Monday, February 13, 2017

Walkabout: Where the Wild Things Are by Allison Bellesheim

“We’re lost, aren’t we?” (Roeg) is a sentiment that resonated with me, a pre-medical student interested by PTSD and trauma, in director Nicholas Roeg’s multifaceted, intricate film. Walkabout is a wonderful piece of cinematography that follows the journey of two unnamed children who are forced to adapt to the enigmatic lifestyle of the Australian Outback in order to return to their previous mundane lifestyles. Roeg explores a clear juxtaposition that demonstrates a distinct divide between civilization and uncivilized life. While humans of civilization are portrayed as structured, monotonous, and unfulfilling, humans living in nature are depicted as adventurous, uncertain, and grateful for the resources supplied. However, when the children and some other civilized people are there, without even realizing it, they take uncivilized life for granted, exploit its assets, and use it as if it were disposable. The contrast between the disparate worlds in Walkabout is explored through the theme of civilization being the enemy to nature, the characters disrupting the balance of nature, the rich use of symbolism, and the biochemistry of trauma.

Walkabout suggests that civilized humanity will always destroy nature. The young siblings are left in the desert by their suicided father and only learn to adapt when they encounter an Aboriginal boy who is on his own “walkabout.” The Aboriginal is a symbol of life in nature, as he had never been exposed to technology, white culture, or the English language. On the other hand, the two children are symbols for civilization, as they grew up in a world where they learned proper etiquette, were taught to get educated to ensure future employment, and were given food instead of having to hunt for it. In this film, it is evident that the Aboriginal boy became aware of the differences and lack of culture in civilized life. When he met the children, he saw the difference in their clothing and behaviors. The children wear matching, lifeless, dismal school uniforms while the Aboriginals wear little to no clothing. As Norman Holland says, “Clothing is a barrier, but culture is what makes clothing a barrier” (par. 12). The dreary colors of these uniforms are in direct contrast to the bright paint and the lively red colors of the rocks in the Aboriginal society, so it is evident that the children brought lifelessness into a beautiful place that reigns with brilliant colors.

In addition, technology is brought into the Outback that disrupts the quiet balance and harmony of Aboriginal life. First, the children flaunt their use of the radio to the Aboriginal boy. The fact that the radio is a piece of technology never viewed by the Aboriginal and that it is in a different language makes this object foreign and confusing to him. This technology does not belong in nature, and neither do the children. Moreover, the meteorologists with their weather balloons brought technology into an environment that solely relies on the resources provided by the plants and animals. They seem to be playing with these balloons, like children, which demonstrates that these civilized men believe they need material objects to secure their future in the Outback. They are unable and unwilling to assimilate to the culture of the uncivilized territory, and this further exposes the fraudulence of civilization. Roeg adds both the radio and the men playing with the weather balloons to show how unnecessary technology is to Aboriginal culture. The radio seems to always be sprouting unintelligible, inconsequential news, such as the argument that children should learn to, “tell a fish knife from a meat knife” (Roeg). These mind-numbing statements are reiterated throughout the film. The children cling onto the radio because it is their only tie to civilized life, but in the end, the girl must consider if she is better off living a free life in the Outback than a confined life in civilization. It is apparent that the children and the meteorologists have transported trivial news and material objects into Aboriginal society, a place that has a rich and interesting culture that does not pay attention to such insignificant ideas. There is a direct contrast between the disparate worlds and it emphasizes how unnecessary civilized society is in indigenous life, and how civilization ruins what it cannot appreciate.

Conjointly, some secondary characters play a role in disrupting the homeostasis of Aboriginal culture and expose them to civilized life. As the three children are on their journey back to civilization, the audience views a white man exploiting the Aboriginals by forcing them to construct plaster figurines of themselves for his own money-making pursuit. He mistreats “his slaves” by saying, “Move on. Go on. Quicker. Move it” (Roeg). This demonstrates how indifferent the civilized culture is to "savage" life. All civilization cares about is its lucrative immediate profit, while the Aboriginals care about culture and long term survival. It serves as a direct contrast between civilization and spiritual life and how the civilized life disturbs the balance of Aboriginal society.

The hunters also disrupt Aboriginal life. Towards the end of the movie, the Aboriginal boy is hunting a cow with a spear, but two hunters interrupt him by driving in quickly with a car and shooting many cattle with a rifle. Cars and guns are two pieces of technology that are foreign to Aboriginal culture. The Aboriginal boy stood there speechless and lugubrious when he saw the animals being treated as objects and profitable entities. The hunters also disrupted his practice of using every part of the animal for food and warmth. After nearly running the young Aboriginal over with their car and killing his food supply, the hunters took away the young Aboriginal’s will to live. He realized that no matter what, the corruptions of civilization will always win over alleged savage life. The Aboriginals are just slaves and resources to them. This, along with the girl’s rejection at the end, led to his subsequent suicide.

