Saturday, December 12, 2009

Adrienne Rich tells it like it is

I have often heard of that in order for women to be seen as the equal of men, they have to work twice as hard just to be noticed. I think the poem's I looked at by Adrienne Rich fit squarely into this double-standard that has so far dictated a lot of our American society.

I Am In Danger--Sir:

"you, woman, masculine/in single-mindedness/for whom the word was more/than a symptom"

Adrienne Rich could or could not be writing about Emily Dickinson, because she never mentions a name. The footnotes in the Norton Anthology refer to Rich's poem in terms of the life of Emily Dickinson, in which she replies to Higginson, a correspondent and critic, as a playful but fierce undercutting of his criticism: "I am in Danger--Sir"! This is Rich's homage to Dickinson, who is described as masculine, perhaps because she matched the intellectual blow Higginson dealt and neutralized it. If he is saying "Oh you're crazy!", then she is saying, "Oh thanks, I'm crazy, what else is new?" This is the same thing as a man that says "You play [base]ball like a girl!", To which I would reply, "Thanks, (girls play ball just as great as guys) what else is new?!".

But I digress: Rich refers to Dickinson as masculine. Why? Is it her doubly-phallic-sounding last name? Is it her ability to matching wits with Higginson (and to beat him)? Or is it in her "single-mindedness", that she was able to focus on a single thing and be great at it, without being bogged down by trying to please others, by assimilating to the greater mainstream societal requirements?

I particularly like what Rich says about Dickinson's use of language being more than symptomatic of society--it relates closely to something James Baldwin wrote about a great writer: That one's language should be both a symptom and an examination of one's culture. Dickinson was removed from her surroundings, which allowed her to examine her state of being. She was acutely observant and she strikingly diagnosed her society. Perhaps this led to her going a little nuts, but she "chose to have it out at last/on [her] own premises". Much respect from Rich to Dickinson.

Regarding Marie Curie, Rich writes that "She died a famous woman denying/her wounds/denying/her wounds came from the same source as her power" (2658). Referring to my beginning statement, that women must work twice as hard as men just to be seen as equals, Rich's piece explores it. Marie Curie essentially died for her art, and she did it without appearing weak. The stereotype of women is that they are weaker than men. Whether this is the truth or whether it is not, the most common mindset is that men are stronger. Rich is explaining that for a woman, to hide her suffering is to be equal to a man. She must deny her wounds. For a man to show his wounds would mean a loss of power.

What does "Her wounds came from the same source as her power" mean? That she gains her power from her denial of pain? Her power comes from the radiation, which also causes her pain? The source of power is the acceptance into the male tradition, and so her wounds come from the tradition of men? I think all interpretations qualify!

Gwendolyn Brooks

the mother:

The poem starts off with "Abortions will not let you forget". This strong opening hits you, it's a direct confrontation, and there is no misunderstanding of the message that can be lost to interpretation. My first reaction to the poem was of a deep compassion for these "lost children". The speaker made the right choice at the time for her situation, but "even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate". It is not regretful, but it is remorseful. There is also certainly no lack of love in this decision (to go through with the abortions): "Believe me, I loved you all./Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I love, I loved you/All." Perhaps the act of terminating the life was the act of love: if the child was born, he or she would have "cried" and eventually "died". The speaker is preventing the child from experiencing the later inevitable tragedies of life.

I forgot exactly who said it, but it was about the nature of freedom: "Freedom is self-control". Whether this means self-control like independence from former slavery, or the freedom of self-discipline and self-restraint, both ideas work when referring to my idea about a woman's right to choose regarding women's rights.

After reading Alice Walker's "In Search of My Mother's Gardens", I found that Brooks' speaker is also bemoaning the fact that she has prevented her children, not only from living, but from creating art and becoming artists. The long-standing tradition that Walker writes in her essay, that 'Women have been prevented from becoming artists by the Male Tradition', is sort of what Brooks is now participating in. The Roe v Wade decision that allows women the choice and control over their bodies, reveals the fact that women now have a harsh responsibility over other people's and their own lives. Brooks and other women, must now face the consequences of being able to control themselves, something that was once left to men to decide. Alice Walker was regretful about her mother's inability to be recognized as an artist, and the roles have switched now: Brooks is the one who is preventing her child from being recognized as an artist, she is taking the traditionally male role of supressing someone else's voice and being. This is an important role-reversal, and it's one that comes at the cost of someone else's liberty. Perhaps Freedom is self-control, but also being in a power position over a lesser being--freedom is controlling others!????

Frank O'Hara... continued


Here, O'Hara is talking about something that will revolutionize the way people think about literature. The idea that the poem is just a vessel that gets the message to the reader--he wants to communicate directly with the person, the poem itself doesn't matter. The poem is a "Lucky Pierre" because it is being gratified both by the poet--the act of being written--and the reader--the act of being read. If O'Hara were to have his way, all he has to do is to convey his message is to call up the person on his phone. The idea that the poem is just like a phone conversation with the reader, gives the poem a fresh and unpretentious voice. He isn't concerned with trying to improve the readers--or society's--life. O'Hara says: "improvement for what, death?" His idea that there is no such thing as progress is not really nihilistic, I think it's more realistic.

The Day Lady Died:

O'Hara's poem is specific of a time and a place, it evokes the feeling O'Hara felt the day that Billy Holiday died, and is revelatory of the cultural impact of Billy Holiday on his peers. The poem is a laundry list of things one might do on a typical and busy summer day in New York. It has a certain air of mundaneity, a day filled with art and people and writing and other minutiae.

The day is filled with words, words, and more words. When the news of Billy Holiday suddenly hits, it is breathless. O'Hara takes us to the day when he first heard "Lady" sing, and there are no words to describe it. His feeling of speechlessness is beautifully conveyed as O'Hara is "leaning on the john door in the 5 spot/while she whispered a song along the keyboard/to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing". We feel exactly what he means.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Zoot Suit (1981)

Watch! Edward James Olmos is totally dramatic as the ghostly Chorus in Zoot Suit. He is the quintessential Pachuco, Simon!

Montoya--20 Years of Joda

Jose Montoya's poetry is not anthologized much in American Literature, according to Professor Bonilla. A reluctance to formally include him in the canon might seem a direct result of Montoya's multiplicity of language in his poetry, but this is the prime reason why it should be included--it reflects the multiplicity of culture so prominent in American culture, and it forces the reader to be engaged by confronting them with language. Other writers confront their audiences with obscene language and striking thematics, others with rhetoric, others with flowery and elevated use of language and epics, others with emotional and elegiac odes, and others with a clear break of tradition. A good writer confronts the reader with something, and forces a reaction--a good one, a negative one, a self-revealing reaction. The worst writers lack the ability to get a reaction from the reader.

One of the ways in which Jose Montoya engages the reader in his poems, is by including Spanish phrases untranslated. To the monolingual English speaker, the words seem like a foreign and exotic confrontation, and one is given the choice of remaining in the dark to admire, or to go look up the dictionary in an attempt to identify hidden meanings. The bilingual reader is able to revel in the immediacy of a secret, a private moment between him or herself and the author, who obviously share this shared knowledge of a shared culture, of a mixing of traditional and nontraditional to create something new.

Much like Ginsberg's Howl, Montoya's "El Louie" is indeed an elegy--that it goes through the traditional progression of lament, praise, and consolation--but gains its likeness with Ginsberg's work because it undercuts the established tradition of straightforward grief and praise poetry. For Montoya, the tradition is that of American literature to be based only on the English language--he is bringing something new to the table: unabashed and untranslated Spanish voices, mixed in with English voices, a combination that is so representative of his particular voice and community, of a people so American in that they are oppressed and repressed, that he grants them a form of expression through new forms of literature.

