Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beloved IV: Biblical Allusions

I would like to conclude my blogging on Beloved by examining some more biblical allusions. I find it fitting because if Morrison chose to begin her novel with one, it seems appropriate to end with a similar tactic.

To begin with, the story of Denver’s birth continually reminded me of the story of the infant Moses being taken down and placed in the river. While there is not a precise textual echo, and Denver does actually stay with her birth mother, both accounts rely on the help of a foreign woman. Also, one could argue that Denver grows up to be a kind of Moses, as she first escapes the prison of 124 (Egypt) and then gathers her people around her to vanquish slavery as it is embodied in Beloved.

Another compelling biblical reference comes in the form of Stamp Paid. We learn that his name used to be Joshua, the name of the character, of course, who in the Bible led the Hebrew people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. In this text, Stamp Paid functions as a Joshua to Sethe, delivering her through the waters to the “freedom” of Ohio, the Promised Land of life without slavery. In addition, the name of Jesus in Hebrew form (Yeshua) is a derivative of Joshua. Since Jesus is thought to have “paid for our sins,” the name Stamp Paid is quite interesting. He does perform some “saving” activities in the community, though he is not the town’s exclusive “Savior.” To tackle a demon as large as slavery and its aftershock, it takes an entire community.

Lastly, Beloved begins her monologue section with the sentence: “I AM BELOVED and she is mine.” This is a fascinating alteration, I think, of Song of Solomon 6:3 – “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” In that text, the two lovers in question refer to a man and wife, or, metaphorically, perhaps to God and his people. Obviously, Beloved’s declaration is not to a husband, but is it directed towards Sethe? Is she speaking of herself? Is she incorporating all of black experience, particularly female black experience, into herself? I also am intrigued by the capitalization of I AM, since that is the normally accepted rendering of God’s name as revealed to Moses in the book of Exodus, as well as the title Jesus applies to himself in John’s Gospel. Once again, then, we have very appropriate echoes of biblical themes of escape from slavery and salvation.

Beloved III: Parallels

I noticed the following very interesting parallels between Beloved and Saunders’ “Sea Oak.”

Leaving 124, Stamp Paid thinks that “the undecipherable language clamoring around the house was the mumbling of the black and angry dead” (234).

Similarly, in “Sea Oak,” after Aunt Bernie’s second death, the narrator reflects on the story’s strange occurrences, saying “Maybe it happens all the time. Maybe there’s angry dead all over, hiding in rooms, covered with blankets, bossing around their scared, embarrassed relatives” (123-124).

This seems like a deliberate allusion on Saunders’ part, especially since his plot of the irate deceased “bossing around their scared, embarrassed relatives” is exactly what happens in Beloved.

The clincher for me, though, is that Aunt Bernie’s tombstone ultimately contains the phrase: BELOVED AUNT.

While Beloved is an intense examination of black slavery, Saunders uses the same template in a more postmodern and satirical way to open up an examination of another group of people enslaved, not this time by whites but rather by poverty (not that race and socioeconomic status are completely separate entities).

Beloved II: Musings On Title

I am intrigued by the book’s title, especially in relation to Morrison’s epigraph, one portion of which quotes Romans 9:25. Let me repeat that verse here, along with a little bit of its wider context:

“what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people”,
and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved”. ’
‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”,
there they shall be called children of the living God.’ ”

In its original context, these verses are talking about the incorporation of Gentiles into the people of God along with Jews. Taking this with the other portion of Morrison’s epigraph – Sixty Million and more – is instructive. The African American race is also incorporated into the people of God, even in the face of oppressors who deny their humanity. Despite their slavery, “they shall be called children of the living God.” Beloved, then, is more than just an individual; she is representative of the entire black race.

Beloved I (1-86)

To me, the most memorable thing so far is the bladder accident Sethe has when Beloved first appears at their home. If this Beloved is truly the embodiment of her deceased daughter, then how fitting for Sethe to, at this moment, ‘give birth’ again. Sethe even makes a comparison to labor, saying,

“Like a horse, she thought, but as it went on and on she thought, No, more like flooding the boat when Denver was born” (61).

Sethe, however, does not yet suspect that Beloved is actually her daughter, though this happening is a large clue for the reader who wants to see it that way.

I also think it’s interesting that Sethe is worried that Paul D. will come looking for her and find her in such an embarrassing position. If, metaphorically, she is giving birth, and Paul D. is in some ways functioning as a husband, then the occurrence ought to be one of pride for the new father as well. Maybe I’m being anachronistic with that sentiment, what with all the labor and delivery education husbands receive these days. However, the incident still shows the disconnect between Sethe and Paul D. Though he is doing nice things for her, can he ever really understand her?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

unexpected Jesus

Having admittedly finished this story after the class discussion, I had a question prepared: would the “magical realism” of Aunt Bernie’s resurrection mesh with the rest of the story? Hearing classmates talk about it, I thought such bizarre occurrences might completely take you out of the story, or force you to no longer take it seriously.

However, Bernie functions at this point as a seer. Typically in classic texts and mythologies, the seer is blind. Well, here that same idea is given a little post-modern and ghetto update. It’s not just her eyes that don’t work; she’s falling completely apart, fragmenting. I also think her deteriorating physicality lends believability to her speech. Somehow, a prim and proper Aunt Bernie would not be able to espouse the F word or give advice for greater success in the male stripping industry.

Speaking of Resurrection, too, the story’s narrator does make the connection with Jesus, although there are important differences. Jesus had wounds but was not falling apart; in fact, he possessed a glorified body. Likewise, Jesus never died again, while Aunt Bernice succumbs to death a 2nd time. However, they may share one thing: anger. I like that Jesus is included among the ‘angry dead’ that might exist in larger numbers than anyone cares to reveal. I’m trying to picture an irate Jesus just giving it to his disciples for denying him.

