Sunday, May 1, 2011

Not Waving but Drowning by Stevie Smith (Make-up blog)

When I read this poem, it made me think of all the poor souls in the world who suffer every day, who cry out for help and receive none, and who end up being unnecessarily lost. Whether it is from depression or some other problem, they exude apparently silent pleas for help, and no one responds, so they continue to drown in their problems and are eventually consumed by them.

"Nobody heard him, the dead man, but still he lay moaning: I was much further out than you thought and not waving but drowning." Nobody realized what he was going through. Everyone misconstrued his calls for help for something less important, perhaps just a need for attention or a lousy attitude, when really he was already past the point that he could be saved. "Poor chap, he always loved larking and now he's dead it must have been too cold for him his heart gave way, they said." Everyone thought he was happy and content with life, and that one day life just got too overwhelming for him and, naturally, it overcame him as it would anyone else. "Oh, no no no, it was too cold always (Still the dead one lay moaning) I was much too far out all my life and not waving but drowning." He says that life has always been "too cold," but no one ever saw it. He had always been consumed by his problems, and people refused to see it for what it really was. To me, it seems to say that he never really had a chance of rescue, because he had always been drowning, never waving as everyone thought, so no one would have ever thought to rescue him, because what was there to rescue him from? And still no one sees it and the situation remains as hopeless and trifling as ever.

Mid-Term Break by Seamus Heaney

It took a little while for me to realize it, but this might just be the saddest poem I've ever read. It's so solemn and blunt and emotionless at the beginning that, initially, I didn't quite know what was going on. But as the story progressed, I began to understand. I didn't really make the connection between anything past the first stanza with the title. I mean, "Mid-Term Break" is a rather misleading title for such a depressing poem. I thought it was just going to be about some college kid who was bummed out about being sick during a break from school, but no. It's about death and loss, as usual. The tone is so nonchalant, as if it is just a description of another average day in this kid's life, that it ended up seeming like the narrator was emotionally trying to detach himself from the situation. Of course, that is a perfectly natural reaction to the death of a loved one, although not really a healthy one. There is even what appears to be some subtle sarcasm in the line "In the porch I met my father crying-- he had always taken funerals in his stride," and such normal descriptions that I didn't quite know what to make of everything. I thought maybe he was just going to the funeral of someone he hadn't known very well. He refers to the deceased as "the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses," and apparently hadn't seen it for six weeks.

"Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple, he lay in the four foot box as in his cot. No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear. A four foot box, a foot for every year."

Followed by much confusion, shock, and agitation on my part.

WHY?? What would posess anyone to write about such a mortifying and disheartening subject? A poor little four year old boy is dead, hit by a car. Not mutilated or scarred, just a bruise on his head. But still dead! And then I remembered how messed up and depressed so many poets and writers are, and that they have more sources of...inspiration...for their writing than normal people. I usually find poetry beautiful and meaningful, despite the topics it discusses, and I'm sure Heaney had very good reasons for writing this poem, (his little brother did die when he was 3 or 4), but this is just something I did not handle well. Just thinking about it was almost enough to make me cry, as pathetic as that may be. And Heaney makes a very good point of singling out the last line, which reveals how old the poor boy was, which made an even bigger impact on me than it otherwise might have. IN CONCLUSION, I think this was a very moving and purposeful poem, but I think I need to lay off the poetry for a while before it starts to get to me.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Lesson of the Falling Leaves by Lucille Clifton