Throughout the movie, the three children acted as a family unit and truly learned what it was like to “live the savage life.” They loved each other and the white children were eternally grateful that the Aboriginal boy was guiding them back to civilization. In biblical terms, he was “their Jesus who redeemed them and showed them the way” (Gordon). However, when civilized life was only a day away, the girl completely rejected the Aboriginal boy. Instead of being the girl who was attracted to him and appreciative of all he did for them, she demonstrated that she never lost her conventional behavior and was the typical white, civilized girl who looked at Aboriginals as slaves or animals. She demanded, “Water. Water” (Roeg), just like he was her slave who was only there to serve her needs. She remembered all her civilized behaviors and the prejudice that exists behind the cultures. In addition, she sees that the boy is sitting on the floor seemingly very upset, but she walks past him disinterested. This total rejection leads to the suicide of the Aboriginal because he realized that “he failed the walkabout, he is not a man, and must die” (Holland, par. 24). However, the young girl is still indifferent as to the effect she had on the Aboriginal; she decides to continue on to find civilization with her brother without showing any emotion towards the boy who saved her and her brother’s life. This girl, along with the hunters, indirectly killed the Aboriginal, so it is definitely evident that civilized life has disrupted indigenous culture in an unforgettable, irreversible way. Civilization trying to mold to the conditions of nature backfired and led to the destruction of the Aboriginal boy.

There are many examples of symbolism that relates to the theme of civilization vs. life in nature. The first is the cracked rock vs. the brick wall. The cracked rock represents life in the Outback and is the first image seen by the audience in the movie. In this first scene, viewers can hear the radio, but it is quite distant and full of static. This symbolizes how distant and foreign the voices of civilization are in the Outback and how, throughout the movie, they will try to infiltrate the uncivilized world. In contrast, the brick wall marks a “chasm between the urban and the Outback” (Holland). It represents civilized society and is accompanied by images of crowds of business people, office buildings, technology, and soldiers. In fact, the crowds of business people directly contrasts with the Aboriginal boy being alone on top of a mountain towards the end of the movie. There are so many civilized people, but there is only one Aboriginal standing alone who cannot seem to overcome their presence in his life. Another symbol that supports the theme of civilization vs. life in nature is the picnic blanket that the girl places on the Outback’s dirty ground before sitting to eat with her brother. This is her attempt to “tame the unspoiled Earth” (Holland). She was so civilized and programmed to express proper etiquette at all times that she felt obliged to impose order to a place that is full of disorder, adventure, and no rules. Roeg even zooms in on different lizards and small animals that are clearly oblivious to her attempt to tame the desert and enforce her civilized behavior on it (Holland). This is Roeg’s way of showing the audience that civilization will always try to impose its control on nature, but nature will try like hell to avoid the control. There is a direct contrast between the two incongruent worlds.

Furthermore, additional examples of symbolism include the abandoned mining town and the irritated man that “welcomed” the children back to civilization. The mining town is in the middle of the Outback is a symbol for how civilized people have no regard for nature. It is apparent that man left behind scrap metal, old trucks, and garbage all jumbled together in nature. This technology is out of place and because man left it there, it illustrates that civilization destroyed yet another piece of nature. Roeg, by allowing the children to play on the machines, showed that they really do not have any aversion to this happening. In addition, the radio seemed to be the girl’s security blanked throughout the film, but the boy’s security blanket was his toys. When the wheel on the toy car came off at the beginning of the movie, he complained to his apathetic father. This directly paralleled the wheels coming off of the car in the mining town at the end of the film. This was Roeg’s way of mocking the civilized world. He exemplified that in order to feel comfortable in the naturalized world, the children needed to be playing with their toys to still feel connected to their previous world. He made this clear by allowing the young boy to play in the mining town.

In addition, the irritated man at the end of the film is a symbol of civilization as well. He is the first person that the children encounter as they journey back to civilization. This man is obviously very annoyed that the children ruined the quiet homeostatic balance of his day and he becomes irate when he notices that the little boy is touching his property. This demonstrates that civilization is preoccupied with such inconsequential things and they are only concerned about their own problems. It contrasts indigenous life because the Aboriginals have a rich culture and care about their ancestors, and the animals and resources provided to them. Inconsequential things are irrelevant to the Aboriginals. Civilized people are trained to not pay attention to other people’s problem as they require a balance in their own lives. He was not even phased when he heard that two young children were lost and were in desperate need of guidance. It is disgraceful that he was so indifferent to their issue, when they all three of them are civilized, white, and seemingly no prejudice exists between them. Here, Roeg challenges the audience with the question of who is the devil and who is Jesus in the film. The civilized, aggravated man (civilized life) is the devil and the Aboriginal boy (indigenous life) is Jesus.

