by Juan Mendoza, an English Major at a graduate school in Los Angeles.
To his niece, Zoe,
An English major says, “That’s interesting!” to all that comes her way.
But “There is no truth” is her favorite thing to say.
An English major studies literature but not the English language.
And every text in translation, she thinks she can explain it.
What are some examples, you say? I’ll be glad to mention.
But heed my advice: be suspicious of the three masters of suspicion.
For they all pretty much said reality is one big lie.
The funny thing is when they woke up and got out of bed they trusted their eyes.
An English major will believe that the master’s economics can serve a country best.
But when his theories have been put into practice, they have often left a big mess.
An English major will psychoanalyze without having you lie on a couch.
But when she realizes his theories are essentially essentialist, she’ll close her mouth.
As for the one who proclaimed that God was dead,
It’s more interesting to read his poems to Jesus instead.
Now I know what you’re thinking; that I’ve used the word “interesting.”
I hope despite my irony, you will still be listening.
Speaking of ironies, an English major is full of them!
For the theory she reads is awash in them.
Jameson says “We’re trapped in the prison of language,” canting we cannot be free.
And he can’t fathom that Kant has provided the key.
Lyotard dismisses any grand-narrative but his own,
For intergalactic-travel he doesn’t think thrice to bemoan.
Derrida says that speech is absurd.
And when he says to not privilege one or the other,
He privileges the written word.
Just read Of Grammatology, the one that established his reputation,
Only make sure you read it in translation!
You like to wear different hats, don’t you? You think they’re fun.
As an English major, I assure you, you’ll wear more than one.
You can read about trauma theory and pretend you’re a psychologist
Or study gender, but stay away from biologists!
It’s catchy to talk about the queer, transgender body and more
But the body that’s hungry is often ignored.
You want to be a politician? Put on your cultural studies hat.
Although you might find it’s a little broader than that.
Sociology, anthropology, and pop-psychology all rolled up into one!
If it seems overwhelming, remember you can pretend to be anyone!
If its sex you want to analyze, however, here is the rub:
You cannot expound a philosophy of love.
For the main question is do our desires precede culture, or does culture create desire?
But do we desire culture? an English major doesn’t inquire.
Or maybe these aren’t ironies but rather contradictions
Either way, when you write as an English major make sure before any submissions
You write your paper the night before it’s due and say “It’s fine.”
Revisions are just more work; just change the date to an earlier time.
And should you present your paper at a conference
Just read from your text, don’t bother to talk with your audience.
For you need not skills in rhetoric or speech.
Just let them know you can write and read. And forget the MLA handbook, no one ever reads it cover to cover.
Just go to the website. With so many editions, why even bother?
There are no more schools of thought, only thoughts in school.
And once you’ve overdosed on theory you won’t know what to do.
Thoughts float around in English major’s minds as the only tool.
Try and put some theories in practice and look like a fool.
For example, you might learn that, relatively speaking, 2 plus 2 equals 5,
And you’ll have theory to thank.
But others might call this claim snide
And say you cannot take it to the bank.
Say reality is a social construct and therefore an illusion
And all political life becomes one big delusion.
It’s safer to talk about such things as these
Where brick-and-mortar provide four walls, a door, and a key.
Here we can claim reality is fluid and always changing.
Only we can halt time, keep it still, and stop it from ageing.
And only concern yourself with being smart.
For attaining wisdom and virtue is as dead as good art.
I suppose you should know the age we’re living in.
They call it postmodernism because modernism has sinned.
What should come after, who knows? But it’s coming fast!
Thanks to deconstruction we are anxious for the future, nostalgic for the past.
But there is one benefit, from all this theory, some would say.
I’ll tell you when you’re older. Enough talk, for now, go out and play.
“I would play, uncle, but I feel I’m too old for that.
Plus, it’s too bright outside, and I don’t have any hats.”
“You can borrow one of mine, dear, and don’t worry to give it back.”
And you, dear reader, if you think all I’ve said is true,
Pay close attention and read again line number two.
