Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mag 15

image by Manu Pombrol
How do you get
An elephant
into a re-
Or get a man
to puddle sit,
reading inside
a mason jar?
No poetic
code implied.
No Rubik's cube
to figure out.
The answer's found
hid in plain sight;
your guide will be

Thursday, April 26, 2012

it is "better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self." - Cyril Connolly

We’ve covered 147 years of American literature in this course and I don’t want to write an essay here in the discussion format. Suffice it to say that after starting with our most famous regionalist, Mark Twain, who introduced us to realism in “The adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” we moved through Crane’s naturalism with “Maggie, a girl from the streets,” with its pessimistic gloominess where people are condemned to their circumstances and hereditary background. The social and cultural changes written about by Susan Glaspell extended the women’s rights issues we were introduced to by Chopin in “The Awakening.” Fitzgerald’s “Babylon revisited,” and Steinbeck’s “The chrysanthemums,” and the urgency of poetry in the works of Frost, Pound, and Eliot brought us to the age of anxiety and post war. For years the feelings of hopelessness were put forward by writers such as Williams in “The Glass Menagerie,” Malamud’s “The Mourners,” and Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible.” Here we must include the poetry of depression and suicide by Sexton and Plath.

Now with the multicultural expansion of American literature we are experiencing a resurgence of subjects with faith, hope and renewal.

In the end though, American literature: 1865 – present, no matter its changing quality was and is always about the human condition.
Reflect and relate your stance on the superlatives in this study:
· What has been the most important learning experience?
· What has been the most interesting reading?
· What has been the most difficult reading?
· Which author would you most like to have met?
· Which author is most representative of an "American" writer?
· Which author's work represents the highest literary quality?
· Reading to discern the author’s motives in writing a piece rather than to read for the pleasure of the piece alone was an eye opener for me.
· I found everything I read throughout the course interesting if not enthralling. The most interesting though was Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles.” I say that because in doing some research for this piece to include in an essay choice I came upon a reference to a man named Floyd Dell who was a friend of Glaspell. I retrieved a copy of his autobiography, “Homecoming,” from a local university and although I really couldn’t afford the time, read it and found myself learning some facts about the times of my paternal grandfather.
· Without reservation I can say the most difficult reading for me was: Pound, Eliot, Moore, and Cummings poetry. Trying to understand their poetry was like trying to solve the Rubik’s cube for me.
· I’d like to meet Stephen Crane and discuss “The Red Badge of courage.” Eugene O’Neil, Susan Glaspell and Tennessee Williams to talk about plays and acting on stage. To Edna Millay and have her tutor me in sonnet writing. I’d like to meet Alan Ginsberg just so I could punch him in the mouth. I like to commiserate with Bob Dylan and sing “Blowin’ in the wind” with him. But mostly I’d like to meet and take a course or two from John Barth. And I’d like to stand in close proximity to Mark Twain and breathe the same air.
· Most representative of an “American” writer? Robert Frost. As I said in an essay; if I met an alien from another sphere and they asked me about our species I’d tell them to read Robert Frost’s poetry and they’d know all they need to know.
· Highest literary quality? Who am I to judge? I’m not even sure I can make a reasoned response but in that light I’ll say Toni Morrison because I think she tells it with sensitivity and insight, her storey that is.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bobby, St. Petersburg, Russia, Maria Baranova, Hermitage, American Literature: 1865 - present

On 4/22/1991 Our son left to visit St. Petersburg, Russia

     She was tall, blue eyed; her wispy thin white blond hair was pulled back from her already high forehead into a tight pony tail.  She was slight of build with a propensity to carry weight in her backside and thighs. She displayed an air of superiority, spoke impeccable English and made fun of our attempts to speak Russian, especially when we said, Mikail Gorachov. Despite all this, she was awed by the standard of living in our small village of 500+ souls on the shores of the St. Lawrence River immediately bordering Ontario, Canada, and never got over her first excursion into an American supermarket.
     Maria was a seventeen year old high school student from St. Petersburg, Soviet Union who had come with fifteen or so fellow students to spend a few weeks in our community and attend our local public school of 600 students K – 12.   This was made possible due to Gorbachov’s implementation of Perestroika and Glasnost policies in the Soviet Union.  Our School superintendent got the idea from a neighboring school who had implemented an exchange program with a school also in the Soviet Union.  As with all student exchange programs, local residents were asked to provide room and board for one or more of the students when they visited.  We offered to take a student and Maria was assigned to us even before her arrival.
     After her time with us where she shared her knowledge of Soviet Union history but also exhibited a knowledge of American history to rival if not surpass that of our own children, it was agreed that she and her parents, she being an only child, would host our son, a senior student, at her home in St. Petersburg when we sent our students there to complete the exchange arrangement.
     In the end, both of our families had a positive experience, the students living with each other, and we parents enjoyed sharing our homes and exchange of histories.  So much so, that we made arrangements to bring Maria back to spend a summer with us.  Of course this required telephone communication between myself and Maria’s father, facilitated with Maria as interpreter; her dad spoke as much English as I did Russian, that being very little.  But we managed to communicate effectively even on the one occasion where he and I had to converse by ourselves, Maria having been admitted to the hospital for a minor surgery in St. Petersburg.
     Maria’s father was a Captain in the Russian Navy.  We discovered that we both had been in Viet Nam at the same time, obviously not on the same side.  We, two former enemies, by sending our children to reside in each other’s homes thousands of miles apart learned that it was our countries and their politics that were enemies and not us and in fact shared more in common than one might think.  By this sharing two families came to realize the similarities of humanity regardless of cultural differences.
     On a concluding side note.  Through our new found friendship, and contacts I had here in the States, we were able to secure a job for Maria, working for the USDA in St. Petersburg, Russia.  A post that she still holds to this day. 
     For us Restructuring and Openness was the start on the path to peace; if only a small step, it was a major one for these two families.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

     Can one think of responsibility as an obstacle – personal responsibility?  Are there times when being responsible can hinder a person’s pursuit of their own happiness or gratification?  I think so.

