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Photograph Sonnet

Miss Coca-Cola 1943

For my grandmother, Isabel Blackwell Roberts,

“Passion moves inward,
striking and blighting the deepest cellular recesses.”
– Susan Sontag, Disease and It’s Metaphors

Her own figure stitched in by a woolknit,
striped bathing-suit, her fingers enclose
the waist of a coke bottle, dark and fit
as a tiny dressmakers’ dummy, poised
for another stretch of fabric. I hold
you now, framed: shorn dark curls, long legs, parted,
painted lips, sunlit collar bones: the mold
that cast my father, then separated.
I wonder if you blamed “the dishwater”
when he noticed your papery skin, hands
painted with bruises, and the matter
of collecting black curls from the wash-stand:
like thin threads, shredding, five years of holding
the poison’s name, the cancer unfolding.

Baggott Writing Event

Poetry Addresses Her Daughter, the Novel

I called you new, forced you out.
You didn’t even scream, folded neatly,
unnaturally white in the hook-nosed nurse’s arms.

I was enraptured by you:
your smell of softly sour whey, powder,
your persistent quietness, soft, roaming, wormy fingers,
and your eyes, the color of a twilight snow-sky,
so unlike my own.
I could trace blue lines under your cheap-paper skin.
Too new, and ill-defined,
wound in the wicker bassinet,
I watched you grow,
like one might watch a fern, hoping
by spring the robins would find it.

You never cooed to rival the dove-trimmed windowsill.
Your lacey eyes didn’t follow beams
from a car’s twin light-rods, crossing the room.

(I think you knew, though I never said:
you, my dear are an economic phenomena,
the product of a baby-boom,
the cheapening of paper, the widening of literacy.
You are the commoner’s looking-glass,
alone on trains, watching rain smear belly-up
across windowpanes.)

The doctor took one look at your milky eyes
and told me only:
“she is blind.”
As if I didn’t already know.
Brand new, you hadn’t noted the moonscape
of my body, the dimpled fallow fields of ribs.
Rather, you felt your way,
through the valley,
to the balmy, pinked planets.

Grafted: You to Me,
a solitary vine rugs the earth, blind,
as loping sandals
on a crowned tree.

Emmett Till

Audre Lorde wrote a poem for Till entitled “Afterimages.”

Langston Hughes wrote two poems for Emmett Till, one of which was intended to be a blues song.

(THE) Dylan wrote a song entitled “The Murder of Emmett Till.” This is a photomontage of Emmett’s life, set to Dylan’s song:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/QjfGcRM35xg" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

James Baldwin wrote a play entitled “Blues for Mr. Charlie” that was loosely based on the Till murder.


View from a Window: Murrels’ Inlet, S.C.

Square, white clapboard planter holds heads
of puff-pink crowned geraniums;
her hands dead-headed the rest, frail
brown casings mingled with plums

in the barrel’s heap. Among grass
warm bricks lay like honeycombs, held
hexagons, each by six neighbors.
Giving way to planks lain, felled

trees aligned like rows, a fallow
field, old with new, bleached with sap-sweet.
The planks are lead on by white rails,
cornices, the grey roof to meet.

The dock stands on stilted legs, pocked
by black, boorish barnacles, marred
by lines left by the tide. Creaking
soft sway, stubborn nails scarred

with rusty streaks that nothing can
escape. The inlet lays, flat, like
plate glass of unreal blue. The reeds
bristle like hairs on a clean face.

