As I forgot the order of this week’s assignment, I completed the reading of several poets: Johnson, de Andade, Toomer, Cullen, and Hughes. I expect that, while I have not written new poems this week, next week will be wholly devoted to that practice and craft.
In this brief consideration, I have looked at overarching trends within the work, distinct to person, place, and time, and yet still in literary conversation, before going into a more focused look at the specific poems and how they relate to the project on which I am working.
For overarching trends that I saw in these poems, stemming from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century, saw a unity in focus on agency and time. In speaking of agency, one thing that I noticed was that often the I as speaker is used and that speaker has power. Mario de Andradre writes in “Improvisation of the dead boy” of the definitive qualities of the body after a life is loss; in the poem, the “I” has the power to dispel relationship, noting the liberty that comes in death and the absence of relationship with the shell of that life spirit. This “I” has agency and power, the power to self-define, accepting self without question, with the power to make explicit the relationship the self will have with the other, including with may be seen as aberration in the rise of the cityscape. That “I” also has experienced significant sorrow; “I” does not fear grief and woe; rather, that person has hopes for joy despite the reality that faces the person.
As for time, I am interested in how time and the passage of time is noted within the quoted works. de Andrade explores it in his consideration of the rise of the São Paolo in all its industrialized ugliness. Cullen brings connects time to a natural lens, looking at the past of the tree, and through this metaphor, making a connection to the futility of dwelling too long on the past as one endeavors to grow. Hughes and Toomer both use the change of light from day to night to explore passage of time in connection with dreams and reality. Johnson connects this to the practice of using the “bottle” to control one’s shine through the ages. Time.
In the work I’ve read for this week, there is also the exploration of the difficulties of life in connection with the liberty of death, a death of freedom. It is not a state to be feared; rather what remains, the shell as body, is what should be avoided and declaimed as not being in true fullness.
excerpted from de Andrade, Mario. Paulicea Desvairada/ Hallucinated City: a Bilingual Edition
(translated from the Brazilian by Jack E. Tomlins). Nashville: Vanderbilt University
“The body is like a veil thrown over a piece of furniture …
In a moment of life spirit forgot itself, and stopped …
What liberty in your oblivion!
What firmness of independence in your death!
Oh, depart, for I no longer know you!”
from “Improvisation of the dead boy” by Mario de Andrade (1893-1945)
Vanities and more vanities …
No wings whatsoever! No poetry whatsoever! No joy whatsoever!
Oh! the agitatings of absences!
São Paulo – the great mouth with a thousand teeth …”
from “The Processions” by Mario de Andrade
“Death to flabbiness!
Death to cerebral adiposities!
Death to the monthly-bourgeois!
to the movie-bourgeois! to the tillbury-bourgeois!
Swiss Bakery! Living death to the Café Adriano!
from “Ode to the Bourgeois Gentleman” by Mario de Andrade
In these passages by Mario de Andrade, I am thinking of two different characters: Olir and Perse. Olir, as a character, is an innocent in some ways. When she is created, she chooses to become an immortal as a way of making peace, as of way of serving as a conscious to a mad god. She chooses, differently than her sisters, to drink from animals only, thinking that blood is blood and it will sustain her without the need to take a human life. Unfortunately, human blood carries a different spark: spirit. Animals contain effort but the inexplicable the spirit of an animal is not rooted to the body. I would not say that animals are soulless, rather that their spirits are more elemental than humans, not as tied to person, memory, history. An immortal, in my work, cannot appease the spirits within the body with an animal’s blood nor add to that internal number through their consumption. Rather consumption can sustain for a short time but will eventually lead to madness, cured only by human blood or by consumption of the vial’s liquid. Olir would be the one who experiences the loss of a child by her own hand, due to a brief madness that ends with her child’s death. While she will not have her own lyric poems, her story will be retold and remembered, as is her sacrifice to the waters for the good of all beings on earth.
