Monday, October 31, 2011

That's it, I'm outta here...

Woo Hoo! I passed! I can hardly believe it. I don't think the full reality of the fact that I have actually passed the UTSA M.A. Comprehensive Exam for English has hit me yet, but I know it will, and when it does, it will be glorious. I even took the exam a full semester early to prepare for the possibility that I didn't pass it and had to take it again in the Spring. But now, that will not be necessary and I can just enjoy my last semester and prepare for graduation.

Now that I have experienced the full stress and horror of the exam from beginning to end, I thought I would give my top ten tips for anyone out there who has to take this thing. This is stuff that worked well for me, so you can take it or leave it.

10. For the semester in which you choose to take the exam, treat it as if it is another 3 credit hour course. This will put it in perspective as far as the amount of time that will be necessary to devote to it.

9. Start reading early and take notes as you go. I started this blog last June and still almost ran out of time at the end and had to rush things. Make no mistake, there is a massive amount of stuff to read on that list.

8. READ EVERYTHING. Most of the professors know what it is in the movie versions.

7. Check different sources and editions. Don't go to Wikipedia thinking it is a one-stop shop of information. I feel like that should go without saying, but I know the temptation is there. I mean, it is Wikipedia...but believe it or not, people try it. And only reading plot summaries from any source as a substitute for the work is just a bad idea. Refer to tip #8 for more clarification.

6. Join or form a study group if you can. I actually wasn't able to do this, but it would have been nice. There is something about meeting regularly to discuss and study with others who are currently going through the exact same thing you are.

5. Meet at least once with all three of your committee members, not just your chair. I found this to be extremely helpful to me. There is no guarantee you'll have professors on your committee that you already know (in fact, I hadn't ever had a class with any of my committee members). And it was nice to not have my oral exam be the first time I was meeting them. It allows for it to be much more like a conversation than a test.

4. For the four-hour written part, do not eat anything heavy beforehand, but do eat something, or take a light snack. But for the love of all that is good please no noisy chip bags. There will be other people in the writing lab with you desperately trying to concentrate. And I love Cheetos as much as the next person but really, the cheese dust will only hinder your ability to type anyway.

3. Also for the written, try to make sure to leave yourself some time at the end to go back over what you wrote. I didn't do that and basically finished up my explication of the poem and had to hit print without a chance to correct any mistakes beyond the usual spellcheck.

2. In the oral, take the opportunity to correct or expand upon anything you may have discussed in the written part of the exam. I went ahead and corrected myself on one thing I didn't define correctly and it totally helped.

1. And my number one tip for the exam: accept right now the fact that you will read many things on your personal list that you will not be asked about or get to discuss on either the oral or written part of the exam. And this counts for both required and recommended texts. My oral exam went over a good deal of what I wrote, so there were very few works that we discussed that I hadn't already written about. So there are quite a few monsters I read and studied in detail that never came up. Most notable are Paradise Lost, Tom Jones, Middlemarch, Bleak House, Invisible Man, and the poetry of John Donne, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and William Wordsworth. No. Joke. I am not complaining in the slightest bit...I probably couldn't talk much about Wordsworth if I tried, but still, kind of surprising.

And there you have it. I hope this, and all of my other posts, were nothing if not helpful to anyone taking the M.A. Exam in English. It definitely helped me.

So what will I do with this blog now? Actually, I am going to keep it as a book blog, but from now on I will just do book reviews of newer fiction, but still also visit the classic monsters that I tend to be drawn too, a lot of which have been sitting on my shelf for years now because I had to read for this exam (Don Quixote I am looking in your direction). I don't know when I will actually be able to start this since of course now that I am done with the test I have to focus on writing a paper for the class I am taking. But either way, that is my we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sample Questions

Thanks to my committee members and the graduate office of the English department, I am able to post some sample questions. Of course, these are not the actual questions that will show up on the exam. These are either similar to questions that have shown up on previous exams, or questions I was asked by members of my committee before my exam. I think they are incredibly helpful in thinking about how to answer questions for the test using both required and optional texts on the list.



Look at William Wordsworth's "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" and discuss the differences (if any) between his beliefs on what the poet should be and what T.S. Eliot believes from "Tradition and the Individual Talent."