Lastly, the man being undaunted after hearing about the children’s traumatic experience leads to an explanation of the biochemistry of trauma that illustrates how the young girl learns that life in the Outback is better than living a tedious, monotonous life in the civilized world. In the beginning, the girl truly despised of the Outback because she had to endure dehydration (which led to hallucination and depravity) and overexposure to heat. She did not know how she would make it out of this very unfortunate situation, and this trauma affected her biochemistry as she suffered high cortisol levels, hypervigilance, and psychological impediments. The sister desperately tried to hold onto the last vestiges of her previous life by clutching the radio and maintaining her position in the conventional stage of moral development (McLeod). She wanted to maintain homeostasis both physically and mentally, but it was difficult to challenge her innate desire to enjoy indigenous life. She began to appreciate what nature had offer and enjoyed the pure beauty of nature. She was lost physically, but mentally and emotionally, she found her inner nirvana in an uncivilized, acquiescent paradise. This is exemplified through the scene where she was swimming through the pond, just taking in the magnificence of her surroundings. However, at the end, it is evident that she contemplates living in the Outback, a place of uncertainty and adventure. Her civilized life is monotonous, dreary, and predictable—the same life that her mother and father lived in the beginning of the movie. The now older and wiser girl seems depressed and disconnected from the life that she tried to get back to before, and she is burdened by her precious memories. There is a scientific reason as to why she is depressed and detached from her new life. Trauma survivors experience swings in their biochemistry that bring upon intrusive memories. In fact, “Should these symptoms become chronic over several years, the survivor runs the paradoxical risk of then chronically under producing Cortisol…Suppressed Cortisol is usually associated with depression, numbness, joylessness, emotional flatness…and disconnection” (Naparstek, par. 11). It is apparent that she does not produce enough Cortisol. That leads to depression, and if she continues having these flashbacks, she will become unable to steer her biochemistry back into homeostasis. These memories will always be with her, and it is evident that civilization needs nature more than nature needs civilization.

In conclusion, when the young boy said, “We’re lost, aren’t we?” (Roeg), he was correct that they were lost physically, but they were never lost emotionally. Both children learned that life in the Outback is preferable over civilized life because they will never be able to experience that adventure and excitement again. The end of the movie was very depressing and tragic. The girl is hopeless and defeated, which symbolizes a loss of innocence. The theme of civilization vs. indigenous life is evident throughout the movie and Roeg uses examples of symbolism to drive home his point that civilization is an enemy to nature, but in the battle between the two incongruent worlds, civilization always wins. By the end, a character analysis of the young girl and her disturbed biochemistry allows the audience to understand her hopelessness and death of innocence that makes her yearn for civilized life.

Works Cited

Gordon, Paul Kirpal. 24 Feb. 2016. Lecture.

Holland, Norman. "Nicolas Roeg, Walkabout, 1971." A Sharper Focus. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.

McLeod, Saul. "Kohlberg - Moral Development." Simply Psychology, 2011. Web. 07 Mar.


Naparstek, Belleruth. "Trauma: The Right-Brain Connection." Trauma: The Right-Brain

Connection. NotAlone, 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.

Sendak, Maurice, and Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper & Row,

1963. Print.

Walkabout. Dir. Nicholas Roeg. Perf. Jenny Agutter, Jean-Luc Roeg, and David Gumpilil. 1971.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Hijab-Wearing Muslim Reflects on Identity in the Age of Trump by Rosheen Awais

Self /self/: In psychology, self is defined as the set of attributes, abilities, attitudes and values an individual believes defines who he or she is. We believe we are beautiful, smart, loved, hated, short, tall, poor or rich. For some, it takes until adolescence to define oneself, and for others, it takes us a lifetime to define ourselves. Unfortunately, we define ourselves based on the approval of others. But who are the "others," the judges, the expectants? This "other" is not a person, or a group of people, yet is the invisible audience we believe are standing in front of us; we are victims of our own conscience. We work for this audience, we earn for this audience and often, we do what we hate to do in order to reach the infinite expectations of this audience. However, we should not fall victim to these expectations and the expectorants, who hide us from our true self. I have been a victim to this audience for far too long; even today, I dress, I act and talk the way others want me to talk, the way I believe I will be able to fit into society. Even if I stand out in a sea of blonde hair and blue eyes, I work to act like one of them despite the fact that I am a brown-eyed, hijab-wearing Pakistani. In the words of Malik El-Shabbazz, “We’re all in the same boat and we are all going to catch the same hell from the same man. He just happens to be a white man” (X, 1964).

