Sunday, April 12, 2009

Free Verse: Sometimes with One I Love

As my free verse poem, I chose Sometimes with One I Love by Walt Whitman, which you can find here. (It's really short, but I didn't copy it here because I didn't want to mess up the formatting.)

Free verse is a style of poetry characterized by lack of strict meter or rhyme but that is still recognizable as poetry by some mannerism or effect. Basically, it is sort of vague to define it, but it is any poetry without meter or rhyme. Free verse is related to imagism in that imagist poetry was mostly written in free verse, but free verse does not necessarily have to be so image-oriented. Walt Whitman, who often took his stylistic inspiration from the King James Bible, is said to be one of the forefathers of free verse.

In Sometimes with One I Love, Whitman expresses the vulnerability involved in relationships. He takes the reader through the progression of emotions after being hurt by one he loved in an almost conversational way, free of poetic frills and allowing the reader to take everything at face value. The poem is very short but contains much substance. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker cannot allow himself to get close to a lover for fear of loving without reciprocal feelings, but then reveals that he has come to the belief that there is no such thing as "unreturn'd love." Instead, it is not really up to someone whether they love or not, "the pay is certain," meaning people love or they do not, and one cannot change the mind of another. Lastly, he explains that he has come to feel this way because of his own experience with unrequited love, but that he has grown from the pain and that "out of that I have written these songs." The poem does not use complicated rhyme scheme or poetic devices (besides, perhaps, the repetition of "unreturn'd"/"return'd") to get across the message of the pain and subsequent healing that comes with love.

Through I found a poetry project in which people have taken pictures of their favorite lines of poetry sort of "in the world." There are a lot of pictures, but click on the link and check it out! A lot of them are beautiful and very cool. :) This is one with a line from Sometimes with One I Love. You can scroll to the left or right to look at other pictures. I could figure out how to include the actual photo or the page or a link or whatever on my main page, but here's the link to the project's main page as well.

Imagist Poem: The Letter

For my imagist poem, I chose The Letter by Amy Lowell.

LITTLE cramped words scrawling all over the paper
Like draggled fly's legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncurtained window and the bare floor
Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth, virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.
I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the greater moon.

Imagism was a poetry movement in the early part of the 20th century that focused on the presentation of a precise image, free of unnecessary flourish and description to create a single accurate, evocative scene or picture. Comprised of mostly American and British poets, they created different anthologies of their work. In 1915, they published Some Imagist Poets, which is where I found this poem written by Amy Lowell, who was considered the unofficial leader of the movement at that time.

I thought this poem was interesting because while a lot of imagist poems are very concise (such as In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound), The Letter is longer and seems to stray a little from the imagist idea of a single image, yet still embodies the vivid imagery of the movement. The literal description of the poem is that of the letter which the speaker is writing to her "Beloved," whose "cramped words" are "like draggled fly's legs" and demonstrate the desperation and love with which she is writing. The reader can see the spindly letters which hastily cover the page, making use of all the blank space in an attempt to express all of the speaker's feelings.

The speaker asks the words she has written if they can capture the scene around her, the "flaring moon" and "blossoming hawthorns" and the "bare floor / spattered with moonlight" that she paces in the middle of the night, trying to come up with the right thing to say. In this way, Lowell successfully presents two images, that of the actual letter and that of the speaker writing the letter. There is a shift with the speaker's apostrophe (when the speaker breaks off to address a person who is not there or an abstract quality or idea) to her "Beloved" and the image returns to the letter and how she tries to squeeze "the want of you...into little inkdrops." I liked this because the poem simultaneously examines how words can express all that someone feels and experiences while being part of a poetry movement that relies on words to create an entire image.

Shape Poem: You Too? Me Too--Why Not? Soda Pop

For my shape poem I chose You Too? Me Too--Why Not? Soda Pop by Robert Hollander, which is on page 1137 of the Norton.

Obviously, this poem is shaped like a Coke bottle, which speaks to its main purpose. Right in the middle, the only thing that stands out is "COCA-COLA" in capital letters, solidifying this as a homage to Coke. The speaker describes the color in great detail, repeating the colors green and brown over and over. At the end, the brown of the coke in his glass seems to engulf his surroundings, casting "a brown shade." Though in some contexts, a brown shade would be less than appealing, in this poem it is comforting and evokes the image of hard-working, dedicated Americans who make the "deep-aged / rich brown wine of America," a title which shows how deeply ingrained Coca-Cola is in the American identity.
The poem also makes an allusion (a reference to something in literature, history, etc.) to the "beading of Hippocrene." Hippocrene is a fountain in Greek mythology whose water was said to bring "poetic inspiration" to whomever drank it. By using this allusion, the speaker goes as far to say that Coke inspires and revitalizes him. This also links back to the three "columns" at the beginning of the poem that make up the widening underneath the neck of the bottle. The fact that Coke is so important to the speaker shows how much of an American staple and pop-culture icon it is.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sestina: Operation Memory

For my sestina poem, I chose Operation Memory by David Lehman, which you can find here.

