From Poverty to Poetry- Carl Sandburg’s Life and its Influence on his Writing

Carl Sandburg was a very complex poet despite the fact that the majority of his poems and writing incorporate themes of industrial and natural life. While his poetry expressed virtually the same theme and topic in each piece, Sandburg used varying language, techniques, styles and imagery in order to represent the ideas in powerful and unique ways. This theme allowed Sandburg to criticize aspects of the society he was living in through his poetry. The differences in the two environments that Sandburg illustrated showed his critique of the poverty in his society. This criticism was based off of Sandburg’s personal life in poverty. When he was 13, Sandburg dropped out of school to work and try and help his family. He then lived as a hobo at 17. His poetry is a reflection of his struggles as a citizen in his own city. He used his details in his poetry to highlight the struggles of the poor working class and the ways the city treated them. Sandburg also hinted was the life of war in his poetry. These details stemmed from his service Puerto Rico in the Spanish American War. This image represents the main theme Sandburg incorporated in his poetry. A lot of Sandburg’s work illustrated details of industrial life and the way it contrasted with natural life. Through these contrasting environments, Sandburg was able to clearly display his criticism of the lives of the poor. This image illustrates the contrast of the industrial life in the background and the nature that represents the poor, working class on the side. The worker on the train represents the subject of many of Sandburg’s poem as the man represents a poor worker. Sandburg focused his poetry on the issues of the working class and jobs in Chicago due to his background. Sandburg’s life had a major influence on the poetry he produced.

An image representing the contrast between industrial and natural life and the depiction of a working class citizen illustrated in Carl Sandburg’s poetry.
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The Power of Words

When reading Maya Angelou’s poetry, there is a connection in a sense that she speaks to her readers in an abstract way. Her poems possess themes that allow the audience to feel connected and relateable. In her poem “Still I Rise,” she writes about how she overcomes adversity, even in the times when it is as if the world is working against her. In the first stanza, Angelou powerfully begins, stating, “You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies, / You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise” (Angelou). Throughout the poem, she expands on the motifs of resilience and courage. She speaks directly to her opposition and boldly challenges their motives. Speaking from the perspective of an oppressed person, she reiterates the idea that no matter the cruelty, regardless of circumstance and method, the victim will rise up and the slave will overcome adversity. It is a reminder of the abuse of power by those who in the police force, the government and the military. For members of society, the poem echoes repeated and clear messages of hope. No matter the circumstances, there must always and will always be hope to cling on to. Angelou’s poetry has a false stigma particularly when audiences think that it is only meant for an African American audience. A careful reader, however, would notice that she has universal appeal. Her poetry is for anyone who has been maltreated or oppressed in any shape or form. This poem not only empowers people, it educates. Angelou writes about the struggle to overcome prejudice and injustice. Most importantly, when read by those who understand repeated wrongdoing, the poem becomes an anthem. It becomes a beacon of hope for the downtrodden and oppressed. When deciphered by readers today, many interpret it as their own and incorporate it into spoken word. Spoken word is a performance art that is word-based. It is an oral art that focuses on the aesthetics of word play such as intonation and voice inflection. Spoken word is written on a page but performed for an audience. It relies heavily on use of rhythm, improvisation, rhymes, word play, and slang. Some examples of spoken word are stories, poems, monologues, slam poetry, rap and even stand-up comedy. Artist Smarel Nicole claims that “Maya Angelou was the first person who’s words and story that encouraged me to write as an outlet in elementary school. This poem is just ONE of my favorite of hers. It’s fitting for sooo many life situations” (Nicole 2017). She makes the poem her own and adds her own personal twist to it. She conveys her relation and connection with the poetry using an assertive and brazen tone. Her poetry reaches people in many different ways and dimensions. The abstract way it touches her audience is the essence of Angelou and her work. 

