Condor Class Libraries: Fahrenheit 451 and a love of reading that rose from the ashes

As student teaching winds down I am saddened by fact that I got to know some students more than others. And even though there are only two weeks left, I’m still working on building rapport. One student in particular has been on my mind this past week: *Angelo (*pseudo name for student confidentiality). In terms of turning in work and positively adding to the classroom, Angelo is my worst student. In a class of over 2 dozen kids he was the only one on his phone when we were reading aloud. Angelo is missing assignments for me and many of his other teachers (and is failing most of his classes). Angelo will make derisive comments towards me sometimes. When I check in with him he will tell me how much he doesn’t care and how boring whatever we’re doing is. Angelo has also been disrespectful in the college and career center and has a generally negative outlook. Continue reading

Comic Close-up #3 : Saga (pt. 1)

250px-Saga1coverByFionaStaplesSeptember 15th marks the release of Saga Volume 5, and so, a post seemed fitting. Saga is my absolute favorite comic book. The pending release of volume 5 drove me to purchase Saga Book One, the deluxe hardcover edition, and give the series a thorough and much-needed reread. Naturally, rereading the series left me with a lot to say but I wanted to create a post for those of you have never read Saga.

Consider this the Deluxe Edition of Comic Close-Up: Part 1 (this post): traditional comic close-up geared towards those of you who aren’t familiar with the franchise. Part 2 (coming soon): What I got from (re)reading Saga Book One but mostly just a polished nerd-out about my feelings towards the franchise. And now that the logistics are out of the way, let’s get to it…

ABOUT THE COMIC

Saga is written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples, and published by Image Comics. Saga was first described to me as “racial conflict, with space and magic.” And that’s precisely what it is: the story of two (now ex-) soldiers [Alana and Marko] from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war. Together, they are desperately trying to keep their newborn girl alive as the government/bounty hunters pursue them. Continue reading

Comic Close-Up #2: Ex Machina Volume I: The First Hundred Days

Earlier this year, I walked into Graham Cracker Comics (downtown Chicago) and said “What do you recommend for someone who likes Saga?” From there I was walked around by one of their friendly and knowledgable employees–an old man whose name escapes me at the moment. He showed me a lot of comics: such as Deadly class, Revival, Lock and Key, Rachel Rising etc. But I decided to go with another one of his suggestions, a comic with the same author as Saga… Ex Machina written by Brian K. Vaughan, penciled by Tony Harris, inked by Tom Feister, and colored by JD Mettler.

ABOUT THE COMIC

2500_400x600Ex Machina is a 50 issue comic book series, published by DC Comics under Wildstorm imprint from 2004 to 2010. Volume I: The First Hundred Days, which I will be discussing here, consists of 5 issues. If you become interested in the series, you can also purchase the Deluxe Edition books (10 issues in each, 5 books total).

Ex Machina is about the world’s first and only superhero, Mitchell Hundred: a civil engineer turned superhero (a freak incident gave him the power to communicate with/command mechanical devices) turned politician (after a short-lived, failed career as a superhero). When I was told the premise of this comic, I was a little skeptical. A comic book about Mitchell Hundred… as mayor of NYC? But I trusted Brian K. Vaughan and the old man working at the comic book store, so I went for it. And I was right to do so. Continue reading

Comic Close-Up #1: Sex Criminals (Vol. 1 & 2)

ABOUT THE COMIC

sex-criminals-vol-01-releasesSex Criminals is an ongoing, monthly comic book written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky. The publisher is Image Comics and, if you’re like me and enjoy reading volumes rather than issue-to-issue, you can currently purchase Volume 1 & 2. When I asked people for comic book recommendations, Sex Criminals was one of them. The premise, however, made me wait a bit before I took a chance on it. It’s simple: a comic about two people (Suzie & John) who stop time when they climax; they use this power to rob banks. Um okay.  Continue reading

Book Look #1: The Empathy Exams

Like most people, recreational reading gets away from me–mainly because I fail to pursue it. I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t read a book for fun all calendar year, that is, until I read The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison.

ABOUT THE BOOK
empathy-exams

The Empathy Exams is a collection of non-fiction essays tackling various questions surrounding empathy and pain: How do we show others we care? Is our desire for empathy inherently selfish? Can we convey genuine empathy and, if so, what does that mean?