This was a fairly short poem, in the typical writing style of Lucille Clifton: all lowercase letters and minimal, although in this case completely absent, punctuation. No rhyme scheme or structured style, but there was the repetition of the word "such," as well as the sounds in words "leaves" and "believe." And with the simple structure comes a simple idea. It seems like a cause and effect situation. The leaves believe that letting go of their lives is love, this type of love is faith, having this faith is grace, and this grace is God. It also does remind me of the circle poems we learned about however many years ago, where the idea branches out and then returns to the original subject. In any case, it really made me think about the connection Clifton was making between leaves and trees and what I assumed was loss or death or some other type of letting go. I found that it was kind of a melancholy subject in my mind after I thought about it for a while: the fear of losing anything or anyone to death is quite extreme for me, just because all I can think about is how, once death has claimed something or someone, it will never be reclaimed and it will never return. Kind of a selfish perspective, but that doesn't make me fear it any less. But loss is something people experience every day, and is, as a rule, a part of life. Therefore it must be accepted by those who experience it. But to be able to let go is, in a way, love: if you have lost to death, then what is lost will be in a better place according to most people, including myself. If you have this ability to love, then you usually have some sort of faith in a greater power and a better place to come after life. This faith is beautiful and good; it is grace. And grace is God. Perhaps it is not the most common or obvious connection to have made, but I can certainly see how the relationship makes sense. Clifton finishes the poem by saying "i agree with the leaves." This was a valuable lesson that the leaves communicated to Clifton. It is a true life lesson, that of learning how to let go and move on, and knowing that you are still loving what you've lost, just in a different way. It's something everyone should understand, and something we will all, unfortunately, be faced with.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What the Mirror Said by Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton has a very interesting writing style, in that she uses all lower case throughout her writing. She also does not use fancy punctuation, so I thought it was funny that her typically simple punctuation was interrupted by a semi-colon in this particular poem. The structure of this poem is important because the way she breaks up her lines emphasizes the grouping of the words and affects the way the poem is read. She also repeats the word "listen" at the beginning of each point she makes, which makes the poem into more of a commanding, empowering speech.

Many women have to face their reflection on a daily basis, and sometimes it is hard for them to look at themselves and see all of the beauty in the reflection. This poem sounded like exactly the opposite of this: she is convincing herself of all the good things, and not letting herself feel inadequate in any way. In the context of the poem, she seems to be looking into a mirror and thinking about her reflection, or listening to what the mirror has to say. She looks at herself, and knows that she is a "wonder" and a "city of a woman." She reassures herself of her importance and complexity and beauty as a woman. She is proud of her body, and the fact that any man touching it has his hands on not just any woman, but "some damn body!" Clifton was able to find the confidence to celebrate being the woman that she was. Some people might think that this is a tired, overused subject, and normally I would not disagree with this. But, honestly, there are plenty of women that have internal struggles every day with their self-image, and desperately need the same self-assurance that Clifton imparts in this poem, and she has such a way of inspiring emotion in her writing that I couldn't help but appreciate her poem.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Many Red Devils... by Stephen Crane

When I was looking throught the packet, this was definitely one of my favorite poems. Apart from the fact that it was only one stanza and was simple enough to understand, I also loved the eccentricity of it. It seemed like Crane just randomly decided to jot down a separate thought from what he had been writing before.

The way I interpreted it, the devils were a part of the speaker's heart. Therefore, I assumed that they were his thoughts and feelings. Since he was comparing these thoughts and feelings to little red devils, they are probably either things that he is ashamed of or feels guilty about, or things that he does not think he should be writing about, and so is trying to avoid confronting them at any cost. He also says that they are "so tiny the pen could mash them," which could mean that they really weren't significant enough to write about anyways. However, the little red devils still struggle in the ink of the pen which is apparently mass murdering them, so they have to have some kind of influence in his heart and mind.

That being said, the tone was not particularly emotional. There were no sad feelings about mashing the little devils, but there was no excitement either. He was merely pondering the fleeting thought of it as he kept spilling his heart out over the paper, devils and all. "It was strange to write in this red muck of things from my heart." Despite the fact that this was basically a genocide of tiny little red devils that came directly out of his heart, the only thing he seems to have been worried about was that it was strange to have to write through all the blood. But I think this indifference of the speaker in this poem really reinforces the idea of it being a random thought, since we generally tend to brush off these thoughts as our train of thought continues on its path, and we therefore don't get very emotionally invested in any one specific idea. That's what really stood out to me in this poem, and I think that's why I enjoyed it so much.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sindhi Woman by Jon Stallworthy

