Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An 'Early British' Summer

So, my summer vacation is technically over because for the first time since I’ve been back in school, I’m going to summer school! It shouldn’t be so bad; in addition to working on campus, I’m only taking one class. I’ve taken a lot of American Literature courses, Postcolonial and World Literature, but for the summer I will began my journey into British Literature. I’m looking forward to developing my understanding of early English language poetry and prose, ultimately focusing in on some Shakespeare, Marlow, Milton, and Sirs Philip Sydney and Walter Raleigh.

At the start of this class we’re reading some stuff with no known author, and also an epic poem that I read first in World Literature, Beowulf, which ironically is coming out this year as an animated feature. Beowulf is the oldest of the great long poems written in English, composed over twelve hundred years ago. It is a story about the cruelty of life, death and sorrow, but also of faith, courage and honor. The courtly love poetry of Sir Philip Sydney is still a bit intimidating to me, but the sonnets of Shakespeare are down to earth, and sometimes humorous.

And while I am somewhat suspicious of literature that functions as propaganda for religions, there is a poem which I find devastatingly beautiful. It is called The Dream of the Rood. It is about the dream of a tree’s memory of having Christ nailed to it and dying. Sentimental? Maybe. But, The Dream of the Rood is eloquent in the understanding that a tree is, not inanimate, but a living thing with a soul, a memory, a dream. Observing the crucifixion from the point of view of the cross is that defamiliarization, which Formalist Viktor Shklovsky talks about in his essay, "Art as Technique"; it causes you to see something which is recognizable, but differently. That’s good writing.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Photographic Recollections




It is never easy; loosing the ones that you love. But, in loosing them you almost always begin to contemplate the lives they may have led before you knew them. While they are alive you only know them as Grandmother, whose fried chicken wings are the only piece of meat that could cause a vegetarian to falter. Mama, whose voluptuousness I generously inherited, and Auntie whose style was timeless, unmistakable. As they grow older and eventually fade away, these last images and ideas of them are what we retain; the painful scolding in a pointing finger, the security and comfort in warm layers of ample arms and breasts.

But, if you are fortunate enough to have your pick of the personal belongings they leave behind, as I recently did upon the death of my Aunt, old photographs give a glimpse into the individuals they once were, and perhaps even who you are. These photographs remind you that they were once vibrant, sexy and ambitious black women looking toward the future. They were confident and poised, the kind of woman you try to be. They were unafraid, imperfect, unapologetic and beautiful. They are the women I aspire to be like.

Re-col-lec-tion: the power of re-collecting and re-calling the strength, determination and hope in images and remembrances of those who made us strong.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

An Authentic Atlanta Story

You’ve heard of New York Stories? Well, The Untelling by Tayari Jones is an authentic Atlanta Story. An eloquent, New South narrative reminding us that what William Faulkner said is indeed true, that “The past is.” The soft fragrance of an urban magnolia, Adriane Jackson, unfolds as we learn how private guilt and shame over a past, which we sometimes have no control over, works to create a self-deprecating consciousness, threatening to crumble our future happiness. The Untelling speaks about how family secrets folded and tucked away, resurface and erupt into a barrage of emotions, regret and even physical devastation. This is an important lesson for African American families, for I believe it is our tendency to bury those poignant, deeply personal family injuries with the belief that we will simply “get over it”. But Jones shows us through this powerful and contemporary tale how our clandestine memories linger, maybe forever.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Whewhooo! Summer Fun Reading

Well finally the semester is done, and I can catch my breath. Didn't get the grades I had predicted in the beginning, but I didn't do bad. But now that's all behind me and I gotta look forward. This is the time that I get to do some fun reading. And while I have really big reading list, it is my determination to get to at least five books read before the fall semester begins. Not included in that five will also be a British Literature class which will include some Beowulf and some Chaucer. (Canterbury Tales, yeah!) Up until now, I've not had much British Lit other than the small amount that I got in a World Literature class and Hamlet. But, even with my part-time gig in the president's office, (and giving myself a refresher course in Spanish to prepare for the next level in the fall), I intend to do some reeee-laxin' this summer.

I just finished reading Iola Leroy by Francis E.W. Harper, so I don't think I can call that part of my summer reading. It was my "nightstand" book during the semester. In bed, before going to sleep, I write a little in my journal and read a few pages of Iola Leroy. Even with five classes, I couldn't resist beginning this novel which I've heard so much about. Considered a romance novel at the time, (an odd genre for the worldly, no-nonsense, journalistic and womanist writing of Ms. Harper), but further reading helped me to see that Iola Leroy was a propagandist novel, aimed at white, female abolitionists and black sunday school patrons to express the possibilities of the newly freed slaves and educated African Americans. A very different novel when you look at it in this light.

But, now that exams are over, I've already begun my first summer novel: The Untelling by homegirl, Tayari Jones! Hey, read it with me and send me your comments, and we can all exhale together.