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“Jabberwocky” is a poem famous for its utter nonsense. Like much of the setting in “Alice Through the Looking Glass” follows dream logic, this poem seems to follow nonsense logic. It feels like every other word is completely made-up, yet taken as a whole the poem makes perfect sense. Carroll wrote this poem in a childrens’ book, so he had to know that to keep a young mind engaged he would have to do something to make the poem stand out. His nonsense words feel like words that a young brain would create, and are typically alliterized onomatopoeias. There is little deeper meaning I could find in the poem – I think it is very much what it says on the tin. But nonetheless, this poem has infected our culture and uses language in a way that almost makes me think of a childish Shakespeare.

Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”

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Last year, my English teacher showed us around a dozen poems to briefly discuss with the class. In this set was “Wild Geese”, and my class starting analyzing it by talking about the surface level aspects of the poem. Many people called it simple and straight-forward, and yet I believed it to be the opposite. Oliver starts by addressing the reader when she writes “You do not have to be good.” This personal tone of her words works to make readers feel understood as the speaker reminds readers that they do not have to go on their knees repenting for every bad thing they’ve done. The poem continues to remind readers that life moves on despite struggle. This could be the extent for analysis, yet I find the addition of animals in this poem to be an outlet for a deeper message. The speaker writes about the wild geese who, despite all, continue to fly back and head home again. Oliver continues to remind readers that the world “offers itself to your imagination” and calls to you like the wild geese, “harsh and exciting”. Here the speaker insinuates that all humans have a home to return too just like the wild geese, although this home is not known and not yet reached. The poem ends with describing how the world calls “over and over announcing your place in the family of things”. I find this line (and the rest of this poem) to be incredibly comforting, and its ambiguity allows for all readers to find comfort in these words despite getting different messages from the poem. The subject shift is very interesting, and works to remind readers to not worry about the minute details of life and to also remember that all living creatures have a true “home” in this world that they are heading too. 

An Agony. As Now.

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I wasn’t initially going to post about this, but the more I continued to think about this poem, the more I realized that I had some thoughts that I wanted to express, and posting seemed to be the best place to do so.

This poem essentially describes the torture of living inside one’s own body. The initial lines are “I am inside someone/ who hates me” (1-2). This quickly made me think of body dysmorphia and depression. There is a dissociation between the body and the soul, which is fascinating. Many people, myself included, sometimes feel that you are merely watching your life progress without any agency. You are essentially a passenger inside yourself. However, upon many rereads, I realized that this may only be the half-truth of the poem. Acknowledging that Baraka is black, I believe that this poem reflects the struggles of a black man to survive in the 1960s; this period comes from the date this poem was published.

There seems to be this description of pain and suffering throughout the poem, both physically and mentally. However, the lines that mainly stuck out to me were “This is the enclosure (flesh, /where innocence is a weapon” (12-13). Black men, even in modern society, are typically viewed as violent, especially when compared to white men. There is this conception of systemic racism that exists in us today; as such, a black man, such as Baraka, may begin to believe these perceptions about himself and view himself as a weapon and no longer as innocent. 

We Real Cool

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I loved this poem. Truly. It speaks to me as a poem about the inherent rebellion of youth, as well as the inevitable understanding of mortality that accompanies growing up. The content and the form, in my opinion, both complement and contradict each other beautifully; while the poem itself is about scrappy, rebellious youths, the rhythm and rhyme of the pom is almost singsongy, with a consistent 3-syllable line structure, each its own beat. It feels smooth, casual, with lines like “we real cool”, giving it an almost conversational feel. The constant enjambment (or at least I think that’s what it is) pulls the reader through the poem, making each statement flow into the next, continuously. Each stanza descends further into debauchery, with the first describing the relatively innocent act of skipping school, and the last ending in death. The kids in the poem have seemingly adopted the “live fast, die young” philosophy, as each action leads to another. Where once they were simply rebellious, they are now delinquents, excempt from the rules of mature society. The alliteration also emphasizes words that create this narrative, with the vivid and slightly unconventional ideas like “singing sin”. The similar sounds give the phrase a lyrical feel, while also painting a picture of innocent acts perverted by rebellious youth. 

