Two Views of Poetry Part Two: Lowell’s “Fishnet” and the Poet’s Place in History

fishing nets

“I lie on a bed staring, crossing out, writing in, crossing out what was written in, again and again, through days and weeks. Heavenly hours of absorption and idleness…intuition, intelligence, pursuing my ear that knows not what it says. In time, the fragmentary and scattered limbs become by a wild extended figure of speech, something living…a person.”[i]

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Two Views of Poetry Part One: Wallace Stevens and Robert Lowell

take a bow on stage

Wallace Stevens and Robert Lowell are two modern American poets who share quite a few similarities in their views on the poet and what the poet should be doing when making poetry. Both were writing in the mid-20th century, with Stevens dying in 1955 and Lowell in 1977. They also share the commonality of producing some of their most well-known works later in life. Rather than having a mid-life crisis, these poets had an explosion of creativity and genius that resonates to this day. I’ve been on huge poetry kick lately, so I wanted to take a look at “Of Modern Poetry” by Stevens and “Fishnet” by Lowell as exemplars of their views on what it means to make poetry. I chose these two poems because both use the metaphor of the theatre and the act of performance to ruminate on poetry. Continue reading

“It’s dark there, but full of diamonds”: Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman as Bipolar

deathofasalesman set design

“I have such thoughts, I have such strange thoughts.”[i]

 

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller has one of the more memorable characters of American theatre: the aging, failed salesman Willy Loman. Willy Loman serves an important role in American literature as marking the failure of the American dream, and causing exasperation and depression to high school and university students saddled with reading of his plights. I have a complicated relationship with Death of a Salesman. I initially read it to better my knowledge of American literature (I am woefully underread in that department), and hated it. Not because it was poorly written, or even because it was boring; I mainly disliked it because it upset me so much. I mean, Loman commits suicide and then no one comes to his funeral. There are Shakespearean tragedies more cheerful than that. Now that I’ve been re-reading it with some of my students, I had an awakening. No, it is not my favourite play now, but what I realized is that there is something off about Willy beyond him merely being upset with his life circumstances. I think there is a sizeable case to interpret Willy as suffering from bipolar disorder. Now, I can almost guarantee Miller did not intend to write Willy as bipolar, but if we compare the signs and symptoms of bipolar type I with some of Willy’s behaviours in the play, you will see that my point isn’t completely crazy. I’m not the first one to make this claim either, I merely wanted to contribute my two cents. The first thing I want to do is clearly define the disorder before turning towards the play itself. If you already have a clear handle on bipolar disorder, feel free to skip straight to the exegesis. Continue reading