While the core motif (empathy) remains the same throughout, each essay approaches it from different angles in terms of plot: from medical actors to ultra-marathon runners, from illness to incarceration, from literary sentimentality to reality television.  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.

Continue reading

Poetry Spotlight #5: Instructions for black boys (from America’s perspective) by Rudy Francisco

I am part of the executive board for Lyrically Inclined (LI), an umbrella organization containing the poetry club and slam team on campus. Earlier this school year LI had the privilege of bringing Rudy Francisco to Cornell College, a poet born and raised in San Diego. “Rudy is the co-host of the largest poetry venue in San Diego and has featured at countless venues […] Ultimately, Rudy’s goal is to continue to assist others in harnessing their creativity while cultivating his own. Rudy Francisco is the 2009 National Underground Poetry Slam Champion, the 2010 San Diego Grand Slam Champion, the 2010 San Francisco Grand Slam Champion and the 2010 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion” (Via).

10976388Scratch is Rudy Francisco’s second chapbook. On Rudy Francisco’s website Scratch is described as “love, fearfulness, confidence, humility, awkwardness and determination compressed into 31 pages of unapologetic honesty” and I couldn’t agree more. After I finished reading Scratch I immediately reread Scratch. Continue reading

The poetry community: a reflection on Sarah Kay & open mics

To live in Chicago is to have the world right in front of you. But this should come as no surprise, after all, we are a “world city”: meaning we have world class musicians & artists, a wide range of authentic ethnic cuisine, an expansive transit system, professional sports teams, renowned museums, a stunning amount of free/inexpensive events, and fests for everything from ribs to Bastille Day to oysters. The list goes on.

With all this life blossoming around me you’d be surprised how often you could find me wasting away on my futon.

I’m working on this. Much like running, making the time & getting out there is the hardest part; I never wish I didn’t go to an event. But even my bad habit of occasionally submitting to sloth-ness couldn’t deter me from the Sarah Kay Chicago show. One of my favorite poets performing at a venue that ISN’T 21+? I had to go.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.29.15 PMI was excited to see Sarah Kay, and while I hadn’t purchased her book yet I had heard every poem she has on youtube (from her famous TedTalk to a reading at the Bowery Poetry Club); this made me wonder if I’d enjoy the show as much as someone who had heard less prior. But much to my surprise, the difference between watching Sarah perform on youtube vs live was as wide as the difference between playing a CD and being 5ft from the band. My favorite poems came to life right in front of me. I can recite Sarah’s “type of woman” poem line for line but listening to the backstory of it and watching it live moved me in new ways. Sarah has mastered the art of being completely prepared but still making it feel like the words were coming to her in the moment.

She’s had some of these poems in her repertoire for a while (such as private parts & montauk) but she performs them with all the passion of a newly finished piece. As a performance poet this inspires me to step up. Usually my process is to make new pieces, compete in a slam, and repeat–never revisiting old work, never reciting last year’s poem. Part of that is artistic dissatisfaction, but hearing all these incredible made me want to write something great–something I’d want to perform for years.

I was familiar with all of the featured poets (Jamila Woods, (half of Milo & Otis), Robbie Q. Telfer, and Fatimah Asghar) and had even heard some of their poems beforehand. These are poets I know from LTAB, Lit Fest, and YCA’s weekly “Wordplay” open mic. Contrary to popular belief, anyone who lives in Chicago will tell you how small it is. Since every niche is it’s own little community you run into people often and you & your acquaintances have a surprising number of mutual friends. The Sarah Kay + Chicago friends show was a reminder (that I get often) of how much talent exists in this city. It also revived my somewhat suppressed desire to make “poet” a larger part of my public identity–something that people know me as.

It’s not that I’m a closet poet, just a lazy one. Writing is hard; it takes dedication. And when writers block sets in it’s easy to give up before you even start. But I’ve found nothing cures writers block like live performance; nothing inspires me like the work of my contemporaries.

This brings me to two days ago: I finally went to wordplay at YCA. There, I saw my Essie–who I first saw as a high school slam poet–and was introduced at the open mic by Jamila Woods. I read a poem I’d been working on for weeks (but didn’t finish till 10mins prior) and when I got off stage & took my seat I received props from my surrounding peers.

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Going to poetry shows & open mics not only makes me a better writer/performer; but it also keeps the very thing I love alive. When you support a community it supports you back.

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.