Iset has her criticisms of cities, which ties in to a modernist reflection on the arrival of technology and the challenge of that arrival when it comes to the nostalgic beauty, generally of the natural world. This second small passage from de Andrade allows me to consider how Iset would reflect on the emergence of cities after hundreds of years as a nomad in East Africa and beyond.
Finally, the final passage has me thinking about Perse and her anarchist criticism of hierarchies, wealth, the status quo, fulfilling community expectations of her leadership. She’s a punk rock, former skater grrrl who has dealt with significant trauma and, as a result, attempts to resist in her own ways. I’m not exactly sure of what those initial ways might be that lead her into a therapist’s office, but whatever it is, it will be jarring, particularly for a Black woman.
“Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!”
from “Yet Do I Marvel” by Countee Cullen
“What is last year’s snow to me,
Last year’s anything? The tree
Budding yearly must forget
How its past arose or set —“
from “Heritage” by Countee Cullen
“Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made eternally to weep.”
from “From the Dark Tower” by Countee Cullen
While I initially thought these poems would directly relate to Perse, I think Mae is really the one who lives on the borders of time and realities. Two-spirit being who serves as a channel for Maat, the sister who died while very young thousands of years before the story begins. Mae is lute string and hand that plucks, the thrumming of two energies in one. Mae sees injustice and justice for what it is, and has very few tears to shed for having seen much horror in the world and survived.
“To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me—
That is my dream!”
from “Dream Variations” by Langston Hughes
“And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself… Their joy runs, bang! into ecstasy. Their religion soars to a shout. Work maybe a little today, rest a little tomorrow. Play awhile. Sing awhile. O, let’s dance! These common people are not afraid of spirituals, as for a long time their more intellectual brethren were, and jazz is their child. They furnish a wealth of colorful, distinctive material for any artist because they still hold their own individuality in the face of American standardizations…
And they accept what beauty is their own without question.”
From “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” by Langston Hughes for The Nation, 1926
I deeply love the work of Hughes, but I am going to allow it to be taken up by a sinister character in this story, a being who should not belong in the story at all, and yet persists as this dark shade with a twisted imagining of what is. He is the reason for the original slaughter of Iset’s people and continues to believe, from the shadows of his depraved existence in the shadows (soulless beings are bound to the darkness), that it was Iset that sought him out, that they had some sort of great love. As he has no spirit and no soul, he cannot age; his body is preserved by the taking of other lives. He is a vampire in the truest sense, delighting in the sensual with no thoughts to the moral.
“Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon,
O cant you see it, O cant you see it,
Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon
…When the sun goes down.”
From “Karintha” by Jean Toomer
“God’s body’s got a soul,
Bodies like to roll the soul,
Cant blame God if we don’t roll,
Come, brother, roll, roll!”
From “Cotton Song” by Jean Toomer
“They were strange eyes. In this, that they sought nothing—That is, nothing that was obvious and tangible and that one could see, and they gave the impression that nothing was to be denied. When a woman seeks, you will have observed, her eyes deny… Men were everlastingly bringing her their bodies. Something inside of her got tired of them, I guess, for I am certain that for the life of her she could not tell why or how she began to turn them off. A man in fever is no trifling thing to send away… Dusk, suggesting the almost imperceptible procession of giant tress, settled with purple haze about the cane. I felt strange, as I always do in Georgia, particularly at dusk. I felt that things unseen to men were tangibly immediate. It would not have surprised me had I had vision.”
From Cane by Jean Toomer
Iset is who comes to mind with the exploration of skin, eyes, sensuality that is essential to all that she is. She does not play games with the body. She simply exudes life; unfortunately, it is a bounty that many would want to control. Perse is very similar. For Iset, she becomes cruel and quick to destroy those who would seek to control her; Perse never sees the dagger for the delight in the glint on the knife.
“That man that took that sand from the Sahara desert
And put it in a little bottle on a shelf in the library,
That’s what they done to this shine, ain’t it? Bottled him.”
From “Bottled” by Helene Johnson
I still have 5 poems to write. I have a lot of backstory and thoughts about the characters.