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[15 Apr 2014 | No Comment | 97 views]

by Irene Hsu

Though this week’s remix is a bit morbid, morbidity is almost inevitable when using lines from T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” I recently wrote a poem about the impossibility of loving without self-love, a theme which I feel the first two lines from “The Hollow Men” describe perfectly: “We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men.” Never mind the apocalyptic, post-World War II feel of the poem—those two lines are the essence of non-fulfillment. The unfulfilled feels nothing and everything at once. He or she is nothing and everything at once—the attempt to experience the external as a means to satisfy the internal culminates in a failure to reach a median between “hollow” and “stuffed.”

 

The Hollow Men

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
awake tingling
near
the edge of the sea
sweating in the sun

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

Pleasure maybe but not
joy.

 

Mashup:
1-2. “The Hollow Men“—T.S. Eliot

3-6. “Landscape With the Fall of Icarus“—William Carlos Williams
7-9. “Quarantine“—Eavan Boland
10. “Lady Lazarus“—Sylvia Plath
11-12. “Ceremony“—Louise Glück

 

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[12 Apr 2014 | 4 Comments | 229 views]

by Jen Ehrlich

When you lose something important, something so vital that most people can’t imagine a world without it, you have three choices. Choice one: pretend that it didn’t matter in the first place. Choice two: become inconsolably depressed and ruminate endlessly upon your loss. Choice three: pretend you never had it. When all my friends disappeared, I chose number three.

I was expelled from The Derryfield School a month into ninth grade. Not because I smoked pot outside the library. Not because I sexually assaulted a classmate. Not because the student I had stuffed into a trashcan and rolled down the hill needed emergency brain surgery. The kids who did these things didn’t get expelled. I did, because an inexplicable illness kept me in bed for a month.

It wasn’t that I wanted to stay in bed, but whenever I tried to get up my blood rushed to my head, leaving ghostly white skin everywhere but my cheeks; they were neon red.  I fell, unable to hold up what felt like two tons of weight. I vomited—though only after spending a good few hours screaming in the bathroom as my intestines were squeezed like a junked car in a crusher. So it wasn’t so much my bed that I clung to, but the absence of catastrophe it offered. Thus, I missed too much school and was expelled—delinquent, a high school drop-out before my first home-coming dance.

For me, driven to follow an older sister who had already attended Stanford, not going to high school would have been emotionally devastating—in normal circumstances. But I was in too much pain to process clearly what I had lost. As my vision began to go fuzzy and fail I couldn’t read Tolkien or Phillipa Gregory, let alone the untouched copy of To Kill A Mockingbird; itself mocking me from my bookshelf:  “You used to be smart. You had a future. You were a good girl. What turned you from Scout into Boo Radley?”

As my body became an unbearable tomb, my mind slipped into a bond with the fictional teenagers of my DVD collection.  So, in a fashion, I still went to high school: Capeside High with Dawson of Dawson’s Creek, Chilton with Rory Gilmore of Gilmore Girls, The Harbor School with Ryan and Seth of The O.C.  Watching my shows, I wasn’t missing out. I had a community, a school, friends that were as real to me as Maddy, Allie, and Elisabeth had been at The Derryfield School.

I came back to reality three long years later. In the frozen tundra of rural Minnesota, at the Mayo Clinic, I was finally diagnosed correctly and offered proper treatment. But reality sucked.  As the brain fog and crippling exhaustion dissipated, I no longer lived in the worlds of my fictional friends. And there was no one to take their place.

*

            That last day of ninth grade at The Derryfield School is a blur. My pain, terror, and confusion were so great that I burst into uncontrollable tears and collapsed shortly after Mom dropped me off. I had pushed my body for months, pretending that nothing was wrong, that it could still function, but it could not. What I remember is my friends Maddy and Alysha almost carrying me to the nurse’s office. I remember futilely begging Nurse LeClerc to let them stay; she decided it was more important that they return to study hall. I remember saying goodbye to them through tears and vomit. And then I passed out. That was the last time I saw them.

Our state, New Hampshire, had its quaint New England aspects.  But it was in the 21st Century. We had telephones, email, and even Facebook accounts—I had them all. After the first flurries of concern, however, my friends faded away.  After a time, no one called anymore. No one came by the house to visit or investigate why I had vanished. Eventually, I disappeared and no one noticed.

I didn’t really mind, I was too sick to notice. But years later, when I started to get better, I wondered. I was a teenager without a single friend. I wasn’t mad but I was curious, was I so insignificant and unimportant that no one remembered me?  Had every one of the girls who’d shared the dramas of first crushes, first dances, first kisses and boyfriends been abducted by aliens? Not one of the bffs I’d spent endless hours on the phone with had cared?

*

I suppose this loneliness should have been a tragedy; it wasn’t. Even though I was getting better, I still didn’t have any energy to spare after my daily hours of prescribed exercise.  It would still be years before I was ready to head out to dinner and a movie, let alone have an all-night gabfest.