Mainstream American culture is so deeply rooted in the ideals of independence, freedom, high esteem for the individual, competition, and a struggle for identity apart from the group, which stem from the efforts of our forefathers who fought for independence from the English. These individualistic values are at odds then, with the more Mexican values that are based on family and collectivistic concerns, that serve the group more than the individual, as well as a way to prolong the strong history and pride of a people so closely tied to families. This mash-up of values and motivations is evident in Montoya's poetry; his work allows for his community to speak--the varied dialogues, different perspectives, family members and fellow Pachucos--both in English and in Spanish and yet all distinctly American and revealing of this particular time and place, of a people removed from mainstream society.

"El Louie" is funny. "Hoy entarraron a Louie/And San Pedro o san pinche/Are in for it". Right away, it undercuts most tragic elegies with a playful and mischievous quality that reveals a respect for Louie, but in a way that is not entirely elevated like other elegiac subject matter. Here, Louie is being remembered for his artistic endeavors, his creation of the Pachuco persona, of his heroism on and off the streets of California, of the great things that he was capable of, and of the shortcomings that spotted life and that made his downfall so tragic. It's not his death that is so sad, it's the way his life had deteriorated by the end of it. "The end was a cruel hoax/But his life had been/Remarkable!" Montoya's speaker laments the fact that El Louie did not die in "accion", and he attempts to console his grief by praising the earlier life of El Louie, and by elevating that character of the Pachuco. The word Montoya uses to describe his life is a consolation: "Remarkable!", meaning that it is "worthy of attention". I picture it being said with a genuinely happy, yet mournful and honorable smirk.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Simpsons and Thomas Pynchon

The Simpsons!! Good ol' Simpsons. Apparently, the Simpson's is the quintessential postmodern television show--according to one Mark McQueen, English Professor at PCC. I took his English 1C class and he let me know about my generation's humor--and even sense of identity, arguably--it is rooted deeply in Postmodernism, on a level that we accept without a doubt, that is it takes effort to undo our mode of thinking--the same thing that T.S. Eliot wrote about when discussing tradition, that we have to be aware of our timelessness and our contemporaneity, the latter of which we take for granted.

As discussed in the lecture, Postmodernism is self-referential and self-aware. It can be situated in a time and place, and is evocative of a moment. It's reactionary to the Modernist movement of the earlier 20th century, and it sought to reject that which had backfired: technological advancements that were created with good intentions, that led to the paranoia of the Cold War, for example. It seeks to expose ironies that occur when people make universal judgments and the contradictions that this practice creates--and that's where the sarcastic humor comes in. It understand that trying to explain why and how something is funny is the most unfunny thing one can do, so I'll let Thomas Pynchon give you a taste:

Just for good measure, here is Moe's take:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oedipa's Journey--The Crying of Lot 49

This one's a bit over due. I read Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 a while ago, and by not posting to this blog right away, the material isn't as fresh, so I'm left to look at the piece once or twice removed. The character of Oedipa--the main character--definitely struck me as very strong and unique. But why should she not be? When reading it, I didn't see her as an anomaly of a woman, I just saw her as a strong, resourceful, realistic, flawed, empathetic, and human character. The issue of gender never struck my mind, and as far as other readings go, as others have argued that Oedipa is indeed a strong feminist character, I don't disagree. I'm a fan of strong female protagonists, not because they are female, but because they are strong. I like any character that breaks through other's established conventions--the underdog--and I suppose female characters are a great go-to for this dynamic.

In a world full of mysterious happenings, secret societies, cosmic coincidences, intrigue, paranoia personified, the character of Oedipa is the reader's one solid anchor--and like us--she goes a bit mad in the process. As discussed somewhere in the middle of The Crying of Lot 49, the existence of a "Maxwell's Demon" is introduced as a "sorter" of things, among other more complicated ideas relating to energy exchanges and engineering. When Oedipa Maas is named executor of her ex-boyfriend's estate, a vast and squandered fortune of property that leads to a conspiracy of secret postal services that date back centuries, Oedipa is swept away by curiosity, almost like Rapunzel unwittingly discovering that she can climb down her tower if she uses her hair as mountain-climbing gear. Her ex-boyfriend's sordid investments become the basis of her own unraveling, and her journey is one of self-awareness, and of becoming more sensitive to the world around her.

While uncovering clues, she becomes more aware of people's attempts to communicate. She also becomes more emphatic--in the beginning she tells her husband Mucho that he is "too sensitive", and before the end of the novel, she is reaching out to a lovelorn stranger on the phone, the only person she has left, and has experienced a Virgin-Mary like role in an encounter with a old man she holds and comforts after he begs her to send a letter to his wife. Oedipa becomes more keen in her observations, and this leads her to a perilous quest for the truth, no matter what the cost.

The one major thing I was wondering, and even fearfully anticipating, by the penultimate chapter of the novel, was how on Earth is Pynchon going to finish this book with a satisfying conclusion? His ending, then, is something I definitely respect and can see why it makes such an impact--and also how it fits into the postmodern structure and attitude. It forces you to engage--it confronts you with its deliberate lack of a resolution of plot--and makes you react. The whole aspect of the novel being a mystery, a journey to "pierce into truth" and unravel the unknown, forces you to invest yourself into the reading. Oedipa wins you over, you want her to figure it out! Or atleast I did. By not having a clear resolution, there is a clear cut intention of forcing you to react: Do you feel disappointed by the ending? Are you shocked? Is it maddening to have the dangling carrot so sharply taken away? Is it new and refreshing that such an ending leads much to the imagination? I had all of the reactions and more, and I began to see why Pynchon did this. I also wondered if the whole time while I was looking for resolution of the story, that I missed something else. I suppose it was Oedipa's journey into self-awareness and into action that was the actual focus, and that the conspiracy of Tystero was only the means of getting Oedipa started on her transformation.

The ending drops us off right at the edge of revelation, a few steps before the climax of resolution. I'm glad that we, as the audience, don't get to figure answer the riddle--that meaning of the intent to communicate--because we find that the message is not important. Instead, it forces you to realize what the actual intent to communicate is! Perhaps, even, there is no conscious intent to communicate: our symbology--our language--is just a record of our desire and attempt to communicate, to reach out; they are a recording of "storm systems of suffering" (or whatever that quote is from the book, I don't have the page number). As Oedipa is beginning to be more sensitive, in sorting out clues and evidence, she is becoming aware, not of the message, but of the intent to communicate. She becomes compassionate.

Friday, November 6, 2009

O'Hara Poetry and Personism

Frank O'Hara had a revolutionary thought. To present the energy of his poetry directly to the reader. There's no pretense of pretentiousness, no snobby elitism, and no misdirection of intent--O'Hara wants to share what makes him passionate. He wants to relay a particular moment of time and place, and he wants to convey the feeling one experiences directly to the person who is reading it. He would LOVE to call you up on the phone and do it that way, but this is literature, and he only has certain means of accomplishing his goal. O'Hara doesn't care much for progress or improvement of humanity--for what? death?--He wants to make you feel, make you laugh, simple as that.

Let me go into more of this, but this is just to get me started, so that you know I've been working on these poets. I'm catching up!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ginsberg's "Howl" Part 1: An Ode to Fallen Comrades

This poem is in honor of "the best minds of my generation destroyed". I consider it to be an elegy--yes it's elegiac because it is mournful of a past that is gone--but it's a different version of elegy that Ginsberg has created his own, that doesn't follow the same tradition. When Ginsberg himself reads it, it sounds like a is performing a sermon--the tone of his voice seems like he's a priest in a church. The form is elevated and important, rhythmic, like the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. It's easy to feel the beat of the poem--it's from the Beat generation after all.