Juan, or Johnny, Mendoza is a guest blogger, and graduated with an Associate of Arts degree from Pasadena City College and went on to receive his B.A. and M.A. in English from California State University, Los Angeles. He has been teaching at PCC since 2015. His academic interests include learning about the rhetoric in both the humanities and scientific discourse communities. He is a husband to his incredibly gifted, entrepreneur wife, Nova, from whom he has learned about the rhetoric of business and financial literacy. Given his wide range of interests in several discourse communities, Juan teaches his students how best to communicate and navigate through various social spheres. He draws inspiration from his religious and cultural background in order to help him and his family live a life of joy and abundance.
By Kathlene McGovern
"Note To Self" by Consuelo Martinez appears on pg. 35 of the Fall 2017 Print Issue of Inscape Magazine.
I’m a writer. I am a writer. It’s taken me a long time to embrace that notion – not that I write or that I like (love) writing or that it takes up a lot of my time because I more than like (love) it. What’s taken me a long time is to acknowledge the simple fact that I am a writer. That is my vocation.
Now, while there tends to be a certain amount of cadence and rhythm and, dare I say poetry, in the way I string together words, I am not currently, nor have I ever been, a poet. A realization I have again and again when we discuss the poetry pieces in consideration for publication in Inscape; when I receive those kind, patient, yet interminable silences after making my suggestions for a revision or edit.
I don’t blame them. The Silent Ones… the poetry gurus. Truly, I know nothing. Rhyming couplets, cinquains, quatrains, free verse, simile, acrostic alliteration… I could go on and on about all I don’t know but that’s just gonna be me, trolling Google, because, well, I don’t know.
They say that poetry is supposed to be like wine… and modern art… and… foreign films, don’t they? You don’t have to know anything about it you just have to know what you like.
So I’m in luck because I like (love) Consuelo Martinez’s poem. And while I can’t explain to you exactly why we chose it (for the many reasons listed above) I can definitely tell you why I like (love) Note To Self.
I am a pasty, Anglo-Saxon who has to darken my blonde eyebrows just so they won’t disappear into my pale forehead. My name has absolutely no biblical significance (if you find a reference to a Kathlene in any of the Corinthians, I’ll eat my hat), and no one ever tried to usurp my culture – potatoes and Irish whiskey have never been much of a threat. Yet this woman, Consuelo Martinez, with her former uni-brow, saintly name and acculturated heritage, knows me. She gets me. She is me.
That’s the absolute gorgeousness of “Note To Self”, and Martinez’s uncanny ability to ascend aesthetic and cultural differences and totally nail me (you) with the advice she would give to the girl she was before…
your eyebrows will get better
you are your grandmother’s legacy
grip onto your rosary and do not be afraid to let God in even if it’s just that night
And most of all:
you are a writer
tell boys not to fall in love with YOU because you’ll make them your muse
tell them to consume you at their own risk
because you will write them so good
they won’t even know where to hurt
I may not know anything, but I know that’s poetry.
Because I like (love) it. So will you.
by Frank Turrisi
“Findlater” by Siorne John appears in the Fall Print Issue of PCC Inscape Magazine
In the U.S., it seems the issue of securing our border is being met with more intense scrutiny every day. Whether you’re a proponent of President Trump building “the wall”, or a champion to citizens of political asylum everywhere, there is no denying being the leader of the free world has put our people in the center of conflicting ideologies about what freedom means to us as individuals and the restrictions we must maintain to keep order. The alt-right groups and progressives have grabbed the headlines, but the voices of these factions are only the reflection of a political climate that has grown increasingly contentious between less extreme versions of American citizens of the left and right at large (to put it nicely). The election of our president has caused an escalation of these conflicts to great polarizing effect, and it is easy for me to argue there is more vitriol and a louder mouthpiece behind the political divide in our country than I have experienced in my life thus far. Proponents of the right have emerged angrily on the heels of two terms of America's first black president to back the current president, but that has not been enough to prevent the lowest approval ratings of any president on record. With things so heated on the homefront, many concerns have risen as both country and society about who or what (ideologically) the real enemy is, in our nation's continual efforts to establish both the precedents and policies to protect our people from harm. In this country, where the enemy has proven to be able to infiltrate and grow among us to commit great evil, Homeland Security has been challenged to proactively identify covert operatives, while the public is often left in the dark about the true motivations behind our attackers and the greater agenda beyond what the media reports. With open war declared on the U.S. by well-funded terrorist organizations like ISIS (most identifiably), and even smaller, lesser-known domestic groups, there has been no answer for several random strikes at the hands of enemies with seemingly “faceless” origins. In roughly the past year-and-a-half alone, we have endured a rash of massacres of innocent people, with deaths in record numbers, targeted in places meant to celebrate our different individual freedoms. With occurrences in places like Gay Nightclubs, Country Western concerts, and even church, we have no choice but to believe the assailants organized these attacks as an objection to the individual freedoms many Americans choose to express. As the U.S. continues to champion the fight for freedom worldwide, American citizens will remain targets, vulnerable to hate crimes and terrorism for embracing what the enemies of freedom hope to thwart. Perhaps more disturbing, many of our own citizens will fall victim to the poisonous propaganda from the outspread tentacles of our many enemies, whose formulated ideological assaults on freedom know no borders, but seek to attract and corrupt the minds of people in the U.S. in their efforts to spread terror worldwide.
