Monthly Archives: March 2017

Adrienne Rich: Diving into the Wreck

I love how the “wreck” is a metaphor for the old traditions, for the hegemony. The wreck could be an essay written on Homer by some tweedy old white hair that secures his tenure. The old ways are dead, but they are still beautiful and mysterious with new eyes. Rich is showing us that we, too have to “breathe differently down here.”.

I love her portrayal of the struggle of a woman entering these waters, “here alone”, unlike Cousteau (a man) and his well funded and celebrated team. She doesn’t even know “when the ocean will begin” because she doesn’t know at what point her exploration will upset the traditional ways of doing things. Everything is new. And she feels as awkward as wearing a diving suit, she is self conscious as she makes the initial attempt, but once underwater she is a “mermaid” in the “deep element”. Identity slide away and “I am she: I am he” – gender down here really means nothing, only how we explore the wreck – the old art.


Joy Harjo: The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window

When reading this poem I thought of the famous photograph of a baby sitter falling to her death when a fire escape collapsed during a building fire in Boston in 1975. This poem was published 8 years after the tragedy, and Harjo may have begun working on it after seeing this photograph (though I’m totally speculating here). Yet the themes are similar, “as she falls from the 13th floor”, in that there is a hopelessness to the dire situation both women are in, being trapped (in the photo by death itself, or in the poem by a slow death of poverty and family responsibility).

There is a life flashing before our eyes quality to both works, too. Though we can only look in horror at the woman in the photograph, in Harjo’s poem we get images of “Lake Michigan”, “her father, and of her mother”, Some of them scream out from below / for her to jump, they would push her over.” Harjo is remembering everything that makes up her life, but it’s dismal. The lake :just sputters / and butts itself against the asphalt” – there is no breaker between her and the dismal, relentless nature of the world, unlike the rich who are secure in “tall glass houses at the edge of [the lake]”.

Death is ever-present, too: “pull their children up like flowers and gather / them into their arms” is almost funeral. And of course she “hangs” all through the poem, dangling, on a precipice of society that offers very little hope of relief. “Her mind  chatters like neon”, “Her teeth break off at the edges”, “she sees other / woman hanging”, “She thinks of the 4 a.m. loneliness”, “She is several pieces”. All these images paint a picture of brokenness, and of restlessness. There seems to be longing (else why would she hang on for so long?), and she even falls in the last stanza, but there is a choice here, too in that she “climbs back up to claim herself again.”, which speaks to her strength, in that she will not give up, in that even though the world she lives in is terrible, she will not let it totally consume her – she will endure it, as all the other woman have endured it.

Fire Escape Collapse, 1975, Stanley Forman

Cultural Response for “13th”

While choosing to be racist is a personal choice, so much of our society is structured to encourage racism that simply choosing not to be racist will not be enough to end the cycle.  In this essay I will examine the ways in which the structures that perpetuate racism could be changed, as well as explore the futility of public figures who have tried to “apologize” for instituting a system that devastated black communities and deepened the wounds of racism in America.

The big question is, “What can we do to end the cycle of racism?”. To say there is an easy or obvious answer to this question would be to ignore the 150 years of racial history since the end of the Civil War. And while racism is a way of thinking a person chooses to adhere to, other factors are at play, specifically economic ones which perpetuate this cycle. Being that we live in a capitalist society the very foundation of our society is based on business and money: the more money a business can make while at the same time minimizing the costs associated with running the business the more the stockholders and corporate leaders will benefit. As shown in “13th”, business interests then align with political leaders (through such organizations as the American Legislative Exchange Council) to enact laws which judge black and Latino communities as criminals in an effort to circumnavigate the 13th Amendment of the Constitution prohibiting slavery in hopes of having access to plentiful and cheap labor.

One possible solution could be disincentivizing corporations through either prohibiting lobbying via excessive campaign contributions, or at least outlawing certain businesses, such as private prisons to lobby for laws which provide the “criminals” for them to make money off of as cheap labor. And while this would not do much to immediately change the mindset of people who are racist, it would go some distance in removing one of the excuses racist’s trot out when defending their racism: that all black people are criminals who deserve to be locked up.

Next, let’s assume we can solve the structures that perpetuate racism. What then? What do we tell the communities and individuals who have been devastated by centuries of exploitation? In the film “13th”, politicians express regret for worsening the cycle, yet how can an apology genuinely be enough?  Yes these politicians are responsible for legalizing slavery in America, but these apologies from white men feel hollow because they are still in a position of power. The white man is behaving as if he is benevolent and can just handwave away the racism of people in power who look down on those with no power. An apology does not change the power structure in America.

