Blog Post due May 15th @ 6pm (Commentors 12am)

Dictee means “dictation” or “to write down what is dictated” in French. The overall book is divided in nine sections referencing the nine muses of classical Greece, each one about a different woman in history. We are reading the section she writes about her own mother. Brief historical context: In 1905, Japan signed over Manchuria to China, taking it from Korea. In 1931, Japan then invaded Manchuria, China. Cha’s mom experienced this invasion and these differing national boundaries and we see this reflected in the section we are reading. Then Cha has her own experience with this as well see in 56-58.

45-53: Cha’s mother’s story.

56-58: Cha’s personal story.

Choose one question to respond to and be sure to ask your two debatable questions:

  1. What kind of personal experiences/personal struggles are both sections concerned with? How are the two sections of this chapter related? What is the significance of the photographs that start and end this text? Please use evidence in your discussion.
  2. Cha’s Dictee has many similarities to lyric poetry. Discuss some of the similarities [consider form and subject matter]  and whether you think this is poetry or not. Please use evidence in your discussion.
  3. What is confusing or ambiguous about Cha’s text? Point to particular moments in your discussion using evidence. Why do you think she chooses to write like this? How might the form of her text be related to the subject matter?
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North American Time/Sisters in Arms

  1. How do you see these two poems navigating the personal and the political? What imagery and historical/political references do you find interwoven with more personal details of the poet’s life? Does this change the nature of the personal I?

In the first couple of lines in the poem “Sisters in Arms” there is already an established tension.  “The edge of our bed was a wide grid where your fifteen-year-old daughter was hanging gut-sprung on police wheels” (1-3). Lorde seems to be with a South African woman in a bed with a young girl who needs to be buried. Lorde is unable to come with this woman to bury her daughter. “So I bought you a ticket to Durban on my American Express and we lay together in the first light of a new season” (13-16). Then we are introduced to a more significant problem, more specifically the most important problem in the entire poem. “I reach for the taste of today, the New York Times finally mentions your country, a half-page story of the first white south african killed in the “unrest” Not of Black children massacred at Sebokeng six-year-olds imprisoned for threatening the state not of Thabo Sibeko, first grader, in his own blood” (19-25). The New York Time’s news stories that are only mentioning the problems in this country, and which they have only given a half of a page”. The biased article is only even mentioning a problem because a White South African person was killed in this conflicted area. However, this article completely obscures all of the Black children that are massacred in Sebokeng, as well as the young children who are confined for being a threat. After this political moment in the poem, there is a shift. “We were two Black women touching our flame and we left our dead behind us I hovered you rose the last ritual of healing” (33=35). These lines become much more personal. They show a deeper, more joyous moment. Almost as if they are validating this almost excitement that they feel. This excited moment is shown again where she states, “and wherever I touch you I lick cold from my fingers taste rage like salt from the lips of a woman who has killed too often to forget and carries each death in her eyes” (39-44). This moment was very sensual and erotic. This is where the more personal traces of Lorde creep into the poem. I found it very interesting that she referenced salt in this line, and related that salt to death. In a Passover Seder it is said that salt water symbolizes the tears and sweat of enslavement. Paradoxically, it’s also a symbol for purity, springtime, and the sea, the mother of all life. It is ambiguous which meaning Lorde meant, and one could argue both.

The poem “North American Time” also discusses a very controversial topic. “Everything we write will be used against us or against those we love. These are the terms, take them or leave them. Poetry never stood a chance of standing outside history” (11-17). This line definitely reminded me of the book 1984 where people were not allowed to write down anything at all, especially not any of their. I love the verbal irony of “stood” and “standing” Both come from the same exact word root, but the two forms take on different meanings that contradict one another. Words never stand alone. Once they separated from their original context, they all take on very different meanings.  Her poem describes this idea of what happens when people take language out of context? Rich shows the true power of language. How languages have the ability to take on many different forms. Another interesting idea that Rich discusses is the consequence of becoming a writer. “We move but our words stand become responsible and this is verbal privilege” (24-26). This concept that by writing things down, are voice is held responsible for what we say. But then we are also given this amazing privilege to have the freedom to say whatever we want. “It doesn’t matter what you think. Words are found responsible all you can do is choose them or choose to remain silent. Or, you never had a choice, which is why the words that do stand are responsible and this is verbal privilege” (39-46). Although we do have the freedom, we have to keep in mind that the words we write will stand, and we must respect this privilege.

