Notes from the Undergrads is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class, comprised primarily of undergrads, with a few grad students thrown in for color. They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process. Today, enjoy the work of the Magnified editorial board.
A Meaningful Discovery
By Kristina Blake
I don’t read poetry.
One of the few poetry books I remember reading in its entirety was Shel Silverstein’s 1974 collection of children’s poetry “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” My fourth grade classmates and I would giggle as our teacher read the straight-forward funny pieces. I had my mom buy me a copy soon after.
To be fair, it’s not that I hate poetry. I just don’t usually understand it.
So, if I have free time to read for pleasure, I usually settle down with a good book. And because I’m a journalism and political science major, a lot of my time is spent reading news stories.
That’s why I was a little worried when I sat down to read required material for my English course, Rachel Galvin’s poetry collection “Pulleys and Locomotion.” I know that poetry is open for interpretation. But is there really no intended meaning for each piece? This is what’s kept me from appreciating poetry in the past.
Galvin’s collection didn’t change this for me. At first.
I struggled through some of her poems because of their non-colloquial words and references I simply did not get. At first glance, I didn’t even quite understand the significance of one of the most simple, yet beautiful of Galvin’s poems, “The Baker Folds What He Does Not Remember.”
After class discussion, Galvin’s visit to our class and her poetry reading on campus, however, I have changed my mind about poetry.
I used to read poetry like I read everything else – straight through. Poetry shouldn’t be read this way. After hearing Galvin read her poems to a particular beat, I’ve learned that I should take my time and appreciate the language used. Galvin chose every word for a reason. Therefore, I should slow down and take my time to discover why.
I used to want to immediately discover the meaning of every poem I read. I’ve learned that reading a poem slowly, and even re-reading it a number of times, is part of the fun. Just like with a song, the writer of the poem may have a meaning he or she wants the world to know. But if readers are truly lucky, they will develop their own meaning as well.
Beauties from Ashes
In light of the recent tragedy that unfolded with Chelsea King, I began to reflect on the special relationship between literature and social issues. A few months ago, a local Poway girl who was a friend, daughter, and athlete, was raped and murdered. This event rocked a tight-knit community, and parents began frantically buying their daughters mace and pepper spray, and various schoolchildren tied blue ribbons on trees in respect of a young life so tragically taken from us. Although this scenario is monstrous and heartbreaking, it is not unique in its tragedy. Every day young girls and women are beaten, sexually exploited, or murdered. Throughout the world women suffer rape and sexual violence, genital mutilation, and abuse. Sex trafficking is potentially the number one worldwide crime, with half of the victims found in Asia. Although not as widely known, America also sells, exploits, and damages young girls’ lives. These offenses are deeply hidden from the public’s eye, and it takes individuals like intrepid and creative artists and authors to give these girls not only a name and voice…but hope.
Literature can commemorate and focus the public’s attention to certain particular social matters, as well as personalizing the issues and bringing it close to home. The various stories and essays of families who have gone through the experience of losing a child like Chelsea King, or women who have been the victim of child prostitution are easily accessible in neighborhood bookstores or online. Books can also help the victim work through their pain and anger like Stacey Patton did in her memoir, That Mean Old Yesterday, about the terrible abuse she suffered at the hands of her foster mother.
Not all girls who suffer these horrors can give voice to their affliction. But the pen is a mighty tool and there are many who wield it with compassion and tenacity. Art for Humanity is a South African non-profit organization whose mission is to promote awareness of controversial topics through art and print. In their Women for Children series, the organization paired up poets and artists to campaign for children’s rights. Kareemah El-Amin’s powerful and disturbing poem is accompanied by Angela Buckland’s photograph.