And there was no point in feeling badly about being alone. I had bigger problems: finding a way to get through high school with four hours of energy per day; finding a school that would accept my dysfunctional immune system; finding a future with a little understood illness. I spent my days slowly increasing my cardiac exercise, reading, writing, baking, cooking, watching television and DVDs, and resting.

Many months after Mayo, with a stronger mind if not body, I was ready to try school again. Seven hours in a germ-filled classroom wasn’t an option, but Soaring High was. It had just been established as an alternative for kids who didn’t fit the standard system.  I was its first student, and my teacher would come to my home.

That teacher was Summer Whitmore—a mathematician, a poet, an adventurer who lived in her car for two years while doing poetry slams around the country. In short, Summer wasn’t your everyday teacher.  She’s 5’ 8” barefoot, rail thin, and prefers shoes with heels—the higher the better.  She has a variety of piercings and tattoos. But what’s most striking about Summer is her kindness; from the first time we met she offered me unconditional compassion, empathy, and love.

It wasn’t in the curriculum, but Summer started to breath life into my shriveled belief in friends.  She herself was the start. I was leery, afraid of rejection and betrayal, but soon we became very close. I was hesitant, however, to risk anything further; it was one thing to be friends with Summer, after all, it was her job to hang out with me. And even if she really liked me, that didn’t mean anyone else would.

Summer wasn’t finished, however.  Her next step in my “friendship rehabilitation” was getting me out of my safety zone at home to poetry workshops at the local Barnes & Noble.  I met an eclectic group of her friends who worked minimum wage jobs to allow them ample time for their true profession—being poets. A miracle: they also liked me.

*

            Nevertheless, when I arrived at Stanford as a twenty year old freshman I had little confidence that I would make any friends here.  Wasn’t I just too different? I hadn’t attended “real” school in five years. I hadn’t been to a high school football game, I hadn’t gone to a prom, I didn’t know how to drive.  I had never been on a date.

And, I couldn’t live in a freshman dorm. Needing to sleep at least ten hours a day, be aware of every ingredient in my food, be isolated from germs, and have air conditioning to offset my body’s inability to cool itself, I was assigned a single room in a graduate residence. The week before orientation, my sister warned me, “if you aren’t living in the freshman dorms you won’t make any friends. It’s impossible.”

The University paired me with Serra.  Even though I wouldn’t live there, I was on its e-mail list, my key opened its doors, and I was to participate in New Student Orientation with the Serra freshmen. I arrived there without luggage and without any idea how to answer the simple question, “what floor are you on?”

I was doomed, or so I thought—until I met Zoe. Officially my RA, Zoe was more like a guardian angel. Even with one hundred other confused and excited freshmen to shepherd, Zoe looked for me; her big Georgia smile and even bigger heart made me feel welcome. She introduced everyone we saw.  In the midst of everything else she had to do, she brought a small group of Serra residents to get to know me at my dorm.  In that group I met Abby and from Abby I met Hadley and Maddy and soon I had a whole group of friends.

I wasn’t sure why but these kids, who ranged from sorority enthusiasts to Columbae vegans to SLE classics majors, seemed to like me, to think that I was normal and fun. Slowly, though Friday night dinners and Saturday afternoon study sessions, I got to know people better. If I had to cancel a planned lunch because I was sick, I’d get a text: “Oh NO! I’m so sorry; do you need me to bring you anything?” Even more shocking to me, the next day brought: “How are you feeling? Any better? What can I do to help?”

In a twilight zone like shift, I had somehow found not only friends, but friends who cared enough to notice when I was gone and wanted to do something to help me.

I woke up last Friday morning with one eye swollen shut. Horrified, I texted my friends, “OMG I woke up and my eye is swollen shut! I look like the hunchback of Notre Dame!! And my throat is so sore I can’t speak. I’m a deformed mute!!!”

That night I was to go on my first real date. I lamented to a string of text bubbles “Only I would wake up half blind, mute and insanely sick on the day of my first date! Seriously who else could pull that off?!” At Vaden, the doctor told me I had both a very bad viral infection and a seriously infected cut above my eye.  He injected cortisone into the monster swelling and prescribed strong antibiotics.

My friend Megan was going to come over and help me get ready for the Big Date. Makeup, hair, outfit selection, the whole nine yards that I never experienced in high school awaited. When I canceled our preps session Megan was sweet and understanding, but I was very bummed. This was not the Friday I had expected.

Then my phone dinged with a text from Megan, “if you’re still awake, journey to your door & open it for a tiny surprise…” I limped over to the door, opened it a crack, and started to cry; awaiting me were two perfectly wrapped cookies—properly vegan and gluten free!

Somehow, Megan knew that I desperately needed a good dose of sugar and love. Somehow, she knew what I didn’t—that all I needed was the comfort of a friend. Instantly, the pain and sadness of the day were gone. I realized I had nothing to complain about. For years, I had no friends, no support and no one to count on but my family and myself. Now, I had friends who went out of their way to find a treat I could eat and delivered it to my doorstep. What more could a girl want?