"Findlater" is an ominous portrayal of the old feudal stronghold, Findlater Castle, now destined to crumble from the high cliffs of its foundation into the Moray Firth. At the time of its construction, times were simpler, and the simple fact back then was you’d better be prepared for an attack. Hence, Findlater was designed like most castles, a fortress with high walls, but instead of the usual mote full of alligators, it had sheer cliffs surrounding it on three sides and reaching panoramic views which made its walls virtually impregnable, and invasion far too ambitious an undertaking for most in the time of Findlater's construction. Yet, with full appreciation of its dramatic promontory we can now recognize Findlater's design, once a strength, to later be flawed by its own rigidity - for time would tell protection easier with more plentiful resources and the aid of newer technology abound. Not only could this be evidenced in the castle's eventual seizure at the hands of the Danes and Scots, but even more basically later, by the utter isolation of its location, too remote for the workings of modernity, and later its own good. Most importantly, since this is poetic analysis, we wouldn't do Findlater justice without serving up some potent metaphor of the the castle's ultimate fate. The need to abandon the structure would become imminent for no reason more important than its excessively careful vantage "too close to the edge". For Father Time has transformed the might of Findlater's lofty position, too precarious atop eroding high cliffs no longer suitable for its defense, where the castle's man-made bones were left forsaken, to decay under the immortal forces of nature, and to crumble in the final battle with its timeless neighbor - the sea. In the poem "Findlater", John writes:
This bastion of my ancestors
Could be the death of me.
Held by a thread of time
The cliff hung o'er the sea.
At least a league drop.
Into stone filled deep
On the edge of green hills
In midst of thick ocean air
Stood a monument of solidarity
One thing history has taught us is the walls we build will eventually be the ones we wish to tear down, or will simply no longer function for, but only remain ornaments to, the purpose in which they were first erected. Whether you would like to ponder this historical evidence quite literally in the case of Hadrian’s, Berlin and the Great Wall of China, or as metaphor for how we allow our different beliefs to stand in the way of us coming together as a people, in order to really overcome the modern evil within our borders, we must consider far more than the physical barriers and borders that contain us. Americans must work to find tolerance of each other's freedoms, a coexistence based upon the expanding fundamentals of our ideals, or we will isolate ourselves from one another, and fail to have the conversations that allow us to grow as the leader of the free world in modern times. We will become enemy to our nation's ideology, and give in to the paranoia and fear that destroys the cohesion our ideals were founded on, the foundation of our solidarity, and the base principle that has always been our country's greatest strength - the pursuit of freedom. Those that do not embrace the ideals of freedom's expanse have built their own ideological walls, isolating themselves from the workings of modern society, and are getting left behind, where their ideals will finally be forsaken, and their walls crumble with the lost meaning of their values and the passage of time. The poem goes on to depict the great lengths humans go to for protection:
No one can come, and no one can leave
The walls so high
Crows laugh as I find
The only way in, a pinhole
Out, a grain of sand.
Who built such a place?
Men of strategy and solitude
Who knew what evil lies
Beyond that horizon
And in our own blood.
