Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tone Post: Nick Carraway

Having read The Great Gatsby earlier this year, I have to say that its narrator, the objective and somewhat apathetic Nick Carraway, is my favorite character. Not that there are many honorable individuals to choose from. Nick imparts the quiet, introspective side to aristocratic society, a polar opposite of his spontaneous and irrational counterpart, Jay Gatsby. Of all the shallow, prejudiced, simple-minded people who are established through wealth and reputation, I feel that Nick is mostly an exception: as attractive as the high life is to him, he eventually finds that there is more to life than money, such as integrity, morality, and contentment with life. Through first-hand experience, he finds that he is better off leading a quiet, practical life than living his life as an elite.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost

Plain and simple, this poem made me feel sad. My mind immediately jumped to those Sherlock Holmes episodes, or other old murder mysteries, where the dark figure ghosts through the damp, gloomy alleyways and streets. Except this time the figure was just a sad and lonely soul.

The first two stanzas are basically Frost saying that he has been there and back throught "the night," which I took to mean a state of depression and loneliness. He has experienced more bad turns in life than most. He also says that he has passed "the watchman...[dropping his] eyes, unwilling to explain." To me, this sounded like when someone who has recently experienced a tragedy shies away from curious bystanders, not wanting their sympathy or questions. Frost is stuck in "the night," and is either too ashamed or too upset to talk with anyone about it.

The last three stanzas, Frost talks about the sounds that have echoed to him through the night. First, the sound of "an interrupted cry," which does not "call [him] back or say good-by." This cry does not come from a person who particularly cares about him, it neither wants him to stay nor is going to miss him if he leaves. The hopelessness of knowing that no one is concerned about him only adds to the resigned and despondent tone. The last thing Frost notices in his journey through the night is the sound of "one luminary clock against the sky [proclaiming] the time was neither wrong nor and right." From what I have found, the clock he was referring to was Big Ben, which has been the site of many suicides. Basically, this apparently impartial and seasoned mediator seems to be telling Frost that his presence in "the night" was not necessarily a right or wrong thing, it was just the way his situation had turned out. And that is how Frost's entire poem spoke to me: it was not that his being "acquainted with the night" was not the right or wrong thing, he was just telling people his story in the best way he knew how, which happened to be a very concise and grave poem.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Poem by Hannah Abelein

Thanksgiving is a time of joy
Filled with laughter, love, and food.
So much time spent in the kitchen,
So many things to do
For one massive meal
Spent with loved ones and family.
Alas! I arrive late once again,
Thank goodness my family loves me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Work of Artifice by Marge Piercy

I was actually surprised by how easily I understood, and related to, this poem. Probably because of how explicit Ms. Piercy was about the whole suppression theme. Basically her whole poem boils down to this: the little bonsai tree would have had enormous potential to become a strong and thriving organism, but the gardener, thinking he was making it into what it was naturally meant to be, prunes it and keeps it small in an attractive little pot, telling it how lucky it should feel to be given so many good advantages. The poem finishes, very cleverly and accurately, saying that “with living creatures one must begin very early to dwarf their growth.” Otherwise, they would just get too powerful and out of hand, right? But my favorite part of this poem was the title, “A Work of Artifice.” It fit so perfectly as a description of the gardener’s efforts: a work of deception using cleverness or subtlety. Perfect.

Now obviously Piercy did not get this upset about a literal bonsai tree, although it is a very good analogy. It was describing women’s rights, which, until very recently, were treated exactly like that little bonsai tree. Women were expected to be “domestic and weak.” They were meant to fit into the perfect, loyal housewife stereotype, and shame on any woman who tried to become more than that. I don’t blame Piercy for creating such a sarcastic and pointed statement, though. I think it is clever and a good indication of the strong-willed woman’s side of the old story.

