Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ten Poems for Halloween

This is more for me and my practicum class than anything else, but this blog isn't such a bad forum to do this. I have ten poems that I am giving to "my" students tomorrow that have a sort of Halloween-y feel to them. Being not so hot at the whole picking apart of a poem, I thought I might briefly organize my thoughts on each one so I have something to say if there's a need.

So, here we go:

"Incantation", George Parsons Lathrop

The first stanza sets the scene for the poem. This late Autumn sort of feel is when "witchery" takes place. The witchery, it seems, is in the change in season, the death of summer and the coming on of Autumn. This poem feels like it's trying to acknowledge a certain magic comes with this time of year.

"The Philosophy of Pitchforks", Sue Owens

This poem has something to do with justice. The pitchfork does the devil's and destiny's work, and is heartless/pitiless, but it doesn't seem to be making any decisions of it's own--it's a tool. The phrase that the "pitchfork play its part as well," makes me wonder. What part is the pitchfork playing?

"Dirge", Thomas Lovell Beddoes

This poem is from the perspective of the dead. They are buried under a yew tree, which has special significance with both death and immortality. The dead are communicating with each other. I found it especially interesting that they think if the living could hear them, they might be jealous. Why? A dirge is supposed to express mourning or grief, yet this poem has a rather upbeat tone, as though being dead is a good thing, perhaps better than being alive. The speaker in the poem attempts to incite the reader to follow them.

"Bats", Paisley Rekdal

The bats are sort of running parallel with images of clothing and body parts, like underwear and empty wombs and breasts. Clearly they are a rather unsettling metaphor for something else (infidelity, an unhappy marriage due to barrenness?).

"The Witch-Bride", William Allingham

What could this poem be about? A man starts out by being enticed by a "fair" witch. Something, someone, a "Shape" comes in the "dead of night" and somehow things change. The good-looking witch becomes something foul. What does this all mean? The man is also stuck with the witch, despite the fact that he'd like to get rid of her. Is there some sort of moral to this story? Don't marry witches? Interesting...

"All Souls' Night, 1917", Hortense King Flexner

Dead loved ones return to life for the night and desire to be close to those still on earth. Why would you not want the dead to know that there is no fire that can warm them? There seems to be some amount of foreboding about the roaming spirits of young lovers. The speaker is trying to keep logs on the fire (keep the room warm--a way to ward off the dead) and fill the room with talking and liveliness, but people are distracted by the spirits, or are put off by them. What does this mean? That we cannot (or should not) forget the dead? That we need to help them rest?

"Mr. Macklin's Jack O'Lantern", David McCord

This poem has a playful feel to it, but then slightly creepy, too, at the end. The pumpkin is carved up pretty innocently, but when the candle is lit and eerie shadows are cast on the walls and floor, the last line seems to imply that the Jack O'Lantern wants to get out. Get out and do what?

"All Hallows Night", Lizette Woodworth Reese

A woman opens her home to ghosts and then comes face to face with her own. This is also after she's made her home "April-clear," which sounds like it could mean she Spring cleaned (her house is super clean). Has the speaker lost herself over the course of the year? The poem reads that she's opening her home to ghosts of the year, so perhaps something has happened to cause her to become a ghost in some manner. A loss, perhaps, or being wrapped up in something else. The fact that she's gone about cleaning up her house and prepared herself to see ghosts sort of implies that seeing the ghost of herself wasn't anticipated.

I realize that I have two more poems to go through ("Dream-Land" by Poe and "Haunted Houses" by Longfellow), but one is very easy for me to understand and the other very complex, so I don't anticipate coming up with something terribly coherent. I am also incredibly tired, so I guess I'm saying I'm leaving it here for now.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi
Price: $17.99
ISBN: 9780439023498

Catching Fire is the second book out in The Hunger Games Trilogy. For fear of spoiling the plot for those who have not read or finished the first book, I honestly cannot say much about the plot beyond it is as gripping as the first. While I often find the second book in many trilogies to be a drag in comparison to it's first and the third, this second installment was incredible (granted, the third book will not be out until next September, so I don't have it as a comparison).

Like the first, Collins manages to grip you and keep you from the first page to the last. At the beginning it feels very much like an extension of the first book, one that you would hope to have (The Hunger Games end making you with for more, and this is it!), but it finishes with a feeling (well, more like a knowing) that things are much, much larger than they appear.

The things I enjoyed in the first book return, like the depth of the characters and the intensity in the plot. I literally could not put the book down (I read it in less than 24 hours). The book kept you going by not giving you a completely clear sense of where Collins was planning on having the ending land. In the beginning it looked one way, in the middle it looked another, and at the end it looked completely different yet again. And, in the very last few pages of the novel, Collins brings the story in a whole new direction. While this is wonderful to read (if you're into that sort of thing), there was one small problem I had. In order to take the story in that new direction, several things had to be explained in about six pages. The information went in so quickly that it took me a couple of reads to really understand what was going on and realize that THIS was actually what was happening, not a daydream or something of the main character's.