As Americans, our core beliefs are rooted in a tremendous diversity that requires tolerance of the liberty of individual expression. Yet, we see in our country time and time again how matters of sexuality, religion, race, and a vast many other beliefs within our culture cloud this tolerance and manifest themselves in the ever-contentious world of politics as we struggle to coexist. Though as Americans we are most fortunate to have freedom of expression as an ideological birthright, we too must contend with our sociopolitical identity during globalization amongst many conflicting ideologies in the world (and even with our neighbors) that view our expression of different freedoms as a threat to their own. As citizens of America and of the world, we must recognize that the freedom we choose to express can expose us to danger, and to the enemies of freedom that exist among us. Our individual freedoms often come at a risk, and at times may even force us to protect ourself. This is happening now within the cultural clashes caused by the geographic isolation within our own vast borders, where the different thought we experience from urban centers to rural areas can be polarizing (for both sides), and demonstrate how easy it is reject the values of others and insulate ourselves within our own belief systems. There we can comfortably cohabitate amongst like-minded individuals, failing to embrace the value of our neighbors' diversity (a true gift of American culture) and fostering greater political divide all the while in our self-segregation! If we are to overcome this divide, it is necessary to believe that it is the open expression of our individual freedoms that must work to tear down the walls of our own isolated beliefs, and to introduce the spirit of independence to integrate us. To live our lives with this spirit of open independence is to be the most American we can be, and the fabric of our ideology is woven with hope that widespread exposure of our individual freedoms will eventually teach the rest of the free world how to respect, if not accept, and ultimately appreciate our differences as a society. It is a choice to "let freedom ring!" It is this spirit of freedom that has enabled America to make leaps toward equal rights in every basic humanitarian respect across the political spectrum in the last 50 years, but especially in the areas of sex, race, religion, and sexuality that seem to be under an ideological attack from our enemies. Indeed there will always be struggles for equality within our borders, but the progress we have achieved is undeniable, and our youth have been rewarded with more open minds than their ancestors, and hence a greater tolerance of one another's freedom, if not a celebration for it. This openness of thought is the motor of freedom's expanse, and beckons greater connection for all people. It is capable of breeching any wall. The gateway to freedom for all lies within our individual beliefs in equality, and this belief must be embraced within our borders if America is still to lead the charge for freedom and extend peace worldwide.
Freedom is an ideal that has proven expansive throughout American history, and views of what freedom means to society have swayed with modern times as greater numbers of people continue to rise up and break out of the old roles and stereotypes that have led to past oppression, and as we continue to open our borders to more individuals that require asylum from the destructive rule of enemies to freedom. Thus, it can be said the freedoms we have gained historically have ultimately come from the courage to fight against the rigidity of outdated ideology, even within our own country, and for worldwide movements that seek respect for the people who have long experienced injustice not only within our borders, but to those that have sought our borders for refuge and the promise of a greater life. There is no doubt this progression has left many Americans feeling slighted, as the once favored groups they identify with (mostly, but not limited to working class whites) have lost their preferential treatment and gratitude (what they feel) for generations of service to the country. These disenfranchised citizens have lost connection to the very fight they once believed was for freedom of all Americans. This dynamic has ironically fostered a great resentment toward immigration, though all Americans are technically immigrants, and these people can no longer recognize the country their ancestors fought for through their own lenses of race, religion, and often the virtues of Christianity. The Pro-Trump set, many of whom have isolated themselves from the workings of progressive America for generations, are no longer willing to stay silent, and look to the president to protect their own "patriotic" interests and antiquated positions and refuse to support the movements of a greater equality they believe rejects them. People have started taking up arms to a greater degree for this very cause. Many even believe it is Domestic terrorism to blame for the Las Vegas shootings, though it is puzzling for the public to wrap their heads around the motivation of white-on-white crime organized to such a great degree.