I have to say that even I get a little upset when I have to think about the misogynistic beliefs some people used to, and still, have. Actually, I get really upset. I hate it when people discount a woman just for being a woman, especially when there are plenty of men out there who are not useful in any way and are less than intelligent. I also hate when there are women that are classified as feminist for ANY defenses or pro-women statements they make, but men are never classified as masculinist (and it IS a word, even if Word tells me it’s not) even when some of them are brave enough to say EVERY DAY that they are better than women. I live to prove those kinds of people wrong. Sorry for being born with the wrong set of chromosomes! Not. Anyways, I am done with my rant. This poem just brought the whole idea up for me again. And Piercy pretty much said it in the perfect words, so I am glad I chose to read this poem…and get my diatribe out there, even if it’s not going anywhere.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Possibility by James Fenton

Everything about Fenton's poem seemed downhearted and hopeless. Everything he described, everything that should have been good, was somehow sapped of its' beauty and worth to Fenton. I felt sorry for him: how would it feel to go through life unable to appreciate the beauty surrounding you, even in the tiniest things or instances? How depressing would it be to know that something should look beautiful or make you happy, but to never have the ability to feel good about it? Everything would be meaningless: if nothing could make you happy, if there was no "possibility of good," what would motivate you to keep going every single day?

"And solitude was beautiful when I was sure that I was strong. I thought it was a medium in which to grow, but I was wrong." Fenton seems to think that, at a time when he was stronger, solitude was a good thing that would help him to "grow" and become a better person. However, it appears that the solitude merely sucked the goodness out of everything he saw. That the way he saw the world was tainted, that when he should see something beautiful, he saw only the bad in it.

"The jays are swearing in the wood. The lizard moves with ugly speed. The flower closes like a fist. The possibility recedes." In the last stanza, Fenton describes things that used to be good but have turned bad in his eyes, thus ruining any chance for him to regain any "possibility of good." And I have to say, I kind of disliked this extreme, disheartening tone. I was also pretty disappointed with the unfinished end to Fenton's idea: he says that because of his solitude, "the possibility recedes," and then he kind of leaves us hanging there. It left me with a hopeless and empty feeling, like whatever had happened to Fenton in his solitude to cause this depressing state would never be remedied, which seems rather contrary to what i thought the title initially suggested. In retrospect, I just wish that Fenton could have kept this all to himself so that I wouldn't have to try and analyze his depressing and futile thought processes, or at least that he would not have tried to mislead me with a hopeful sounding title.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween Mrs. White!!! :)

Vergissmeinnicht by Keith Douglas

I found the conversations which this poem brought up very interesting when we discussed it in class. It made me think of our discussion last year in Modern America, when we learned about the dehumanization which most of the American soldiers sent to Vietnam had experienced, and the corruption most of them went through in order to become the ruthless killers they were.

It also brings up a truth from both sides of any war: a soldier is more than just a killer. Everyone is born to at least one parent. I am sure many soldiers have friends or family who very much love them. But humans fight. It is a part of this world, and there are people who have to carry out the fighting. So the young and skilled are recruited, and taught to fight and kill and, often times, see the enemy as some beastly, unfeeling imitation of a human being. In Douglas' poem, he simply brings up a moment which I feel many soldiers must have experienced in the past: the realization that the enemy, however much it had attempted to kill him before, was not only human, but also capable of loving and feeling and hurting. Douglas describes a scene where "the lover and killer are mingled." He finds a "dishounered picture of [the soldier's] girl who has put Steffi.Vergissmeinnicht." Forget me not.

Sometimes men forget who they really are. They forget that the men shooting at them from across the field are humans. They forget that they have loved ones who would be horrified to see the kind of things war does to men. And then, sometimes when it's too late, as it was for this soldier, they remember the people who love them and the person he or she was before being blinded by the fear and violence of war. They die for being a soldier, and are remembered by the enemy as such, but remembered by their loved ones as human: "death who had the soldier singled has done the lover mortal hurt."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On Reading Poems to a Senior Class at South High by D. C. Berry

I opened my poetry packet today and the first thing I saw was the first paragraph in this poem. “Before I opened my mouth I noticed them sitting there as orderly as frozen fish in a package.” Well that was quite an attention getter, a very unusual simile, to say the least, and I was curious as to what the author was talking about. So I read the whole thing, and I was definitely not disappointed. I loved it. It was so perfect, something I would never have thought of before.

The whole aquarium concept was intriguing. The author says he tried to “drown them with [his] words,” but instead the students had “opened up like gills.” Maybe it was because he had expected a different reaction from the students to the regaling of his poems, that they were just more interested in what he had to say than was anticipated. At least, that’s how I perceived it.