As seen in another documentary, “Scarface 4 Life Rykers Island”, countless black men leave prison violated and fundamentally changed to such a degree that one former inmate says prison was just “a gladiator school”. How can so many people who have been conditioned towards violence and mistrust ever be repaid and be accepted back into society? Compared with solving the causes of racism, this issue may be even more difficult to overcome and there may be no act strong enough to make up for the injustice done to literally millions of human beings. Even putting aside the legality of giving back the billions of dollars made off of legalized slavery in the prison system, what good would this money do for people who have been conditioned to behave as selfishly as the people who enslaved them?

The short answer is that there is very little that can realistically be done, at least not immediately. However, changing laws and disincentivizing business interests can go a long way to changing the structures that perpetuate racism.

James Baldwin said in his famous Cambridge University debate with the conservative William F. Buckley that racist people (white people) have been raised to believe “that no matter how terrible their lives may be, and their lives have been quite terrible … at least they are not black.” Perhaps then the only solution is allowing black human beings the dignity of actually being a human beings, that instead of treating black people as animals, or gladiators, or as slave labor, by removing not just the literal shackles of oppression but the metaphorical shackles too, can we free people from debasement. When we live in a society that allows those in charge – politicians, business executives – to manipulate the laws to oppress an entire race of people for their own greed and gain, can we be surprised those of us who are not part of the oppressed population would turn our eyes away and say “at least it’s not happening to me”? Leveling the playing field could go a long way to at least removing the excuses racist people have for their racism and force them to come to terms with how they view their fellow citizens.


Works Cited

13th. Directed by Ava DuVernay, Netflix, 7 Oct. 2016.

Reed, Troy. “Scarface 4 Life Rykers Island.” YouTube, 18 Nov. 2016,

“James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965).” YouTube, 27 Oct. 2012,

Langston Hughes: Johannesburg Mines

I felt the powerlessness of enacting change when reading this. In only 6 lines Hughes presents a terrifying fact that so many are working the mines in Johannesburg. How do you react to such a fact? How can we create poetry from this horror? How can 6 lines do justice to 240,000 natives working in a mine?

In a way this reads like a headline, it grabs our attention in its brevity and its shocking fact. We know nothing of the substance of the situation, only the numbers, because how could we know the stories of 240,000 natives working in a mine? It’s overwhelming. And so perhaps Hughes is asking us to do some digging ourselves, to mine our own empathy, to understand poetry HAS to be made out of each of those lives. We who enjoy leisurely reading a newspaper do so at the expense of 240,000 natives working in a mine.

He uses “mines” as ownership, too. Mine could be as in slavery, as if these 240,000 are held captive to do this work, but also “mine” in that we have to make those people our own “mine”. We must face their humanity and see all 240,000 as individuals with hopes, fears, loves, lives, sins, anger, desire, appetite, intelligence, music, and all the things that make up a person.

To just read a headline of 240,000 isn’t enough, we HAVE to make poetry of the situation, we have to mine ourselves and find our shared humanity.

Kenneth Fearing: X Minus X

Of the three poems we read of Kenneth Fearing’s, (Dirge, and$2.50 the others), this one spoke to me the most. Perhaps the other two are so steeped in earlier 20th century pop-culture and slang that I was a little lost to relate the meaning, but X Minus X spoke more deeply to that crazy desire we have as Americans to consume and dream.

There is a loneliness to this poem: he writes “your friend”, “her dream”, “his life”, “their destiny” as being terminated. The radio is “still”, her dreams are “finished”, the stock ticker is “silent”, and destiny is “bare”. These desires are all left unfulfilled and the individual is left holding onto to just the desire itself. Even in recreation, “dance-hall”, and “theater”, there is no hope because they are “closed” and “dark”.

And he puts “desire” in the center of the poem, as if desire is the heart of the poem and the people who inhabit it. And it’s a shared desire that is left wanting, “Still there will be your desire, and hers, and his hopes and theirs,”. We all have it in common but notice how it turns from simple wanting to “curse” as a “reward”, and finally with “dismay” in that there is perhaps no substance in the reward.