Starting with George Washington Gomez by Americo Paredes and it's sub-heading as a "Mexicotexan Novel," discuss the issue of works falling under more than one genre heading. Use two other works from the list, at least one of which must be pre-1850.


In any two works discuss the issue of the unreliable narrator.


1. Using Troilus and Criseyde, Dr. Faustus, Samson Agonistes, and Frankenstein, discuss if the main female figure in the work is loyal or not. Why, why not, and to whom?

2. Using The Sound and the Fury, "The Artificial Nigger", and Breath, Eyes, Memory, discuss the mother figure in each work and how they have or have not abandoned their family.

What became clear to me when attempting to answer these questions is how important it is to know the timeline and where each work falls in history. You’ll have to be able to know works that come before the year 1850, works that fall in the post-modern era as opposed to modern, and also things like whether a work came before or after the invention of the printing press. Yes, this is a lot of stuff to just “know.” And yes, I am scared too.

With that being said, this will most likely be my last post before the actual exam. The written for the Fall 2011 semester is scheduled for Monday, October 24th from 12:00-4:00pm. And my oral is scheduled for Thursday, October 27th at 3:15. I hope for the best for everyone out there.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Important Terms and Definitions

Below are what I have come up with so far of important terms and definitions that are extremely useful to know for the M.A. exam. The majority of the definitions I took from the Oxford English Dictionary. For extended information of other terms and phrases, especially the time periods, I actually turned to Wikipedia. With that being said, it is definitely worth looking up these words in more than one place, not only to gain as much understanding as possible, but also to check definitions against each other.

Adventure – An unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity. A daring and exciting activity calling for enterprise and enthusiasm.

Autobiography – An account of a person’s life written by that person.

Bildungsroman – A novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education.

Chivalry (chivalric) – The medieval knight system with its religious, moral, and social code. The combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak. Courteous behavior, especially that of a man toward a woman.

Comedy – A play characterized by its humorous or satirical tone and its depiction of amusing people or incidents, in which the characters ultimately triumph over adversity. According to Aristotle, comedy is a dramatic imitation of men worse than average that had a favorable ending.

Doppelganger – An apparition or double of a living person.

Drama – A play for theater, radio, or television.

Early Modern Era – Follows the late Middle Ages. Spans the period after the later Middle Ages through the beginning of the Age of Revolutions.

Epic – A long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation.

Essay – a short piece of writing on a particular subject.

Fiction – Literature in the form of prose, especially short stories and novels that describes imaginary events and people.

Fugitive Slave Act – Fugitive slave acts that were passed in the U.S. in 1793 and 1850 to provide for the return of slaves who escaped from one state into another. The law mandated that government officials must help with the capturing and returning of slaves that mostly escaped to the free states of the north from the slave states of the south. This was enacted in order to protect the property of slave owners.

Genre – A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter. I try to keep this and theme separated in my mind by remembering that a genre is a noun, while a theme is usually an adjective.

Gothic – A genre or mode of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance.

Heroic Couplet – A traditional form of English poetry, commonly used for epic and narrative poetry; it refers to poems constructed from a sequence of rhyming pairs of iambic pentameter lines. The rhyme is always masculine. Use of the heroic couplet was first pioneered by Geoffrey Chaucer.

History – 1. The study of past events, particularly in human affairs; 2. The whole series of past events connected with someone or something; 3. A continuous, typically chronological, record of important or public events or of a particular trend or institution.

Horror – A thing causing a feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. A literary of film genre concerned with arousing feelings of horror.

Humanism – An approach that focuses on human values and concerns. Affirms the notion of human nature.

Iambic Pentameter – A commonly used metrical line in traditional verse and verse drama. The term describes the particular rhythm that the words establish in that line.

Medieval – of or relating to the Middle Ages.

Middle Ages – A period of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era.

Mode – An employed method or approach, identifiable within a written work. Often used incorrectly when speaking of genre (guilty as charged).

Modernism – A style or movement in the arts that aims to break with classical and traditional forms. A movement toward modifying traditional beliefs in accordance with modern ideas, especially in the Roman Catholic Church in the lat 19th and early 20th centuries. A revolt against the conservative values of realism. Rejects tradition and reprises, incorporates, rewrites, revises, and parodies in new forms. Rejection of the all-powerful Creator God in favor of the abstract, unconventional, largely uncertain ethic brought on by modernity.

