Wednesday, May 23, 2012


When I read this poem, I was reminded of what it's like to be a teacher of seniors. I wanted to get your thoughts.


There are scars, three of them
Where the swing set once stood.

Cut into the lawn by years
Of summer happy feet scraping the ground

To stop or – more often – to go higher.
My wife wishes I would sod or seed

Or do whatever must be done
To make the lawn whole once more.

To make the world whole once more
She would have me heal the wounds

That leavings have left.
But I am no physician, no gardener.

I am no healer of wounds.
I’ve no balm or salve.

There are scars, three of them
Where the swing set once stood.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Garbage Truck

After much deliberation, I've decided simply to post this poem, and see what you folks might make of it - without my guidance. Consider the title, the speaker (we call the narrator of a poem, the speaker) the images throughout, etc. Have at it ladies and gentlemen; I am eager to see what you have to say.

Garbage Truck

by Michael Ryan

Once I had two strong young men hanging off my butt
and a distinctive stink that announced
when I was inching down your street
at the regal, elephantine pace
that let my men step down from me running
to heave your garbage into my gut
then fling the clanging metal cans
to tumble and rumble, crash and leap
back to sort-of-where you'd lugged them to the curb
before another oblivious night of sleep.
Did you think life was tough?
I reveled in it, all the stuff
you threw out, used up, let rot,
the pretty packaging, the scum, the snot,
vomit and filth, everything you thought
useless, dangerous, or repugnant:
I ate it for breakfast. I hauled it
out of sight. And what did I get?
You were annoyed by my noise.
You coughed at my exhaust.
Your kids stopped playing in the street
to pinch their noses and gag theatrically
with no clue how sick they'd be without me.
I was the lowest of the low, an untouchable,
yet I did what I did and did it well.
Now I am not laughable: a "waste management vehicle"
denatured robotic sanitized presentable.
My strong young men are gone. I have no smell.
I'm painted deep green to look organic and clean.
Your "residential trash carts" are matching green
injection-molded high-density polyethylene
that barely thuds when I lower them to the ground
after I've stabbed and lifted and upended them
with twin prongs that retract into my side
so not to scratch anything or scare anyone.
Who can complain? Right there on your street
I mash and compact and obliterate your waste.
You need never give it a second thought.
It's safe it's easy nobody gets dirty.
It's how you want your life to be.
But life's not garbage. Garbage is life.
Look what you've got. Look what you throw out.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Modern Love

The robins and bluebirds have returned. Days are getting longer and the earth is getting warmer. Flowers are springing up through the clods; they'll bloom in just a few short weeks. Spring and love are in the air in equal measure.

Or so I've been told. I am oblivious to such things. There is no joy in my life. Allow me to share my misery ...

The following poem is taken from Modern Love, a poetic sequence by the British writer George Meredith. Please read the poem and share your thoughts as comments. Remember to post at least twice, once in response to my queries and again in response to your classmates. Consider the following questions ...

  • What is the concept of modern love as offered in the poem? 
  • How does this concept of love compare with your own?
  • Are there any images in the poem that seem strange? ... why are they strange?
  • What might be the significance of the words that are capitalized?

from Modern Love

By this he knew she wept with waking eyes:
That, at his hand's light quiver by her head,
The strange low sobs that shook their common bed
Were called into her with a sharp surprise,
And strangled mute, like little gaping snakes,
Dreadfully venomous to him. She lay
Stone-still, and the long darkness flowed away
With muffled pulses. Then, as midnight makes
Her giant heart of Memory and Tears
Drink the pale drug of silence, and so beat
Sleep's heavy measure, they from head to feet
Were moveless, looking through their dead black years,
By vain regret scrawled over the blank wall.
Like sculptured effigies they might be seen
Upon their marriage-tomb, the sword between;
Each wishing for the sword that severs all.

     - George Meredith

How to Cite an E-Book

For those of you who have been wondering how to cite an Ebook from Kindle or Nook (either as part of a bibliography or parenthetically), I think I've found a resource.

A short search on the Modern Language Association's (MLA) website revealed the following page ...

EBook Citation Format

I've included all the relevant information here for everyone, but each of you should visit the MLA website on your own, and explore the resources available for you. The numbers that follow some paragraphs (i.e. 5.7.18) refer to specific sections of the MLA Guide for Writers of Research Papers.

"In general, a work formatted for reading on an electronic device like Kindle, Nook, and iPad is covered by 5.7.18. Begin the entry in the works-cited list like the entry for a comparable printed work and end it with a designation of the medium of publication. The medium is the type of electronic file, such as Kindle file, Nook file, EPUB file, or PDF file. If you cannot identify the file type, use Digital file. For example:

Rowley, Hazel. Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage. New York: Farrar, 2010. Kindle file.

If the work presents electronic and print publication information, the electronic information should usually be cited.

Most electronic readers include a numbering system that tells users their location in the work. Do not cite this numbering, because it may not appear consistently to other users. If the work is divided into stable numbered sections like chapters, the numbers of those sections may be cited, with a label identifying the nature of the number (6.4.2):

According to Hazel Rowley, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt began their honeymoon with a week’s stay at Hyde Park (ch. 2).
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt began their honeymoon with a week’s stay at Hyde Park (Rowley, ch. 2).