The final stanza mirrors the first in that “friend” is now “enemy” and that “enemy” is dead, implying perhaps a murder to get out of paying the debt “collector”. And instead of “her dream”, we have a “salesman” who is “sleeping” – his dream being making the sale and implying her dream is to make the purchase. And it all leads to nothing because there is no substance, the words of the “movie queen” have already been spoken and the rich “magnate” is “gone”. There is nothing left because they’ve been paid, they got something, your money. But you still have the desire for more.

Czeslaw Milosz: A Song on the End of the World

It’s impossible not to make the connection between Milosz’s poem and Eliot’s The Hollow Men from 1925. Even the final repetition of the ending of the world in the final stanza is shared between them.

Yet while Eliot explores man’s relation to death, Milosz explores our ability to keep death as far away as possible, to turn a blind eye, to turn inward and imagine we are each unique in our own lives, unlike Eliot who lumps us all together “Gathered on this beach of the tumid river”.

I think the idea here is that there is a sort of event-horizon, a point of no return that we would never sense as it relates to death. The “bee circles a clover,” and “porpoises jump in the sea” – active images of life and nature, yet with death ever-present “On the day the world ends”. Death can come at any time and it will not come for all of us at the same time, but rather slowly pick us off one by one, “No one believes it is happening now”. There is not “lightening and thunder” or “trumps” (trumpets), only the final note of a “violin” fading away in the “air”.

And we try so hard to cling to life, to force and bend it to our will, “he binds his tomatoes”. We think we can control nature, we think we will live forever, even while in old age, “Yet he is not a prophet”, we fail to see that death is coming for us because we are too wrapped up in ourselves, too busy binding our lives to our false hope that “There will be no other end of the world.”

Unlike Eliot, this ending is a desperate repeated prayer to keep living, that this world will continue on with us in it.

Is the examined life for all men?

When Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living for a man,” (97) he had meant all men. Plato, however, came to the conclusion that such examinations were not meant for all men, but that only a select few were cut out for such rigor. In this essay I will explore how both Socrates and Plato agreed on what constitutes the good life, but also how they differed in their ultimate conclusions of how this good life can be achieved.

When Socrates was executed he “seems to have kept his calm and courage to the end,” (117). Though an understandably solemn occasion for his roughly fifteen friends in attendance, Socrates seemed quite prepared to die. Socrates is prepared not only because he has no wisdom about what death even is, he says death is either “like a dreamless sleep,” (98), or an opportunity to “spend my time testing and examining people [in Hades],” (99), but because he has lived his life in harmony. Though considered a gadfly by his detractors, Socrates has done no wrong, he has willingly followed the rules of Athens by being a citizen and even refuses to escape his jailors. He has, in effect, embodied the Form of the Good by not focusing his life on selfish pursuits, such as Euthyphro, but in examining and pursuing what makes a person good. And Socrates believes this ability is open to anyone who chooses to examine their own life and live in harmony.

Plato, too believes that living in harmony is the key to the good life and that Socrates was justified in “doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul,” (150). By divorcing our desires from our souls we move from loving, for example a single beautiful body or many beautiful bodies, to moving up what he calls the Ladder of Love into the Form of Beauty itself. By moving away from the visible things of this world we can more easily enter into the abstract, intelligible world of the Forms – death will be far less painful because through this study of philosophy (the examined life), we “are cultivating dying,” (142). No longer does desire stir conflict in our bodies, but by living in harmony we can “drive toward otherworldliness,” (142).

Yet while both Socrates and Plato agree that harmony within the soul is the key to the good life, they disagree on whom may achieve this. Socrates believes anyone is capable of achieving this. For example Socrates demonstrated that even a simple slave boy could recognize the Form of Truth without ever had been previously acquainted with it, “the boy sees that taking the diagonal of the square solves the problem,” (103). Through dialectic and geometry Socrates shows that even the most humble and uneducated person can achieve a knowledge of the Forms and so it follows that anyone is capable of examining the world and their life to achieve harmony and happiness.

And while Plato agrees that education is “the art of orientation,” (137), as we have seen with how Socrates handled the slave boy by guiding him and not “stuffing the mind with facts,” (137), Plato believes only a select few of us can ultimately achieve this knowledge of the Forms.