“Together we swam around the room like thirty tails whacking words till the bell rang puncturing a hole in the door…” Whacking words around sounded like a sort of discussion, so I assumed they had been analyzing his poetry, or at least just talking about it. But this description left such a comical image in my mind after I finished it that I couldn’t help but wonder how exactly the author felt about the students and his poetry. I couldn’t really tell whether he was happy that the students were not completely absent from reality while he was talking, or if he was indifferent to the defrosted fish sitting in front of him. .

And he didn’t seem too interested in what his audience thought of him: in that respect, he was very unaware and indifferent. In fact, he didn’t seem to care about anything in this poem, I felt like there was no real importance in anything he was trying to say. It was just a quiet description of a room full of students turning into fish as they listened to poetry. There was no passionate idea or essence of the author that I could find, it just existed. But I feel like that fit the subject of this poem very well: many people hear poetry impassively, not absorbing anything from it, and continuing on with their daily lives like nothing happened, even if what did happen was extraordinary. There are, though, those somewhat rare people who will take a poem and really think deeply about it and immerse themselves in the ideas it may introduce. So I considered this poem not only a simile of students to fish, but a comparison of our society to unresponsive, dispassionate beings when it comes to the appreciation of poetry.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Secret by Denise Levertov

Levertov seems to be describing the "discovery" of a secret which, like so many others, is found by the naïve mind of a child. The secret is found in a "sudden line of poetry." It is not a painfully thought out concept like that of a politician or a philosopher, it is realized in an instant, it is an epiphany found by two girls.

The author goes on to tell us that, although she wrote the line in one of her poems, she does not know what the secret is, and the girls have no intention of telling her. In fact, they have probably already forgotten it. This reminds me of all the "secret" things I had when I was young with my friends. We organized secret clubs, we found secret treasures, we had secret places to play; we never had the secret of life, though. And most of it ended up being forgotten eventually; fading behind all the more important experiences we had over the years. Yet it was our simplicity, our belief that we had something which no one else in the world had, something special, that made it all so “secret” that we never told anyone about it.

“I love them for finding what I can’t find.” The girls have found a miracle in one of the speaker’s poems. They have found something that unintentionally became momentarily life altering. And the speaker loves them for forgetting it, because that means the girls can find it over and over again in different places and occasions for the rest of their lives, perhaps saving some of their innocence.

The last thing that Levertov writes is that she loves the girls most of all for assuming that there was this secret of life, and for wanting to know it. She loves the girls for their hope and ambition to find something worthwhile in, or about, life. And, as a whole, I don’t think there is any secret meaning to this poem, or any deep dark implications of death or loss. To me, this is a poem about the optimism of the author when she sees the potential in the dreams and desires of a future generation, and the innocence of said generation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman

Whitman's free verse poem flows very smoothly and clearly with his variation on the American Dream. His first line "I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear," just about sums up this poem. His explanation of each occupation and the "songs" each worker sings make America seem like a quaint and hard-working country. Of course, that was many citizens' ideal situation: everyone working hard and earning their living through honest labor. To me, Whitman's poem says that the common, humble worker is what makes America. Not the politicians, not the C.E.O.'s, not the celebrities. The carpenters, masons and shoemakers, the mothers and fathers that work to live, these are the essence of America and its greatness.

The second point to Whitman's poem that I noticed was his emphasis on the ownership which each person, or thing, was given. The carpenter has his wood, the boatman has his boat, the shoemaker has his bench, the women have their sewing or washing, "...each what belongs to her, and to none else." Each person has his or her own special song. And, of course, each person has earned the right to these things through work and determination and hope in his or her endeavors.

The only problem is that all these people seem to have no ambition: as happy as I am that all these people are happy with their lives, I do wonder if the ideas of advancement and accomplishment, which have always been important in our society, have not been completely forgotten in Whitman's poem. There is no emphasis on education, it is all manual labor. Every person has a job, but none of them have aspirations to become anything more than what they already are.