     The main character (as discerned by yours truly) Tom, both narrator and character, in Tennessee William’s “The Glass Menagerie,” (1270-1313) confronts his sense of responsibility to his mother and sister.  They are an impediment to his realizing his dreams.  His sense of duty to them holds him prisoner in a slum apartment, whose entry is a fire escape.  Really? And dead- end job.

      Near the end of the play, Tom ditches his responsibilities and runs away in search of his dreams.  Yet in his final assessment he realizes he cannot escape and remains dissatisfied.  For Tom, meeting or shirking responsibility left him unfulfilled.

     Kessler and Gruber in Malamud’s “The Mourners” (1585-1589), also have found disappointment in their lives relating to their relationship with responsibility.  It seems easier to see that with Kessler, shown to us as a dirty, disheveled, slovenly, anti-social character that left his wife and kids and never looked back.  He definitely reaped what he sowed didn’t he?  Gruber’s conflict with responsibility becomes apparent when Kessler asks him, “What did I do to you?” He bitterly wept. “Who throws out of his house a man that he lived there ten years and pays every month on time his rent?  What did I do, tell me”  Who hurts a man without reason?  Are you a Hitler or a Jew?” (1588)  He’s actually pressing Gruber to be a responsible human being, take pity on a fellow man.  But Gruber reneges on this responsibility in favor of his responsibility as landlord.  Again at the end of the story the two men come to the shared realization that their unhappiness is the result of not meeting their responsibilities.

     Does that make any sense?  In one instance, Tom, meeting responsibility proves to be a barrier to personal fulfillment but vice versa with Kessler.  Maybe; I wonder if maybe the obstacle isn’t responsibility but selfishness- yeah, that makes more sense to me.  What do you think?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ok, so here’s the deal, I’ve got nothing, unless you count the red wine headache I’ve got from the second glass of wine I had with dinner last night.  But seriously, after reading and re-reading the questions offered for the short essay response in module 7.e.3 I keep coming up blank.  Nothing sparks my muse.  But since I’ve enjoyed this course beyond my expectation I don’t want to blow off this 15 point assignment.

      The easy answer, for me, to the first proposition is to choose Bob Dylan and one of his poem/songs.  Which one?  Let’s see, I’d like to choose “Masters of War” (1787) but that’s in the next module I think so I’ll pick “Blowin’ in the Wind,” from this module (1529).  This song was published in 1962; I was a junior in high school.   Those times were restive I remember.  We weren’t involved yet in Viet Nam or if we were my class mates and I were not aware of it.  Yet in 24 lines with a rhyme scheme of AB, CB,DB, EB in the first stanza and changing in the next two he succeeds in describing the feelings of myself and at least a few of my friends.  We grew up in the shadow of the Atom bomb and were old enough to remember the Korean conflict.  (I had a cousin living across the street from our house who fought in Korea and I still remember the day the war ended and my feeling relieved that Jackie would be coming back home safe.)

     War didn’t make a lot of sense to us and we voiced concerns over some obvious dichotomies in our society and culture. How old does one have to before he’s considered a man?  You can go to war and sacrifice life and limb at age seventeen but you can’t but a beer or get married without parental consent.  Doesn’t seem fair does it?  We studied the Civil War in American History and knew empirically that the black man was freed from slavery but watching TV showed us George Wallace missed that part and Rosa Parks wanted to see if she could push the envelope.  We didn’t have blacks in our community so we weren’t exposed to racial prejudice outright but we saw it every night on the news and so did Dylan.   TV was our window on the entire country and wider world and we 16, 17 & 18 year olds with our altruistic and “all men are created equal’ mentality had difficulty swallowing the images of poverty and hunger not just in far off African countries but right here in our own backyards. 

     We as a generation defined and were defined by this and other of Bob Dylan’s songs.  We wanted to be the change in the world; we wanted to stop the answers from blowing in the wind and right the wrongs we were seeing everyday.


Sunday, April 01, 2012

Magpie # 111

image: ParkeHarrison

Over & over I’ve heard you,
Over and over.  Always from
Poets and otherwise, adoringly
They refer to you.

I’m appalled, a Roman Catholic,
Schooled in the sacrilege of
Mortal sin.
Don’t speak too loudly
If at all.

How can you
Glorify her?

And so, never have I read your verse;
You are an abomination,
And besides, you are a poetess
Who drivels in metaphor, simile,
Ancient references…
I read you today-
You’re alive within

So clear in your obtuseness,
I sense if not feel
Your pain.
      I’m your convert…
        Say hello for me
            To your
And mine,
        Should he pass by.