Plato first compares our soul with society itself by showing how reason, desire, and spirit are not only the functions of the soul, but are also the functions of society. In each person desire motivates, reason guides, and spirit animates, whereas in a society reason rules, desire produces, and spirit acts. All three of these functions need to operate in harmony for their to be happiness. It then follows that since society is made up of people then everyone must fall into one of those three categories: desire, reason, or spirit and that they must all work in harmony for the overall society to be happy. This leads to a structure where reason sits at the very top because only reason has the wisdom of the Forms to guide the rest of society. The lower levels, spirit and desire, though just as necessary, do not share in the greater knowledge of the Forms because they can only focus on the tasks set out for them to complete at the rule of reason. If desire and spirit were to have access to the knowledge of reason then there would be chaos which Plato compares to a ship’s crew who likens the “captain as nothing but a windbag with his head in the clouds,” (151).

In conclusion we can see how while Socrates and Plato agreed that when we examine our lives we can move along a the divided line from a world of the visible things of this world into the intelligible, abstract world of the Forms, the two philosophers disagreed on who is capable of achieving this. Socrates takes a very democratic approach and believes we are all like the slave boy who can recognize the Forms when we are instructed well, whereas Plato believes only a select few of us can do so because only a select few are capable of providing reason and thus being the leaders of a happy and just society just as reason attempts to lead the other two parts of a harmonious soul: desire and spirit.

Joanna Doxey: I fracture again.

(more broadly I want to focus on pages 8-13, 40, 43, 45, 57, 58)

(I am keeping this in this poor formatting because it reflects how I think as I am reading. I put this together as I read the book and wanted to preserve the complexity of thought in the book as well as how I discovered new ideas as I went along and how they related back to previous images.)

The epigraph to Plainspeak, WY reads “: this land is a memory of wind without wind” and the wind imagery is prevalent all through the entire book, however the line in this poem, “a much younger woman.” and on page 11 she speaks of “just two” which might have been the relationship that is being lost, made me think of Proverbs 11:29, “Whoever brings ruin on their family will inherit only wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise”.

All these poems are fractured, eroded by the Wyoming wind and so are the consequence of inheriting the wind, the wind eroded the land and the relationship until there is nothing left.

And language functions this same way, because the words define what we are and have (see Jin’s “In New York City”), but to take away the words, to have them eroded leaves just a “husk”, a word as a skeleton (again, Jin, but also on page 12 with “the skeleton of yellow”)  that props up nothing. And so what state does a word exist in without it giving meaning to anything? What state does a person exist in when part of what defines us is removed? Wyoming? And eroded place of just wind and nothing? She explores this even deeper on page 40 where she describes words as “constellations” (page 55 “Ursa Major” she wants to say this word) – outlines of things that are not really there, false meanings, imagines meanings, meanings that in a billion years will be lost because the stars all moved. On 45 she goes as far to say “Language is the closest to loneliness” which for me is a Flaubert allusion, “Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” But here instead of wishing to melt the stars as a romantic idea, the words melt and leave an absence. Even her use of “heartbreak” echos in the “cracked kettle” that we tap on. A broken heart, a cracked kettle – “A heartbeat is repetition” (57).

Love here was a glacier that passed through, that shaped, but is now gone and the landscape can’t be built back up because it’s shape was dependent on something that melted and receded. And this melting (“disappeared”) is interesting because love is described as melting our heart, but here it’s a negative. The melting leaves only a husk. Love here is cold, and it’s made up of a water similar to tears – page 10’s poem says “and I cannot get salt and teeth out of my head” which alludes and connects us to the salt of tears as well as anger – flashing teeth as we yell at each other. Love turned into crying and pain and absence.  In Chapter 1 (page 9) and again on page 40, she calls this “(fluvial mourn)”.

And so the final word here is “empty?” but there is a question mark, too which makes me wonder if there is still some hope left? Does it have to be empty, can it come back? Can we extract the “sad” (40) from her? “None of these work”. Yet she is “done with faith” even if “faith / is not done with me”(43).

And so the silent y (why) – (27, 57) has been present all along, it’s absence fills every part of the landscape. Why? Why? This is her plea, her saying “;no; to fill an empty room” (58).


Robert Hayden: Those Winter Sundays

Immediately we get the image of a hard-working man. The “too” implies Sunday’s are like every other day of the week for him in that he always gets up early – there is no rest, even on Sunday, the day of rest.

While I didn’t catch it right away, the “blueblack” is interesting not just as an image of morning, but also of a bruise, either on his on body from hard labor, but possibly implying a complicated domestic violence situation. Hayden mentions “chronic angers” which could be either the creaking of the house, or something far more sinister. His father not only builds a fire, but maybe there is rage there, too?