Narrative – A spoken or written account of connected events; a story.

Novel - A fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.

Panoramic – With a wide view surrounding the observer; including all aspects of a subject.

Petrarchan Sonnet – A verse form that typically refers to a concept of unattainable love. It was first developed by Francesco Petrarca. They depict the addressed lady in hyperbolic terms and present her as a model of perfection and inspiration.

Picaresque - a popular sub-genre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society.

Play – A dramatic work for the stage or to be broadcast.

Poetry – Literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature.

Post-Modernism – A late 20th century style and concept in the arts, architecture, and criticism that represents a departure from modernism and has at its heart a general distrust of grand theories and ideologies as well as a problematic relationship with any notion of “art.”

Prose – Written or spoken language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure.

Realism – The doctrine that universals or abstract concepts have an objective or absolute existence.

Restoration – English literature written during the historical period between 1660-1689 which was roughly homogenous and centered on the celebration or reaction to the restored court of Charles II.

Romance – A style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as having heroic qualities, who goes on a quest.

Satire – The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Science Fiction – A genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities.

Slave Narrative – A literary form which grew out of the written accounts of enslaved Africans in Britain and its colonies, including the US, Canada, and Caribbean nations.

Sonnet – A poem of 14 lines using any of a number of formal rhyme schemes, in English, typically having ten syllables per line.

Southern Gothic – A subgenre of Gothic fiction unique to American literature that takes place exclusively in the American South. It resembles its parent genre in that it relies on supernatural, ironic, or unusual events to guide the plot. Also uses these tools to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South. The Southern Gothic style employs the use of macabre, ironic events to examine the American South.

Speech – A forma address or discourse delivered to an audience.

Spenserian Sonnet – A variant of the sonnet, named after Edmund Spenser, in which the rhyme scheme is abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee.

Theme – An idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art of literature.

Tragedy – A play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character. Aristotle states it is a work that imitates men better than average and ends unfavorably.

Tragicomedy – A play or novel containing elements of both comedy and tragedy.

Transcendentalism – A protest against the general state of culture and society, and in particular, the state of intellectualism and the doctrine of the Unitarian church. The core beliefs include an ideal spirituality that transcends the physical and empirical and is realized only through the individual’s intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions.

Treatise – A written work dealing formally and systematically with a subject.

Utopian Fiction – Genre of literature that explores social and political structures. Involves the creation of the ideal world, or utopia, as the setting for the work. Dystopian would be the opposite.

Verse – Writing arranged with a metrical rhythm, typically having a rhyme.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I decided to make a timeline using a wonderful website that was revealed to me a few years ago when a fellow classmate used it in a presentation. has been a fantastic way for me to plot down every item on my list in a line so that I can see from a glance where they all fall in history in relation to each other. I read everything out of order, so I needed to be able to start from the beginning and know in what order these works came into being.

It has also been suggested to me by one of my committee chairs that flashcards - that's right, flashcards - may be helpful in keeping the timeline straight. Each time period gets its own color, and each card contains pertinent information that not only includes the title, author, and year, but also of course the genre, main themes, and maybe an important point in history if that would be helpful to you. I honestly thought I had kissed flashcards goodbye once I passed College Algebra, and yet, here I am.

You can access the timeline I created here. Of course, any timeline you create is going to include your own optional works, but feel free to use mine in whatever way would be useful to you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Required Poet: Cherrie Moraga

Woo Hoo! This is it! I can’t believe I actually kept up with this thing through my whole list. This is my last post on any of the actual works, but not my last post before the test. I will still go over the timeline, a list of terms, and then I’ll attempt to bring the two together and distinguish between time periods using fancy words. Exciting!


Once again, we got Chicana, we got feminist activists, we got politics, and much like Anzaldua, we have queer theory. And again, I went for the label of poet when Moraga was also an essayist and a playwright. In fact, for the list, there are more essays of Moraga’s then anything else, but I decided to stick with the poetry label, if only for continuity’s sake.

