Li-Young Lee

Last night I was trying to fall asleep and I was thinking of Lee’s poem “Persimmons” and I was thinking about how disappointed I was with how he read poetry.

So I deceided to rant about it.

I hated that he sounded like Ben Stein, if Ben Stein was dying of boredom.  Do you understand how bored sounding that would be???  It was nothing how I imagined he would read, and I understand he didnt read “Persimmons,” but if what Glenn said was true and if he really reads like that, agh, that would stink.  I sincerely tried reading this poem like it was slam poetry.  It sort of reminded me of something Marc Smith would write, for some reason, and I was like, yes, go slam poetry, I’m so excited that this anthology has some slam in it.  Then, during class, I got really disappointed.

Did anyone feel like this?  I know that my opinion of how Lee reads doesnt really matter, but was anyone else disappointed?

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The Crying of Lot 49

The second half of the book picks up speed fast.  After Oedipa begins on her “drift,” starting on page 88, it seems as if she has completely lost herself to the conspiracy.  Although there is evidence of her questioning the truth of it, even that does not stop her.  More and more it seems as if she has no power over it.

Furthermore, in the second half of the book there is the removal of several people, tied to the conspiracy, from Oedipa’s life.  Driblette, Mucho, and Dr. Hilarius are some examples, all of which either die or go straight out of their heads.  There is a scene when Oedipa is sitting with the grad students in Bortz’s house on pages 125 and 126, after she finds out Wharfinger killed himself, when Oedipa recalls all the men in her life are all dead and she exclaims, “Where am I?”  It seems at this point that any hope she ever had of getting out of this thing is gone.  It follows after this her deep delving into the history of Trystero, seeming to take her obsession to the next level.

I really enjoy the book because it shows the woman on the brink of, or already trapped in, insanity.  It takes the reader on this hellish rollercoaster of Oedipa’s quest in such a way that makes the reader feel as if they themselves are going insane.  The second half of the book is much more choppy and confused I found than the first half, this perhaps has to do with the fact that all the qualities of her old life have no evaporated and she now has nothing but this mystery.

I think the ending is well put because it leaves the reader thinking and contemplating whether or not she will ever find out what the conspiracy is, if it exists, or if she imagined it all.  In class people talked about how they liked step by step unveiling of a book, for it’s plot to be concrete and easy to understand.  I do not think Pynchon could have written this book in that manner, or if he did, then it would certainly not have the same effect on the reader.  I think the beauty of the story is it’s leading on of Oedipa, making her question, first the conspiracy, then Inverarity’s involvement, then her life, and finally her sanity.

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Cathy Song and Claribel Alegria

I’m not assigned to blog this evening, but after reading Cathy Song’s “Lost Sister” I was reminded of a poem call “En la playa” by a Nicaraguan poet named Claribel Alegria. I read in a Spanish lit. class last year and thought I’d share it on the blog to see if anyone else saw similarities.

Here is the poem (translated version):

It’s really nothing. / Come here. / Pick up the bucket with your other hand / I’ll tell you another story if you stop crying / it happened in China / Do you know where China is? / She shakes her head, no, and approaches reluctantly / with her runny nose / and her blue bathing trunks / shedding sand. / A long time ago, I tell her as she climbs onto my lap, far away in China they used to bind women’s feet / so they’d stop growing / all the rest of them grew except their feet imprisoned in bandages / and the poor women could scarcely walk/their fingernails were left long more claws than fingernails/and the poor women could scarcely pick up a cup to drink their tea/It’s not that they were useless it’s that their fathers their husbands their bothers wanted them that way: a luxury object or a slave/that still happens all over the world/it’s not their feet that are bound but their minds, Carole/and there are women who accept it and women how don’t/let me tell you about Rafaela Herrera: together with other women she terrified none other than Lord Nelson with drums with fireworks with shouts/there wasn’t a single man there only women/Lord Nelson was frightened/he thought the whole country had risen against him (he’d come from England to invade Nicaragua) and he’d returned to his own land defeated/your twisted thumd is like being a woman/you’ll have to use it a lot and you’ll see how well it serves you/Run along and play now/don’t carry sand/help your cousins build the castle/put towers on it and walls and terraces and knock it down and build it up/don’t carry sand let them do it for a while/let them bring you bucketsful of sand

