Jeremy Sherman

  • “Citizen” is an interesting collection of writing. The works, which vary in length, mainly tackle to the problem of segregation and the race struggle in America. Whether just free writing, or describing the events […]

    • I think that Hughes and Rankine share a connection. Like Jeremy writes “Both Hughes and Rankine describe their struggle as blacks living in America and the harsh segregation they experience in their lives.” The speaker in Hughes “I too” says “I, too am America.”(18) He feels that he is like a “brother” to white men, making them equal and he feels that he has to prove his American identity as equal. We see inside his thoughts about what he plans to do tomorrow when company comes. In Rankine’s Citizen we also have insight into the girls thoughts about her American identity. She is aware that the white girl is trying to make herself feel better by cheating from a black girl -with white features. We read what she thinks yet she doesn’t stand up for herself and just lets the girl cheat off of her. While in “I too” the speaker stands up for himself letting us know how tomorrow he will stand up for himself. These poems both show different reactions blacks had towards racism.

    • “I DO NOT ALWAYS FEEL COLORED…” and “I FEEL MOST COLORED WHEN I AM THROWN AGAINST A SHARP WHITE BACKGROUND.” In these lines, she does not only tell but shows us what she is saying. She becomes very creative with the lines on these pages and writes over sized and bolded so the black/ white contrast is even more obvious. This seems to show how she felt very different when in predominantly white settings. But, over time the words blend together possibly showing the blending and joining of society. In a way thereis a sense of loss, it is the loss of the culture. From trying so hard to the same as everyone they may be losing what makes them different.

    • I really like that Rankine and Hughes are put into conversation in this post, and I agree that they share a connection. However, another poet that came to mind as I was reading this excerpt is Stein. Two instances where this came across is when Rankine writes, “You are you even before you/grow into understanding you/are not anyone, worthless,/ not worth you.” and when it says, “When you lay your body in the body/entered as if skin and bone were public places,/when you lay your body in the body/ entered as if you’re the ground you walk on.” And in these two lines in particular I really love how Rankine adds depth or meaning to the first line of each stanza, by repeating the words in the other lines of that stanza. In the first stanza quoted above, I think Rankine starts out saying the subject contains his/her essence even if he/she doesn’t know it and then Rankine says the subject is not worthless, rather OTHERS may not be worthy of the subject. In the second stanza I quoted above, Rankine starts off the 2nd and 4th line the same way and in doing so, a parallel is created between how the subject’s skin and bone is treated to how the ground one walks on is treated- in this case, Rankine is showing that they are treated the same way (which is wrong). I think the repetition here (as with Stein) makes you take a closer look at the meaning in the lines.

    • The second page of Rankine’s Citizen looks like graffiti spread along the page. However, it looks like the writer placed her arm on the bottom of the page, smudging the words and making them difficult to read. It’s interesting how both pages have this style and I think the words written are physically displayed the same way as what they intend to mean, meaning that she is visually showing the reader how she feels. Rankine repeats “I FEEL MOST COLORED WHEN I AM THROWN AGAINST A SHARP WHITE BACKGROUND.” The top of the page is the easiest to read because the letters stand out against the bright background. As the reader continues down the page, he/she has to fill in the gaps for the missing words that can’t be read. The converse would be that Rankine feels least colored when she is against a darker background because she becomes less noticed. This can be what she depicts as one reads farther down the page.

    • Jeremy says that the smudged ink represents black people’s comfort level amongst whites and amongst other blacks. I like this idea, but I had a different thought. Notice that the text is a very deep black color, while the smudges are a slightly lighter shade of black. It looks to me as if the smudges were added after the text was already written, as if to try to blot them out. I can only speculate as to what this could represent, but it seems to me that Rankine wrote both pages of text, and afterwards had some kind of change of heart. Maybe she regretted her harsh words, or maybe she was trying to convince herself of something that didn’t exist, trying to erase what she wrote in an attempt to hide how she really felt?

    • Jeremy points out that the blending of the text“I DO NOT ALWAYS FEEL COLORED…” at the bottom of the page “could be more a comment on the comfort that blacks felt within their own communities contrasted with the negativity they felt directed at them by the whites.” I think that this is a very interesting observation. Towards the end of the double spread the text becomes more difficult to see. Besides symbolizing a loss of identity, it could symbolize a confusion of identity or even merging identities. Perhaps the identities the author feels as an American and as an African American. It’s interesting to note, the opposite page which contains the text “I FEEL MOST COLORED WHEN I AM THROWN AGAINST A SHARP WHITE BACKGROUND” is not a “sharp white.” Over the two page spread there very first line is the cleanest and ink splatter appears on the second line and downward. Rankine’s conflicting feelings towards America and identity remind me most of Claude McKay’s America.

