Tuesday, June 16, 2009

His Family: Chapter 1

I just finished the first chapter of His Family by Ernest Poole. What a chapter it is. It begins with this masterpiece of a sentence, describing the young New City York: "A place of turbulent thoroughfares, of shouting drivers, hurrying crowds, the crack of whips and the clatter of wheels; an uproarious, thrilling town of enterprise, adventure, youth; a city of pulsing energies, the center of a boundless land; a port of commerce with all the world, of stately ships with snowy sails; a fascinating pleasure town, with throngs of eager travelers hurrying from the ferry boats and rolling off in hansom cabs to the huge hotels on Madison Square."
What a sentence. It captures the essence of youth. The use of semicolons instead of periods really lifts this sentence off the page and brings it to life. The energy of the city flows with the energy of the sentence allowing us, the delighted readers, to feel Roger's (the main characters) emotions not only for the excitement of the city but also his excitement of being alive, the theme of the chapter. What's interesting about the rest of the chapter is that after this breath-taking sentence Poole gives us the inner workings of Roger's mind; takes us from the lively city into the withdrawing man we will get to know over the course of the novel.
And a lot happens to him in the first chapter. We see him lose his wife. We see the vivacity of his life slowly edge away into thousands of night's spent alone. For a chapter that started out by giving nothing but setting it turn into a wonderful example of how to make a character really come alive. Even as he plays chess with his daughter we see shadows of the man he use to be.
The section where Roger is thinking back on losing his wife is clouded over with longing and guilt. Roger feels that life is always just beginning until his wife dies. The emotion that he feels in the next couple of paragraphs comes across just as much as his excitement to be in young New York.
The brilliance in this chapter, though, comes through in every character, not just Roger. His daughter, Edith, is a controlling woman over her husband. Edith's husband, Bruce, a man who wants to spend as much time in the office as he can, learning new things. Roger's other two daughters don't figure into this chapter every much but they seem to be happy go-lucky, the way we imagine that Roger was when he was young.
The best part of this whole chapter is that everything is given to us in scenes. Roger's character, and that of his daughters, is reveally slowly over the chapter, giving us small bits that we must fit together on our own.
I did feel that his dialoge was lakcing a little. It didn't feel real; but then again it was coming from a dying woman.
More thoughts to come, but I'm definitely please with my first choice.

My big new undertaking...Reading.

I'm actually going to do something with this blog of mine, that has been created like an orphaned child at the age of 7, left to the wayside like unwanted soy milk. So what would be a fitting challenge for me? A student not in school, his brain losing it's sharpness and wit? I answer you in one sentence:

Read the winners of the Pulitzer Prize from 1917 to the present.

Seems ambitious yes; however, it seems a noble challenge. So here's the first novel: His Family, by Ernest Poole.

So here's the plan. I'll read a chapter and post my thoughts on why it would be picked as the best fiction of that year. So, reader, let us embark.

ps. If you want to read it with me, you can find Poole's novel on Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/14396

Monday, May 4, 2009

This Is Just to Say

William Carlos Williams is one of the most respected poets of the 20th century. His poem, “This is Just to Say,” is a beautiful tribute to how powerful simple images can be. Yet its simplicity hides its depth. It has so much to offer anyone who cares to examine it beyond the simple guise of a note to a wife. This poem begs the question of sin, the speaker committing an act for which he must ask forgiveness. Along with that comes the question of the forbidden fruit; Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit that wasn’t theirs just as the speaker in this poem does. Yet the poem also asks us to examine the poetry in everyday life; such a beautiful poem about a situation that could happen to any one of us on any normal day. But the most important question this poem asks us is how can we relate to such a poem? This poem is simple, understandable, and about normal life, relating to it is an easy task; but each reader of this poem relates differently; some believe it is about a loveless marriage, others believe it is about a perfect marriage, and there are others that believe this poem simply means nothing. How do we begin to understand and experience a poem that is so simple it creates so many varied reactions?

            To start we must understand that in simplicity there is complexity. This poem proves how simple images are able to draw out of us, the readers, emotions that are unique to ourselves. The main image of the poem is the plums in the icebox. Because each of us has had different experiences and is at different places in our lives, this image, being in the kitchen looking for something to eat, becomes a portal into our lives. We associate the events of the poem with what is happening with us. Such a simple image invites each of us into the poem. Once we read this poem it becomes part of us, each understanding it in a different way. So those who believe it is about marriage and those who believe it is about nothing are both right because the poem itself wants everyone to take something different away from it. The simple lines causes all who read it (whether or not they admit it) to take something away from it.

            Meaning, then, becomes personal. The first stanza pulls us into the poem, we are the “I”, setting us in our kitchen, allowing us to recreate the image in our minds with our fridge standing where the icebox is, our hand reaching in for the plums. All of it is happening in our world, so, naturally, the rest of the poem takes place in that world but from different points of view.  It is no accident the stanza breaks where it does. The poem takes us from seeing ourselves as the hand reaching into the fridge to the person the note is written for. We become the receiver of this note; we are the ones left without breakfast. This causes us to react based on the situation we previously envisioned in the first stanza. The switch to the second person pronoun in the second stanza allows us to interact even more with the poem. In the first stanza we are the agents, the “I”, we have eaten the plums, yet quickly, and subtly, we become the “you” and our reaction changes. That reaction comes not out of the poem, but rather from us reacting to the events of the poem that have happened in our own envisioned kitchen. It’s simply brilliant how we are set up in a paradox (being the “I” and the “you”) and then in the third stanza we are asked to decide our own fate.

