The Most Beautiful State of Confusion

As soon as I started reading this week’s poems I knew why the unit was called “the difficult in the easy” (or whatever it was actually titled. I’m going to be honest, I was too lazy to look up the actual unit title. Don’t judge me). The ones I want to focus on, however, are Elizabeth Bishop’s. Both “The Fish” and “In The Waiting Room” struck a chord with me. Both of these poems seemed so simple. Reading them was so easy it was almost scary. They were also incredibly enjoyable to read, because I was never confused about words or content, and I could just nod and follow along. That being said, I know for a fact that I missed the point in both of them, though “The Fish” more than “In The Waiting Room.”

The writing and imagery in both of Bishop’s poems are beautiful. Her way of describing things in a prose-like description style is captivating and visceral. I’ve never pictured a fish so perfectly in my mind’s eye before. This, above other reasons, is why I loved these poems.

But that brings me to the “however.” However, I don’t know what the point was. I got a gist, of how the fish was beautiful and Bishop could see the life in the fish, which is why she tossed him back, but I feel like there’s a deeper meaning that I’m missing. Somehow this almost felt more alienating than confusing-as-hell pieces like “the Bridge” where I knew why I was missing what I was missing. It was very irksome to read something and know all the words and follow along, but feel like I was only scratching the surface of content.

Another thing I’d like to bring up, which is definitely unrelated, is that “In The Waiting Room” reminded me so much of Whitman’s “Crossing the Brooklyn Ferry” in the way that she brought us and herself into 1918, in the time of the National Geographic she was reading. I’m still not sure what the significance of most of the poem was, but I definitely appreciated it and enjoyed (what I thought was) the nod to Whitman.

 

P.S. As I’m tagging this week’s post, I realize that this week’s unit title is “Everyday Difficulty,” but I thought I was being clever, so I’m leaving my post as it is.

The Top Ten Percent

Have you ever noticed that the top ten percent of people who like a certain thing always suck? Take Justin Bieber, for example (and let me finish before you cringe and judge me) — everyone thinks his fans are absolute nut-jobs. Not just because they like Justin Bieber and it’s a value judgment, but because they act like they’re batshit crazy (pardon my French) and scream and yell and stampede and carve his name into their skin (yes, really). Admittedly, I was among that “everyone.” However, over time I’ve realized that not every person who enjoys listening to Justin Bieber’s music is a crazy person. Take my sister, for example. She loves listening to Justin Bieber, but she’s completely normal and composed and does not want to bear his children. I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this, and I’ll tell you. In William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” he has two lines that describe this exact phenomenon: /The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity./ While I may be substituting “best” for “average,” the sentiment still rings true. The people who are the worst are always the one with the most passionate intensity, which ruins things for the rest of the group who gets lumped in with them. It’s always the most vocal people (who are always that top ten percent) who give the entire group a bad reputation.

So while that was a nice rant, it didn’t actually get to the meat of the poem, other than that one line. That’s because the poem was incredibly confusing to me. Other than that one line that jumped out at me because I immediately understood it and felt it resonate, the poem as a whole is tricky. One of the things that bothered me (which is probably just me being a nit-picky creative writing student) was the repetition of words. He uses “loosed” twice in two following lines, as well as “The Second Coming.” Normally repetition becomes critical to the poem, but here it honestly just seemed like lazy repetition. There wasn’t enough of it for it to be a recurring theme, but there was also too much of it for it to just be random. I guess I haven’t entirely figured that one out yet.

The other thing in this poem that I’d like to note is that half of it describes something intangible, while the other half gives something very tangible. While a Sphinx might be a mythical creature, the description of him (generally a her, another confusing and probably intentional thing Yeats does, that I have no idea how to analyze) is incredibly vivid, walking slowly underneath a flock of birds. For me, having one part be so tangible and the other so elusive made the poem much harder to understand. Should I be focusing on the image I can see in my mind’s eye, or the cryptic description that I need to parse out? If someone wants to let me know, that’d be great. Thanks.

