Posts in: CO200
I have finished my final paper (mostly). There are no unread books in the pile on my desk – all of them contain copious penciled-in notes. This afternoon, I will flee into Colorado’s vastness, once again, to confront whatever anticipated bad weather awaits me with some kind of joy. Soon those of us who have collected to look deeply at poetry, to carefully investigate the world, to reconsider ourselves, will scatter again. The approaching change feels sudden, abrupt, too soon. Yet to move and grow is natural; this class has been an experience of change, a moment of growth.
Our study of Shailja Patel’s Migritude, then, is remarkably appropriate as we move in a multitude of directions from this central place of study. Patel’s engaging book is simultaneously a transcript of her one-woman show and an anthology of her explorations of herself. It is a political statement, a study of race and acceptance, and a magnificent work of art. Her blackness is unique among those we’ve studied; she is a Kenyan of Indian heritage who has lived in Britain and America. Yet none of this makes her any less black. Indeed, her “migritude” is a play on the earlier ideological negritude movement; it allows Patel to simultaneously identify as black and as almost identity-less, a member of a group of people whose very roots lie in their rootlessness.
This apparent contradiction was not an unusual encounter. We proceeded to read Ezekiel Mphahlele’s essay “Voices in the Whirlwind,” which presents (helpfully) a plethora of arguments about black poetry. The unfortunate aspect of this abundance of arguments is that many of them seem to contradict one another. Perhaps, though, this confusion is a fundamental part of black poetry.
Michelle said this morning, after we had read the poems we created to mimic the voices of those we studied (which also managed to reveal an array of ridiculously incredible word-workers with whom I’ve been fortunate enough to rub shoulders for the last three weeks), that she hoped the class had managed to confuse us further about the meanings of the words in its title. I am not meant, I think, in the end, to understand the meaning of the word “black” or of “poetry,” and even worse, I don’t think I will ever be able to define black poetry. Luckily, though, the point is not to define. The point is to learn and grow and change and move, and in that, I think, I have succeeded.
p.s. I discovered a few more photos from Baca. They’re not particularly fitting, here, but they’re lovely. Many thanks to the most fabulous Michelle Decker, for the photos and for everything else.
There is a certain stillness that settles in the air in this fragment of mountainous desert where I have almost surprisingly found myself for the last three days. In this temporary escape to the Baca campus I have a sense of being contained in some dusty snow globe, mysteriously separate from the familiar. But I am not contained; the sky is vaster, the mountains rise up sharply from the yellow plain to reach broadly upwards. To the south and west, the land extends endlessly. In the midst of these immensities, I am small. I am small and humble in the silence of vastness, captured as I walk slowly against the wind on a dusty road in this singular moment. It is precisely the place to submerge oneself in poetry, in this physical manifestation of the instant-occupying lyric.
We encountered newness not only in geographical location but in the words we studied. As we continued moving forward in time, we met artists of prison cells and protest in writing and music. Wole Soyinka of Nigeria wrote of his imprisonment, both in prose and poetry, in books smuggled to him during his detainment. He described the humiliation of imprisonment as an emotion of dignity in that it creates an environment of solidarity and suggests a previous and consistent uprightness and dedication to a cause or mentality. We explored other poetries of prisons that depicted the struggles of entrapment and brief glimmers of hopefulness. In Robert Johnson, legendary singer of blues, we looked closely at the relationships between white and black music, notably the capitalization of black music by white people and other similar appropriations of black culture for primarily white gain.
The song “Strange Fruit” and a podcast considering it further forced us to examine racism in the northern parts of the United States and how whiteness creates value – the photograph of inspiration for the song is immediately shocking not only because of its explicit interest in two hanging black bodies but also because of the grinning white faces beneath them. “Going to Meet the Man,” the story of a lynching, was disturbing. It incited discussion regarding the sexualization of blackness and the dialectic of simultaneous desire and disgust for other bodies. We considered Bob Dylan and “Hurricane” – both the song and the film – to investigate our perceptions of who can write black poetry.
In light of this, I think I’ve decided that perhaps a definition of black poetry does not exist. It is ambiguous, defined by each moment that chooses to take on blackness and poetry simultaneously. I am humbled and delighted in every instant that I learn and change. I am also humbled by the world that both contains and frees me. I’m not sure that I have Soyinka’s humility – in fact, I’m quite sure that I don’t – but it remains humbling to engage with his dignity.
We have moved away from the epic. No – we’ve abandoned it. We’ve left Son-Jara in Africa to leap forward in time and spread ourselves across the continent and the ocean. In only three days, we have changed.
More precisely, maybe, I have changed. Or the poems have changed. Or everything has changed; the moody skies seem somehow more reminiscent of spring than the summer-like sunshine of the weekend. In any case, our literary window has broadened to include colonialism in Africa, that vast and unpleasant (to use the most mild word applicable here) thing that roughly coincided with slavery and oppression in the Americas. To continue with uncouth generalizations, the political and theoretical freedoms of blacks on both continents were achieved with arguable success in somewhat similar eras, resulting in altogether new poetic possibilities.
A study on the legendary Shaka (or Chaka, depending on who you ask) and his varying permutations throughout time led us violently into an investigation of perhaps earlier white engagements with South Africa. We read of nostalgia and repression and God in 19th century Africa and looked closely at the imitation of European poetry and form. To read these mimicries begs questions: can oppression be discussed in the language of the oppressor? Is there a certain power in copying form but twisting words to contradict the very creator of the arrangement?
As we traveled closer yet to ourselves in time we encountered America and the Harlem Renaissance in conjunction with the concept of negritude, which found its origins in a collection of African writers (mostly) in France and describes a literary and ideological movement of, in exceptionally brief summary, black pride. We read Léon Damas and Helene Johnson, Léopolde Senghor (who was the first president of Senegal, in addition to being a prolific writer) and Langston Hughes. They approach freedom and its absence in their works, speak of ancestry and of a future but they all recognize and embrace their blackness in the light of the lingering effects of imperialism and colonialism.
Aimé Césaire’s play, “A Tempest,” looks, too, at the remnants of colonialism that lingered still in the 1960s and which, truthfully, continue to drift almost unrecognized through our lives today. So while it may seem that we have changed, that in the last three days we have moved into and through and out of imperialism, perhaps we haven’t really changed and I haven’t really changed (much) and, in the end, even this abnormally cloudy weather still carries us forward towards more seasons, the same as always.
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.
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.”
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.
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]!”
(on Sunday we had brunch at Lisa’s house. She baked us a cake of rainbows and smiles)
We 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:
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
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?
“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).
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.
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