Friday, August 28, 2015

[Palestine, the metaphor, says to me]

I'm going to approach this poem through a poetry response. So, I will be talking about my feelings.

A short poem, but puzzling. I have lots of questions as I read through this. The first question that comes up is Palestine as a metaphor. A metaphor for what? I know that Palestine is a holy land for many people--groups fight over this land all the time. It is consumed by war. This is the theater of the bible, so I would assume that we would get some biblical imagery in this poem and there definitely is some. But Palestine as a metaphor? I can think of some symbols that could be ascribed to Palestine. Hmmmm.

I love lines 6 & 7. Just some beautiful imagery. It is just a list of colors/things and ampersands (&), but it is really evocative. The land begins green, then becomes black and red because of the turmoil. Then black and ash. Ash is such a great word. The image I get comes from The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, where ash is falling like snow. That is what I see in this poem--darkness and ash falling from the sky. But it could also be the ash of dead generations of people, caught up in these "holy wars." Then finally we get black war. Sounds bad doesn't it.

At the end of the poem we get references to Genesis--working for six days and then on the seventh God rested. But in this poem the six days of work is fruitless--there is no victor. The seventh day is a waste. And then we get the image of the daffodils. Daffodils are perennials and bloom year after year without replanting or much maintenance. This could also be a biblical reference of the Resurrection of Christ. Palestine is the area where that happened. So, the speaker doesn't want to dramatize Palestine, the reality is not great. But I do sense some hope at the end of this poem. The speaker believes that Palestine will become a beautiful land once again, that the wars will end and peace will reign.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Armada Book Review

ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was looking forward to this novel, with marked anticipation. I pre-ordered this sucker and waited patiently until it appeared, magically, on my Kindle Paperwhite.


I didn't like it.

I mean, it was okay. An average novel that will probably make a really exciting movie. Summer movie goers will pile into the theaters, buckets of popcorn and gallons of soda in hand. The explosions will be awesome. But in the end this will be a Transformers movie and not an Inception movie.

Let me explain.

Ready Player One, Clines first novel, was a masterpiece. He built this world, a world unlike anything we'd ever seen. The characters were deep and we got to know them. Because I was invested in those characters, I cared what happened to them. They seemed real to me. I did not want Ready Player One to end. After it did end, I longed for the day when I could read more of Cline's pop culture ridden prose.

So, now, let me detail how Armada fails:

1) I'VE BEEN HERE BEFORE. This setting, this idea, this plot is nothing new. We have seen this story done several times before and by much more accomplished writers. I mean Cline even references the stories that come to my mind when someone says, "Kid plays video games to control spaceships to destroy aliens," or "Kid becomes involved in space defense organization and has to defend his home planet from aliens." I knew what was going to happen in Armada because I had read the story before. There were several times while I was reading that I would stop and predict what would happen and sure enough it all came true. I want original story telling. It is fine if you recycle a previously used story, almost everyone does, they kinda have to. But, if you are going to recycle, at least make it into something different than it was before.

2) I DIDN'T CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS. I can't even remember some of the character's names and I finished the book a day ago. That's not good. Lightman? Lifeman? Something like that? So, look, this novel is short. There is very little set up at the beginning of the novel. Cline wastes no time getting us into the action, but he does this to the detriment of his characters. I don't care if Lightman dies because I haven't spent enough time with the guy. That is why George R.R. Martin's books/T.V. shows cause such extreme reactions in people. I mean I threw A Game of Thrones across the room when one particular scene happened, I was that angry. This happens because we've spent significant amounts of time with the characters, we know them, we like them, we may even "love" them, and we care what happens to them. But not in Armada. We've got to get to the action because we have movie rights to sell, screw the characters. The people came for the aliens anyway.