The general operation of America and the many humble professions that Whitman mentions are highly romanticized in this poem, from what I can tell. He paints a warm, happy picture for his audience. Everyone is happy, singing songs and apparently loving their lifestyle. There is no mention of the destitution or hunger or sickness which also came with the less priviledged standard of life in this time period. It seems like Whitman has specifically avoided any mention of these things. It could be seen as rather deceitful, in fact: I'm sure that if people from the time this poem was written could give us a better look at their lives, not everyone would be as optimistic as Whitman. I suppose since he is basically idealizing everything he writes in this poem, though, that it was the best way to get his idea of happiness in America across, however misleading the finished product may be.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mr. Fear by Lawrence Raab

Mr. Fear, one of the few people that anyone in the world could describe to you. He is the darkness in a room at night, the sting of a bee, the pain of losing a loved one. He is the monster hiding behind our very worst dreams. As Raab says, “He follows us, he keeps track. Each day his lists are longer.” Raab is saying that Mr. Fear is keeping tabs every day of each new thing we begin to fear, whatever it may be, and then later letting it find its way into our dreams.

“Mr. Fear, we say in our dreams what do you have for me tonight?” I feel like everyone has asked themselves this question, in fact, this may even be one of our fears, waiting to see what new things we will soon come to be frightened of while we are supposed to be dreaming peacefully. But Mr. Fear is a devious one, with his “black sack of troubles.” He knows exactly what to use on each individual, he caters to each unique person’s "needs".

But that is his job, is it not? Raab seems to wonder how exactly Mr. Fear feels about his occupation. “Maybe he smiles when he finds the right one. Maybe he’s sorry.” We will probably never know, but it is an interesting thought: at first I pictured Mr. Fear as a menacing monster, cackling as he smugly found each new terror to bestow upon his helpless victims. But Raab makes me wonder if he is not some poor, tortured creature, a self-loathing and miserable beast, who despises his endless task.

Despite how Mr. Fear feels about his job, though, the chore is still followed through. “Tell me, Mr. Fear, what must I carry away from your dream. Make it small, please let it fit in my pocket, let it fall through the hole in my pocket.” For some reason this line gives me a deep-felt emotion. Maybe because this is something I have hoped for before: that I could take something bad that happened or was thought, and then somehow forget about it, let it be lost from living memory and never found again.

Raab seems to be referring specifically to dreams, though. And who can blame him? Who hasn’t had a dream that they wish they could forget? That was so filled with terrible thoughts and feelings that even thinking about it after it had passed was overwhelming? I have to say that there are some dreams that still provide a twinge of fear if I dare to dwell on them for too long, those memorable and disturbingly fear-filled dreams from who knows how long ago, that I had thought, even hoped, I had forgotten. It seems that all Raab wants is to quietly dream of the good things he has experienced, even if they are small, like a purse of crickets from a field and a small brown bat. Better to be given the simple, happy moments than a horrific nightmare. I certainly would not blame anyone for having this want.

This whole poem was one that I thought was easy to relate to. It described certain feelings that I myself have had before, if not in the exact words that I would use. I have wondered why the same fears continue to torment me, why some of them haunt my dreams, why some of the dreams are forgotten. Personifying the distributor of these fears gives me a whole new perspective on the process. Whether or not he enjoys it, Mr. Fear pulls out the most perfectly terrifying thing from his sack and gives it to us, sometimes we lose it, sometimes it stays with us for a very long time. Sometimes we wish that we could dream of the good things in our lives instead of being pursued by fear, and sometimes, oh those surprising and happy times, we get what we wish for.

Monday, September 27, 2010

High School Allegory

The first day, the soldiers charge the battlefield, young and eager recruits, unaware of the real challenges they are about to face. They usually break down after a few weeks: the glamour of the fight wears off quickly, old friends betray them, all of the officers assign seemingly impossible orders, and the food is terrible. Over the months, though, the challenges seem less impossible. The soldiers discipline themselves and try to keep the morale high, they have the ability to not only find a personal ally in their commanding officers, but also their fellow soldiers. The many challenges they face--the ambushes, the in-camp brawls, the full-out battles--might make them feel like the only option is surrendering to defeat, but there is always another option. And not everyone makes it: some are lost as casualties, some are lost from fear, and some are just lost. Sometimes the motivation to keep going sinks beneath the blackest pits, and they wonder when, or if, this war will ever end. As they become more skilled, it becomes easier, and they realize that there is still hope. Then that blessed day comes when the enemy finally surrenders. The white flag is the epitome of joy to many soldiers, and a light of hope shines on everyone. Each soldier turns in his or her gun and uniform, whether it is in happiness, sadness, excitement or apprehension. Each soldier prepares to return to a normal, happy life. Then, a few months later, they are drafted into an even bigger war.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

To Myself by W.S. Merwin

When I first read through it, I couldn’t really understand this organized chaos that calls itself a poem. In fact, if its title wasn’t so explicit, I would have had a serious problem, because Merwin constantly uses “you” to refer to himself (and thoroughly annoy me). But I suppose it is understandable, since he is technically just writing a letter to himself.