This definitely seemed like a creative topic for a poem, and the metaphor which Stallworthy creates is interesting. From what I looked up, Sindh is a province in Pakistan. Stalworthy also references the largest city of Pakistan, Karachi, the slums of which are very run-down, overpopulated and poverty stricken. This is where the speaker in the poem says that he or she sees the woman walking. I thought that this might have meant that the speaker lived in the slums, perhaps a beggar or one of the many homeless. The speaker notices a Sindhi woman passing through a bazaar, carrying a stone jar on her head. She is described as being graceful, gliding through the filthy streets, unfazed by her surroundings. In the last stanza, Stallworthy compares the speaker to the woman: the speaker stoops as he or she watches, and the woman stands straight up, even though she is carrying the stone jar. The speaker makes the observation that "...they stand most straight who learn to walk beneath a weight." I took this as a metaphor between how the woman confronts her physical task, and how the speaker handles the hardships in his or her life, so this could be taken both literally and figuratively. The woman has learned to carry the heavy jar and stand tall while doing so, the speaker lives beneath the "weight" of the world and, under its hardships, learns to face the trouble and keep living, even though life is difficult. In this way, Stallworthy creates the connection between the speaker and the woman, a metaphor between people of two possibly different walks of life, but who overcome their own daily struggles.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Personal Helicon by Seamus Heaney

I read this poem to myself a few times, and, as I did, I heard a very nostalgic and wistful tone in the speaker's voice. I actually felt kind of bad for him. I think we all know what it's like to wish we could still be little kids again and get away with pretty much anything, and that's the point that I thought Heaney was making in his poem.

Throughout the poem, I noticed that there are references to reflections in almost every stanza: the lack of one due to the depth of the first well, the white face at the bottom of the second well, the rat slapping across his reflection in the third well, the reference to Narcissus, and the way he parallels his reflection in the wells to his reflection in his writing. The fact that he created the parallel changed the entire meaning of the poem for me. Also, his reference to the River Helicon in the title indicate that there is another, negative parallel with the river to, I assume, the wells. This made me wonder whether he was really ashamed of his connection with the wells and his childhood memories.

The first stanza tells us what the speaker enjoyed as a child: wells and old pumps, and all the messy things that came with them. This establishes the feeling of nostalgia in the poem. The second and third stanza describe two wells in particular which must have been important enough to catch in his memory. The first well, in a brickyard covered with rotting boards, was deep enough that he could not see his reflection, but apparently could still hear the water at the bottom. I thought this symbolized the mysteries we find as children, which are so fascinating to us. The second well was shallow and overgrown, so that he could pull out roots from the bottom. This seemed like the impelling curiosity which pushes children to discover the truths behind the things they don't understand.

"Now to pry into roots, to finger slime, To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme to see myself, to set the darkness echoing" This last stanza seemed to hold a lot of meaning. Everything he had done in his childhood, everything that had made him happy and had been the essence of his innocent mind had been taken from him in his adulthood. He is forced to substitute a more mature activity, writing, for his childish adventures in order to fill the void within himself and to keep from losing his unique, inner spirit. It seems like a sad little story to me, but whether or not we like it, growing up is something we all have to accept an extent.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Questions we have about School...

Why do we have to show up every day?
Why do teachers give mindless assignments?
Why do we need standardized tests?
Why do you hate me?
Why can't you be easy?
Why does it start so early?
Why are grades so important?
Why is school so long?
Can I go home now?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Cat by Miroslav Holub

I actually really enjoyed this poem when we discussed it in class. The ideas we talked about were great, but I feel like I want to elaborate on some of the creative techniques that were used.

There were a few key things that I noticed the author used in the poem. The first was his vivid and creative imagery. For example, "Outside it was night like a book without letters." This simile in the first stanza is not only imaginative in creating a picture in the reader's mind, but it also has a hidden meaning. Holub did not just say the pages of the book were blank, something that would, incidentaly, imply a blankness or brightness. He said that there were no letters, which could mean that the book could contain symbols or pictures. This provides a much different connection to night than a blank page, perhaps saying that there are still things in the night, even though they are different than we would expect. Holub follows this simile with a metaphor, "...the eternal dark dripped to the stars through the sieve of the city." Normally we would imagine something dripping towards the earth because of gravity, which makes the image even stranger than it might have been. The way I saw it, it was an interesting way of painting a picture of the darkness slipping through the sieve of a city and dripping up towards the heavens, creating the stars.