3) THE ADULTS DIDN'T ACT LIKE ADULTS. I understand what Cline was trying to do with this one. The adults (especially the ones within the Defense Armada, the ones on the Moon Base) act like teenagers. Geeky, videogame teenagers. Now, Cline was trying to show that these gentlemen were all huge nerds, and have been stuck on the moon for a long time, and they are awkward, but it was just too much. You have a "fish out of water" scenario happening with the main character. He doesn't know what is happening and neither do we. But then in most well-written stories a "wise old man" appears and explains things to us, maybe trains the "fish out of water" character. But in this case the adults don't have any of the answers either and they act just like the kids. I mean they have theories as to why things are the way they are, but ultimately they don't really know. It made it very difficult to believe. I would figure that these men would grow up, just a little, during their decade or so on the moon. I mean they are in a stinking military organization, I would think some mode of decorum would be trained into them.

4) Finally, THE RESOLUTION WAS RUSHED. I got to the last page and said, "that's it?" Well, yep, that's all. There was not enough time spend in peril for me to care. Everything was rushed.

Like I said, this will make a good, not great, action sci-fi movie and reads like a movie script. I hope it makes Cline a bunch of money so he can take the time to craft a truly wonderful book in the ilk of Ready Player One. We have all seen that Cline can do it, he just needs to do it again. Sophomore effort, not that great.

Overall: meh, average. Not up to par.

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Things Fall Apart ch. 14 Read Along

Here are my thoughts and what I considered important as I read chapter 14 of Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.

  • Okonkwo has been exiled.
  • Uchendu = ou-CHEN-doo
  • Okonkwo cried as they brought his mother's body back to her home town. Only time we've heard of Okonkwo crying for any reason. He would consider crying a woman's train. Maybe we will see more crying from our main charater?
  • Highlighted: "Today Okonkwo was not bringing his mother home to be buried with her people. He was taking his family of three wives and their children to seek refuge in his motherland."
  • Motherland is an interesting concept. I've never heard of that before. Land of my mother.
  • Interesting that Okonkwo's crime is a feminine manslaughter. Okonkwo is supposed to be the most masculine character in the book. Maybe this will change Okonkwo.
  • Okonkwo's extended family helps him in his time of need. Not very similar to Job in the bible anymore
  • Highlighted because it is beautiful writing: "For two or three moons the sun had been gathering strength till it seemed to breathe a breath of fire on the earth. All the grass had long been scorched brown, and the sands felt like live coals to the feet. Evergreen trees wore a dusty coat of brown. The birds were silenced in the forests, and the world lay panting under the live, vibrating heat." Great images in this passage, I can really visualize them.
  • coiffure = a person's hairstyle, typically an elaborate one.
  • It hails.
  • Highlighted: "A vague scent of life and green vegetation was diffused in the air." I can smell this. And smell is such a difficult sense to get into literature--too often it is ignored entirely. But this I can sense. This is what it smells like right before a rain or right after--a vague scent of life.
  • Okonkwo has changed, work no longer holds any pleasure for him.
  • Okonkwo is disappointed because he thought he was destined for great things. Destined to be the lord of the village. But he believes that he was always destined to fail, that no matter how hard he worked he would not achieve his goal. This is a fixed mindset, but also the believe of his culture. How awful it would be to believe this. I doubt I would get anything done ever if I had this belief.
  • Compare and contrast the image of Uchendu presiding over his vast family at the final wedding ceremony for his son to Okonkwo's idea of success. Uchendu is sitting next to his son's future wife, holding the families ancestral staff--presiding over the family. This seems to me to be just as important and powerful as being lord of the village. But Okonkwo just doesn't see it.
  • The ceremony isn't a confession, it is an interrogation.
  • Okonkwo doesn't belong
  • Okonkwo consults with the wise old man (Uchendu). Uchendu comes to the conclusion that Okonkwo is still a child, which I would agree with. He doesn't really understand what is important and/or valuable in life.
  • "A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Mothers comfort us and help us get back on our feet."
  • Finally, Uchendu talks sense to Okonkwo. It isn't all bad, things could be way worse. At least you still live. You need to help your wives and children to get through this trial so they can return to their village. Stop moping. I see some great allusions to Friar Lawrence's speech to Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.

