Taking Apart: The Harlem Dancer

When we talked about the sonnet early in the semester, I mentioned Claude McKay’s “The Harlem Dancer” as an example of the form. Seeing as I’ve already taken apart “The Tropics in New York,” another McKay piece, for the blog and that I am also afraid of change, I decided to take apart “The Harlem Dancer” and see why it is effective as a sonnet. It goes as follows:

Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes
And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway;
Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes
Blown by black players upon a picnic day.
She sang and danced on gracefully and calm,
The light gauze hanging loose about her form;
To me she seemed a proudly-swaying palm
Grown lovelier for passing through a storm.
Upon her swarthy neck black shiny curls
Luxuriant fell; and tossing coins in praise,
The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls,
Devoured her shape with eager, passionate gaze;
But looking at her falsely-smiling face,
I knew her self was not in that strange place.

When I brought it up the first time, I said that it worked because it juxtaposes the seediness of a strip club with the connotationsof the sonnet, which has a way of lending gravity to what it discusses by virtue of its history as a form, and Lytton added that it would also be interesting to consider the poem through the lens of an African-American poet of the twentieth century utilizing a form very much associated with a white European Renaissance tradition. I still think both of these are valid interpretations, but they focus on content more than form, so I want to look at how the form of the poem itself shapes the meaning. The pacing inherent in iambic pentameter creates tension with the content of this piece – while the words suggest a lively atmosphere, with men “tossing coins in praise,” laughing, and “devour[ing]” the dancer’s form, the sonnet’s use of iambic pentameter counteracts this. The ten-syllable lines read slowly and deliberately, almost contemplatively, giving dignity to the dancer in spite of her surroundings. The seriousness that the measured meter implies also bolster’s the sonnet’s ending volta, making it seem like not so much of an abrupt thematic turn because the poem has already acclimated the audience, through meter, to the seriousness of the subject.

I Finally Wrote a Form Poem and Understood

So I submitted my poetry portfolio, like all have or are in the process of doing, and I submitted a form poem. I didn’t think I was any good at form, but I found that the reason I liked this poem was because I discovered that it worked best in this form. I had a stanza of poetry that I really loved and then when it didn’t fit into another poem I was frustrated, because I really loved this one stanza. So I tried it in a few forms and found that the prose and style of it dictated exactly how it was going to be written. I started with this stanza:

emotional collateral collects

excess balls of fabric

under the arms : between the thighs

in secret

I found that there were obsessive, repetitive syllables and a condensed feeling that maybe I needed to work out. So I decided that a good way to do that would be the Pantoum. I felt that the “under the arms : between the thighs” felt like a chant and that to repeat it over and over would be effective for the poem. I also found that this chant-like line when standing next to itself could gather a momentum. I really liked the idea of this so I ended up with this Pantoum.


emotional collateral collects

excess balls of fabric

under the arms : between the thighs

in secret

excess balls of fabric

mote coated throat

vein eye carousel-mare jolt

mote coated throat

paralysis of pedagogy

gray eye carousel mare slows

under the arms between the thighs


under the : between the

under the arms : between the thighs

under the : between the

under the arms : between the thighs

under the arms : between the thighs

under the arms : between the thighs

under the arms : between the thighs

under my arms : between my thighs

silent lady-like etiquette

under my arms between my thighs

where emotional collateral collects

and now I’m starting to understand how these forms can be generative and helpful!

I’ve never thought of Australian Poetry as a Subset Genre

S0 I was on Poetry Foundation and I found this interesting article about Australian poetry and I found some interesting points and facts that I had never known. So Australian Aboriginal poetry is definitely a type of poetry and it is known for creating what is called “songpoetry.”

While I didn’t have time to read the many, many books the article recommended I found that the excerpts of poetry were extremely interesting because I had never thought of putting snipes in my poetry, or roos for that matter. And it made me think about how many cultures have certain animals or slang terms for animals that we don’t think about just because we aren’t from that culture. I just found it an interesting moment and you guys can read the article here!


Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson

So in one of my classes this semester I was introduced to Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson. She lived 1875-1935 and was an African American, Anglo, Native American, and Creole woman who wrote poetry and short stories. She was mostly known for her prose, having published her first book Violets and Other Tales when she was only twenty. She was also married to Paul Dunbar for a while. I wanted to bring her up as a poet because I really love her poem You! Inez! which is definitely a poem about a woman lover. I think that because she is writing about a woman lover, even though from what I’ve learned this poem was not really meant to reach anyone’s eyes except maybe her lovers, it’s hard to know if this poem would be read the same way.

I always feel that looking back on the writing of the generation that they wouldn’t have understood even what I would consider blatant homosexuality in writing because it wasn’t really represented at that time. I think that there is a complexity of being distant for the intended audience, her lover, the situation, and being a modern reader now.

So this is the poem:

You! Inez!
Orange gleams athwart a crimson soul
Lambent flames; purple passion lurks
In your dusk eyes.
Red mouth; flower soft,
Your soul leaps up—and flashes
Star-like, white, flame-hot.
Curving arms, encircling a world of love,
You! Stirring the depths of passionate desire!
To me the striking exclamation marks are an obvious rebellion against the times and the expectations of whom a woman should love. If this is a poem to Inez her love than I believe that the act of being this blatant is meant to get that reaction out of the lover. Also the obviously feminine images such as the “red mouth; flower soft” and the “curving arms.” Read and see what you think guys!

Poetry and Politics


So I was reading this article a while ago and I thought there were some interesting things that it broached that maybe we never got to in our class debate of poetry and politics. I personally feel that there are politics attached to words and there is no escaping the political readings that certain words or images might issue. I believe this is because we are political beings just by being people. I feel that even though your intention was to write a beautiful poem about a landscape you might be read as an environmentalist poet with an agenda and there is no escaping that.

So this article is mainly about how poetry and politics can stand together, urging that any previous ideas about poesy being “not in the business of doing things” is wrong and that there are ways poetry does work in politics. The article urges that already we have seen political poets part of movements, such as Percy Bysshe Shelle, and that in the past people have seen poets as untrustworthy in any sort of political power. David Orr, the writer of the article, points out that politicians are different kinds of poets, persuading people with their rhetoric. He recalls how our country’s highest points of politics are described as poetic (“I had a dream”) while other times calling poetic language empty and without real logic. This article, though not giving us any answers as to if politics is escapable offers how poetry can be linked to politics and how that affects views of poetry.

Even More Thoughts on Erasure Poetry: port on

FullSizeRenderThis erasure (sorry about the quality, by the way) was intended to be part of my report on form, but I wasn’t able to get to it then, so I thought I’d put it up in a blog post. Because this erasure was originally just supposed to be a quick demonstration of how any material can be used in erasure poetry, I didn’t go into this with an overarching vision of what I wanted the poem to be, so each of the steps that became the stanzas were erased in isolation. If there’s something that I would say that I was trying to do, though, it would be to subvert the intention of the original author by, as well as I could with the words I was given, reversing Lytton’s instructions. The step that told us to think about form in ways other than would be obvious, which I turned into “think about form / form    would be / obvious.” Instead of considering finer points of form, the poem dismisses the question of form entirely as something obvious. Instead of the larger sense of poetry that the sheet originally asks for, the new poem asks for the reader to “offer a            help us / give us a        one poem.” Generally, I think I was trying to unsettle the assured tone of an assignment whose questions act to instruct its intended reader on how to do something and turn it into something whose questions feel more abstract and asked of the reader because the speaker itself is unsure both of the answers and what it should be considering in the first place.

Poems through Graphic Novels

So again back to when I thought I really wanted to be a teacher. I was looking up ways to really get kinds interested in poets they had never heard of before or introduce them to kinds of poetry they had never thought of before. So I found this graphic novel version of Howl by Allen Ginsberg.  I never ended up buying it but I think I would still like to. You can see a mini preview of it on Amazon.


I looked through some of the pages that you can preview and I was thoroughly impressed. I think that the images were striking but also helped guide the reader into the focused solitude that is required to read a poem. I think maybe graphic novels are a wonderful way to make texts like Howl more, and I’m sorry, accessible to kids who have never read or were never planning to read a text like this. I know that my English book in high school had complimentary art that was themed similarly to the texts and that really helped some kids to get into the mindset, mood, and tone of the poem. Do you think that this could be a way to do that? I think that texts considered as complicated as Howl could maybe be digested more easily by a high school student. There are definitely themes and lessons that can be learned from it and maybe excerpts of the text can be part of a curriculum.

More Thoughts on Found Poems

Like everything else with which I’m mildly interested, I’ve developed an attachment to erasure poetry since researching it for the presentation on form, so when I saw Nicole’s last post on the morality of found poetry I felt that I should give my take on the issue in a comment on her post, but that got too long and I had to turn it into its own post, which is as follows:
Equating a poet’s remixing (for lack of a better term) of poetry by other writers to plagiarism seems to me the same as calling a person who digs through trash heaps for discarded materials to turn into a collage. The issue of there being “only so many words to play with in so many combinations” doesn’t strike me as a reason that someone would want to create a piece in any subsection of found poetry – there are, at last Google search, 1,025,109.8 words in the English language, and the combinations and permutations of those words are something that I don’t think any Creative Writing major is equipped to think about. The point of found poetry is to find new meaning from existing words, and giving it the status of something that is made when its author cannot think of ways to put together new words feels to me like a devaluing of the work of the poet who takes texts which in many cases (erasures of Dante, Dickens, Milton, etc.) have the cultural connotations of being fixed and untouchable and makes them newly relevant and meaningful.

As to the issue of ownership of poetry and the removal of the original author, this seems to me to be one of the main goals of found poetry. This concern that was brought up in the post reminded me really strongly of something addressed in David Richter’s book How We Read: “Today’s authors may capitalistically consider their words as a form of private property, but that was not always the case. In the Middle Ages, for instance, many writers and artists worked anonymously, just as the craftsmen who built the cathedrals did. The valorization of the Author as a public figure in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is, for the philosopher Michel Foucault, a pathology of our era — along with the concept of the ownership of discourse and other intellectual property. For Foucault, the idea of the Author becomes a way of restricting access to discourse, of limiting the right to speak or write to a few approved and canonized authors. He predicts that when the modern age passes, all discourse will have “the anonymity of a murmur,” and we will be able to say (and mean) “What does it matter who is speaking?” This is from a section of the book that discusses authorial intent, and it seems to be a good summation of what found poetry is able to do. Bringing issues of copyright and plagiarism to a discussion of found poetry seems to miss the point – this kind of poetry is meant to circumvent those ideas. To say that found poetry is allowed by  “creative spirit inherent in poetry” seems too specific — the creative spirit that is attached to all forms of expression allows this.

Form as “credible work”

It just so happens that focus on form in this course was applicable to me in another—Marxist Milton. In this course we looked at John Milton through the lens of Karl Marx and his idea of productive work. I ended up give a presentation on GREAT day on a paper I wrote about how Milton used form in his poem Lycidas to establish his work as credible and productive. One of the main things I focused on was that Milton was writing amongst many poets who relied on shape poetry to carry across their ideas, while Milton still used form with meter and a set number of lines, etc. his form was much more subtle and very much a reflection of the content in a way that was not so blatant. There even is a cyclical feeling to the form of his piece that conjures the feeling of the battle of life and death.


Overal really neat to be able to tie the focus of this class to another!


So, we’ve all heard them, but since they’re typically meant for children they don’t get discussed much in academia as far as I am aware. But, they’re fun, so why not? I looked into them a bit. They’re usually nursery rhymes, but some limericks are rather lewd (like the infamous “There once was a man from Nantucket” poem, which won’t be finished due to its crudity). They’ve got a rigid rhyme scheme- a/a/b/b/a, and specific stresses— unstressed first syllable, followed by a single stress with two unstressed. Its syllable count per line (always 5 lines) is: 8-8-5-5-8.

Limericks tend to have a narrative, and focus on ridiculousness. Usually, I’ve noticed, they start with “There was (a person) with/from(prominent feature),” and sets up the problem in the second line.

Followed are a few by Edward Lear, from the poets.org website:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!–
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”

There was an Old Man in a tree,
Who was horribly bored by a Bee;
When they said, “Does it buzz?”
He replied, “Yes, it does!
“It’s a regular brute of a Bee!”

There was a Young Lady whose chin,
Resembled the point of a pin:
So she had it made sharp,
And purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.


I also feel the need to point out that poets such as Lord Tennyson and Rudyard Kipling have limericks. (Though, I wouldn’t put much stock in anything Rudyard Kipling did, considering he was a terrible racist).


Anyway, feel free to try and write a limerick. It could be fun!