"Howl" is in honor of all of Ginsberg's fallen comrades. He's listing everything, good and bad, that made them great. Whether it was being caught for sneaking drugs, being high and wild under the influence, having sex with "saintly motorcyclists", writing poetry that ends up being only "stanzas of gibberish", growing older and not evading time, Ginsberg is glorifying his friends in their youth, he's immortalizing them in his poetry, and he's honoring them, who fell victim to vices supplied by a rotten generation. Ginsberg even honors his mother, albeit privately, "with mother finally*******". He does all of this, and it's funny!

Ginsberg writes in "Howl" about his generation, as if the regular rules don't apply. In remembering his friends, he chooses to depict them as honestly as possible and yet, mythologizes them. The rules don't apply, because they made up their own rules--Ginsberg is making his own elegy for them. Who says it can't be funny. Perhaps it is so, because it is so definitely heartbreaking as well. Their highest reward is a promise that "their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion".

I'm saying that "Howl" is Ginsberg's eulogy to his generation. His voice seems like it would support this notion, but it's not completely elevated. His tone changes throughout the poem, fluctuating sorrow with defiance, with boasts and regrets, always respectful. He is "putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death". Bad ass eulogy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Some More on Olson "Maximus"

That moment when you read a poem, and you GET it! Somehow, the energy--that Olson wrote about in Projective Verse--hits you, and you feel it! And you KNOW what it is, because you feel it. You're not unsure if that's what the poet actually meant, because you've read it, you've engaged in the text, you've thought about it, and you've done the digging. Like Bonilla said, you have to trust that you got the meaning. I was waiting for that moment when I would get "I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You", and I almost did! During today's lecture, when Professor Bonilla shared her reading of Olson's epic poem, I almost caught the energy, but I think I have some more things to figure out and some more digging to do.

The part that holds my epiphany is in Part 3, here is a section of it:
"the underpart is, though stemmed, uncertain
is, as sex is, as moneys are, facts!
facts, to be dealt with, as the sea is, the demand
that they be played by, that they only can be, that they must
be played by, said he, coldly, the

By ear, he sd.
But that which matters, that which insists, that which will last,
that! o my people, where shall you find it, how, where, where shall you listen
when all is become billboards, when, all, even silence, is spray-gunned?

when even our bird, my roofs,
cannot be heard"
The underpart--although you can't see it, is there, "it's fact!". You have to trust that it's there. There's no other option. Just like love, sex, and money--you don't really have a physical proof of love, it only exists in faith. Sure you can say "I love you" all you want, but that doesn't mean it's the truth. With love, you just trust. Sex and Money are imaginary ideological constructions--it's not really real, it's created in the mind--everyone is under the same illusion--and even though it's not real, the effects are real. The underpart of the nest is a fact, because it supports the nest. It is the most important part--even though it's not readily apparent. Yes, the nest is shaped in a circular form--but this is not empty. The "underpart" IS the nest, because without it, there would be no nest, and it is NOT the nest, because it is the underpart--completely separate.

I think Olson is saying that, yes "love is the form", the circular movement, but it's not empty, even though it is in the shape of an O. He ends the verse with "o sea city)", almost like it is a secret: It's tucked away, it's humble. It's not the "O" of grandiose and tragic emptiness, it's the o of infinity. It's the non-physical idea that is true because of faith and because of words and breath.

Poetry needs to be understood "by ear"-which is out loud, which is performed, which is communicated with others (because language is impersonal). In accordance to saying things aloud, they must be listened to. Because when we lose the energy between the poet and the reader, there is a lack of breath, a lack of connection. Nothing can be communicated--the thing that makes poetry come alive is dead. "When all is become billboards" is the day we lose our soul, because we cannot hear anything anymore. We can't even hear the birds anymore!

His grievances and diagnosis of the dismal future of American contemporaneity listed in Part 3 are answered at the end of Part 4, with his violent threat to the "billboard-ization", the "Fordization"--he is Beowulf slaying Grendel in his own epic poem--"o kill kill kill kill kill/those/who advertise you/out)" (2161). Maximus is not going to take it lying down, he is going to fight against that which mechanizes us, that which tries to sell us out.

I also have a theory that the reason Olson writes in such a confusing way, i.e. a way that the meaning is not available on the surface level--one has to "engage" in it and understand the metaphors and meanings and form married with the content--is because Olson doesn't want just anybody off the street to get the meaning, like the regular mainstream American Joe. He wants the one who understands it to be worthy of understanding it--because according to "I, Maximus", he's worthy. It's an epic poem for an accordingly epic and elevated audience--and who is that audience in contemporary America? Not the juggernaut corporate boss with all the money and power, not the WalMart-shopping, American Idol-watching, McDonald's-eating, mainstream consumer and subscriber to lowest-common-denominator ideology, complete with mechanical imaginations. Olson is addressing the educated elite who take time to read, engage, and dissect poetry, those who are interested like he was, in diagnosing the problems of American contemporaneity. He's telling the truth, but he's telling it slant.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Midterm Essay

English 30C: Contemporary American Literature

Midterm Prompt

Perform a “close reading” of the poem on which you presented in class—“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. Develop the reading from the text, not a biographical reading. Look at the syntax, word choice, punctuation, rhyme, and rhythm (i.e. Form of the poem) in your reading. Also account for the ironic tensions set up in the poem and its tone. Does the poem unify or balance the tensions? You must use one other text we have read in class to contextualize and support your reading.


T.S. Eliot might have been afraid of his emotions—“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but a escape from personality”—but it helped him to write his commandment to new American poets about depersonalization in poetry. As an American poet, Elizabeth Bishop was no doubt aware of this manifesto and puts into words this revolutionary notion. In “One Art”, Bishop tells the story of loss, ranging from small and miniscule things to vast continents to her own personal voice and ability to joke about tragedy. Bishop’s work, although seemingly very personal, possesses a universal way of relating to others about loss, and succeeds in conveying what T.S. Eliot described in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” as significant emotion—that is “emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet”. The only way one can achieve such a thing, Eliot claimed, is to turn away from actual emotion and to depersonalize the poet from the poem. Bishop understood Eliot, in that the poem she wrote is all about the loss one experiences, and how this can be likened to the loss one experiences when creating art.

If the “Art of Losing” is taken to literally mean the “Act of Writing”, because of the loss of personality when writing poetry, it makes sense with Eliot’s dictum about the nature of the poet: “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality” (1008). However, and this serves to counter Eliot’s statement as well as to relieve an ironic tension in Bishop’s work: Writing is a way of recapturing or regaining the loss, because it places the loss onto page, and reverses it. The loss is now immortal, and can never be lost. The “mother’s watch”, the “two cities”, and “vaster realms” will now be remembered whenever the poem is read. This is Bishop’s intention when, on the very last line, she quite abruptly tells the reader—or herself—almost as an urgent aside, to “Write it!” and not to forget it.

Another ironic tension throughout the poem is the tone. At first glance, it is a melancholy look back on the fleetingness of life and life’s possessions. A somber reminiscing of all things that are inevitably lost, “the mother’s watch” and other relics of people that serve as physical memories, “door keys” or other opportunities lost, and “you” which can be the reader, the actual poet herself, or a third party. However, an inkling of a sardonic tone permeates the poem with word choices such as this: “And look! My last or next-to-last, of three loved houses went.” She quips that the “art of losing isn’t hard to master”, which embodies the joking tone about the process of writing. In the last stanza, her acknowledgement of the loss of her “joking voice, a gesture I love” sets up an irony that creates a new tension—Bishop is talking about the loss of her personality in her poetry, in the same way Eliot has commanded, but the poem is actually filled with her joking voice. It is a contradictory move, but it proves that, although Bishop has a respect for Eliot’s work, she is also her own person with an individual identity who can break some rules. Ironically, this is what Eliot wants in new poets anyway—to continue the tradition of non-tradition: “the business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all.”

