When I was a student in grade school, I distinctly remember reading The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. It really made an impact on the way I looked at poetry and how I went through life in general. “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Since reading this famous line, I have gone through my life making decisions not based off of what is easiest, but what is morally just and better for my future and for my overall evolution as a man. It is funny that one piece of writing can make you genuflect so greatly and make you really evaluate your life. I believe writing is a double-edged sword, giving people a feeling of hope in a positive and negative way. Writing is so powerful that it can heavily influence the mindset of people, including myself. This ability to persuade people via stories and poems has truly made me passionate about the subject and made me decide to be an English/Writing major for my major. I always believed that journal articles and novels could heavily influence someone, but after this class, I now realize poetry can have the same positive effect. I will continue to take the road less traveled by in my studies, and I will continue to believe that writing has the power to do a lot of good in this world.
Browsing for a blog post, I decided to Google Top 50 poems of all time. I came across a list of poets, the top ten all being poets I have heard about. The top poem, in this particular websites opinion, was Phenomenal Women by Maya Angelou. There were also two poems by Shel Silverstein as well as The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. As I read each of the top ten poems, I realized that that each had a message of faith, hope, determination, and optimism. Each poem left a feeling of optimism and I took comfort in this fact. Throughout the top 50, I did not find one which we read in this class. I found this confusing because I thought some of the poems we read were written with underlying themes and messages that we could get something out of. So I began to think why in the world would these poems not be in the Top 50. I came to the conclusion that whoever conjured up this list had a specific preference for uplifting poems written in simple language. The poems we read were written in complex form and sometimes dealt with difficult subject matter. Most people do not find comfort reading about difficult subject matter, but would rather read poems by Shel Silverstein and Robert Frost, poets who consistently wrote about optimism and hope. Humanity wants hope and wants to read stories of hope. They shy away from adversity and would rather only comment on the positive facets of life. So whoever wrote this list, they obviously sided with society. This was what I came up with.
Feeding off of the extensive research I have recently been doing on McClatchy and his work, I decided to youtube him to see what came up. I watched a few interviews he was a part of, noticing his poise and subtle sense of humor. All in all, he seemed like a respectable man and a passionate poet. As I continued to do some research on McClatchy, I found a ten minute video where he talked about Mozart and his love for him. McClatchy talked about how intelligent Mozart was and that “he lavishes the simplicity of all of his characters regardless of their moral bearings.” This particular quote he made in his presentation intrigued me because I saw this sort of style in all of his poems. He would take very delicate subjects, such as a jihad, and write it where his characters were simple. The boy in the poem with the bomb strapped to his chest is not described as lavish or strong or powerful, but rather just a young boy about to commit a horrific crime. This innocence performing this horrendous act shows a character that is simplistic regardless of his moral bearings. I found this link between the way McClatchy described Mozart and his own work showing the same characteristics rather intriguing.
After researching “Guantanamo” by Jorie Graham for my group project, I became really interested in the subject and some of the issues of accountability that she brings up throughout the poem. Something I think is worth discussing more is the overall structure of the poem as well as the line breaks used. Looking closer at the poem and our analysis, I think these structuring choices were done in order to emphasize the overall shocking manner in which the issues at Guantanamo were addressed. During the time when more and more information about the prison was starting to surface, the public seemed to get little snippets of details a little at a time. I think the chaos of this is reflected in the structure of the poem and how most of the lines are broken up into smaller, seemingly incomplete phrases. Also, the high level of secrecy that the government tried to maintain in regards to Guantanamo could be another reason for the choppy structure of the poem. The public was getting mixed information from different sources about what was really going on at the prison, and their confusion and refusal to address any of it can be seen throughout the poem. Graham talks about the accountability of the U.S. citizens, and the fact that they didn’t want to address what was going on or were unaware of many of the issues shows in the unorganized layout of the poem.
While I was writing my short response questions for my exam, I wanted to make sure I could understand the essence of engaged poetry and its ins and outs crystal clearly. So, I came across this article written for the New York Times in April of last year and it gives clear cut examples and contradictions to what engaged poetry is. Not only does he give traits of engaged writing he also gives traits of what might a detached writer might write about. It ends up explaining both sides very well and is a good read if you want to sharpen up your understanding of these different aspects of poetry.