Ask yourselves:

What is the true meaning of written language? How can we really manipulate our words and change their meanings. Should we be responsible for everything we write?

What could Lorde really be protesting other than the failure to bring attention to the massacres in South Africa? Is there a deeper message, a more ambiguous one?


North American Time/ Sisters in Arms Question 1

To protest is to strongly oppose something and act upon that disapproval. Protesting can be used in many different forms, such as a hunger strike or a mass petition. In Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich’s cases though, protesting was used through the form of lyric poetry with the poems “Sisters in Arms” and North American Time”. Lyric poetry is a great way to protest because it spreads awareness of the cause through creativity.  The poet can write a poem based on the perspective of the  victim or the one victimizing, which broadens the range of who the poem is affecting.

Audre Lorde’s “Sisters in Arms” protests the extreme racism that occurs in South America. The first stanza of the poem describes how little power she holds, even though she wants to help fight against the racism in South Africa. It seems that she’s telling her friend that she wanted to help in a violent protest, but wasn’t able to. She couldn’t “plant the other limpet mine against a wall at the railroad station” (9-10), even though she truly wanted to, assuming that the railroad station was ran by the whites in South Africa. Instead she sends her friend a ticket to travel to Durban. This shows the helplessness that the narrator has, because instead of putting a mine by the railroads, she’s supporting the railroads by buying her friend a ticket.

Furthermore in the next stanza, Lorde speaks of the silence of the media, specifically in America. She calls out the New York Times, saying that they “finally mention” (20) South Africa, but speak of the white South Africans dying, and not of the black children being massacred and imprisoned.

I was a bit confused about what Adrienne Rich’s “North American Time” was protesting. Right now, it seems the me the poem is protesting the act of misconstruing a poem for the wrong purposes. Rich expresses the fact that writing down words “become responsible and this is a verbal privilege” (25-26) because those words can have a great affect on the world. Those words “can be blazed on a wall in spraypaint” (19), symbolizing a certain movement or protest even though that’s not what the words were intended for.

Question 1: In “North American Time”, is Rich promoting the idea that it’s bad that one’s words can be used differently because words can also be used for good?

Question 2: In “Sisters in Arms”, is there anything else that Lorde is protesting?


Blog Post due Mon 4/13 @ 6pm (Commentors @ 12am)

Put Rich’s “North America Time” and Lorde’s “Sisters in Arms” in conversation with each other around one of the questions below. Both poems are personal lyrics, where the I is of the poet. Use evidence from each poem and ask two debatable questions.

1. What does it mean to protest? What do you see these two poems protesting? Can a lyric poem be a form of protest? What would be its limits as a form of protest or its strengths?

2. How do you see these two poems navigating the personal and the political? What imagery and historical/political references do you find interwoven with more personal details of the poet’s life? Does this change the nature of the personal I?

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Diving Into the Wreck

In Diving into the Wreck, Rich describes destruction as deep-sea wreckage, something that she ambivalently explores. The persona is both curious by the wreck and fears it, feeling that it is her mission to explore it. She writes“ I came to explore the wreck/the words are purposes/the words are maps”, which I understood to mean that with the exploration of the wreck the words as a poet will have new meaning, and she will gain something new from it as a writer.

