Sunday, February 28, 2010

Langston Hughes may or may not be awesome...

I'm not sure about everyone else, but I kind of loved the Langston Hughes readings for this week. Never having read any of his poems, I was slightly blown away by all of his imagery, his historical references, and just the overall tone of the poems. I have to say my favorite was "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Just read the lines...

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its
muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset

... and just try to tell me it doesn't conjure up some glorious, historical image in your head. It should.

This work wonderfully ties in modernism and the New Negro Movement. While using a free verse, yet flowing style, he looks back to the past. At the same time, he doesn't make race an issue. Sure, "Negro" is in the title but not mentioning race at all in the poem I think is very significant. He relates to the Euphrates and the Nile, hugely important rivers for the Classical Period of Sumerian and Egyptian culture. His soul is as ancient as these rivers; Hughes seems to be implying that since race was not an issue in human achievements and greatness during the Classical period, it should not be an issue today. His soul was born with these rivers, just like every one elses. And his final river, the Mississippi, I think implies that race should not inhibit overall human greatness in America.

This is just my interpretation, but like all poetry, it could have some vastly different meaning that my blonde-brain somehow missed. If this is all choppy, I apologize. Good literature just gets me all excited.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010



largely irrelevant but while doing some work for my study abroad art application I found this costume design for Josephine Baker under a new negro movement vault. When I saw that I remembered that in Babylon Revisited Charlie goes to see Josephine perform, just a little imagery connection :D and a pretty crazy costume.

Friday, February 26, 2010

You Think You Know but You Have No Idea

I found a really amazing Harlem Renaissance timeline that outlines the key events between 1890 and 1935.

Some amazing tidbits that sparked my interest (and hopefully will spark yours):

1. In the years following and during the Harlem Renaissance, 2 million African Americans had migrated from southern states to those in the North in search of a better life. The South was plagued with ongoing discrimination, so they looked to the North almost as we look to West now: "Land of opportunities."

2. In 1917, around 15,0000 African Americans went on a silent protest, marching down the famous Fifth Avenue to stand up against hate-crimes against Blacks.

3. The "Red Summer of Hate" was occuring at this time, as African Americans responded with hostility towards lynchings and other hate crimes. The race riots occurred in 24 major cities, including Chicago and DC.

4. Shuffle Along opens on Broadway in 1921, including large, vivid musical numbers and singing. Many believed this sparked the Harlem Renaissance.

5. In 1933 the Works Project Administration was founded by Harlem Renaissance artists and writers to give African Americans work opportunities (government-sponsered!).

I think looking at the timeline, its truly amazing to see how active African Americans were at this time, and how they no longer remained passive as they had for so long before. These events on the timeline are truly inspirational, and provide a great basis for the poems and works that we have read in class thus far!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Everything You've ever wanted to know about Zora Neale Hurston

There is no wonder why Alice Walker went "in search of" Zora Neale Hurston some 15 years after her obscure death in 1960. Hurston was an interesting woman, often described as "weird" or "plain" and noted for her extensive hat collection.

Born in Notasulga, Florida in 1901, Hurston was the 5th of 8 children and spent her childhood in Eatonville, the setting for her famous "Eatonville Anthologies," and the first all-black town to be incorporated in the United States. She describes Eatonville as a place of freedom for African Americans, and a place where they were independent from the White society in which they were submerged and could live as they desired. After being sent to boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida, and subsequently being expelled for her inability to pay tuition, she temporarily worked as a maid before attending Morgan College in Baltimore. Though Hurston graduated from Barnard College, the all-women's college affiliated with Columbia University, in 1927, she originally started her college career at Howard, cofounding the students newspaper and becoming one of the original initiates of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.

Education aside, Hurston was married twice: Once to Herbert Sheen, her former Howard classmate and a Jazz musician, and again to Albert Prince, a 23 year old who, at the time of her marriage, was 25 years younger than her. She was described as "odd" and dramatic, acting everything out and wearing frumpy clothing. Her students had no idea that she was famous, and noted her as the teacher who never got her hair done because she didn't have the funds. She later was involved in a sexual assault scandal in 1948, when she was accused of molesting an 10 year old boy, and though she was proven innocent, the scandal tarnished her reputation and ruined her personal life.