And why would there be anger? Perhaps because he was taken for granted? “No one ever thanked him” takes up half of the last sentence like it’s a plea to be noticed for his hard work – it’s right there in the final line taking up all that space, but there is a line break right after. He could have been thanked in that space.

More violent imagery with the “splintering, breaking”, not just as a fire crackles (or house creaks as it warms up), in the fireplace, but perhaps in his “chronic[ly] angry” soul, too.

It’s wonderful how the only image we get of him is of his “cracked hands” but we know he’s been a laborer “labor” and we can see him silently stoking the fire, walking about a cold house (literally and figuratively, “indifferent”), and sitting alone (“austere”, “lonely”) as he polishes those shoes.

There is even a juxtaposition between the “cracked hands” and the “good shoes”, of “labor” and “office”. It’s implied the father wants better for the son, not a life of labor, but perhaps one in an office and maybe with something that will offer respect and recognition.

Such a sad poem; it literally makes me cry when I think about this. It’s heartbreaking.

Le Morte Darthur: Redefining the “gentil” Man

‘But this much I shall offer me to you,’ said Sir Lancelot, ‘if it may please the King’s good grace and you, my lord Sir Gawain. I shall first begin at Sandwich, and there I shall go in my shirt barefoot; and at every ten miles’ end I shall found and gar make a house of religious …’

The revelation of Malory’s Lancelot is that a truly noble action is now to disarm oneself, offer generosity upon God, and allow God (or at least the church) to redistribute these gifts to those most needy.

A definition of nobility (gentil, gentle) which has been continuous through our texts concerns generosity. In Beowulf, Hrothgar is described as a “faultless king” (Beowulf, 121) due to his generosity. The giving of gifts is what a noble leader is supposed to do, and it is frowned upon when a leader fails to do so, such as in “Lanval” whom King Arthur “did not remember” (Lanval, 73). We’ve progressed a long way from Theseus giving gifts, “Conforeth and honoureth every man,” (Knight’s Tale, 2716), when Palamon’s losing, yet still heavily armed mercenaries needed to be kept from revolting due to any lingering shame they may have felt at losing the tournament.

Lancelot’s willingness to disarm himself (493) mirrors Sir Gaheris’ and Sir Gareth’s decision to remain unarmed, “we will be there in peaceable wise, and bear no harness of war upon us” (480) when Lancelot is to rescue the Queen. They will not take arms against he who had previously favored them because they are in debt to him, gift giving has strengthened and reaffirmed the bonds which tie clans together just as it had in Beowulf, “many men / will greet their friends with gifts;” (Beowulf, 120). By remaining unarmed they are humble before Lancelot, thus Lancelot’s decision reflects this respect shown to him.

Lancelot’s decision to found and endow, presumably at his own expense, a new church every ten miles is also revolutionary because rather than allowing the corrupt court of King Arthur (only King Arthur knew of Sir Gawain’s secret (502) of strength) to posses Lancelot’s wealth, he will give it to the church who might actually do some good with it. After all, The Pope has the authority to demand peace, “charging [Arthur] upon pain of interdicting of all England” (489) and so seeks the welfare of those who might otherwise be killed in a needless battle, such as Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth.

Thus Malory’s Lancelot redefines nobility by moving on from the gift giving which strengthened the bonds of warrior clans (as in Beowulf), or corrupt Arthurian court to providing a new definition of nobility through the peaceable actions of laying down arms so that innocent may not needlessly die, and endowing the ultimate authority, that of the church, with generous gifts to expand its influence.

Yet unlike Palamon’s men whose shame for losing was subdued by the generous Theseus of Chaucer’s Knight, Lancelot’s revolutionary ideas of what nobility should be are not accepted without a fight. Sir Gawain still holds to the old ideal of nobility found in Beowulf – he even possesses seemingly supernatural abilities as Beowulf had (502) –  but Lancelot wounds Sir Gawain to such an extent that the fatal blow eventually kills Sir Gawain, “And so at the hour of noon Sir Gawain yielded up the ghost.” (509). Malory’s Lancelot has, metaphorically, dealt the final blow upon the old / traditional definition of epic nobility and is now vanguard, in the guise of the church, “and there he put a habit upon Sir Lancelot” (521), for the new, humble nobility which seeks peace instead of war.