The wreck also has the duel nature of general wreckage and personal wreckage. The poem starts with the narrator) preparing herself for the wreck, or in the place of destruction, rather she prepares for it, going into the wreck with the proper scuba gear that doubles as battle gear. Rich writes “the body-armor of black rubber/the absurd flippers/the grave and awkward mask”. She uses the imagery of a grave and awkward mask, as a means to explain the wreck. In many ways the wreck is grave, is objectively serious and austere place, as Rich describes it as a place that is “is not the story of the wreck, but the wreck itself/ the thing not the myth”. It is the alternate universe, or world that exists bellow the surface, having nothing to do with Rich herself. Yet it is also awkward, awkward is a personal experience it is not an objective description, it is the way somebody experiences discomfort. It is the personal experience of the wreck. This appears to be a tension until the narrator chooses a side, and focuses primarily on the personal wreck. Rich compares herself to the mermaid and the merman whose “hair streams black” of the wreckage, “I am he, I am she” she breaks the threshold of exploring the wreckage, and becomes it.

However, I am not convinced. I do not see her as the wreck, but more of a tourist or the wreck. I think that her need to proclaim her excavation towards the wreckage, to find the destruction, and then becomes it, is a little fake. Compared to Plath, who seems to really live in despair, Rich’s poem appears to be trying too hard. To me, she is a bit of a poser.

But maybe I am being too harsh.

What do you think?

Do you think that her description of immersing herself in the wreckage is sincere?

Additionally, who do you think the “We” is in “We are, I am, you are”?



Plath and Her Father

Sylvia Plath’s poems, “Full Fathom Five” and “Daddy” are both deeply personal poems which examine Plath’s relationship with her father. Clearly, many unresolved issues exist between the Plath and her father, creating tension in these two works. For example, in “Full Fathom Five” she compares her father to a fantastic old man emerging from the sea. She describes him, saying, “You float near/ As kneeled ice-mountains” (11-12); thus giving him a larger than life appearance. He seems to be domineering in comparison to the speaker, overpowering her. Yet, she seems unwilling to be parted from him. Plath asserts “Father, this thick air is murderous. I would breathe water”. Assuming that the speaker is human, one can infer that the speaker is willing to suffer under abnormal environmental conditions just to further her relationship with her father. As a result, it is difficult to discern the tone of the work in relation to her relationship with her father. One can argue that she intimidated by her father, yet she holds a certain affection for him. Contrastingly, “Daddy”, portrays her father in a different light. She seems to compare their relationship to that of Hitler and the Jews. She compares herself to a Jew, claiming she begins to “talk like a Jew” in line 34. She draws numerous parallels between her father and Hitler throughout the work, describing his “neat mustache” and “Aryan eye” (43-44). By drawing a parallels between Hitler and the Jews and she and her father, she implies that her relationship with her father is oppressive and cruel. Comparing the tone between these two works, one can debate the nature of their relationship.


What do you think that speaker’s relationship with her father?

What do you think the tone of these works says about their relationship and the tensions between father and daughter?


Blog Prompt – Posts due Mon 3/30 @ 6pm (Comments at 12am)

Choose either Plath or Rich’s poem(s) to discuss further.

What is the relationship that is formed between the speaker and destruction? What imagery is important to this? Finally, where does this relationship break down, fall apart, or move towards resolution? Use evidence to support your claims and pose two debatable questions.

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1. Part I

“[T]o recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with / shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,  / the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after / death,” (1).

In the last 23 lines or so of Part 1 of Ginsberg’s Poem, Ginsberg seems to “lose his steam” a little. The above 4 lines are included in these last lines and they portray a shift in the poem. Until this point, Ginsberg tended to follow a certain pattern, in that he would begin a new line with “who…” and that first line would be enjambed, followed by about 1-3 enjambed lines until right before the next “who…” and that line right before would be an end stop line. In my opinion, Ginsberg is purposely separating the lines into little groupings and allowing some pause in between ideas. However, towards the end Ginsberg veers from this pattern and in this instance noted above, he actually begins a line with “to recreate” instead of “who…” For me, this is kind of the point when the reader tunes back in to the poem because until this point Ginsberg seemed to be on some sort of rant, an endless stream of words from his consciousness. By Ginsberg breaking away from the pattern, he makes us pay close attention here and focus on what is being said.