After the publishing of her major works, including "Their Eyes Were Watching God and "The Eatonville Anthologies," Hurston worked as a freelance writer, a substitute teacher, and a maid before dying of hypertensive heart disease and a stroke in 1960.

So, while Hurston was a gifted writer and is noted for her impressive personal life and overcoming many struggles as a female African American writer during the Harlem Renaissance, there is much more to her than meets the eye! Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Lucille Clifton, Poet Who Explored Intricacies of Black Lives, Dies at 73"

In light of our recent examinations of black poets and the varying views on writing about and portraying race, I thought this obituary on the late Lucille Clifton would be appropriate. The article discusses her literary style, her messages, and her exploration of racial issues. Any thoughts on she compares to Harlem Renaissance or New Negro writers? Is her style effective?

I thought her poem "My dream about being white" was particularly interesting and relevant to the discussion we had in class today:

"hey music and me only white, hair a flutter of fall leaves circling my perfect    line of a nose, no lips, no behind, hey white me and i’m wearing white history but there’s no future    in those clothes so i take them off and    wake up dancing."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hello Yellow

"It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw — not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper—the smell! ... The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" got me thinking: What is this random obsession with the color yellow? It's everywhere! Pop culture, National parks, brick roads, and yellow now even serves as a neutral nursery color. So where did it come from? What does it mean? And why not some other color, like blue or red?

Well, as it turns out, yellow has more meanings than you may think. It means happiness and joy (duh), as it is a warm color and is usually associated with sunshine, but it can also mean cowardice and deceit. Most people don't associate the non-threatening color yellow with danger, but it is used on emergency vehicles because of how easily it attracts attention. In Egypt, yellow is actually the color of mourning, yet it means courage in Japan and merchants in India. Googling yellow lyrics yielded 2,110,000 results (in .09 seconds- google never fails to impress), and there are 17 variations of yellow crayons in a standard 64 pack of Crayola crayons! See, all things you never would've thought of.

I forget the point of this journal entry now, but now I'm hungry for Lemon Bars. And cake. And Coldplay. Uh oh.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation

I was just thinking today how strange and unbelievably possible the theory of “six degrees of separation” really is in today’s world. The topic came about when a friend of mine realized that we had a mutual friend at the University of Texas and that spawned a series of other strange coincidences and similar stories from those around us. Is it more possible today because of technology and the global network that has been created because of the internet and advances in technology? This then takes me to the very short poem “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

When you think about all of the people and all of the faces you cross paths with on a daily basis you must ask yourself—by how many degrees do I know that person. I feel as though most of us get on the metro, bus or car every morning on our way to our day’s duties and don’t stop and think about the thousands of people we see doing the exact same thing and wonder if we in some strange way know them. Are they just faces in the crowd? Think about those people that you strike up a brief conversation with about the weather or last night’s big game. Did you just create another degree or if you had continued your conversation would you have realized that degree already exists and you have someone in common.

Saying “it’s a small world” is quite ironic because the world population is growing daily yet everyone seems to think it keeps getting smaller because of the connections and relationships we have formed across continents, between languages and beyond cultures. What does the future hold for the “six degrees of separation” and it is my belief that the saying may change and become a lower number of degrees if the world continues to connect in various technological ways. So next time you come across a sea of faces in a crowd ask yourself the questions I have posed and consider how you may know one of them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is The Grass Always Greener?

Alexander McQueen was one of the most well respected English fashion designers in recent history with outlandish designs and widespread success. From the outside his life seemed to be perfect. His career was moving exceptionally fast as he was propelled into the lime light after starting his own line titled after himself and most recently he was preparing to debut his second line called McQ. He enjoyed his privacy and rarely granted interviews or made himself accessible to the media. But all of this fame and fortune could not hide the troubles he was dealing with in his life. Five days ago the young designer was found dead of an apparent suicide on the same day he was to debut his McQ line and most likely be greeted with critical acclaim.

I can’t help but make the comparison between Alexander McQueen and “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson. Everyone thought Richard Cory lived a good life because he was richer than a king and looked as though everything was in place.
And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine -- we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

But clearly he did not feel his life was as perfect as everyone else thought it was because he put a bullet in his head at the end of the poem. We must ask ourselves the age old question of whether or not the grass really is greener on the other side?