Apparently I’m Dead

Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man” is both beautiful and tragic at the same time. I realize that I must be biased here because personally, I love the winter and everything that comes with it, but in “The Snow Man” it seems that Stevens and I don’t share that sentiment.

The imagery in “The Snow Man” is stunning. Stevens writes about /pine-trees crusted with snow/ and /the spruces rough in the distant glitter/Of the January sun/. For me, these images evoke a sense of beauty and calm and peace. However, despite the fact that Stevens uses very positive language describing the scene, he doesn’t actually seem to enjoy these things. The way he talks about all of the things regarding winter is upsetting. Stevens says that to be able to enjoy the winter, one must have a mind of winter and have been cold for a long time. What he’s basically saying is that the person who enjoys winter is cold and bare and nothing – that you can’t appreciate the beauty of the season unless you yourself have turned cold. I can see what he’s implying, but I’m also personally offended because, like I said, I love the winter and I wouldn’t exactly call myself a cold and bitter person, but I guess that my feelings here aren’t really relevant.

Another thing that struck me with this poem is that oftentimes poets equate seasons with other things – spring with new life, and winter with death. That got me wondering – does that mean that when Stevens says the person who enjoys the stillness of winter is not just cold, but actually dead? Spooky.

Footnotes — love ’em or hate ’em? (Hate ’em. A lot)

I am not a footnote kind of girl. I know they’re there to help me understand a text, but in all honesty they just kind of annoy me and most of the time I completely disregard them until I absolutely have to consult them. T.S. Eliot makes my “ostrich-with-its-head-in-the-sand” approach of flippancy impossible to maintain and while part of me admires him for it, I also kind of resent it.

In all seriousness, though, “The Waste Land” has a lot of footnotes, as I’m sure everyone has noticed. Them being the poet’s notes, I figured they were important to read, so I dutifully pulled myself out of the poem to read the little informational text every time I hit a little number — and got completely lost. There was such an overwhelming amount that it became completely impossible to understand what the poem was trying to say, because I was so busy going back and forth between poem and footnote. So I did what I do best and gave up.

Eventually I had to put on my big girl pants and try again, and I realized that the only way to understand both footnote and poem, was to read the poem in its entirety, process what it was on its own, and then go back and read Eliot’s notes. It might be an unconventional way of dealing with footnotes, but it was the only way they wouldn’t ruin the actual work for me.

All of my struggles and annoyances aside, the footnotes themselves struck me as two things: pretentious, and helpful. Eliot giving his reader the information they might need to understand his poetry was very helpful. He understood that people might have trouble, and wanted them to be able to understand context and really get the full essence of the poem. That was very sweet of him. However, it also strikes me as a little bit obnoxious, because I get a vibe that with his footnotes, he’s preening and showing everyone how smart and clever he is. All, “look at how cultured I am that I can use all of these references and allusions, and because I know you are not that well educated, I’ll help you out *pats head condescendingly*”. I mean, h8ers gonna h8, of course, and I might just be down on Eliot because he made me read a novel worth of footnotes.

Articles of Faith — Dean Young for Presentation

Disclaimer: the spacing on this is wrong, but if you read it you’ll at least understand the gist of the poem and you’ll get the photo copies tomorrow.

Articles of Faith

 

I used to like Nicole Kidman

now I like Kirsten Dunst.

Jennifer Aniston is a schmuck

but Brad’s sure a rotter

even if I was the only one who liked him in Troy

he had the Achillean pout right.

I much prefer the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s environmental warning

to the Invisible Man’s exploration of neurosis

although in the update with Kevin Bacon

I like the nudity.

When it says at the bottom in small print

language, gore and nudity

I like that

but the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

made me cry on an airplane,

got to be from the lack of cabin pressure.

Grown men should not wear shorts in airports

unless they are baggage handlers.

Bearded men should never play the flute.

Most heavy metal music is anger over repressed homoerotic urges

is the sort of idea that got me beat up in high school.

There is nothing sadder than a leaf

falling from a tree then catching an updraft higher than the tree

then getting stuck in a gutter.