Ha Jin: In New York City


It took me a minute to “crack” this poem. I looked up Ha Jin and though it seemed obvious he is Chinese, I discovered he is part of a poetic movement called the Misty Poets who are reacting to the cultural revolution through obscurity, but with reality as the central, grounded characteristic. Perhaps I could liken it to how Magic Realism works in that it uses the fantastic to make a point about the political reality – such as the blood with a life of its own in A Thousand Years of Solitude.

The initial image of “the golden rain” has a dreamlike quality to it. Perhaps it’s sunset? But it also recalls Chinese amber, that yellow, orange-reddish, honey-ish (“bee” and “hive” is used later in the poem)  translucent material used in Chinese folk art. This forms a connection between worlds, that of the new (our title tells us we are in New York), and that of the old (China, assuming Ha Jin is a Chinese name). But rain does has an ethereal quality to it so we know we’re getting a poem that exists somewhere between forms, a shimmering betweenness or vacillating between worlds.

“Plod” is an interesting word because it recalls a worker in a rice field plodding along in the paddy (on his “back” are “the words” like a worker hauling bundles of rice). There’s a drudgery to it, but it also relates to the modern world’s drudgery and how alone we are in it (which we get to as the poem continues).

“Loaded with words” made me think of letters from home, but also being bombarded with English in the advertisements in storefronts along Madison Ave. The duality of images is tightened down into that of language, Chinese and English. And here we get the breakthrough in how language defines us as individuals with “a person to a tribe”. He is showing us how the words themselves make us who we are and that we are part of something larger, more vital than just our individual selves (a very Eastern way of thinking, though it still relates to the modern world’s indifference to us).

He talks about the hypodermic needle effect of language, how it enters down into “my bones”, the very skeletal structure that holds us together, props us up, gives us form and shape. Even letters and characters look like little skeletons, and in a way letters and characters are skeletal sketches of larger ideas, they don’t “shine” as bright as “traffic lights”, but they are as “true”. Words literally define us, just as we used words to define the world. And so “I become another man” based on what language is gnawing at him, English gnawing at him like it’s attacking him, and Chinese gnawing at him to remind him who he was born as.

And in the final 2 lines we get a sense of what Chinese is like in giving is the strange image of “money eyes”  What are “money eyes”? The “luck” he no longer dreams of? The American’s with money on their mind? Chinese eyes in their oriental shape (so “exotic” to non-Asians). Money eyes feels like a Chinese language character meant to represent something there is no English word for. I feel like he’s teaching us Chinese to help us understand who he is, where he is coming from, what his life and ancestry and culture is about. He’s giving us language to gnaw into ourselves and transform us.


Simon Armitage: Privet

Images of crypts and death and being sent to hell but ending with a beautiful magical moment (though still with a little pain in it) of being “released to the universe, buried in sky.”. This reminded me SOOOOO much of Raymond Carver, one of my favorite authors.

We never learn what he did wrong, but it’s not important other than we know right away this is a child who is in trouble and is being punished. And this child-like look at the basement of being a place of death and mystery is similar to my own experiences growing up and heading down to the basement. But on a deeper level he must go get the tools of death to trim the overgrown hedge so that it can prosper and in the end be a place of dreams. This is similar to Milton’s description of Eden as being overgrown and needing to be tended by (as yet unfallen) Adam and Eve who were created because Heaven had lost a third of her host. And so they do the work of death, but without any knowledge of it, yet.

The connection to tools in interesting, too with “an oiled rivet that rolled like a slow eye,” as if he is being watched and judged – which he is by the end of the poem. The tools are probably his father’s but are probably even older so there is a connection to the people in his family whom have trimmed this hedge for perhaps generations.

And that ending! Floating there with the “needling spokes and spikes,” – a dream, but a cautionary tale that great dreams come through hard work, that failure can lead to success, and simply that there is magical beauty in everyday life, “Then for no reason except / for the sense that comes from doing a thing / for its own sake”. Not everything has to be explained.

Reading Response for Fork Socket

The Fork Socket reading event at the Wolverine Public House was a lively and enjoyable experience. Not only were there readings from three CSU students, but the hosts also provided comic entertainment to create a fun and inviting atmosphere. In contrast to the previous reading I attended for Mike Lala, an event I found somewhat pretentious, the Fork Socket event was far more engaging, though the quality of the works read were somewhat uneven at times.