(The abbreviation ch. is shown in 7.4. There is a comma in a parenthetical citation after the author’s name if the following reference begins with a word.)

If the work is a PDF file with fixed pages, cite the page numbers. If the work lacks any kind of stable section numbering, the work has to be cited as a whole (6.4.1)."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Other Atrocities

“What Vietnam Did to My Mouth
        (and Other Atrocities)”

"Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty." - Tim O'Brien

Listen up Dad, sorry 'bout that Mom, but
your dotted swiss pinafore daughter is gone.
Sold too cheap to Uncle Sam,
traded to a pimp in a suburb of Saigon--
worked my body, fucked my mind
'till governments, tired of their little gook game,
tossed back home a badass bitch vet.

You'll have to welcome a stranger back home
because all my lacy pink girl words are done.
My words no longer tiptoe, meek on your ear;
they refuse to sit prim in your parlor
or politely wait their turn.
My words won't pour your afternoon tea;
they won't crochet doilies,
or offer you a scone.
My words don't plant verbena
and they don't sip sherry.
They don't wear hats on Sunday and they don't
play with dolls.

My now words are vet words and they don't mess around:
vet words are saddled-up words,
can-do words that get it done now.
Vet words don't give a rusty rat's ass;
they march right up and get in your face.
Vet words scream and vet words bleed;
vet words keep secrets like "brother" and "love."
Vet words kick ass and vet words take names.
Easy to spell but hard to say,
vet words were learned at
some other mother's knee.
Vet words are holy and vet words are plain.
They have seen it all and they paint what they see.
Vet words are truth with a capital T.

                                                                        - Dana Shuster

There are some things to consider when reading this poem, and applying its message to your reading of Tim O'Brien's novel. Try to answer the following questions, and see if your answers help you in the process of writing about both texts.
  • Who is the speaker of the poem? How does the speaker of the poem differ from the narrator of O'Brien's novel? Given what we know or are able to surmise about each, how are their experiences with the Vietnam War different? ... how are they the same?
  • What do you make of the repeated personification of the speaker's "lacy pink girl words." What do the words do as a result of having experienced Vietnam? ... what don't they do?
  • Is there any significance to the few lines that rhyme? Why might Shuster choose to rhyme only a few lines, rather than develop a more complete rhyme scheme? What effect might this have on a reader's interpretation of the poem?
  • Why might the speaker of the poem choose to curse or swear? What effect does such a choice in diction have on our understanding of the piece?
Feel free to discuss these questions - or any others you may have - with each other through this post. Whenever appropriate for me to do so, I will comment and try to guide conversation.   

Monday, January 2, 2012

Back to Work Ye Scurvy Dogs

Just so everyone knows, the title of this weblog and the accompanying photo have absolutely nothing to do with the substance of the post, which is to follow. The truth is that for the better part of the day, my son has been running around the house while wearing his pirate costume from last Halloween. He's been chasing his sisters, who are dressed like princesses and are apparently very much in need of rescue.

Anyway ... vacation is over ... back to work ye' scurvy dogs ...

This week is a little heavy in terms of content, but there is nothing here that we haven't touched on before. I want to discuss two poetic forms, BLANK VERSE and FREE VERSE.  They're often confused, but in truth they're practically nothing alike.

Blank verse is poetry written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. As you should know, IAMBIC PENTAMETER is a line of poetry containing five (pentameter) stressed syllables in which each stressed syllable follows an unstressed syllable. Many of Shakespeare's most famous plays are written almost entirely in blank verse. Oftentimes, Shakespeare would only include rhyme for the sake of emphasis or to indicate that the speaker was not a commoner (i.e. royalty, a god, a knight, etc.).

Free verse is poetry that lacks any particular metric pattern or rhyme scheme (a pattern of rhyme). In free verse, the first line may rhyme with the second, but it could just as easily rhyme with the eighth, or not rhyme with any line at all. In free verse we might see a series of five or six unstressed syllables followed by two or three stressed syllables. The point is that there is no pattern.

Now the question is ... what's the point?

First, free verse is a distinctly American poetic form (or lack of form if you prefer). It began with Walt Whitman, and continues to this day to be popular amongst poets.

Second, free verse has the potential to add meaning to a poem simply by virtue of its lack of form.

Consider the following selection from Walt Whitman's, Song of Myself and then respond to the questions that follow. 

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,

Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their
parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,

Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

So here are the questions ... 

1. What is the theme of the selection? Be specific and refer to specific lines in the poem.

2. How does the lack of rhyme or any rhythmic pattern reinforce the message or theme of the selection? Be specific and refer to specific lines in the poem.

Consider your response in relation to the responses of your classmates and be sure to comment wherever and whenever appropriate.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Heart of Darkness / Apocalypse Now

As promised, here is the open thread for you folks to discuss your thoughts regarding Joseph Conrad's, Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Don't be bashful. Reach out to your classmates. You may find that their thoughts lead you in a direction you hadn't before considered, or that you might take them somewhere they had likewise never considered.

You might be pleased to know that Apocalypse Now: Redux has - today - become available on streaming Netflix for anyone who subscribes to the service and might like to review the film.

Links to the script and IMDb entry ...

As for the images from the film that I've included ... each comes from a scene that I think could be key in your understanding of the work. Consider each ...

Half in the light, half out ... questioning Willard as a teacher might question a student.
How's this for primitive?