The understatement of tragedy suggests that there is no real significance in the loss, even though there obviously is. Bishop’s main goal here is to assuage any deep remorseful feelings connected to loss, because the loss is always bound to occur—but she is losing the ability to joke about disaster. By the end of the poem, she admits what she believes to be her flaw, and this is the same flaw within Eliot’s statement of depersonalization—that the art of losing (personality and emotion) “isn’t too hard to master”—which means it actually is, to a degree, a disaster. A certain detachment is required to be a poet and Bishop is commenting on the fact that it is indeed disastrous and heartless, but she is also aware of the fact that her craft requires the loss—she has already lost things, so this is her appeal and apology. Her inclusion of the statement “though it may look like like disaster” serves to further separate herself from the tragedy, it is a thrice removed simile, which is another strategy of depersonalizing oneself from ones poem.

Bishop was clearly aware of Eliot’s instruction that poets must be aware of those who are dead, in a traditional context of that which is already living, however, she was also able to finish Eliot’s declaration and to continue the statement into the future. Bishop’s use of the future perfect tense in the last stanza: “Even losing you…I shan’t have lied”, shows her awareness of the present’s context in the future, the way that future historians will look at our present as the past. It is in this sense that Bishop, and all great writers and poets, are predictors of the future that have an awareness of “what is already living”, and are able to make poetic statements about what will be regarded as true and as part of the tradition. The future belongs to the poet.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Poem #4--Poetry Experiment

This is a poetry experiment. The poet's identity is unknown and the poem is out of context. I think that, by not even knowing the writer's gender or race or age, it helps to decontextualize the poem. The poem stands for itself and is free from any subjectivity that might come from knowing the identity or biography of the poet. This was what the Formalist Critics wanted to do, to strip away any timeliness or bias and to let the poem speak for itself. The Formalists were all about "Close Reading", balance, and the close marriage between form and content. This is the poem, and below is my immediate reaction and observations:
"The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I love two cities, lovely ones. And vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster."
Right off the bat, I noticed the ABA ABA rhyming structure: Master, Intent Disaster:Fluster, Spent, Master:Faster, Meant, Disaster, and so on. The rhythm in the beginning seems a bit awkward, but the later stanzas reveal a more easy flow. There's an average of 10-11 syllables in each line, and once you notice this, you get a steady rhythm going, and it starts to make sense. Up until the end, where it breaks the established structure, but not severely. The last stanza has 4 lines, with an ABAA rhyming scheme. Also it seems a bit out of form because it includes parentheses, and because it addresses someone (possibly us, the reader), and offers a direct commandment ("Write it!"). ***

The story of the poem is obviously one of loss, but it's not one of total tragedy. It's of every day loss, the kind that is unavoidable, and the kind that makes us human. The first stanza is the mission statement. The next lines follow the theme, and are a progression of the building sense of "vaster" and disastrous loss. What starts as "the fluster of lost door keys", becomes forgetting "places and names", culminating in the loss of a continent. Just as the form becomes more easy to read, the losses mentioned here, carried by the form, leads into a greater understanding.

The first line is a kind of mantra that is repeated throughout: "The art of losing isn't hard to master". Usually, there is a belief that art is reserved for those with true talent, but it's not hard to learn this craft. It's a humbling idea, that suggests anybody can perform this art, it's as easy as losing something/someone, but it's a painful process not all are willing to go though.

An interesting line is also in the first stanza: "So many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster". This makes me think about the disposability of our society. So many things are made not to last, that's why warranties are invented. I bought a brand new Macbook two years ago. It was beautiful. I used it every day, and it of course it got busted up and scratched. Finally one day last month, it wouldn't turn on and I learned that the hard-drive just up and died! I took it to the store and, because I had the warranty, they gave me a new hard-drive. It sucked! But it certainly was no disaster. I don't know if this was the actual meaning the poet meant, but it's one I take to heart. Once we accept that things in this world are only finite--even us--we realize that the show must go on.

I'm thinking that this poem is a story about poetry itself, but the new kind of poetry that is depersonalized, decontextualized, and less revealing of the poet, as admired by the New Critics. "The ART of losing isn't hard to master". The Art-of-Losing is the act of Writing Poetry, in the sense that the writer must lose everything about the personal experience that traps the poem in a context--of women's poetry, or black poetry, or old white male poetry, etc--and transfer it to page. Something is lost in this process, but its necessary for it to be considered Art.

The final stanza addresses us, but also, that which is personal: "Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture/I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident/the art of losing's not hard to master/though it may look like (Write it) like disaster". For art to be great, it has to be divorced from anything personal, this is the "joking voice" and whatever it is that is "loved". Another message that comes to light by the end of them poem is directly stated, jarringly: "Write it!". As places and names are lost, one could say that it is because of a faulty memory. As a writer myself, I like to record things down, the moment, and my reactions to those moments, because I don't want to forget them. The poet is telling other poets to "Write it", so that all things that are lost are not entirely gone.

The tone is humbling, but accepting. It's a sad surrender, but not in a tragic sense, it's the kind of loss that everyone inevitably goes through. It seems like it's from the position of one who is wise and weathered. I can imagine that the poet would agree with the same sense of concession one feels with the phrase "well, it's not the end of the world", even when it is the end of the world. The message here is to accept the loss, to realize that it "wasn't a disaster".

***as my own personal experiment, I tried to keep the first paragraph as a critique, solely on the Form alone, but I found (as I was hoping) that you can't talk about the Form without talking about the Content.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Olson & Creeley, Projective Verse, and Black Mountain philosophy

In his manifesto, From Projective Verse, Charles Olson talks about the kinetics of poetry. From what I gathered, poetry is an exchange of energy, from the source of the poet's inspiration, to the final product of the poem itself, and finally to the reader who must read and gauge his or her own reaction to the poem. The process of poetry, of writing and reading it, is in a constant state of motion; it is an experience.

Charles Olson mentions Creeley, who taught with him at Black Mountain, with the mantra: "Form is never more than an extension of Content". This means that the poem's Content--the words, the metaphors, the Space--can never be separate from the Form--the structure, the rhyme scheme, the punctuation, the spaces, the metonymy, the Time--therefore, it's all married into one thing=the Poem, and even the experience of Reading the Poem, or the Performance of the Poem. Metaphor is a hierarchical marriage of two things: The Girl is a Rose, the Test is a Piece of Cake, the Light bulb is an Idea. One thing is not being compared to the other thing, it actually IS the other thing. Content IS Form, and Form IS content.

Metaphor (Space) and Metonymy (Time) are on a separate axis from one another. Metaphor measures the hierarchical relationship, Metonymy allows for a medium in which the metaphor can be expressed--just as language is expressed with words and speech that unfold over time--and the spark of "Is", which allows for this poem to occur is the breath of life. Space is the Empty Vessel, Time is the River, and the Breath that allows for Speech is the Wind that moves along that Vessel.

This is something I came up with in my philosophy class, and I heard a variation of it in class during the last lecture. It stuck out, and here is my version of it: All things in language are metaphors. A single thing cannot exist without being related to another thing. Otherwise it's not real, or it makes no sense! So: A thing can only be real, once it becomes something else. The becomes=IS. Metaphors exist not only in language, we think in metaphors as well.

Professor Bonilla's definition of Metaphor: "Giving the thing a name, that means something else."
and I believe that we give "the thing" a name that means something else because we can never actually Articulate "The Thing" in the first place. We only get as far as a parabola gets to its limit.

