Thursday, February 25, 2010

robert lowell

Robert Lowell was an influential confessional poet. Both Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath credited his class with their development as writers. I like how he uses history in “For the Union Dead” and also comments on modern day problems. He spends a significant portion of the poem with past references (i.e. the old aquarium and the display for Shaw and his men). And, he also notes “Space is nearer. When I crouch to my television set, the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.” These references to desegregation, the moon landing, and other significant events of the time work well with the historical facts he puts in the poem too. I enjoyed reading Lowell.

George Saunders

Saunders’ “Sea Oak” story was a really comical take on modern day issues. I enjoyed reading the story and found it hilarious, although it did leave me with a bleak picture of the “American Dream.” Freddie sums up this attitude in his dinner speech: “It’s the freaking American way-you start out in a dangerous craphole and work hard so you can someday move up to a somewhat less dangerous craphole. And finally maybe you get a mansion.” As mentioned in class, I find the disparity her sickening. A person’s choices are A) dangerous craphole B) less dangerous craphole or C)Mansion. Where’s the middle class, 2 story, suburban house with the white picket fence? It’s like that American dream has disappeared for many people in this country.

Louis and Espada

I love both of these writers and how they use poetry to speak out about issues facing their people.

In “Dust World” Louis has several references to modern culture that I find interesting. The “’70 Chevy, and T Bird” both seem to reference the commercialism in America. While he lives in a “..sad, welfare world. This land that time forgot.”

Espada references this too in “The Skull Beneath the Skin of the Mango.” The lines: “…the wooden boxes exported to the States…” and “An American reporter, arms crowded with fruit…” both point out what the American consumer and business are taking from the country. Yet, they are suffering from slaughter and murder that is going unacknowledged by their government. The reporters “…muttered that slaughter is only superstition in a land of new treaties and ballot boxes.”

I think both poets make a similar point about the way impoverished and disenfranchised groups of people continually are taken advantage of and exploited. Therefore, reinforcing the cycle of poverty.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Louise Gluck

This is the first time I read Louise Gluck and I loved her poems! They were really beautiful. I like how she recounts the Odyssey tale in such simple language. The MAP site contains this quote from Gluck: “It seemed to me that simple language best suited this enterprise; such language, in being generic, is likely to contain the greatest and most dramatic variety of meaning within individual words.” It was also interesting how she varied the line lengths, point of view, etc. and each poem reads differently. “Circe’s Power” and “C’s Grief” are both told from the first person, with Circe as the narrator. All the other poems are third person. I like the last lines of both of the “Circe” poems, in which she reveals her longing for Odysseus. “If I wanted only to hold you/ I could hold you prisoner.” And “…if I am in her head forever/ I am in your life forever.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sherman Alexie

Alexie’s works seem to combat stereotypes about Native Americans with their sarcastic wit. In “How to write a great American Indian novel” he uses some of this sarcasm to describe stereotypes that are often portrayed of Native Americans. The last line of this poem is the most effective to me: “In the Great American Indian Novel, when it is finally written, all of the write people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts.” In my opinion, this line depicts what really happened between whites and Native Americans. Whites wanted land so bad, they killed for it. Alexie’s line reminds us of our greed toward the Native Americans and our desire to have what is really theirs.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

T.C. Boyle

I read and loved Boyle’s book “Tortilla Curtain.” I would recommend it to anyone. This short story didn’t disappoint me either. So, I’m ready to read more by Boyle. I found an interview w/ Boyle (and also he reads some of his other stories aloud) online. Here’s the link if you’re interested: At some point in the clip he says: “A great work of art, can appeal to everybody.” He believes that literature should have the ability to be readable to people from all walks of life.

In “Chicxulub” Boyle relates the disaster of losing a child to a natural disaster, that of a meteor hitting the earth. The impact the loss of a child has on a person hits them like the impact of the meteor. It could leave a massive crater in a parent’s heart. He mixes the 2 storylines back and forth so well, they tie together easily. “…the chances that a disaster of this magnitude will occur during any individual’s lifetime at roughly one in ten thousand, the same odds as dying in an auto accident in the next six months…” He notes how death is the thing that makes us equal. “…we, and all our works and worries and attachments, are so utterly inconsequential. Death cancels our individuality….” And, later he reflects on how powerless we are as humans to stop the meteor (or death of a loved one). In the end, the couple realizes it’s not their daughter after all. They are relieved, but the narrator realizes “…The rock is coming”…and sympathizes “For the Cherwins, it’s already here.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Philip Levine

Levine’s poetry was interesting. I really had a hard time reading “Animals are Passing from Our Lives” and“ They Feed Lion,” the animal slaughter references are a little too much for me.

