“Jazz as Communication”

One of the goals of Hughes’ essay, “Jazz as Communication” is to try to define what Jazz is and how it influences his own writing. The first time Hughes defines Jazz is when he says, “Jazz is a great big sea. It washes up all kinds of fish and shells and spume and waves with a steady old beat, or off-beat.” In other words, I think he is saying that Jazz is becoming so great that it will become more popular than Rock and Roll- a type of music that is loved and admired by so many. Jazz is the great sea that will swallow up Rock and Roll. This imagery is an interesting choice to use because it does not account for the possibility of the next big genre of music to come and “wash up” Jazz itself. In that case, Jazz could not possibly be the sea.

The second time is when Hughes says, “Jazz is only what you yourself get out of it.” He brings up a quote of a lady who asked what Jazz is, but replies that she doesn’t need to ask, she already knows. She can interpret the meaning of Jazz any way that she likes. If Jazz makes her sad, calm, or even happy, then she can interpret Jazz as a type of music that does one of those things. However, the problem with this definition of Jazz is that it can apply to different types of music as well, and therefore, by simply saying the definition, one will not know that you are talking about Jazz and might think you are discussing a different genre.

Finally, Hughes gives a definition based on what Jazz means to him and says, “Jazz is a montage of a dream deferred.” After reading this line I realized why we were told to read the second poem “Harlem.” Not realizing how it connected to Jazz, I was confused why we were asked to read it. He says that Jazz is like “a great big dream-yet to come.” I think he is saying that Jazz will always continue to be performed and favored in the music society, much like a dream that we continue to look forward to. Jazz is so powerful and important that if neglect it/ push it off, much like a dream, we will come to regret it. Ultimately, Hughes thinks highly of this type of music and is thankful that it can give him inspiration throughout his writing.


  • How do you think Hughes’ poem “Harlem” relates to Jazz?
  • Do you agree with Hughes when he says, “Jazz is only what you yourself get out of it” or is Jazz simply one type of music that can’t be interpreted?

Blog Post due 3/11 @ 6pm (Comments 12am)

Blog Post: Choose one

  • In “Jazz as Communication,” Hughes discusses Jazz in relation to the Blues and Rock&Roll. Locate at least three moments where Hughes defines Jazz (Jazz is….) and discuss the imagery Hughes is using. Where does the imagery conflict? What’s interesting about that? Ultimately, what picture does he create of Jazz in this essay? How does this compare to his poem, “Harlem,” that he mentions in this essay?
  • If syncopation is a break or interruption to rhythm, where do you hear these syncopations or breaks in Hughes’s poem, “Weary Blues”? What does Hughes call attention to through his use of syncopation? Why might this be important? Use evidence to support your claims.
  • Ask two debatable questions
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“If I Told Him, A Complete Portrait of Picasso”

Throughout Gertrude Stein’s poem, “If I Told Him, A Complete Portrait of Picasso”, many of the lines and sentences are repeated. Stein even acknowledges her repetition in line 19 when she writes “now actively repeat at all”, which she then repeats three times. What is the purpose of all this repetition, what is she using it to say? As every line is repeated multiple times and sometimes in different sentence structures, but always with the same words, I thought that it sounded like the author was unsure of something, debating it back and forth in her head and constantly questioning herself.

She mentions Napoleon many times, and I thought of that with the last line of this poem, “Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.” Napoleon is a historic reference of Napoleon Bonaparte from whom we learn not to let history repeat itself. From my high school history knowledge I remember that Napoleon tried to invade Russia in the winter and due to the freezing conditions he lost and then the Germans did not learn from napoleon, they too tried to invade Russia in the winter and lost as well. Through her repetition she seems to be debating something that maybe she should know from the past not to repeat or may influence the course of history.

Maybe she is debating whether to tell Picasso something or maybe through her poem she is trying to tell the readers something about Picasso, his art, his life. Picasso is known to have used numerous mediums and maybe the repetition is describing that. And maybe the repetition is describing how popular and spoken about the works of Picasso were.

