Gwendolyn Brooks and Her “Anniad”

I bought three new books, selected to honor Black History and enrich my perspective. I just read through The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks edited by Elizabeth Alexander, American Poets Project, The Library of America, 2005. As with all poetry books I read, I ran straight through it and will return later to focus on the contents and Ms. Brooks’ words more closely. Her work is raw and revealing, especially to a white woman. Yes, I have experienced prejudice based on my gender (ignoring and/or countering my expertise in being technically correct), and who I love (cannot simply hold the hand of my wife in many places). Yet, it does not compare to the racial bias and violence deployed against our Black friends and neighbors that enrich every aspect of our collective human experience called life – if we enable them as equal members of our society – which is who they are by our given rights.

One epic poem that stood out based on my concentration and interest in Ancient & Classical History was “The Anniad.” The similarity of the title and thematic narratives should not be lost on those familiar with The Aeneid by Roman poet Virgil (T. Vergilius Maro, 70-19 BCE). To read Virgil’s Aeneid online, a scholarly-sanctioned Loeb translation, go here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0054%3Abook%3D1%3Acard%3D1. Gwendolyn Brooks gives the reader a view of feminine sexual idealism and the struggles in a world focused on patriarchy, to include love, imagined and real, warfare, and other tangential scenarios. Dr. Ann Folwell Stanford, professor of multidisciplinary and literary studies, provided a detailed analysis of “The Anniad,” in her article “An Epic with a Difference: Sexual Politics in Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Anniad.” Dr. Folwell discussed not only “The Anniad,” but also the underlying currents running throughout its cover volume Annie Allen (1949).

Gwendolyn Brooks’s second volume of poetry, Annie Allen (1949), furthers a resistance to white racist hegemony begun in A Street in Bronzeville (1945) but extends its analysis to the confining ideology that (mis)shapes gender and distorts sexual relationships. Many of Annie Allen’s poems interrogate femininity and romantic love, looking at how such constructs restrict women to an oppressive and ultimately unworkable notion of love. Annie continually experiences conflicts be- tween opposites within herself: realism/idealism, assertion/submission, and expression/repression. These dialectical terms dictate struggle, and that struggle inheres in many of the volume’s best poems. Feminized both by title and subject matter, Annie Allen foregrounds a resistance to male co-optation and female passivity and offers a critique of sexual politics focusing on the imbalance of power that frequently characterizes relations between the sexes.

Ann Folwell Stanford. “An Epic with a Difference: Sexual Politics in Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Anniad,” American Literature 67, no. 2 (June 1995): 283, accessed 18 February 2021, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2927790.

I share below the opening lines of Brooks’ “The Anniad” to wet your appetite to engage her work. I will be reading more of her work, which is beautiful in its complexity and simplicity, and raw portrayal of life impacted by gender inequality and racism.

Think of sweet and chocolate,
Left to folly or to fate,
Whom the higher gods forgot,
Whom the lower gods berate;
Physical and underfed
Fancying on the featherbed
What was never and is not.

Gwendolyn Brooks, The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, ed. Elizabeth Alexander (New York: The Library of America, 2005), 36.

With this brief introduction, I now challenge you, dear reader, to explore the world of not only Gwendolyn Brooks, but of other black and female authors who bravely broke the codes through their artistic expressions. We are bound to honor and thank them.

Death Comes for the Archbishop

I vaguely recall that I read something by Willa Cather…decades ago. Like many of us, my life became focused on other missions and their recommended or relevant readings. Furthermore, I generally have not been focused on American literature. That is changing as I continue to evolve and broaden my scope. I will read all of Willa Cather’s books in due time as her work is revealing and so descriptive of the Native American Southwest and other adventures that pioneers endured in settling America’s breadbasket, where I grew up.

Within a few phrases I realized why Claire Messud referenced Death Comes for the Archbishop in her book that I briefly discussed in a prior post. I was hooked and could not wait to keep turning the pages. Those of us who have visited our American Southwest, especially New Mexico and Arizona, understand the awe of the desert landscape and its reverberating energy…Native American spiritual energy that is unmistakable in its mystical, pure, and raw forms. When I visited the Grand Canyon in 2002 and arose early with my friend to watch the sunrise, it was a priceless moment, an exquisite example of nature’s splendor. More recently, when my wife and I visited Sedona, and when I visited Taos, the energy was ever-present, tingling one’s senses with its wonderful vibrations. Each time I go to the Southwest, it calls me to be there and live among the ancestors.

Willa Cather paints a beautiful and picturesque scene with her words, strung together like an artist, perfect in their description and ability to transport the reader into her book, a vibrant movie reel in one’s open mind. I share a passage below that popped out when my book simply fell open to its pages. Cather painted the natural yet deliberate array of the vast rock mesas, the grandeur of the Indian pueblo at Ácoma, New Mexico.