However, I loved reading “Fear and Fame!” The text notes that Levine: “took a number of working-class jobs; those, and the ruined industrial landscape of Detroit, helped shape the settings and political loyalties of his poems (925).” The job described in this poem seems extremely difficult and dangerous. “Then to arise and dress again in the costume of my trade for the second time that night, stiffened by the knowledge that to descend and rise up from the other world merely once in eight hours is half what it takes to be known among women and men (932).” It seems like no one really appreciated the hard job he had. “Oddly enough no one welcomed me back…” He couldn’t be known or acknowledged for what he did.


I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around Ashbery’s poems. And, my research on him didn’t clear things up. “In the New Criterion, William Logan noted: "Few poets have so cleverly manipulated, or just plain tortured, our soiled desire for meaning. [Ashbery] reminds us that most poets who give us meaning don't know what they're talking about." (”. So, I guess the point is we aren’t supposed to be able to find the meaning in his poems. But, it’s so hard to resist isn’t it? I mean, are they literally just a clutter of words with no purpose? Or, maybe like Ginsberg the meanings are mainly known only to the poet or those close to him. But, even with this piece of info. about the poet, I still wanted to dig deeper and see what I could glean from these poems.

One analysis for “They Dream Only of America” on the website by Shoptaw states: “The romantic secrecy of the fugitive gay lovers is parallel here to the French Resistance (Martory fought in its ranks, after his escape to Algeria) waiting for America’s liberation. Though the term "gay liberation" had not yet been coined, this poem seems tow ait for its minting. The utopian "American dream" here fantasizes a time and a place where gay lovers could come out of their lilac cubes. (

I think others (immigrants) dreaming of an escape in America could also relate to the poem. “To be lost among the 13 million pillars of grass…” I also liked the lines at the end: “There is nothing to do For our liberation; except wait in the horror of it.” It’s odd that one would desire liberation, then wait in horror of it. Unless, the liberation he’s talking about is death (??).

The poem “Street Musicians” was also interesting. I just don’t know what to make of it. I like the first line: “One died, and the soul was wrenched out/Of the other in life, who, walking the streets…” and “Glimpses of what the other was up to: Revelations at last. So they grew to hate and forget each other.” These lines in the first stanza seem to be talking about other person, removed from the narrator “they, the other.” I get the sense that these people are lovers grown apart, and then one dies. Interestingly, in the 2nd stanza the voice changes to “I, our.” I was wondering why he does this.

Adrienne Rich

I first read Adrienne Rich in a Women's Studies class @ UGA. Like the essays I read, her poems offer insight into Womens issues. According to the website, Rich faced similar struggles to many of the other women we have studied (i.e. Conflicting roles as mother vs. artist). Later, she became a leader in the Womens rights movement. I found this interesting: “In 1956, she began dating her poems to underscore their existence within a context, and to argue against the idea that poetry existed separately from the poet's life.” ( Rich wrote about legitimate experiences, not just her own, but of other women.

I especially like “Power”. The last line is the most telling for me: “her wounds came from the same source as her power.” Marie Curie’s experience is related to that of women everywhere who are deprived from power (or if they have power, they often become “wounded” from it) in a male dominated society. I love that she chose to write about a historical figure, a woman, who like many of the women poets we’ve studied, wasn’t given the recognition she deserved in her lifetime.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Raymond Carver and Margaret Atwood: What is Love??

I loved reading, “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love and Happy Endings.” How appropriate this week’s readings were in light of V-day. I found it fascinating (as I do every year) how everyone becomes so caught up in love and its meanings this time of year. Everywhere I start seeing references to 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind….”; love songs; and of course, poetry. Do we love on the other 365 days of the year?

Coincidentally, when we tried to sort the short stories last week in class, our group briefly discussed the categories of love. It had been years since I had thought about the philosophy of love (i.e. eros, agape, philia). So, recalling these actually required some research for me to refresh my memory. Here’s a good link I found:
I must have studied these a million times in some of my undergrad psychology, sociology, and other courses. In Women’s Studies and Social Work we certainly discussed love in relation to domestic violence.

