Posts in: CO200

On Defining Poetry

Earl Miner writes in his book, Comparative Poetics, that “…the lyric [is] literature of radical presence.” He goes on to explain that the lyric is accomplished through the intensification of moments, rather than the passage from one moment to the next (as in narrative literature). I take this to mean that, essentially, poetry is the broadening of instants, the stretching of seconds into explanations and understandings. Or something along those lines.

Fortunately for my fresh-from-spring-break-brain, we didn’t begin here, in the depths of a philosophical and almost-mind-boggling discussion about the nature of poetry. We began, instead, in poetry itself, exploring an anthology of black poetry that has collected writings from across time and space. We read about the possibility of the evolution of ancient Greece out of Egypt and read Egyptian love poetry. We delved briefly into the biblical Song of Songs and looked closely at the perception of gender (particularly the fascinating mirroring of relationships between men and women and those between people and God).

The Epic of Son-Jara drew us further into an older Africa as the week progressed. The story is told by griots, maintainers of an oral storytelling and history-keeping tradition in West Africa. To read this text in English, translated from a version of the epic told to an audience, is to witness a story almost completely different than the “original” one. This is not to mention the absence of a truly original story, given the nature of a fluid and necessarily changeable oral tale. This reading challenged my concepts of poetry and storytelling by conflicting with more traditional western notions of lyric and verse, which adhere, at the very least, to static written form. Here arose Miner’s claim about the nature of poetry, allowing it to exist more as the accomplishment of making an audience feel or understand something instead of as a collection of words strung together in a specific, intentional way.

The story also allowed us to discuss reading the poetry of those who are not white males through the lens of their non-white-maleness. In other words, we often read the poetry of white males as universal truths, while the words of any minority are read with regard to their “otherness.” We further explored the diminishing nature of looking at African epic tales as cultural “artifacts” or “expression” rather than poetry, and sought the universal messages in the epic.

This epic tale has sent us into a cloudless weekend (in the wake of a damp, midweek, midday snowstorm). The bluebird sky anticipates us. I’ll be reading this weekend’s poems in the already-green grass in this early springtime sunshine. And while I’m still not sure entirely what poetry is, or what blackness entails, or where exactly black poetry lives in the spectrum of literature (nor am I sure that I’ll ever know), I’m certainly a few steps closer.

We All Hate Helens, We Hate All Helens


Last night we read Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, an interpretation of the life of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, and of the twelve maids that are hung after the slaughter of the suitors. Atwood asks in her introduction, “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?”

In class, we drew connections between the Helen/Penelope relationship of The Penelopiad and the Helen/Annie relationship in Bridesmaids.

  • In The Penelopiad, Helen calls her cousin, Penelope, “little duck” or “little ducky.” In Bridesmaids, Helen constantly refers to Annie as Lillian’s “childhood friend,” and calls her “cute” or “sweet.”
  • In The Penelopiad and Bridesmaids, Helen slyly draws attention to how she is prettier than Penelope/Annie, disguising it as a compliment or assurance. On page 154, Helen tells Penelope, “Divine beauty is such a burden. At least you’ve been spared that!” On the flight to Vegas, Helen tells Annie that having a little scotch is ok, that she does it all the time and is fine, “and I’m a lot smaller than you, so–” 
  • Star and Sandor pointed out a great one – on page 188, Helen tells Penelope, “We could do a trip to Las Vegas. Girls’s night out! But I forgot–that’s not your style.” Annie wanted to have the bachelorette party at Lillian’s family’s lake house.

Star found a great still from Bridesmaids showing that the airlines that the bridesmaids took to Vegas was called Spartan Airlines. Helen is in her element, buying everyone’s ticket so they can “experience First Class at least once in their lives.”

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In The Penelopiad, Penelope tells us that the dead characters from these myths, such as Helen, Penelope, and Odysseus, can “have another try” at another life, being reborn into the modern world. Penelope explains, “Helen has had more than a few excursions. That’s what she calls them – ‘my little excursion’” (pg 187). Could Bridesmaids Helen be one of these excursions? Haunting.


Bachelorette Party

“It’s a lucky person who can read Pride and Prejudice and watch Bridesmaids in the same day. We are lucky.” – Lisa B. Hughes

On Monday night, we watched Bridesmaids (2011). Since the ladies in that film missed out on a rockin’ bachelorette party for Lillian, our “Setting The Table” group decided to throw one for our class.