So what is he saying here? I view these lines as Ginsberg’s self-disclosure. Ginsberg writes, “to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose…” and indeed, in this poem, Ginsberg breaks away from earlier forms of poetry, there is no clear meter, etc. and in essence, he recreates what prose has meant until now. Also, Ginsberg writes, the speaker is standing before the audience (the “you”) and “confessing out the soul,” and again, this is in line with what Ginsberg is indeed doing in this poem- he is confessing, he is revealing himself. In this line, “confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,” he makes it sound as if he has a certain obligation to listen to his thoughts and emotions and follow them. It’s also interesting that Ginsberg implies that he is doing all this so that what needs to be said, “what might be left to say in time come after/death,” is recorded. Again, it’s as if Ginsberg feels obligated to reveal all before it’s too late. Taking a look at these lines once more, there are some very much raw emotions here, further evidence that this is Ginsberg revealing his very self. He says he feels “shame,” “rejected,” he calls himself a “madman bum,” and lastly, there is also a sense of that which is “unknown” here.

2 Questions for the class:

  1. If you agree that these lines contain a self-disclosure form Ginsberg, what further evidence is there here to support this point (that I have not already mentioned)?
  2. If you disagree, what then is Ginsberg addressing here? What evidence do you have to support your claim?



Blog Post Due Weds 3/25 @ 6pm (Commentors by 12am)

Choose one.

1. In Part I, Ginsberg writes, “[T]o recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with / shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,  / the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after / death,” (1). What do you see him addressing at this moment in “Howl”? Break this down— question, wonder, think through possibilities. Point out particular images, poetic tools he is using here. Two debatable questions, please.


2. Part II focuses on this entity named Moluch. Given the kind of imagery Ginsberg uses, what/who would you guess this is? How does Moluch contain contradictions? Use evidence to support your thinking. Two debatable questions, please.




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“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

“who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,”
Throughout the poem, Ginsberg  uses style of one long run on sentence describing what had happened to the people he called, “the best minds of his generation” (1). In these lines Ginsberg emphasizes the negative effects of the business world and more specifically of the world of advertising.
Initially, after reading these lines I had thought that Ginsberg was referring to some horrific incident that had occurred during his time, as he specifically points out the location, Madison Avenue, and the company, Absolute Realty. However, after realizing the extended metaphor, I was able to understand the perspective of Ginsberg.It was evident he loathed the high class, seemingly boring lifestyle of businessmen. Ginsberg uses “Madison Ave” to represent the classic workplace of high class businessmen and the metaphor of these men being “burned alive” to mean that their creative abilities are being wasted away, since they are busy doing these jobs. He emphasizes that we have come to a time where the people who are supposedly the brightest all look for these types of occupations rather than more creative ones. additionally, Ginsberg blames the advertisers and newspaper editors for their advertising methods. Furthermore, Ginsberg displays his passionate hate for what he views as a waste of talent through the use of adjectives and metaphors relating to torture. He compares “mustard gas” to the works of editors and “nitroglycerine” to  advertising agencies (93-95). This cynical image put fourth by Ginsberg exhibits just how he feels about this lifestyle. Not only does it disgust him, but also he sees the people caught up in this lifestyle as being tortured and wasting away their abilities.
My questions for the class are:
1) What is the significance of the long run-on sentence style used by Ginsberg? Is it a stream of consciousness? Or is there some underlying meaning involved?
2)Is Ginsberg referring to a specific case where people he personally knew who loathed their job and lifestyle? If not, why does he feel that he has the authority to speak on behalf of these businessmen?
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