“Still I Rise” – Maya Angelou (Spoken Word by Smarel Nicole)
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Dear Black Child- Black Children are Worthy

This picture represents black royalty and importance, characterizing the young black girl as a princess exceeding the world

Hey Black Child
Do you know who you are
Who you really are
Do you know you can be
What you want to be
If you try to be
What you can be

Hey Black Child
Do you know where you are going
Where you’re really going
Do you know you can learn
What you want to learn
If you try to learn
What you can learn

-Countee Cullen

This picture is a representation of Cullen’s famous poem “Hey Black Child”. This poem expresses the endless possibilities a black child can have. It is a poem written to motivate the African American youth and show them that there are endless possibilities for them. It is a poem representing hope and acknowledging the strength of black children who are often downplayed and undervalued in society and usually do not get a shot at society or are able to reach their fullest potential. It serves as a message to black children that they are worthy of the world and can reach any goals they seek to achieve. I think this picture is a great representation of the poem “Hey black child” because it shows a black child on top of the world. In the picture, the little black girl has a crown on her head and resembles royalty, she resembles power and divinity, symbols not often paired with black children. The child sits on top of a mountain, to show how strong and resilient she has to be; she is in the clouds where she is invincible and powerful. This picture is a representation of how a black child belongs among the stars and has importance in the world,  similarly to the poem. The picture serves a message that a young black child can be and is capable of rising to the top and surpassing every obstacle (mountains) that he/she faces.

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Patterns of Fabric

Visual media can add a lot to the meaning of a work as a whole. Amy Lowell’s poem “Patterns” is one of her most famous works. Artwork inspired by this poem assists in the understanding of themes being conveyed. The content of the poetry deals with a reflection on the speaker’s life and is enriched with figurative language such as metaphors and imagery. A motif of this poem is the stiff gown worn by the speaker which helps portray the restraints placed upon her by society. The artwork inspired by this poem, the silhouette of lady on various patterns of fabric, help reinforce the message being conveyed by Lowell in her poem. The silhouette helps establish how the speaker feels trapped by her stiff dress. The encasement of the silhouette by all the fabric emphasizes this lack of movement. The contrast from the pattern of the background and the pattern of the silhouette also helps show how the speaker of the poem has different ideals then those around her. The selection of detail for this artwork is very thoughtful, as the speaker addresses the patterns of a garden, so the fabric designs all have to do with nature. The palette of this artwork is composed of colors that are associated with nature and water, important symbols in the poem. The reuse of some patterns of fabric are crucial to the representation of the poem. This helps display the repetitive themes of the speakers life and how the things she must conform to present themselves in different ways. 

A quilt made from patches of fabric help create a silhouette of a woman.
Posted in 21st Century Learning, 21st Century Skills, American Literary Studies, American poets, American Studies, AP Mindset, Bloom's Taxonomy, English III Honors, Feminism, Growth Mindset, Higher Order Thinking, Homework, Honors English III, Modern American Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ezra Pound: Japanese Poetry and Haikus

The modernist poet Ezra Pound uses the abstract idea of using solely a few words to illustrate the image that he discusses within his poetry. Through this technique, the reader is able to take Pound’s words and envision these words through their own mind. Along with his use of imagism, Pound had been greatly interested in Japanese poetry and haikus and these poems have greatly influenced Pound’s own poetry. Haikus are a form of Japanese poetry that solely consist of three lines; therefore, conveying more in fewer words, similar to Pound’s imagist ideals. Pound is mostly known for his founding of imagism and how his lack of words create an beautiful visual effect for the reader. He uses a different form of imagery that doesn’t use description and an abundance of words to convey his point, but rather uses specific words and lack of detail to allow the author to create their own, detailed image in their own mind. And he obtained this imagist technique from these Japanese haikus, as the haikus are focused on imagery and painting a picture in the mind of the reader in just a few words. Illustrator Julian Peters works to turn poems into graphic art, and he does this with Pound’s infamous “In a Station of the Metro.” He conveys this modernist technique through the simplicity of his artwork. He draws the people that Pound describes and uses Pound’s words to create an image similar to what one would imagine themselves when reading his poetry. One can really see Pound’s words come to life through the expressions on these people’s faces. They look almost lifeless and none of them seem to be actually enjoying their lives. Furthermore, the poem, “A Fan-Piece for her Imperial Lord” takes a great amount of inspiration from Japanese poetry. Just as typical haikus are made up of seventeen syllables, Pound’s work contains seventeen words. Also, the poem is only three lines long, just like a traditional haiku. However, Pound’s work does not completely resemble these haikus, as haikus typically emphasize the significance and value of nature, and this use of nature is not as profound in Pound’s poetry. As a whole, Pound derives his imagist view from his immense knowledge of Japanese poetry and the techniques that make it so effective.

