The Power of Clifton

October 29, 2010

Please watch this video of Chris Abani at TEDTalks all the way through if you have time; it’s very beautiful.   Clifton’s poetry comes in at the end.

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Lucille Clifton’s [Lack of] Punctuation

October 28, 2010

I never thought that a general lack of punctuation would make the grammar-fueled part of my brain crave it this much.

Lucille Clifton’s miserly use of punctuation throughout Blessing the Boats becomes much more meaningful to the audience, not just as devices to make the poems “correct,” but to allow or dispel ambiguity.  Her use of line breaks, indentation, and a straight-forward, story-telling tone allows for plenty of ambiguity in phrases that crave punctuation. The meaning of a line can be completely reconstructed by the assumption of her implied commas or periods. Poems like “Lumpectomy Eve” showcase this ambiguous lack of formal punctuation; but, it could be argued that Clifton replaces this formal punctuation with atypical spacing, line breaks, and indentation. The delicate possible interpretations of the third and fourth stanzas of “Lumpectomy Eve” would be ruined by traditional spacing and commas. (I would reproduce the lines here, but I don’t think I could do accurate justice to their format.)

Was anyone else shocked by the impact of Clifton’s punctuation-light poems?

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Ginsberg’s “America”

October 28, 2010

A friend of mine from high school is a film major at UMBC and he just shared with me the latest video he made for his Topics in Filmmaking class.  He crafted his own multi-media artistic interpretation of Allen Ginsberg’s “America,” using text, news clips, and music to convey his perspective on the poem.  I thought it was a pretty neat video – check it out!

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="400" height="300" wmode="transparent" /]

(If the embedded version continues to not work, here is the URL:

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Questions about The Moon and the Yew Tree

October 28, 2010

So I’ve been reading Plath’s poem, The Moon and the Yew Tree, and I wanted to do a short analysis of it. Problem is, the poem’s downright tricky, and I have many many many more questions than I have analytical thoughts about it. But I’ll give it a shot anyway. The first thing I did was look up pictures of yew trees on Google images. Surprisingly, nearly half of the first fifteen-to-twenty pictures of yew trees were photos of them in graveyards. This seemed odd; I mean, are graveyards their natural habitat or something?

This prompted some quick Wikipedia research, where I found out in fact they are very commonly found in graveyards and near churches, and that in some ancient traditions, they represent life transcending death. I just picture Plath hanging out around this old church and graveyard at  night, looking up at the yew tree and further to the moon. creepy.

Anyway, so right off the bat it seems there’s a distinct separation made between “the light of the mind” and the “black trees of  the mind.” Plath says “this” (it’s the very first word of the poem), and I think the light she is referring to is the moonlight. But what are we to make of the “blackness and light?” I thought that maybe the “blackness/black” trees might signify the unconscious or unknown part of our minds, whereas the light might signify our conscious minds. But when I get later in the poem, I’m not so sure.

What is clear in the poem, is that there are several religious references made. In the first stanza Plath says “The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God.” So here, Plath compares the grass–almost in a Whitman-esque sense–to people, and that she is God. Maybe she was thinking about the dead who lie underneath the grass and their “griefs” when she said this. In the last line of the first stanza, Plath says that she doesn’t think there is anywhere to get to; maybe this is a reference to the yew tree being a passageway for the souls to transcend to heaven. This would also make sense then with the first line of the next stanza “The moon is no door,” in that Plath is perhaps looking at the yew tree as a sort of passageway, and then she looks higher to the destination of the moon.

The lines in the next stanza about religion concern Christianity and the specific church in the scene. Plath writes “Twice, on a Sunday, the bells startle the sky/–eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection./At the end they soberly bong out their names.” At first, I thought the tongues might be some kind of religious prophets or disciples, probably because of the “names” at the end of the third line; but when i read it again, i changed my mind and i think the tongues are the bells. I really don’t know what to make of the bells having names though, so if anyone has any ideas about that feel free to share.