Our hosts kicked off the evening with a comedic commentary of the funny hand gestures used by Radiohead’s lead singer, Thom Yorke. An edited version of that band’s “In Rainbows” basement sessions was shown on the projector while the two hosts, flanking the screen and channeling a combination of their inner David Attenborough, Al Michaels, and Monty Python, labeled and explained each funny hand gesture and odd gyration. I enjoyed this routine a lot and it helped create a mood for the evening which was relaxed and no doubt helped to ease any potential stagefright for the student readers.

The first reader was Michelle LaCross, not Michelle Obama as her introducer initially promised. However, with the assistance of impromptu interpretive dance from one of the audience members we were quickly relieved of this initial disappointment.

Michelle read a work of nonfiction, a memory piece about how her mother would take her and her siblings on long car rides to the beach where they built campfires and spent family time together. The story was very pleasant, however, it never moved past the surface of nostalgia to really dig deep into why her mother needed these trips. There was mention of a father who was not invited on these trips, and later mention of a step-father – implying a divorce and remarriage had taken place – yet at no time did I feel the work was mature enough to really explore anything beyond how Michelle enjoyed the time spent in the car and at the beach. Perhaps if she explored the emotions of her mother further, if we had a better sense of what the family was escaping we would be more likely to experience this memory with Michelle rather than just hear her tell about it. A key image in the story was that of her mother’s “poking stick” so perhaps Michelle can use this image to poke harder into the surface of this memory.

As Michelle was reading I realized I was sitting in a very bad spot to take notes while the readings took place: front row, just a few feet from each reader. Since these were students, and possibly not used to much public speaking, let alone reading very personal work, I felt it would be “bad form” to scribble notes as they read. In the future I won’t sit so close..

The next reader was Megan Clarke who was also introduced with lively interpretative dance as accompaniment. Megan’s work was from a novel she is currently working on and in this chapter our main character is running away from home and takes a bus from Pennsylvania to Boston and the radio station where she had been conceived. Most of the action takes place on the bus as she is seated next to a young man who is on his way towards a potential ivy league education, a stark contrast to our lesbian, poor, runaway, teenage narrator.

Megan has a gift for comedy and was an excellent reader – she commanded a strong stage presence, read clearly and didn’t drop a single joke. Yet the one aspect I struggled with was that her character was so similar to Holden Caulfield. So often I have seen in young people’s writings narrators and characters who seem to have too much figured out, who seem quick to judge everyone around them without much time spent looking within or how their “teenage attitude” affects the people around them. The characters seem more busy with posturing than being empathetic. However, since we were only given a single chapter from within a larger body of work I do not know if my reading of this character is too limited so I will not criticize too harshly. Megan is a talented writer who has created a strong and potentially interesting character even if that character feels like many I have read before.  

I would also recommend Megan do a bit more research. The final scene of her reading takes place outside the radio station in Boston where her character was conceived, but she lists the call sign as KMLX. Radio stations on the east coast do not start their call-sign with the letter “K”, rather “W” is used instead. While this a small detail, in a work which feels autobiographical as this one does this is the sort of mistake which can harm the credibility of the story.

At this point in the evening our hosts set up a large-scale game of Battleship for two random contestants to play on stage during the intermission. Wonderfully crude, handmade battleships laid out on a tarp with taped grid lines were set up and two names were drawn from a sandwich bag. Serendipitously, the reader whose character was poor and starving, Megan Clarke, was selected and won the game and was presented with a combination coffee maker and toaster oven / griddle.

The final reader for the evening was Leah White, MFA student and the TA of this class. Leah read a series of poems each simply titled “Example” which were personal images and memories of her mother whom had passed away not too many years ago. While each poem was brief, each was highly charged with specific imagery – I distinctly remember a pearl necklace – and Leah seemed very interested in the sound of each word, as if she was physically shaping her words as if they were gifts to the audience or as if she were performing an act of conjuring these memories into something more real. I admit to getting lost in each poem (hence my exact memory of each one being poor) and I was struck with how they conveyed the sort of personal details I found familiar in how I remember my Grandmother who passed away many years ago. Leah did not try to describe her mother whole rather she described the parts of her mother which meant the most to her. Perhaps why I thought of my grandmother is because Leah’s poems allowed me to reflect on the loss of someone I loved rather than being forced to imagine someone whom I will never really know, and in this way my grandmother and her mother became a sort of one, a singularity I could relate to at the most personal level. I was deeply moved.