Every Irony requires a metaphor, because EVERYTHING requires a metaphor.

What other philosophical stuff can I get into that pertains to the poetry and Olson's Projective Verse??

Just as "Form is never more than an extension of Content", the two parts of language: Time (Metonymy) and Space (Metaphor), even though they appear to be two perpendicular lines separate from each other, they are STILL on the same plane. No matter what, they are married, and can never be divorced.

Forgive me if this isn't terribly clear, it is just a way to get all of my ideas out. Maybe something will stick out and actually make rational sense!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tony Kushner - Angels in America

I started reading the play "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes" a couple of weeks ago after hearing Professor Bonilla mention it in class. I remembered a couple of years ago, that HBO aired an adaptation of his epic play "Angels in America", as a miniseries starring Emma Thompson, Al Pacino, and Meryl Streep. Before I watch it, I decided, I would read the play.

Looking at the recent list of modern American authors to read, for the "Book Review of an Outside Author" option, I saw that Tony Kushner was on it. I decided that if this whole blog thing doesn't work out for some reason, or if I had too many missing entries like last semester, I would do the book review of "Angels in America" for the Possibilities section of the class requirement. Even if I get all of the points, I figure that I'll do both, just for insurance purposes.

The play is broken up into two parts, and I just read the first half entitled "Millennium Approaches". For lack of better words, and because my vocabulary is made up of cliches from film critics, it is stunning! A tour-de-force! Breath-taking! ...It is very good. I don't want to start my review too early, because I'll save that for the final product, but I just want to record my initial reactions.

It touches on history, politics, religion, racism, gay struggles, the AIDS epidemic, the Reagan administration, social paranoia, and everything America. A lot of the issues that we have dealt with in class, and some of the ripples and after effects of the time period. Kushner play continues the reflection, angst, and social commentary that appears in the works of James Baldwin and other contemporary American writers. The social paranoia Baldwin describes of American society--"American writers do not have a fixed society to describe. The only society they know is one in which nothing is fixed and in which the individual must fight for his identity... tradition does not exist in America."--is represented here in a character's conclusion of the current country's state of being: “Maybe we are free. To do whatever. Children of the new morning, criminal minds. Selfish and greedy and loveless and blind. Reagan’s children. You’re scared. So am I. Everybody is in the land of the free. God help us all”. The social paranoia, for lack of a fixed society, has led to where it is naturally heading: fear in a chaotic world, where it is only the illusion of order that keeps it turning. In a time (of Reagan's reign) where it's every-man-for-himself, the gay community so afflicted by the AIDS epidemic have nobody to reach out to. Kushner is describing an America that is selfish and heartless, and a society that is able to tolerate it. It fits in with the tradition of contemporary American writers trying to find out what is really happening here.

The character of Louis, who is gay and Jewish, comments on the reality of America, and tries to reveal a truth of society that is masked by one of the myths of America. "I think is that AIDS shows us is the limits of tolerance, that it’s not enough to be tolerated, because when the shit hits the fan you find out how much tolerance is worth. Nothing. And underneath all the tolerance is intense, passionate hatred.” This idea can be likened to Ellison's Invisible Man, and just about any other racist or prejudiced belief that is suppressed: That beneath the layer of tolerance is a hatred for other human beings. Tolerance is a nice curtain we hide behind, the way a racist person claims to be colorblind as a way to ignore his feelings in hopes that they will go away. One can only lie in denial for so long... until the proverbial shit hits the fan.

The play is filled with dramatic moments that when read, pack a powerful punch on paper, but the true humanizing moments only become realized when performed. The main character's words "Why poor poor me? Oh I don't feel good right now. I really don't" suddenly become actual pain when read aloud and acted. This device fits into Eliot's requirement to make old feelings seem new by presenting them in different ways. It belongs in the canon of American Literature because it follows the tradition of non-tradition, of making [the old] new.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Aren't you just good country people?"

"Good Country People", by Flannery O'Connor, is a story of a woman so cursed by unfortunate circumstances and so blinded by her education, that when she unwittingly lets her guard down long enough to fall in love with who she perceives to be a simple-minded bible salesmen, she finds him literally pulling her leg (very distasteful, I know) and is left to be (half) a victim of her own ignorance.

In the story, Joy--who changes her name to the more self-deprecating Hulga--is a 32-year-old atheist and amputee living with her mother, Ms. Hopewell, because she cannot otherwise look after herself. Joy is described early in the story to have "the look of someone who has acheived blindness by an act of will and means to keep it" (2531), a clear echo of Ellison from Invisible Man; Joy and her mother, because of their belief of the American Myth of "Good Country People" are exactly the sleepwalkers Ellison had in mind. Mrs. Hopewell hangs onto her neighbors, the Freemans, like she is hanging onto an old family heirloom or some relic of America's (long dead) past.

Mrs. Hopewell is aptly named, because she is a constant apologist for others and is never one to judge: "Nothing is perfect. This was one of Mrs. Hopewell's favorite sayings. Another was: that is life! And still yet another, the most important, was: well, other people have their opinions too" (2530). Her blatant acceptance and tolerance of all diversity is a hallmark of the American foundation of equality, but her position to declare that "everybody is different" and mean it in an honestly good natured way reveals her of her position that she has never been a victim of oppression, and that she cannot fathom what it feels like to be persecuted for being different, and that she is better than people. The belief in a simple-minded and good country people is a belief that there exists a hierarchy of people who are smarter and more aware, and people who are dumb but good-natured.

The fact that she can say "people who looked on the bright side of things would be beautiful even if they were not" (2532), shows that Mrs. Hopewell is aware that things are not what they seem, but with a healthy dose of denial, all things can be pretty and forgotten. She hopes for the best. She knows better. But either way, she clings to the hope that everybody is deep down good inside.

Way at the other end of the spectrum is Joy, who believes that "we are not our own light!" Joy knows that knowledge does not come from within, but does nothing to remedy her own situation. If science wishes to know nothing of nothing, then the purpose of science is supposed to be a clear fight against ignorance. Joy is well versed in philosophy and theory of things, but has no experience in the action of it. She is so blinded by the fact that she is educated, that she allows herself to subscribe to the fact that those who are "uneducated" are simple-minded and "good", just like her mother believes.

Joy's gross error is her underestimation of the bible-salesman. She allows herself to believe in "the idea of him" (2538), which she had originally intuited, but her longing for someone to connect with--not on an intellectual level but on a loving or sexual level--allowed her to manifest just the right combination of naivety, willful ignorance, and arrogance: "You poor baby. It's just as well you don't understand. We're all damned. But some of us have taken off our blindfolds and see that there's nothing to see. It's a kind of salvation" (2540). Little does she realize that in her attempts to seduce him, he has orchestrated his own perverted conquest of the blind-and-handicapped-Hulga. He steals her artificial leg.

Is it her own fault for being so blind? Are we somewhat responsible for sitting in the chair, even though we are well aware of the consequences, that a knife will come out and stab us?

On the superficial level, all we have of people are our perceptions. We have our hopes, sometimes for the better in people, and sometimes for the worst in them. It is never okay to deem a separate or different group of people more inferior or simple than us. It is never accurate to assume, or to estimate people one way or another. People are never what they appear. The Hopewells of the world must take responsibility for their assumptions. Like James Baldwin said in "The Discovery of What it Means to Be an American", we must examine ourselves and "be willing to free ourselves of the myth of America and try to find out what really is happening here. Every society is really governed by hidden laws, by unspoken but profound assumptions on the part of the people". We are guilty, as guilty as the Hopewells. The myth is that we are all equal, and that being different has no effect on our equality. And so far, the likeliest way we can learn the truth is the hard way, unfortunately, like Joy. Did she even learn anything, or will she retreat farther into her self-hatred? I think that's the saddest part of the story.