In all his travels the Bishop had seen no country like this. From the flat red sea of sand rose great rock mesas, generally Gothic in outline, resembling vast cathedrals. They were not crowded together in disorder, but placed in wide spaces, long vistas between. … The sandy soil of the plain had a light sprinkling of junipers, and was splotched with masses of blooming rabbit brush,—that olive-coloured plant that grows in high waves like a tossing sea, at this season covered with a thatch of bloom, yellow as gorse, or orange like marigolds.

This mesa plain had an appearance of great antiquity, and of incompleteness; as if, with all the materials for world-making assembled, the Creator had desisted, gone away and left everything on the point of being brought together, on the eve of being arranged into mountain, plain, plateau. The country was still waiting to be made into a landscape.

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927; repr., New York: Vintage Classics Edition, 1990), 94-95.

Come one, come all and join Willa Cather to vividly explore the adventures of America’s construction. Through her illustrations, find rays of light and rainbows that shone and glittered, in the bitter and destructive wake, of those who were strong and fought for the right to live, and the missions who understood, respected, and supported their way of life. Reminisce in the stars that shine down upon us in our own worlds.

Claire Messud

Last week I finished reading Kant’s Little Prussian Head & Other Reasons Why I Write by Claire Messud (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2020). We learned of this book from a NYT book review and it peaked our interest enough to buy it, which I do not regret. In addition to insight about an author with whom I was unfamiliar, Messud expanded my list of authors. I consider myself to be well-read but there are ALWAYS more books worthy of one’s attention and considering people can get into certain genres, we miss other gems.

I have several works by Albert Camus that I regularly re-read, and read Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro a very long time ago. However, I must confess she highlighted others that have intriguing lives and works. I even enjoyed her coverage of artists, which is definitely out of my scope although I cannot wait for the National Gallery of Art and other museums to re-open for sitting and studying silence their offerings.

I ordered Pulitzer Prize winning The Wild Iris (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992) by American poet Louise Glück, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature. I read it straight through quickly for my first read. I will return to it again and contemplate each verse more slowly as her work demands such attention. I also ordered American author Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927; repr., New York: Vintage Classics, 1990), which I am currently reading and will finish by the weekend. Searching for poetry led me to poetry and essays that by three black women that I felt compelled to read to further educate myself about Black History as a part of American History. We are supposed to put ourselves in others’ shoes; however, that is easier said then done in many cases. My desire is that to read from a black woman’s perspective will expand my own aperture to a deeper level of understanding. There are great works by black male authors but as a woman, I turn to these awesome pioneering women for enlightenment. More on them in a future post.

Now I turn back to Messud to close this Friday morning train of thought. Kant’s Little Prussian Head offered numerous insights but there is one in particular that I highlighted, yes in our new hardback copy, toward the end that resonated with my senses. Through the love of books, one can learn connectedness. Just think…

Connection—whether in love or in art—entails risk; risk entails awkwardness. And it is through vulnerabilities that, as humans, we speak most profoundly, from the heart.

Claire Messud, Kant’s Little Prussian Head & Other Reasons Why I Write (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2020), 285.

Renewal via a Prior Path

I have wandered for long enough.
Tried to belong where I did not fit in
Always uncomfortably out of place.
Formally- and self- taught
Educated and career-oriented.
It is time to seek my spiritual path
One that I know suits me…my ancestry.
Deep inside I have always known
Always been at one with nature and animals.
I have many books, my skulls and stones.
It is time for me to enter the grove
To seek my enlightenment, enchantment of my soul.
I begin this journey without fear…
My journey to who I am supposed to be.
I ask Earth Mother to welcome and embrace me
Cleanse me and open up my senses
So that I may comprehend, heal myself, and
Potentially help others heal.

Look Mamas, We Brought You a Gift!

All pet parents have likely been there and witnessed our dear little four-legged family members and their earnest presentations of their gifts from the great outdoors. Last month we received our latest offering, a token of their enduring affection. I was walking by Winston, our serious goofball Poochon, on a rug with a toy. I took a couple of steps and was like, even among their vast collection of toys, I did not recall something that even remotely resembles a bird. Of course, I backed up and knelt down to investigate. The gift was indeed a bird that had crossed the bridge and had some small portions missing. It must have fallen out of a tree or something and into our yard because the cats do not go outside…most of the time unless they escape and feel the need to climb a tree. That is a story for another time. Anyway…I took the gift and thanked him then told Kathy about our latest gift and she said oh, I saw him concentrating on something in one of the front beds. I was like oh no…he took it with him to his favorite spots, similar to what he does with one of my flip flops when we are both gone. We tracked his path to his favorite spots and of course had to clean two beds and one rug, then took the poor creature out to our woods in the back to offer it back to Mother Earth.