An unexpected Jesus.

Is that what it takes to fix problems like the poverty cycle? An unexpected Jesus? Perhaps Aunt Bernie is ours.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010



This a very engaging story, fun to read. The ending feels kinda like a “gotcha,” but I guess that’s ok. What’s interesting is that it does end the story focusing on the family whose daughter really did get killed. You don’t always see that. Usually a plot like this would just end in the joy of it being someone else there on the gurney. As a reader, you feel a sense of elation that the daughter is no dead. However, this is muted by the fact that the other family is brought up. All the feelings of anguish and horror you were just released from are now true of another family. You realize there is no respite for them, no happy ending.

And that seems to be the point of the meteor. It could wipe out everything, raising the question of “is there any meaning to our world at all” if we should be destroyed so suddenly and completely? Yet, tragedies on a smaller scale raise this same question for people everywhere all the time. Your son may be fine, but someone else’s is dying – right now. What do we do with that? I’m not like the father in the story, as I do turn to God, but it’s a terrible problem of existence that must be faced by everyone, no matter your race, status, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

Very thought-provoking story.

Statues: Espada’s “Bully”

Love this poem and the epic reversal it depicts. Roosevelt becomes the defenseless one: his fists in desperate need of a sword or the reins of a steed – at the very least a podium from which to declare marching orders.

But the Puerto Rican children are the ones with the marching orders now. Roosevelt is “invaded … with its army of Spanish-singing children.” Of course, these students are armed with little more than graffiti with which to fight; their intent is not to make malevolent war. That is what separates them from Roosevelt. Therefore, while this is their “revenge,” it is not one of equal measure. Unless, perhaps, it is conceived of as revenge in a non-violent fashion. The greatest rebuttal to Roosevelt is not violence in return but rather a commitment, on the part of the affected minority, to education, betterment, and shaping America to be a more polyvalent society.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Judas always stuck out like a sore thumb (as in Harvey Keitel’s portrayal in The Last Temptation of Christ)? However, that’s not often the case. On the surface, in Adrian Louis’ poem “Looking for Judas,” the identity of the betrayer seems obvious:

“They say before the white man
brought us Jesus, we had honor.”

However, it appears that the Indian speaker in this poem has adopted white hunting methods, such as using a rifle (since he reminisces about a time when they did not use guns). After venerating the ancestral traditions, he qualifies his account by saying: “Or something like that.” As if the recitation of such accounts is just forgettable, legendary mumbo-jumbo. For one who so blithely dismisses important cultural heritage, who is really doing the betraying? Whites? Or Native Americans themselves? Shades of Sherman Alexie.

A friend of mine at work the other day mentioned that he was gathering a group of guys to get together, get drunk, and then go to a strip club. Someone asked if I would be attending, to which my friends responded: “I think he’ll be at home with his wife and kid” (correct answer, by the way). At this point I jumped into the conservation and said to my friend: “so where will your girlfriend be for this?” “At home with the cat, I guess,” he surmised in a somewhat guilty manner. Then, as if to defend himself, he said: “Man, it’s not even about the strippers.”

I think Louise Gluck would recognize this portrait of the man engaging in “guy time,” while the dutiful wife or girlfriend prepares supper at home. I love the way Gluck re-imagines The Odyssey as basically the same thing. I especially love the Greek soldiers in "Parable of the Hostages" - standing around and hoping the war doesn’t end soon because it keeps them away from home with a good excuse. It wouldn’t be nearly as easy to skip out for the night for “guy time” if one was at home.

And I’m not trying to poo-poo “guy time.” It can be about genuine camaraderie instead of strippers. I even enjoy the occasional dude date myself (wholesomely). However, 20 years is a long time for Penelope to wait. I remember once reading an interview with Billy Graham where he was asked what his biggest regret was. His answer was that he spent too much time on the road as an evangelist and not enough time at home with his wife and kids. Interesting, huh? The thing that brought him the most success also made him the poorer family man. Listening Odysseus? Tiger Woods? Matt?

Only The Ghosts Remain

One of Sherman Alexie’s obvious themes is the erosion of Native American culture due to white influence. In “Scalp Dance” this takes place in part because a white man is the one who paints a popular artistic representation of the tribe. He suppresses the real voice of his subject and even makes up details about her. Perhaps most devastingly, he would not allow his Native American subjects to smile, thereby omitting the profound joy of their culture in his art.

However, it is not just the white man responsible for such an erosion of culture. For instance, the Indians in “Evolution” part with ancient treasures at a pawnshop in order to harvest more modern ones: televisions, VCR’s, etc. While this may not be unexpected from the general populace, it seems like Native American writers and artists would strive to be a little less acquiescent to white culture. Yet, the poem instructing one on how to write the definitive Indian American Novel points out that such writers must follow a very strict code of white perception in order to write an acceptable Native American novel.

“In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written, /
all of the white people will be Indians, and all of the Indians will /
be ghosts.”

To me, this means that any real success at producing the Great American Indian novel, would tragically compromise anything uniquely Indian about its content, to the point where the very culture it purports to exemplify has been subsumed into white culture; only the ghosts remain.

That would be a good album title, by the way.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

15 Cents!!!

D. Fred and Madge have no problems. They get along exceptionally well and are good at working out any little difficulties that may arise. But their charming house is by the seashore and one day a giant tidal wave approaches. Real estate values go down. The rest of the story is about what caused the tidal wave and how they escape from it. They do, though thousands drown, but Fred and Madge are virtuous and grateful, and continue as in A.