Merwin’s first two lines are “Even when I forget you I go on looking for you.” Initially, these words made no sense to me: how can you look for something if you’ve forgotten about it? The only answer I had for myself was that it must have been remembered subconsciously, it must have been so important to Merwin that he could not completely forget it. Merwin believes that he would still be able to recognize himself in his memories, that he could remember himself the way he was a long time ago, and that he feels that it was “here a moment before and the air is still alive around where [he was].” This could mean that he could faintly remember his memory, but it was only the ghost of what it once was, fading and shrinking from his grasp.

The second half is when Merwin’s wording starts to get really confusing, though. “…I think then I can recognize you who are always the same who pretend to be time but you are not time and who speak in the words but you are not what they say you who are not lost when I do not find you.” This is the most fluid and graceful nonsense I have ever read. The lines sounded so perfect, but I coudn't wrap my brain around them. I had absolutely no idea how to work out such a convoluted statement all at once, so I took it one bit at a time.

“…I think I can recognize you who are always the same.”
Alright, so it’s something that doesn’t change. So does that mean his memory of himself doesn’t change, even when it fades?

“…who pretend to be time but you are not time.”
I took this as another reference to the lack of change in his memory with the passage of time.

“…who speak in the words but you are not what they say.”
The memory brings with it its words, but is different from what others remember it as.

“…you who are not lost when I do not find you.”
This seemed like another subconscious thing. Merwin cannot find himself in his memory exactly as he was in the past, but that does not mean that his old self is necessarily “lost.”

So then I tried, emphasis on tried, to put all this disorder and confusion together. I think it can be widely agreed upon that this poem is about memory. I personally believe that it was just a flitting thought that passed quickly through Merwin’s mind, but that he took the time to write down. He just seems to have been pondering his past and how he used to be. He remembers himself from before, his faint but still living memory. Something that will never change, no matter how many years go by or how much other peoples’ memories of him have changed. Something that will never be lost because it will always be a part of him.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Little Apocalypse by Charles Wright

The first thing I noticed about this poem was the different perspective it seemed to give me while I was reading. It was like being transported into the insect world, except it seemed to feel like I was smaller than even an ant, and the ant would be the equivalent of a horse, with its ground-shuddering hooves. The grass submissively bows to every force, the butterflies dragon down to flowers, the earthworm huddles, the dung beetle bores, the robin reworks the ground. These personifications greatly enhance the perspective, making the creatures and their actions seem larger, and some of the words gave me an anxious feeling, like something big had just happened, or would happen soon.

"Inside the basements of the world, the clear-out's begun...." The first two stanzas simply gave perspective, but this line transitions the poem from an innocent, fantastical world to the true apocalypse. And all of this happens so suddenly, in about four lines, so it caught me off guard the first time I read through this. In fact, I didn't even notice the line, "Bright bandages of fog starting to comfort the aftermath," until the second time I read through, probably because I was so distracted by the four horses on the black horizon. But this line changed the whole purpose of the poem for me.

I had just assumed the poem was about the devastating destruction of a tiny world and how all life was wiped out, but this line hints at a less fateful conclusion. To me, the simple fact that there was anything left to "comfort" was a sign of hope. Which led me to wonder if the purpose of the poem was not to bemoan the end of helpless creatures by an overwhelming force, but to show that there could be restoration, even after a tragic event that should have swept away all life. I would certainly like to believe that this poem, unlike most of our other readings, was not just about loss and death, but that it was about the fact that sometimes devastation can mean renewal and hope.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Beginning Again by Franz Wright

From what I could tell upon first reading this poem, Wright was just another crazy poet, experiencing serious emotional and mental suffering, about which he absolutely HAD to make some eccentric story about for his own satisfaction.

He begins his poem by bringing to light some confusing thoughts. “’If I could stop talking, completely cease talking for a year, I might begin to get well,’ he muttered.” Well what exactly is he recovering from? Physical trauma? Emotional abuse? Mental hardships? Thank you, Mr. Wright, for being so excessively vague and therefore making it that much harder for me to speculate your purposes.

