I love kinetic typography. I love good typography anyway, but add a level of motion to it, and I’m all there. This one by Ronnie Bruce is particularly well-done, using different fonts, weights, sizes, and motion to depict the poem “Totally Like Whatever, You Know?” by Taylor Mali to great effect. It doesn’t hurt the poem is a good one, too (and convicting, as I’m often guilty of speaking in questions, usually as a passive-aggressive defense tactic). You can read the whole text of it at Mali’s site here, and see more of Bruce’s videos here, though I think this is far and away the best.
I volunteered at the university’s poetry festival yesterday (which is chaired by my Harlem Renaissance professor), and listened in on one of the speakers, who was not reading his own poetry, but lecturing about poetry. Which I find more interesting. He had some interesting things to say about poetry vs. prose and the way that we read differently when something is in lines (i.e., we expect unlined prose to follow narrative logic, while we expect lined poetry to follow the logic of sound). He used several examples, including one from King Lear–a set of lines which in the first quarto is prose, but is lineated in the folio edition. Another example was a prose poem by contemporary poet John Ashbery, which starts in lines, but then ends with an un-lineated section. Yet the logic remains poetic rather than narrative, as you’d expect prose to be. Pretty interesting. (I think you could even extend this into the filmic arena, actually…perhaps in the way some films suppress narrative logic in favor of formal logic.)
Anyway, one of his examples was from James Joyce’s Ulysses–the “Sirens” section, which is lined. I haven’t read Ulysses, but the speaker pointed out that this poetic part, which seems semantically meaningless, is mirrored by the prose of the next section. This section is the pure sound without the narrative explanation. I can’t decide whether this makes me scared to death to read Ulysses, or really eager to do so. Here’s the poetic section in question:
Bronze by gold heard the hoofirons, steelyringing.
Chips, picking chips off rocky thumbnail, chips.
Horrid! And gold flushed more.
A husky fifenote blew.
Blew. Blue bloom is on the.
A jumping rose on satiny breast of satin, rose of Castile.
Trilling, trilling: Idolores.
Peep! Who’s in the….peepofgold?
Tink cried to bronze in pity.
And a call, pure, long and throbbing. Longindying call.
Decoy. Soft word. But look: the bright stars fade. Notes chirruping answer.
O rose! Castile. The moon is breaking.
Jingle jingle jaunted jingling.
Coin rang. Clock clacked.
Avowal. Sonnez. I could. Rebound of garter. Not leave thee. Smack. La cloche! Thigh smack. Avowal. Warm. Sweetheart, goodbye!
Bloomed crashing chords. When love absorbs. War! War! The tympanum.
A sail! A veil awave upon the waves.
Lost. Throstle fluted. All is lost now.
I like verbal experimentation, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to get past the sounds and connect it with any meaning whatsoever, the way real Joyce people do. I had enough trouble keeping track of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which is nowhere near as experimental as this. But if I want to focus in any way on literary modernism….gotta have Joyce. Like I said, reading this passage both attracts and repells me. Maybe that’s what it’s supposed to do…
My European Romanticism professor had an interesting anecdote today. This is not an unusual occurrence–he has many, many wonderful anecdotes. There should be a book of just his anecdotes. This isn’t even one of his more intriguing anecdotes, actually. But we were talking about how German Romantics theorize about poetry a lot, but don’t actually write very much, as opposed to English Romantics, who write a ton of poetry, and theorize about it less. And the professor brought up this time when he was in a class in Europe, somewhere (I missed the beginning of the story), and the other students were from scattered places around Europe–England, France, Germany, Netherlands, you get the picture. Anyway, for some reason, they got on the same topic–why the English write poetry and the Germans write ABOUT poetry. Just by way of demonstration, he asked us to raise our hands if we’d ever attempted to write poetry, whether or not we even showed it to anybody or thought it was good or anything. Every single hand went up. Including mine. And he said that was typical among English-speakers. However, when he mentioned that to this German guy in his anecdote, the German guy was totally shocked at the idea of having tried to write poetry. Apparently it never occurred to him or his countrymen to do it. We didn’t come to any conclusions as to why this might be. But it’s interesting.
I especially find it interesting that, yes, I had to raise my hand. I don’t consider myself any sort of a fiction/poetry writer now. I just don’t think I’m creative in that way. But I once wrote a poem about a movie I liked, when I was about twelve. And I wrote some haiku last week. Yes. Last week. I like writing haiku, oddly enough, though I’ve only done it a few times. It’s very tightly structured and it’s all about capturing a single moment. And I like that. Now, it wasn’t good haiku, of course–making only 12-17 syllables (depending on who you listen to about how to write English-language haiku) really meaningful is harder than it sounds. But here’s one from the park on Saturday:
Warmed by the sun,
A squirrel sleeping.