I also noticed some of the more structural techniques that he used. Repitition was a big factor. The repitition of the phrases, "I said to her...," and , "a black cat...the black night," were the basis of three of the later stanzas which describe the disappearance of the cat into the night, and the cautions of the speaker to the cat. Also, Holub visually singled out a section of one specific phrase on its own, separating two parts of the poem: "But a window was opened and she went." This seems to be the turning point of the story, the moment when the cat leaves, against the speaker's wishes, leaving on impulse through a random, open window, never to be seen again. The author also begins the last stanza with , "But..." creating a connection to the singled out phrase. I have to admit that I did not completely understand the relevance of the self-reflection and reference to "northerly wind" in this last stanza, although I might be able to gain a better understanding of it if I really tried. Other than that, though, this poem was very interesting and fun to piece together.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Alone by Edgar Allan Poe

The first thing I noticed about this poem was the distinct rhyme scheme (aabbccdd,etc.) coupled with the strange way the lines were broken up with a ridiculous number of dashes. It all flowed very nicely in the end, I just thought the pauses were slightly awkward.

Then there was the disheartening beginning to the poem, "From childhood's hour I have not been as others were." Which is followed by more descriptions of how the speaker could not relate to others, or love the same things others did. The turning point in this poem is the italicized "Then" at the beginning of the ninth line. This turning point also happened during the speakers childhood, apparently. Poe repeats the word "From" to start off the next six phrases, which are describing natural elements from which this "mystery which binds [him] still," is being extracted. We are never actually told what this mystery is, so we are left to infer from the context that it came from some sort of celestial power, or something to that affect, and that it completely altered the course of his foreign, misunderstood existence.

The last few lines stood out to me though, and I don't entirely understand why Poe structured them to do so. "And the cloud that took the form (when the rest of heaven was blue) of a demon in my view." This is the only spot where Poe chose to place parenthesis, which makes the line stick out in the way it both sounds and looks. I also thought it was interesting how he chose to interject the idea of the heavens, when he could have just used the word sky, in the middle of the description of a demon-shaped cloud. I assumed he was referencing some biblical aspect of his loneliness, but I could be wrong. Other than that, I thought this poem could have been summed up in about three lines, and, as nicely as it flows, I found it very unremarkable.

PS: I commented on Becky's post on Sort of a Song, and Mandee's post on Desert Places.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Song of the Powers by David Mason

At first I thought this was a creative little poem about the power which is assumed in the game of rock-paper-scissors, or at least the rock-paper-scissors concept. Each of the first three stanzas is dedicated to each element's claim of its own power, and what it could do with that power. The rock crushes the scissors, the words and images of the paper smother the rock, and the scissors' "knives [gash] through paper's ethereal lives." Mason also refers to wishes twice, in the first and third stanza, which I associated with the lucky chance basis of the game.

But then I read the last stanza and I was a little taken aback. "As stone crushes scissors,as paper snuffs stone and scissors cut paper,all end alone." This quirky personification of power in a simple conflict resolution game suddenly turned into this depressing prediction of loneliness. The powers which each of the choices contain all, apparently, lead to being alone. What Mason means exactly by "alone" I am still a little unsure of, but he seems to be fairly certain that it is everyones fate: "They all end alone. As you will, you will." This is the first time he directly addresses the reader, which I thought was a way of jolting the reader into realizing that the poem was actually referring to a characteristic of human nature, or something to that affect. He also repeats "you will" to reinforce his tragic conclusion, ending his poem on a rather pessimistic note. But of course there always has to be something bleak and unpleasant in pretty much all of our poems, so I don't know how I could have thought that. I suppose it was still a very imaginative poem in its own right, though.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

It Was a Dream by Lucille Clifton

The first thing I noticed about this poem was that the actual poem is a continuation of the title. Clifton makes this more prominent by keeping the first letter of the first line lower case, but even without that it would be very noticeable, and I feel like the poem just doesn't flow unless you read it correctly. I also noticed the repetition Clifton used to emphasize a few of her ideas: she repeated the phrase-opening word "and" for three of the last lines, and she ends her poem with the line "This. This. This." Personally, I like to use both repetition and parallelism as techniques in my writing because I feel like they make more of an impact on the reader, so I really like the fact that Clifton used them.

As for the content of this poem, I thought that Clifton's idea was one that many of us have to face occasionally. My interpretation was that, in her dream, Clifton was confronted by her "greater self," livid and raging at her about what she had done with her life. Clifton asked herself what else she could have done, and the response was more screaming and generally insane behavior. The last line of "This. This. This." sounded to me like Clifton's "greater self" was screaming at her the things she could have done, in response to the question.