In the next stanza, the speaker (presumably Plath) is associating her mother with the moon, in addition to the moon being compared to a face. However, the mother “is not like Mary.” I took this to be a comparison to one of  the important Mary’s of Christianity, Mary the mother of Jesus.  Also there is a constant contrast between the colors black and blue in the poem, and the moon and moonlight is consistently associated with blue. The yew tree is mentioned again, and it is associated with the word “gothic.” I decided to see if there were any alternative definitions to the word by looking it up–turns out “gothic” can mean many different things; but regardless of which one of these meanings one chooses, it seems the tree is separated from religion. Later in the Stanza the moonlight shines into the church windows, and either the saints are blue apparitions floating around, or they are the projections of the stain glass windows from the blue light. Again, they are separate from the yew trees, because “the message of the yew trees is blackness–blackness and silence.” SO…

I don’t really know where to go from here. I think there is a portrayal of the yew tree (which was supposed to represent life transcending death) as a silent black entity that perhaps doesn’t fulfill its supposed role as a passageway to heaven. But what about the blue moon? It seems that Plath is both connecting the blue moonlight to the saints (when she describes them as “blue”), but also distancing the moon from the saints when she says “the moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.” We have the moon being personified as a face, and also the stars as having a “face” too. So, maybe she believes the natural world is associated more with humanity than religion? After all the Christian bells “startle the sky.” Yet, they seem to fail “at the end” of their bonging by only saying that they are bells and this is the sound of bells, not of the transcendence of Christianity and the resurrection of the souls. There seems to be this interconnectedness between the landscape, the natural world, and Religion, but yet the moon doesn’t see the rigidness of Christianity because she is wild, and the message of the trees is blackness–that they aren’t this passageway or a transceding image.

Of course,  I keep forgetting that one reading of this could be that this is all an image in Plath’s mind. And in one sense, it is only an image in Plath’s mind.  I think that perhaps what she sees in this landscape reveals to her how she feels inwardly, if that makes any sense. I hesitate to say that Plath has a negative view of religion in this poem, because I don’t think that’s entirely true. But the last image–of the yew trees sending us the message of blackness and silence–suggests that in her mind, religion (or at least Christianty) doesn’t form a spiritual connection to the natural world and perhaps not to Plath’s own inner world either. Does anyone else have any thoughts on the poem?

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New York Poets Multimedia!

October 27, 2010

New York Poets

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Back to Why Poetry Matters

October 27, 2010

A quote from the Selected Writings of Paul Valéry:

Thought is hidden in verse like the nutritive virtue in fruit.  A fruit is nourishment but it seems to be nothing but pure delight.  One perceives only pleasure but one receives a substance.  Enchantment veils this imperceptible nourishment it brings with it.

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Be a little Jealous

October 27, 2010

So, I started reading Clifton last night, and as I was flipping through my book and lo-and-behold I find that my copy, which I bought used at the bookstore, is a signed copy! Yey, me!

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Drafts of Ariel is Plath’s handwriting

October 26, 2010


Links to the rest:


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Plath and religion

October 26, 2010

Someone asked if the tree in The Arrival of the Bee Box is the Tree of Knowledge. I think it definitely is – Plath wants to (or feels that she should) rid herself of her demons, of the depression that is also her inspiration, and become something detached and pure and good (and boring)…that stand-alone tree. In Edge I think she paints herself as the Tree as well, “perfected” and “dead,” with Adam and Eve (or her two children) sucking the knowledge and life out of her (One at each little/Pitcher of milk, now empty). While “the scrolls of her toga” makes her also sound like a statue, it could also be like the pattern of the bark, and “scrolls” could be emphasizing the knowledge of the Tree again. Anyway–

Plath loved to compare herself to the rising Christ, the rising Lazarus (and I felt like she became Lilith at the end of that poem–anyone else?) maybe to the Tree of Knowledge…because she wanted that perfection, because she felt so dirty and frustrated all the time and just wants to be wiped clean, completely clean. But that kind of perfection is essentially…well, it’s nonexistence. And that’s what’s so sad about it.

I also love love love the end of Fever 103. It kind of blew me away. It IS just a little breath at the end, “to Paradise,” but that’s all Plath wanted was a breath, just a really basic relief from her head, and she really got that feeling across there.

There are some Plath poems I didn’t like at all (and felt kind of wrong reading them, like I was peering a liiittle too far into her poor scrambled head), but then I think others are incredible…maybe depending on how depressed she was when she was writing each of them? The control and sanity of the poems definitely vary. Anyone else feel this way?

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Question about “Morning Song”

October 21, 2010

I understand the poem is about child birth and her “mother song” being the connection she feels during the intimate relationship she and the baby have while feeding, but I was wondering if anyone could shine some light on the line, “…your nakedness/ shadows our safety.”

Look forward to reading your interpretations. Thanks!

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