Frank O’Hara Inspired Poems

March 9, 2012 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Lesson Plans, Poetry, Post by: Susan W 

In the English Literature course that I teach, I assigned students the following prompt for a brief journal writing assignment based on the writing of Frank O’Hara. After several discussions with my students this semester, I am personally coming to realize the underlying feminist reading of O’Hara’s work, especially from a biographical approach where his own sexuality seems to socially and politically infiltrate his work.

A philosophical and critical idea explored by Aristotle and Plato, mimesis is art imitating life; it is a term to refer to the real world represented through art and literature. While Plato and Aristotle often connected mimesis to an imitation of nature, one can think of how this term may be expanded to urban ways of life.

Prompt: To get in the spirit of O’Hara’s process of writing about everything he sees and experiences in life, as well as his social circle of artists and writers, take a notebook with you during one of your lunch breaks and write down any observations that you have about life going on around you, including any people you interact with, any dialogue that you have, any objects that you see in your environment, etc.

Then, try to formulate these ideas into a poem (doesn’t have to be long, can be about 7-10 lines).

Include your poem in your journal and reflect on this experience of what you observed. What did you chose to keep in writing your poem, and what did you chose to omit? How might some of your observations connect to larger themes in life?

Consider how this might connect to O’Hara’s process of writing. Was it as easy as you thought it would be to write a poem about life?

I was so pleased with the results of this exercise and with the thoughtful poems that my students constructed. In particular, one student, Elizabeth Connolly’s poem and reflection stood out to me as a deep and considerate meditation on a life experience that many others may be able to connect with. Elizabeth has permitted me to reproduce her work here. Read more

Review of Forrest Gander’s Eye Against Eye

February 21, 2012 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Art, Poetry, Post by: Susan W, Reviews 

I recommend that you check out Eye Against Eye, a contemporary, fragment-focused book of poems that is currently at the top of my list of favorite books by Forrest Gander. The collection opens with “Poem,” a minimalist preface in which there is consideration of loss, the human way of coping with loss, and how the poet deals with complications of writing about such loss in comparison to the reality of it: “Pathetic/any remark/then” (1). The collection is sectioned off by four long poems (“Burning Towers, Standing Wall;” “Present Tense;” “Late Summer Entry: the Landscapes of Sally Mann;” and “Mission Thief”), linked together through poems functioning as their title implies (“Ligature,” “Ligature 2,” etc.); a ligature functions to tie and bond parts together.

With lines like “stacking stones, which divide what from what once” (5) and “As if they were waiting, Gander connects the haunting images of remove by evoking the events of 9/11 through the gaze of ancient history of the Mayan ruins to the next section of “Present Tense.”  The use of mythical history seems to be a trend with some of the books recently on my shelf as a means of discussing conflict, as if allusion or myth is something more familiar to people or easier to digest in which a discussion of fear and war can be had.

The first section focuses heavily on description of stones and the ruins, considering the care of what had been built (“An index finger dressing a joint will/fix in the mortar its mark, an intimacy/to surpass every other gesture the hand/has made” (17) and what is no longer there. The reader is led through an exploration of “[t]he fragility of presence” (18). The sections move with fluidity in consideration of history and modern day, privileging landscape and theme over character or narrative. The language of the poems fulfill a haunting pathos. Read more

Why I Choose to Get Married

January 22, 2012 by So to Speak · 3 Comments
Filed under: Nonfiction, Opinion, Post by: Susan W 

When I was approached to write a companion piece to Sarah Marcus’s wonderful post, Why I Didn’t Get Married, I was apprehensive. How could I share my own experience of why I am getting married without over-romanticizing and sounding cliché? I only want to be honest in sharing what I feel is a right next step in my relationship without pushing the institution of marriage as an agenda.

I never imagined a dream wedding when I was younger, and in fact, I didn’t really picture myself as the kind of girl to necessarily get married. I was more of a tom boy growing up, concerned with playing travel basketball and going to Red Sox games with my dad. Perhaps, I inherited this disconnect between me and marriage. After all, my grandmother told my grandfather “no” on several occasions when he proposed until finally one of the nuns told her that he’d eventually stop asking. My sister dated my brother-in-law for more than ten years before deciding to make it official. Of course, my family has provided wonderful models of marriage filled with unconditional love, including my parents who will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in July.

Maybe I should begin with the highly romantic “how we met” story. I met Peter (my fiancé) in Boston at a college bar, where Peter and his friend Dave hosted a trivia night. (Plug:) If you’re ever in Boston, check out Sweetwater on Tuesday nights for trivia (Dave is still hosting). After much flirting post-trivia nights and collusion from my roommate Kaitlin, he asked me out on a date. Only it was via text message. I texted him back with a diatribe saying, in short, ask me out in person. Only I am technologically challenged and the lengthy text cut off about half way. Peter didn’t know if I was annoyed and wanted nothing to do with him, or if I happily accepted, until the next week when I saw him at trivia.

We went on our first date at Mother Anna’s, an Italian restaurant in the North End of Boston. We enjoyed our pasta dishes, drank a smooth bottle of red, and openly discussed issues we had with past relationships (I know, this is one of the “do not’s” of dating). Looking back, I see how a relationship that opened with so much honesty relieved much of the fears (otherwise known as “baggage”) I had built up from my own previous relationships. It was a wonderful evening, and on the way home… I fell.

Literally, I mean I fell down awkwardly and embarrassingly, while trying to navigate the unleveled brick at Government Center. Peter lifted me up, asking if I was OK, and walked me to the subway station. He asked if he could kiss me (ok, I know…I’m starting to do that over-romanticizing thing I said I wouldn’t do).