This stanza really catches my attention because of the larger issues it raises. All of the attention so far has been paid to couples and their love lives. All of a sudden, though, here is a reference to tragedy and widespread destruction -- but the love story continues on unabated.

I can't help but think of the tsunami disaster a couple of years ago or the recent tragedy in Haiti. We read the article or watch a short news blurb, but then settle in to our nightly diet of fake plotlines with manufactured drama, more moved by the death of a favorite television character than of real human beings. Surely there is more to the world than whether boy and girl are in love or lust; stay together or split up; remain faithful or cheat.

i am certainly not meaning to de-value love or relationships, it's just that the way this section of the story glosses over widespread death really makes me think about how we often use entertainment to block out the suffering and horror around us.

Anyway, it's late and I feel as if maybe I'm not articulating my point very well. Maybe, though, we should take Dane Cook's advice and have the mean leather-jacket guy chew us out during television programs about giving to the poor:
. Listen around the 2:10 mark.

Matt Varnell

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

American Ashbery

I feel like I am lacking interpretive clues to make better sense of this poem, but here, nevertheless, are some thoughts:

- who are ‘they?’ does ‘solving’ this help give the poem meaning?

- in line 2 I hear a reference to Whitman and his most famous poem

- the land of milk and honey was originally Canaan, the ‘promised land’ in the Bible, but that imagery has also been used of America. Unfortunately, this honey actually burns the throat.

- The reference in line 11 to the man being 30 years old has echoes of Jesus, who began his ministry at around that age.

- I cannot help but hear Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness with the reference to ‘the horror’ in line 24. Is America the nation with a darkened heart that will destroy your soul? Is it the white witch? And is it, no matter the horror, still our guiding light? Are we lost without America (line 25)?

Owners Of A Lonely Heart: Carver

With this story, it seems we are back to Hemingway and the white elephants. Once again we have a story centering around conversation, relationships, and love (or lack thereof) – while all the while the alcohol flows.

Like the Hemingway story, however, it seems like these characters are also well versed in not quite getting to the heart of what they’re feeling and being able to state it. For instance, there must be a reason Terri so vehemently argues that her former lover did in fact love her, even though he was violent. Was there something in that previous relationship that is lacking in her current one with Mel? We don’t know because it’s not spoken.

Why, too, does Mel all of a sudden hit on Laura? Is it just the alcohol, or something deeper? Again, we don’t know. Even the title reflects this hesitance because after the story is over, one still doesn’t really know what it is we really talk about when we talk about love. Relationships? The need to belong? Who knows?

Then, in the end, perhaps things get a little too honest, and everyone reverts back to talking about food, trying to restore a level of superficiality. Interestingly, it is at this point that the narrator says: “I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making.”

Levine - Animals Passing

Here we are again with proud animals. Rich’s poem ended with tigers standing strong; Levine’s verse describes a pig utterly determined to keep his dignity, even as he is prepared for slaughter.

This pig savagely comments on humanity. For instance, he refers to “pudgy white fingers” that grope and squeeze out his insides – a sickening image. He actually uses imagery associated with swine to verbally attack housewives, noting how they “squeal” and “shit.” Lastly, he mentions in the last stanza that humans hope he’ll “turn like a beast,” the implication being that he is only like a beast, whereas humankind is the true savage species.

Adrienne Rich & Tigers


- This poem is a bit depressing. Apparently, the only feminine resistance (a theme we’ve seen several times in previous works) are the tigers Aunt Jennifer can conjure up with her fingers. It’s very interesting to me, and a testament to the poem’s speaker, that we feel the oppressiveness foisted upon the Aunt by the Uncle without there being any description of his actual deeds. In fact, we really only get 1 line: “The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band.” Somehow, though, it is enough to convey the sense of dread. The use of “the wedding band” as a metaphor for oppression twists what is normally thought of as a hopeful symbol into a dark omen.

- I also like the line describing the tigers: “They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.” The alliteration in the last 2 words is effectively memorable, but, more subtly, the speaker also sticks together ‘sleek’ and ‘chivalric,’ both words ending in the same sound. Ironically, the tigers are the ones described as chivalric, whereas traditionally this was seen as the male’s realm.

- The mention of ‘wool’ and ‘ivory’ in such proximity made me think about sheep and elephants, two animals often exploited for their resources that are useful or desirable to us. Is Aunt Jennifer in the same predicament, an animal exploited for the sake of others?

Monday, February 15, 2010

x generation

x generation
xcited with hopes
then swimming thru ropes
pretty nooses
trouble our childhood
like dr. suess’
with kaczynski’s ire
los angeles fires:
beatings and bricks
and weapons for hire

xxx in the halls
filthy locker room stalls
with needle
with needlepoint
and passing thru camels
umm, like, umm,
i doubt it
inquire to my mind
and i’ll tell you never

xtra xtra
mtv news all about it
mista kurt – he dead
out back in the shed
let’s fondle in bed
eat cancer, eat AIDS
while dying to wed
into bliss
vs. vitalogy ten
you win

i was framed
or at least
too famed
to convict me of slaughter
for whites a surprise
my black OJ prize
it’s all in The Book
(but planes in the skies)

love –

beneath all the ruble,
ruble from towers
maybe even this hour –
might go to the mall
and let slip The Fall
render myself
tender myself
to deposit devour
one minute
one hour
one million revisions, incisions, divisions

i visit
record stores collecting
parental advisory stickers
(i lick her) (i like her)
put hands in my pockets
with lightbulbs in sockets
infer, defer, reefer
Madness combs the afternoon;
i will part my hair,
grab my spoon:
blank stare
blank stare
blank stare
fear of a blanket planet

stalking stalking
pray on mideastern soils
bloodshed upon
the forest floors
and next door
use your allusion
to transmit the fusion
line break
page break
news break


woh.... man
she was a thief
you gotta belief
she stole my heart and my
kat kit
backwards forwards:
KG and webber
and sir charles
4 words


this is why we’ve been lost for miles

in denial
turn the tv on high
to soak life in bile
hello muffins
hello cake
hello kramer and friends
spill the beans and the means and even the ends
the bends
the breaks
how long does it take
to hop solar plexus
and cruise blazing lake?

