Remember when we were talking about images AS poetry? or A Thing Megan Is Not Qualified to Talk About Pt. 2

*SPOILERS FOR BLACK PANTHER*

I saw Black Panther with BSU today, and holy hell some of you would absolutely love dissecting some of these images. (field trip, anyone?)

Anyway, I have to touch on this one image (here come the spoilers): when T’Challa is laying in that snow coffin-pit-thing, nearly dead with just his head and chest visible, it paralleled an image that Black poets have been summoning in their poetry for a long time.  Some of you probably know where this is going (although Will Antonelli didn’t, so maybe not): it was Emmett Till in his open casket.  I mean, T’Challa’s face wasn’t disfigured (Hollywood wouldn’t do that to a Marvel hero, they have to look pretty), but the film mirrored all of those poems that evoke Till in the coffin.*  T’Challa’s body was even found in a river, just like Till’s, and carried to his grieving mother.  It’s damn poignant, but this isn’t even the poetic part.

You already know T’Challa isn’t dead; not only is he the title character, but Marvel has plans for him to be in Infinity Wars.  This is where the poetry comes in: T’Challa, after going into that spirit realm for a few seconds, literally rises from the snow pit!  Guys, they raise a Black man character from the dead, as his mother, sister, and lover surround him.  And, idk about you guys, but I think the poetry is conveyed when reality and fiction suddenly clash.  Black men are killed irl all the time, and only this fictional character is saved.  He lives on, in movies and comics, and the rest bleed and blend into pavement and dirt.

Besides a select few.  Emmett Till, for one.  (that’s where my thought ends; I know there’s something else significant there, but I’m not finding it at the moment)

 

*Also, I’m not quite sure why that particular image is utilized so often in poetry, save for the fact that people can place the tragedy fairly easily.  I’m looking into it now, I’ll get back to you if I figure it out.

As Long As You Got Something Out Of It…

I wish we could “thumbs up ” each other’s blog posts, so even if a blog post doesn’t get comments, the author can still know people are reading it.

At some point between sophomore and junior year, I embraced “individual reader response criticism” (IRRC, for short) as the primary measure of my own poetry’s quality.  If you didn’t read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (perhaps you read something more scholarly), RRC represents the idea that how a reader experiences and interprets a written work is paramount.  The “independent” part indicates that there is no objective interpretation of a written work.  Now, deciding to view all literary interpretations of my poetry as valid (within reason) was an odd move for me.  Why would I, the person who insists on a single, objective answer for the meaning of life (to take care of one’s mitochondria) and the inherent nature of humans (we’re inherently selfish) allow for anything I write to be interpreted differently from my own interpretation?

Because I’d rather have more people get something decent out of my poetry than a few people get the right thing from it.

Maybe it’s selling out, but I’ve accepted positive reception quantity over interpretational accuracy.  Because I can’t control what people think, it would be highly difficult to write a poem that is understood by all readers the way I intend and also keep the poem’s poetic qualities (i.e. flow, form…).  What can I tell ya?  I like when people like my writing.  And if they get something out of it that I didn’t intend and liked it, I’m just gonna keep my mouth shut and accept the praise.

A Thing That Megan Is Not Qualified to Talk About, or Black Death in Black Writing

I’m a little fixated on death this week, and a lot fixated on not letting Black History Month go by unacknowledged by my writer friends [puts self-righteous SJW hat on].

In Creative Writing Club, we do this thing called the “Underrepresented Writer Workshop” every month, where the E-Board chooses a written work by someone of a minority race/gender/ability set/orientation and we workshop it as if a student had submitted it.  See, none of us on the E-Board are qualified to get too deep into “how does being [insert minority here] influence this writing?” which is why we just tell everyone to treat it like a normal workshop.  At the very least, our members are reading something they likely wouldn’t have read otherwise.

So, um, here are some under-baked, undereducated thoughts on some written works that deal with the death of Black people, written by Black people:

 

“Fish Boy” and “Anniston, AL” by Jason Guisao

When Guisao read “Anniston, AL” out loud at the Gandy Dancer launch party, I thought, “Oh my god, they put the N-word in Gandy Dancer!”  I’m not sure why I was surprised; maybe I was just young and didn’t realize that writing that word down is a type of reclamation of power.  The implication of the second stanza is interesting: once a Black person is dead, they’re not a n*****.  What are they, then?  I’ve heard the word used both as a type of self-identification and as a tool of erasure.  Is it both in this poem?

I don’t remember any thoughts I had about “Fish Boy” the day it was read out loud.  It’s obviously a reshowing of Emmett Till’s murder; the “shoot the n***** above its right ear and cast it out into the brook” line is directly in line with the description of Till’s body.  Good “t” work in that line, sounds harsh when read out loud.  Tangible images, great enjambment towards the beginning of the poem.  There’s a number of works inspired by Emmett Till’s murder; this is a particularly visceral one.

 

“Dead is the new black” by J. Drew Lanham

This poem has one of those “crickets” lines that just sounds right: “cracked bell’s toll.”  Unless I misinterpreted the cricket thing we talked about, which is a distinct possibility.

This one could be read as a series of short poems, but it’s listed as just one.  Lots of good sonic moments.  I’m especially taken with the “Beyond being the next sad story” stanza.  It calls back to this thing that is sometimes said about Holocaust survivors, that it was really a coin toss who survived and who didn’t.  I typically don’t think about what a crapshoot survival is with other minority groups; it’s 2018, I didn’t think the 1940s genocide logic applied.