Queer Aztlan: the Re-formation of Chicano Tribe

This section from Moraga’s book, The Last Generation, has similarities with Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera. Moraga confronts the issue of being from two different worlds (her father was white, her mother was a Latina), the issue of the Native Americans and how their land was taken from them, the issues of border patrol on the US/Mexico border, and she also deals with the marginalization of gays and lesbians and how their insight would be valuable to ignite change. Also, much like Anzaldua, Moraga points out that even within the Chicano culture there can be extreme sexism, racism, and exclusion. Like Anzaldua, Moraga is calling for a new or reformation of the Chicano culture to rise up and ignite change.

Loving in the War Years

This poem to me is actually pretty literal as well as metaphorical. There is a sense of a war of some sort going on around the two characters in this poem. What type of war is never quite clear, but I would assume it is the same type of war Moraga talks about in “Queer Aztlan.” But there is also a sort of competition between the two characters in the poem, despite the fact that they seem to care a great deal for each other. They can’t quite seem to explain or express their love for each other, but instead they play games and “size each other up.” By the end the speaker realizes it is because this war has hurt them before; however; they should accept each other as they are.

La Guera

Moraga once again confronts her experience as a biracial woman who looks more white than Latina. Growing up, this was seen as a blessing and known as “la guera.” Moraga points out that only the oppressed are fighting for their own liberation because the ones that aren’t oppressed or at all affected don’t see a reason to. Their ignorance keeps them blind and happy, and she states that she experiences this same ignorance growing up because she took advantage of “la guera.” When she realized this, she felt ashamed and felt that she had abandoned her people and also her mother tongue by not speaking Spanish. She also once again confronts the issues of exclusion between the races among feminists and the exclusion of gays and lesbians within any movement.

A Long Line of Vendidas

This is a very short little paragraph (I don’t think I can all it a poem) that Moraga actually dedicated to Anzaldua. She speaks of the night she had a fight with her lover that sent them both to separate beds where she dreamed of “church and cunt.” It was a mix of the Catholic Church fused with the sensation of having sex with a woman. The speaker explains that it is an issue and a journey she must work out for herself.

Looking for the Insatiable Woman

In this essay Moraga talks about her experience in attempting to write her own story of La Llorona, or The Mexican Weeping Woman. La Llorona, after being sexually betrayed by her man, drowns her children in either a fit of jealousy, rage, or even just pure retaliation. As punishment for her crime, she is not allowed to enter heaven but is instead subject to forever search for her undead children only to never find them. Moraga describes the effect this traditional Mexican story has had on her, even though she was never told it growing up. When she finally did hear the story of La Llorona, she immediately recognized her as a fellow sister, and that led her to investigate further. She eventually starts looking at other stories of “insatiable women” across cultures and bringing the threads together and linking them. At the time Moraga wrote this essay, she still had not completed her La Llorona story and wonders if she ever will. What she wants to write is something real and not in translation; something not just for entertainment.

Out of our Revolutionary Minds Toward a Pedagogy of Revolt

For this one, it is a miracle that I was able to get my hands on a copy of the book this came from to read this essay. All of the other required stuff that came from Moraga's Loving in the War Years, 2nd edition I was able to find online or in the library. But apparently this particular essay is only available in the second edition, and while "Looking for the Insatiable Woman" is too, I was at least able to print that one off the internet. Only after browsing through the books of a recently deceased but dearly professor whose books in her office have been left to graduate students did I finally find this gem. The last book I needed was found through the death of the instructor that originally was supposed to hold my hand through this process in the first place. Awesome.

And now that I have finally read this essay, I am glad I did. Moraga pretty much laments the state of academia in the sense of how it has treated minority scholars and the literature and history of their own cultures. However, she does not put total blame on the ones who are in charge. As her title suggests, those who wish to be part of the revolution against the dominant Euro-American world view have failed to protest fully and effectively. Moraga feels that many colored students went off to college because, 1. many are the first in their families to do so and minority parents want more than anything for their children to take advantage of that which they could not. But also, 2. Moraga believes many of these young colored students feel that going to college is a way to participate in the revolution. But the thing is, once the student gets to college, they are taught their literature and their history and their culture, and very little about their own - so what was the point? Therefore, these students must move past "revolution," which hasn't gotten them very far, and more towards out and out revolt: complete rejection of or refusal to acknowledge any authority one entity may have over another. I have to say that, while I don't agree with everything Moraga says, I do like this essay very much.