In “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” Mel argues at length his opinion on love. He insists that what Terri and Ed had was not real love. And, I would totally agree with him (having witnessed some very awful, toxic relationships among clients and friends). However, I find it interesting how patronizing his tone is throughout this story, toward all of the characters, but especially Terri. “My God, don’t be silly. That’s not love, and you know it.” Nick credits his tone to Mel’s status in his career: “Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right.”

Laura’s view on love seems to be that it depends on the individual(s) involved. She even states she can’t judge Ed and Terri’s relationship because she never knew him or saw them together. Laura and Nick will only focus on what love means in the context of their own relationship.

Also, Mel makes another point about the inconsistency of love. Individuals can love more than one person in their lifetime. He relates how he loved his ex-wife at one time. But, now he hates her so bad he would be happy if she were dead! This example stands in stark contrast to his definition of love. If “real love is nothing less than spiritual love” (agape) as he asserts in the beginning of the story, did he ever really love his first wife? Does he love Terri in this sense, or does their love fall into one of the other categories (eros, philia)?

Atwood’s “Happy Endings” presents a very pessimistic view of love and relationships with her many scenarios. “You'll still end up with A, though in between you may get a lustful brawling saga of passionate involvement, a chronicle of our times, sort of. You'll have to face it, the endings are the same however you slice it. Don't be deluded by any other endings, they're all fake, either deliberately fake, with malicious intent to deceive, or just motivated by excessive optimism if not by downright sentimentality. The only authentic ending is the one provided here: John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die. “

So, what is love? It’s one of the most complicated human emotions, one that philosophers, writers, musicians, and others have tried to define for centuries. I’m not sure love is something that can be easily defined. I may be more with Nick and Laura on this one…

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


It seems to be a trend of these confessional poets…. I just read in Berryman’s biography that he also attempted suicide in 1931. Maybe, all that inward reflection adds to one’s problems. I think it’s important that these poets took personal experience and put them into their poetry. But, maybe using that experience to help others or reflect on the circumstances of others would have made it less painful (and, less narcissistic) for them.

But, these were some extremely successful poets too. “Dream Songs” won the Pulitzer Prize (like the other poets we’ve discussed this week) for Berryman. I don’t know what to think of the “Dream Songs” we were assigned. They were difficult but, interesting to read.

I think it’s interesting to read Lowell’s criticism of Berryman’s work on the MAPS website. Especially, since Robert Lowell was so influential to Berryman, Plath, and Sexton.

Anne Sexton

Truly a confessional poet. Anne really reveals herself and her thoughts over her parent’s death in “The Truth the Dead Know.” “I am tired of being brave” she says in the first stanza. And, in the second she discusses how commonplace death is during this time of war “In another country people die.”

And in “One for my Dame,” Sexton (like Plath) portrays the conflicts women of the 50s and 60s faced. The narrator discusses the travels, business life of her father and later her husband. And, she sits at home and waits. She looks at maps and “each night with no place to go.” I wonder if the narrator is also worried that her husband will die on the road like her father did. Since the men in her life have always been the breadwinners this would leave her in a difficult position.

Sexton and Plath have a lot in common, not just in the themes of their poetry (death, women's issues, etc) but, they also faced similar struggles as mothers. And, they are hauntingly similar in their suicide attempts and deaths. In an interview I found, Plath discusses her admiration of Sexton and her poetry:

Barthelme: The Balloon

I found this story amusing. I don’t know why but, it made me laugh the whole time I read it. Wouldn’t it be fun to play a prank like that? Just put up some huge balloon in the middle of New York City and observe everyone’s reactions!?

I like how people in the story start trying to figure out what the balloon represents, and how they start using it as a landmark. “There was a certain amount of initial argumentation about the “meaning” of the balloon; this subsided, because we have learned not to insist on meanings…” and “People began, in a curious way, to locate themselves in relation to aspects of the balloon…”

I like the line “As a single balloon must stand for a lifetime of thinking about balloons, so each citizen expressed, in the attitude he chose, a complex of attitudes.” Maybe he does intend to use the balloon as a metaphor (as Renee suggested). It could all be about perspective. He suggests these in the next paragraphs when he describes various citizens’ thoughts on the balloon. Barthelme could be referring to our need to always interpret everything (i.e. the way we want to interpret these poems, or art, etc.)

Then in the end he says: “I met you under the balloon, on the occasion of your return from Norway; you asked if it was mine; I said it was. The balloon, I said, is a spontaneous autobiographical disclosure, having to do with the unease I felt at your absence, at with sexual deprivation, but now that your visit to Bergen has been terminated, it is no longer necessary or appropriate.” Why does he choose to explain the balloon in this passage when throughout the rest of the story he seems to insist that people shouldn’t try to interpret/explain it?

