Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Raymond Carver

(May 25, 1938 – August 2, 1988)
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (1981)

Two things jumped out at me when reading this: definitions of love and expressions of love.

Mel mentions three kinds of love, spiritual love (which he does not define), physical love (which he calls an impulse driving you to another person and his/her essence), and sentimental love (which he calls the day-to-day caring about another). He and Terri argue over whether her former husband, Ed actually ‘loved’ her. (170). As the conversation goes on, Mel considers how he could actually love his first wife; he is sure that he did. Mel seems to hold on to love as something delicate, like an ancient document, an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, that might tatter if handled wrong. He wants love but is afraid to lose it. This becomes evident when he talks about watching the elderly couple recovering; these two are in the same room, but the gentleman could not see his wife, and this was breaking his heart. Seeing this kind of love made Mel want it, and his conversation with Terri, Nick, and Laura helped him crystallize that desire and express it. But how was he going to attain it?

We need to go back and figure out what we are aiming for so that we can be sure and move toward it. What is love? The english language lack some of the expressiveness regarding love that some other languages have. A man could use ‘love’ to commend his wife or to commend her cooking (both of which would be advisable); however, these loves are not the same type. Spanish has a word for romantic love as well and a word for mild affection. And to Mel I would commend Greek; they have some beautiful categories:

Agape – This is a selfless love. It seeks the other’s best good at the cost one’s own self and self-interest.
Phileo – This is brotherly love, friendship. It is a love of mutuality and team-work.
Eros – This is romantic love. It is a gleam in another’s eye and the passionate embrace.

We want relationships to last a lifetime. We want them to thrive. And no relationship can sprawl across the wake of this world like kudzu (did you know strawberries grow in the same way as kudzu, just not as fast) like strawberries (does this sound too dopey—Just read it and think ‘Amazing’ ‘I want that’), no relationship can thrive without heavy amounts of agape. When a man sits down and listens to his wife and talks to her and is interested in her… When a woman lets her husband know that she values his work, especially in those little feminine ways… Am I suggesting we just feed each other’s egos? No. We all have faults and blind spots and stubbornness. We pursue each other’s best interest as we pursue each other, and along the way phileo and eros will soothe and warm.

Martín Espada

(b. 1957)

“The Lover of a Subversive is also a Subversive”
“The Skull Beneath the Skin of the Mango”

The first:
“Bully” a play on one of Roosevelt’s favorite expressions, meaning “good, agreeable, heartily.” I sort of feel like the Indians of the past authors’ poems, that some of my culture is being displaced, but is this always bad. I would hate for the memory of Theodore Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr or many other American icons to disappear from living memory. However, there are deeper meanings in life—family, friendship, God—that I would be happy to fight for. As much as I tie to my cultural marker, I would be happy to embrace another’s, if we both loved the deeper meanings most.

Adrian C. Louis

“Dust World” (1992)
“Without Words” (1989)
“Looking for Judas” (1995)

From “Without Words:”
As I read this, the loss of meaning stares me in face. The speaker is sad (that word is often feels light, but here it is meant to carry significant weight). He is drinking his sadness or drinking to his sadness. In the process, he decomposes a little more and a little more. Continuity: he doesn’t like the lifestyle. Clashing form: the change that comes from their decomposition. The change is enough to take their mind off the sadness.

Sherman Alexie

(b. 1966)

“Evolution” (1992)
“Scalp Dance by Spokane Indians” (1993)
“How to Write the Great American Indian Novel” (1996)

As I read these poems, I felt just a sense of “ugh” and “ohhh” and “man,” deflation, sadness, and empathy. Then one of the lines from “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel” struck me:

All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food. (1-2).

To Alexie, this empathy is common but worthy of disdain. I say this with two things in mind: 1) It doesn’t energize the people to help the situation, and 2) Helping means supporting your friends as they establish and live “normal” lives.

1) Just as in Langston Hughes poem “Dinner Guest: Me” the fellow guests were emotionally stirred but were not stirred to action, I think Alexie criticizes my empathy that does not lead to action. So how can we help?

2) Sometimes a region or culture needs massive amounts of help. I think of Europe after WWII, devastated emotionally and economically. We (the U.S.) helped them rebuild through aid in the Marshall Plan. In the 1950/60s, large blocks of New York City’s youth were involved in gang-fighting, heroin, sex—the accounts are of much sadness and emptiness. David Wilkerson and the churches joined together to help break this culture. It is during this time (1967) that we get the picture of Robert Kennedy helping to get Bedford-Stuyvesant back on its feet. Today, there are people like this working to help our Native American brothers and sisters too.

Sometimes, though, we need something more on the personal scale. When “normal” is destroyed for a culture, we need neighbors and friends to come beside us and help us rediscover normal, or reinvent normal, or just live normal lives beside us. When we see this, when we feel that others are investing in our lives, normal will seem a lot like friendship.

Louise Glück

(b. 1943)
From The Meadowlands (1996)

It was fun to read these poems through the lens of myth and then through the lens of contemporary society. I think I get bogged down trying to make everything something profound, so I thought I would just say some thing short about these.