Baldwin, "Going to Meet the Man", "Discovery"

*I will go into these further later, but I wanted to update my blog with some fresh ideas, so that I don't forget them later.

What is social paranoia all about? Why does it exist in America? How is GTMTM (both a symptom) an examination of American life? What are some of the "unspoken laws" governing that American life?

My first reaction upon reading Baldwin's "Going to Meet the Man" was: This guy must have such a sense of self-hatred (or of the hatred of others) to be able to embody a monstrous character like the Sheriff in this story. Then I remembered that I have to depersonalize such strong emotions and figure out exactly what Baldwin was able to do to create such a strong reaction out of me... I'm going to be honest and guess that it was not very hard.

I also want to point out something I watched in my Intercultural Communications class today, that talked about people's ability to be racist and where learned attitudes originate, and I felt that it had a lot to do with Baldwin's story. One purpose that prejudice serves is the "Ego-Defensive Function", which is a way to discriminate against others as a defense mechanism--the same way a suppressed homosexual would become homophobic as a way to defend himself---as an inversion of love with hate. Ring any bells??

Perhaps Baldwin reversed this inversion in his ability to embody or to characterize the racist Sheriff. I am careful not to say that Baldwin was ACTUALLY racist and ashamed of himself and his blackness, because that really doesn't matter, and how would I even know?. I think it has something to do with it, however, and it shows that he was able to walk a careful line...

This is the video we watched in my Intercultural class, showing how easily prejudice is learned--because it IS learned! Observe nice little innocent children turn "nasty" with arbitrary hate for one another. This also fits in nicely to the origins of Young Sheriff, I think, to show how easily he was able to adopt his racist persona. The lesson here is: Be careful who your teacher is!! I'll post the first part of the video is here.

I'll finish up my ideas later, so until then, my post is...


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cheever, "The Swimmer", Behind Closed Doors

I imagined that John Cheever's "The Swimmer" took place in the same neighborhood that is portrayed in the Revolutionary Road, directed by Sam Mendes, from the novel written by Richard Yates. I saw this movie last year during the height of Oscar Awards season, and I was surprised that it got overlooked. It was a very subtle and bleak look at the hidden lives of Americans during it's "1950s-early-1960s Golden Age". What's behind the facade? Alcoholism, Abuse, Adultery--by both husband and wife--, Depression, you name it! What I found so tragic about the story is that the lives of these people held so much promise, so much potential--or rather, throughout the film, the characters believed that they had promise and potential. They thought they were chosen for something great, that they had some higher destiny above others. And by the end, all of it is gone.

I think this belief of a destiny is a prime factor of the American Dream. It goes back as far as American revolutionaries creating their country to be a "city on a hill", to set an example for the world to follow. Throughout American history, people have believed themselves to be purposed with a destiny, like the settlers who followed Manifest Destiny, and even the fame-grubbers of today like Spencer and Heidi, and Tyra Banks... they all believe that they have a destiny that needs to be fulfilled and some kind of message to be spread about. The Swimmer is no exception to this American ideal for a purpose: Upon embarking on his journey to swim across the county, he has "the feeling that he was a pilgrim. an explorer, a man with a destiny" (2251).

This is not to say that there IS no such thing as a purpose. I'm saying, What is the price of trying to fulfill your destiny? Does ones success come at the failure or oppression or subjugation of others? The Swimmer's purpose is to childishly swim across town on some subconscious Naturalist compulsion as if he is trying to swim the length of the river Denial! The cost: That all other people in his world, besides himself, are taken for granted and put on the back burner. In his eyes, they are all deemed unimportant. His mistress who refuses to give him any more money tells the Swimmer (and America): "Good Christ. Will you ever grow up?" (2256). Stop being so self-absorbed. Open your eyes, there are other people here too.

It reminds me of another of Kate Winslet's roles, in which she starred as another unhappy, adulterous, and restless housewife, Tom Perrotta's Little Children. It shows that, just behind a small curtain of seemingly perfect and wealthy domesticity, is a whole range of foundational problems. Nowadays, such happenings are commonplace, only because they are broadcasted and aired on television and in movies.

But things were just as bad back then! Probably worse because it was hidden, and thought to be non-existent, and so people had no one to relate to and there was no outlet for frustration. This is one of the main ideas of John Cheever's "The Swimmer". There's some pretty ugly stuff that goes on behind closed doors, and America's willful ignorance of it all is manifested in the title character, who is "so disciplined in the repression of unpleasant facts that he [has] damaged his sense of the truth" (2253). Americans have striven to believe in an ideal America, full of equality and hope without racism and prejudice, but this Belief in the Ideal is allowing us to believe that things are already here, instead of still progressing. We are being blinded by our "repression of unpleasant facts", that it is hurting those caught in our blind spots, and to our "own sense of truth".

**But, like I probably said somewhere earlier, Ralph Ellison in Invisible Man is promising us that one day, we sleepwalkers will be roused from deep slumber and ignorance! Perhaps when it's too late, like O'Connor paints in "Good Country People". Either way, good writers have an obligation to break the myth of America, and to dig in there and find out what it's really like, according to James Baldwin!

Enigma: Cindy Sherman, Eliot & Cheever

Untitled Film Stills, Cindy Sherman, 1977
Untitled #96, Cindy Sherman, 1981

Flipping through the Norton, I was really excited to see Cindy Sherman's photographs included. It says:
"This series consists of 'self-portraits' in which the artist explores representations of women by dressing in a variety of costumes and adopting a variety of poses. Sherman's role as both photographer and subject reverses the traditional power of the male gaze, and here she examines and subverts the objectified images of women displayed in magazine centerfolds. Rather than signaling availability, this cropped, colorful-saturated photograph is enigmatic. Sherman's girlish clothing, evoking the 1950s, conceals more than it reveals, and she holds in her hand a largely unreadable scrap torn from a newspaper. Her gaze, vacant and interior, is also unreadable" (C5)
I find this photograph, as well as Sherman's other self-portraits, exciting because it's so mysterious. Yes the pictures are of her, but they aren't her. She's obviously playing a role, like all models that appear in magazines as "centerfolds" are playing a role. This role is a representation of a woman, not an actual woman, and not Cindy Sherman. In magazines, women are portrayed with a higher sense of sexuality and appeal--and this is Sherman's commentary that the photograph should not be indicative of real life.

Cindy Sherman is subverting the idea of the centerfold, by reversing the approachability and accessibleness of the model. Who is this woman? What's going on?! What is she thinking? What's her motivation? It's the new Mona Lisa. There are so many unanswered questions in these photographs. It's the epitome of "Depersonalized", in the terms of Eliot: "Not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion... not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality" (1011). The model is not expressing a common emotion, she is expressing a feeling that is usually not photographed, and the result is mystifying. Sherman has found a new way to look at an old emotion.

Sherman de-personalizes the subject (herself) because the emotions and context of the photograph is a mystery. Like it is stated in the Norton, the subject in the photograph is 'enigmatic' and is 'concealing' something, and that is never revealed to the audience. Something has happened in the photograph that we are not meant to know. In "Untitled Film Stills", there actually is no film, but a story definitely exists. Also, the artist is able to detach herself from the actual "art", allowing it (the art) to speak for itself.

The part in the passage describing Sherman's photograph "evoking the 1950s" and "conceals more than it reveals", reminds me of Cheever's "The Swimmer". At the start of the story, we are clueless about the title character's story. As the story progresses, we are clued in little by little, but the main character who has succeeded to depersonalize himself from his sense of reality--he was "so disciplined in the regression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of truth" (2253)--is still in the dark by the end. Despite his blindness, he is still aware of something that we are not privy to, and this relates to Sherman's photography.