John Updike

I read A & P in one of my undergraduate English courses (101 or 102) when I first started college. As a retail worker, I can appreciate the humor in this story and sympathize with the narrator. I know coworkers who’ve had those days where you just feel like your boss is a jerk, or the work is too meaningless, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice to just say “I quit!” and walk out?

But the narrator also discusses the sadness the loss of his job caused his family and his realization that the world will be a much more difficult place for him now. It’s interesting how the narrator sacrificed his own job, at a great cost to him, out of sympathy for the girls. These girls were obviously of a higher class and didn’t realize or appreciate his actions. “I look around for my girls, but they're gone, of course.” (Did anyone else notice how he referred to them as “my” girls, as if he was playing some knight in shining armor for them?)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sylvia Plath

I don’t want to say too much about Plath because I would like to save it for my presentation. But, something that is striking me more and more when I read her poetry and research her life is a conflict between her desire to be successful and her expectation to be a good wife and mother. It reminds me of the discussion we had after Tillie Olsen and “I stand here Ironing.”

According to her biography by Linda Wagner-Martin, Plath was always eager to please. As a child, she wanted to please her father, especially after he became ill. He had so little time for his children and in the few moments they got to spend with him, Sylvia and her brother “discussed what they had learned that day, recited poems, made up stories, performed. Hardly a normal interchange, this kind of session created the image of father as critic, judge, someone to be pleased.” So for Sylvia: “Doing things for the fun of doing them was less important than doing them because she could do them better than most people. It was a lesson that could end only in defeat and deprivation.” (26) She became a perfectionist at everything she tried. Depression resulted when she didn’t succeed.

This carried over into adulthood. She took it to heart when critics didn’t like her writing. She married Ted Hughes in 1956, and early in the marriage placed more importance on his writing. She concentrated on helping him and completing household tasks. But, she eventually began to feel frustrated with having too much responsibility and neglecting her own dreams. When reading “Tulips” I think of this conflict of roles. “Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage..” “My husband and child smiling out of the family photo; Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.” Then, she describes the Tulips as weighing her down, like “lead sinkers.”

Wow, I often think I have too much going on, juggling motherhood, work, school, etc. that I begin to feel can’t fully commit to anything and be good at it. But, how much harder it must have been for women like Plath living in the 50’s and 60’s. The text notes: “her academic and literary achievements…were in conflict with the traditional view of women’s roles that prevailed in the 1950s, and she was unable to live comfortably with the contradictions.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Shout out for Gwendolyn Brooks (in honor of her and BLACK HISTORY MONTH)

I just felt like I needed to give a little credit to this Pulitzer Prize winning, African American, Female, poet! I think she's awesome and what better month to say it than Black History Month.

Here's a tribute I found (she says it so much better than I ever could):
"I was born two years after Gwendolyn Brooks, as the first Black writer ever, had received this highest honor in American letters. And it wasn't until 17 years later, when as a gawky adolescent I spent the whole of a muggy midwestern summer combing the local library shelves for something that might speak to me-that the poems of Gwendolyn Brooks leapt off the pages of the book in my hands and struck me like a thunderbolt. These were words that spoke straight from the turbulent center of life-words that nourished like meat, not frosting. Yes, I was struck by these poems, poems with muscle and sinew, poems that weren't afraid to take the language and revamp it, twist it and energize it so that it shimmied and dashed and lingered.....Thank you, Gwendolyn, for your invaluable contributions to changing the face of our world." (

Elizabeth Bishop

I liked Bishop’s “One Art.” Loss is such a part of our everyday lives. “Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.” I can relate. I lost my house keys just last week. I know everyone else has probably done the same thing. So, losing stuff, people, places, etc. is really something we all have in common. But, sometimes the things we lose have significance. “I lost my mother’s watch” Bishop writes. My cousin lost her engagement ring! As you can imagine, this was devastating for her. Then, Bishop reminds us that this doesn’t mean disaster (although it really feels like it!). I think she even refers to the loss of love (or death of a loved one) “Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love)” in the last stanza of this poem. But, even then we have to move on despite our loss.