    • Jeremy’s pointing out of the smudged ink is a nice eye-opener for one who does not assume that visual representations are always relevant (me 🙁 ). Aside from the irrelevant I see the smudging of the ink the same way Jeremy does. Smudging spreads the ink across, almost expanded as it loses its prominent shade and becomes a closer shade to its surroundings. In the same way “as the page gets darker they start to feel more comfortable as they are surrounded by the darkness” (Jeremy). This is a pretty interesting technique that even I could see myself doing. Rankine’s using of the visual is her taking advantage of this extremely lengthy poem. Additionally, the similarities of Rankine and Hughes can be seen in the motivations. The feelings of neglect and solitude are prominent in itself. However, in terms of sheer poetry their styles do have their differences.

    • Interestingly enough, when I read that uniquely inked page, I did not even notice the word “ALWAYS” until the third or fourth sentence down. I disagree that the smudged ink represents a lost identity. I think it reminds her of an identity she reluctantly carries during this period in history. She forgets her color, unless placed in an exclusively white background. She supports this theory in one of the first anecdotes in which a white girl informs the speaker that she has the features of a white person. She is indirectly insulting her black heritage because she believes that being black is negative. I didn’t even know that the speaker was black until that comment because the speaker does not mention it; thus leading me to believe that the speaker does not really believe color to be of great importance and does not associate it with her identity. Due to this lack of regard towards color and its impact on identity, I do agree that Hughes is a poet closely related to Rankine. Both poets present a hope for future equality and the gap between races.

    • Jeremy’s interpretation of the page that contains words written consecutively after each other was very interesting and a cool perspective on why the lines were blurred the lower it got. To me though, the font of the text and the boldness reminded me of a man writing in a prison and the bottom of the page could be smudged due to tears that occurred while writing. A connection could be made to a lot of the unfair arrests that apparently occur against African Americans. The style of the poem reminds me of Cha’s excerpt because of the idea of being thrown in a certain situation. The beginning throws the reader to a black child in school who struggles with being different. This reminds me of Cha’s mother being different and as Jeremy points out, thrown, into another dominating country.

    • Interesting question about the smudges. I do not see them as a loss of identity, but an inability to truly pinpoint the American identity. I think it is more of an inability to express the new American identity then it is a loss of one. It is the mark when words fail.

    • I think it was really important to note the words in bold print. In my personal interpretation of the ink, I saw the ink in the beginning as something sure, concrete, even a sure identity. But in the way that it’s written and printed, it almost forces the reader to believe what’s written as facts. As the words descend on the page and blur out, there’s an ambiguity not only in the meaning of ambiguity but in it’s perception. The perception changes and it becomes more vague. I think it was a great way to pair something very deep in meaning with visually large spaces of black smudged ink. Just visually, the two pages create immense depth and I think that was definitely intentional.

    • I think you can definitely see some similarity between Rankine and Ginsberg. Both were writing for very different reasons, but both were protesting. the dedication here is to Trayvon Martin, while Ginsberg dedicated his to Carl Solomon. Both poets feel that the person they are dedicating to have been the victim of society. They are both angry in some way.

  • In beginning to understand these three poems, “Skinhead”, “Buried”, and “The Idea of Ancestry” it becomes clear that all of these poems are protesting in different ways. In Patricia Smith’s “Skinhead” we are introd […]

    • I had read half of “Skinhead” without realizing who the speaker was. Because I thought it was a protest, I thought Patricia Smith was the speaker and in my annotations I wrote “she.” It was only until she first mentions that the words are coming from a male did I realize that it isn’t coming from Smith, or even a female figure in general. I was stunned by the mention of “The coloreds and spics got ‘em all” and all of the gruesome imagery that she mentions. A lot of it made me cringe because of the speaker’s honesty, but I liked that it was truthful and not glossed over. Reading about her changed my harsh reaction because I realized that this important issue must be on her mind, and must be something important to her that she feels the need to protest about because it is her history.