Things Fall Apart Pronunciation Guide

I've found in my reading that I've needed a pronunciation guide for the character names. Okonkwo is pretty easy, but others are more difficult and since I will be discussing the novel with my students next semester, I figured that I needed to say the names correctly. I found this pronunciation guild online, so I cannot claim credit. Enjoy!

Things Fall Apart ch. 1-5

I finished chapter five yesterday and decided that I needed to do a little blog about it. I have been keeping on my schedule for the most part. One day I missed and had to read two chapters, but with this book that isn't too terrible. The chapters are short and read very quickly.

I find myself caught up in the story. The style reminds me of a folk tale in the way it is written. And while I doubt we will spend a ton of time engaging in close readings of passages from this book, it is already bringing up some major ideas/themes in my mind.

The most important piece that I noticed in these first five chapters is that Achebe is setting up a pretty classical tragedy. Okonkow is our tragic figure. He is a perfect example of a traditional Greek tragic hero:

  • Tragic hero comes from a noble bloodline
    • with Okonkwo and this whole civilization the noble bloodline really comes more from the titles that are held by the men. Okonkwo doesn't have a noble family, in fact his father is far from "noble." But, Okonkwo has made a name for himself in the village and is respected.
  • Tragic hero has a tragic flaw or Hamartia
    • I think this is pretty obvious with what Achebe is setting us up with in the first five chapters. Okonkwo has a problem with anger and violence, and that is going to come back to bite him in the butt. Achebe is laying some major foreshadowing in these first chapters. Okonkwo is going to fall because he does something violent. I mean we already see him get in trouble because he beat his wife during the week of peace. The elders of the village had to punish him and they usually give harsher punishments, but Okonkwo got off easy. It is going to happen, Okonkwo's violence and anger will be his downfall.
  • Makes a major mistake
  • Undergoes a major change
  • Suffers a downfall
Some of these things remain to be seen, but Achebe has done a great job setting this character up for those who are reader's of classical literature. This is the modern African tragic hero. As you continue reading this novel keep an eye out for these other elements of a classic tragic hero.

The Igbo World, by Victor C. Uchendu

I am reading this essay to help prepare myself to read Things Fall Apart. These are the things that stood out to me...

  • "The Igbo world, in all its aspects--material, spiritual, and sociocultural--is made intelligible to Igbo by their cosmology, which explains how everything came into being." pg 225
  • Essay is concerned with "cosmology as a system of prescriptive ethics" & "cosmology as an action system." 
  • Igbo believe in two worlds: the world of man & the spirit world
  • Lineages continue on after death
  • "An Igbo without [...] a partilineage--is an Igbo without citizenship both in the world of man and in the world of the ancestors."
  • The dead are reincarnated
  • Must keep the cosmic balance. Igbo believe that they can manipulate cosmic forces to their benefit.
  • "They achieve this balance, for instance, through divination, sacrifice, appeal to the counter-vailing powers of their ancestors (who are their invisible father-figures) against the powers of the malignant, and non-ancestral spirits, and socially, through constant realignment in their social groupings."
  • Relationships exist through the motivation of self-interest. Each party in the relationship needs to be mutually beneficial to the other.
  • No individual or spirit is self-sufficient. "Human interdependence is a constant theme in the folklore of the Igbo."
  • "Since the need to get along well with everyone is such a major concern in interpersonal relations, a properly socialized Igbo is one who is able to interact with others, to speak out his mind freely even if it hurts to do so. Getting on well with neighbors does not mean 'letting them along.'"
  • "The Igbo are status seekers." Status symbols can be bought.
  • On their death beds, Igbo think more about their status in the afterlife than their death.
  • It is necessary for people to live "transparent lives"
  • Many social acts are done in the presence of witnesses to achieve this transparency.
  • "Solitude is regarded as a mark of wickedness, of evil design."
  • "It is man who 'spoils' the country and not the spirits." It is the people and not spirits who make a country 'wicked'"
  • "The Igbo world is based on a equalitarian principle. Equality or near equality ensures that no one group of persons acquires too much control over the life of others."
  • The Igbo society is a highly competitive one.
  • "The Igbo leader 'emerges': he is not born or made."
  • Igbo leaders are giving minimal power, "yet is expected to give maximum service in return."