Both of these stories tell us that no one ever really knows the secrets a person can hide and riches and fame don’t necessarily equate perfect happiness. It was a sad ending to Alexander McQueen’s life and career and as it was for Richard Cory, we should not assume a person’s life is perfect simply because they walk down the street with a smile on their face.
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

This is Just to Say...

"This is Just to Say"
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I read this poem and it really threw me for a loop. I know I've read it before in some English class somewhere, but I don't remember any discussion about it. I've done a little research and a lot of people seem to view it as having some metaphorical meanings. About the relationship between the author of the note (most seem to think that the poem is written in the form of a note) and who it is supposed to be to, latent sexuality, selfishness, etc.

Maybe my personal interpretation stems from me really liking happy endings and optimistic interpretations of things. I think it's beautiful and simple. I think it's even a little romantic. The author knows the other person was probably saving the plums for breakfast, but they eat them anyway. I felt like it was sort of about the give and take of love, because the author feels comfortable enough taking the plums and knows that they will be forgiven, and means to show how much the plums really gave him pleasure.

...But that isn't completely certain. They sort of issue a command, "Forgive me" as opposed to "I'm sorry." And once again, the author knew that the other person was probably saving them for breakfast. A friend of mine thinks that the author is even rubbing in the selfish act at the end. "So sweet," "so cold." It's a completely reasonable interpretation. It's a selfish act. I guess you can look at that selfish act in many different ways.

And I think that is sort of what makes it such a neat little poem; it is ambiguous and can be interpreted in a lot of ways, despite the fact that it is so sparse and bare bones.

My aunt is taking a poetry writing class at Kansas University, and the class used this poem for an exercise. The students were asked to replace words in this poem with other words and to watch the meaning of the poem change. I think part of the reason for the exercise was to show how much every word in a poem counts.

I have taken
the records
that were on
the bookshelf

and which
you probably

Forgive me
they were important
so quiet
and so warm

Does anyone else want to try? Thoughts on "This is Just to Say"?

This post will be cross-posted on my personal blog, Kaini Industries.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Thoughts on "To Build a Fire"

After a week in which nature effectively paralyzed our nations capitol, it's as good a time as any to discuss what it means to read about a guy dying in the snow in Jack London's "To Build a Fire," which we were to read for American Literature this week.

I'll admit, it isn't a topic I can really relate to. I've felt cold, but not one hundred degrees below freezing cold. My impression is that London expected that the vast majority of his audience actually can't relate, and that he could bring the awareness of the perils and power of nature to a wider audience through his writing. I can certainly appreciate his goal.

But this means doesn't justify the end. It stands that reading about a guy dying in the snow is terribly boring.

In my experience, the fact stands that it is awfully hard to make a story with a single character work well. It can be argued that the husky in the story is also a character, but if this is the case, both characters are still singular. They scarcely communicate at all and when they do, it is through gesture and sound. That is to say, there is no dialogue in the story, and character development is driven purely by their environment.

Once again, stories like this, with as few as one or two characters and no dialogue, can work, but I found myself slogging through "To Build a Fire" as if it were three feet of snow, and when I finally finished, I was really, honestly glad. The story reads in the same monotonous, dramatic style throughout, as if delivered by a turn-of-the-20th-century Bear Grylls. I found that, living in a world with cars and central heat, I couldn't really relate to the character's struggles.

Which brings up an important question; is "To Build a Fire" simply an obsolete story? Are the issues it brings up even relevant anymore, in a world where no one has to trek along the Oregon trail in negative seventy degree weather?

Considering the recent earthquake in Haiti, The Kashmir Earthquake and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, The Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 and other recent catastrophic events, it is obvious that nature pulls no punches and still poses a threat to people all over the world. Where "To Build a Fire" differs is that it deals with dangers of nature on an individual level, the aforementioned events are mostly collective concerns. However, it stands that collectives are made up of many individuals, and people should still be wary and educated about such dangers.

With that said, reading "To Build a Fire" is much like hearing a lecture from the old-timer on Sulpher Creek, and it is possible that what the story has to say could have more effectively been presented in the form of a public service announcement or a non-fiction article. And what I will say was positive about the story was that it replicated the traveler's panic and helplessness in myself, at least for a few pages toward the end, and I'm definitely not going to go outside in one hundred below weather without a partner anytime soon. I'm sure as far as Jack London would still be concerned, whatever gets the point across is to some extent a success.

This post will be cross-posted on my personal blog, Kaini Industries.