There is a need for our society to champion the peaceful freedoms of all with patience. That is an ideological fundamental of who we are as a people. We must understand one another, and realize our own progression will come from the courage to share our voice, and with faith that the fear we cannot coexist will subside with greater understanding of everyones' positions. As a rule, history has shown us that the greater the oppression, the greater the voice must be, and the harder the fight. Make no mistake, there can be no complacency in the fight for freedom that we have now found ourselves in as Americans. We cannot win this fight with bullets or bombs, but only with tolerance and understanding. This means joining the fight for the true freedom of all people, and not just the benefit of a few. By living our lives as Americans embracing the freedom of one another, and supporting our neighbors' expression, we are leading the charge in the battle of freedom worldwide. That precedent must not only first be established within our borders, but in our individual minds. Like our forefathers, we can also be freedom fighters as individuals living in an ever modern America that embraces the expansive ideals of freedoms that could not exist to any extent, nor breathe, or continue to build momentum and thrive without the gratitude and knowledge we gain from accepting other oppressed citizens of the world within our borders. It is this collective experience from all of the cultures within our society that allows us to see and bond against (despite our differences) true tyranny. We cannot allow ourselves as individuals to become short-sighted in our own beliefs and forget this. In America, we have the opportunity to live our lives as virtual heroes of our own freedom just by allowing the the freedom of others to exist. Being American is about gaining freedom, and if you feel like you are losing freedoms in America, then it probably reflects on the beliefs you hold that do not serve the greater freedom of all. We must take the risk of accepting our neighbors' differences, and thus we embrace the fact that no hero lives without risk. This is the unique ideological battle we face within ourselves, amongst the many freedoms we are allowed to express as Americans.
Those that fight for the peaceful freedoms of all have been honored throughout our history, and in less fortunate places and times, many of those same people have too died for that belief before even getting to reap the benefits for themselves. In our past, many heroes have died before we glorify them, and those that have remained on the sidelines in their fight often take the benefits paid for with these lost lives for granted. As a society, in the ideological battle we face, we have the unique opportunity to win by living in the glory of a place that at least allows the expression of freedoms most societies can only dream of, if not die for believing in. However, it is our ideology that sets the precedent for the world, and if we cannot accept one another, we stand to lose the battle we lead worldwide on our own grounds. Our different freedoms must be shared and celebrated, or we as individuals will face the same fate as Findlater Castle - utter isolation, too concentrated on our defense of a small belief system to engage in the larger winning battle. Over time, no position can remain powerful without the potential to adapt to the future. Our very own rigid beliefs will crumble at their foundations, until they must be abandoned, all for our reluctance to trust a greater good and move forward. There will always be enemies to your freedom, there will always be walls and a need for protection, but freedom itself is never the enemy. If you believe this, you can embrace the peaceful freedoms of all, and all will embrace you peacefully as friends. This is how American has consistently generated greater opportunities than the rest of the world, and can surely give rise to more with communities that support the well-being of all.
As we look to secure our border, let us learn from Findlater that the evil in our blood cannot be kept out with our construction of walls. The enemy is already among us, and it takes refuge in our inability to coexist. It rears its ugly head when we cannot respect the peaceful freedoms of our neighbors. We can stop this enemy by not succumbing to the fear inside that tries to convince us it is not safe to be ourselves. This is the same fear that terrorists use to try and stop the progression of independence, and a fear that pits us against one another, instead of allowing us to engage in the battle of freedom and equality for all. We cannot be fooled into isolation from each other because we have differences and are fighting to protect what we have. We must join forces with one another to fight from the place of abundance. It is the very rejection of our differences, rather than the acceptance of them, that will surely undo our ideology as a free society, and make us vulnerable to the enemy's evil. The first evil we must overcome is our inability to coexist within our own society, and to have the respectful conversations with our neighbors. Do not be fooled by your own ideas of solidarity within the comfortable walls of your short-sighted, immediate reach, and like-minded circles. True solidarity is boundless, and an ideal that exists “beyond the horizon” of the most vantage viewpoint. We must remember this when drawing borders, building fortresses, and most importantly in the isolation we cause by drawing the lines of our own tolerance and personal beliefs. As Americans, we are looked to as the example for fighting for the freedoms of a boundless world, and merging with cultures where some have yet to experience true freedom. Any "walls" we build will surely trap us ideologically (though doubtful physically for long), while sending the wrong message to the rest of the world. There will always be the West Bank barriers in the world, but the true obstructions to peace reside inside of us as individuals, and it is the beliefs we carry as people that give these constructs any significance.