On another, slightly related note, I was struck by the tone of the piece. More specifically, the ways in which the speakers are quintessentially inhabiting the space of young-adulthood. They play at adulthood, mimicking what they perceive to be “grownup”. They “lurk late” and “strike straight”. They engage in activities that make them feel mature, when in reality, the entire poem speaks of an almost childlike immaturity. It seems as though they are in an elaborate game of pretend, with the light tone of the poem betraying how they don’t quite grasp the consequences of their actions— that is, until the very end. The last line is a sinister resolution, a dark and ominous realization of what is to come.

“The Bean Eaters”

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“The Bean Eaters” is a very striking poem in its mundanity. The focus of the poem is an old couple that seem just like any other – their skin has yellowed in their old age, they don’t eat any fancy meals – they are simply remaining and waiting for their time. Based on the fact that this poem is from 1960, the old couple likely lived through the hardships of the Great Depression and WWII, and you get this sense from just how simple their lifestyle is. They’ve seen the horrors of the world and lived through times where people had nothing, and now they live together with their cheap silverware and hoarded receipts. From the lines “Two who have lived their day, / But keep putting on their clothes / And putting things away” the reader gets a sense that they are just hanging on. They don’t have any real purpose left but living. But they still remember how it used to be.

I Was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move

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When you think of your ancestry, how does it make you feel? Do you feel a strong connection to its culture and influences, or does it feel like a fleeting memory?

“I Was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move” has Louise Erdrich explore her ethnic background as the daughter of a German-American father and half-Ojibwa mother. Her poem features elements of her Native American heritage through imagery and the conceit of the heron and a flood.

For me, I feel a sense of heartbreak in this poem. Due to settlers coming and taking over Native American lands, the people who lived there were forced to find new lands to settle. The poem brings about that despair through its first two stanzas. It talks of a flood that swept through and destroyed the nests of the herons, a direct reference to the conquering of America and its impact on Native American lives. This is further emphasized with strong, forceful language like “Wrestling” (Line 5), “broken” (Line 6), and “dragged” (Line 8). And when the people walk among the branches, the branches whitened under the sun— a cleansing of Native American history.

Yet, the people still remember the herons’ dance above the sky. As the grandfather said: “These are the ghosts of the tree people/moving among us, unable to take their rest.” (Line 22–23) This restlessness of the herons and their ties to the tree people highlights the scarring aftermath of conquering territories and how the people yearn to reclaim their ancestral homes, emphasized in the final stanza as the herons dance around in the sky.

The Bean Eaters

Loading Likes... For my final blog post I chose to write about “The Bean Eaters”. From this poem I took away a message about nostalgia and human’s tendency to yearn for the past. The poem paints a bleak picture of a couple in their elderly age. I found that the poem’s title really encapsulated the entirety of the poem. The title “The Bean Eaters” not only references such a mundane task that all humans do, but also mentions one of the most plain and simple foods that there is. This lack of detail and simplicity seems to be carried on throughout the poem in details like the plain dishware and walking through tasks like putting on clothes with barely any detail. I found that the surface level explanation and detail in the poem painted a picture of a very nondescript couple, one where you could think of this couple as anyone. I think that that’s the point of this poem, that anyone can relate to the sullen feeling of everyday life and the yearning for the past that the final stanza describes.

As I mentioned earlier the first two stanzas paint the picture of a rather versatile couple, almost faceless. It is in the final stanza of the poem that I feel it reaches its meaning. In this stanza line three is particularly longer than other lines in the poem. This line lists elements and memories that remind the couple of the past. I found that the length of this line emphasized the degree to which the couple is remembering. I think this is meant to be a commentary on human’s tendency to lean towards nostalgia and miss out on the beauty of the present. Hence why when the poem describes the present it is rather bleak and sullen.

Post-We Real Cool.