Let me identify myself: I am Rosheen Awais, an 18-year-old daughter, sister, and student. I am a Muslim from Lahore, Pakistan, but born in Woodside, Queens, New York. I am smart (smart enough to get into Hofstra University), I care about the people around me, and personally, I believe I can care too much, but if anyone takes advantage of my affection, they’re nothing to me. I just identified myself in the “worldly” or “material” sense; how I perceive myself as a person, who I am, what I do, even my interpersonal characteristics are part of “me.” The real me is who I am as a whole. I am a follower of Allah, a believer of the six articles of faith and a follower of the five pillars. I believe in the immortal, the King of kings; I believe that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the last prophet, and I believe in the final revelation. Nevertheless, Islam is not about believing; it is not a religion. Rather, it is a set of principles for life: I pray five times a day and I fast for one month each year, devoting this month to God and remembering the less fortunate. The same Sharia law that some Americans fear is taking over the original law of the land is not a law; it is a lifestyle. In the Qur’an, Surah 5 Verse 32: “If you save one man’s life, it is as if you have saved the lives of all mankind.” How could a religion that preaches love and sympathy for every human being, regardless of what they believe and who they pray to, have such mercy on a non-believer? I could be just like many other young adults who “did the physical part of their religion, but never let their heart out.” I could, like millions of others, still be standing in a dark tunnel, waiting for a ray of hope; but no: I have found my ray of hope in my religion, in the perfected religion, even though I admit every day that I am in fact far from perfect. Islam is not a material characteristic; it shapes one’s life, how one should act, and remember that no matter what: God is “Al Basir and Al Sami” (All Seeing and All Listening). If us humans cannot identify our whole self, remember: even God needed to use 99 names to convey his identity.

Earlier I had said that I was an American, but now I will say I am an American by name. Malik El- Shabbazz states that: “Being born in America doesn’t make you an American, you wouldn’t need any legislation, you wouldn’t need any amendments to the constitution…”, and he is absolutely correct. Most of the people who call themselves “Americans” have ancestors as early as grandparents who moved from Europe or Asia to America (X, 1964). America is stereotypically seen as the Christian, melatonin-deprived, deer-hunting Republican population who managed to get a man addicted to spray tan into office. In reality, America includes the little ripped pieces of cloth left on the floor, in a reservation, living poor lives or managing casinos on the U.S-Canadian border. Even though the Indigenous live in their homeland, America is nothing like home to them. Taken over by strange outsiders and their diseases, the real America is falling through. My point is: who am I to say I am an American because I have a blue and gold passport, or I speak English with a New York accent? I am simply a guest who is long due to return home. Referring to the quote by Mr. X, if this had been our home, we would not fear hate crimes and seek deportation; we would pass legislation just so that a hijabi can work at an Abercrombie and Fitch. Who I am is who my ancestry is: Pakistani, from a family as early as my grandmother, who came from Amritsar to Lahore at the tender age of 6 months came to create a new identity that was nothing much more different than their Indian roots but moved to Pakistan to enjoy the freedom of an Islamic Republic. Now one may argue that my grandparents, who came from another country are not technically Pakistanis. Well, I must refute: Pakistan was created by Quaid E Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to give Muslims in India a new land to identify with, a land with legislature following Sharia law, where a country can be run the Islamic way. My grandparents and great grandparents belonged because the law, the legislature, and the country was founded for them. I am a Pakistani because I know that if I am ever forced to leave a country that is not mine, Pakistan is the only land that will ever embrace me like my own mother. I just returned from Pakistan after eight years of constant yearning. Like an addict, I begged to go back one more time, with each passing year, thinking about what I would sacrifice to jet set back to Lahore for one week. Even after living in America for 18 years, my country and my culture run through my veins. I have lived amongst people completely opposite of me for my whole life, yet I still am shocked at some of the habits and lifestyle of the people who live in America. Instead of blood, ganne ka ras (sugarcane juice) runs through my body, and the burning smell of sittay (wheat chaffs) floods my nose with each memory.

My material self---where I was born, my ancestry, my religion---extends to my whole self, who I am from the inside, my past, my upbringing and where I really am from. I described two attributes that define myself as a whole, my religion and my ancestry. Personally, I feel more comfortable around people who are like me, who dress like me, eat like me, and have a lifestyle similar to mine. Although I come from a third world country and I am living in America, something inside always attracts me back to Lahore and Pakistan, and attract me to people who are from Lahore and Pakistan. I have lived in America my whole life, but what I know is that I will always feel like an outsider, no matter how well I speak the language, dress myself and how educated I become. There will always be someone to say, "Go back to your own country," so go ahead and buy me a ticket back and I will gladly pack my bags! In regards to Islam, being a Muslim is comforting to me; I know that in every high and low there is a greater Being who I can resort to, even if every human on earth is against me. Although I have never seen God, I have a blind trust, a trust that has been reinforced by the miracles in my life. Some may refute that miracles are only coincidences, but I must refute that these so called coincidences which are often out of my reach happen so perfectly. I am comfortable in my hijab, and I am comfortable on my knees on a prayer rug.