O'Hara and Ginsberg

I have to agree with Dr. Griffith’s post about these 2 writers. “that gives the reader the sense s/he isn't privy to the poem's world.” These 2 poets both write about personal experience without clueing us in completely. The phrase: “I guess you had to be there” comes to mind. But, I think that’s what’s so interesting about their poetry. Isn’t it kind of fun as a reader to guess what Ginsberg or O’Hara were referring to when you read: “kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!” or, “who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism”? One critic says about O’Hara: "Today" exerts no demonstrative control over readers' interpretations of the sequence of objects. In relinquishing the will to power” (

For example, a friend of mine posted on his Facebook status “finished song #3 called Dr. Pepper and 100-Proof SoCo.” Now, I find that hilarious because I was at that particular event and I get the joke. Everyone else could only imagine what meaning is behind those words. I know we all have these types of anecdotes about friends, family that we couldn’t really explain to anyone else. But, instead of explaining one drops little tidbits like this and lets the reader imagine anything they want.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Theodore Roethke

I read “My Papa’s Waltz” in high school and really enjoyed this poem then. It’s short, only four stanzas, and has an easy rhyme scheme. There’s a reading online: by Theodore Roethke. I know there are a lot of different interpretations of this poem. I’m not even going to go there. I just take pleasure in its simplicity and readability.

Written in 1964 (later in his life), “Meditation at Oyster River (from North American Sequence)” is very different. It’s in free verse and has no rhyme scheme. Roethke uses many depictions of nature and natural elements (water). He admires nature but, he also seems to give human like tendencies to these elements. “The tongues of water, creeping in, quietly.” I enjoyed reading this poem also. I’m intrigued by the line “The self persists like a dying star.” I’m not sure why but, really liked the sound of it.

Eudora Welty

I really didn’t enjoy reading “Why I live @ the P.O.” (Although I usually appreciate almost everything we read). But, I could not really get in touch with why I didn’t like it. Maybe it was because the characters seemed to act so immature and petty about everything. The sisters (both adult women) were constantly bickering and their mother and other older family members acted just as childish. After reading it a few times I assume Welty intended for most of this to be humorous. However, there seems to be no real message to the story. It doesn’t appear to be tackling any problems or making a point about some issue (unless she’s trying to make a point about the pitfalls of sibling rivalry).

I found a link to a recording of Welty reading part of this story. It really helps to hear the dialogue out load. Welty’s southern accent mimics what I’m sure she wanted her characters to sound like. And, I found a great biography at: These resources definitely helped me. But, I’m not sure if I have a better appreciation for the story yet.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Gwendolyn Brooks

Like the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Gwendolyn Brooks writes about racial injustices and social issues.

I have read many of Gwendolyn Brook’s poems in the past. “We Real Cool” and “The Boy Died in my Alley” were my favorites. In “The Boy Died in my Alley” Gwendolyn Brooks discusses the death of a young man. The narrator of this poem reflects on the boy’s death and the violence in the neighborhood: “The Shot that killed him yes I heard as I heard the Thousand shots before…” It seems that gunshots and violence are such an everyday occurrence that he/she began to accept them. However, the narrator understands that by accepting this way of life they hold some responsibility in the boy’s death: “I have always heard him deal with death…I have closed my heart-ears late and early. And I have killed him ever.” This poem and others by Brooks show the problems of racial injustice that still plague inner cities today.

Tillie Lerner Olsen

I really enjoyed reading about Tillie Olsen and her story, “I Stand Here Ironing.” As a mother, I found the story very moving. It really relates the struggles and uncertainty that many working mothers often feel. These hardships are even more difficult for poor, single mothers like the one in this story. Emily’s mother obviously loved her. But, she was forced to make decisions that weren’t the best for her child out of necessity to survive. Now, years later she reflects on her shortcomings and wonders if her daughter will be alright. She also ponders if there is even anything she can do to help her daughter now. She contemplates all of these difficulties while she finishes her housework and cares for her youngest child.

I imagine that Tillie Olsen must have borrowed some of these experiences from her own life. According to her biography she also struggled to maintain that delicate balance between working and being a mother. Tillie is credited for highlighting issues faced by women and people in poverty through her stories and activism. “Throughout the years of child rearing and maintaining a family with few resources while working on "everyday jobs" Tillie organized in her neighborhoods for parks and playgrounds, was a founder of the city's first Parent Cooperative Nursery school, fought for quality child care programs, became a leader in the PTA, served as director of the California CIO War Relief and President of the Women's Auxiliary of the CIO during the second world war.” ( I really admire all she was able to accomplish.