Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Langston Hughes

I saved the best for last! My favorite readings this week were the Langston Hughes poems. Like the other authors we are studying, Hughes uses his poetry to speak out against the racial problems in America. I liked reading “Park Bench” because he also highlights issues of the wealthy vs. poor in society. According to the text: “He wrote some of America’s most telling indictments of racism, but also reached out to the poor of all ethnic backgrounds. And he was one of the few male poets of his generation that could write persuasively both about women and within a female persona” (503). So, his interest was in solving a myriad of social problems in this country.

J.W. Johnson

According to the text Johnson spent some time writing songs and composing lyrics. I can clearly see his appreciation for music in “O Black and Unknown Bards.” In this poem, he really admires the ability of African Americans to create such beautiful lyrics, despite their hardships during slavery. These men and women were never credited for their music. “O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed…” These men and women could still hold onto their faith despite being taken advantage of and held captive for so long. Johnson admires their faith and hope.

Johnson’s tone seems more optimistic than that of his peers (i.e. McKay). And he later wrote a book, “Negro Americans, What Now? (1934), a book that argued for the merits of racial integration and cooperation.” ( But, I think this contrasts the message he sends in “The White Witch.” This poem conveys anger toward a white woman that is portrayed as temptress who “snares” and “preys upon” young black men. There seem to be many different aspects to Johnson’s poetry. Similarly, the text notes: “Johnson’s work and multiple careers defy easy characterization” (31).

Claude McKay

I remember studying Claude Mckay in Brit. Lit. and really enjoyed reading his poetry. In his earlier poetry he used the dialect of poor Jamaicans (giving consideration to his Jamaican heritage). We read “Old England” in which he displays appreciation for the history of the country he longs to one day visit. In that poem he mentions his admiration for Milton, Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Gray (famous white poets of the past).

The poems we read for this week’s assignment seem to contrast to this earlier poetry. In “Negro’s Tragedy” and “Look Within” he becomes more outspoken. He asserts that “Only a thorn-crowned Negro and no white…” and “There is no white man who could write my book...” After McKay was older and had experienced firsthand the racism in America he began to write more radically and protests the injustices against blacks.

In response to Michelle, who mentioned McKay seemed “dull” to her. I wonder if his use of traditional forms had anything to do with this perception of his poetry. Like Dr. Griffiths mentioned, what I find interesting about McKay is that he uses the Sonnet form in his writing. (Sonnet: lyric poem comprising 14 rhyming lines of equal length: iambic pentameters). But, he doesn’t use the same tone Shakespeare and past writers did. According to the text, “…McKay reconceived the meaning of a centuries-long tradition” (314).

Like L. Hughes and other imp. writers of the Harlem Renaissance, McKay embraced communism and socialism for a short while. He carried on activism throughout his life. Although there is a tone of anger and conflict in much of his poetry, you have to admire someone that had so much passion and advocated for the rights of his fellow African Americans.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Wright’s essay: “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow” highlights some of the shameful details of our history. The manner in which black Americans were treated in this era was terrible. Wright’s personal account makes their mistreatment feel even more real for me as a reader.

Check out this video I found online:
In this video part of the essay is read and some of the scenes are reenacted. It’s interesting to listen to the story again while watching this. The characters in the video (especially at the end) were so detached about the crimes against other blacks. It made me realize how individuals living in the Jim Crow era had to simply accept their fate and hope for the best. It seemed that anyone who spoke out against the injustices that happened were silenced, beaten, or worse. Therefore, many blacks were forced to tolerate these inequities for so long.

Richard Wright spent much of his life combating social injustices in the US and abroad. His writings and portrayal of the struggles of African Americans undoubtedly helped further his work.

Zora N. Hurston

“What goes around comes around!” I really enjoyed reading “Sweat.” It was ironic how Sykes met his fate in the end. When he brought home the snake to torment Delia (and I suspect placed it in the laundry basket) he was bringing home his own death. I admire Hurston’s portrayal of the strong, black woman in this poem. Delia was an amazing character; she persevered through so much and was well respected by others in her community.

The hardships Delia faced were immense. She not only had to deal with the problems that came with being a poor, black in the South, but also being a woman placed her at a disadvantage. I kept wondering throughout the story why she didn’t just kick Sykes out of the house or divorce him. Then, I had to remember that was probably not an option in her day. Although she was the one whose sweat and hard work paid for their home, I wonder if she would have had any legal claim to it. I thought it was significant that Sykes carries a bullwhip in the beginning of the story. Maybe Hurston was trying to symbolize his attempt at control over Delia. But, she also describes the whip as being “limp.” At this point in her life she is no longer willing to allow Sykes to mistreat her as he has done in the past.

I always like to learn more about the author’s we are reading. According to this biography (, Zora led an interesting (though sometimes sad) life. A turning point in her life seemed to be the loss of her mother @ age 13. She stated: "That hour began my wanderings," she later wrote. "Not so much in geography, but in time. Then not so much in time as in spirit." Zora became friends with Langston Hughes and others in the Harlem Renaissance movement. She was extremely popular and well published. Unfortunately, she still died poor and in an unmarked grave. Another admiring author later furnished a marker for her burial place.

