READ: My Son The Man
Poetry and I didn’t get along.
There. I admitted it.
I love books because there are so many potential perspectives; everyone reads a book differently. But when a teacher pulled out a poem in high school to read, there seemed to be only one answer. They would start talking about how the bird actually meant leaves and this meant that, and…well, this is where I ended up with this look on my face…
For years, poetry just felt inaccessible. I didn’t know how to decipher the birds and the bees to leaves and trees (hah!), so I avoided poetry as much as possible. Then two things happened:
1. I took a Intro to Poetry class.
2. I took an American Gothic lit class.
Intro to Poetry was at first a filler class, to be honest. I needed a class to make sure I had enough units in the semester and this professor had pretty good ratings on RateMyProfessor (yep, that’s mostly how I picked classes). I’ve never had a teacher with so much passion about his subject, especially poetry, which everyone else approached with caution. Professor M jumped in, head first, and yanked us all in after him. What I loved about his approach to poetry was there was no right/wrong answer. To him, poetry is about the power of words as well as the meaning behind them. We studied all aspects of poetry, from the somewhat strange poems of Robert Creeley to the overly emotionally and incredibly intimate work of Sharon Olds. After studying each poet, we were required to write a two page journal entry, describing the experience, the poem, whatever. It was strange; as the semester progressed, I found myself beginning to love poetry.
The judgment was gone; I could say I thought the birds meant oranges instead of trees and Professor M would listen to my argument, then open it up for the class discussion. Instead of being perpetually confused, poetry began to become a part of me.
My American Gothic class was where poetry and I really began to be friends. I’ve always loved the era of the American Gothic (or dark romanticism) because of its intrinsically mysterious nature. Professor S introduced me to the worlds of T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe and Henry James (not necessarily a poet, but the man has a way with words) and I fell in love.
It was “The Waste Land” that changed it all for good. I love this poem. The combination of dramatic, dark images and the double meanings behind words makes this poem into the ultimate puzzle to figure out. I love the vast amount of references – I could have happily spent the entire semester disseminating the meanings behind each and every word. Then Professor S moved on to Dickinson, whose complete collection of poetry sits on my shelf between Whitman’s and Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” There’s the same kind of magic in her words that drew me in and I am always fascinated by her double use of language.
Now, poetry and I are cool.
We understand each other.
Well, not completely. There will always be some poems that are still completely foreign to me – like Creeley’s – but now, I’m willing to give them a try. In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m going to give it a try.
In her work, Dickinson addresses pretty much everything: religion, life, love, family, and especially death. Not to sound overly morbid, but I feel she is at her best with poems that concern death and the afterlife. Here’s one of my favorites, taken from Brooklyn College English website:
The pun was accidental, I promise!
|Photo Credit to Wikipedia|
In my Modern Poetry class, my professor introduced us to a lot of different poets…some were a little strange, some were just plain odd (like Robert Creeley…). Out of all of the poets we studied, I loved Rita Dove.
Biographically, Dove is a notable woman. Her Wikipedia biography as well as her Poetry Foundation biography is littered with awards and achievements; among the biggest is the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. My personal favorite is her role as United States Poet Laureate from 1993-95!
In class we read two specific poems of Dove’s, ones that have stuck out in my mind since the class two semesters ago. “Ars Poetica” and “Parsley”. Since I’m not entirely sure how the magic of copyright works, I will just post these links so you guys can go take a look for yourselves! If you are a true lover of poetry (like my professor), “Ars Poetica”is definitely the one for you. “Parsley,” which I discovered later, is based upon a real event. In “Parsley,” Dove examines the psychology of a man who discriminated and executed based upon a single word, which I found fascinating. His mama obsessions were borderline creepy and give new meaning to the psychological disorders.
What I loved most about “Parsley” was the rhyme scheme. It is written as a villanelle. Dove’s use of this type of scheme creates a certain pattern within the poem, an almost frightening overtone.
Here’s a good video of “Parsley”…
In “The Descent of Alette,” Alice Notley presents a feminist epic, a bold journey into the deeper realms. Alette, the narrator, finds herself underground, deep beneath the city, where spirits and people ride endlessly on subways, not allowed to live in the world above. Traveling deeper and deeper, she is on a journey of continual transformation, encountering a series of figures and undergoing fragmentations and metamorphoses as she seeks to confront the Tyrant and heal the world. Using a new measure, with rhythmic units indicated by quotation marks, Notley has created a “spoken” text, a rich and mesmerizing work of imagination, mystery, and power.
Okay. Bear with me. This book, on the first glance is terrifying. Here’s why:
Yeah. The entire book is written this way. Wait! I know. It freaked me out too. But read that part out loud, pausing at the end-quotes. Notley wrote like this to emphasize particular phrasing and words. It’s kind of cool!
Notley rewrites a lot of the accepted characteristics of epic poetry in The Descent of Alette. She throws out the good-ol’-boys’ club ideals and makes room for herself and her feminist heroine in the canon.
This poem has everything. Even sex, strangely enough. The best part about this poem for me was the science fiction aspect of it. In Alette’s world, most of society lives underground, riding the subways endlessly, controlled by the evil tyrant. In class, we couldn’t quite put our finger on who/what the tyrant was…I think that adds to the magic of this story. There are so many different possibilities, so many different readings, it’s extraordinary. Sorry. Got distracted. Alette is the only one who can defeat the tyrant (hello heroic journey) and defeat the tyrant. Piece of cake? Not really. But she does get an owl spirit guide, a couple of cool weapons, and magic powers.
On first crack, this poem terrified me. The language, the layout all made me go ohh no (my poetry prof has a wacky sense of humor; this is something he would throw at us and say “good luck, kiddos”), but I’m so happy I read this. It was actually a pleasure, once I got the hang of the language and form. P.S. the ending? It might surprise you…
Happy Friday, everyone! I want to introduce a new feature I have been toying with…
I fell in love with W.B. Yeats‘ work during last semester’s Irish Lit class. Oh my goodness, I’m so glad we spent weeks working on his poems. Every one has so many intricate layers, multiple meanings and references to everything from the Ancient Greeks to his own era.
During class, we used Selected Poems and Four Plays of William Butler Yeats, which explores poems from every work. Personally, I think everyone should own this book, regardless if you like poetry or not. Just the references to the struggle of the Irish alone is worth the book.
The poems I wanted to mention are mostly available only on print, although I found two on the Poetry Foundation website: “Easter, 1916” and “The Second Coming.” Both of these focus upon the struggle of the Irish, their constant battles against the invading English.
I’m sorry I can’t write more. I only managed this one in between shifts (thank you, Superbowl!). Happy reading!