As she mentions Napoleon many times through her poem, I connected this idea to the title of this poem, “If I Told Him, A Complete Portrait of Picasso” to interpret it to mean that Picasso, who is compared to “Napoleon” here “came first” and then influenced many other painters, sculptors and even writers (26). I am still uncertain how the first part of the title connects to the second.


What do you think is the purpose of the repetition?

How do you think the first part of the title connects to the second part and how do you think the title connects to the poem itself?


If I Told Him


My first reaction to Gertrude Stein’s “If I Told Him: a complete portrait of Picasso” is one of absolute bewilderment. Immediately, I am drawn in by a conflict raging in the text. At first glance, the whole poem is almost gibberish, radio static, with barely a cohesive thought. However, just like the static, the words force you to listen more closely. It is almost an irony that the rough syntax increases your motivation to read between the lines. Nothing is given away easily in this poem.

However, there are certain words which can give a clearer view of what is taking place in this poem regarding the subjects of the poem (Stein and Picasso), specifically “Exact,” “now,” “history” and “Land.” I view them all as playing off each other. “Exact” seems to be the most obvious of all these. It seems to be giving a clear, ironic message about the work of Stein and Picasso. Both artists are capable of being exact. However, they actively choose not to be. Stein writes “Exact resemblance to exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact / resemblance” (21). One cubist notion is taking one small space of a portrait and expanding upon that. It is very precise, very exact, yet not at all. It is not exact resemblance, though it is so close. This is true in the poem as well. Everything is perfectly exact, yet not all. Everything is “wrong,” but at the same time exactly where it should be. The theme of “now” vs. the relativity of “history” (such as “Napoleon first [34]) adds to this lack of exactness. This is played with consistently throughout the entire poem. Of course Napoleon did come first. But that almost does not matter. “Now” is the moment that is crucial to the artist. The parallel is that although there exists a perfect exactness, it does not need to be imitated in it’s entirety. This is especially evident in the art of Picasso. Cubist artists were intent on the copying of still-lifes. They could have been the most mundane, easily interpret-able  objects. However, cubists chose not to project them this way. Even something as obvious as Napoleon coming first can be toyed with. Furthermore, I believe the concept of land that repeats itself for almost twenty line is laying a down another fundamental principle. Although the later works of Picasso became very abstract, his earlier work (as was most cubic art) was very grounded in reality. Yes, it took on other forms, but it kept returning to “land,” to a common ground. It did not stray so far from those original landscapes. There seems to be a secondary conflict of how far should an artist stray into the abstract. Stein certainly does, and breaks down many grammatical and socially accepted writing rules. Picasso does as well. But there is an apprehension.


Questions for the Class:

1) Based on the poem, to what extent can an artist’s work be relative or abstract before losing meaning?


2) Is this poem only a portrait of Picasso, or are there introspective elements as well?


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“If I Told Him”

The first aspect of this poem that obviously stood out to me was the speaker’s use of repetition. This is seen right at the beginning of the poem starting with the line “If Napoleon if I told him. Would he like it if I told him”(3-4). Furthermore, the lines are completely grammatically incorrect as the constant repeating lines do not make grammatical sense. I think the reason the poem was written this way is because the speaker is exhibiting her nervous excitement and a somewhat lack of confidence. She is unsure whether or not Picasso, who she clearly looks up to, will like what she will tell him. She seems to be having a conversation with herself, going back and fourth with her thoughts, trying to convince herself to have the confidence to approach him and say what she wants to. As the poem goes on, the repetition becomes more confusing with the repeating “He and He”(53). Similarly I found this repetition to add to her portrayal of being extremely anxious.

The four words that stick out most to me in this poem, are: Napoleon, king, first, and the repetitive “He”(53). These words show how stein viewed Picasso as a leader in his field; a king. Moreover, she views him as bold, comparing him to Napoleon since he is the “first” of his kind. The repeating He displays her nervousness. She sounds like a kid about to meet her favorite celebrity for the first time.

The way I see Stein relating her writing to Cubism is just like cubism, her poetry has an underlying beauty. At first glance, the poem looks like a mess; without any meaning. However with analysis one can see the meaning that underlies the apparent mess; just like cubism.

My questions I am wondering about are:

1) Why do you think she used repetition so much? Is it to give the poem a certain sound? Or is there an underlying meaning to it that I didn’t see?

