results of a male-dominated literary tradition. In arguing for the material requirements of money and space, Woolf makes a case for how and why woman must re-imagine her role in academia and society. Despite its argumentative foundation, A Room of One’s Own is an interesting combination of creative nonfiction narrative and expository argument. By fusing these two genres, Woolf draws on her own authorial instincts in establishing a voice for the repressed and unsupported female author. When read alongside her short fiction piece “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” and Annette Kolodny’s more recent interpretation of feminist literary theory “Dancing Through the Minefield,” A Room of One’s Own provides a unique synthesis of the points brought up in the two more traditionally-defined genre pieces.
Early in A Room of One’s Own, Woolf expresses the difficulty of writing on the topic of “women and fiction” and the numerous possibilities to which such a topic lends itself. She resolves to capture as many aspects of the relationship between women and fiction as possible, focusing on how they are all “inextricably mixed together” (187). Woolf’s piece, however, does not read as a typical point-by-point argument, nor does it follow a traditional expository structure. Instead, as she suggests early on, it is an exploration of the topic through creative nonfiction: “I propose, making use of all the liberties and licences of a novelist, to tell you the story of the two days that preceded my coming here—how, bowed down by the weight of the subject which you have laid upon my shoulders, I pondered it, and made it work in and out of my daily life” (187). Woolf’s text, then, derives from the use of a first-person narrative throughout which she weaves an argument about the injustices women writers meet and the effects of such prejudices.
Woolf’s piece demonstrates a kind of dual awareness; she explicitly states her knowledge of literary forms (even as she defies them), but seems just as aware of how, by rejecting such forms, she might more effectively appeal to her audience. She intentionally fictionalizes the reality she wishes to present in the narrative of the two preceding days and, in doing so, suggests the fragile (and often ridiculous) nature of the institutions that shun women. Her use of the label “Oxbridge,” a fusion between Oxford and Cambridge, suggests her mockery of the exclusively male university system. Woolf’s “Oxbridge” is an impenetrable force for female intellectuals. Upon her visit, described as “audacious trespassing,” she is immediately made to feel unwelcome (188). The beadle whom she encounters embodies the sense of masculine academia: “His face expressed horror and indignation. Instinct rather than reason came to my help; he was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me” (188). In realizing the nature of her “trespass” in this scene, Woolf must rely on her “instinct,” not “reason”. These distinctions seem particularly important; Woolf notes that it’s unnatural or unreasonable that women be relegated to the “gravel” and that such discrimination is nothing but the product of traditional and out-dated thought. She continues, writing that the “protection of their turf…has been rolled for 300 years in succession” (188). Woolf again emphasizes the unreasonable nature of her exclusion from “the courts and quadrangles of Oxbridge” by forcing readers to consider the failure of these “Fellows and Scholars” to recognize and revise an outdated and unnecessary model of segregation (188).
Woolf’s narrative allows her to comment not only on Oxbridge as an exclusively-male academic institution, but also on the female institutions of the invented Fernham (an under-funded women’s college) and the home. Like Oxbridge, these other institutions also serve as symbols in the argumentative narrative Woolf projects. Her ultimate thesis, that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” depends on an image of the home as a threat to the writing and creative processes (187). Woolf considers four major female novelists (George Eliot, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, and Jane Austen) and what was likely the typical setting for their writing: “the common sitting-room” (203). Woolf defines this room of the house as busy and filled with constant interruptions. Despite this, the sitting room also provided middle-class women with an informal “literary training” in “observation of character” and “analysis of emotion” (203). But for Woolf, the sitting room is problematic. Women of intellect, she claims, could have participated in far more ambitious projects had they a separate room to which they could retreat. The home, despite its making available to women the scenes of everyday life, was a force working against their potential creative energies. Woolf claims, then, that the functions of the male university and the female home each work against the woman writer, suppressing her potential.
The style of A Room of One’s Own captures the influences of the topic at hand against the backdrop of the everyday comings and goings of a nineteenth-century female intellectual. Woolf uses these scenes as the foregrounding of symbols, ironies, and ideas that are handled in the more argumentative passages weaved throughout the narrative.