jesus appears on the atmosphere

son of god
son of man
son of a
with a glock
or a blade
or a dove in his hand.
which do we choose,
and what’s the best band?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

sex(ton) with radiohead*

i have been…..
her kind I will
lay me down
in a bunker:

a woman like that is not ashamed to die
underground I have done my hitch

i won’t let this
happen to my children:
skillets, carvings, shelves, closets, silks…

meet the real world coming out of your shell,
rearranging the disaligned
with white misunderstood elephants
worms and the elves,
sitting ducks


i will
rise up
survivor where your flames bite

little babies haunting the black air
little babies dreaming evil
little babies braver at night


*juxtaposition of 'her kind' with radiohead's 'i will,' the song from the sexton home footage.

Bursting The Balloon: Didn’t “Mean” To…

To me, the most important line in the story is as follows: “There was a certain amount of initial argumentation about the ‘meaning’ of the balloon; this subsided, because we have learned not to insists on meanings” (2681).

One can look at the story as presenting different ways people respond to literature, or art in general.

Some compared the balloon to the sky; likewise, comparing one literary piece to another is a key part of what we do.

To others, however, what mattered most was simply “what you felt when you stood under the balloon.” This signifies reader-response criticism, in which authorial intent leaves the foreground of interpretation and the reader makes the “meaning.”

Yet the balloon also resists people’s advance upon it; “sometimes a bulge, blister, or sub-section would carry all the way east to the river on it’s own initiative.” This stands for the text resisting the reader. In this view, the text has a life of its own, is unpredictable, subservient to no one. It alone decides what it “means.”

Finally, though, it is revealed that the balloon is a “spontaneous autobiographical disclosure.” The writer, in other words, is who really counts. Once his or her purpose is finished, the art can vanish, no life aside from being a vehicle for its author.

And so which one is it? I think it’s all, as well as many more. Not to say that there aren’t ‘good’ readings and ‘poor’ reading because there are. But once the balloon/poem/song/film/novel/dance is public, it’s anyone’s game.

Re-tales of Retail: Updike

In some ways, it was hard for me to read this story in an interpretive way, looking for deep meanings or whatever, simply because it coincides so much with my own experience working at Target.

I know well the “cash-register-watchers,” who are up in arms the immediate second you double-scan an item, or, God forbid, miss a coupon. 99% of the time I am well aware that I have double-scanned the item. Every scan produces a beeping sound; therefore, if I hear 2 beeping sounds while holding only 1 item, I know I’ve double-scanned the item without even having to look at the screen or you having to tell me. I know the economy is tight and every penny is important, but geez!!! Some guests in our store act like I got out of bed with the express purpose of screwing them over somehow.

Sammy acts out the dream of every retail employee EVER, which is to flat out quit based on the principle of the matter. That was wrong, and I’m done. Granted Sammy’s hormones undoubtedly played a role, too, in his decision, but I think he knew he didn’t really have a shot with the girls. Thus, he is left standing on principle – a noble, yet terrifying place to be. In today’s recession especially, we retail workers can’t really afford to take such stands anymore. Target (or insert other store name here) pretty much has its way with you.

Lastly, to end on a more literary note. I made a comparison to the end of Philip Roth’s novel Goodbye, Columbus. In it, the protagonist, Neil Klugman, who has actually just ended a romance strained by socioeconomic differences, stares through glass into a library in the town he’s visiting, where he spies a stack of ‘imperfectly shelved’ books. Then, he chooses to go back to his own town and his job as a library clerk, leaving the taste of the rich life and his wealthy ex-girlfriend behind. In A&P, it’s almost exactly reversed. Sammy has the hope at least of getting with some rich girls, defending their honor in the only way he can. He leaves his job, embracing uncertainty, and then stares through the glass to look at his former boss. One wonders, however, if in a year he will be returning to this same job? I sure hope he fares better than Neil, but I guess we won’t know. Too bad Updike never pulled a Kevin Smith and wrote A&P II.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Berryman: Staring Down The Barrell Of A 45

I like how in this poem we get two levels of what is happening: the level of physicality where the poet is undergoing life experiences is obviously present, but their is also a continual metaphysical encounter with Ruin through each of these experiences. My favorite example of this comes from stanza 1:

Ruin stared straight back.
He thought they was old friends. He felt on the stair
where her papa found them bare
they became familiar.

Does 'they' in line 2 refer to the poet and Ruin, or has the poet already moved on to discussing his relationship with this girl? In line 3 it seems clear it's the girl being spoken of. Yet, in line 4, we read that "they became familiar." Once again, is this he and the girl, or are we back to describing his relationship with Ruin again? This doubleness runs throughout the poem.

I also like the language of Ruin 'making amends' (line 16), since that's usually a positive phrase. Ironically, though, what might be thought of as Final Ruin (Death?) is in this case making amends for his earlier incarnations not finishing the job.

Finally, I wish to state that a great song for this poem would be Shinedown's 45.