The part in Song’s poem about foot binding reminded me of this:

And the daughters were grateful:
They never left home.
To move freely was a luxury
stolen from them at birth.
Instead, they gathered patience;
learning to walk in shoes
the size of teacups,
without breaking―
the arc of their movements

It seems like both poets evoke a sense of heritage between women: “You remember your mother
who walked for centuries”

It seemed to me that there was a sentiment of abandoning the past through emigration, away from their home country. Whereas Alegria’s poem seems to speak about a relationship between women that extends beyond heritage. Do you think Song is sending a different message to her readers about how the past should affect time?

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Elizabeth Bishop–“At the Fishhouses”

I wanted to write a little something about Bishop’s poem “At the Fishhouses” after I read it, but kept getting bogged down, so I thought I’d go ahead and write about it now that I have the chance. In class we contrasted her style with the more dense work of the modernists, but I wanted to express an appreciation for the poem itself. Perhaps it is because I tend to side with the Transcendentalist way of viewing the world, but Bishop’s poem seemed to take her reader back to the contemplation of a natural force much greater than the self, but a force which the self also feels a need to contemplate. Her use of imagery is soothing in its simple rhythm, and the repetition of “All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea…the silver of the benches” and the “iridescent” scales of fish, and small flies, the “Cold dark deep and absolutely clear” water of the sea all create a feeling of almost being out-of-body, of being submerged in that “element bearable to no mortal” (13, 15, 24, 47, 48). She equates the vision of the sea with the idea of “total immersion” and that that immersion can recall a spiritual or even religious experience–a Baptism (52). She weaves a link between the ever-moving waters of the sea and the search for knowledge. Knowledge can be grasped only in the moment before it is “flown” because it is forever being redefined, it is after all, only “historical” (83). Although we long to submerge ourselves within it and be Baptized in its image, it can also overwhelm and overpower. It can drown us in our quest for truth.

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The Second Half of’ The Crying of Lot 49′

In the second half of the book, Oedipa really takes this mail conspiracy to a new extreme. At first, she thinks she has a lead with a group of people bar hopping, but then discovers that they have nothing to do with W.A.S.T.E., or at least not really. After she discovers this, she wanders around the city, seeing the muted horn everywhere, and discovering all sorts of different underground groups that use the sing for their group. then she happens to wander across an old man with the tattoo of the horn on his hand, and he gives her a letter to take to the make-shift underground mail box under the freeway. She does this, and then follows the mailman before randomly being intercepted by a deaf-mute convention’s dance. She goes and finds a friend of hers that has found out all sorts of interesting things about the history of the group, but then she starts having her doubts about the whole situation. She then starts to think that maybe this is all in her head, so she goes to her shrink, who is in the process of going postal because he thinks that people are after him. After that episode, she realizes that all the men in her life are leaving her, and that she is probably just losing her mind. towards the very end, her friend lets her know that the stamp collection has gone to auction, and that he has heard about a very interested buyer that may be someone from W.A.S.T.E. that just wants to cover up any evidence of the organization that may get in to the wrong hands. She goes to the auction to confront him, and the book ends.

This entire book was… confusing, to put it mildly. So many backwards ideas and concepts going on, lots of different ideas and plots and problems intertwined through out the story. And at the very end, the main plot, the base conspiracy that the entire book is basically based on, is left with a cliff hanger. Dun dun dun….

I beleive the author did this in an ironic move to poke fun at all the cliff hangers that classic literature has. But, he took it to the next level and made it a real cliff hanger that will never be solved by ending the book right before what could have been a very interesting, possibly satisfying climax to this otherwise wildly mixed up story.

Why do you think he did this? Is there an end to this story? Would there have ever been an end to this story even if the author had written it into the story? Or is that the point, that there is no end? Is the lack of end the end as it was meant to be? Or does the author just have a sick sense of humor?