“My birthday Wish”
He said he doesn’t want to die,
My hymen for his life
I’ve saved 100 lives since birth
Between my legs is his salvation
He speaks of love and understanding, piety and grace
With his penis in my face
Gifting me with the sacrament of his unholy communion
I turned nine today
Blow out the candles, and make a wish
“Father, please forgive my sins…
Let me join you before I turn ten”
Whether we are writers or artists or readers, we all can all take an active role in preventing gender based violence by strengthening and encouraging the hands of our fellow daughters and sisters. Inspired by the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel who prophesied life to dry bones, the author Lisa Sharon Harper in her poem “And to the Little Ones” declares sweet hope:
And to Taka and Takisha
to their rattling bones
to the little ones
who bear God’s image
The Lord God says,
Writing and rewriting: the gradual development of a literary text
For some reason I have always thought of literary texts as stable, something finished and stationary. When writing something of your own you realize this is not the case. The final version isn’t so final; often it’s where you left off because you got sick of it and just wanted to be done with it. If by any means your text is finished it is simply because you decided that it was finished. Up to that point it had been something fluid and subject to constant manipulation, your decision to label your text “completed” is the only thing with the power to make it such. As someone thinking of a future in publishing I have become more and more interested in this fluid nature of a literary work. The space between the first draft and the published work is where the door to further writing, rewriting, revision, editing and proofing is open. Looking at something like the special edition from 1971 of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, with the original manuscript and his editor Ezra Pound’s annotations, is truly fascinating in connection to this idea. Pound was absolutely ruthless in his treatment of Eliot’s draft, slashing out large parts of the manuscript. But ultimately, his insightful editorial advice helped Eliot distill down his work into one of our greatest modernist texts.
For anyone interested in the stages of creating a literary work, I recently stumbled upon the online site www.woolfonline.com, a project devoted to providing a genetic edition of a text by Virginia Woolf. The text in question is Time Passes, a passage later embedded as a central part of her novel To the Lighthouse, published in 1927. Woolf kept careful track of her own writing process so there is extensive material to draw from. The website offers seven different versions of the same text: handwritten draft, typescript, proof, the first US edition and the first UK edition. In addition, contextual sources such as letters, diaries and newspapers from the time period when she actively wrote this text are made available. You can follow what Virginia Woolf wrote each day, what changes she made and how she adapted and tailored her work for the UK and US markets. It is an intriguing illustration of the process of writing.
In the age of digitalization, when manuscripts can be written as well as edited in digital form, the same kind of records of a text’s different stages of development might not be retrievable. But on the other hand, computers also offer new possibilities. Texts rich in intertexts like Eliot’s The Waste Land or difficult to navigate like Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury are ideal candidates for hypertext editions. Allegedly Faulkner wanted to differentiate sections in Benjy’s narrative by use of six different colors in order to simplify the reading. Today, not only this kind of color-coding, but so much more can be done– including the use of links, other media or multiple frames in order to read the literary text and the corresponding notes simultaneously. Layers of the text, such as references to other authors or works, previously available to scholars or through critical editions with an abundance of footnotes are now within the reach of the average reader by the click of a mouse. In this aspect the hypertext editions highlight the dialogue with other texts and contextual sources that is characteristic of literary works.
It is in fact not so surprising that I used to think of literary texts as fixed; they appear before the reader in their final and published form without any trace of the different stages of the creative process leading up to the ultimate version of the text. Looking at a literary text from an editor’s perspective seems fundamentally different from that of a reader. Suddenly the text goes from being something frozen solid and fixed to being shifting, mobile, and changeable like water. Personally, I find genetic research on texts interesting though it is a little like starting at the end and painstakingly feeling your way back to the beginning. What a marvelous thing to instead be able to witness and assist the process in the other direction, from beginning to end.
A Poetic Reaction
When reading the latest issue of Poetry International, I found a poem by Lauren Watel called “It’s Cool”. It was short and simple to read with a little sense of humor.
We were driving each other mad again, so
we left the highway and found an empty space
by the ruins of a house. I stroked your chest
and straddled your lap; you kissed me with a low
moan, your skin gold in the light; I cupped your face
between my palms like an artifact; you moved
my hips; and when you pressed your lips to my breast
you grasped. There was a man outside the window.
“It’s cool,” the man said, “just find another place
to do it.” Then he tipped his hat, unimpressed
with the exhibition. Our mood now improved
dramatically, we waved to the man and drove
back to the highway feeling restored, well-loved,
glistening like two jewels in a secret trove.
I was immediately drawn to this poem because I felt like I knew the characters from a story. It opened as if it were an excerpt from a novel. The mood of the couple seemed like they were having a fight in the car and pulled over to discuss their feelings, which came out as physical passion for one another. I felt like this poem was about two high school students madly in love with each other. This love, which feels as though it is full of passion that doesn’t matter where it is expressed. This couple’s passion for one another is the only thing that matters in this moment and you can feel it as you read this poem. Calling their act an “exhibition” added a little humor to the poem in a very awkward situation. Getting caught actually made the moment that much exciting for them. The last line of the poem is my favorite part. “Glistening like two jewels in a secret trove.” It is such a beautiful way to express a young couple in love. Overall, this poem is well-written allowing you to step inside the lives of two people passionately in love with one another.