The mosque at Lahore

Works Cited

Malcolm X: “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Malcolm X: The Ballot or the Bullet. Social Justice

            Speeches, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Caught by Surprise: How I Taught Myself to Write by Genevieve Maalouf

Genevieve Maloouf and her grandmother Genevieve

Learning how to learn was something I had to discover. Without it, I would not have learned how to write in my own voice. Like most of my peers, I entered my first college composition class at odds with, yet clinging to, the five-paragraph formula (say what you’re about to say, say it, then tell us you told us). I delivered little of my own views and nothing in terms of a personal style or level of persuasion. To be kind to my high school English teachers, their writing prompts did not inspire my imagination. Hence, told over and over I was a bad writer, I agreed.  Until now.

Nevertheless, my first essay, the worst of the four I would write over the fifteen weeks, was not very imaginative. Despite the solve-it-your-own-way originality of the “problem-posing” Freire-esque assignment---convince the class that your classmate is an asset to us---I approached it with a predictable, pre-fabricated, fill-in-the-blanks mindset driven by fear. I was accidentally blessed to have two student interviewees because I got so much better in the second interview, though I would make plenty of mistakes in grammar and punctuation in each essay that I would soon learn to self-correct. Worse than the mistakes, I was not yet the author. I had no author-ity for I did not witness my experience of these peers; I merely reported data. Consequently, I uncovered only three of the four hidden challenges in Essay 1: how to ease out of one’s comfort zone, build real rapport with a peer and develop confident interview skills. The final challenge, to celebrate the gifts and talents of one’s peer in persuasive paragraphs, remained obscure. Yes, my people skills helped open a floodgate of material for rapport came easily; the SWOT approach framed the interview most efficiently; both students poured out so much candid, enthusiastic information which I dutifully recorded. However, I could not fit it all into the restrictions of the five-paragraph container I was still focused on (along with the grade) at the expense of engaging readers. Until Essay 2.

Essay 2’s challenge was to increase our people skills by moving the interview from peers to adult service providers at the university and celebrate their service and talents in persuasive paragraphs. I feel proud to have broken out of my comfort zone about approaching adults who I admire, and my interview skills and level of rapport deepened. I enjoyed the chance to write on something I had so positive an experience of. I interviewed a student and a "real adult" who worked behind the desk at the library. Now I was no longer reporting or repeating facts; I was digesting and shaping them into a point of view.  Although the essay persuaded, it did not evoke my subject’s true colors. I still lacked the finesse to stimulate the reader’s imagination.  Until I got the hang of the journal.

Although I initially resisted it, the daily journal assignment birthed my critical skills, and from an increased confidence in analyzing data, I grew more creative. Five times a week I sat down and wrote a summary of the class sessions and the week’s readings that was chronological, complete and evocative followed by a critique of the subject matter. Walking the tree-lined path from dormitory to classroom to class, I recalled that I had last written a journal back in seventh grade, and that I never volunteered to read aloud in the systematic chaos that was my high school because unless one’s opinion was the teacher’s opinion in a higher pitched voice, it was wrong. I told myself that college was going to be different. I was going to attain confidence in myself and improve my writing. So when the second class began, a number of my peers volunteered to read their journals, and I, too, raised my hand. I would have preferred to read third of fourth, but called on first, I had no choice. I read slowly and uncertainly. Everyone responded positively and no one gave criticisms, but I knew my classmates were too polite. KP, on the other hand, still very supportive, brought to my attention the flaws in the journal entry and the missing pieces in chronology and critical analysis. Even though I was shaken up by reading my writing aloud followed by feeling sheepish for misjudging the assignment, this proved to be the first of many discoveries. Determined to write the journal that KP was aiming for, I wanted to have at least one entry I could feel proud of. This meant completely letting go of my fears in self-expression and in reading to others. To my surprise, that didn’t take very long to achieve. I read aloud from my journals, and the responses got better and better. Such positive feedback caused me to take the assignment more seriously. It was the first time I ever felt confident in anything I wrote. Nevertheless, I still had something missing. Then, eureka: My sixth journal entry was the breakthrough! Perhaps because of my constant practice and/or the astute feedback from others, I had managed to weave evocation, chronology and completeness with a critical appraisal that cited exact examples. I got inside my listeners’ heads and stimulated their memories and imaginations while persuading them to see it my way. KP and the class bragged all over it. The individual pieces came together in a new Gestalt. I could not believe I had finally written a complete entry in which every word worked. Later, I realized that the journal’s 75 summary-critique assignments incrementally helped me organize my thoughts and feelings into a coherent whole. However, I was unable to produce this in a hand-in assignment. Until Essay 3.