As I mentioned in the history section of the post on Anzaldua, Moraga co-edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color with Anzaldua. And while Moraga also focuses on gays and lesbians, she seems to put even more emphasis on the value of their insight, and also their general value. Moraga believes they have a special insight because of their ability to love their own gender.

And there you have it. I am done. I know this process has been immensely helpful to me, and I hope it also has been helpful to whoever is actually reading this thing. There are some serious monsters on this list, and I have now faced all of them. I’m still scared of a few, but you know, one step at a time.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Required Poet: Gloria Anzaldua

Yea! I came through on my promise. Like Lorna Dee Cervantes, I had heard of Gloria Anzaldua but I hadn’t read any of her work. And while I put her under the category of “poet,” her work that we are required to read for the M.A. exam is the first seven chapters of Borderlands/La Frontera. These chapters do include some poetry interspersed throughout the rhetoric, but the majority of the poetry is located in the second half of the book. Also, pictured at the right is the third edition, and the introduction they want us to read is from the second edition. However, the third edition does include the second edition’s introduction, so it all works out.


There is going to be a lot of overlap here with Cervantes. She was a leading scholar in Chicano cultural theory and often also focused on gender and political issues. At the same time, Anzaldua was also at the forefront of Queer theory – queer readings of text and the theorization of queerness itself.

Borderlands/La Frontera focuses primarily on Anzaldua’s life growing up on the Texas/Mexico border and the life-long feelings of social and cultural marginalization that comes with that background.


I suppose I will go ahead and start with the code-switching. If you know Spanish, that will help you a great deal with this book. While the book is predominantly in English, Anzaldua switches to Spanish often; sometimes it happens mid-chapter, other times mid-paragraph, and even mid-sentence. I believe Anzaldua is expressing the duality of her background. However, at one point, she does explain in detail the language that Chicanos speak because of their need to identify themselves as a distinct people, which is in itself a mixture of eight different languages. Two of the languages are English and a variation of English, while the other six are variations of Spanish. Of course, number seven, which is called Tex-Mex, does include English as well. Out of all of these comes the language that Anzaldua is writing in.

Anzaldua also explores the issue of gender and how even within the Chicano culture, women are degraded and looked down upon and seen as lesser people. Anzaldua explores how the dominant male culture sees womanhood as something to almost be afraid of and subdue. In exploring this massively complicated issue, Anzaldua makes what I think is a bold statement when she says she chooses to be a lesbian and love other women. That of course leads into Anzaldua exploring the role of gay men and women in helping this country get past each other’s differences. Again, even within her own Chicano culture, the queer are marginalized and ignored and discriminated against.

Anzaldua expresses a desire for people to no longer allow race to divide them, but instead have everyone confront their own fears and move forward into a society that is helpful instead of hateful. Anzaldua introduced the term mestizaje into the academic world. The “new mestiza” would move past the dominant binary way of thinking about both race and sexuality and be a mix of all cultures and people. I am sure I have completely oversimplified pretty much everything Anzaldua was attempting to explain, but there is a great deal of information here and that was the best way I could find to put it simply in a blog post.

All of these themes express a tension over some kind of border between different types of people. Ultimately, Anzaldua is writing about being proud of every aspect of who you are.


I have probably covered a great deal of what would normally go in this section. In 1981 she co-edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color with Cherrie Moraga, which is the next and last writer I will cover for this blog. She often weaves English and Spanish into one language in her work. Interestingly enough, the frustration and annoyance the average reader would feel with this is the exact same frustration and annoyance Anzaldua has felt for most of her life. In 2004, Anzaldua died from complications due to diabetes.

I can’t believe it, but the next post will be my last one that is exclusively about an item on the list, and I lived to tell about it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Required Poet: Lorna Dee Cervantes

Okay, I know last time I said I would start these last three posts off with Gloria Anzaldua, but clearly, as you can probably tell by the title of this blog, I lied. I just didn’t get through all seven of the required chapters of Borderlands/La Frontera in time. Therefore, I am covering the much shorter assignment of the five poems required from Lorna Dee Cervantes. It is easy reading and great stuff. I’m glad I read it.