Several years ago, the cats caught their gift that had apparently either ventured too close to the gap that was under the bottom of our screened porch door (rectified shortly thereafter) or the little bird decided to somehow manage to get onto our porch underneath the door. I discovered this gift well after what appeared to have been its demise at the paws of our Maine Coon/Abyssinian litter mates Amos and Andy. They were acting crazier than usual and obviously had their fun in chasing it before their instincts went into kill mode. I went into the master suite for something and saw feathers literally everywhere and was like hmmm, I do not recall a stuffed bird that has these kind of feathers or any for that matter. I think it was Amos at that point that had what remained trapped in the bathroom on a rug and was not happy to part with his “toy.” Now, that was a mess to clean up and we found more feathers in our main living area when we investigated further. The cats are smart and quick as lightening when they decide to go for something.

We love all creatures and feed the birds and squirrels out back but do not really want them in our home. However, we accept the gifts as they come, thank our pack members for their diligence, and then present their offerings back to nature to include the mother hawk who has her nest in our back woods. We had an incident with Andy and one of her babies a few years ago but I will leave that tale for another time.

Letting Go…Felt Like a Loser

I know my blog is about positivity and all that; however, life is not always a bucket of love filled with beautiful flowers. Sometimes life is trashy and makes one feel so low, like a real loser. It happens and that is okay. We pick ourselves up, often with the love and kicking support of a best friend, or more than one as at times it takes a village to get us back up on our feet and seeing rays of sunshine. Hard times make us tougher and teach us how to activate that protective shell, which can be a detriment when we need to feel and love fully.

I am working through Zen as F*ck – A Journal for Practicing the Mindful art of Not Giving a Sh*t by Monica Sweeney. It would offend the more sensitive folks but it has become my backup journal to my regular blank pages of random, or not so random, recordation of my thoughts. Anyway, the pages I fell upon this morning involved on one side to write down “What is something someone said about you or to you that made you feel like the contents of a dumpster?” This one was easy, even after so many years…why…because it hurt so badly that so far, only one other shocking life event has ranked right up there with the one from 1996…yes…1996. I was serving on Active Duty in the US Army, nearly halfway through my twenty year career, and had completed my training to become a Warrant Officer, a technical expert in my field. Here is what I wrote: 1996 – Divorce Trial Judge, Manhattan, KS…He told me I had done an admirable job in taking care of my family but due to my career I was unfit to be a mother and primary care giver, custodial parent, for my young daughter. Therein I lost custody of my dearest little one, my Alexandra. My best friend with whom I grew up…Care Bear…saved me from myself and giving up on my career I loved by resigning my new commission and quitting, which was my dumpster trash thought after being shredded to a pulp of anger and savage pain in court. On to the light.

On the next page my assignment was to then write down “What’s one thing someone said about you or to you that made you feel incredible?” Two circumstances actually popped into my head so I wrote them down. Both had to do with my work in academia, with my two Master Degree programs – MS in 2001 and MA in 2020. In September 2001 my US Army senior advisor gave me a glowing rating and recommended me for PhD work in Russian Studies. The latter did not happen for several reasons, among them our prevailing focus in the Middle East…that is OKAY. In October 2020, my amazing thesis professor loved my Literature Review and complimented my overall work, as she had during the other two courses I took with her. The connection here is not lost on me. These are the thoughts that prevailed above many others because they are TANGIBLE achievements, ones that I can hold onto FOREVER and that NO ONE can take from me…period. I WON and cannot lose these awards and rewards for my diligent work. The third step of this drill was to “Scribble out the first one with abandon. Circle the second one [two in my case], say it out loud, and take in all its goodness.” I scrawled over the entry from 1996 with my pencil at random and circled my 2001 and 2021 entries in blue, of course as blue/teal are my favorite colors…okay I also really like purple/lavender.

The author summed this up as “cherry-picking” one’s feelings. She is on to something in terms everyone can appreciate, even those who may be offended by her frank and raw approach, which good/bad/indifferent, it suits me. Cherry-picking one’s feelings is easier said than done; however, if we try it, we can achieve progress. It is about one’s perspective, adapting and overcoming the ilk in life. Growing up I loved Erma Bombeck and her approach to life. I still love Erma and as books tend to move around over the years, I bought a volume with four of her “best-loved” works at my favorite used bookstore out here, Wonderbooks in Frederick, MD.
The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank;
If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries – What Am I Doing in the Pits?;
Aunt Erma’s Cope Book – How to Get from Monday to Friday…in 12 Days; and
Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession.