Aquarium vs Hiroshima

Reading For The Union Dead, the overriding question I had the whole time, and even after, was: what’s the deal with the Aquarium? I decided to enlist some other critics and found an article called… well, it looks like the article is on my other computer and I can’t find it right now. I’ll re-edit this with the title when I get home.

But anyway – the old Aquarium gave way to the new one (pictured above) in 1969. Lowell published his poem in 1960 and obviously appropriated this image of the old Aquarium being destroyed. This image encapsulates the themes of old vs. new in the poem, as the poet remembers going to the Aquarium as a child, enjoying the “cowed, compliant fish.” Now, however, the old building has been demolished, the tanks have cracked, and, instead of innocuous sea life, cars like sharks perpetrate their savagery in the streets.

This goes alongside the old vs. new theme in the comparison of Shaw’s statue to the photograph of ‘boiling’ Hiroshima. The old war, while obviously horrific and deadly, pales in comparison to this new type of warfare which melts everything except a particularly strong safe, a sad symbol, perhaps, that materialism alone endures.

Sylvia Plath: Ariel

I cannot, at this time, go on record as to what this poem “means.” However, I do have some observations about its language.

I like that Plath uses rhyme unconventionally, that is, she is not writing within a particular form (that I can see). In the first three lines alone she uses 4 words with the same or similar endings: ‘stasis,’ ‘darkness,’ ‘substanceless (twice in one word),’ and ‘distances.’ This is a very captivating technique with which to open the poem (especially to the ear hearing the poem). Another example of rhymes placed very close together is the phrase ‘Pour of tor’ in line 3.

As the poem continues, the rhymes come further apart, but there is still no real set pattern. This uncertainty makes the rhymes that do surface more exciting and fresh. Lines 16-23 exemplify this:

Hauls me through air
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

Godiva, I unpeel
Dead hands, dead stringencies

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.

Likewise, in lines 4-6, we have:

God’s lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow

Of course, ‘ness’ and ‘knees’ is a bit of forced rhyme, but it’s interesting to take it as a rhyme because then you have the rhymes for lines 4 and 5 in one line at the end of 6.

The 5th stanza contains some memorable alliteration:

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Something else

While there are more syntaxual choices I could discuss, I will leave off here. I think this is an amazing poem, especially to be read aloud and heard.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Papa John's

Well, being that I am getting to 'My Papa's Waltz' a little after class, and considering how in-depth we discussed it, my only choice was go the route of humor instead:

My Papa John's

The pepperoni on your breath
Could make a grown man dizzy;
Marinara to the death:
Such feasting not always easy.

We jostled until some grease
Dripped all along the floor;
Mother put aside her piece
And got down on all fours.

Oh hand that forged my slice!
Master of dough domain!
Your cheeses do entice;
My taste buds trip insane.

You toss to form your rounds,
With ovens to conceive,
Tarantella of the pounds,
My belly to receive.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Howl From Beneath The Footnotes*

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked

who put shotguns in their mouths* while their records ruled the air,*
insisting it was better to burn out than fade away,*
their civilizations* crumbling on that* Manhattan* day –
our weapons turned against us –*
and the good guys have to pay,

* The following stanza is an imaginative extension of Ginsberg’s poem Howl for a younger demographic, specifically Generation X, defined most widely as those born between 1961 and 1981 ( The prevalent use of footnotes emulates, as well as satirizes, the original.

*These two lines begin Ginsberg’s original text.

*A reference to Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, who committed suicide in 1994. Nirvana, as well as many other bands under the grunge/alternative umbrella, gave voice to alienated feelings of many teenage and young adult Generation X’ers.

*Ironically, while Cobain was the only prominent alternative musician to commit suicide during the 1990’s, several others, despite their commercial successes, were not able win their battles with substance abuse. The three that are most remembered are Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone), Shannon Hoon (Blind Melon), and Layne Staley (Alice In Chains); each of them died from a drug overdose. Even in cases where drugs did not result in a death, addiction often tore apart bands, such as was the case with Scott Weiland and Stone Temple Pilots.

*This phrase, taken from Neil Young’s song ‘My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),’ gained infamy when Cobain used it in his suicide note.

*The word ‘civilizations’ is meant to evoke the so-called ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theory promoted by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. This theory postulates that “people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world” (

*The word ‘that’ is italicized to distinguish 9/11 from the many other horrific events that, while similarly brutal if not more so, did not occur on U.S. soil.

*The choice here to use the term ‘Manhattan’ to refer to New York City deliberately carries echoes of the ‘Manhattan Project,’ where the atomic bomb was developed by the United States.

*This refers to the irony present in the theory that some of the same Afghan elements the U.S. funded against the Soviet Union eventually morphed into the Islamic extremists who organized and conducted 9/11 (

Too Night

Inspired by Frank O'Hara's poem 'Today,' I decided to emulate the style but take the opposite thematic approach:

Too Night

Oh! spiders, needles, calorific big macs!
You each are venom! Arrowheads,
grinding guitars,
butter-soaked kernels,
antipsychotics! all
the details never spoken

still drive art to our demise!
These things are with us every day
even in castles and cafes. They
do embody ennui. They’re delicious as deadly.

The Art Of Fail

A few observations about Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art.’

I love the fact that the key line - “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” – can be taken in at least 2 different ways. 1: It can mean that it isn’t hard to lose things in life; you don’t have to practice and practice to be good at losing. 2: At the same time, though, ‘master’ can be taken in the sense of ‘conquer,’ at which point the meaning becomes: it isn’t hard to overcome loss in life. This second meaning helps explain the title, for the single most important art of living is, in the poet’s view, to be able to withstand, and triumph over, loss.