Essay 3 involved writing in response to six readings that focused on the contradictions and malfeasance of the American university industry. I became aware of how each author demonstrated a distinctive voice, whether comical, provocative, confrontational, metaphorical, urgent or indicting. I proved to myself I could get readers to understand my perspective and form an opinion of their own. I also grew a lot better in quoting from these sources to support my own thesis. Clearly, the learning challenge in Essay 3 was to translate the SWOT mindset of an astute interviewer into that of an astute reader of essays. It gave me my greatest opportunity to develop rhetorical strength: anticipating the counter-argument to back up my own argument. By interpreting the antithesis to my point of view, I learned how to reduce its impact and give the reader a wider, more inclusive perspective. I was really digesting data and synthesizing ideas. Nevertheless, I had not yet grown fully into my writing voice. Until Essay 4.

The wide range of the seven writers I read challenged many issues regarding my sense of personal identity. For example, convinced that the way to create an identity that stood out against social conformity was to detach and separate oneself from society, I became confused when Alan Watts claimed that we should leave our egos behind us and come to the realization that we are all bounded together.  I felt this view contradicted Emerson and Thoreau, but then I gave it more thought.  Transcendentalism never stated we had to dispatch ourselves from society, only that we shouldn’t feel compelled to conform but to follow our own drummer.  Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Walt Whitman celebrated a cosmic sense of identity that brought to the surface my own small mind and helped me grow into a more open person. Plato furthered challenged me to break out of my shell of ignorance and caused me to question how I see the world.  After reading his cave allegory I was left in a state of contemplation and shock. Frederick Douglass toppled the greatest impediment I could face: going against social laws and norms. His determination to learn how to read and write shaped his identity into a leader who refused to give up.  The biggest way to go against a conforming society, though, is acceptance of oneself, which Gloria Anzaldua had proved when talking about her childhood struggles.  Her standing up for her Hispanic heritage and sexuality in a society that shamed her for both gave her the identity most people strive for: being proud and independent from society’s beliefs. This notion returned me to King’s proactive message that society stands stronger when we all express our identity without fear and Whitman’s message that nature is the puzzle we all fit into. When I caught on that we live in a multi-dimensional world, I felt like a new person. At first I had been left with shattered ideas, but when I finished reading all of them, my shattered pieces glued back together into a new understanding. By not being afraid to confront data that threatened my outlook, I found my writing voice.

Learning is an amazing gift that only some of us fully understand.  Most people only focus on the grade, but I learned that the grade doesn’t reflect on how one learns.  To quote my greatest inspiration: “Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.  Instead of communicating the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize and repeat,” (Friere, 1). This class has taught me how to learn.


Fortunately, my search for who I am did not end when this class did. My initial goal in college was to devote my life to my favorite form of expression, that is, music specifically from the Romantic era, which has always been a “go to” when I needed to just be me. How could I not spend the rest of my life studying music of the composers who inspired me? As it turns out, one need not to major in music to do so. I found my music major status put me in the company of hyper-competitive students who were willing to sabotage each other to boost themselves, an unhealthy environment for those who want to learn for the sake of learning. Math, on the other hand, has a different atmosphere: everybody encourages learning together because what better way to learn than from each other? This couldn’t be a better fit for me, especially because my passion for math is just as strong as my passion for music. Although majoring in music injured my appetite for it, majoring in math enhanced it. Not to say that one major is superior to another, but rather, they gear towards opposites. My favorite consequence of the switch was finding another puzzle piece to who I am and what it means to be me.

Works Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Web.

Douglas, Fredrick. “Learning to Read and Write,” Web.

King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Web.

Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave,” Web.

Watts, Alan. “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are,” Web.

Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself,” Web.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Visionary Gateway for American and World Poetics: The Museum of American Poetics, by David Cope

Jim Cohn

In what can only be called an heroic effort on behalf of poetry, Jim Cohn has built, repeatedly expanded and tweaked an enormous database in American Poetry traditions and individual authors, and as the vision grew, the World Poetics of which we are all a part—and he has done this largely alone over eighteen years, using his own funds and research time to build this monument to poetry.  At last count, The Museum of American Poetics (MAP) contained 1272 exhibits—individual links and pages in twenty different collections, an astounding task for a database handled by a single curator (see Appendix for breakdown of collections and exhibits).   The MAP website grew from its initial emphasis on Beat and Postbeat poetries, developing as an online database for poets, researchers, students, and those looking for new directions in the art.  He first developed the site ( as a result of a vision that came to him after Allen Ginsberg died in 1997, in which he foresaw an encyclopedic webpage where poets might find representation on the net. Jim later convened a meeting at the West End Café in Boulder with Randy Roark, Joe Richey, Thom Peters, and Sue Rhynhart; Thom Peters  suggested the words that became the MAP slogan: “The Poetry of the Future is Opening Its Doors.” This became a guiding principle for the page. Jim recalls, “it was a play on John Ashbery's famous line ‘The Academy of the Future is Opening Its Doors,’” a quote he first encountered in Ted Berrigan’s “Sonnet 62.”  True to his own collaborative spirit, he then wrote to other poets, asking how they would envision such a page. Almost all were then neophytes in the possibilities of the net and some—myself included—misunderstood the scope of the project he had envisioned, but the project got off the ground and flourished.  He notes that:

MAP went live in January 1998. . . . The site at that time, and ever since, was captured by Internet Archive, and it really is a matter of beginning to work on the architecture of the site and graphics development as much as it was a matter of content.  It was a brave new world back then.