For "Comparable Reads" and "Who this book is for", check out my posting on the first book.

The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi
Price: $17.99 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 9780439023481

When starting Suzanne Collin's novel, The Hunger Games, I had not anticipated finishing it very quickly, having taken on a heavy course load this semester. I finished the 374 page novel in three days. Collins presents an undeniably gripping and suspenseful story that easily pulls you in from beginning to end.

The story centers around Katniss Everdeen, who lives with her mother and sister in the vestiges of North America. The countries we recognize in North America seem to have disappeared and have been replaced by country of Panem, made up by 12 districts and a capital. Katniss lives in District 12, one of the poorest of the districts, where the citizens mine coal (formerly a part of Appalachia). Each year the capital "reaps" two teens, a boy a girl (called tributes), from each district to have them play in the Hunger Games, a televised event where the tributes are expected to survive in the wilderness and kill each other. The remaining tribute wins and brings wealth and perstige to his or her district.

The Hunger Games are set up as a reminder to the country (a place where many are in poverty, coralled in by electric fenses, and are unable to travel beyond their own district) that the government has complete control over the population and it is in  their best interest to obey, or else more of their children will be ripped from their arms. Katniss is the female tribute for her district and is sent to the Capital with a boy she knows, though has never really spoken with him, Peeta Mellark.

The ideas behind the story are undeniably interesting, but a good idea can flop if it's not backed up with solid plot and characters. Collins' writing is amazing. She hold you in place and makes you read until you don't think you can read another word, your heart is pounding so fast, but you keep going just the same. She manages to invoke the same intense feelings you know Katniss is experiencing as she hunts for game at home or her competitors in the Hunger Games. In some ways you feel less like you're reading a book and more like you're taking a ride or watching an extremely intense movie.

Collins' vivid writing brings her characters to life, capturing their essences through both descriptions through Katniss's accute and somewhat jaded eyes and their interactions with Katniss. She allows the reader to see both Katniss's reaction and interpretation of each character, their motives and personal qualities, as well as providing enough for the reader to draw their own conclusion, too. This is something I think can be hard to do in a first person novel, where you are only given as much information as the main character and it can be difficult to figure out certain things before the lead. Here Collins allows us to almost feel as though we're working with Katniss, and I sometimes found myself coming to a different (and correct) conclusion than her, but instead of feeling like Collins had come up with a somewhat dull character, I understand that perhaps she wasn't in the right place to realize certain things just yet. When that was the case, it made the reading all the better--it was rather like watching one of those detective or crime scene shows when you know who's committed the crime, but the detective doesn't and you're just dying for them to find out, always keeping an eye out for the next clue for them.

While one might feel the entire book would revolve around bloodshed and survival, Collins does an excellent job of inserting some very real and complex feelings between Katniss, her friend best friend Gale (a boy and hunting partner), and her ally/enemy/friend/"lover", Peeta. The introduction of these characters, particularly Peeta, show a side of Katniss we would not have otherwise seen. Katniss on her own can actually be quite hard to swallow, because she is a very harsh realist and seems to be nearly hopeless in parts of the book. If not for supporting characters who make her care and love and fight for someone other than herself, she might be harder to digest and seem one-dimensional.

Comparable Reads: It was suggested somewhere (I forget where, on a website I believe), that this is a story about a dystopia. I agree. This brings to mind several books that share a similar thread of a world completely out of sync with human needs. Children's books like The Giver by Lois Lowry (along with Gathering Blue and The Messanger) and The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (there are three other books in this series) speak about worlds where things are so utterly different and dangerous, but are being portrayed as something better than what people had before, much like The Hunger Games. As for some more adult fiction, there are a couple of novels by Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake for one, and The Handmaiden's Tale where one is presented with frightening visions of a future dystopia. Aldus Huxley's Brave New World comes to mind as well.

Who this book is for: I believe most teens and adults will enjoy this book. It's one I believe will join the pantheon a few of the books above have joined--solid literature that reveals the viciousness of humanity and one that makes us question why we behave in the way we do. I can't really think of one particular group who would really take this book and run with it, because I sort of feel it reaches many different audiences (like the Harry Potter series, only better). I think it might make a solid addition to a high school reading list, particularly if it's already featuring books like Brave New World or 1984. It's a different slant and a different perspective than most dystopian novels and it may communicate many of the same messages but in a more appealing way. It's also been suggested it be taught as a bridge to Lord of the Flies.

Word of warning, however. This book feels very real. I would not suggest parents let their young children (like, under 12, depending on their emotional maturity) read this book. You have kids (KIDS!) murdering each other for the sport of a nation and it can be hard to read at times. I would suggest parents of young kids who are eager to read this read it themselves first.

Happy reading!!!!