I believe that many of Zora’s life experiences likely shaped her writing. The dialogue in “Sweat” and the Florida setting seems to enhance the realness of the characters. Although the characters were poor, common, everyday people their language and experiences are still important.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wallace Stevens: 13 ways of Looking @...

This is the first time I have ever read Wallace Stevens and although I don’t know what to make of this poem yet, I was impressed. I especially enjoyed part V: “I do not know which to prefer, The beauty of inflections Or the beauty of innuendoes, The blackbird whistling Or just after”

Reminds me of the song “Blackbird” I love: “Blackbird, how I love to hear your song. Well, I could spend all my time in the shade of a tree And listen all day long.”(Third Day). Wow. I hope we talk more about Wallace Stevens and this poem tonight.


William Faulkner was another award winning writer. Like Hemingway won the Nobel Prize 1949. However, his writing style was dramatically different. Long sentences, lots of detail contrast with Hemingway’s short, simple, direct way of writing. And, they had a somewhat public conflict over their differences: "Hemingway," Faulkner said once, "has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

Even though his writing varied greatly from Hemingway (another favorite of mine), I admire Faulkner because he frequently wrote about the South, history, and things that hold a lot of interest for me. “A Rose for Emily” was one of his southern themed works. I love his description of Emily’s home in the beginning of the story “It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street. But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily's house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores. And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson.” I’m one of those people that love to stop and admire old houses. Even when they are falling apart and covered in weeds, I imagine what they used to look like or what they could look like if I could just put it back together again. His detailed description paints a wonderful picture in my mind of what Emily’s ancient home must have looked like.


Like many people I’ve always enjoyed reading poetry by Robert Frost. I wanted to know more about him and found his page on the Modern American Poetry site ( It was no surprise to find that Frost was/is an extremely popular poet. He was a Pulitzer prize winner and has been admired by everyone including Presidents (JFK). His poems are widely read and unlike many writers, Frost was able to enjoy his popular status during his lifetime. But, I did not know about all the sadness and loss he faced in his personal life. And, I can’t help keeping this in mind while I reread his poems.

His style, traditional meter and rhyme scheme, makes his poems seem simple but, the deeper meaning in many of them is sometimes missed. He reminds me of the Romantic poets since much of his poetry is about nature and expresses an admiration for natural things. “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a favorite of mine. You can certainly see Frost’s love of nature in this poem. “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.” But, in the same stanza he also reminds us of the “promises to keep”, obligations to people in our lives. One can’t be drawn into slumber and rest in the lovely woods, because the responsibilities of life are more pressing.

In “Need of Being Versed in Country Things” he reflects on a burned out farmhouse with a tone of sadness. Yet he also notes hopefulness in the regeneration of nature when he reflects on the new home the birds have made there and “the lilac renewed its leaf.” His poems induce a mixture of differing emotions.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Journey of the Magi, Eliot

Eliot’s Journey gives the reader insight into the feelings of the Magi on their journey to see the birth of Christ. It really makes this long ago trip seem real, come alive.

His description of the long, hard journey in the first stanza certainly makes the reader feel as if they were there. From the Magi’s point of view he describes the cold winter travel, then in the middle of the stanza the Magi reflects on “the summer palaces on the slopes…” In these lines he seems to be describing a life of luxury (what they must have had at home) but, “There were times we regretted..” the narrator says. Possibly, he knows their life at home was superficial and this difficult trip is teaching them more. And the whole time they were being discouraged “..voices singing…this was all folly.” but, they traveled on.

In the last stanza the narrator reflects on the long ago journey and says he would “do it all again.” He wonders if they had come such a long way to see a birth or a death and then decides it was both: “…this birth was hard and bitter agony for us like death, our death.” I think the Magi is claiming they were changed, or reborn on this journey. Like the Christian theme of salvation, a person’s old life becomes dead and they are born again into something new (the reason Christ came to this Earth). He follows by saying how things changed for them when they arrived home. They no longer felt at ease in their kingdoms and palaces and felt they were with “alien people clutching their gods.” The narrator finally claims he would be glad to do this again. This difficult journey obviously resulted in a real, life changing experience for him.

Hemingway: Hills Like White Elephants

Wow, I really admire Hemingway. I just finished rereading “Hills like White Elephants.” True to his style, Hemingway manages to say so much with few words. The first reading didn’t provide much insight for me. But, a second more careful reading and I can sense the tension in this couple’s dialogue. They are obviously having a disagreement about an operation he wants her to have (an abortion). Then, I begin to feel the tension of the argument. Their relationship seems to be at a crossroads. They may not last and the woman has a difficult choice to make.

Hemingway leaves it up to the reader to “read b/w the lines” and infer what is happening in this scenario. A master writer, he developed his technique when he worked as a journalist. He learned to write direct and short sentences. Hemingway stated: "Find what gave you the emotion; what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling as you had." ( A Nobel Winner, Hemingway is truly a master. He can make the reader feel all the emotion of characters by using only the barest essentials of words.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

day we goo!!

Soo, I'm super excited about this class! Dr. Griffiths is an awesome professor. :)