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I’m pretty confident Prof. Oerlemans made a remark about how we’re at a point where the poets we are now reading have recordings of them reading their poems, and interviews. Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem We Real Cool was published in 1960, but we have her commentary on the poem. (Found here -> <-) Admittedly, I can not find the exact date this recording was made, but It would probably have to be after 1987 (The invention of the mp3 file format).

Having this interview as a resource is insightful; Through it we learn about the poem’s exigence, a funny misinterpretation, and one of its line’s greater significance.

  • In the interview, Gwendolyn Brooks talks about what prompted her to write this poem: She was walking around her community during school hours when she noticed a group of school boys playing pool. She thought to herself how they must feel, and how they would feel if they had more awareness. This is reflected in We Real Cool, where the speaker of the poems refers to themself as “We.” Brooks inserts her own views on the childrens’ delinquency through the speaker of the poem: Their delinquent lifestyle where they “strike straight,” (Play pool instead of be in school) and they “thin gin,” (Create alcohol) will result in their early misfortune.
  • In the interview, Brooks talks about the reason behind her poems frequent ban: The line “We / Jazz June.” is often interpreted as a sexual innuendo. Brooks denies this behind the original intention of the lines, but admits that the interpretation is fitting.
  • In the interview, Brooks talks about the significance behind her choice of month in the poem: June. There really isn’t a meaning at all. June is just a nice and uncontentious month. There is absolutely nothing significant about the month of June. Why are you still reading this bullet point. Move on already. If anyone tries to insist that the month of June is significant please shut them down. 

As Agony. As Now

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Amiri Baraka’s “As Agony. As Now” does not have a single line that isn’t tinted with suffering or a single stanza that doesn’t make readers’ skin crawl. The poem describes the feeling of being a stranger to your own body, as if your soul is a separate entity from your physical form. This work is riddled with disturbing diction and imagery, and perfectly is able to describe every human action in a perturbing way. Baraka describes the “fouled tunes that come in to his breath”, the “enclosure” of a body in which he is encaged in, and the “cold air blown through narrow blind eyes”. He also writes the word “flesh” 6 times and the word “pain” 4 times, which adds to the overall atmosphere of this poem. There are also many phrases that seem to contradict each other. The speaker speaks of the disgusting smells and feelings he gets in this body, and also questions if he feels pain.  Yet later in the poem he writes that “it has no feeling” just to on to say that “It burns the thing inside it. And that thing screams.” These contractions make the poem feel incredibly personal, as if readers are hearing the subconscious and conscious thoughts of an individual as they are having this horrible experience. This poem immediately reminded me of William Faulkner’s “As I Laying Dying” in which characters have a similar stream of consciousness as they try to overcome loss and piece together the thoughts in their mind. The form of this poem is partially disorganized. Some parenthesis aren’t finished, there are many enjambments and caesuras, stanzas have varying line numbers, and a stanza is broken up weirdly in line 23. Yet, there is also a flow through the poem, as the stanzas begin to grow and then shrink as the poem concludes. This shows the chaos that inhabits the structure of the human mind. I really like this poem because it (along with many other modern poems) can really lead to a plethora of different interpretations, all surrounding the minds path to organize thoughts surrounding a traumatizing experience. 

Wislawa Szymborska

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Hi! I think it would be cool if we read a poem by Wislawa Szymborska for class on Thursday. She was from Poland and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. I read some of her poems in high school, and a few that I really liked were “The Silence of Plants” and “Snapshot of a Crowd.” Similarly to some of the poems we’ve read that help us think about the difference between humans and other animals, “The Silence of Plants” questions the relationship between humans and plants. I also really like “Snapshot of a Crowd” because it deals with human insignificance, and identity and just makes me think. This poem also is sort of ekphrastic, if we think of the picture she writes about as a work of art. Both poems also get at the issues involved in translation as both have been translated to English. It is always interesting to think about the art of translation, and how translation may change the message of the poem.

Here are links to both poems!

“The Silence of Plants”

“A Snapshot of a Crowd”