Cervantes’ writing qualifies as a Chicana-Native American, feminists, and political. All of the above descriptions definitely come through in all five of the required poems. At least one of the issues of race, gender, and politics comes through in some way in each of them.

Uncle’s First Rabbit

I know I have said this at least once for the past two posts, but I have to say it again…this one makes me sad. It starts out so well with “He was a good boy,” but I guess the operative word in the first line is “was.” The poem begins with an innocent boy out to hunt his first rabbit for his grandpa, and then it appears that all hell break’s loose. It fast-forwards 50 years where the main character is remembering the cry of the rabbit and mixing it with the cry of his now deceased little sister. He remembers the abuse of his father on his mother, and then running off to fight in a war, only to end up, 50 years later, also abusing his wife just like the father he now hates did. Mostly he remembers running away from everything, and at the end, he wants to run away again from the wife he constantly abuses. I see it as a commentary and how something like abuse can be generational, even if the one who continues the tradition knows how awful it is. And what makes this really sad is that the poem is titled “Uncle’s First Rabbit,” meaning this could have been someone Cervantes knew, someone in her own family.

Cannery Town in August

This poem illustrates the working women who spent their days in the cannery. The poem describes their “spinach speckled shoes,” and how the women “smell of whiskey and tomatoes,” and of “peach fuzz reddening their lips and eyes,” almost as if their work just permeates their entire being and then goes home with them. I especially enjoy the description of the night bird as it “sing[s] the swing shift home.” And as they leave, they don’t even speak, but just walk almost like mindless zombies, just numb from the long day of work.

Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway

This one reminded me of “Uncle’s First Rabbit” in that it seems to reiterate the idea of generational habits and abuse. The grandmother builds a house after leaving a man that had tried to kill her, despite having been with him for 25 years. And then the granddaughter, who I assume is the speaker, also grows up and ends up in an abusive relationship. Also, just like her grandmother, she starts to plant geraniums, tie her hair up in loose braids, and only trust what she built with her own hands. And to only trust what she has built with her own hands means to not trust that freeway in the front of their house – the one the speaker describes as a “blind worm, wrapping the valley up from Los Altos to Sal Si Puedes.” I especially enjoyed the speaker giving everyone kind of a superhero alter-ego and making her grandmother the Queen, her mother the “Swift Knight, Fearless Warrior,” and herself the “Scribe: Translator of Foreign Mail.” Seriously, who didn’t do this as a kid…to this day I have at least five good superhero names waiting to be used. Heck, I am writing this blog under one of them…

For Virginia Chavez

This is a sort of ode to a great friend, I am guessing. There are some wonderful memories here of going out with boys, and then outsmarting said boys, stealing sips of alcohol from mom’s stash, of reading poetry together, of being pregnant together, and then the less than happy times of men leaving and taking the kids with them. The poem seems to span an entire lifetime of adventures with a great friend, and then it ends as if to say those adventures aren’t over. It is almost as if they have found each other again after a long absence and intend on making up for lost time. I could be wrong about that last part, but that is just how I feel about it.

Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races

Just have to start by saying that I love the title of this one. It starts out with what I am sure people have said to Cervantes, and even a few things Cervantes herself has probably wished she could say, but to do so would be to ignore the very obvious fact racism and prejudice is real, as the speaker knows by the way people look at her and by the events that happen all around her. The speaker states quite plainly that she believes in a revolution, and the last lines states “I do not believe in the war between races/but in this country/there is war.” For the speaker, there is just too much evidence to believe otherwise. Cervantes wants to “dance on rooftops, /to whisper delicate lines about joy/ and the blessings of human understanding” (now that would be nice), but alas, it just isn’t that way. This poem also makes me sad.


Really just one little tidbit I wish to share: growing up Cervantes was forced to speak only English in the home because her parents wished to avoid the racism that was prevalent in her community at the time. Later in her life her brother got a job at a local library and that introduced her to a lot of her poetic influences such as Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, and Byron. The word “emplumada,” which is the title of the collection of poetry all of these poems appear in, is a combination of both “feathered” and “pen flourish.” Cervantes explores the issue of being “chicana” and being in-between two cultures.