Anyways, he then goes on to say that he, whoever “he” is, is now going off to perform brain surgery on himself in a “small badly lit room with no mirror,” but whose walls and ceiling were mirrors themselves. “…what a mess oh my God--” EXACTLY what I was thinking Mr. Wright! But I seriously doubt he was referring to a literal brain surgery, with the scalpels and the saws and the blood. I feel like this is more a metaphorical surgery, blindly hacking and tearing, frantically searching for something hidden deep within the mind. If that is the case, then the first sentence would make more sense in context, since silence would probably be beneficial to this “surgery.” But I have to admit that I finished reading the first stanza hoping that Wright was about to give me a better insight into his demented imagery.

Alas, his second stanza is nothing but a convoluted question. “And still it stands, the question not how begin again, but rather Why?” Wright seems to be putting emphasis on this point. Maybe because many people somehow figure out how to begin again, but sometimes never really know why because they are so focused on their goal. However, I am not entirely sure what Wright actually means by this, it was definitely a confusing section. Of course it all related to the title, which is more than I could concretely say for the first part of the poem. So I started thinking about how you could jump from the musings of a wannabe monk/ brain surgeon to those of a deep, insightful thinker. And I decided I didn’t really want to think about that quite yet, so I kept reading.

His third stanza is like the glue of the poem, the most illuminating part. “So we sit there together, the mountain and me, Li Po said, until only the mountain remains.” I utilized the obvious question, who is Li Po and why is he sitting with a mountain, to help me pursue a deeper, overall meaning. What I came up with was that Li Po was the “he” of this poem, the contemplative speaker. He wanted to do a little soul searching (if only he could shut his trap for a consecutive 365 days), but ended up spending his life with his thoughts, letting the world pass him by until it was, again, only the mountain.

But Wright’s and Li Po’s thoughts were somehow conflicting: Li Po is contemplating his new beginning, whatever that may be, and Wright is perceiving it as a self-inflicted death trap. It seemed that Wright was trying to warn people against taking their lives for granted, and advising them to live before it’s too late. Maybe Wright was having some personal regrets about his own decisions, or maybe he was lamenting the decisions of a friend, but it appeared, to me, that he was cautioning his readers against falling into the same trap that Li Po did, against overthinking this new beginning.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wallflowers by Donna Vorreyer

I'm not going to lie, because I know almost everyone is thinking it, but I had a very personal connection with this particular poem. The title drew me in, being the introspective person that I apparently am said to resemble, and having been called this by multiple people who shall remain nameless.

In any case, I loved the idea which Vorreyer brought up; the thought that any word could “belong” to and be loved by someone. It’s comforting to know that not everyone shies away from words that are more than two syllables long, even if they are as ridiculous sounding as “gegenshein” and “zoanthropy”.

While I am on the subject of these words, I looked both of them up because I was curious, as usual. If you don’t know what they mean and really want to know then you should probably work up the motivation to look them up yourself! But I found that “zoanthropy” was crazy and slightly hilarious, and the pictures of “gegenshein” were absolutely beautiful. Which led me to wonder why I had never heard these words before, and neither had Vorreyer according to her opening line. Because I loved these words too: they were entertaining, fun, and, although they sound kind of silly, almost anyone could appear intelligent using them in an everyday conversation…if everyone could be convinced that they were actual words.

Then I read the second stanza, “They say if you use a word three times, it’s yours. What happens to ones that no one speaks?” The rest of her poem suggests that these words are lost entirely, until a brave soul finds them, lonely and searching. But it made me think that perhaps no one speaks them, but they cannot have been completely forgotten. Perhaps they do “wait bitterly” as they watch the more renowned words be tossed back and forth throughout daily conversations. Vorreyer compares them to “hollow-eyed orphans in Dickensian bedrooms,” a bleak picture, but suitable for her attempt to flaunt her word-humanitarianism.

Vorreyer’s fourth stanza is about how these words may “wait patiently” for someone to find them, like a shy person at a school dance. And even after that, she continues to personify words by referring to them as “tired” and “poor” and homeless. She tries to give the words a deeper aura, making them more emotionally appealing to the audience. But words are not people, they are not even objects: they are ideas. Ideas that were thought up by SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE to explain SOMETHING that obviously seemed important to their creator. So it is kind of ridiculous to think that they will every truly be lost forever. And, anyways, she has managed to save at least two of these “shy shadows” from eternal darkness and despair.