2) From this poem what kind of relationship do you think Picasso and Stein have? Were they friends or was Picasso just Stein’s idol?



Blog Post Due 3/9 @ 6pm (Commentors 12am)

Blog Prompt: “If I Told Him” is Stein’s poem about her relationship with Pablo Picasso, her close friend.

  1. Using your reading journal, read this poem aloud and share with us a few of your reactions.
  2. Read a second time and list the four words that stick out to you the most in this poem. If this is a poem about Stein’s relationship with Picasso, what might these four words suggest about these two artists and/or their relationship?
  3. What is the effect of all of the repetition of this poem? Does it make meaning or take away meaning?
  4. How do you see Stein engaging with Cubism given the style of her poem? (Use the brief reading to help you with this).


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“They shut me up in Prose” (Prompt 2)

In “They shut me up in Prose” we have a self that is reflected through a “they”. The poem itself begins with the words “They shut me up in Prose” which portrays an I in the me and presents us with a “they.” As I read the poem I did not feel as though the they represented any specific group of people. Thinking back to our class discussions on how Whitman presents many voices within one in his poem, I felt that Dickinson could have tried to make the “they” be these voices in her head or just a general voice that does not exist. When she says “Still! Could themself have peeped -/ And seen my Brain” (5-6) I could not help but think, maybe the “they” she referred to is a part of herself. And that part of herself is what is what is shutting herself up. The definition of the word “Prose” is written or spoken language. And Steven, yesterday, said something interesting about how reading it in iambs would suggest that the words “They” and “Prose” are emphasized and they are capitalized as well. Obviously these two words play an important role throughout the entire poem and that led me to look at the specific definition of “they” which is to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified. Maybe I am looking too deep into this but a poem contains the author’s name before it is presented and maybe that is what Dickinson had very slightly alluded too. That her name could be the “they” and the self she tries to present is many of her voices. Of course all this thought is probably motivated from the fact that we just came off Whitman, but still food for thought? Also, in my comments from the previous post I mentioned that the bird is usually considered a free figure in nature. They are not bounded to the ground as we are and I was reminded of the usage of Bird in her context as a bird that I would normally see walking the streets of the city. “They might as wise have lodged a Bird” (7) she said, but when is a bird ever confined? It is hardly unless it is captured. But birds can often be separated from their flocks and find themselves lonely. In the same sense her true lone voice can be found separated and alone from the other entirety of her voices.


So my questions are simple:

What do you guys feel about Whitman’s many voices within one compared to Dickinson’s “they,” can they be compared in the way I attempted?

Also do you guys think the bird signifies confinement or solitude or neither?


“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” Prompt 2 response

Dickinson is portraying a speaker who is insane. This is seen starting from the first line of the poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”(1). The speaker could have said it felt like a funeral but instead states what he/she actually felt, not imagined. This is psychotic; people do not feel things in their brain. People feel migraines, which I think, could be what the speaker was referring to; it hurt so badly that he/she felt a funeral. Funerals indicate death and the speaker may have wanted to die from the pain of the migraine.

Going along with the interpretation that the speaker is crazy and that the speaker is experiencing a migraine of some sort, I look at lines 7-8. “Kept beating- beating – till I thought My mind was going numb-”. The Beating can be that pounding experience it feels like when someone is having a migraine and the terrible feeling of your mind going numb. That must hurt and someone experiencing numbness cannot feel or think normally.

When I read line 11 “With those same boots of Lead, again,” It makes me think of a crazy person who constantly hears voices talking to them inside their head. The word “again” exhibits that this is not the first time the speaker went crazy, this has happened before. Here we see the use of ambiguity, since its unclear, it could be the boots of lead is an example the speakers using to explain the pain he/she feels in his/her head from the migraines.

“Wrecked, solitary here-”(16) the speaker is lost in his/her own world. The speaker is “wrecked”- destroyed the speakers mind is completely crazy and does not even know where he/she is. Then the word “solitary” which means existing alone- crazy people are in their own world- unaware of their surroundings. The speaker says “here”- but where exactly is here? People in a dysfunctional state, when they feel wrecked and in solitude don’t know where they are.