 

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[16 Mar 2014 | No Comment | 1,239 views]

by Sera Park

Whenever approached with the question, “Who is your favorite poet?”, I am often afraid to confess my fondness for John Ashbery. Many tend to assume that to love his poetry is to be able to decipher his cryptic language; but no – I am still plodding my way through his poetry collections I bought two summers ago.

W.H. Auden, who judged Ashbery’s Some Trees as winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize, confessed that he had not understood a single word of the collection. [1] There must be more to one’s reading of a poem, then, than merely comprehending it. For me, there is something inherently alluring in the way Ashbery’s mystifying words read on page. I cannot go more than two lines without thinking, What did I just read? – returning to the very beginning, and really grappling with the words until they are rendered uniquely meaningful, and singularly mine. The complexity and originality of his poetic world steers me to novel, if not far-fetched, musings and imaginations.

Perhaps Ashbery’s poetry is the most honest and sensible of its kind. Poetry emerges from convoluted meditations and often tangled sentiments. So, of course the intricacies of such introspection cannot suddenly write on page as patently intelligible words. Here is my most honest endeavor to absorb Ashbery. It seems unraveling his poetry may require some further raveling.

 

And the thinning-out phase follows

the period of reflection. And suddenly, to be dying:

such an unattractive idea,

yet we must pick it up, sniff it,

and right. The great spruces loom.

That their merely being there

means something; that soon

we’ll have been found living in it – the deep magenta

sunset I mean.

And the past slips through your fingers, wishing you were

there.

 

 

Lines 1-2: “Summer”

Lines 3-4: “Sticker Shock”

Line 5: “A Blessing in Disguise”

Lines 6-7: “Some Trees”

Line 8-9: “Planisphere”

Line 10-11: “Man of Words”

 

 

[1] “John Ashbery” Poetry Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

<http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/john-ashbery>.

 

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[6 Mar 2014 | No Comment | 929 views]

by Sarah Sadlier

Oh Captain! My Captain!

In your tomb by the sounding sea,

How I have longed for thee!

Of Sea-Captains young or old,

Of all intrepid Sailors,

You were the bright-eyed mariner—

The star to every wandering bark

And every moving carrier.

But no man is an island,

And of the wide world I stand alone, and think

That I shall never look upon thee more

And never breathe a word about your loss,

But if I had to perish twice,

It would be with you in wild waves’ toss,

And not waving but drowning

With perishing great darkness that closes in,

For only those who brave its dangers

Comprehend its mystery

And see what lies within.

But a voice calls from abyss deep:

“Come to my arms my beamish boy

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

Our fearful trip is done. ‘Tis time

To unite with me forever,

Or my soul eternally keep.”

 

lines from:

1.“Oh Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman

2.“Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe

4. “Song for All Seas, All Ships” by Walt Whitman

5. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

6.  “Sonnet 116” by William Shakespeare

9.  “No Man Is an Island” by John Donne

10. “When I have Fears that I may Cease to Be” by John Keats

11-12.“If” by Rudyard Kipling

13.  “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost

15. “Not Waving but Drowning” by Stevie Smith

16.  “1914” by Wilfred Owen

17-18. “The Secret of the Sea” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

21. “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

22.  “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Frye

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[2 Mar 2014 | No Comment | 767 views]

by Irene Hsu

I follow a thread on Quora called, “What is the wisest/smartest thing you’ve ever heard a child say?“, and the answers tend to be about life lessons and truths simply spelled out by kids 10 and under—much like Frank O’Hara’s poems.

Like children’s observations, Frank O’Hara’s poems are fresh as flowers, unburdened by melodrama and free of cynicism, as though O’Hara could see the world through lenses colored not in rose nor sepia, but in the noncolor of clarity. For instance, in his poem, “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island,” he sums up individuality in twelve words: “You may/not be the greatest thing on earth, but/you’re different.” It is all at once humbling, flattering, and true.

This remix is a tribute to his clarity, to truth, and to the wonder of human bonds. While we are hardly the greatest things on earth, there will always be a best friend, a doting parent, a special someone who who would love more than anything to have a coke with us.

+++

Having a coke with you

is even more fun than going to
another country, going to another shore,
finding another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead
Down in the valley drumming, drumming

You may
not be the greatest thing on earth, but
you’re different.
Come like a light in the white mackerel sky,
come like a daytime comet
with a long unnebulous train of words,
break into flame late on an autumn day, with such beauty.

 

1-2. “Having a Coke with You“—Frank O’Hara
3-6. “The City“—C.P. Cavafy
7. “O, What Is That Sound“—W.H. Auden
8-10. “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island“—Frank O’Hara
11-13. “Invitation of Miss Marianne Moore“—Elizabeth Bishop

14. “Beauty“—B.H. Fairchild 

 

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