Sherman's photograph's story is a reversal of this idea: we are still kept in the dark, the title character is unaware of our glimpse into her life, yet still retains her secrets, and the photographer is aware of it all. Something is being concealed on purpose, but perhaps to see something in a certain or new way, old traditional perspectives must be forgotten. We must look at old emotions and stories from new ways, ways that would normally have gone unnoticed before. The good poet is not "unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious" (Eliot 1011), he [or she] is aware of something we are not.

Friday, September 4, 2009

From Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent"

After the first lecture, we were asked to examine why T.S. Eliot made the distinction between "feelings" and "emotions", and how a great poet is able to "depersonalize" his or her self from the actual poem, creating a Poem that doesn't not reveal the actual Poet.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Romeo and Juliet

My first introduction to Shakespeare goes like this:

I was about 4 or 5 years old, and like most children I suppose, I was very impressionable. One day, while my cousin was baby-sitting me and my sisters, she found a music box in my parent's closet. It was just a plain music box: One of those old-fashioned ones that you wind up and you can see the gears moving, with a comb-like metal piece that makes notes as the gears rotate. Only the words "A Time For Us, Romeo and Juliet" were written on the inside. As she wound it up, the sad music started, and she began to tell us the story.
A long time ago, there was a boy and a girl who loved each other, but they couldn't be together because their families were enemies. They had a plan to run away and get married, but the plan didn't work. She took a potion that made her fall asleep, and when the boy found her, he thought she had died. So he poisoned himself because he couldn't live without her. When she awoke, she found him dead, and so she shot herself in the head. And they lived happily ever after in heaven.
My cousin told me it was a true story, so that made it even more captivating. Shakespeare as told by a 9-year-old. This was my first introduction to Shakespeare, but it was my first introduction to love and death, too. That music box became my and my siblings' shrine to love. We found a rose and put it inside the box, and as it dried out, the smell became intertwined with the story. We put pictures of our parents on their wedding day inside. I even found a pretty feather once, and put it among the gifts.

This is the exact song in the music box, but it was a plain, rectangular box. I like the Boxing Match in the background. Nice touch with the wordplay of boxing and boxes. Oh wow, quit playin'.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Review of Cymbeline!

Shakespearean Observer

Pasadena City College, CA  **   Tuesday, June 2, 2009  **  English 78B  **  Professor Bonilla

Cymbeline Opens the 2009 

Repertory Season at 

Theatricum Botanicum

By: Patrick Covarrubias

Staff Writer

     On the last afternoon of May in Topanga, California, the celebrated Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum opened its 2009 Repertory Season with a performance of William Shakespeare’s romance Cymbeline, directed by Ellen Geer. Under Geer’s direction, one of Shakespeare’s final plays, written towards the end of his career, was brought to life with a sprawling and diverse cast of about thirty, including professional actors from the Actors’ Equity Association, a beautifully natural and rustic setting, and an aura of traditional Shakespearean theater and presentation.

      The production was able to capture the wide range of genres that the play requires, as Shakespeare’s late romances have the most developed characters and complex plotlines. From the romantic plight of Imogen and Posthumus, and the wager that the mischievous Iachimo makes with Posthumus thus instigating the sequence of events, to the cautionary tale of the ambition of the Queen and her son Cloten, to the story about the ignorance and arrogance of King Cymbeline, it is clear that Shakespeare reprises his earlier themes in plays, and the production translates this undoubtedly.

     Always tinged with humor, the mood of the play is helped with the cast of many characters that capture the devious and manic energy so written. Even when some of the more difficult language spoken by the actors was lost on the unprepared audiences’ ears, the actions and feelings of the words spoken by actors helped to convey the deeper connotations of tragedy, comedy, mischief, malevolence, and triumph. 

     The most stunning aspect of the Theatricum’s main stage is definitely the outdoor amphitheater, with the various trees, gardens, and hills serving as the natural background for the stage of Cymbeline. The naturalistic setting allows for very beautiful and pastoral scenes that are traditional in Shakespeare’s plays and themes. The set and staging areas were able to capture the natural lighting of a late spring’s afternoon, and aside from the appropriately chosen music played through unnoticeable and strategically hidden speakers, the atmosphere of both the Theatricum and Cymbeline was idyllic.

     The highlight of the play is during the final act, in which a live battle takes place between the more rough-around-the-edges British and the more refined and ordered Romans. As Posthumus is passionately lamenting his betrayal of Imogen, the two opposing

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armies enter slowly from opposite ends of the stage, building tension, until a very energetic fight between natural and ordered, barbarian versus civilized. The hills behind and around the stage allow the action to reach from far away to right in front of you. The intimate 299-seat amphitheater is transported to a time early in Britain’s history, complete with fitting musical choices and detailed costuming.

      Standout performances are Thad and Willow Geer (pictured) as Cymbeline and his daughter Imogen, who evoke a relationship similar to that of King Lear and Cordelia. Aaron Hendry’s hilarious and crowd-pleasing portrayal of Iachimo is a lighthearted take on the potentially malicious role, because he responsible for much of the grief in this play. An interesting and well-received directorial choice was to cast two women in male roles: Earnestine Philips and Samara Frame as Belarious and Arviragus, respectively. The association and addition of femininity augments the value of the themes of kinship and the “simple country life” in juxtaposition to the devious and overly ambitious ways of the city. Much like the setting of the theater itself suggests, the feeling one walks away with is that it is probably better to get out of the city more often, in order to appreciate humanity among nature, rather than against it.

      Driving through the winding highway of Topanga Canyon on an early Sunday afternoon, one would hardly take notice of the Theatricum Botanicum’s entrance, hidden among the trees and hills just north of Santa Monica. Upon entering, it feels like walking through a secret hideaway, almost like entering the enchanted forests of A Midsummer Nights’ Dream. The gardens of the area attract butterflies and hummingbirds that just may be Shakespearean faeries, and an easy-going and peaceful attitude is hard not to catch. The Theatricum Botanicum, created by Will Geer as a safe-haven for actors and performers that were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era, and the concealed grounds convey a feeling of escape from the everyday. It is one of the most enjoyable ways to see a live production of Shakespeare.

     Cymbeline runs every Sunday at 3:30 PM, until September 27th. Also running this season in repertory are Julius Caesar, opening June 6th at 8:00 PM, The Cherry Orchard on June 27th, A Midsummer Night’s Dream on July 4th, and The Miser on July 25th. Ticket prices range from $10 to $30, with discounts available for seniors, students, Veterans, and children under 12.

Box Office: (310) 455-3723              

1419 N. Topanga Cyn. Blvd., Topanga, CA

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Macbeth - The Weird Sisters

So I finished reading Macbeth this last weekend and I recognized that the traditional image of three witches standing behind a giant cauldron, saying spells, and putting various bewitched items in it to make some kind of potion, most likely comes from Macbeth! Not counting Lady Macbeth who is bad ass, the Weird Sisters are probably my favorite characters in the play. 

Anyhoo, I remember watching one of the Harry Potter movies awhile ago, and when I read Act 4 Scene 1, something in my memory was triggered. I didn't realize at the time, but one of the songs that appears in the movie uses Shakespeare's words. It's a cool and spooky little song, and I think it's worth posting.

Double, double, toil and trouble.
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Double, double, toil and trouble.
Something wicked this way comes!

Eye of newt and toe of frog,
wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
lizard's leg and owlet's wing.

Double, double, toil and trouble.
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Double, double, toil and trouble.
Something wicked this way comes!

