Posts Tagged ‘I don’t always drink to poets but when I do…wait just kidding yes I do’

That’s a Wrap

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Some notes for the final stretch:

  • I will hold regular office hours this Thursday, 11-12.  On Friday, my office hour will be moved from late afternoon to 10-11 because of Kemp Symposium.
  • This blog will CLOSE for graded business on Saturday, April 27, at midnight.
  • You should check the blog before our final exam slot (Wednesday, May 1, 12-2:30) in case there are any announcements.
  • The final recitations/celebrations will be held in the Parlor of the Mansion.  Yummies are welcome.
  • Apparently the syllabus says that at the final exam you must recite a poem from the Norton anthology that is not on our syllabus.  ACK.  I blew that.  You may recite at least 14 contiguous lines from any poem of our primary authors or from the anthology.

Stand-up, Slam-down

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Don’t you just love when things line up in your life? I do, and today, it happened!

For the past two weeks, I’ve forgone my usual lunch break to attend the Anthropology Department’s Senior Thesis Presentations from 11-11:50 every Monday/Wednesday/Friday. My favorite of today’s lecture had to do with the way “black humor” is used as a form of political resistance against the day-to-day stereotypes made about people of color. My pant-suited classmate argued that Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock are perhaps the best examples of this in action.

After showing clips from the above videos, Mandy asked the audience: Do you think this is effective in changing racial stereotypes? Those who spoke up agreed that Chapelle and Rock’s stand-up acts presented a double-edged sword: On one hand, they exposed just how ridiculous the popular assumptions that comprise racial stereotypes are. On the other, the giggly conversational delivery by each comic, created a window for listeners to take their statements less seriously (than perhaps they ought to) and/or laugh, then move on. What was missing from the performance was the incentive to change their behavior, and do so with a sense of urgency.

Slam Poetry seems to be the new-improved model of poltically-charged stand-up. Sure audience members involuntarily laugh at Staceyann Chin’s one liners:

“she tells me how she was a raving beauty in the sixties
how she could have had any man she wanted
but she chose the one least likely to succeed
and that’s why when the son of a bitch died
she had to move into this place
because it was government subsidized.”


“Will I still be lesbian then
or will the church or family finally convince me
to marry some man with a smaller dick
than the one my woman uses to afford me
violent and multiple orgasms”

But she isn’t laughing. Her humorless delivery makes a statement that no one can misinterpret. In the end we are downright scared of her (or at least I was).

What do you think?

Spoken Word Videos for next week

Monday, April 15th, 2013

1.  For Monday:

Go to Def Poetry on channel musikslove (81 videos) and watch the following:

  • Black Ice, “Imagine” #16
  • Gina Loring, “Somewhere There Is a Poem” #19
  • Sunni Patterson, “We Made It” #76
  • Suheir Hammad, “First Writing Since” #77

Go to urbanrenewalprogram (80 videos) and watch the following:

  • Linton Kwesi Johnson, “If I was a top notch poet”
  • Staceyann Chin, “If only out of vanity”
  • Jessica Care Moore, “I’m a hip-hop cheerleader”
  • Erykah Badu, “Friends, fan, and artists”
  • Danny Hoch, “Corner Talk, September”
  • Amiri Baraka, “Why is we Americans”
  • Beau Sia, “Give me a chance”
  • Taylor Mali, “What teachers make”

2. For Wednesday:

Videos are student choice.  In Comments on this post, provide the name of the artist, the name of the poem, and the link (paste it in and it will go live when you post the comment).   RULES:

  • The poem must be recorded in a performance, and should NOT be a video production.
  • Each student may post only one video, so choose wisely!  It is NOT mandatory that you choose a poem.

For Monday

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

New Walcott  readings, replacing White Egrets:

The Sea is History

A Far Cry from Africa

Sea Grapes (or listen to DW read)

Dark August


Midsummer, Tobago

The Schooner Flight

Still Looking for “The Lost Empire”

Friday, April 12th, 2013

I left class today feeling conflicted over our interpretation of Walcott’s Caribbean in “The Lost Empire”.

Now I have never been the Caribbean myself. However, I do sail, and that interest has thrust me into a community of those who spend winters there, maintaining boats whose owners are unwilling to both risk the damages of an east coast mooring or crew the vessel themselves. The result of this intimacy gives me an interesting perspective on the archipelago which Walcott describes to “look as if a continent fell and scattered into fragments” (lyric II, lines 2-3). This perspective is one which begs me argue against sentiments of the “small place produc[ing] nothing but beauty.”

The islands I perceive are home to a giant social george. That is, a gaping  chasm between rich and poor. The exact opposite of a “simplifying light” the author illustrates four lines from the bottom. Perhaps those who can afford it are “receiving vessels of each day’s grace”, but those who cannot seem to be receiving vessels of capitalist colonial fallout. Without an infrastructure to protect them from exploitation, the islands have become a bona fide waste basket for the overnight tourism boom. Pollution runs rampant under a disposable standard, and a people who may have once attempted to husband the albeit picturesque landscape are now plagued with Western growing pains.

It surprises me that Walcott doesn’t see this. Or that we are unable to trace an appropriate irony in his “content”. Lyrics I and II must be sewn together somehow. After centuries of haunting, “The Spectre of Empire” surely didn’t just pack up and leave….