I’d never seen a squirrel asleep before. But there he was, in the crook of a branch. I thought he was dead or something, except I guess he would’ve fallen off, but then his head moved just a bit. I watched him for probably ten minutes. He woke up then, and started checking out other branches on the tree, but it was funny–like he wasn’t fully awake yet. He’d go to a different branch and sit there perfectly still for a few minutes, then crawl up to another branch. No running, no jumping. I went back to reading, and the next time I looked up, he was gone.
I’m still not too enamoured of Romantic poetry (although we read a great one by Victor Hugo today, where he compares his revolution of using natural language in poetry with the French Revolution; really funny), but I’m totally all about Langston Hughes, who we’re reading in the Harlem Renaissance class. I misspoke a few days ago when I said he was “pretty communist.” He was never a member of the Communist Party. However, he was “pretty leftist” for a while. A lot of his 1930s poems are very proletarian and radically revolutionary. But they’re very powerful and resonant…and for that time in history, it’s really not surprising. There were a TON of Communists running around in the 1930s, and Hughes, for example, seems to have been interested in Communism mostly because of its promises of racial equality (and also economic equality; the two issues were very closely intertwined for him), and because he was so very against fascism, especially after being a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War. Anyway. I keep feeling like I have to defend him, because I really love his writing (his prose is really good too), even when I don’t necessarily agree with his politics. And anyway, I’m a little bit of the position that in theory, communism would be a good plan, if only this dad-blamed original sin didn’t get in the way. But it does, so that’s that.
I’ve been working on a paper about Hughes (and, yes, his leftist poetry), and we all know what working on papers means. Procrastinating through playing with WordPress themes! But not on this blog. Or not yet. I’m really, really close to switching, but the one I’ve got in mind is a four-column theme, and will thus require lots of modding to get all my sidebar elements properly placed. Over spring break perhaps. But I’ve been sort of on-again, off-again playing with using WordPress as a Content Management Solution (or System? I know it’s CMS, but I’m not sure what it stands for…) at wordpress.the-frame.com (I know, creative subdomain, right? Told you I wasn’t creative), and have turned it into a sort of mini-anthology of Stuff I Like. Which now includes several Langston Hughes poems. There will almost certainly be more, once I’ve read the rest of the Collected Poems, which will be tomorrow night. After the final paper is turned in. But you should go check out the Hughes poems I’ve got up there so far. Most of these are from the 1930s, so several have strong leftist content. Also, they’re decidedly not politically correct for our time period. Just so’s you know. Some of his poems work better with explanation, so if you’re going “Whoa, how can she like THAT?” ask me and I’ll tell you the history behind it. (Hey, I want the three biographies I read to be good for something!)
I spent the afternoon reading Langston Hughes poems (for a paper I have to write in two weeks), and wow. He’s apparently pretty Communist. Interesting. But then there’s this great anti-academic one (Hughes went to Columbia for a while, but hated it):
He never was a silly little boy
Who whispered in the class or threw spit balls,
Or pulled the hair of silly little girls,
Or disobeyed in any way the laws
That made the school a place of decent order
Where books were read and sums were proven true
And paper maps that showed the land and water
Were held up as the real wide world to you.
Always, he kept his eyes upon his books:
And now he has grown to be a man
He is surprised that everywhere he looks
Life rolls in waves he cannot understand,
And all the human world is vast and strange–
And quite beyond his Ph.D.’s small range.
Remember when I used to be all about academia? Heh. Don’t get me wrong, education is great, and I love it, and I love school, and I love taking classes…but there’s a limit.
I came across this short film in a blog by an Anglo-Saxon scholar, the Unlocked Wordhoard. It’s a 6-minute adaptation of an Old English elegiac poem, “The Ruin,” done by some students at the University of Oxford. I hadn’t read the poem before (Old English and modern English text here), but it’s hauntingly beautiful. The film is done in Old English with modern English subtitles, and the language is beautiful too. Maybe someday I’ll learn it. But that day may be a ways away. Anyway. My favorite thing about the film is how it applies the poem’s description of a ruined Anglo-Saxon mead-hall to an early industrial-age cement factory…good literature resonates throughout the ages, doesn’t it?