Okay, next time, I will actually do Gloria Anzaldua, I promise…maybe.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Required Poet: Theodore Roethke

This guy ain’t bad. I had no prior knowledge of him or his work, but I enjoyed the five poems we had to read for the exam. I can see why he was placed with Sylvia Plath in the list as they are both considered Confessional poets (a genre I will go ahead and assign to his poetry in general), and they both also suffered from depression. As we will see, Roethke enjoyed making use of natural imagery, and his later work slowly moved more and more towards bigger themes such as man and God, the universe, and the like.

Root Cellar

I believe this poem is considered to be one of Roethke’s “greenhouse” poems. There is so much detail and natural imagery of this root cellar. Roethke managed to give a kind of unnatural life to things that don’t necessarily “sleep” or “breath.” The root cellar appears to be nothing special – in fact, I imagine it to be pretty disgusting – but Roethke manages to make even the dirt come to life by saying that even it “kept breathing a small breath.” And the leaf-mold, which is just “piled against slippery planks,” seems to take on a life of its own. I felt like I could not only see, but also feel and smell how dank and disgusting this root cellar is.

My Papa’s Waltz

This is one that makes me sad and a little bit scared…and I am probably getting that sense of fear from the child in the story who is dealing with his own fear. I could compare this one to Plath’s “Daddy” as it tells the story of a little boy being dragged away by his seemingly drunk father to be dealt with physically (not necessarily abused as the poem isn’t that specific) and then put to bed. The narrator, who seems to be the little boy, refers to this event as a “waltz.” Another word that is used is “romped,” while the pans slid from the shelves in the kitchen and mom watches on frowning. The poem is only four stanzas long with each having the rhyme scheme “abab.” Also, each line has the same rhythm, which gives the poem kind of a sing-song quality that goes with the waltzing theme.

The Waking

Yea! A happy poem…I think. Well, it makes me happy anyway. Probably another one of Roethke’s greenhouse poems as it describes a stroll across a field full of flowers and animals, through the woods, and to the river where the speaker’s ears find “an early joy.” Throughout the poem, heat is happy, blossoms sing, stones sing, daisies wave, and streams sing in the speaker’s veins. I can’t help but imagine some of my happiest moments that happened outside (and since I don’t much care for “fun in the sun,” they are pretty few and far between), and that feeling of being able to breath out there in a way that isn’t possible inside.

I Knew a Woman

This is the only one of Roethke’s love poems to make the list. Made up of only four stanzas the rhyme scheme of each is more or less ababccc, which I find interesting but I couldn’t tell you why. Because the speaker talks about what the woman in the poem “taught” him, I got the sense that this may have even been an older woman, but I could be wrong about that. There is a great deal of focus on the woman’s movements (“when she moved, she moved more ways than one;” “She moved in circles, and those circles moved”), and Roethke managed to include his usual nature imagery as well. And even though the title of the poem is “I Knew a Woman,” I get the sense that the woman isn’t dead, they just aren’t lovers anymore.

In a Dark Time

There is much talk of darkness and light in this poem and may be a picture of Roethke’s struggle with depression and with the bigger themes of God and eternity and the universe. I am reminded of Emily Dickinson’s “Much madness is divinest sense” because of the first line of the second stanza, “What’s madness but nobility of soul.” Maybe this isn’t so much a sad poem as it is a poem of Roethke confronting his depression and attempting to make the best of it. By the end, the speaker concludes that “A fallen man, I climb out of my fear. /The mind enters itself, and God the mind, /And one is One, free in the tearing wind.” That actually sounds fairly hopeful to me.

A Little More History

Much of Roethke’s childhood was spent in a large greenhouse owned by his dad and his uncle, which probably accounts for the nature imagery found in a good portion of his work. However, when Roethke was only 15, his uncle committed suicide and his father also died, all in the same year. In addition to his depression, he was also a heavy drinker (which I am sure didn’t help the depression), but despite both of these things, his wife stuck by him and even published a last volume of poetry after his death. Roethke died of a heart attack in his friend’s swimming pool at the age of 55.

So that was surprisingly painless. Next time, I will start the first of my last three posts on specific items on the list with Gloria Anzaldua before moving on to general posts regarding a timeline, term definitions, etc.