Maus Review

Maus, I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1)Maus, I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've had Maus sitting on my shelf for years and never picked it up to read. This last weekend my son and I attended Denver Comic Con and I forced him (poor kid) to attend a session about Comic Books and the Common Core. I got many great ideas for my English 9 class and several recommended titles. I figured now was the time to pick up Maus and dedicated a day or two to picking my way through it.


It was great! This first volume is definitely something I would teach along side Night. It is a memoir just like Night. I enjoy that it is really two stories. The author's father's story of living in Nazi occupied Poland and the author's story of dragging this story out of his father. It works on many levels.

I like that the artwork is simple. It allows the reader to place themselves in these characters shoes. The faces are very simple and it is easy to get characters confused, but I think that is the point. Not a lot of detail is placed in the faces because I think Spiegelman wants us to identify with the characters and place ourselves in their situation.

Some have criticized the fact that Spiegelman uses symbolism for the different races involved in the story, particularly pigs for the Polish. But I think we need to remember that this is memoir and is not presented as history. This is one mans interpretation of history and it is colored by his feelings. I think it helps us to see what the author's father was experiencing and feeling during this terrible time in history. The symbolism of cats carrying out the extermination order of the mice is superb.

And I believe that teaching volume 1 might be more valuable for my Freshman than teaching volume 2. I haven't read volume 2 yet, but I assume that it will be mostly about life in the concentration camp, which is very similar to the main narrative in Night. I think guiding the students through volume 1 of Maus would be more valuable so they see a different story than what is contained in Night.

I will be back for more Spiegelman. I have my order in for volume 2 right now. I hope it ships quickly.

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Midwife, by Claudia Emerson

something they must remember
and will in the telling
and retelling they are I am
for a while now
sure this sure of it
~Claudia Emerson

Midwife, by Claudia Emerson on Linebreak 

I've been subscribed to the one poem a week literary magazine, Linebreak, for years now. Most often the issue appears in my inbox and I pass it off. I turk it away in some hidden email folder, or I delete. I've probably missed some beautiful poems. Well, not anymore! I am going to make a concerted effort to read Linebreak every week. It's just one poem a week...right? Can't be that difficult.

This weeks poem is by Claudia Emerson. Midwife is beautiful and evocative. The images are crisp and there is a bevy of imaginal energy.

The poem starts off pretty unassuming in the first three stanzas. We have a pregnant women in Tennessee farmland. They don't seem to understand the immensity of the task they have before them. But not the speaker, she decides "to learn it." One could assume that she is learning about child birth because of how many women in her home town are getting pregnant, but I read it as she is "learning it" because she is one of these pregnant women. She is going to experience this and needs to understand what is going to happen. She doesn't want to fear the "white florescence," the "sterile forceps," and the "needles;" so she learns about child birth.

So, she does. She studies. Most of the cases she looks at are standard, normal. But then she gives us the turn in the poem where she begins to discuss the rarer cases. In stanza nine she lists possible problems: cord strangling, premature babies, hidden twins, "ones who come fists first," breeches. I love that phrase "fists first" by the way.

When finally she lands upon one singular baby. A baby born in a bread truck. This is where the poem really shifts. It is no longer about this pregnant woman and her situation; she has gone beyond herself and is now experiencing the plight of this family. She, in fact, delivers this baby in the poem. She places herself in this situation.

