Poetry x Pop Culture #1: Dear Basketball; Kobe Bryant says goodbye to the game.

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Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from basketball today–which you probably already know. This announcement doesn’t come as a surprise but the way he announced it does.

Through poetry. Yes, poetry. Some have called it a farewell letter, comparing it to Michael Jordan’s farewell letter. And while Kobe likely wrote this with that fact in mind, his “letter” takes the form of a poem. Which is clear because it is written in stanzas and uses rhyme and rhythm.

I’ve discussed the importance of poetry before, but one thing I haven’t gotten to yet–but will be exploring in this new blog series–is the automatic relevance poetry has in our world. By relevance, I don’t mean that poetry is still being written or that old poems have themes that transcend time (though both are true). No, what I mean to say is poetry creeps into our lives often and always. Whether you openly embrace poetry or keep it at arms length, it is here and it is here to stay.

The following is the first poem I will be analyzing in this Poetry x Pop Culture series, written by Kobe Bryant:

 

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Kyle Smith’s “Women are not capable of understanding Goodfellas” article offends me as a Feminist and even more as an English Major

MV5BMTY2OTE5MzQ3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTY2NTYxMTE@._V1_For those of you who don’t know, Goodfellas just might be my favorite movie of all time. Bad day? Goodfellas will cheer me up. Good day? Goodfellas. Now it’s a great day. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading this and go watch it. In short, it’s a gangster film directed by Martin Scorsese. And God, what’s not to love? The narration style provided by Henry Hill and Karen Hill is a joy–a beautiful mix of hope, nostalgia, justification, and honesty. The movie is funny,interesting, extravagant, and the cinematography is to die for (famous tracking shot anyone?). And the soundtrack… I listen to it constantly. Okay. Goodfellas is my favorite movie of all time. So when I saw  it trending on twitter I was excited to retweet quotes and screenshots from fellow fans. But those hopes were quickly crushed when I saw what all the Goodfellas fuss was about:

A controversial post made New York Post critic Kyle Smith entitled, Women are not capable of understanding ‘GoodFellas’.

The title of this post is perfect because its “an absolute”–a hallmark of any flawed argument. Continue reading

“My word” (for those surprised by my slang)

“I try to warp and destroy the English language at every turn. When I’m speaking, I want people to hear the flavors of my upbringing and experiences becauaaaaase my upbringing is nothing to be ashamed of […] As for [people making the argument that] “middle-[aged] white guys” [won’t be able to ] understan[d] my vocabulary, tell that to the folks jacking urban slang on mainstream tv shows. Every week there’s some ol played out slang on tv shows and commercials. When John Madden uses words like “swag” and mainstream news sites ask “What does bae mean,” my vernacular is understood. [Media like this Hefty commercial]…

It’s mocking us, but secretly wanting to be down.

Ferrari Shepard via several tweets on his account: @stopbeingfamous 

I begin with these tweets from Ferrari Shepard because they resonated with my so deeply that I had to write this blog post. It’s a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. Continue reading

Poetry Spotlight #6: Bar Napkin Sonnet #11

Poetry-Foundation-squareAfter a long time of acknowledging that podcasts are something I should get into, I finally downloaded the app. Currently, the only podcast I’m listening to is The Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Off The Shelf but I highly recommend it. The brevity of the episodes really accommodates my life style because they’re usually 8-15 minutes long (though occasionally 20+ minutes) and the longest commute I have is a 15 minute walk. So I can get to where I’m going and get to experience some poetry along the way.If you’ve never listened to poetry on your mobile device while walking, do it. Of course, there’s something really calming about stepping away from devices and into nature. But there’s also a beautiful harmony that can exist between the two. There’s something to be said for combining poetry with movement–it changes the way you experience both.

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Dialect Privilege: grammar correction as a microagression

I’ve been wanting to write this post since last may when I completed ENG 311: Grammar and the Politics of English. Before I took this class I never thought of grammar correction as anything more than being an annoying stickler. Now that I realize the implications grammar “correction” carries, I see it everywhere and cringe every time.

A page I used to “like” on facebook, Grammarly, shames grammatical errors.
People on the internet will use someone’s grammatical errors/typos to discredit what they’re saying.
And on a much larger and disturbing scale, school and society will teach you that certain dialects and slang words are “improper” and denote a lack of intelligence/refinement.

“I been here.”
There are textbooks that would label the above sentence as “grammatically incorrect” but every dialect has its own set of grammar rules. This sentence actually IS grammatically correct in the dialect of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Thus, labeling a sentence like this as “incorrect” or “improper” is a akin to labeling anyone who speaks AAVE as improper. Language is a huge component of identity so you’re rejecting more than what they’re saying; you’re rejecting who they are. Continue reading

Poetry spotlight (revival)/#4: Questions for Godzilla by Paul Guest

It seems fitting to end my blog procrastination with the revival of an old idea: poem of the week. I originally did this as a mini month-long project, the goal was to read more poetry and share those experiences with a larger community (via this blog). It was a great month but when the month was over, like with any 30 day challenge, I found myself falling back into my old ways.