If you have seen the movie, what do you think the Vegas bachelorette party would have been like, if Annie hadn’t had them all escorted back to Chicago? Was the flight in fact the bachelorette party? Becca had “a class of alcohol” and explored her sexuality with Rita, Megan invited “not a air marshall” man to have sex with her in the bathroom, and Helen got Annie to get drunk/drugged and do something stupid. A flight is a strange, liminal space, as is Vegas (are we in Paris? Egypt?).


Is there a Queen Bee in Bridesmaids? Who is it supposed to be? The bride? The maid of honor? Why is Helen such a Mean Girl? She doesn’t have a posse, she doesn’t even really have any friends. In Mean Girls, conflict between Regina and Cady begins when Regina “takes Aaron back.” Their female competition is over a man. Helen and Annie fight over a woman, Lillian. Does this change the methods of fighting?

Lisa explains that this is really a “sad breakup movie.” Does Annie and Lillian’s love and friendship die with Lil’s marriage? Is Annie really joking when she says “No I’m not [excited at the proposal]!”

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(on Sunday we had brunch at Lisa’s house. She baked us a cake of rainbows and smiles)


Queen Bee

queenbeeWe spent all of class on Thursday dissecting the Queen Bee. Kate, Katherine, Andrew, and Ben (Glen Coco) led us in a discussion about the Queen Bee character in film, literature, and pop culture. We began with this quiz, which I recommend you also take:

my result:

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Bring it on. Lucy got Regina, Star got Blair, Andrew got Rizzo, and Lisa got A Bee (“No one could exist with out you youre always the center of attention and you deserve it. You are a great leader and endlessly loyal to your followers, which makes you a true gem”).

How many Queen Bees can you name? Here are some common qualities:

  • Power and influence over other women and men (but especially women)
  • Cunning, manipulative
  • Attractive
  • Wealthy

A real Queen Bee creates most, if not all the bees in her hive. There can never be two Queens in a hive, and an “old” Queen will fight the up and coming “new” Queen to the death. The Queen Bee doesn’t have a barbed stinger – she can sting over and over again. The worker bees feed the Queen royal jelly.

“I want royal jelly so bad.” – Lisa

Joan Crawford’s character in Queen Bee (1955) fits the role perfectly. She is powerful, beautiful, manipulative, and wealthy. One of the most interesting aspects of her character is the power in her female sexuality. Not only can she manipulate and control men with it, but she can also bring down the women of the Phillip’s house with the same power. She controls the other women’s sexuality (arranging and dressing Jen for her date with Ty) and can ruin them completely by sexually overpowering them and their men (Carol’s suicide).

List the Queen Bees you know. Here is my list:

  • Regina George (Mean Girls)
  • Eva (Queen Bee)
  • Rizzo (Grease)
  • Alison (Pretty Little Liars)
  • Taylor Vaughan (She’s All That)
  • Bianca Stratford (10 things I hate about you)
  • Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada
  • Josie (Josie and the Pussycats)
  • Tom Tom (13 Going On 30)

And which one are you?


On Wednesdays We Wear Pink

MEANGIRLS-0195 copy

“I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me…but I can’t help it that I’m popular.”

Welcome to our Half-Block course, “Queen Bees, Wannabees, and Mean Girls,” taught by self-proclaimed “Wannabee” but suspiciously Queen Bee-ish Professor Lisa B. Hughes.


You are undoubtably familiar with Mean Girls (2004), or if you’re not, someone you know is. It enriches our vocabulary, is being made into a musical, and causes me to dig through my house to find something pink for Wednesday. But Tina Fey didn’t create the first genius mean girl characters; these have been around for thousands of years.

In our first three days, we have compared Mean Girls to Machiavelli’s The Prince, examined girl power and competition in ancient Greek myths, and watched Joan Crawford wreak havoc in Queen Bee (1955).


Who are some iconic or memorable pop-culture girl groups or duos?

  • Arachne and Athena,
  • Penelope and Helen,
  • Elizabeth Bennett and Miss Caroline Bingley,
  • The Plastics
  • Charlie’s Angels
  • Lorelai and Rory
  • Lucy and Ethel…..the list goes on

How many are all seamless friends? Where do conflicts come from? Can girls be friends? Where do the conflicts in Mean Girls come from? How are they solved?

What is Girl World? Who makes the rules?

  • Those rules are even real. – They were real that time I wore a vest!
  • “Eating with the plastics was like leaving regular world and entering girl world” - “I know how this could be settled in the animal world, but this was girl world, and in girl world all the fighting had to be sneaky.”

Which is better, to bake a cake of rainbow and smiles, or to break the crown and give everyone a piece of it?

Is Brutus just as cute as Caesar?

How has female sexuality been portrayed over the years? How is it alike or different in Queen Bee and Mean Girls?

Are you a Queen Bee, a Wannabee, or a Mean Girl?

“And don’t be wrong” (John Tucker Must Die).


Wrapping Up

As we rapidly enter into fourth week, brains full of newly learned information and minds looking forward to break, I would like to take a moment to reflect upon what I believe to be the largest discovery our class has realized thus far.  Although I mentioned in my last blog it seemed an unspoken understanding of relation to the material was present among the class, it was this past week when these unspoken sentiments became shared.  Bringing these previously unsaid connections to the table created a sort of ‘relatablility’ to the text we simply have not yet encountered within our discussions.  All of the sudden these highfalutin, distant ideas became graspable.  Every single one of us could pin down exactly what the theorists meant, which was evidenced by our ability to provide countless personal anecdotes.

On Monday, we came into class having read Winnicott’s theory on the transitional object.  However, it was not by lecture that we all came to solidify this theory in our minds –it was through the heartfelt descriptions of each and every one of our classmates’ own transitional objects.  The transitional object is comprised of many elements, however, in short it is an object the child possesses that paves a smoother path from one stage of their development into another.  More specifically, it transitions them from a deeply subjective point of view, into a more objective one.  That Monday we heard the tales of blankies, and teddies, and doggies galore.  We even had the privilege of meeting some of these objects in person.  Countless times Marcia asked the question, “Would anyone else like to share”?  And, as she looked around there was always another eager hand in the air waiting to tell of their own beloved object that had aided them through their childhood.  Marcia asked this question until, I believe, every last one of us in the class had shared their personal story of their transitional object with the rest of us.

Through the sharing of these intimate experiences, so close to home, we collectively began to realize the theories we are reading about do not simply pertain to ill people seeking out intensive therapy.  Rather, these theories illuminate aspects of our selves that have, for years, remained unnamed, or perhaps just unperceived. After learning these ideas, however, we can now begin to identify them within our own selves.  What happened this past week began the process of piecing together who we are on a more profound level by looking at our selves through a truly psychoanalytic lens.  While this may seem like a terrifying process, the class never once seemed to approach a space of fright –we never backed away from what the theorists were beginning to reveal within ourselves.  As this class is coming to an abrupt end, we are finally beginning to see how we, as individuals, might be changed for the better by learning this information.

Successful End to Week Two of Discovering the Unconscious

I am writing to you from the end of the second week of ‘Discovering the Unconscious’.  I think I may be able to anticipate your first question – have we delved deep into that mysterious thing locked within our selves and emerged alive gripping the slippery key which unlocks the rusty doors into the untapped regions of our rawest beings?  Absolutely not.  Even if that feat is possible, it would take one’s lifetime, not a matter of weeks, to pioneer into those recesses of our minds.  We are, however, making strides in understanding how this impossible presence within us reveals itself in our conscious lives.  Or rather, proves its existence through our inexplicable feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.  Some neuroscientists may take issue with the idea of an unconscious, as it cannot be physically proven.  There is no space in our brains we can point to and say, “There it is”!  Perhaps, it is this elusive quality that magnetized so many students towards this class.

Regardless of the reasons that brought us all together, we are now aboard this ship and land is a far cry away.  For the past two weeks we have been floating upon the words of W.R. Bion, Thomas Ogden, Hanna Segal, Melanie Klein, and of course Sigmund Freud.  We have strained our brains over extraordinarily technical theories, clutched our knees against our chests while watching the multiple personalities of Sybil emerge, and relaxed into the dreamspace of our classmates as they recounted the details of their fantastic worlds while we furiously scribbled down their words in hopes of illuminating some kind of truth for them.  However, the discussions, the readings, the films – they are not what have been of utmost significance for me.

This past week our class read an article by Thomas Ogden which discusses the presence of an “analytic third”in the room between an analyst and the patient.  The “analytic third” is the idea that an interplay between the two individuals’ subjectivities begins to occur during the therapy session.  They, the subjectivities, occupy the space between the patient and the analyst creating an intersubjectivity within the room.  By tapping into this intersubjectivity, the analyst, and even the patient, is able to see and understand things that were previously inaccessible.  While this may sound like it is some sort of sorcery that should stay within the realms of Hogwarts, Ogden assures us it is simply tuning one’s self into, “the most mundane, everyday aspects of the background workings of the mind…” (4).