I knew in that first week of dating not that I would necessarily marry Peter but that it could be a possibility. I had never felt this with any other person I had dated. I suppose that adage ‘I just knew’ holds true, except that in reality it is more like a feeling of ‘I think I know,’ followed by we will see where this goes. There weren’t any Swingers-rules of wait four days to call. No games were being played; we pretty much laid out what we both had to offer on our first date. We saw each other the next day on Peter’s birthday, and a week or so later, he met my immediate family on my sister’s birthday.

After a few months of dating, we were taking things “fast” (what better way to see if a relationship works in terms of what is right for you, than to not follow social norms). Read more

Review of Kristin Prevallet’s I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time

December 29, 2011 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Poetry, Post by: Susan W, Reviews 

Prevallet’s collection of poems, I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Times, begins with a Preface that sets the reader up with an expository narrative (in prose blocks) of the tragic suicide of the author’s father. The rest of the book is set up in two parts: Forms of Elegy and The Distance between Here & After, each of which contains a sequence of poems that implicitly responds to the preface and the reaction of the speaker post-trauma. The first part consists mainly of stichic poems, and the second part breaks into both stanzaic and prose-poems.

Interestingly, this book is published by a press that focuses on essays, and the subtitle “Essay in Mourning Time” also indicates a hybrid genre between attempting to prove with rhetoric  (the dedication indicates that all book proceeds go toward treating gun violence as a public health issue) and verse (xi). Prevallet makes “an attempt” to meditate on elegy, the lyric, and her own tragic personal experience. As mentioned in the summary of her work on the book’s back cover, she varies her language between the clinical crime reports and lyricism. Forrest Gander writes of this collection: “In one modality, the grammar is procedural and the speaker approaches a clearing. In another, lyric disrupts and resists closure; there is no arrival. Together, they form ‘a fragmented system of believing.’” This lack of arrival mimics the grieving process, for example, articulated in “Crime Scene Log 11.20.00:” “There is no resolution to this story because emotional closure is impossible./”Nothing” is closure.” (15)

Before the preface, the collection opens with an epigraph of a portion from Alice Notley’s “At Night the States.” I read this epigraph as serving as the beginning of the struggle between the I and reconciliation of how the I regards loved ones: “I believed that out of this/fatigue would be/born a light, what is fatigue/there is a man whose face/changes continually/but I will never, something/I will/never with regard to it or/never regard/I will regard yours tomorrow” (xiii). The epigraph is setting the tone and positioning the I as one who is experiencing and reflecting. The preface poem ends with how the reader should approach the first section: “Regardless, the story has many possible forms and many angles of articulation. This is elegy.” (xii)

The idea of elegy and loss in a state of constant flux, much like the attempt of a writer—or any person—to communicate and articulate, is the lens through which the first section may be read. Read more

Speaking Out through Shutting Up

November 21, 2011 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Lesson Plans, Nonfiction, Post by: Susan W 

by Jo Crane

High school can be quite a vicious environment in which to spend one’s teenage years, especially for those who fall even slightly outside of the norm. The hallways are lined with intimidating boys, catty girls, intimidating girls, catty boys, whole legions of students ready to tear down anyone who so much as pokes a toe over the invisible line dividing acceptable high school social behavior from the deviant. Such punishments can be handed out by anybody, consciously or not, varying in potency from snickering as another student passes to open hostility. Those entering high school quickly learn to keep their heads down and their thoughts to themselves, lest they be mercilessly attacked for their opinions. But what happens when a student’s instinct to blend into the crowd conflicts with an opportunity to stand up for a cause in which they believe?

Every year, thousands of students across the country face this dilemma on the Day of Silence. This event, always a Friday in April, is partially a protest of the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered students in schools and partially a memorial to those who have fallen victim to LGBT bullying. Participants stay silent for a full school day, the idea being that their silence mirrors the silence imposed on students who are forced to live in the fear of what would happen if they chose to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identification. On years that have witnessed specific instances of the tragic results of homophobic bullying, such as the murder of fifteen-year-old Lawrence King in 2008 or the bout of well-publicized suicides of gay students last year, these occurrences are tied into the protest when the mission statement (which is always available on downloadable cards from the event’s website, so participants can explain their aims to confused onlookers without breaking their silence to do so) is updated to mention that the deliberate silence of the participant represents also the lives that were “silenced” as a result of intolerance.

I participated in the Day of Silence in all four of my high school years, but the one which stands out in my mind particularly clearly is the one of my junior year. In the past I had done what I could to show support on that day, aiming to raise awareness of LGBT issues, honor the victims, and perhaps give a little bit of hope to those at my school kept in the closet by fear. In my first two years of participating, I never met much substantial opposition for doing so; the worst I ever received was strange looks and a couple snide comments. In the weeks preceding my junior year’s Day of Silence, however, I began to fear that this year would not go so smoothly as the others had.

On the day the protest fell I would have fifth-period American Sign Language, a class full of people who I had repeatedly run into trouble with before. The students in that class were nearly all failed Spanish students who chose ASL as a last-ditch attempt to fulfill their language requirement, and it showed; none of them had the slightest respect for the teacher or the students who actually cared about the language. They were rowdy and obnoxious and constantly took advantage of the teacher’s Deafness to make rude comments about her when her back was turned. But there were a few incidents I was particularly concerned about: several times I had attempted to stop them from using gay slurs, and every time I was brutally mocked for it. I didn’t want to think about how they would react to my further efforts to stamp out the prejudice they perpetuated. Read more

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