 

“The Flowers” by Alice Walker

Forgive me if you’ve already read this one.

This is technically short fiction, but it reads like poetry.  Kind of like Jasmine’s “Apologia” from a couple Gandy Dancer issues ago, where some people didn’t know if they should classify it as CNF or Poetry.  It read like CNF to me, but “The Flowers” probably reads like a short story (maybe even flash fiction) to most people.

The following sentence sounds smooth, even when revealing some unfortunate circumstances: “Turning her back on the rusty boards of her family’s sharecropper cabin, Myop walked along the fence till it ran into the stream made by the spring.”  Nice assonance and consonance there.

Get this: Myop, the name of the ten-year-old subject of the poem, is short for Myopic, which refers to nearsightedness.  This was written in 1988, which makes this clever.  If it was written in 2018, I suspect we’d think she was trying too hard.  Just an observation.

This “coming to age by seeing dead organisms” is not a new thing; there’s the opening of Toni Morrison’s Home, and this one short story I vaguely remember about a boy who sees a dead boar…and many others, I’m sure.  I wonder, what’s the 2018 equivalent of stumbling upon a lynched Black body in a field?  I’m sure there is an equivalent.

Hamilton: My Intro to the Importance of Sound in Written Works

You will learn soon enough that I have no shame.

After selling some of my textbooks to Sundance, I had a decent hunk of cash to spend wherever.  I could have purchased noise-blocking headphones so I wouldn’t hear the Kelly’s patrons fighting and smashing bottles outside of my bedroom window.  I could have purchased the new Halsey album so I could play it at parties and my sorority siblings would think I’m cool.  Instead, I purchased that gigantic Hamilton book; you know, the hardcover that was in the Sundance window for a month with all the information about Hamilton the musical.  I’m the sucker that bought it.

While half of the book is juvenile gushing about how great Lin-Manuel Miranda is by some no-name writer (and I refuse to feed egos), the other half made me read closer than I’ve read any form of literature in a long time.  Every song was typed out and annotated by Miranda, explaining how he chose specific words and phrases for each verse.  Within the first third of these annotations, Miranda introduced the term “tonal assonance” to his readers (I donated the book, so I can’t give you the direct quote).  As it turns out, tonal assonance is Miranda’s “thing.”  He is particularly good at maintaining tonal assonance in a verse.  His consonance generating skills aren’t too shabby, either.

Let me show you: in Cabinet Battle #1, Jefferson and Hamilton are arguing about whether or not the federal government should assume state debt.  One of Jefferson’s lines is as follows:

“…Our debts are paid, I’m afraid

Don’t tax the South cuz we got it made in the shade”

For a Hamilton lyric, four assonance matches is pretty common.  Keeping a set of assonance matches in one or two lines is similar to what we read on Monday.  This next set from Hamilton’s rebuttal to Jefferson, however, looks somewhat different:

“Thomas Jefferson, always hesitant with the President
Reticent—there isn’t a plan he doesn’t jettison
Madison, you’re mad as a hatter, son, take your medicine
Damn, you’re in worse shape than the national debt is in”

That quote represents ten seconds of rapping.  That’s eight assonance matches in ten seconds!  I’m sure we’ll cover this in class at some point, but the placement of the assonances is fascinating to me.  So, we have four at the ends of these period-less lines (I don’t know the precedent for punctuation in song lyrics).  But then, within those first three-to-five syllables at the beginning of each line (besides the last one), there are assonances.  And even without the assonances, Miranda keeps the “s” consonance with “shape” in the last line.  And the “hesitant” placement seems arbitrary until you hear it, and it sets the whole section of this verse.  As you can see, I don’t quite have the academic language to describe what’s going on yet, but I do find it important to show (myself, mostly) that I’m seeing something here.

Also, the myriad of word options one has when creating assonance and consonance is exemplified immaculately in this chunk of lyric.  At a glance, “son” and “cine” are not alike.  Depending on how one pronounces them, however, they can sound alike!  Isn’t that cool?  Maybe you guys already knew that, but I think that’s really cool.  I suppose it’s about being able to hear different pronunciations of things in one’s head while writing to create this.  I bet we’ll cover that in class, too.

My mind is a bit blown.  I was never taught to think about how the meaning of written work changes depending on how the words sound both by themselves and together.  Paying attention to how I say words was emphasized (I took voice lessons for a long time), and finding words that didn’t sound “clunky” together while writing was part of my education at some point, but nothing deeper than that.  And even though I’m perfectly comfortable reciting memorized works, I don’t like reading new works out loud.  I become wary of how I say things and how quickly or slowly I read, and I stumble over words like a second-grader when I’m reading something out loud that I haven’t read before.  I don’t like surprises, from obnoxiously loud motorcyclists speeding up my childhood road to being called on to contribute noise I didn’t plan on contributing.

For me, sounds can evoke fairly intense, emotional reactions.  I slammed my hands over my ears when Jeremy Jackson read aloud Corinne Enright’s explosive short story about hearing voices, and I cried when I listened to Kendrick Lamar’s Damn backwards for the first time.  But emotional intensity sometimes leads to intellectual clarity, and more than anything I search for that clarity.  I want to understand things.  I guess (or I hope) sound in poetry will be the next thing.