The last stanza is where the speaker hits rock bottom. The last three lines say “And I dropped down, and down And hit a World, at every plunge, And finished knowing – then-”. Wow what just happened? Ok so dropped “down and down” sounds like the speaker is going into a dark hole of nothing forever. This last stanza sounds like the speaker is going into ultimate madness “at every plunge” you can feel the speaker going deeper and deeper. This is similar to a person who gets sick and then sicker and sicker till they die, they plunge deeper and deeper, this goes with the poem taking place at a funeral in the speakers brain. “And finished knowing – then-” this is it it’s over the speaker finished knowing and doesn’t know anything- he/she is crazy and has no reasoning anymore.

Based on the state I am accusing the speaker of being in, makes the speaker an unreliable narrator. The narrator is telling a story in first person about when he/she felt a funeral in his/her brain. Being that the speaker is mad it is unclear about what’s happening to him/her. So I read it a few times and tried to get the clues into what was going on.

1)Do you agree or disagree with me that the speaker is insane? what makes you think so.

2) Why do you think Dickinson choose a funeral as a location to display this speaker’s madness?


Response to “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died-”

In contrast to the other Dickinson poems that were in the assigned reading, this poem does not come across as especially harsh or sorrowful. Where the other poems contain a lot of what I view as sharp language and foreboding or depressing descriptions, this poem conveys a more serene image.  The speaker of the poem can be recognized as speaking posthumously, as he/she notes “when I died,” (1) which appears to be in past tense. (For the purposes of this response alone, from here on out I will maintain that the speaker is female.) Notably, the first observation that the speaker makes about her death is not in regards to a loved one’s tears or sorrowful goodbye, but rather, a standout detail about her death scene is a buzzing fly. It’s almost as if the speaker is reinventing everything that took place at her death bed, she could be telling it over to someone (in heaven I guess) and she starts off, “So there was a fly buzzing and ….” Also, I noted that this poem has mostly enjambed lines, with the exception being the lines that end in dashes, which I think contributes to the loose flow and light tone in the poem. In this sense, the speaker’s relationship to her own death seems to be one of serenity and acceptance, as she maintains the ability to focus in on small details at the time.

Additionally, in line 2, the speaker describes the room as still. “Stillness” would not be number one on my list of adjectives in describing a death scene. Such words like sadness, wailing, or farewells pop into my head first. Also, the speaker writes, “for that last Onset- when the King be witnessed- in the Room-” (7-8), which I believe ties in a religious element to the death scene. In Judaism, we believe that one of the places we feel G-d’s presence the most is at a person’s deathbed, so when I saw this line referring to a “King,” I understood it as referring to the ultimate King of the universe. Coinciding with this, it stood out to me that the speaker refers to a religious concept when describing a time of death, a time that is commonly viewed as solemn and mostly devoid of spirituality/good energy. (Another interpretation could simply be that the speaker is a princess and her father was in the room.) Again, these two things reinforce the fact that the speaker is at peace with her parting from the world.

Lastly, the speaker seems to calmly check off everything on her “to do before I die” list. Did I make a will? “I willed my Keepsakes- Signed away” (9)- check. And then, when the end is near, and the speaker has almost reached the “light” (14), she notes again, that there was a fly present. To me, the fly is mentioned to bring out the point that the speaker is tuned in to everything going on around her until the last moment. There is no despair or regret there.

  1. What do you think the fly represents? If you think my interpretation is on task, what can you add?
  2. As is characteristic of Dickinson’s poems, there are several dashes interspersed throughout this poem. What purpose do you think they serve here? Can you tie it in to the speaker’s relationship to death?



Blog Prompt: Posters due 2/18 by 6pm (Commentors @ 12am)

Choose ONE prompt to which to respond:

  • Choose one poem and discuss the speaker’s relationship to death. What kind of relationship is this? Please quote from the poem at least twice to support your claim. Continue to draw from the poetic vocabulary we are building.
  • Choose one poem and make a claim about what kind of speaker or “self” we see portrayed in it. Please quote from the poem at least twice to support your claim. Continue to draw from the poetic vocabulary we are building.
  • Ask two debatable questions of the text.
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