As Americans, we must show that living in harmony with our individual freedoms is a reality before the rest of the world can recognize universal freedom. This starts with how we express what we believe as individuals. We will have the gift and burden of sharing that ideology with the rest of the world. Freedom for all will be burdensome at times, yet this is the truth of what it has always been in our country and in the world at large, and leading the fight for it has never proven easy in any civilization. However, it is our incomparably diverse society that can come together to lead the rest of the world to coexistence, and must show that it can be done. We must have the courage to accept our differences and express the individual freedoms that will only make us stronger as a union, for that union is forged from the individual, into the diverse melting pot of one great common ideal - freedom. If we cannot support the freedom of one another, we are only fighting an un-American small battle, that if we might win for a time, only leaves us a small victory. Like Findlater Castle, our shortsighted strategies for protection leave us with a foundation of beliefs that are destined to become old and crumble, but not before abandoning the beliefs upon which this country was built and still exists.
by Laiya Tanedo
Harryette Mullen is the author of several poetry collections, winner of a PEN Beyond Margins Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and a finalist for a National Book Award. She teaches American Poetry, African American Literature, and Creative Writing at UCLA.
Harryette Mullen writes "We Are not Responsible" (pg. 136 ‘of poetry and protest’) in the language employed by corporations, authority officials, lawyers, and bureaucracies. She especially makes use of the legal jargon used to issue disclaimers and limit liabilities. She reveals how the language that is designed to be benign can, in fact, sound inherently cold and deceitful. In her bio, Mullen says, “Like music and other arts, and even spiritual practice, poetry is what reminds me that I am human. A dog doesn’t need to be reminded that it’s a dog, but I think occasionally we human beings need to be reminded that we are human” (Of Poetry and Protest, pg. 135). However, this value of intimate interpersonal connection is in stark contrast with the verse of Mullen’s poem “We Are Not Responsible” to follow.
Every line in this verse begins with the phrase ‘We’ and is then followed up by authoritative restrictions. It is possible to take a knife and slice the first three syllables of each line into a neat chunk of negatives. ‘We are not', 'We can not', 'We do not’, and ‘We reserve’, as if changing the format slightly each time will obscure the fact that this authoritative ‘We’ is denying us access to something.
We are not responsible for your lost or stolen relatives.
We cannot guarantee your safety if you disobey our instructions.
These first few lines are so familiar, every modern human being has had to acclimatize themselves to these monotone voices- in airports and on phone calls with robots. The english is pristine and unintrusive, but Mullen has changed the vocabulary at the very end - making a reader feel a lurch in regularity. Dread begins to build, because a reader only witnesses the tone shift at the end of the sentence, as if having a delayed realization that they might be about to lose something important. Mullen is clever in her following introduction of implied aggression.
We do not endorse the causes or claims of people begging for
We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.
The last line of this verse is powerful, it is made all the more painful to the reader because the language of this is completely unchanged from its original context. It is still incredibly commonplace to see these signs in restaurants and airport terminals. This last stanza plays as a list of rules and regulations - uniform, and always ending on the down beat. Mullen hooks the reader, and her bridge into the next stanza merely goes into greater detail - while raising the stakes of the previous situation.
Your ticket does not guarantee that we will honor your
In order to facilitate our procedures, please limit your
Before taking off, please extinguish all smoldering resentments.
If you cannot understand English, you will be moved out of
In the event of a loss, you’d better look out for yourself.
Your insurance was cancelled because we can no longer handle
your frightful claims.
Our handlers lost your luggage and we are unable to find the key
to your legal case.
Mullen explains, “In a general way it’s about the social contract. The borrowed language in the poem runs the gamut from airline safety instructions and corporate disclaimers to the Supreme Court’s ruling against Dred Scott. This was written before 9–11, when profiling was widely accepted as necessary for security. Yet, even before that terrorist attack, racial profiling targeted people of color as potential criminals, like the '99 police shooting of Amadou Diallo. We that consider ourselves law-abiding citizens have surrendered a lot of our freedoms in order to feel safe. The poem plays back the language of authority in what seems to me a logical movement from the rules and regulations we must obey as airline passengers, to the whole system of laws derived from original documents securing personal property of mostly white male owners. What might be unnerving when I read this poem to an audience is that I keep repeating the word “we”. Instead of “us" and "them” it’s “we" and "you,” so it’s a bit skewed when I speak in the voice of the authoritative “We” versus “You” whose rights are threatened or violated.”