metro1metro2

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From Painting to Poetry: Exploring E. E. Cummings’ Many ‘Talents’

Many people know very little about the visual art of E. E. Cummings, but most likely because in comparison to his poetic work, the quality was extremely lacking. Cummings’ paintings that he created centered on soft colors, surrealist portraits, and washed-out landscapes. While Cummings keeps consistency in his style of these abstract, soft-on-the-eyes themes, he does not possess as much artistic control in his visual work as he does his literary work. While celebrated for his usage of the abstract in order to portray complex emotions in his poetry, distinguished art critic Henry McBride carps upon his pieces. He remarks that his work is “thin, uncertain, and separated by some curious wall of inhibition.” Despite receiving critique rather than the usual praise for his work, Cummings insisted on refining his painting skills. However, Cummings’ reasoning is actually quite inspiring: When his college roommate asked why he always painted rather than producing more of his far-more-successful poetry, the poet replied that to him, painting did not come as easy to him. Thus, in developing his artistic skills, he was achieving a far more difficult, and hence, more important goal.

I attached this photo of a Cummings portrait to underscore his muted color choices and focus on a human subject, which can additionally be seen in his poetry:

Image result for cummings visual art portrait

Works Cited:

Cohen, Milton A. “E. E. Cummings: Modernist Painter and Poet.” Smithsonian Studies in                American Art, vol. 4, no. 2, 1990, pp. 55–74. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108985.

 

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Adrienne Rich Inspired Media

Adrienne Rich, a modern American poet, has inspired many pieces of media during and after her lifetime. As a writer and poet, Rich has used her status to encourage the improvement of women’s rights and the many other minorities that still experience prejudice and inequality. One of the most significant events in her life was when she refused to accept the National Medal of Arts because she did not agree with the Clinton administration and their obsession with power. Rich and her fellow contestants accepted the award on behalf of all women, instead of Rich taking it for her own. This action was extremely important and bold because it caught the attention of people and made them think about the world they were living in and how they can make it better by treating each other equally. Rich was very passionate about her views on rights and equality; she made sure to incorporate such motives through her poetry. During a video created by Democracy Now!, after Rich had passed away, the speakers highlighted all of Rich’s extraordinary achievements and how they have affected society today. The speakers convey to readers how her poetry and advocacy to women’s rights have put women as a whole in the “spotlight” throughout the past century. Through Rich’s help, women have come together and have become more confident in their in society. The speakers then highlight the groundbreaking movements she made towards women’s rights, also pointing out her bold movement when refusing to accept the Medal of Art. The video shows watchers the overall impact Rich has had on the world and how it will influence the future of women’s rights along with equality as a whole. The video also includes interviews from Rich’s friends and how they have been impacted by her. They talked to Alice Walker who was not very close with Rich, but was able to see her integrity and knew that her poetry was truly meaningful. She then addressed how she accepted the award for the Medal of Art with Rich because she knew that it would show the impact of women coming together to protest the “growing concentration of power” within the United States. Rich wants people to see that she does not think that art should be a part of politics because it is too respected and only has a space for social justice. The film ends with another statement from Alice Walker, again highlighting Rich’s integrity that was so much admired. She then concludes with how people should take Rich’s legacy and use it as motivation and hope to make a stance in society. Overall, Rich has influenced many new steps in improving the quality of life for people experiencing inequality. Media has been inspired by Rich’s passionate ideas and shows how her poetry has and still will influence the world.

https://www.democracynow.org/2012/3/30/adrienne_rich_1929_2012_alice_walker

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Mary Oliver’s Balancing Scale

After learning about not only Mary Oliver’s poetry but her life as well, it is evident that she tends to balance her thoughts with concepts at each end of the spectrum. Growing up in a challenging home, she balanced her difficult time at home with her peaceful time in the woods writing poetry. Furthermore, in her work, whenever she discusses the harsh reality of death, she often expresses ideas of hope and opportunities as well. In addition, after describing the darkness that envelops the world, Oliver highlights the light that is present, too, especially in her poem “Poppies.” As a result of her pattern of balancing the concepts in her writing, I am able to clearly picture a physical scale in nature that is balanced by the opposing notions.