Symbolism is highly suspicious because it can’t be helped.

There is always something you can never touch, neer have

but there it is, right in front of you.

The opposite is also true.

Even though the bells are ringing

your glissando is private.

Truth labors to kee up with the tabloids.

Every word is a euphemism.

Every accident is organized by a secret system

and you’re telling me life isn’t personal?

The starfish disgorges its stomach to devour its prey.

A network of deceptions festoons the cortege.

An X-Acto knife cuts a kingfisher from an oil company ad.

In the beginning the divine creator wrote 999 words and created

999 demigods to translate each word into 999 words and 999

angels to translate each translated word into 999 words and

999 exalted priests to translate each translated word of the

translated words into 999 and we are an error in the

transcription of one of those words.

Vows exchanged in an aerodrome.

Ovals without consequence.

Masterpiece wrapping paper.

The hurricane makes of homes exploded brains.

Central Intelligence Agency.

The early explorers were extremely agitated men, antisocial, violent,

prone to drink.

Demons walk the earth.

Says so on a T-shirt.

We are born defenseless.

It’s a miracle.

 

The Stages of Grief and Loving Again

This week I’d like to talk about Tennyson’s “In Memoriam A.H.H.” While all of the poems for this week dealt with death, I found Tennyson’s to be the most moving and thought-provoking. Reading “In Memoriam A.H.H.” I really felt that Tennyson was close to the deceased, which was a feeling I lacked with the other poems.

“In Memoriam A.H.H.” takes us on the journey of death with Tennyson. Rather than just telling us the story of how his almost-brother-in-law died and the immediate aftermath of his death, we’re with Tennyson through his entire period of grief. It’s interesting how each section of the poem conveys a different stage of said grief.

For example, in the first few sections of the poem, Tennyson uses very dark language and imagery, such as “to dance with death, to beat the ground” and “beats out the little lives of men.” The darkness in his tone expresses his anger at his loss. Then later, in section 11, Tennyson talks about how he feels calm, but “a calm despair,” which could be seen as a form of depression. However, slowly but surely, we follow Tennyson on his journey of acceptance. Instead of being angry that his friend is gone, he starts wishing for Hallam to be near him, like in section 50. He then goes on to realize that his friend will be with him forever in his words, in the “noble letters of the dead.” He realizes that he can still be touched by his friend from the past by reading his poetry, and he can find solace in that. And then finally, in the final section of the poem Tennyson realizes that Hallam is all around him in nature.

This last section is incredibly beautiful, as Tennyson describes how he’s found his friend back around him, and how his love for him continues to be as strong as it was when he was alive, and how he will never lose Hallam, even if Tennyson himself dies.

The other thing that caught my attention in “In Memoriam A.H.H.” was the repetition in certain sections. In section 11 and section 50, each stanza starts with the same word or phrase. I think this might represent the way Tennyson was feeling at the time — perhaps a feeling of being stuck in his grief and using the same words over and over were a way to express that in writing, although that is just speculation.

Another thing I wanted to note, is that because we only have a selection of this poem, it’s impossible to really grasp it as a whole. I’m sure the progression of his grief and coping are fleshed out more in its entirety when the whole poem is read as one.

That Time I Tried To Make The Poem Fit My Aesthetic And It Didn’t

I’m going to admit, I’m feeling a little repetitive in my blog posts already. I’m not sure if that means I’m simply not learning the things I think I’m learning, or if I’m just incredibly stubborn and want every poet to write the way I want them to. Knowing myself, it’s probably the latter. Nonetheless, I will once again be writing about rhyme, and lack thereof, in this week’s poems.

William Woodworth’s “Lines” doesn’t have a rhyme scheme at all. It still reads pleasurably, because his rhythm is pleasant and continuous, and once you realize you don’t have to look for a rhyme, it stops seeming necessary. The same is true for Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight.” Once again, because there is no rhyme, you don’t try to find the rhyme scheme and make the poem adhere to it. You can let go, because you know there’s nothing to hold on to.