    • I think the simple fact that this poetry proves that in some way this poem has a comedic element (if that’s a convention). I think it’s playing off the individualistic movement in America. The line begins “they call me skinhead, and I got my own beauty.” This could be making fun of mass market contemporary “life advice.” By placing it in the context of a skinhead, a person one never would expect to be writing individualistic poetry, is quite ironic and funny. You almost empathize with skinhead, like “yea he has his own inner beauty and we should be accepting of that,” which is ludicrous.

    • Patricia Smith’s poems “Skinhead” and “Buried” both read as if a male was the one behind the words. Knowing about the author beforehand almost ruins the experience Smith sets with her imagery. However, knowing the author is a black woman who was born in the late 50’s gives context for the vivid sharp emotions felt in both poems.
      Jeremy mentions, in commenting on “Buried,” “Upon reading the line “Plunge. Push. Lift. Toss it.” in the third stanza for the first time the repetition struck me as off. It was the only line repeated so far and the two lines were back to back. However, after finishing the entire poem those two lines became an eery representation of the protest at this PTSD experienced while burying the dead, specifically what appears to be a father burying his son.” His interpretation of it being a protest of PTSD is an interesting one. The repetition is also for the “ticking jazz” rhythm (11).
      “Buried almost seems as if a protest of letting go. The father figure of the poem digs but describes his progress as “trying to reach the next world with a spoon” (22). However, in the first stanza, in describing the ground the speaker states “there’s nothing but mud” (1). This struggle of actually completing the task of burial parallels the struggle of letting go. The father has a memory of his son while digging, but before the reader hears the conclusion of the night time ritual the father goes back to digging. The father later says “I want to feel his heat and twist in my arms again. I have to dig” (44-45) as if the digging is what is keeping his son alive.

    • I like the idea you presented about “Buried” discussing a protest of having to bury children. When i read the poem i was not sure whether it was this or his job is a grave digger. Whichever it is, the idea of it causing PTSD is strong in this poem, especially with the rhythmic, thoughtless process of digging just done mechanically. Also, i did not pick up on the added line spacing which further justifies the idea of a traumatic experience. Reading it again, i think the memory of a dead son is present in the second to last line, “I want to feel his heat.” There are many things a parent loves about a child and heat is usually not one of them until they become cold.

  • I agree with those above that this poem does not lend itself to any particular interpretation. The lines all relate back to the 2nd line of the poem, “Five words can say only.” This sentence/line frames the entire poem as perhaps not a poem but a collection of opening lines for a multitude of stories. I think it is interesting that Perelman has…[Read more]

  • In answer to the first question Rich is worried about what will happen to the words after the poet has written them down. At that point the words are no longer the poets as they are out for the general public to analyze and determine the meaning of. Everyone will have a different way of interpreting it and despite their best efforts some will…[Read more]

  • In reading these two poems I believe that the negative aspects of this interesting relationship between Plath and her father far outweigh the good ones. The Nazi imagery is very powerful, much more so than the positive imagery used. Additionally, in “Full Fathom Five” I interpreted the line about breathing water as a negative. She is saying that…[Read more]

  • In this poem I’m not sure that the you is the reader but a more general audience. This audience could be people who were in the anti-gay movement or simply people who were not on board with Ginsberg’s redefining the way prose is written. In any event this section is definitely a disclosure of personal information on the part of Ginsberg and this…[Read more]

  • Stopping subway cars brings one thought to mind. The ear splitting screech that is the rapid cessation of motion by a rather heavy procession of metal cars. The sound brings even the most avid subway rider to cringe, if only slightly. I think that is what he is saying in this line. The comparison of the noise of children to the stopping train is a…[Read more]

  • In reading this poem I too noticed the strange time frame in which the poem takes place. The beginning of the day flies by and it is at the end that O’Hara slows down and elaborates on more of his day. I disagree however with the point that he does this too mimic the readers day but rather that he does this to show the effect of death on one’s…[Read more]

  • In answering your first question what I noticed in reading your post is that Hughes is describing the life of a child in their parents’ home. When the company comes they are often seated at the childrens table in the kitchen so “They won’t be bored by the adults.” Reading this poem made me realize that (a) most of my childhood was me being forced…[Read more]

  • Repetition is always used purposely. Proofreading is used to eliminate repetition as it can often sound childish to a certain extent. In reading this poem it is clear that the repetition is there for a very specific reason. Unfortunately after grappling with the repetition for some time I was unable to come up with anything because, as you said,…[Read more]

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