A sestina is a poem in which the initial six end-words of the first stanza are repeated (in different order) as the end words of the five following six-line stanzas. The seventh and final stanza is a three-line envoi which includes all six words. Lehmen altars the form a little by making one of the six end-words a number which changes to a different number in each stanza, but the general concept is still there.

In Operation Memory, the speaker recounts being drafted into the military and the ultimate effects of his experience. The poem has a melancholic, defeated tone that emphasizes and often augments the loss of faith felt by the speaker. It utilizes extensive enjambment, which seems to be an inherent part of a poem with such restrictive form. Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence or clause over a line break. This can lend a heightened sense of excitement or anticipation and create a greater effect. An example of this from the second stanza: "All my friends had jobs / As professional liars." The first part of this phrase is a statement on its own, but as it continues on the next line, it furthers its meaning and provides greater insight into the speaker's purpose. In this way he demonstrates the bleak emotional numbness inflicted by the "war that had never been declared."

Dramatic Monologue: [American Journal]

For my dramatic monologue, I chose [American Journal] by Robert Hayden, which you can find here.

A dramatic monologue is a poem in which the poet, through an assumed voice (through a certain voice, fictional character, etc), speaks to an assumed audience. The poem provides just the speaker's perspective and leaves interpretation up to the reader.

[American Journal] is interesting because the speaker is an alien sent to earth to observe Americans. It sounds a little out there, but Hayden does it in an effecting and unexpected way. The poem is set up somewhat like a journal, but more of a stream-of-consciousness with disconnected thoughts and fragmented sentences. Hayden does a good job of detatching himself and providing an outside view of Americans and presenting an "alien" persona.

The poem points out many flaws in Americans, from our "intricate waste left behind" to our "cruelties to one another." It even goes as far to as to comment on the American value of freedom, questioning "what do / they fear mistrust betray more than the freedom / they boast of in their ignorant pride." While some of the speaker's comments and observations of the "enlightened primatives" in America may seem disparaging, I think this is an ultimately patriotic poem. Even though the speaker immerses himself among Americans and his "skill in mimicry is impeccable," there is some intrinsic quality, "some constant amid the variables / [that] defies analysis and imitation," that one cannot pinpoint but that is undeniably American. The reader can see this most clearly in the envoi (a short stanza at the end of a poem that addresses an imagined or actual person or comments on the preceding body of the poem) at the end. Despite all of the faults the speaker has found with the Americans, he is "attracted nonetheless" to "their elan vital and that some thing essence / quiddity i cannot penetrate or name."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spenserian sonnet: Sonnet 75

For my Spenserian sonnet, I chose Sonnet 75 by Edmund Spenser, an audio reading of which you can find here.

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
Vain man, said she, that dost in vain assay
A mortal thing so to immortalize!
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eek my name be wiped out likewise.
Not so (quoth I), let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name;
Where, whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.

A Spenserian sonnet is characterized by the rhyme scheme ababbcbccdcdee. The carrying of a rhyme from one quatrain to the next lends itself to a 12-line "body" which develops 3 related ideas (one in each quatrain) and a final couplet that presents a different idea or commentary.

The first quatrain of this poem depicts the speaker trying to write out his beloved's name, just to have it washed away by the ocean. Nature steps in to prevent him from doing this, an idea which continues in the next quatrain. The speaker's lover reprimands him for wanting "in vain...a mortal thing so to immortalize." She tells him that both she and her name will eventually die, as is the way the world works, and they will go away so there is no use in his actions. The third quatrain gives the speaker's response, that though she will die, she will live on in reputation and in the poems he has written about her. The final couplet summarizes and generalizes the main point of the poem: even in death, love survives and brings life.

To support the romanticism of the subjects' philosophical musings, Spenser utilizes euphony. Euphony is a sound pattern that creates a pleasant, smooth quality by using vowels and semi-vowels like l, m, n, r, y, w.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pantoum: Stillbirth

For my pantoum poem, I chose Stillbirth by Laure-Anne Bosselaar, which you can find, along with a reading of the poem by the author, here.

A pantoum is a poem of any length made up of four-line stanzas, in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza. Often, the first line of the poem is also the last line of the poem.

What is interesting about a pantoum (and other poems that repeat lines, such as a villanelle) is that when a line is repeated, small changes can affect the way that line is read and give it a different meaning. The first time the line "no longer an infant. A woman now, blond, thirty-two, appears it seems to speak of Laetitia, the speaker's stillborn daughter, saying that if she saw her now she would not longer be an infant, but a woman. In the next stanza, there is a colon at the end of the line which leads into the next line "I sometimes go months without remembering you," suggesting that the speaker is the 32-year old blond woman, who has matured and is not as haunted by the memory of Laetitia.

This poem does not exactly display anaphora (emphasizing words or phrases by repeating them at the beginnings of clauses), but it obviously employs repetition (not one of our devices, but a rhetorical device nonetheless). A pantoum in general would do this. However, I think that a pantoum was a particularly effective choice for this topic, because the repetition of each line shows that though now the memory of Laetitia is "not asking much space," that experience has lived with the speaker for years and years and is ingrained in her mind and the person she has become.