I brought up Ogden, and the “analytic third,” because I believe it sheds light on what has been of utmost significance in this class.  Every morning, as I sit down within the circle of chairs and look around at my classmates I feel as if an understanding is occurring.  Each of us, having read the intensive material the night before, cannot seem to help but connect to it on a personal level.  I know, for me, much of the material from this week has been quite close to home.  Carrying with us these personal connections into the discussion, even if they remain unshared, create a space in which valuable class time is constantly occurring.  There are a multitude of unspoken, yet felt, “Amens!”  Fervent nodding is a common sight.  Attentive eyes watch the speaker as they delineate a specific theory from Freud.  It is a time of engagement supported by the understanding that we all have maybe ‘been there’.  While it has already been a long two weeks aboard this psychoanalytic ship, I feel that none of us believe it is quite yet time to dock.

Ogden, T.H. (1994). The Analytic Third: Working with Intersubjective Clinical Facts. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 75:3-19


Homer At First Glance

The first few days of this class were absolutely nothing like what I expected. I signed up because I’d been flirting with the idea of majoring in classics, and loving classical mythology is the reason I started taking Latin in the first place, so a class structured around the study of homeric epics sounded right up my alley. I’ll also admit to a healthy curiosity about what taking a class with Owen Cramer would be like.

So far, this is what I’ve come up with:

Owen has forgotten more about the ancient world than I will probably ever learn in my lifetime. That isn’t me being modest- the man just knows about a billion more things than most people I’ve met. And that should be intimidating. (Okay, in all honesty, it IS a little intimidating- was he just born knowing things? How does one obtain encyclopedic knowledge? I WANT THE SECRET.) But it’s also incredible. He probably doesn’t actually know everything, but it often seems that way because he knows pertinent information about pretty much anything you ask him, and he’s honestly interested in exploring whatever topic you bring up. Class is tangential, but it all feeds back to the original topic. Trying to figure out how to organize my notes was interesting, but i’ve never been much of a note-taker anyway. I just wish I knew more things- today he asked if there were any botanists in the class who could talk to us about something that related to our discussion.

Also, he’s a Downton Abbey fan too, and references it in every class at least once, which makes me rather giddy with joy.

At the moment we are reading the Iliad, which has never been my favorite. It’s pretty graphic, and pretty much everyone you like is dead by the end. I always preferred the Odyssey- give me a roguish liar who uses all his wiles and cunning to get back to his wife over war and death and slavery any day. (If you couldn’t tell,  I’m sort of a happy ending kind of person.)

There is incredible beauty in the Iliad (although Homer’s simile’s crack me up- their descriptions are always about four times longer than whatever situation they are supposed to clarify) but it keeps coming back to the inevitability of fate, even when you have gods on your side. Stories about war aren’t supposed to be uplifting, i guess, but it’s difficult for me to tolerate. Homer doesn’t pull any punches- when people die here, it’s not Tarantino-style- he details where they are pierced by the spear or how the helmet sounds when it rolls under a passing chariot after it’s wearer is killed.

I don’t know what it is exactly- something about these descriptions feels so real to me. So often i feel like the books I read or the shows I watch are manipulating me- either killing off the most strategically acceptable character (so that I won’t give up on the story altogether) or setting someone up as the one who absolutely won’t die, and then killing them for shock value. I read a lot of science fiction and watch a lot of Netflix, so I often feel pretty desensitized. I’ve watched Saving Private Ryan, and I’ve read All Quiet On The Western Front, yes, I cried, but I got through them. But this is the third time I’ve been assigned to read the Iliad and I just DON’T WANT TO. I don’t know if it’s the relentless barrage of men killing each other in the most painful ways imaginable for no real reason (Pride? Greed? Lust? No one is justified in this war! It’s infuriating! No one is trying to save anyone, they’re just killing each other and killing each other. For NINE YEARS.) but I find the story unendurably frustrating and upsetting. Good job, Homer, I guess, you made me care in the same hopeless way as everybody actually fighting in the war. (Perhaps my literary optimism is the result of too much Harry Potter? What do you mean the hero dies in the end? Isn’t he coming back??)

The thing is, I know at the end Aeneas will lead the battered Trojans remaining on a journey that eventually leads to the founding of Rome, so maybe I’m just looking at this in entirely the wrong way. There isn’t just one hero here: there is a succession of heroes, and when one dies, the others weep for him, seeking revenge if they’re into that kind of thing, and then they keep going, trying to fill his shoes as best they can. It’s not a snapshot story, but rather an embellished history lesson.

Okay, rant over. Blog Post #1 COMPLETE.