A Pattern of Organic Growth

One can trace the entire phenomenal growth of MAP from its skeletal beginnings in December of 1998 to the current 2017 page via the page’s Wayback Machine, which captures and retains every change in the site, date by date, over 18 years of continuous development (see The initial page featured Jim’s poetry magazine, Napalm Health Spa, as an online journal, beginning with the digitized contents of the 1990-1997 print versions of the journal, and extending from 1998-2015 in an annual upload that usually featured works by twenty-two to thirty-eight poets, a robust group featuring mostly Beat, Postbeat, “outrider,” poets from many diverse backgrounds, including forays into newer territory, as in the work done by Chinese scholar Zhang Ziqing with Vernon Frazer, Jim, and myself, among others.  The long run of the magazine ended with three major issues, each of them a formidable anthology:  the 2013 Long Poem Masterpieces of the Postbeats, featuring the works of 53 poets; the 2014 Heart Sons and Daughters of Allen Ginsberg issue, with 63 poets, many of them represented by large selections of their work; and the 2015 Anne Waldman:  Keeping the World Safe for Poetry issue, which had 71 major entries.   The annual Spa would be a formidable task for any editor or curator, but it was only one of the many areas that Jim developed for the website. 

MAP, 1998

That initial 1998 page also featured the American Poet Greats Lecture Series, a Boulder series featuring poets and former students of Naropa Institute’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics lecturing on elder poets that moved them.  There was also an Exhibits section which included submission guidelines for exhibits, and a variety of mostly Beat-influenced or Beat pages, as well as exhibits by the Academy of American Poets.  The Floating Muse Bookstore presented books on sale largely by Beat, Postbeat, and New York school poets, and the Poetry Links page had twenty-three key links to poetry and poetics which expand the vision into the larger domains of American poetry.  The original MAP page, then, begins with a vision of outrider, beat, and postbeat poetry, but already shows a desire to develop a broader scope of American poetry in its first, foundational architecture.

MAP, 2002

In the following years, Jim would make major graphics changes to the homepage, moving from the original black background with blue and blue/white lettering to the rectangles in orange, pink, and chartreuse over a light blue or green background (2002-2005).

MAP, 2006

2006 saw a major change to an attractive collage featuring poets, designs, graphic acrobats, and an encircled number 5 reminiscent of William Carlos Williams’s famed Great Figure.  In this incarnation, one had to enter through this collage (E N T E R) to a more elaborate collage on the next page, which also featured links to the contents of the site. 

MAP, 2009

A more simplified approach came in 2009:   a white background, photo of poets, a mission statement and a double columned set of contents. This approach lasted until 2015, when an expressionistic background in light moss green with scrape marks and white swipes replaced the white page; the mission statement was removed and placed in an "About Us" link at the top of the page, and the contents become more prominent. 

MAP, 2015

Through all of these changes, there were also incremental—sometimes massive—changes to the contents themselves; the website became a poetics of sustained organic growth.  2006 saw a great expansion of individual poets’ pages, with poetics organized by categories:  ethnic or cultural or racial groupings: Latino/a, Middle Eastern American poets, African American Poezee, Asian-Pacific American poets, and Native American Words Between Worlds, The Sexuals, Troubadours, Daughters of Stein, Invisible Empires of Beatitude, and Golden Bodies.  There were also Digital Vistas and Magnificent Rainbow:  Kids Form Poems, and the introduction of a larger group of online readings.  The inclusion of categories such as these has persisted throughout the rest of MAP’s history; in 2010, for example, Jim divided the exhibits into three major categories, beginning with International Exhibits, including both Old Globe Masterminds, 20th Century International Bards, and Today’s World Voices.  This move more directly connected American poetry with the rest of the world, avoided what he called “America First Mind,” and it opened another door to understanding poet greats “outside our borders as well as back in time.”  The Exhibits were divided into two other categories that year, too:  Diversity Exhibits as those above given their own space, and Medium Exhibits (Poets and Painters, Publishers). 