The Faerie Qveene is the meta-meta-meta poem of all poems. It has everything–sex, gore, family, good and evil, magic, disguise, misunderstandings, a quest…

Three major “problems,” or points of potential complication, in the poem emerge in the first canto. We get them all in the brief quatrain proceeding the poem: there is a knight on a quest, he beats a monster, and is deceived by someone who gives him shelter for the night. I have so much difficulty conceptualizing the kind of honor at stake in Knighthood; the idea of saving face for someone else, or avenging them, seems a bit foreign to our individualistic society. So, I struggle. He loved his lord, true. And the land was laid to waste, true. And the queen wants him to go find the dragon that is responsible and kill it, true. But deadly! And he is yet untested in battle when he begins: “Yet armes till that time did he neuer wield…”(li.5)

What is more fascinating to me in this canto (and one of the scenes most impressed upon my memory) is the idea of the monster, Errour. She is half-woman, half-snake: a clear reference to Original Sin, and the inherent evil in woman’s weakness. And furthermore, Errour is maternal: she suckles her children in a protected cave. But she is the embodiment of what would later be termed “The Grotesque” in her physicality: she is sickly, overspueing, covered in orifices, penetrated, overly fluid and projectile. She is the embodiment of disgusting, and the first image of parenthood (albeit, evil) that we see in the poem. Naturally, the beginning of The Faerie Qveene is reminiscent of Beowulf: the heroism, quest, revenge for a lost kingdom, and the way in which knights seem to always swagger up to a dragon and pick a fight. Errour was turning around:

She lookt about, and seeing one in mayle
    Armed to point, sought backe to turne againe;
    For light she hated as the deadly bale,
    Ay wont in desert darknesse to remaine,
Where plaine none might her see, nor she see any plaine.

It is the incredibly packed meaning of Errour’s being that intrigues me. The Lady warns RedCrosse Knight not to do battle with the beast unnecessarily, and yet (of course) he does so anyway. And the beast is not in the least admirable, though formidable. It is disgusting. She protects her children by putting them in her mouth. She vomits “sin” in order to defend herself, and once decapitated, she becomes the source of her own childrens’ ruin, because they are gluttonous. Freud could have a field-day.

“Her vomit full of bookes and papers was,
    With loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke,
    And creeping sought way in the weedy gras:
Her filthy parbreake all the place defiled has.”

“Whose corage when the feend perceiu’d to shrinke,
    She poured forth out of her hellish sinke
    Her fruitfull cursed spawne of serpents small,
    Deformed monsters, fowle, and blacke as inke,
    Which swarming all about his legs did crall,
And him encombred sore, but could not hurt at all.”

“Her scattred brood, soone as their Parent deare
    They saw so rudely falling to the ground,
    Groning full deadly, all with troublous feare,
    Gathred themselues about her body round,
    Weening their wonted entrance to haue found
    At her wide mouth: but being there withstood
    They flocked all about her bleeding wound,
    And sucked vp their dying mothers blood,
Making her death their life, and eke her hurt their good.”

The image of the battle between RedCrosse Knight and Errour strikes me as apocalyptic, graphic…and perhaps what might result from a very bad acid trip. In that way, it reminds me of the terrible spiders in William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. One of the most disturbing and perplexing visionary poems ever written.

Perhaps what rectifies this image of Errour for me is the simple detail that she has consumed books, and books are among the things she is spewing from her vile stomach. Error is a destroyer of knowledge. Therefore, if RedCrosse Knight can defeat Error, surely he gains some mastery over knowledge. Yet, this is Spenser. So the next character on the quest is a man of books:

At length they chaunst to meet vpon the way
    An aged Sire, in long blacke weedes yclad,
    His feete all bare, his beard all hoarie gray,
    And by his belt his booke he hanging had;
    Sober he seemde, and very sagely sad,

…who is actually a satanic magician of some sort. Rather than impart knowledge, he deceives Red Crosse Knight and His Lady into dishonoring themselves, or thinking that the other has lost honor, or trustworthiness. And the plot thickens…

I came across this video of a representative from Microsoft talking about a new software called Seadragon, and a phenomena called The Photosynth Experience. It is so interesting, in terms of the future of liberal arts, photography, publishing, etc. Technology ahoy!