The scope of the poem expands as it continues. It begins with lowly car keys, followed by a family heirloom, and then rapidly grows to include ‘cities,’ ‘realms,’ ‘rivers,’ and even an entire ‘continent.’

It is funny that the poem implores the reader, in the end, to ‘Write it!’ I guess if we write down this all-important ‘art,’ we are less likely to lose it.

I Am The Killer

One line from Brooks in particular reminded of song lyrics by a band called Dream Theater.

The Killing Hand

I. The Observance
An Angel's kiss now fallen
Descending scarlet cuts the sky
Faded names left on the wall
Honor the fighting leave life to die
Remembered is the sacrifice but
No praisal of blood still flowing
Who were the leaders?
what controlled the Killing Hand
that caused this mourning?
Crossing over...

II. Ancient Renewal

Lowered deep into the sea
Being awaits to cleanse his soul
senses weakening time is still
Motionless by stiffening cold

The wheels race back and
Scorch his mind
Traveling all to find the land
Revelation warms a touch
And now, he will begin to

III. The Stray Seed

Extended a view to yesterday
Manifestation for none the same
Walking amidst a frightening still
No sound, no smoke, no scorching
He is risen...

Sipping his poison the raven sings
Yet another to add more bodies fallen
King from below
this one controls
the Killing Hand that caused this mourning.
Is it all over?
Is it all over?

IV. Thorns

Evil genius this secret plan
Mercy dealt with the losing hand
Will he ever fall? Can he end it all?
Our savior must make his stand.
Only a Prophet of
years to come
Wanting mortality I'm all alone
He heard my voice
It was my choice I've
stopped the Killing Hand.

V. Exodus

When I go back again
Will it be the same?
I've stopped the cries
But now they know my name
The sea is calling me
my spirit must return
As I get closer,
was it really worth what I have learned?
I'm in the valley
And the saddened chimes
I hear Race toward the wall to find one more name appears.
No one is left now
my one and only land
I laugh at what I've done
I am the Killing Hand.

I'm certainly not suggesting these lyrics are anywhere near as excellent as Brooks' poem, but the idea of finding yourself to be the killer is what the two share.

However, for Brooks, I think the point is that she embodies all the different aspects of her community. She is its watchman, defender, reporter, criminal, killer, poet -- and, perhaps -- its Messiah.

The Original Olsen Twins: Sisters On Uncommon Ground

Once again, we find a story pitting two sisters against one another, the younger winning as always. However, this time the story is told not from the perspective of the eldest daughter but from the mother’s point of view. She is not oblivious to her favoritism towards her second daughter, as Mama was in 'Why I Live at the P.O.'

Another point of contact with other literature we have already covered is the theme of the working wife with the absent/abusive husband – the central concern, of course, of Hurston’s 'Sweat.'

I think the ironing is significant because it is a typical task of the housewife. However, it seems that the mother too often let Emily become a task to accomplish rather than a person to be loved. She mentions breastfeeding ‘by the book,’ and one gets the feeling her whole parenting style was this way: clinical, cold, grave. Yes, on the surface she is dutifully ironing, fulfilling her motherly role, but in her most important job as mother, she believes she has failed. She may have rectified many of these failings with future children, but with Emily what is done is done. Is there any possibility of redemption for Mom, of reconciliation between sisters?

On Eudora Welty's 'Why I Live at the P.O.'

Some observations:

Ironic that the point of mail is communication and yet the story is all about communication breakdown.

I also thought of the biblical parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’ in Luke 15, except in this instance it seems as if the older sibling is justified in her resentful feelings about the rest of her family siding with her sister.

I wondered what the significance of the grandfather’s beard is and thought perhaps it is meant to evoke ‘Uncle Sam.’ This fits nicely with all the references to 4th of July.

That this all occurs around the 4th is ironic because the 4th is normally a time for family to get together and have a great time. It is also a celebration of freedom, yet our narrator is under attack from her own family; she is even ‘bombed’ by her uncle (against the backdrop of the real war the U.S. is fighting). In the end, our narrator ends up in a cell, trapped at the Post Office. Or is she finally free?

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Time Is Now, The Time Is Wright

In some ways, I don’t even know how to verbalize a response to Wright’s portrait because the cruelty and hatred he depicts just leaves me dumbfounded. Particularly, the story he relates about the beating of the black woman is very disturbing. That the white men abused her, not even so much because of her debts, but really just more for the hell of it—simply because they could. I’d like to think we’ve moved beyond that today.

However, I was reading the latest edition of the Flagpole and there was a story about a Hispanic man, Frankey, a legal worker, who speaks perfect English and kind of serves as a protector for other laborers who are not as wise to the dangers of the business. Anyway, several horror stories are described in the article, but this one really stuck out:

“One day, a man pulled up in a van and picked up seven guys, didn’t tell them about the work. Frankey said it didn’t feel right; he looked out the window and saw that they were headed to Atlanta. When he asked the man where they were going, he responded, ‘We’re going to Immigration. I’m dropping y’all off so y’all can go back to y’all's damn country.’ Sure enough, Frankey knew the van’s tag number and called 911 on his cell. The cops pulled the van over and arrested the man for kidnapping.” (for the full article see

So, I was telling my wife about the above incident, and I posed the question: “who would be so cruel, and ignorant, and hateful as to try something like that?” And that’s when it hit me that maybe we haven’t advanced at all from Richard Wright’s Jim Crow iniquities. People will do whatever they think they can get away with, especially to one perceived as ‘other.’

But it really makes me stop and think about myself. While I’m outraged at such racist behaviors, I think of all the unspoken racisms, sexisms, stereotypes, and cruelties that leap into the mind unbidden.