"Penelope’s Song"
This one seemed to have a lot of crossover between mythical and contemporary. I saw Penelope climbing a tree, looking and longing for Odysseus. I also saw a housewife wanting her husband home. He has been gone too long, long enough for a tan (18). Did I say she wanted him? She is a mix of frustration, exasperation, and maybe anger. He gets home, and all he wants in his grilled chicken (19). She shakes her boughs (20) letting him know that she truthfully wanted to him to spend time with her. She is subtle, trying to let this be known without causing his face to ‘be marred’ (23), presuming that he is going to get angry with her.

"Quiet Evening"
This was so beautiful. I read it almost completely in the modern sense. It seems like an older couple, now empty-nesters, enjoying an evening of each other’s company.

I’ve heard that sociologists say it takes 9-14 years for the thinking in a relationship to shift from “me” to “we.” So this couple seems to have moved into these years, and it just seems so beautiful:

So Penelope took the hand of Odysseus,
not to hold him back but to impress
this peace on his memory:

from this point on, the silence through which you move
is my voice pursuing you. (9-13).

The beauty in this relationship seems magnified when I re-read it: In the quote above, Penelope takes Odysseus’ hand, impressing their evening into his memory. In the opening line Odysseus takes Penelope’s hand; “then we’re alone/ in the life-threatening forest.” (1-2). It is almost like he is summoning this memory to his mind. And suddenly, true to her intent, he has her and peace.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Adrienne Rich

(b. 1929)
“Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” (1951)
“Diving Into the Wreck” (1972)
“Power” (1974)

Throughout her works, rich uses some amazing images. In “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” the speaker is watching her Aunt sow. In the piece she is working on tigers are pacing in ‘sleek chivalric certainty.’ (4). The speaker comments that her Aunt had ‘terrified hands,’ (9) terrified at the subject of her work. Another image connects these two, that of a wedding ring:

The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by. (7-10).

Rich’s speaker is making a forceful argument for the feminism rising in her day. We will see this come out in her writings, both in its good forms and in its bad forms.

Some more amazing images appear in “Diving into the Wreck.” As the diver moves from the surface into the sea, we look through his mask and watch the air, first blue, turn bluer, then green, then black. (34-36). The reader gets a real sense of shift from the civil to the savage: 1) the diver’s mask fills his blood “with power,” (38) yet the sea offers him no aid, he has to “learn alone” (41)how to move, how to go about his business; 2) later, we see him searching the wreckage with a battery-powered lamp (57) then assuming the persona of an ancient mermaid (72).

With this last image the diver begins to identify with his adventure: becoming a mermaid, becoming a merman, becoming the figurehead of the ship’s prow, and with a dual persona becoming the ship’s water-worn instruments.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sylvia Plath

“Tulips” 18 March 1961
“Ariel” 27 October 1962

“Tulips” and “Ariel” seem to form two ends of a spectrum. In “Tulips,” the speaker seems downcast, hesitant to hope; in “Ariel,” the speaker is crazy with hope. A key idea between these two is that of agency. One of the best gifts given to men is a creative force, a desire and will to change things around us. We are agents of change, steadily shaping the things around our lives. In “Tulips,” the speaker seems to have lost her sense of agency. She needs someone to be in her life and help her regain that, to help the life and message of the tulips become her own.

Anne Sexton

“Her Kind” (1960)
“The Truth the Dead Know” (1962)
“And One for My Dame” (1962)

Sexton’s work seems to challenge the traditional 1950’s/1960’s view of womanhood.

In “Her Kind,” the speaker talks about her day by day (“light by light”) existence, wanting something else. In the second stanza, she breaks out of the norm a little by doing normal duties for non-normal recipients, worms and elves, and in the last stanza we see her carted off to be burned for her witchcraft. In one sense, it is commendable for her to try to break out of the norm, especially if life for her and her family is so earthbound, so un-engaging like it is in “And One for My Dame.”

This young dame grows up with a Dad who might as well live in his car. He is a cheat (12), works more than he has to (36), and doesn’t involve himself and take joy in raising his family (21-22). Later she marries, and her husband isn’t any better. His sample cases are “branded with [her] father’s name.” (45).

Is there anything transcendent in their lives? Are there any great mysteries approached, realities hinted at? Any deeper meaning? Why wouldn’t housewives rebel? Against materialism and banality?

But don’t let such rebellion against triviality suck out with it the great meaning within the home and motherhood. Motherhood has just as much dignity as any woman who chooses to enter the marketplace. And a man who comes home and loves his wife and their family can truly free her to enjoy it.

John Berryman

From “The Dream Songs” (1964-1968)

I read that there were 384 Dream Songs in total, so I read the first and last to try to get a direction for his writing. O my goodness! Wanting to dig up his dead father just to… It is horrible. Don’t read it. But it that is just a symptom of what is going on in Berryman. I can’t read this as persona. He has to be dealing with his Dad’s suicide. Suicide is so sad and awful; we are ALL born with God-given dignity, value, worth, and purpose. That man left such a whole in his son’s life. He wasn’t there. He couldn’t pour himself into John’s life. Berryman seems absolutely wild wanting something in his life. Some longings are undeniably present within us and at the same time, seem ethereal and half-seen in their nature. The best ones we can take for granted, if we have had them. Berryman’s life is tragic and reminds me of the value of every act of love, the value of everything that seems common.