(oh, and I am sharing it with the Mother Blogs of all of my blog-savy classes, because I think it is generally relevant and interesting)

found sonnet

“Found Sonnet”
(excerpts taken from Lia Purpura’s On Looking,
the essay entitled “Glaciology”)

During the thaw we were given to see
whole bodies of bone inclined toward each
other; snow melted into vertebrae,
pocked with dirt, and unlikely in their strength.
Bones, stacked, bent, in the attitude of prayer,
the edges honed, precarious, forms arced
over the sewer. White places layer
in smears that others were trained to read.
What remained were not yet remains. It was
clear how the warmth would eat everything
down. Wind blew the shapes, knife-edged, hunched, to ease
a pain, and pack the snow hard. Frayed covering
with the elbows poking through layered land.
A thing that remained to be found and told.

– Gjertrud Schnackenberg

1 A circle widens beneath my cloth, the years
Of dust rubbed from the wavy windowpanes.
Bits of planets, burst stars have sifted down,
Dust from remote globes of the universe
5 Drops in our closets, piles in corners softly,
Swirls in sunrays toward boxes we’ll unpack,
Around the clocks and mirrors under sheets;
The clouds I shake from carpets give it back,

The children paste paper stars upon the door.
10 With wet footprints disappearing in the hall,
Old wallpaper designs disclosing faces,
The faucet’s voice, the floorboard’s startled cry
Under my heel, what ghost is it accounts
For breath in the rooms, pale tears coursing
15 The windowpanes, what ghosts? I count even
the doorknob in my hand among the living.

Items for Discussion:
– nonce eight-line stanzas/ roughly iambic pentameter with some reversed first feet, and spondaic substitution
– rhyming pairs: “unpack/back”(li.6,8) “coursing/living”(li.14,16)
– all of the lines, with the exception of thirteen and fourteen, have more stressed than unstressed syllables. Lines 1,5,9,10,11,and 16 have one extra syllable (for a count of eleven), which comes as a weak, unstressed head or tail of the line.
– lines end on a stress generally, until the bottom of the second stanza, where they start to end on unstressed syllables: “faces, accounts, coursing, even, living…”
– Schnackenberg works roughly in the ghost of an “Ottava Rima” without the customary rhymes. Instead, she frustrates our expectation of couplets concluding each stanza, with the paired sounds in “even/living” (15-16)
– line 14 lends an interesting half-meaning; the ambiguity of “pale tears coursing” leads us to believe the speaker herself may be crying, before we find it is rain. This line is also the ONLY one in the whole poem that falls short of ten syllables. It has only nine, and ends on a weak unstressed syllable, so that the line itself “runs out of breath” in a way.
– assonance and consonance: the first stanza is brimming with repeated “w’s,” long “o” sounds, slippery “r’s” and “s’s” In other words, the sounds of the first stanza are very breathy, which mimics the act of dust particles floating.
– personification: by stanza two, we feel that the stresses pounding toward a crescendo (most of the lines have six or seven stresses), which culminate at the moment that the faucet is given a “voice” (12), and the floorboard a “cry” (12), evolving toward the supernatural possibilities of the presumably old house.
– The entire poem wrestles with the themes of ghosts, haunting, uncovering what is old, or disturbing what is old. These are echoed well by Schnackenberg’s use of a nonce form extremely close to traditional forms. In the poem, she presents us with two stanzas, as though they were imperfect mirrors of one another. It is unclear whether the speaker’s “Dusting” is a restoration or a disturbance. It is equally unclear whether Schnackenberg’s use of form is a restoration or a disturbance of earlier usage.


I composed this poem as a mash-up of the stuff written on pill bottles and the OED’s list of definitions for the noun “prescription,” which appear in italics.


Rx only manufactured in Germany
uninterrupted use or possession from time immemorial
may cause drowsiness
may cause dizziness
alcohol intensifies effect
use care
using machines
limitation or restriction of the time within
which an action or claim can be raised
setting down something

Rx only do not use if pregnant or suspect you are pregnant take or use this exactly as directed, do not skip doses or discontinue
instruction composition use of medicine treatment
alleviate remedy solution restriction

date filled: discard after:
this is a RED-BROWN, ROUND-shaped, TABLET
imprinted with 9 3 on the front and 7207 on the back
caution: federal law prohibits the transfer of this drug to any person other than the patient for whom it was prescribed.

open–> push & turn

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