Making People Look

Monday, April 8th, 2013

When discussing Yusef Komunyakaa’s “History Lessons”, Professor Scanlon said how in part, this poem was about “making people look” at the realities of race relations during the civil rights era time, and that struck me, because I believe that “making people look” is the theme of all of Komunyakaa’s work, not only with “History Lessons” and “The Whistle”, but with his “Dien Cai Dau” poems as well.

I cannot help but project my own thoughts and feelings onto Komunyakaa’s work, so perhaps I am being too introspective, but I think that the time he spent in Vietnam really aided in the expository nature of his poems.  Having spent time traveling in Vietnam myself, I can definitely see how “making people look” is much more of a cultural norm there than it is here.  Here, when American readers are forced to look at ugly, harsh, painful, and oftentimes embarrassing reflections of their own society, the reaction of the readers is that of shock.  We’re not made to look at harsh realities enough, and I think Komunyakaa knows that.

An interesting example of this is when I visited the Vietnam/American War Museum in Saigon.  The theme of the museum was to really expose the events of the war to the public in a very honest and visual way.  There are several rooms and floors to the museum, each one dedicated to a different problem caused by the war through walls and walls of large photographs.  The room that definitely sticks out the most is the Agent Orange room, in which there were masses of pictures of nothing but children and their malformed bodies as a result of Agent Orange. Other picture galleries in the museum were of people who were physically disabled because of the war, people who were mourning the loss of loved ones, and people who were in the middle of fighting.  What I saw in pictures, though, Komunyakaa saw first hand.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that Vietnam really really really affected Komunyakaa and his writing style, and I’m diggin it, because I think it’s important for people to see what they don’t necessarily want to.  Homeless people, disabled people, impoverished disfigured children, mourning wives, fighting soldiers, butchered animals, beautiful paddies and jungles and villages turned into warzones….all of these things deserve to be seen, just like the racially charged and violent scenes of the American civil rights movement deserve to be seen. So, way to go, Komunyakaa!  I’m diggin you.

My Heart is Exploding!

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Allen Ginsberg and Paul McCartney team up for “A Ballad of American Skeletons,” a poem with accompaniment!

Ginsberg & McCartney! <3

“You and I Are Disappearing”

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Okay, I felt the need to rant because I am madly in love with this poem and Komunyakaa in general. I wish our discussion today could have continued because it is so interesting to me the different ways that this poem can be read! I love how some of the images of burning are fake or not literally burning, like dry ice, foxfire, and a shot of vodka. I also am swooning over the last line: “She burns like a burning bush driven by a godawful wind.” To me, this is Komunyakaa being cynical about the purpose of all of these innocent Vietnamese people having to die. Unlike Moses, who received a message from the burning bush and ultimately, the Ten Commandments, there was no distinct message in this girl’s death. He is commenting upon the fact that she burned but to what purpose? He portrays this frustration and confusion by calling the wind “godawful,” which is also a play on words considering that God spoke to Moses through the burning bush. Anyway, just a bit of ranting and obsession about this poem!

daM goD

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

During Monday’s discussion of “Looking a Mad Dog Dead in the Eyes,” Sarah’s comment about reading “Mad Dog” as an anagram blew my mind.

I believe the speaker is criticizing man’s relationship with God. Furthermore, I think the speaker is calling on man to take back control and suggests that man should assert his power over God.

I think this has to be a myth, or at least partially a myth, but growing up I was always told that there was a simple way to establish dominance with a dog (granted, I was terrified of dogs much of my young life so there’s a good chance this was a lie adults told me, thinking I might find it comforting). I was told that one must look a dog dead in the eyes and hold its gaze to assert power until the dog ultimately looks away.

I think it’s interesting to think that this poem is criticizing the way we have been trained to worship God and calling on us, instead, to train God…even if this all does sound a bit Mad.


Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Although I don’t usually like poetry about war or battles, Komunyakaa’s word choice and descriptions just made me dead in every one of his poems in the Dien Cai Dau (Vietnamese for I am crazy or you make me crazy)  section for tomorrow. I particularly loved “You and I are Disappearing”. I looked up Bjorn Hakansson (the one who said the title) and he was a really cool guy-he had underdeveloped arms due to a pill his mom took during pregnancy and went on to form a group that helps others in similar situations. I don’t know the context in which the quote was said, but I’m curious as to why Komunyakaa chose that as the title.  (

I’m just going to list a few of my favorite lines/phrses because I just loved “You and I are Disappearing  so much:

  • The cry I bring down from the hills/ belongs to a girl still burning/ inside my head.
  • We stand with our hands/ hanging at our sides
  • She burns like oil on water.
  • A tiger under a rainbow / at nightfall.
  • She burns like a shot glass of vodka.
  • She rises like dragonsmoke/ to my nostrils.

As someone else mentioned, the line breaks are superbly orchestrated, giving the poem extra punch and adding an extra layer of awesomeness. I am just blown away by the creativity that takes place to come up with lines like “A tiger under a rainbow / at nightfall” when describing the girl burning. Komunyakaa is a genius when it comes to word choice and descriptions and I can’t wait to go all fangirl when we talk about him in class tomorrow.