The poem “Neon Apotheosis” in Austin Smith’s Almanac really reminded me of a short story that I read last semester in my english class called “Sonnie’s Blues” by James Baldwin and also the poem we read earlier in the year “The Way of the World” by Kim Addonizio. The common themes of drugs and music in “Sonnie’s Blues” is also in “Neon Apotheosis” and both show the power of music and how it can grasp people’s attention in a way that other things can’t. I figured out that ‘apotheosis’ means glorification and it’s interesting to see how when Sonnie performs at the end of “Sonnie’s Blues” and the machinist performs in “Neon Apotheosis”, they are both glorified by everyone in the crowd but one person. This proves Addonizio’s point in “The Way of the World” that others are not always supportive and happy about the success of an individual.
During our groups presentation on Maxine Kumin’s “On Reading The Age of Innocence in a Troubled Time” we talked a lot about the contrast between May Welland and Mukhtaran Bibi but did not get to talk as much about the contrast between 1870 Old New York, the setting of The Age of Innocence , and Meerwala, the rural village of Pakistan where Bibi is from. The 1870’s in New York was a time of new ordered urban industrial structure. Even though there was a large presence of poor/working class people and a lack of housing, many facilities such as hospitals and schools were expanding. It was also a time of a lot of drinking/partying for wealthier aristrocrats. Being in a more well of environment is a privilege that Bibi did not have and being more aware of that contrast definitely makes the poem even more repelling. One thing I am still confused about the poem is the last line that says “you must have seen enough” which I think is talking about being fed up with seeing history repeat itself over and over again what do you guys think this line means?
After doing a lot of research on the background events of “On Reading The Age of Innocence in a Troubled Time” by Maxine Kumin, I found a few interesting bits on Bibi I did not get to mention in the presentation. Side note\fun fact: In reference to the power of language, as a whole, I thought it was really cool to find out Bibi’s memoir, titled Déshonorée was first published in France and has been published in twenty-three languages (in English its title is In the name of honor).
Engaged poetry I think is very important, now, that I’ve heard and learned more about these poem in-depth from the other group presentations. It’s bizarre and scary to think so many things are going on in the world, and so many of them are terrifying and associated with our country that I wouldn’t have known about unless I read these poems, which I think it kind of terrible, really; however, it does make complete sense that the events we talked about (the prison camp, especially!) would be kept a secret because it is terrible. I would hope that Americans running government\military\foreign affair projects in other countries would be much more noble, but I was horrified to find out how grotesque their treatments were.
Finally, what I’m trying to say is language is really powerful and I’m really glad to be learning about these affairs and I’m glad engaged poetry exists and can keep existing because I think it’s a really neat (and artful!) way to take a close-up look into what’s happening currently (or to look back, historically).
For our final group project, my group is in charge of analyzing “Jihad” by J.D. McClatchy. Before this class, specifically before the latter half of the semester, I had never heard of this aforementioned poet. When we initially read “Jihad” I was not sure how I felt about about it. I did not quite understand it at first as it was written in a formally complex fashion. There were also many words and phrases within the poem that I had to look up to understand the context of it. As I started working on my project, my appreciation for the poem and McClatchy increased. Doing research on McClatchy, I learned he enjoys writing poems about recent events and enjoys reading the poems in a sensitive style. After hearing that, I reread “Jihad” one more time to see if I could notice it being written sensitively. To be honest, I did not see it. The way the poem talks about the suicide bomber, it really does not sensitize the situation at all. Maybe I am reading it wrong, but it just seems to be too intense of a poem to be considered sensitive. My question for everyone else is, do you agree with me?
As I spent this past week unscrambling the complexity of the poem assigned to our presentation group, I began to reflect on Bernstein.
In previous class discussion I positioned myself on the side of uncertainty regarding the importance of resistance and complexity of engaged poetry. However, tackling the final project has sparked reconsideration. Hours were spent unraveling the allusions and hidden meanings in mere stanzas. And perhaps all of that work was futile. Our chosen poet, Donnelly, capitalized on the theme of double entendres… so his words have multiple implications. But the sheer amount of history, politics, and religious references in his poem sent me on a scholarly journey. But what was truly engaging about his poetry was his disposition. Donnelly, like other poets are not confined to just historical facts. They have the ability and freedom to taint this information. Whether it be in fragments to depict injustice, or twisting a political leaders words into the mouth of another, or even taking on the lives of war victims, engagement poets work their magic through opinion.
I now understand more fully the importance of the barriers to easy reading in engagement poetry. These barriers essentially expand the surface area of the page; poets are able to fill the stanzas with much more depth and content than what can be seen at first glance.