My favorite line from her entire poem was at the very end, “…all those words without a home, come out and play—live in my poem.” She is like one of those amazing foster parents in the movies that you fall in love with for their kindness towards the children who have has a rough start. There seems to be a maternal love laced throughout the poem, beckoning all these wandering words into her writing, where they will be kept safe and always be cherished. And that was what really stood out to me in her poem, that I admired the most: her appreciation of a language that was once so beautiful and elegant, but that has been butchered and reduced to something barely worth mentioning. I have always been fascinated by authors who could capture the English language as something awe-inspiring, and I am certain that Vorreyer is right there with me.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver

My first thought when I started this poem was that I should really find out where this Blackwater Woods was, if it was a real place, since it was so important that the author made it the title of her poem. So I looked it up. It is apparently located in Blackwater Pond, MA, or at least that is what the articles led me to believe. It was also clearly the inspiration of many of her poems, as I found that she was very in-tune with and reverent of nature. It was truly fascinating how she could relate such simple instances in nature to such deep and precious feelings of her own.

Oliver begins her poem with the description of a forest, which foretold a less gloomy ending to her poem than actually was the case. The uplifting description of the trees as “pillars of light…giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment,” and of “tapers of cattails…bursting and floating away over the blue shoulders of the ponds," gave me hope, at first. But then I realized that, when she speaks of the tapers floating away, she begins her tale of loss.

Everyone has their own way of expressing the misery and sorrow that they are forced to withstand, that is sometimes thrown unexpectedly into their path, that almost no one can avoid. Mary Oliver uses her unique style of poetry as an aid for herself and those who have met with the pain of living in a mortal world: it is a way to lessen the pain by communicating her feelings through nature. In it, Oliver speaks of grief, most likely over the death of a loved one, with her description of “…the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know.” This clearly speaks, to me, of the journey from this life to the next, a path which leads to a better place, but one that we will never fully understand in this life.

The line “…and every pond, no matter what its name is, is nameless now,” transitions the poem from her initially calm and peaceful forest into her tale of depressing familiarity with sadness and loss. She suggests three things that everyone must know in order to survive in this world: that nothing and no one lasts forever in this life, and that we should be able to “love what is mortal” knowing that it could soon be gone, “[holding] it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it.” But most importantly, she tells us that we should understand that the world keeps on turning, and, even though we should not forget to love and cherish these mortal things, and remember them still when they are gone, we must learn how to let them go. These words moved me, and I will not forget this advice easily, because it makes sense: everyone has something that they will lose in this life, but that does not mean that they should never love it in the first place.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald

What can I even say about The Great Gatsby? Besides the fact that every time it talked about the “New Rich” my mind jumped to Nouveau Riche from Modern America last year. It is such a crazy, deep, exaggerated book. I tried to do the “learn to write” text marking, and I can tell you that was not the best idea. I definitely should have gotten a little way through the book before I decided to analyze Fitzgerald’s writing style, because I have certainly never seen anything like it before in my life: his terminology was completely alien to me and I could hardly keep up with the hidden meanings behind every little detail. Of course that’s probably the whole point of that type of annotation, so maybe I didn’t totally fail with this book.

In any case, behind his confusing dialect and ironic symbolism, I realized that Fitzgerald was really an amazing writer, with the way he could make completely unexpected connections and the way he had some deep understanding of the motivations of a human being. He could connect a personality to an earthquake, a bootlegger to a god, and a location to a person. He perfectly portrayed the ignorantly hypocritical beliefs of Nick about himself and others that is so commonly seen in our prideful and conceited society. He also created a sort of festering irritation and indignation for me with the way Tom reacted so hypocritically to his realization of Daisy’s affair, because if there is one thing I hate more than anything in the world it is an ignorant hypocrite.

To be completely honest, I could hardly fathom how this man’s mind worked most of the time. Maybe it was just the fact that he was seeing firsthand the kind of situations he was writing about, and he felt the need to make a statement. All I know is that he could take something ordinary and make it something completely different in an uncanny and precise way. I was a little disappointed at the end, though, having endured the childish actions of most of the characters and the depressing outcome of their bickering, I was hoping for a little more optimistic ending and a little less symbolically discouraging fate.