Fishouse_anthoA few months later I took my EDU Methods class and found my recent poetry project extremely helpful when it came to creating my poetry unit plan. It was reminder that, since English and Secondary Education are my practice, it only makes sense to practice them. I admit that recently I haven’t read much poetry but I’ve been listening to the CD that came with the contemporary poetry anthology, From The Fishouse (one of the books for my old Intro to Lit course). Unlike other anthologies From the Fishouse is ripe with writers who only have 1-2 books published. Additionally, they have a website, which is a self-described “audio archive of emerging poets.”

There’s something great about listening to poetry as an audiobook, after all, poetry is deeply rooted in an oral tradition. And as I fill my walks on campus with the words of various poets, there is one poem I keep returning to (for reasons I will attempt to describe in this blog post):  Continue reading

My own personal Jesus: using audiobooks for the first time.

Those of you who know me, on this blog or in real life, know that I’m a slow reader. In fact, everything I do is a slow, long, drawn out process–I’m pretty much the sloth of academia. But that’s getting away from the story:

I’ve always harbored negative feelings towards audiobooks, feeling as though they are “not really reading”. In fact, it was in an act of utter desperation that I turned to them. It was last weekend and I’d spent the better half of Saturday afternoon fighting desperately to “get into” Persuasion by Jane Austen. But no matter what I did it would result in glazing over words, an utter lack of comprehension, and general fussiness on my part. So when Sunday came I was staring down nearly 200 pages of impossible. That’s when I realized the only way I’d make it out of this alive (and having read the novel) was to turn to the audiobook. One chapter in and I cursed myself for not thinking of this sooner.

audiobooksThe great thing about audiobooks is there’s a set time. As a slow reader, who also struggles with comprehension, I never know how long things are going to take me. Audiobooks may go a lot slower than a regular reading speed (ex. if I’m reading at a good pace I can complete an “8hr audiobook” in 6hrs) but audiobook time is static–it’s guaranteed. Because while I can read faster than the audiobook recording I can also read a lot slower. Another benefit of audiobooks is that they clarify the text for you: voice shifts help you identify who is speaking and the tone of the scene more easily. This seems extremely basic but when you’re reading a text that is very stilted, one you naturally struggle to engage with, it can make all the difference. Reading along with audiobooks is the literary equivalent of cruise control. It doesn’t mean you can leave the driver’s seat (you still need to consider the text’s formal elements and look for motIfs/thematic patterns), but you can relax a bit because the easy part is being done for you (though for me the easy part isn’t always so easy).  Continue reading

Everything becomes work; love is not the absence of effort

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…bullshit.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying on the left: “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”. And I can’t think of a more incorrect or problematic quote to live your life by. I read this quote and I think of all the papers I’ve slaved over. I picture post-it tabs jutting out of novels, stacks of library resources, and of course my infamous brainstorm/concept boards. I love studying English & Secondary Education. I love what I do. But if you think for a second that this doesn’t feel like work… then you are seriously misinformed.  Continue reading

Poetry Spotlight #3: Primer by Laura Yes Yes

71f5lhMlakLAs I mentioned in my last poem of the week (which I admit is happening more like every 1.5 weeks), I recently picked up a copy of “How to seduce a white boy in 10 easy steps” by Laura Yes Yes. Note: when you’re reading a book called “How to seduce a white boy in 10 easy steps” you’re going to get some raised eyebrows on the train and (potentially) a layer of discomfort/awkwardness between you and your peers. There’s almost a need to explain… And fortunately  Laura Yes Yes gives you that explaination in the preface of her book: “In this context, the “white boy” represents the normative or ordinary force whose dominant presence renders other groups extraordinary, or outsider”.

These poems are bizarre, sexual, and social. I’m happy to say that Laura Yes Yes’s intentions for this book certainly come through as it is indeed “…a purposeful bending of self-image, the better to refract the light”.  However, I find this book is more weird than wonderful. Though I can’t help but feel that it’s going over my head and that, in a few years, I will revisit this book with a newfound love. Still, I invite everyone to grab it from the shelf of their book store and read through a few poems because Laura’s experimentalism will surely strike a chord with some readers.

One of the things I appreciate in this collection is Yes Yes’s ability to be both cheeky and hard-hitting: “The whites are growing bigger asses,/so I buy pants off the rack now. Progress is possible” (via “Black Humor”). Additionally, her unique formatting stands out. This can be seen in poems like her Ars poetica “College Transcript” which is from the perspective of the speaker’s brain, cunt, fist, and liver: “Brain | Indulgence can be seen as the path to enlightenment/ Cunt | Always take free condoms from the clinic”. While the poem I selected from the fist half of this collection, “Primer”, is one of the more “ordinary” ones–in terms of it’s form–it’s also one of the most effective ones.

Primer

Asking her the favor
Of her number.

He brands her
Special for her color,

Harbor, certain shelter,
Stepping stone in turgid river,

Saint and sometime savior,
Worry doll to nightmare over,

Sudden molotov of anger,
Steel wool and purple clover

Grove down under
Pooling drool from hunger,

Science project for the clever,
His first of her kind ever.