It makes me think of these lyrics, to a song called ‘Crooked Deep Down’ by Derek Webb:

“My life looks good i do confess,
you can ask anyone
just don’t ask my real good friends
because they will lie to you
or worse, they’ll tell the truth

because there are things you would not believe
that travel into my mind
i swear i try and capture them
but always set ‘em free
it seems bad things comfort me…”

I guess my prayer is just to become a little less crooked each day, a little less Jim Crow on the inside. The time is now, the time is right—every hour on the hour.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Park Bench Negro Speaks: Me

“I am a Negro:
Black as the night is black,
Black like the depths of my Africa.

I know I am
The Negro Problem
They lynch me still in Mississippi

When Abe Lincoln,
(So ashamed of being white),
Brushed the boots of Washington –

Hell of a distance
Between us two…

Wondering how things got this way?

I built my hut near Park Avenue and it lulled me to sleep,

But I’m wakin’ up
Solutions to the Problem…

Say, ain’t you afraid?”

A Boot Was Thrown

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Who are our?

This poem by Claude McKay essentially uses the teachings of Jesus and turns them against the many so-called Christians who would have been adamant that Fascism abroad must be fought, yet all too ready to ignore it at home. Such Christians need to take the log out of their own eye before they mess with the speck in someone else’s. Likewise, such people are like tombs which are outwardly ornate and finely adorned but inside, of course, contain worm-infested vestiges of death.

All of this makes sense coming from a black poet calling out white Christians. The really interesting thing to me is in the lines: “We bathe our lies in vapors of sweet myrrh, / And close our eyes not to perceive the fact” (9-10). The fact that he uses the word ‘our’ means that he is no longer directing his attack simply at whites. Rather, he consciously joins whatever group this is and labels himself part of the problem. Is the group Americans in general? America as a nation? Are these same words of Jesus valid criticisms of our nation? That seems just as relevant a question today as in 1945.


The line I am most attracted to in this poem is its conclusion: “You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.” It’s interesting because the word ‘race’ is ambiguous; to what (or to whom) does it refer? One way to take it is something akin to the ‘race’ of life. Paul, in the New Testament, often used this metaphor for the Christian life: it’s a race that you must persist in. If you are able to go all the way to the finish line, then you can finally put away your tools, your toils, your “wood and stone” – and join Christ in paradise.

The other way to take ‘race’ is to see it as a reference to the black race in general. “Wood and stone” then become metaphors not simply of work in general but specific representations of the institution of slavery. Therefore, it was through the perseverance of the unknown black bards (particularly their songs) that the road was paved for an escape out of slavery into a new creation for the race as a whole.

Hurston and Genesis

After reading Hurston, I was already thinking about all the religious imagery, specifically Satan and the snake, when I considered once more the story’s title: Sweat. This, to me, along with musings on the snake, conjured up the curse scene in Genesis 3.

Let’s take a look at the passage:

The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’
14The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.’
16To the woman he said,
‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.’
17And to the man he said,
‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
“You shall not eat of it”,
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

There are so many points of contact here that it’s hard to wrap my brain around them all. First, though, notice verse 19: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground.” Delia is a woman living under the fullest implications of the curse. Ironically, even though the words about work and toil are addressed to the man in the passage, all the work in their marriage seems to fall on her. Sykes certainly conforms to the line in verse 16: “and he shall rule over you.” Thankfully, in this story we Delia beginning to break that rule.

The words to the snake: “I will put enmity between you and the woman” certainly ring true, as Delia is terrified of them. The rest of verse 15 is often seen as a messianic reference, alluding to Christ striking down the devil, putting his foot upon the serpent’s head. Hurston puts a twist on this, though, by having Sykes get bitten, not on the heel, but in the neck. Whereas biblically the serpent loses, here he wins, although this is fitting because Sykes is almost completely the opposite of a messianic figure. One might almost begin to transfer some of the serpent imagery over onto him.

Hurston does this when, referring to the battle between Sykes and the snake, she records “another series of animal screams.” It is as if he is no longer human but an animal, something which his horrifying appearance at story’s end only reinforces.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Pear Is A Pear Is A Pear

“The pears are not seen as the observer wills” (line 24).

In his study of 2 pears, Wallace Stevens is not free to describe them in any way he wishes to. In fact, the pears resist being seen on anything other than their own terms. As Stevens acknowledges, “The pears are not viols, / Nudes or bottles. / They resemble nothing else” (2-4).

In a way, this is an astounding admission for a poet to make because literary ingenuity is often judged on the creativity of the poet comprising metaphors to illuminate his or her subject. Stevens, however, does not take this approach. He puts his own comparisons on hold and bathes in the simple beauty of the pears themselves.

To think of it, the poem is actually more like a photograph in that it aims to represent the pear exactly as it is, without any interpretive propaganda.

On the other hand, Stevens’ use of this method that deliberately lacks a clear “message” contains in itself the message that a ‘photographic’ approach is the best way to write a poem about a pear. Ironically, in the poem’s last 2 lines, we are told the proper way to observe a pear. But did the pear relay this information? No, another observer did. So is Stevens willing us to see the pear his way? Is this a contradiction? Is it fair to the pear to be limited in such a way? Perhaps the pear would prefer to be memorialized in a poem containing absurd metaphors and interpretive hints.

Who are we to judge the pear?

The Song Remains The Same?

Frost’s poem “Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be The Same” is all about the voice of Eve. Ironically, then, the only voice we actually hear is presumably Adam’s, describing her voice to the reader. I find it interesting that Adam argues that “to do that to birds was why she came,” (line 14) when the biblical account describes Eve as being made specifically for Adam. So maybe he appreciates what she adds to the wider creation, not just what she does for him. Perhaps this Adam, at least, is not a sexist pig.

