Thursday, February 25, 2016

King John Act I, Scene I

It has begun. I started reading King John last night and thus far they have declared war on France. Some lines:

               KING JOHN
               Here have we war for war and blood for blood,
               Controllment for controllment: so answer France.

               Then take my king's defiance from my mouth,
               The farthest limit of my embassy.

               KING JOHN
    (5)      Bear mine to him, and so depart in peace.
               Be thou as lightning in the eyes of France,
               For ere thou canst report, I will be there;
               The thunder of my cannon shall be heard.
               So, hence. Be thou the trumpet of our wrath
    (10)    And sullen presage of your own decay.--
               An honorable conduct let him have.

I was worried when I started reading that there wouldn't be much in the way of beautiful imagery or metaphor in this play. I don't have a lot of experience with Shakespeare's history plays, but this passage has put my mind at ease.

Lines 1 & 2 are John's pronouncement. "You want to bring war to us? We will bring war to you!" These are very powerful statements. The phrase "blood for blood," is similar to the biblical eye for an eye. You shed out blood we will shed your blood.

Then in lines 5-11 we get this wonderful metaphor. King John dismisses the Chatillion (the emissary from France) and commands him to warn France. He compares this warning to the idea of thunder and lightning. In a storm, first you see the lightning and then a few moments later you hear the thunder, because of how sound travels. So, the Chatillion's warning will be the lightning and then John's cannons will be the thunder. And the closer they come to battle, the closer the lightning and the sound of the thunder will be. A great image, and I love the line: "For ere thou canst report, I will be there;" A very powerful line.

Since John seems to think a lot of himself, I am predicting that pride will be his downfall. A pretty good bet because that is the tragic flaw in almost all tragic heroes. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Whitman's Song of Myself canto 2

Today in AP Lit my students were discussing canto 1 & 2 of Whitman's Song of Myself (one of my favorite poems, by the way), and I wanted to speak more about a couple of lines in canto 2.

"Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor
          feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self."

If only. I mean I teach AP students. They are some of the brightest and best our school has to offer, but I often ask questions and then sit there waiting. Some wait time is appropriate, but I often get the feeling that my students don't want to suss out the meaning of poems for themselves. They want it fed to them in nice, small spoonfuls. They want to know what I think the poem means, because that is obviously the correct answer. And more so this year than in years past it seems. But as Whitman says, these students have practiced so long to learn to read. They know how to read a poem, they know what to look for. The trouble is getting them to do it. And there is something to be proud of in that, like Whitman says. Do it for yourself and it will feel better than if I feed your poetry to you. Be a free thinker and suggest a possible interpretation. We will all be the better for it because we don't want a would populated by automatons. We need you to think for yourself, or else how I am going to get my self-lacing high tops.

P5: SoM canto 47 & 52

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Verdict is In: Dead Poets Society is a Modern Day Greek Tragedy

I have always maintained that the wonderful film, Dead Poets Society, is a modern-day Greek tragedy. So, I have over the years given my AP Literature students the opportunity to view this film and analyze it using this lens for extra credit. This year did not disappoint. We got some great blog posts out of this. Funny that an extra credit assignment gets us some of the best writing of the whole year. 

The overwhelming opinion from almost all of my students was that Dead Poets Society is indeed a modern-day Greek tragedy. Only one author said it wasn't quite a Greek tragedy. Go ahead and check out these blog posts. really enjoyed this one in particular. post is the one that doesn't believe that the film is quite a Greek tragedy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Relics by Sharon Olds : Poetry Magazine

Lovely new poem in the latest issue of Poetry Magazine. I often forget about Poetry Magazine as I don't have a subscription anymore. I often would become disillusioned because of the quality of poems they would publish. But every once in a while...

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Coming Soon

My students will be reading Shakespeare soon--King Lear in AP Literature and Romeo and Juliet in English 9. And I'm feeling it. I always get excited for Shakespeare time, but this year more so. I have the itch to read some of the bard's work.

I decided that I would read some of Bill's history plays since I haven't had much exposure to them over the years. Why not start here. Join me, won't you? I will put up a reading schedule as soon as the book arrives in the mail.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Finding Terrific Writing in Unusual Places: Red Seas Under Red Skies

 Sometimes I worry that people see me as a bit of a literature snob. My favorites include such literary giants as Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Joyce, Shakespeare, and McCarthy. But I also am a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy literature. I love sitting down and just enjoying a fast paced adventure. Recently I have been enjoying Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch. In many cases, fantasy books are not written very well. I mean they convey action fine enough, but the beauty of the sentence is lacking. Not true with Lynch. He is an accomplished writer that has perfected his craft, he just chooses to write fantasy novels. Here is a nice paragraph from chapter two.
"Jean cleared the barrier from the third-floor hallway, left a few more coins (from Locke's purse) with the bemused innkeeper, and bustled about the room, allowing some of the smell of drunken enclosure to evaporate out the open window. Upon reflection, he went down to the bar and came back with a glass decanter of water."
This paragraph is, in essence, two sentences. The first is far more complicated than the second. We have a list in the first sentence: Jean is accomplishing three tasks. Lynch uses the oxford comma before the conjunction--my man! The sentence becomes slightly more complicated though with the final phrase attached to the list with a comma. And he has some great 50 cent words in here: bemused, enclosure, evaporate, and decanter. If this were a lesser writer the amount of attention would not have been given to such an insignificant paragraph. I have read quite a bit of bad writing in fantasy and Sci Fi novels and it is so refreshing when you find someone who is a master of his craft. 
Not what I though Lynch would look like. See, you learn new things all the time.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Corn Fires, by Kai Carlson-Wee

A new poem to analyze, new poet to discover--Kai Carlson-Wee. I feel like I have been analyzing a lot of poetry recently (diving back into my poetry roots, y'all), but I have been reading some amazing poems, and how simple is it when a poem shows up in my in-box every week from Linebreak.