I thought it was interesting how Clifton referred to her dream self as her "greater self," because I thought it implied that she subconsciously agreed that she had made some sort of mistake and ended up in the wrong place in life. I also thought the phrase, "accusing me of my life," was intriguing: I never actually thought of this kind of abusive self-criticism as a type of accusation, but it's very true if you think about it. She is not necessarily accusing herself of being alive, although she would obviously be guilty of that, but of making the wrong choices during her life. I am sure we have all been guilty of this at some point or another, and there is really no escaping it. But it is interesting the way that Clifton chose to address it, through the description of a dream. Perhaps it really was a dream she had, but it seems more likely that she meant "dream" as more of a thought which expanded upon itself and turned into a self-argument which led her to visualize herself as a sort of crazy, monstrous terror who could do nothing but berate her.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Of Mere Being by Wallace Stevens

Stevens' poem had an other-wordly feel to me. This world seemed to exist, as Stevens put it, "beyond the last thought" of human imaginings. I interpreted this as a place past the subconscious in the human mind, a world where reasons are unimportant, all that matters is what actually is. It almost seemed like a part of our deepest imagination which does not conform to the outside existence of the world. Where what we have learned to think as humans never penetrates. Especially considering the bird in the palm, and its song as described in the second stanza: "without human meaning, without human feeling, a foreign song." And, according to Stevens, the reason the bird is singing is insignificant to how we feel, it is the fact that "The bird sings" and "Its feathers shine" that affects our emotions. I took this to mean that, subconsciously, it does not matter to us the reason something happens, but only that it happened. I thought this sounded a lot like what people say when they know they have no control over a situation and are essentially only affected by the fact that they experienced the situation, whether good or bad. The last stanza I saw as more description of the strange world; the palm is mentioned again, on the edge of both the mind and space and, as Stevens put these parallel to each other, it made me think that he saw them both as the same thing; the slow-moving wind in the branches added to the peaceful environment; and, once again, the bird with the golden, "fire-fangled" feathers is mentioned, yet another indication of an unfamiliar world.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Heritage by James Still

This was such a confusing, yet clearly meaningful poem. It seemed to me to be rather morose at first, but at the same time, when I had finished reading it and had time to process what he was saying, Still may have been content with his home.

In the first stanza, I felt like Still was regretting the fact that he was trapped in the "prisoning hills" of Kentucky. Yet he must have felt truly connected with this place because he states that, "Though [the hills] topple their barren heads to level earth and the forests slide uprooted out of the sky," though the lakes and rivers overflow and drown out the cities, and, "Though the sun-ball breaks the ridges into dust and burns its strength into the blistered rock," he still would not be able to leave his home. He basically uses complex and eloquent language to state that, even if the world was going into a nearly apocolyptic chaos, he would have to remain where he was. I was confused as to why anyone would feel such a strong association with a place, even if it was falling to pieces. However, the second stanza helped a little in giving me an insight into Still's feelings.

Still further establishes the strong connection he has with his surrounding environment in the second stanza. He uses the phrase "Being of these hills," twice, at the beginning and ending of the stanza. He also repeats the phrase, "being one with," multiple times to get his point across. I found it odd that he made connections both with living creatures, a fox, a foal, an ox, and a man, and death, since constrasting ideas are brought forth with each. I thought that this implied that he was attached to this place, even when he was surrounded by and subjected to both life and death. I felt that this particular connection was why he had named his poem Heritage : he is one with the place, and he has figuratively inherited his surroundings over time, and will pass them on to future generations.

The last line of Still's poem is, "Being of these hills I cannot pass beyond." I can see how this could be taken both literally and figuratively: either Still cannot leave his home, passing the great mountains which serve as barriers to him, or he is such a part of his environment that no matter where he goes he will always be there, or both. I also felt that "pass beyond" sounded a lot like a reference to death, possibly meaning that he thought his soul would always be a part of his current home. I could not completely understand whether it was Still's feelings of entrapment or his deep connection with the place which caused his obscure identification with his home, but the relationship was, nevertheless, intriguing.