Woodworth’s “Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned” are the exact opposite. Every stanza follows the “ABAB” rhyme scheme (the next being “CDCD” and then “EFEF” and so on), making it a predictable and incredibly pleasurable poem to read. They sound almost like nursery rhymes and every rhyme payoff is satisfying. It’s easy to focus on the meaning of the poem because you can anticipate sounds, thus putting all your energy on the meaning of the words. Again, highly pleasurable.

And then there’s “Dejection: An Ode.” I cannot even word how frustrated I felt reading this. Everyone is entitled to their tastes and opinions, of course, but I couldn’t stand it. The first three stanzas were doable. They followed a decent rhyme scheme that helped me anticipate when rhymes were expected and when they were not. However, then stanza four hit and I blanched. AABCBBCBDEFE. It was unreasonably annoying to expect a rhyme, or think you’ve figured out how the rhythm is going to go, only to be thrown a curveball of a new rhyming letter. One that never even comes back to rhyme with again. Same with stanza 5; AABBCDCCCCEFFGHGH. I’d love to know what made him use C rhymes so many times, and then drop an orphan D and E in there, never to return again. It was so frustrating for me to read that the meaning of the poem was lost completely, because I was so focused on trying to find a rhyme, that in the end I had no idea what I even read.

The Eccho That Never Stops Ringing. Ever.

Epithalamion. Where do I even start?

Epithalamion is, without a doubt, the longest and most difficult poem I have ever read. Each time I set out to write these blog posts, I think of the prompt question “what made you stop in your tracks while you were reading?” For Epithalamion, I stopped before I even started. Realizing this poem was a full ten pages was so incredibly discouraging that I closed my book and procrastinated for at least two more days. Then I finally started and it took me an embarrassingly long time to get through it, only to realize that I actually had absolutely no idea what I read. Not only was the length a challenge, but the wording was indecipherable to me as well. Had this poem been written in Modern English, I probably would have flown through it and maybe even enjoyed it, but the Old English writing was troublesome. Admittedly, I put the book down again and gave up a second time.

What I realized later was that the only way to get through this poem was to do it in increments, and, unfortunately, by translating line for line. I ended up doing it one stanza at a time, with copious amounts of breaks and gummy bear rewards. The only thing that I was able to hold on to each time that I read the poem, was the final line in each stanza, about the ringing eccho. Despite my struggles with the poem, having a repeating line at the end of each stanza to grasp on to made the form and intent clearer, and made it manageable.

As far as “ideas to overcome these difficulties,” I have very little. Like I said, line-for-line translations are probably the best way to go, as well as breaking up the amount of time you try to spend with one poem before you end up ripping all your hair out.

To W.E.B. Du Bois

As I’m sure everyone noticed, Hughes’s “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” does not follow a traditional rhyme scheme or form. There are phrases and words that repeat, but even those are done loosely, without structure. That was the first thing that made this poem hard for me to read and understand. When I read poetry I really exaggerate the rhythm in my head – it makes it easier to find the flow and figure out what the point of the line is, and even the poem in general. It probably comes from memorizing music lyrics, but the fact of the matter is that I still do it. In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” I couldn’t. That was the first thing that made me hesitate while reading it.

After a few tries, I finally gave up on finding the musicality in the poem, and instead focused on the words on the page. Without trying so hard to make the words conform to a melody, they spoke to me much more. Understanding the poem after a few tries was no longer an issue, and I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out what Hughes is trying to say with it. Rivers are eternal, deep, and cannot be hurt. He’s comparing his soul to rivers, and saying that he is eternal, deep, and cannot be hurt.

However, none of these things are really what struck me the hardest about “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” The thing that struck me the most was the dedication. I’ve read some of W.E.B Du Bois’s work, and for the most part I know what he was about – a big leader in Civil Rights activism. Part of me sees how this poem speaks to that. How comparing a soul to an eternal river is relevant to Civil Rights. And yet, I can’t fully wrap my head around it. I don’t know enough about Hughes or Du Bois to make the connection. To really understand this poem, I feel like I would need to delve much, much deeper into the history of these two men, and find out exactly how it matters.