- Harryette Mullen, Jacket Magazine
You were detained for interrogation because you fit the profile.
This line both builds tension and serves as a bridge, maintaining the notion of individuality being compressed into a file, and adding to the emotional detachment of the "rules".
You are not presumed to be innocent if the police have reason to
suspect you are carrying a concealed wallet.
It’s not our fault you were born wearing a gang color.
It is not our obligation to inform you of your rights.
These last 3 lines are the first explicit mentions of police interactions with people of color that led to violence, and because Mullen still utilizes ‘You’, the reader’s experience of the poem is sharpened and specific. The reader is the minority, and ‘We’ includes enforcers, most likely with loaded guns. The intensity of this imagined experience serves as the perfect final bridge into the last stanza. “Step Aside” is the last 3 syllable entrance into a line, and it is a powerful one. This line cannot be used anywhere else in the poem, it brings proximity with the danger that the reader is perceiving- it brings the officer up close and personal. This claustrophobic experience brought to the reader could not exist without all the set up of the previous stanzas.
Step aside, please, while our officer inspects your bad attitude.
You have no rights that we are bound to respect.
Please remain calm or we can’t be held responsible for what
happens to you.
As one looks back over the poem, realize two things. If you count syllables, you realize that almost every line is made up of an even number of syllables. This is a trick of rhetoric, of public speakers of every kind, because the human mind wants to believe that a sentence that sounds well balanced also has well-balanced logic behind it. This is why the catchiness of slogans is so important. This is why a man can get off a murder charge when his lawyer insists, “If it doesn’t fit, you must aquit!” Yet, this is directly contrasted by the blatant aggression and underlying threat of this poem. The last line, “Please remain calm or we can’t be held responsible for what happens to you,” is 19 syllables long. It steps out of formation, violent yet distanced from the violence. As if those who enforce the rules bear no responsibility. As if the law is never wrong.
Harryette Mullen brings to mind that when we hear or read all these disclaimers and jargon - perhaps, this is what corporations and governments are really trying to say. This use of language is not dissimilar to the inhumane language used in WW2 to describe an enemy. Perhaps, they develop this language specifically to separate them from ‘us’, the law-abiding citizens who rely on them. Perhaps, they build their words and actions to be as robotic as possible, because ‘We’ could not bear to continue to do what they do to ‘You’ if they related to ‘You’ like a fellow human being. In other countries it is commonplace for strangers to call each other ‘uncle’, ‘auntie’, ‘grandfather’, ‘brother’, ‘sister’, and ‘child’. What would happen to the rate of police brutality if they were required to call citizens by informalities? “Put your hands up, Auntie”? Well, that sounds ridiculous. How about, “You’re under arrest, brother”? It sounds laughable - a line from a B-movie. Yet, can you really imagine a police officer being able to thoughtlessly use excessive force on another young black male, directly after calling him ‘Son’?
Laiya Tanedo is an English Major at PCC and a guest blogger for Instress. Laiya's artwork is also featured in the Inscape Online, Vol. 2, Fall Issue.
Cushway, Philip. “Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin”. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2016, pg. 136.
Lancaster, Simon, and TEDxVerona. "Speak like a Leader TEDxVerona." YouTube. YouTube, 22 May 2016. Web. 27 May 2017.
Mullen, Harryette, and Barbara Henning. “Harryette Mullen: From S to Z.” Jacket 40 - Late 2010 - Harryette Mullen: From S to Z: Harryette Mullen in conversation with Barbara Henning, Jacket Magazine, 2010, jacketmagazine.com/40/iv-mullen-ivb-henning.shtml. Accessed 27 May 2017.
by Kathlene McGovern
I’ll confess it: I love a good graveyard. Old, overgrown, well-manicured, stately… behind a church or on a hillside; I don’t care. I’m happy to have a long wander around. The grounds teem with people’s stories – heartbreak and hope, staggering successes and unfulfilled dreams. And, for all the writers reading this, it’s an amazing place to find names for your characters… Grover T. Garland… Wallace Albright… Kit Cardy… and no, you can’t use any of those – I already have.