Corn Fires

Fields of junked cars. Fields of horses. Fields
of semi-trucks hollowed by time. It looks like
the reason you sailed beyond us, Nik. Riding
whatever was left in your veins. A ripple of heat
running out of the coals in the same way, spilling
the same dank spells on the air. The way smoke
finds your face when there’s no wind to blow it
away. The way bodies find other bodies impossible
not to touch. The way everything gets old, tired
of being what it is. And memory finds us constantly
changing the reasons—light pouring in through
the windows of death’s dark cathedral—infinity,
heroin, driftwood, ash. However you want to
explain it. The night I went back to the ballfields
in Dundas, standing alone in the emptiness there
(the marked yards, vacated bleachers) and took off
my shoes on the roof of your grave, as the flood-
lights went brighter, making that giant design more
complete, more lost in the purpose of duty. And
the reason these lyrics still stand in my mind, however
distorted by grief and time, by not understanding
the words. And the reason I’m wasting this weekend
without you, walking around on these backcountry
roads, going nowhere, watching the corn fires fade
to a heatwave, burn to a black carpet, to shriveled
hairs crushed to a fine nothing, a powdered ash,
a peeling of smoke rising up from my bootsoles.
Doing a little dance, stabbing a stick in the ground.

What an interesting poem. I looked up information about Kai Carlson-Wee and I think we could be friends. He seems like a very cool guy--professional roller-blader, sufer...Very cool!

At the beginning of the poem we are introduced to Nik and I feel like he has passed on because of some drug--maybe addiction, maybe an overdose. But I feel like line 3-4 gives us a lot of evidence for this, "Riding / whatever was left in your veins." and the mention of heroin later on.

"A ripple of heat / running out of the coals in the same way, spilling / the same dank spells on the air. The way smoke / finds your face when there's no wind to blow it / away." These lines have amazing images. I love the "dank spells on the air" and "The way smoke finds your face when there's no wind to blow it." I can see this second one and "dank" just illicits so many smells. It's like when you go camping (not that I go camping that often, but) and the smoke from the dying-down fire follows you around even when the wind isn't blowing. My wife says the smoke follows beauty.

He says that "bodies find other bodies impossible / not to touch." I teach Freshman English and I can confirm this fact. No, but I do believe that it is impossible not to touch the people around you. Or the environment around you for that matter. Because we can think for ourselves we effect everything and everyone around us even if we aren't aware of it.

The poem turns in line 14 and now the speaker of the poem is standing on a grave, I assume that it is Nik's grave--another hint that he died. And the speaker begins this beautiful list: "And the reason I'm wasting this weekend / without you, walking around on these backcountry / roads, going nowhere, watching the corn fires fade / to a heatwave, burn to a black carpet, to shriveled / hairs crushed to a fine nothing, a powdered ash, / a peeling of smoke rising up from my bootsoles. / Doing a little dance, stabbing a stick in the ground." It is like a pan down in a movie. We start with this huge scene, which then pans down to a corn field on fire, then a man walking/dancing, then smoke rising from his boots. This focus leads us to the image of the speaker doing a "little dance" and "stabbing a stick in the ground." These corn fields burning up I believe is symbolic of the speakers friend--wasting his life, burning himself up with drugs, and then the speaker wants to mark his friends passing in a way that makes sense to him. This stick in the ground isn't so much for the friend, it isn't meaningful to the dead, but it helps the speaker make meaning of his friends death.

This poem is an absolute beauty. Very insightful.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Significance of the River Dirce in Antigone

My students have been reading Antigone, by Sophocles, and recently I asked them to do a close reading of the Parados as one of their blog posts. For the most part, the blog posts were right on track. Students were identifying metaphors and personification. But one question seemed to stump most--if not all--of my students. I believe it was simply because they didn't dig deep enough in their research for the question, choosing instead to stick with the first answer they found. And maybe stump is too harsh a word, they just needed to push a little bit more and they would have had it. Now to the question:

What is the significance of Polynieces and Etocles fighting in the river Dirce?

Most students were able to re-tell the story of Dirce in mythology, but failed to find the information that all Theban kings were sworn into office while standing before Dirce's tomb. Thus, Polynieces and Etocles fighting each other--over the Theban crown, no less--in the river Dirce, becomes symbolic because they are fighting for the right to rule in the river named after the tomb where they swear in Theban kings. 

Antigone is usually pretty straight forward, not a lot of symbols or literary devices. But, in the Parados we have this rich symbolism where we get more by understanding the mythology 

One student got it right though. Check out her blog posts here: