Sunday, January 31, 2010


"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn , burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars." Jack Kerouac

I adore the Beats, so I'm looking forward to discussing "Howl". There are so many parts of this that stand out, but for today, I'll share these words:"who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside
of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next
decade,". Love It! And if you don't like the Beats, if you don't like what Ginsberg says, you can go back to your Emily Dickenson, that's fine. But seriously, how can you not fall in love with the idea of just saying to hell with it, and 'casting your ballot for Eternity outside of time'?! and of course, no matter how hard we try, the next morning we're hit upside the head with the alarm clock. And that's how the best minds of his generation were destroyed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Ethics of Living Jim Crow

What a painful experience this read was. My friend sent me a link to a newspaper article in Augusta about a new basketball league trying to get a team sponsored. This basketball league is an all white league. The spokesman for the league talked about how they simply wanted to create a league for people who wanted to play regular ball without the risk of someone hitting them, or getting a gun pulled on them in the locker room, or foul language being used. Because white people never do any of those things. It wasn't the article itself that was most upsetting. It was the comments posted after the article. Bunch of tin foil hat wearing weirdos. All these people kept saying the same thing "why's it racist?!" and then rationalizing it, complaining about reversed racism, etc. I was tempted to post the link for this essay, and say simply "until your entire culture has experienced THIS at the hands of an entire country, until everyone you consider part of your race has stories like THIS, let's not throw out the reverse racism card, and let's be honest with ourselves."


Can I be honest? I have a difficult time writing these blogs. Were I simply writing a private response to the professor, I'd have no problem putting my thoughts down. But knowing that all of you are reading (or at least could read, if you cared) what I say makes me just a little more self conscious than I already am. So every time I sit down to write, feeling like I have so much to say, I get a few sentences down, then delete it and go check my facebook. Having said that, hopefully I can now move on, and discuss what I enjoyed about this short story.
Hurston uses the story of Eden, and adds a wicked twist to create her short story. What I find most interesting about this story is the obvious role reversals. First, there is the title of the story: Sweat. In the Biblical story, God tells Adam that he will earn his keep by the sweat of his brow. Yet, here we see Delia doing the earning and the sweating. Also, we have the serpent. There is still enmity between the woman and the snake, as in the story in Genesis. But again, where Adam was the protector of Eve, Sykes is the antagonizer of Delia, torturing her through her fear of snakes. The most important scene in the entire story, is that final scene, as Sykes drags himself on his belly across the lawn towards Delia who stands under the tree, watching. He has become the serpent, and here she stands at the foot of the tree, again reckoning back to the story of Eden, watching as he comes to the same knowledge as she.
After reading this story, while I liked it, I wondered 'so what does this have to do with the Harlem Renaissance?' And I started to dig a little deeper. According to Barbara Johnson "Hurston's work is often called non-political simply because readers of Afro-American literature tend to look for confrontational racial politics, not sexual politics"( Baum concludes that a tension exists between the black characters' attempts to assert meaning in their lives and the white world's oppression of those lives. "Hurston's assertion . . . is of a promising world outside the dominant culture, a world created by human beings as a stay against confusion, as a potent denial of sacrifice and suffering"(ibed). A lot of interesting stuff at work in this story, as well as the rest of her works. Many critics have often taken Hurston out of the political frame work simply because her works are not inherently race related.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Harlem Rennaissance

James Weldon Johnson "The White Witch"
The speaker in this poem warns his younger brothers to beware the white witch. Is this simply a warning to avoid sexual relations with white women? Definitely sexual relations between the races at this time was considered by both sides to be taboo, but the symbolism Johnson uses in this poem speaks of a more subtle relationship. "Her lips are like carnations red,/ Her face like new-born lilies fair,/ Her eyes like ocean waters blue,/ She moves with subtle grace and air,/ And all about her head there floats/ The golden glory of her hair." This woman's coloring is strikingly red, white and blue-she is the true American woman. "And back behind those smiling lips,/ and down within those laughing eyes,/ and underneath the soft caress/ Of hand and voice and purring sighs,/the shadow of the panther lurks,/ The spirit of the vampire lies." On further examination, Johnson is comparing lying with a white woman to embracing the American ideals. America advertises itself as "the land of the free", but the speaker warns his black brothers not to be fooled by any of it. In spite of economical freedom being granted African-Americans, the Jim Crow laws, and legalized segregation and subtle racism of the north, are perhaps even more dangerous than the "ancient hag and snaggle tooth" of which they are accustomed. Johnson's narrator says "your only safety lies in flight", referring back to the idea of Pan Africanism that Johnson and others supported.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Much of Eliot’s poetry explores the relationship between the sacred and the profane, and how one lives in the profane world while striving for the sacred. As he says, it’s fitting the square to the circle. “Journey of the Magi”, one of the Ariel poems, was written around the time of Eliot’s own personal conversion. Through the eyes of one of the three wise men, Eliot explores traveling the road of religion paved in a profane world, and the complexities that come with choosing that religious path. After seeing the Christ child, and returning to his native land, the Magus feels “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,/With an alien people clutching their god”. His conversion, which is a combined death and birth results in an existence out of sync with the rest of the world. After such long and weary traveling, he says it was…satisfactory. Not the word one expects in describing the birth of the Son of God. But conversion, coming to worship at the feet of the Savior, rarely ends with fireworks and cotton candy.
The Magus questions what led them there. Was it Birth or was it Death? In Christianity, it is Christ’s death that makes His birth something worth noticing. No one would note the birth of a child in an obscure village in the Middle East, had not that child, according to Christianity, proceeded to suffer a heinous death and miraculous resurrection 33 years later. This is one aspect that the Magus ponders. ON the other hand, at his conversion, was he reborn, or did his previous self pass away? And if it is both, and the Birth brings only this other-world existence, then the only thing to do is await the next death, and birth into the next world.

Stevens and imagism

Imagism and Stevens

The imagist movement focused on the use of precisely accurate language in poetry. One of the basic tenets was "to use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word” ( Ezra Pound described the movement as "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." Pound, in listing what imagist poets must do, explained specifically, “Don't use such an expression as 'dim lands of peace.' It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer's not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol”. Imagism based its philosophy and approach on the focus on the object, as focusing on abstractions and sentimentalities was considered dishonest. Imagists were also influenced by the Japanese haiku, as this form of poetry typically means more than is actually written, all while avoiding huge abstractions and overt sentimentality. Though Stevens was truly influenced by the imagist movement, and in some cases is considered one of the American imagists, he did find fault with the movement, as some images carry more importance to others, in his opinion. The heavy imagist influence is prevalent in both “Thirteen Ways” and “Study of Two Pears”.

In a Station of the Metro-Ezra Pound

THE apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

Thirteen Ways excerpt

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stay Gold, Ponyboy

"Nothing Gold Can Stay" was the first poem I ever memorized. I was eleven going on twelve, and had just moved across the country for the fourth time in my life. While unpacking my dad's leather bound book collection, I thumbed through his first edition of Robert Frost, and there it was-change is constant, and each change, though it triggers a sense of loss, leads only to more greatness. The dawn is lovely with its delicate colors, but the day is when we truly awaken. Yes Eden sank to grief, and with the Fall came both loss of innocence and a fuller experience of life.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Rose for Emily

Oh, Faulkner! I. Love. Him. I love his ability to explore the crazy side of humanity, in such a real and believable way. Nobody finishes this story by saying "no way, that wouldn't happen". Instead, we all say "Emily's a fruitcake! Crazy old bat slept next to (and maybe even with, for all we know) a dead man, not once, but for YEARS!" What drove her to do it? Emily's life is ruled by time, it haunts her throughout the story. When the men of the town come to visit her late in life, they even hear the ticking of the clock hidden at the end of the gold chain. The years go ticking past her, second by second, as her hair begins to fade shade by shade to grey. Who hasn't wanted to freeze that one perfect moment of happiness for ever? And Emily does-she beats time by stopping it for the one glimmer of happiness, or possibly even existence she possessed when she kills Homer Baron, and keeps him to herself. For all the effort Emily goes to for preserving that moment, it is only in death that the two are ever together, and even then, time goes on.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hills Like White Elephants

Hemingway packs a lot into this short, short story. Whenever I read stories like this one, I am reminded again why they are the writers, and I am not. Every word carries so much weight and meaning, nothing is being carelessly thrown around here. Which is, of course, why Hemingway is the master of the short story. So let's take a look at what's going on in this story. In so few words, Hemingway is able to explore a truly complex relationship and situation in this short story. Every time I read this story, I focus on Hemingway's use of 'girl'. She's a girl, while he's an American man. That obviously portrays the balance of power between the two in this relationship: he's a man, and she's a girl. I would argue, however, that the content being discussed by these two definitely shows who is the powerful one and who isn't. Maybe she was a girl before, but at this train station, at these cross roads, I would argue that she becomes a woman. She recognizes that 'cutting it out', or 'letting the air in', is going to cost her. Whatever decision she makes, she's losing something that she'll never get back. Either she has the abortion and loses the child, or she keeps the child and loses the man. While we never really know what decision she makes, I would argue that by the end of the story, she's not a girl, she's a woman.