In the cauldron boil and bake,
fillet of a fenny snake,
scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
witches mummy, maw and gulf.

Also, having read all the Harry Potter books, I squeezed my mindgrapes and remembered that there is a wizard band called The Weird Sisters that appears in the books. Cool! I think this is a picture of them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

King Lear Assignment - Nothing

*This is also a first draft on my ideas about 'Nothing' in King Lear. After class today, I'd like to revise a couple of ideas. Also, in class, there was an interesting question brought up that I'll address later: Why is it that the 'mad' men of this play are the only ones who speak the straightforward truth and reason? At one point, Tom of Bedlam is considered a philosopher by King Lear (who goes crazy, but that's part of the point, and I'll explain later).

Follow the metaphor of “Nothing” in the play. What comes of nothing that begins this play? How does it affect the development of one of the major themes within the play: madness, blindness, epideictic language of praise, authority, or identity?

            In the early Young Man sonnets, Shakespeare writes purely epideictic and praises his love object, to the point of idealizing and turning a blind eye towards any flaws love object may contain. As Shakespeare writes more sonnets, there is a progression from the idealized and flowery language of the early Young Man, into the more honest and brutal language of the Dark Lady sonnets. The turning point is in Sonnet 130—“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”—when Shakespeare has abandoned the purely epideictic language of praise, in exchange for a more honest approach. Shakespeare also begins to appear in his own work, as the subjectivity of the poet is included in these later sonnets. This is illustrated in Sonnet 130, because the quality of confessing and revealing the true appearance of his love object, Shakespeare is also revealing his non-traditional, yet realistic relationship to the object—Gone are the platonic boundaries of Petrarchian love poetry.

            The development of epideictic language of praise in “King Lear” is expanded upon, but it is mostly criticized in this play. The main critique is that it is ultimately a flowery way of saying “Nothing”. In the play, King Lear wants to leave his kingdom to his daughters, but in exchange, he wants to be eulogized with epideictic language. Of his three daughters, two of them, Regan and Goneril, don’t really have love for King Lear, but they have no problem exclaiming such love for him:

Goneril:            “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;

                        Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty.

                        Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare,

                        No less than life; with grace, health, beauty, honour” (1.1.53-56)

Here, Goneril speaks of a love that cannot be described by the normal senses, of a love that cannot be put into words—mainly because the love she has for her father doesn’t exist—her flowery language is thus a fancy way of saying nothing. As opposed to the way Cordelia describes her love for her father: “What shall Cordelia speak? Love and be silent.” (1.1.59) Perhaps Cordelia lacks a way with words, and clearly her tacit ways are some of the cause of the great tragedy in King Lear, but it is because Cordelia—whether she knows it or not—wants to prove a point to King Lear that he is foolish to want validation for a love that doesn’t exist. Only God can Present, to make something come from nothing – the problem of representation, being an imperfect form of presentation. King Lear performs blasphemy when he demands that something come out of nothing, as only God can create. He cannot demand that something materialize if it does not exist, the love of his daughters. Words don’t mean anything, and this is a lesson Lear must learn.

            He rejects Cordelia’s straightforward answer by saying “Nothing will come of nothing, speak again” (1.1.90), and this is true, but it is also false. It is true in that a declaration of love will NOT magically manifest itself when there was no love to begin with, i.e. the absent love of Regan, Goneril, and even Edmond in regards to Gloucester. It is false as well, and Cordelia needs to prove this to her father, that something can come from nothing, and that is in her attempt at teaching Lear a lesson, by giving him a non-answer—a denial—when he seeks validation/eulogy/epideictic language he expects from his daughters. Cordelia is proving that something can indeed stem from nothing, and this is tragedy and catharsis.

            Another aspect of the play that is developed is madness, as well as blindness. When Edgar becomes Tom o’ Bedlam, he loses his rational thought in exchange for nothingness—“Enforce their charity. ‘Poor Tuelygod, Poor Tom.’ That’s something yet, Edgar I nothing am.” (3.3.177). By claiming to have nothing, he is able to descend to the level of madness that King Lear embraces and Gloucester flirts with. Blindness is explored, when Gloucester is blind to the sincerity of Edgar, who joins him in poverty as Tom, and blind to the manipulation of his bastard son Edmond. It is only when Gloucester is literally and ironically blinded, that he does become ‘unblinded’ to the fact that his son Edmond has betrayed him, and that Edgar is the truly honorable one. 

Merchant of Venice - Rough Draft on Question #3

How is Shylock used as a scapegoat for the plot of this play? That is, how does Shylock allow for the comic end of this play?

            The play is centered around contracts, deals, bonds, agreements, legal matters. The problem here is that nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions. The solution is absolution through the law, selfishness prevails, being acquitted. The problem with the law is that it is not real justice—it is corruptible by man. The winner is he who has the quickest wit to see and make loopholes, a woman???

            Portia doesn’t want to reject her suitors, because she wants to remain polite, and so the test works out in her favor—She gets lucky and doesn’t have to reject anybody. Once her limits are gone, however, she gets to show how she is smarter than men! Without her father’s rules, she proves to be more capable of saving Antonio and out-witting Shylock.

            The test of a true Christian: virtue to be humble, to give all –“to hazard all he hath” (LEAD)—rather than pride, arrogance (SILVER), self-doubt, and giving in to desire (GOLD).

            Antonio and Bassanio don’t want to repay, or never planned on repaying Shylock. They end up getting off on a technicality. Bassanio takes advantage of Antonio’s love for him, and uses him to gain “fortune” to woo Portia in style.

            Shylock who is determined to hell that he will make them pay, that he will FINALLY get people to take responsibility for their actions backfires in his exploitation. He is guilty of trying to usurp God’s power, rather than to be a true Jew and to show faith in his endurance of grievances.

            Shylock is likened to THE DEVIL in this play

Shylock, who has made a seemingly concrete deal, is defeated by a loophole, a technicality. Read the fine print, basically.

Shylock who represents trying to exploit the law for revenge, or justice, taking advantage of the legal system of men to usurp God’s privilege of vengeance, is punished.

Shylock is the Debbie Downer. He is defeated by a technicality.


“If you repay me not on such a day,

In such a place, such sum or sums as are

Expressed in the condition, let the forfeit

Be nominated for an equal pound

Of your fair flesh to be cut off and taken

In what part of your body pleaseth me”

He was too caught up in vengeance, and his adherence to law (which is on his side) that his downfall was on a legal technicality. A loophole was the deux ex machina that allowed for such a villainous character to fall.

A woman has outsmarted the villain—a man. But only by claiming to be a Man.

A woman has command over the law, over he who had claimed authority and revenge over man. By attempting to usurp God’s privilege of vengeance, a woman has usurped man’s command over law and reason.

Christian’s blame Jews for the death of Jesus. Anti-Semitism is condoned, Shylock is a complete villain, save for pieces of humanity—3.1.49-55 “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions . . . ? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?”/ his ring for his wife—but is too enamored by revenge. It’s NOT greed!

Antonio is a symbol of all who have done Shylock wrong, as he is an Anti-Semite, he wants revenge on everybody. If Shylock succeeds, it sends a clear message to Christians.

A scapegoat – got off on a technicality, just like Portia’s suitors—she trusted in the rules, and all men who chose wrong, followed the rules:


“Besides, the lott’ry of my destiny

Bars me the right of voluntary choosing.

But if my father had not scanted me,

And hedged me by his wit to yield myself

His wife who wins me by that means I told you,

Yourself, renowned Prince, then stood as fair

As any comer I have looked on yet

For my affection.”



“Portia adieu. I have too grieved a heart

To take a tedious leave. Thus losers part.”