            After taking us through the emotions of the person eating the plums and the person who is receiving the note, in a deft and awe-inspiring way, we are allowed to ask forgiveness of ourselves as well as decide whether forgiveness is granted. We are reminded of how delicious the plums were, not in detail but rather in two adverbs, “sweet” and “cold”. These simple words ensure we understand how the plums tasted. Everyone knows what something sweet tastes like and everyone knows what something cold feels like. It’s as if we are biting into the plums ourselves; our mouths can feel those simple words interacting with our taste buds. The repeated image of reaching in and eating those plums forces us to relive the emotions of the first stanza while at the same time we are asking forgiveness for the very thing we are visualizing. We become the “me” while retaining the mindset of the “you”. This is the paradox: we are the sinner and the sinned against. That is why people have such varied reactions to this poem. The decision of whether or not forgiveness is granted, the verdict of the poem itself, is ours to determine.

            The wide range of emotions this poem conveys is a direct result of its simple language. Had this poem been written in a more poetic language not everyone would be able to understand what was happening. We can all relate to the poem because we are able to see the scene and, this is where the poem really shines, act out in our minds those events. Not only are we participating with the poem but we are the embodiment of the poem. It is happening in our kitchen, we are eating the plums, we are left without breakfast, we are asking forgiveness and we are granting that forgiveness. We relate to this poem on a personal level because the poem is personal to us. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

There was turmoil the day the after...

It's been awhile since I wrote last. I'm sure that I could invent a reason for my absence; I haven't been studying, I haven't been reading, I had an elephant knock on my door and announce to the neighborhood (personally I think just the Pepsi machine across the street) that it was living in the alley, having taken two trash cans as it humble abode, and that it was hoping for some visitors from time to time to have peanut tea and strawberry crumpets with. (Just for those of you who haven't been to my house, the part about the Pepsi machine across the street is true, the neighbors make $3.75 a year of it, enough to buy a small welcome mat that says, "Don't be too surprised but we're rich.")

The real story of why I haven't written for a while is much more boring, involving my utter lack of anything important to proclaim to the world, a momentary hatred of technology, and some rather deeply ingrained personal issues. I have been studying, quite a bit actually, about Religion and English and Actionscript 3.0. While I have found everything that I have been studying lately of great interest and importance, I have doubts that anyone else will. So in lieu of discussing any of that here I will discuss something totally off subject. (Off subject? you ask, how could anything be off subject with you Lance? Dear Reader, I love you, but don't ask silly questions.)

I play World of Warcraft. I do. I love playing that game. I love paying 60 dollars to buy the game, and another 14 a month to keep playing. I love the fact that my wife plays with me. In short, I love playing World of Warcraft. Now to the point: I have issues while playing that game. It is a MMORPG (google it) and because it is a MMORPG I interact with people who don't know me and I don't know them. Normally I try to avoid people in general and even not in general, (one of the many side effects of having deeply ingrained personal issues) but because it is such a random environment I feel that I can interact in a much free way than I can in person. SIDE NOTE: I have an up coming assignment in my Business and Professional Speaking class where I have to go out into the community and interview a person of influence; I'm dreading it. END OF SIDE NOTE. I have noticed that people at random are much worse than people in general. Because they don't know the person on the other end of the game they don't care how they treat them, what they say, or even trying to get to know the person. Human nature at its worse. (Not true actually, I imagine that Black Friday is the worse day of the year for the Human Race...). That bugs me.

I recently finished a book (fantasy finally I enjoyed every minute of my break from non-fiction and even examining every detail in the book) called Blood and Honor. It was about Orc and Humans (bad blood there) and how they both want to kill each other. It reminded me of the issue with the Indians and the English during the Colonial times here in America, but more on that later. One human runs into one orc and they fight. In the process they slam into a ruined tower and the human is buried under the rubble. The next thing the human knows is that he is in his bed, healed. To shorten the story process the human finds out the orc saved him, the other people in his village want the orc killed and the human stands up for the orc (who is about to hang) and the human is exiled from the village.

The story brought together many issues that I have been dealing with in my mind. How can human nature be so cruel? Why is it that we have this burning desire to critique and exploit everyone around us? Humans and Orcs are different races, I understand that, but the point is drove home all the same: where is the honor in our lives today? Why is it that when put in a situation where we don't know people at all we serve our baser desires (shooting a man over a PS3? Why?)

I don't know the answer. And there are many examples of people trying to do the opposite and ending up hurt, or worse. I guess what I'm dealing with deep down is whether or not I could accept the elephant in the trash cans behind my house.

What would you do?