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.