Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Julia Alvarez’s piece, “Queens, 1963”, deals directly with racial conflict present during the civil rights movement. Although the poem has the rhyme scheme, its rhythm makes it poetic. The speaker in this piece is a young woman, still observing the world around her. This viewpoint allows the reader to observe the goings on of the neighborhood through a wondering mind. Had the speaker been male, or the age been different the poem would likely have a more opinionated, didactic, tone. The repeated image of the lawn reflects the shift in tone. In the beginning of the piece the “sprinkler waving” represents the accomplishments of the speaker and her family and the optimism for continued success. However at the end of the piece Alvarez speaks of “the houses sinking into their lawns”. In America a person’s home and yard supposedly speak to the person’s wealth and happiness. As the speaker discusses the change in the real estate market she relates it to the racial relations and tensions evident at the time. The music playing throughout the piece also flows with the poem’s tone in that the music stops as the tone shifts.

Similarly to Alvarez’s poem, Langston Hughes piece, “Theme for English B”, deals with race relations during the civil rights movement. Although his poem is written in the beginning the momentum is still evident. Just as stream of consciousness gives the reader a view into the writer’s thoughts the development of this poem does the same. The speaker, Hughes himself, is better able to include the reader through this use of style. By naming specific, well known cities, Hughes gives the reader a concrete background through which to understand the point of his piece, that the role of race in everyday life is still unclear.

“Fork”, Jeffrey Harrison’s piece, deals with people’s relations without discussing race. The poem was written in 2003, as opposed to Hughes’ and Alvarez’s poems. However the underlying idea is still the role that other people can play in your own life. Forks are used to eat and are therein tied to a necessity in human existence. The teacher’s fork, though, is silver and frivolous. Instead of stealing the fork to use for its intended purpose the speaker uses the fork as decoration, to make a statement. The speaker is looking back on his time as a student, and reflecting on it. Instead of contemplating racial relations the speaker is examining student-teacher roles; the effect of the actions of someone holding power towards someone without power.

Written after the civil rights movement, but before modern racial relations, Lucille Clifton’s, “this morning (for the girls of eastern high school)”, is a simple reflection piece. While the other pieces tended to be quite lengthy and tending to a narrative form of poetry this piece uses the freedom of poetic structure fully. By using direct repetition Clifton is able to emphasize certain points like, “morning” and “survive[ing]”. Morning in this context not only refers to the time of day but the beginning and the hopefulness that comes with having time ahead of you. The speaker, Clifton reminiscing about her past, refers to herself as being a “jungle girl”, a “tree girl”, all things that bring to mind primitive pictures. However, she concludes with the idea of her wholeness as a “bell”. The structure of the poem isolates certain lines in the poem, as the speaker sounds isolated herself.

Though these pieces were all written at different times they can nonetheless relate to modern urban life. The civil rights movement may have officially ended and we are living in a theoretically well developed country but still racial relations are tense and grey. These writings call on the reader to reflect and attempt to internalize their diverse experiences, in order eventually gain progress.

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