Robert Lowell

“Skunk Hour” (1959)
“For the Union Dead” (1960)

On the first:
The four of the characters in this poem seem to say something about isolation, community, and contentment.

The Heiress seems to enjoy isolation. Her son is doing well. Her lands and estate are taken care of by a good man.

The Cobbler seems to enjoy community. “there is no money in his work,/ he’d rather marry.” (23-24). He values a relationship more than a big estate.

The Speaker seems to side with the Cobbler, wanting love, but for some reason he is bitter against intimacy. He calls the local “lovers’ lane” a graveyard, yet he ‘sobs.’ I hear ‘sobs,’ and I think of desire and affection throught the tears. Later he says, “I myself am hell.” Is he hard to get along with? Has he had failed relationships in the past? Has he went through a major loss? He sees these opposing attitudes in himself, and says “My mind’s not right.” I say he might be able to find and grow and enjoy a relationship.

The Mother Skunk has a bit of this contentment in relationships and community. She leads her kittens around the town looking for their meals, and finds a good one at our speaker’s back door. She relishes what she has in life and “does not scare” when someone tries to take it away.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Elizabeth Bishop

"The Man-Moth" (1946)
"One Art" (1976)

It sounds as if the Man-Moth could be ever more applicable today. If commuting was an ordeal then (and was it and ordeal), then 2 hour Atlanta traffic would be monstrous.

Frank O'Hara

“Poem” (1950)
“Today” (1950)
“The Day Lady Died” (1959)
“Why I Am Not a Painter” (1957)

In contrast to some of the other movements, it seemed that Frank O’Hara didn’t have a central set of ideas that are visible in his work. I may just not have seen enough of his work or know enough about the period.

I thought that he might have been playing with time in “Poem,” but ended up concluding that the speaker was talking of a past memory, though the alternative (him talking in flashback) does sort of convey the shock of accidentally coming across a murder scene.
“Today” seemed to convey the fifteen minutes of fame, celebrity buzz, as seen on tv, I love the 80s mentality that something may be unimportant, but it is really important right now.

Theodore Roethke

"My Papa's Waltz" 1948
From the North American Sequence, "Meditation at Oyster River" 1964

On the second:
It is neat how Roethke ties the day/night cycle to life and death. At the end of section I, we see the sun going down. Section II begins by saying, "The self persists like a dying star/" and then places us in a sleep while death, symbolized by nature and animals, goes about its normal activities.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks seems to have some skill in writing, able to use metaphor well and pack some very complex feelings into her poems. I read a couple extra poems to try and figure out more of who she is, and it really helped when I got to “The Boy Died in My Alley.” In that poem, the speaker says “I joined the Wild and killed him/ with knowledgeable unknowing.” (26-27). I wondered what “the Wild” meant.

In Brooks’ poem, “Gay Chaps at the Bar,” Brooks explores the sentiments of an African-American man returning from fighting in World War II. In the section, ‘The White Troops had Their Orders but the Negroes Looked Like Men,’ we see that in war the whites who normally oppressed them realized that blacks were just as human and just as noble as anyone else. Tragically, however, we see these brave men going back home and facing a society that is trying to reestablish its past disregard and subjugation of African-Americans. That society sits in smug pride and disdains black Americans. They would not reach out and help or understand their black brothers and sisters; they would forever keep them as unenlightened savages—they would keep them “wild.”

“Wild” is a derogatory term that would choose to see a person or group as animal-like: ruthless and instinctual, devoid of common kindness, instead of seeing him, her, them as truly human: full of dignity, self-sacrifice, compassion, and beauty.

When I read “The Boy Died in My Alley,” and the speaker said he or she “joined the Wild,” I asked myself, Is violence so prevalent, do they hate and are so disgusted with their environment, that a person would degrade themselves to that level?

On this note, one other thing caught my eye. I wondered why the speaker would call this Boy an “ornament.” I don’t think it is consistent with the rest of the poem to see this as joyful, to say racist, nor to see sarcasm (the repetition makes the speaker sound deeply struck by this death). It could be irony, but more than likely it is pained hope.

Brooks uses the phrase, “I saw him Crossed,” (29) a crucifixion image, to describe the Boy’s death. In line 31-34, we see him in agony; in lines 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39, we see his cry rising to heaven; and in lines 40-41, the speaker says that “The red floor of my alley/ is a special speech to me.” It seems like the speaker feels a similar pain and a similar cry. I read this poem, and I have a hard time not reading the speaker as a praying Grandmother. When she uses the word “Ornament,” it seems like she’s thinking, I like that it happened, In one sense, because it brings attention and maybe an answer.

It is interesting to note that unlike the record of Jesus' crucifixion, here, there is no mention of a resurrection, that is to say, there is no solution; we do not see the problem end. And in that Brooks is calling her reader to be that change.