This poem is pretty straight forward. The rhyming couplets are fitting in the sense that it’s a “relationship” poem and, interestingly enough, almost distract from the dark subject matter. The title can be interpreted in two ways: primer, as in the undercoat of paint or primer, as in the strand of nucleic acid that serves as a starting point for DNA synthesis. Either way, this title plays well off the motif/themes of the poem: this idea that women of color are starting points that are swept under the rug. A mere “stepping stone in turgid river”. And if you’ve read my previous poetry posts, you probably know that a large part of my aesthetic is unique/vivid imagery which this poem provides perfectly: “he brands her… sudden molotov of anger… grover down under/pooling from hunger”. Lastly, I love when a poet turns a cliche on its head–playing with the reader’s expectations. This is given in the last line: rather than her being the first of her kind, she is “his first of her kind ever”. Further driving home the point that this woman is perceived more as an object/fetish than an individual.

Poetry Spotlight #2: University of One by Franz Wright

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 10.52.38 PMIs it possible for any Type A English major to enter a book store and NOT buy a book? My vote is no. Even as my to-read stack at home is collecting dust I can’t resist adding another text to this soon-to-topple-over stack. But with a few unread novels at home and a read-more-poetry goal in the back of my mind I decided to use this bad habit for good and pick up some new poetry reads. And as I stared at this giant shelf of poetry, the names of icons jutting out from the rows, I realized I don’t know shit about shit. Where do I begin? I know a few people I don’t ex. Dickinson (unless she’s talking about death) and a few things I do like ex. Dean Young, various slam poets. I started pulling random texts from the shelves: I picked up a book of haikus and put it back after glancing at a few dozen nature haikus. Eh. I eventually pulled out “Walking to Martha’s Vineyard” by Franz Wright, its Pulitzer Prize winner sticker an indicator that at least a few people think this is worth reading. I pull another book from the shelf: “How to Seduce a White Boy in Ten Easy Steps” by Laura Yes Yes. Awesome title. I am with two friends and ask one to read some of it aloud: it’s weird. So of course I’m tempted to gamble on it. Then I notice it’s published by “Write Bloody Press”–a company that has published other writers I enjoy such as Andrea Gibson, Taylor Mali, Franny Choi, Hieu Nguyen, and Sarah Kay–so of course I buy it. In fact, I buy both.

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I’m about halfway through “Walking to Martha’s Vineyard” by Franz Wright but I haven’t found a poem that moved me in its entirety. But I have been struck by several lines and stanzas and a few works seem to demand a second or third reading to fully be understood/enjoyed. I hesitate to comment on the collection as a whole but so far there is a powerful religious motif throughout the book; interesting to read as an atheist. The very first poem, “Year One”, ends with these lines: “Proof/of Your existence? There is nothing/but”. A stanza I love because I’m a sucker for syntax inversion and formatting that contorts meaning; a stanza that sets the tone for the collection.

I didn’t fall in love with any of these poems, not yet at least, so this week’s poem was selected because it had a lot of lines I enjoyed and is among the poems I’d like to spend more time with. Poems I think are worth revisitng.

University of One
by Franz Wright

And I’ve lost my fear
of death
here, what death?
There is no such thing.
There is only
mine,
or yours–
but the world
will be filled with the living. Mysteriously
(heavy dear sky-colored book), too,
I have been spared
the fate of those who love words
more than what they mean!
My poem is not
for example
a blank check in pussyland
anymore,
nor
entry in the contest for the world’s
most poignant suicide
note. Now
I have to go–, but
meet my friend Miss April
snow.

The title’s paradoxical nature, University of One, attracts my aesthetic. Though in some ways it’s not paradoxical at all, for “One” is composed of multitudes. I also enjoy the way the poem begins with “And”–the poem emerges on the page midthought. Touching on death, people, and poetry, this work is a hodgepodge of cliche motifs but it approaches them in interesting ways: ranging from cryptic to cheeky.

I’m not sure what to make of the speaker’s opening musings on death, he claims “but the world/will be filled with the living. Mysteriously” (this is of course untrue as the planet will eventually decay) but perhaps they mean this is the spiritual sense: the way heaven “immortalizes” us. Wright’s unique phrasing for ideas we’ve all heard before (in some capacity) is what sets this poem apart for me, like here: “I have been spared/the fate of those who love words/more than what they mean”. Here the speaker is talking about those who value indulging their own ego above all else but Wright puts it in a way I’ve never heard before.

The humor in this poem is also a draw for me because I’ve found it rare for a work to be funny and still “*poetic” (*a loaded term that I am still trying to define, for the sake of this post lets say by “poetic” I mean literarily impressive: figurative/descriptive writing that most can’t achieve). And I have to say, the phrase “a blank check in pussyland” is both a hilarious and creative image. As well as a “contest for the world’s/most poignant suicide/note”.

While I enjoy elements of this poem I don’t necessarily understand how these elements are suppose to work together (and perhaps they don’t). But this comes with the poetry territory; unlike other types of lit, like the novel, enjoying a poem at face value can still leave you unable to grasp the “meaning” of it. And at the end of this week, that’s where I’m at.

And that’s okay.