I’ve always been a fan of Forest Lawn in Glendale. I’ve walked the labyrinth that’s a small replica of the one that covers the vast floor in the Cathedral at Chartres; stared at the Wee Kirk O’ The Heather chapel while pretending to live a far more interesting life in some idyllic Irish village; visited the Forest Lawn museum and seriously contemplated buying the Mother Mary nightlight in its uber-tasteful gift shop. So, when deciding to explore the “haunts” of writers who made their careers and lives in the Los Angeles area, I immediately wondered which of them had chosen Forest Lawn as their last address in town…
L. Frank Baum of Wizard of Oz fame; Louis L’Amour whose western short stories and novels were made into films and TV series along with Edward Curtis and Robert Maupin Beck. But the writer with the most literary street cred was Theodore Dreiser, a journalist cum novelist whose most famous works include Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy. Dreiser is considered by many the “father of American realism,” a 19th century movement that called for the depiction of contemporary social realities which allowed for a more accurate portrayal of American life in literature. Dreiser was a Nobel Prize in Literature nominee in 1930.
This being L.A. and all it’s incredibly easy to celebrity stalk someone -- even the dead – so I set my course to find where Dreiser left his mortal coil when he went to meet his great reward. Two websites later I found that he was located in the Whispering Pines section of Forest Lawn “… just past the Finding Moses fountain… at the top of the hill… lot 1132.”
Early Saturday morning I skulked along the cemetery’s steep incline, slick with dew, hoping I didn’t roll down the hill and land with a splash next to marble baby Moses. I’d have totally felt bad scrabbling for purchase over people who’ve paid market value to find a little peace and quiet except I’ve witnessed families having full-on picnics complete with wine, cheese and assorted charcuterie atop their loved ones’ remains myriad times, so I figured a little detective work couldn’t be that offensive.
Finally, I made it to the top of the hill and found… them.
Not just Theodore Dreiser, but next to him Helen Dreiser, the woman he married in the last year of his life after a twenty-five year relationship during which he had many other affairs with many other women.
In a May 18, 1930 interview featured in the Dallas Morning News, writer Vivien Richardson quotes Dreiser on women:
“Many a woman is holding down a job for which some man gets credit.”
“Women have been virtual rulers for a long time.”
“Why not a woman president? I’d vote for her and probably ask her for a job afterward.”
We all know writers as a breed are complex, and Dreiser was no different. While championing the idea of women in power, on a personal level, Dreiser’s relationships with women were far more complicated. Married for the first time in 1898, he had countless affairs and relationships even after meeting Helen, who beginning in 1919 would be his constant companion for the next quarter of a century.
Knowing this, Dreiser’s description of the first encounter of his name character in Sister Carrie, Carrie Meeber and the man who would change her life, Charles H. Drouet, becomes even more poignant… “How true it is that words are but vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes. Here were these two… both unconscious of how inarticulate all their real feelings were.”
As I sat on a marble bench looking out at the incomparable views Forest Lawn provides, I wondered about the woman who lay next to Theodore Dreiser. The sort of love that made her stay; the sort of grace that drove her to dedicate her memoir, My Life with Dreiser to: “the unknown women in the life of Theodore Dreiser who devoted themselves unselfishly to the beauty of his intellect and its artistic enfoldment.” The sort of talent and heart that allowed her write the poem that serves as the epitaph on her grave marker printed in part here…
If I did touch that margin of your soul
In its swift moving earthly seeming flight,
That shed a brilliance to the inner sight
And opened up the windows of the mind
To rarer beauties far than most men feel:
Then I have sung the lark’s sweet song designed
To fuse our senses with celestial seal
Instead of wondering, I began a search on Helen and whether it’s a commentary on how she lived, or on the society in which we currently live, aside from her now out-of-print memoir, her name, when entered into any search engine lead only to an expanse of information about her husband.
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