The second decade of this century saw further division in 2011:  Transmissions was developed with two categories:  Legacy Transmissions, involving cultural and poetics statements by elders, “emancipating countercultural knowledge” left behind for those to come, and the Postbeat Poets Activist Scholarship page, a gathering of then-younger poets’ musing on poetics, their lives, their visions, as seen in statements, interviews, speeches and essays.  This decade involved many other changes, too:  more multimedia poetics, as in the introduction of the MAP Channel Youtube Poetry Videos (2012) and the 2015 film additions to the Medium Exhibits.  These include two collections.  First, Beat Generation Films displays a fine collection of legendary films, ranging from Pull My Daisy and Dutchman to The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg and The Poetry Deal:  A Film with Diane di Prima, and many others.  The second group, Postbeat Generation Films, includes  Dylan’s Don’t Look Back, The United States of Poetry, Before Night Falls, Piñero, The Poetry of Wang Ping, An Evening with Nikki Giovanni, The Last Waltz, Anne Waldman’s Makeup on Empty Space, and Straight Outta Compton, with an extensive group of interviews, short readings, talks, etc. from other leading lights of this younger group.  Finally, 2015 saw the development of a link to the new Facebook MAP page, giving yet another portal for poets, scholars, students and those lovers of singing speech and visionary dreams.

The Guest Curators and the Latest Great Expansion

Perhaps the largest change to the site came between 2015-2017, when Jim asked seven guest curators to suggest additions to several major categories, expanding the collections of pages by  individual poets in each—a necessary periodic task, given the growing and changing landscape of contemporary poets.  Thus, the great Chinese-American poet Wang Ping took on Asian and Pacific American Shapeshifters, I (David Cope) handled the Euro-American Shapeshifters, Andy Clausen and Pamela Twining made significant additions to the Invisible Empires of Beatitude, Ali Zarrin made us all aware of newer and overlooked poets among Middle Eastern American Poets, and Dave Roskos and Ingrid Swanberg made significant additions to the list of Publishers who have shepherded outrider and gifted indie poets into print.  2016 also saw the establishment of a Google Custom Search option on the homepage, which will make the search for an individual poet’s work a matter of entering the name of the poet.

Coda:  Into the Future

At this point, Jim has taken a break from further work on the page.  His funds are barely sufficient to maintain it, and he has occasionally expressed a wish to sell it to a university library page or a college page which could maintain it for poets to come.  MAP is organized in a distinctly different manner from college archives and their finding aids:  it is strictly an online archive which, through its search option, makes finding those poets’ pages archived here quickly accessible, and its Wayback Machine makes tracking the growth of the page a matter of clicking on dates.  This last option is important, given that the site is dedicated to a major significant time in American poetics, the period of wars and freedom movements from the Beats and Vietnam until today’s Syrian and other conflicts—one in which experimentation was continuous and political and equality-based activism was a part of one’s work.  In all of its incarnations, the MAP page serves as an exemplary model for DIY special collection digital archiving which in some ways complements the physical library and its special collections archives, and if some library or institution were to take it on, the task would be to give it a presence on a special collections page for poetry, and to continue expanding it and maintaining it.  Big task in a time when such institutions are in the middle of retrenching and reinventing themselves to keep up with the yearly revolutions in communication! 

As is, the site does present the architecture for many kinds of indie sites, both large and small—one could envision sites devoted to a given scene, to a certain kind of poetics.  Imagine, for example, the best of digitized readings by poets under 30, a site exploring the writing of many kinds of poetic song lyrics, etc.—any of these could include search engines, a Wayback Machine, changing graphics and newer forms of media and multimedia presentations, and god knows what else.  Many of these sites are out there, but the question is whether they are open to field-broadening suggestions, aware of the depth and breadth of the chosen presentations in their fields, prepared to continually take on new voices and new movements over the long haul.  Jim has done that throughout his history as a curator, engaging in big conversations with potential collaborators and fellow travelers as a way to be as inclusive and comprehensive as possible.  This is a major part of his genius.

MAP is, of course, a tribute to one poet’s love of his art, of a major lifelong commitment to expanding the varieties of expression available in the art, of dedication to the many poetries of diversity.  The individual webpages themselves vary from fully developed pages useful to graduate and undergraduate students, to Wikipedia pages that can serve high schoolers and freshman or sophomore undergrads.  Poets of all stripes may encounter new brothers and sisters in the art, expand their awareness of what their poetry might imply as a mode of expression, and grow to appreciate those writing through adversity.  Whatever comes of this website in the years to come, Jim deserves enormous thanks for this sustained effort in the American Grain of our poetics.  Kudos—and if you have lots of honestly earned funds, send them to Jim so that this great page may live on without being turned.  

Jimmy and Isabella


Individual exhibit counts as of July 2016

Old Globe Masterminds - 113

20th Century International - 95

African American Poezee - 132

American Indians Words Between Worlds -51

Asian-Pacific Verse Beings - 61

Daughters of Stein - 44

EuroAmerican Shapeshifters - 62

Ghost Rangers of the Wild - 70

Invisible Empires of Beatitude - 113

Latino/a Web Heads - 59

Middle Eastern American Poets - 47

Pioneer Masters - 50

Postbeat Era - 77

The Sexuals - 44

Audio Exhibit - 21

Beat Generation Films - 47

Postbeat Generation Films - 85

Magnificent Rainbow - 18

Poets & Painters - 26

Publishers - 57

Total # items in all of exhibits = 1272