Heart of Darkness- Joseph Conrad

I knew this would be a gory book when Marlow started his story with a mini-story about a man getting beaten to death by a fearful tribesman with a big stick. And I was pretty much right. With the successive detailed description of the sick savages and the bloody scene with the spear-impaled wheelman being only a few examples of the violent and ominous happenings. I don’t like disgusting descriptions anyways, but Conrad really seems to love the morbid details, which makes this book all the more unappealing to me.

Also, he made up some of the weirdest characters, like the woman at the beginning who he described as the fateful guardian of “the door of Darkness.” Foreboding right? Or the manager who makes people feel “uneasy” and has no apparent sense of humanity, I mean how does Conrad think of these things?

To add to my unhappiness at the idea of reading this book, the beginning was not only boring with its wordy descriptions, but also extremely confusing, jumping between storytellers and creating quick, choppy conversations within the story that I couldn’t follow, and Conrad randomly decided to slip these things in throughout the rest of the book as well.

Of course, I did find some things I didn’t absolutely hate about this book.

I immediately fell in love with Conrad’s poetic style and sound. His old fashioned dialect, although it sometimes used words which I had never heard before, was very eloquent and created perfect visuals for me most of the time. It reminded me of Pride and Prejudice, where the characters would always seem to find the perfect words for a situation and would have the most graceful speaking prose which made it sound so sophisticated.

Thanks to Mr. Moore and the text we read last year in which the author made a simile with the mind and tea leaves clogging a drain, I also love unique comparisons, and so, apparently, does Conrad. He did everything from comparing changing times to a lightning flash in which we only live in a flicker, to Marlow comparing himself to a little bird fascinated by a giant snake. It’s amazing how a simple description can create such precise visuals for a situation: when Marlow is describing the raised land which served as a fork in the river he was sailing down, he compared it to a man’s backbone showing just beneath his skin, and immediately the image of that river popped into my head. Typically I can never accurately picture an image which an author is trying to explain, so I was a little shocked at how easily that illustration worked for me. I suppose that it is just an easier form of writing for my brain to perceive, which made it so much more enjoyable for me to read this book.

The Kite Runner- Khaled Hosseini

With this book, I have to say that I was torn between disgust of Hosseini's vividly gory details coupled with his infuriatingly misogynistic culture--granted that this is not his fault--and admiration of his understanding of the severe consequences a single choice can manifest together with his ability to put a new twist on an old story.

As far as I could tell, when I started, this was just going to be a typical book where the ever loyal and naïve friend would make a huge sacrifice for his best friend, and possibly die because of it. The different culture put an interesting spin on things, but other than that I could pretty much see what was coming the whole first part of the book. It was only after Amir became an adult that I started to be shocked by a lot of what was happening, like Baba’s cancer and Amir going back to find Sohrab and pretty much everything that happened in Afghanistan. That was when I started appreciating the writing instead of being disappointed by the gruesome tone and the unoriginal plot.

There was also something I noticed about Hosseini’s general writing style. It had an extreme emotional impact on me the majority of the time, whether it was from anger towards the culture that constantly put down women, or embarrassment at the ever present cowardice of Amir, or happiness at the very end when Sohrab began to come alive again. I found myself falling into seemingly every writing trap that Hosseini slipped into his book, or at least the ones I noticed. Every one word sentence, every suspenseful chapter ending, every separated paragraph drew me in as a reader, sometimes against my will when I realized what was going on, but I suppose that just gives Hosseini more credit as an intriguing and meticulous writer.

On a different note, with The Kite Runner I started practicing my text marking. I tried the “establishing territory” type first, because I thought it might be easier to begin with. I found that I really enjoyed this kind of text marking, specifically because I got to pick out quotes that stood out and related to things in my life. I could relate to more than I expected, from Amir’s description of the “casually arrogant” remarks made by his stepfather to Amir faintly recalling a memory of his father and observing that “time can be a greedy thing- sometimes it steals all the details for itself.” When I got to really think about some of the quotes in context I found that many of them were almost perfect descriptions of the way I felt about certain things, which, I have to say, was exciting but at the same time a little sad, because someone else can say it much better than I can, that someone else being a 30 year old man who comes from a completely different lifestyle, but in the end I was more impressed with this book than I initially expected.