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

Roger Chillingworth as Sympathetic Villain in The Scarlet Letter

Roger Chillingworth is easily my favourite character in The Scarlet Letter. His creep factor is off the charts, and I don’t mean because of his age or because he is not able-bodied, it is more his ability to always be lurking around in the weirdest places that always gets me, especially when he orchestrates a way to sail on the same ship as Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale when they’re thinking of leaving Boston. However, Chillingworth plays an interesting role in the text; he is not merely a classic mustache-twirling villain. This rumination on Roger Chillingworth is a section taken from a larger piece I’ve been working on regarding Hawthorne and the demonic. I thought it worked well as a self-contained piece too, so here it is! Continue reading

Art, Life, and Legacy in Robert Lowell’s “Marriage”

I am under the impression that life imitates art a great deal more than the reverse. How much of what we say or do is influenced by characters from movies, books, or video games we like and wish to emulate? Next time you have a conversation, pay attention to how much of it is composed of references or quotes. Perhaps in the social circles I travel in this happens more often, but I would say even with the least culturally savvy group of people, it is inevitable that at some point someone might say a line they heard in a movie, or imitate the voice of a TV show character.

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Maintaining Appearances and Encroaching Death in Robert Lowell’s “Terminal Days at Beverly Farms”

American poet, Robert Lowell is one of the frontrunners of the confessional poetry movement that would become popular in the 50s and 60s, a movement that would include others such as Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, and W.D. Snodgrass. Lowell’s poetry collection Life Studies is one of the first collections to include extensive autobiographical content within his poetry. Every artist takes inspiration from experiences in their lives (you write about what you know after all), but Lowell explicitly infuses facts about himself and his family in discussing broader themes concerning human nature. This is unlike other poets I’ve discussed in this blog, such as Wallace Stevens or Robert Frost, whose writing is much more allegorical. I wanted to look at the poem “Terminal Days at Beverly Farms” from Life Studies, a touching poem on the decline of his father. “Terminal Days” grapples with the theme of death and the ways that people face the inevitable. Although meditation on death is a far-reaching, philosophical theme, Lowell explores the topic through the personal and mundane. Lowell uses autobiographical information describing his father’s last days and his father’s refusal to acknowledge death up until the very end of his life. I’ll show you the poem below, and then give a very brief analysis (no need to get too heavy, the topic of death needs no help on that front): Continue reading

Psychic Civil War in the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

Before there was Fight Club, Edgar Allan Poe was publishing multiple stories featuring main characters with alter egos. The trope of physically representing different aspects of the mind is by no means new, and certainly did not originate with Poe. However, he definitely seems to express old tropes and genres with a special kind of style. As numerous other Edgar Allan Poe critics have mentioned before, Poe loves to fixate on certain themes within his writings. In several tales, he regales us with allegorical tales of psychic civil war between passion and reason, usually resulting in the elimination of one of these parts of the psyche by the tale’s conclusion (he is just all about murder). This theme of the conflict between passion/inclinations/baser desires and reason/morality/intellect is by no means unique, but certainly a strife that resonates with readers. Beyond wanting to write appealing stories (Poe has been called a hack by some, I say give him a break, the man needed to make a living), this conflict aligns itself with Poe’s conception of poetry and literature. The primary focus of poetry for him is Beauty (elaborated on in “The Poetic Principle”), not passion or instruction and so any character who becomes too focussed on bodily desires, as William Wilson with his lust for the duchess must be eliminated.  It also doesn’t hurt that Poe’s writing is super brutal: if he was alive today he would definitely be in a metal band. I want to look at three of his tales in particular that grapple with the fight between passion and reason: “William Wilson”, “The Black Cat”, and “The Cask of Amontillado”.

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