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Robert Frost: The Art of Modern Ambiguity

Robert Frost is considered a very detailed poet of the twentieth century, mostly recognized for his ambiguous poetic style and philosophical writing aspects during the modern era. Although most of his poems are usually written in the traditional forms of blank verse and sonnet form, Frost heavily includes topics of true modernism, such as unknown truths and the complexity of the human mind. Despite his ideas of modernism, Frost only treads on the cusp of the modern period, making one wonder if he truly belongs to this period of modernist poetic prowess. In reality, the ambiguity of Frost as a poet allows him to include a traditional sense of poetry in the newly introduced era of modernism. His poem “The Road Not Taken” further displays this uncertainty of human decisions as the speaker claims, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” (lines 18-20). The question is, has it truly made all the difference? Although he includes this line, throughout the poem Frost emphasizes how the two roads are not so different after all, yet the speaker is convinced the one he or she chose is more significant than the other. Frost has his speaker make a specific claim, but implies various other claims through the speaker’s “voice”, once again depicting the ambiguity of his words as presented in his themes. His ideas are unclear and left for much interpretation, but this is what makes his works part of the modernist era. While making modernist claims through simple language, Frost still utilizes the traditional form of rhyme scheme and rhythm, showcasing his leaning toward both ideas of poetic nature. In the artwork shown below, both roads are emphasized and one is slightly more appealing than the other, just like the intention of the poem. Modernism is present here as it depicts what the human mind initially sees as opposed to what actually awaits at the end of the path. The human mind is complex, and Frost normally based his poems off of everyday life choices and appearance versus reality. One path seems desolate initially, but there is a clear blue sky at the end. The other path looks luscious and green, yet ends off with stormy clouds. A tree with an apple of each side stands in the middle, possibly alluding to the story of Adam and Eve with the apple of temptation. The artist so cleverly includes an apple on each side, demonstrating how both roads are tempting in contrasting ways. Despite the path one takes, each holds sorrow and joy, just in different places. Both realities are inevitable as they are both a significant part of one’s life, something Frost so effectively conveys in his works of modernism. In the end, Frost’s modern pieces of work have become tradition to readers, further demonstrating the ambiguity he holds. 

The Road Not Taken by Michael Bosnar

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The Untold Stories of Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur was a fascinating poet to study this term, I believe this is the case because he makes the readers work for it. He has a way of capturing his readers through multilayered pieces of literature, although this can be mentally exhausting, it always proves to be far more insightful that works that just give things away form first sight. He had a habit of making it so that the reader only got a sliver of meaning out of his poetry during the first read, but then a broad spectrum of ideas the second and third time through.Famous poet Randall Jarrell complained that whole doing his he, “never goes too far, but [he] never goes far enough.” One thing that helped my understand the depth of these poems more intricately was watching videos of him reading them. When seeing Wilbur himself, the creator of these masterpieces, pour as much emotion into it as he did, something about the meaning changes in your head. It changes in a different way for each poem as there are different things to uncover for each work. This once again leads to frustration on the part of the reader as it takes more effort for them to comprehend and fully understand the poetry but is all the more rewarding by the end. Here is one video that I thoroughly enjoyed (please take the time to read the poem first and then watch the video as you will understand my method of finding this deeper interpretation):

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

BY RICHARD WILBUR

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul   
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple   
As false dawn.
                     Outside the open window   
The morning air is all awash with angels.
    Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,   
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.   
Now they are rising together in calm swells   
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear   
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;
    Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving   
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden   
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
                                             The soul shrinks
    From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
               “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,   
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”
    Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,   
The soul descends once more in bitter love   
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,   
    “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;   
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,   
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating   
Of dark habits,
                      keeping their difficult balance.”
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