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Cathedral by Raymond Carver

As I read Raymond Carver’s Cathedral I wondered if I was projecting my own emotions onto each character. The narration is dry and unemotional, characters’ actions are described like a scientific procedure. At time I found myself smiling at the humorous and sarcastic nature of the narration.  By the end of the story I was laughing at the interraction between the husband and wife, especially when they were conversing with the blind man: “Finally, when I thought he was beginning to run down, I got up and turned on the TV. My wife looked at me with irritation. She was heading toward a boil. Then she looked at the blind man and said, ‘Robert do you have a TV?'” (2738).

I also felt that Carver was critiquing various aspects of society in the mid to late 1900s. For example, the continuous growth of technology (2742), drug use (2738-9), stereotypes of the blind (2736), negative view of interracial marraige (2735), disregard for poetry (2734), art, and (2737) religion (2741).

I think that Cathedral most strongly alludes to the way we stereotype and how we view religion. For example, on page 2737 the husband offers to pray before dinner, which throws his wife off, but instead of speaking to God he says, “Pray the phone won’t ring and the food doesn’t get cold.” Is Carver trying to tell us that many members of society only care about the here and now, or that we can’t see beyond our present concerns?

The stereotyping in the story comes mostly from the husband, but also from the wife. They wonder about why a blind man would want to smoke if he can’t see the smoke he exhales, they catch themselves asking Robert if he would like to do something that requires vision, like watch television. What do you think Carver was trying to tell us about how we use stereotypes? Do they serve to blind us from truly seeing a person beyond their surface appearances?

There is quite a bit of repetition of phrases. For example, the blind man is described to be doing things with his beard throughout the story: “He lifted his beard and he let it fall” (2740), “As he listened to me, he was running his fingers through his beard” (2741). Is it significant that the blind man has a beard, and why does the narrator describe what he does with it?

I thought the narration was especially effective in emphasizing the impatience of the characters in getting an answer from each other: “‘Your bed is made up when you feel like going to be, Robert. I know you must have had a long day. When you’re ready to go to bed, say so.’ She pulled his arm. ‘Robert?'” (2739). It seemed to me that this was a critique of our impatience and desire, as a result of high speed technology, to have an immediate response from each other. Do you agree?

At the end of the story when Robert asks the husband to draw the Cathedral without looking, what do you think the husband learns?

Does the husband have some kind of revelation at the end of the story, is he freed from the boundaries of his home life?

Do you think the husband will open his eyes again?

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Raymond Carver: Cathedral

I found “Cathedral” to be an interesting read, both because of what I saw as a beautiful character driven story and a unique writing style. The introduction described the writing style of Carver as hyperrealist, and his mixing of “the realistic short story with unconventional, irrealistic techniques” (2732). The narrator is blunt and closed off, basically an all around ignorant seeming guy. In the story, a blind friend of his wife visits and he is forced to deal with the situation which he finds uncomfortable. I always find it interesting when as a reader I am limited by the character flaws of the narrator. Maybe I got too used to the idea of an omniscient narrator who doesn’t mislead me. Anyway, he writes in curt and basic sentences, making this feel almost like an angry journal entry or something. On page 2733 he writes: “She told me he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose– even her neck!” The little details that the narrator emphasizes also make the work feel real. As the story progresses, the blind man (Robert) pulls him out of his shell, forcing him to examine himself from an outside perspective. Robert asks him to describe a cathedral, and the narrator cannot do it. By drawing it on a piece of paper and guiding Robert’s hand, Robert is able to conceptualize the image. They reverse positions and the narrator has an epiphany. Its a really beautiful story. Simple but it holds a lot of complexity.

We recently talked about the difference between named and unnamed characters in literature… What is the significance of the blind man being the only named character? Is there any?

I really enjoyed the casual style of narration. I was curious how everyone else reacted to it. Did you guys find it interesting or off-putting or intriguing?

How does the theme of blindness affect each character, literally or metaphorically?

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