Of course, it would seem at first that this poem takes place before the so-called “Fall,” when Adam and Eve sin by eating the forbidden fruit. After that incident, God tells them that: “cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17), meaning that creation itself receives a curse on behalf of their actions. In truth, “Never again would birds’ song be the same,” (line 13) for to their song must be added notes of sin, death, decay, shame, and godlessness.

Interestingly, however, in the Genesis 3 account, Adam does not name his wife Eve until after they have been caught by God and he has issued the divine curse. So maybe the poem does take place after the “Fall,” but Adam is choosing to remember the beautiful things Eve accomplished in the Garden. Even though they are to be expelled from paradise, the birds there will still sing her eloquent song, for, even though Eve has sinned, she is still made in the image of God.


up from the grave he arose
up from his tomb he arose
when they pried the mummy loose

ne’er to betrothe
but dead he’s a rose,
fallen for emmy’s noose


no crops to yield
no soil fit to be tilled

no garden in sight
no women at night

certainly no roses
for her majesty’s might

and so emmy
carved an h.
and then she
etched a b.

into the throne
her king to see

to seat
him eternally
in her chambers

flushed of color
wilting to bone
stunk up from death:

he’s a rose

Pay No Attention To The Elephants Behind The Curtain

Hemingway is interesting because he is so realistic. His story “Hills Like White Elephants” is simply a conversation, a dialogue – which feels very authentic, and there are no clues or metaphors from the author for the reader to interpret in regards to the story’s “meaning.” I have had uncomfortable conversations like this (although with differing subject matter), and I totally relate to the woman’s comment about the hills looking like white elephants. The comment is an escape, a flight of fancy, something to point away from harsh reality. For me personally, it might be a reference to Seinfeld or the Office, something to get a laugh and further stall the seriousness waiting in the wings.

It appears that she does this knowingly, as she acknowledges, “I was being amused. I was having a fine time […] I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?” She seems content to continue the verbal fa├žade, but the man is too eager to interject reality into the conversation. I wonder, though, if she is really content to pretend, or if she is just too vulnerable emotionally to talk about the realities of the situation?

Considering this vulnerability, we see her use different communication tactics to try and say what she is feeling without really saying it. One example is her use of sarcasm, when, responding to her lover’s insistence that he’s “known lots of people that have done it,” she counters, “So have I […] And afterwards they were all so happy.” Subsequently, she gives the rhetorically extreme argument “Because I don’t care about me” as her reason for being willing to go through with the abortion. This is obvious hyperbole, and I suspect her real meaning might be: ‘you don’t care about me.’

As the conversation intensifies, and she comes closer to having to say what she really wants to say, she begs of him, “Can’t we maybe stop talking?” However, the man refuses, and his comment that he’s willing to through with the pregnancy “if it means anything to you,” drivers her over the edge.

Doesn’t it mean anything to you,” she retorts incredulously?

Here we see her true feelings on the subject, feelings that are not reciprocated when her lover insists that, while it does mean something to him, “I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else.”

Thus rebuffed, she recedes back into her defenses, once again pleading, “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?” She even threatens to scream when he won’t drop the subject. Conversation moves back to more superficial matters, such as the train’s ETA, and the narrative ends with her cold, closed declaration: “I feel fine […] There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”

Everything is back where it started. They’ve had a conversation, but he hasn’t heard her. And so it will continue…

The Love Film of J. Alfred Prufrock

I thought for my blog on Eliot I would make some comments on the short film I’m going to be showing tonight in class. I originally developed this film back in 1999 while in undergrad. However, I revisited it this past summer while in the Media & Technology course because we had to do a project using Microsoft Moviemaker. I decided to re-edit my original film and make it better, since the original version had a lot of things I wasn’t happy with (considering how crude by comparison editing software was in 1999).

Anyway, I think it’s interesting to note some of the differences between the film and the text. To begin with, I translated the quote from Dante’s Inferno, because what’s the point if you can’t read it, right? Of course, the text gave the translation in the footnotes, but it makes me wonder if the original publication had the translation. Knowing how elite Eliot was, he may have expected his readers to be able to read the original language. One thing you will notice is that the translation in the film is from a different edition and thus reads differently from our book:

“If I thought my answer were given to anyone who would ever return to the world, this flame would stand still without moving any further. But since never from this abyss has anyone ever returned alive […] without fear of infamy I answer you.”

Which version do you prefer?

Lines 15-25 were removed from my narration because I thought the imagery was too difficult to replicate visually.

Lines 35-36 were not repeated from 13-14 because I thought it would have been visually redundant.

Line 41 is changed to say “How his body is not thin,” since, while I wasn’t losing my hair, I’m certainly not a skinny guy, so it made better sense that way. Likewise, adding the word ‘not’ in line 44 reflects the same line of thinking.

Line 82 replaces ‘bald’ with ‘large’ for the same reason already listed above.

I add an extra 2 ‘No’s’ in line 113 for dramatic effect and also because it seemed to work better that way as part of the dialogue between Prufrock and his date.

Lines 114-124 got cut probably because the action of the scene (striding intensely, almost angrily, down the street) did not go well with the rest of the monologue. Plus, you already get his point in line 113: “I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.”

After lines 127 and 130, I added a voiceover of Prufrock’s date asking him to come back, saying that she will sing to him, that there is, in fact, hope. This new detail illuminates Prufrock’s hopelessness at this point, as he responds each time, “Nay,” continuing further out to sea, and, presumably, his death.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010