Their baby, born in a bread truck, is born with his brain exposed, no skull. The baby doesn't live long, but it does have an effect on the people around it. I find it interesting that the speaker does not mention the effect that this child had upon his parents. They seem to disappear from the poem as soon as the speaker delivers this child. Before the child dies, it makes one sound and then the rest of the babies in the nursery echo that sound. This dying child causes a generation of Tennessee babies to learn something about pain and loss. Something about being different. Something about life. He does this through "something not quite language  not quite son." Which is a beautiful phrase too.

The poem has an interesting structure. There are large spaces between words, almost like pseudo line breaks. And the line breaks themselves are interesting, often breaking up sentences. If you read either line by itself it means one thing, but if you read it together it means another. I am a sucker for that kind of thing. There are several images which are really evocative and in subsequent reading got me thinking. Beautiful, just beautiful!

Things Fall Apart Reading Schedule

I work through a book much better if I have a reading schedule. So, here is the schedule I am proposing for myself. Shouldn't be too difficult to accomplish. I hate having to rush through a great book to finish it for class. I like to savor what I am reading. Join me in my reading of this wonderful novel.

  • June 8th--Ch. 1
  • June 9th--Ch. 2
  • June 11th--Ch. 3
  • June 15th--Ch. 4
  • June 16th--Ch. 5
  • June 17th--Ch. 6
  • June 18th--Ch. 7
  • June 19th--Ch. 8
  • June 20th--Ch. 9
  • June 22nd--Ch. 10
  • June 23rd--Ch. 11
  • June 25th--Ch. 12
  • June 29th--Ch. 13
  • June 30th--Ch. 14
  • July 2nd--Ch. 15
  • July 6th--Ch. 16
  • July 7h--Ch. 17
  • July 9th--Ch. 18
  • July 13th--Ch. 19
  • July 14th--Ch. 20
  • July 16th--Ch. 21
  • July 20th--Ch. 22
  • July 21st--Ch. 23
  • July 23rd--Ch. 24 & 25
Follow this blog for more blog posts about this novel as I work my way through. Feel free to join the conversation.

The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;" ~William Butler Yeats
Today I read The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats, in preparation for digging into Things Fall Apart. You can access the poem here.  My thoughts are in no particular order.
Love those Glasses!

  • The speaker is very pessimistic and things of himself as a poet/prophet.
  • The setting for this poem is Post-WWI Europe. The rest of Europe is looking at their world and thinking that things are going to get better, but nope, this speaker doesn't think so.
  • The first and second stanzas are very different. In style and content.
  • A gyre is a ring, or circle, or a circular course or motion.
  • Mere could mean only, but it could also mean total.
  • Reel could be to wind or unwind, or a cylinder frame, but I believe that the reel of the birds in the second stanza mirrors that of the falcon's "widening gyre."
  • Things sound awful in stanza one: anarchy, blood-dimmed tide, innocence is drowned. There is also a lot of water imagery which perhaps suggests an allusion to Noah's flood.
  • Man, Yeats! What a pleasantly uplifting poem. I will be interested to look for connections between the poem and Things Fall Apart.
  • There is a ton of biblical allusions going on in this poem.
  • Spiritus Mundi = spirit of the world
  • Our poet/prophet is having vision in the second stanza:
    • He sees a sphinx (lion body/head of a man) out in the desert. The sphinx's gaze is "blank and pitiless." It is moving very slowly and birds are circling overhead. Those birds made me think of vultures circling a corpse. Maybe the corpse of Europe? Maybe the corpse of humanity?
    • Then he sees a rough beast slouching its way towards Bethlehem to be born. This beast may be the sphinx, but it may be another beast. Seems our poet/prophet does not think things will be coming up all roses after World War I. And while he could not know this, things didn't really turn out so great for Europe. WWII was a mess: Hitler, Fascism, the atomic bomb...etc.
    • Although, rough might just mean that the beast is going to give us what we deserve.
  • Overall, this poem has a very dark vision of the future. Whether the speaker is staying within the time period, or expanding into even our day, I think we can all admit that not everything is wonderful and peachy in the world. We live in this bleak future and must deal with the choices of humanity.

Coming Soon