So, this post really is about the positivity in one’s ability to at least try and let go, adapt and overcome adversity. I try to remember that too many people have been through worse events. I have my adult daughter and grandson, although they live halfway across the country, in my life and inner circle of love and friendship that keeps me spinning in a glow of warm yellow light and blue sky. Namaste.

Thank You Dr. King

Not EVERYBODY can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service….YOU ONLY NEED a HEART full of GRACE and a soul generated by LOVE. – Martin Luther King Jr. (18 Jan 2021, The Old Farmer’s Almanac Daily Calendar)

May humankind learn from Martin Luther King Jr. and do its best to live in better and kinder manners.

Thank you Dr. King

I found this stamp whilst reorganizing my old collection. Cool.

To Be an Historian

I have always loved studying history and reading the classics, which I began exploring in grade school. However, I now understand that most of the classics to which I was introduced were a minutiae of the ancient and classical works with which I have fallen in love over the last few years. Even when growing up, I thought reading about and studying history was important so humankind would perhaps learn from its past errors in judgement and reflect on the consequences of subsequent actions. However, too often that has not been the case. As we have witnessed throughout time, humans have not applied lessons to promote positive change. Furthermore, some took history into their own hands and cherry-picked elements that suited their personal agenda and ideals to fuel their causes that aimed to stymie equal rights and target the other(s) not like them.

I had what I call the privilege to witness and learn from the destruction left behind the various wakes of human brutality throughout my 30-year US Army/DoD career. My assignment in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) from mid-1988 through late 1991 was a most exciting yet tenuous time. During my tour, which was fabulous by the way, I saw the reunification of the two Germanies – the FRG and the German Democratic Republic (GDR)/Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), the fall of the Berlin Wall, and withdrawal of Soviet Groups of Forces from the Eastern Front back to the east of the Ural Mountains. Families separated by the border fences and walls that divided West from East were reunited and Germany began healing, albeit slowly. While stationed in the Republic of Korea (ROK) from 1995-1996, I came to understand why we still stand in defense of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the ROK and Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) to her north. Witnessing the violent ethnic cleansing/genocide when deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of Stabilization Forces (SFOR) 5/6 in 1998-1999 was a life-changing experience and drastically affected the context and manner in which I consider humankind in light of heinous atrocities inflicted on the other(s). Deployed in support of combat operations in Afghanistan (2002) and Iraq (2004, 2009, 2010/11) taught me more lessons about inequality and suffering. I consider myself fortunate to have had these experiences, and to have lived to recall them and apply their lessons.

I am ready to pursue my midlife adventure as an historian and independent scholar who wants to conduct research, apply long-practiced analytical skills, write, and teach. I know I have a lot to offer and also to learn, which is OKAY, as one should never cease learning along the continuum of life. So where does that put me within the continuum of history? Considering my concentration in ancient and classical history, one could propose a long time ago and irrelevant, which is so far from the reality of how important classics remain, now, today, in 2021 and the future. The writing…telling of history is ever-changing due to technological advances and multidisciplined, synthesized analytical methods. One must live in the present but have the agility to analyze history through a contextual lens of that time and piece together a likely scenario, which may readily apply to the present, our current modern history. History is alive and ready for the recipient.

What does it take to be an historian, and a history teacher, is a question that certainly elicits varied responses and lively discourse. I share below an excerpt from Professor Stephen Kantrowitz’s keynote address to graduating history majors at the University of Wisconsin in May 2020. Italics are as written in the editorial.

To think like a historian demands two contradictory things of us: profound humility, and overweening arrogance. Humility because we know that when we reconstruct the past, we are not actually putting the thing together as it was, not recovering a lost, eternal truth, but instead making meaning. And that’s why the arrogance: because even though we know the limitations of our knowledge, we try to tell a coherent story about the past. A story that fits the facts as we find them, that addresses the meaningful contradictions, that is frank about the absences and uncertainties without retreating into hopelessness. A story that acknowledges the limits of our knowledge and our perspective, but that does not throw up its hands.

In this way, the historian’s job is the same as that of the citizen.

“From the Editors’ Desk: Teaching History in the Time of COVID,” The American Historical Review 125, no. 3 (June 2020): xviii.

I am ready and willing…are you?

Note: For a seminal discussion of the West’s perceptions of the East, and concept of “the other” see Edward W. Said, Orientalism (1978; repr., New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1978).

Enchanting One’s Senses

“What Delights My Senses”
– An exercise for oneself from the Apr/May 2020 Yoga Journal magazine

Last night I began reviewing journal entries from the last year or so. Yes, there are recurring themes of frustration and anger, akin to an LP that is skipping and stuck in a loop. There are also insights that I buried, wallowing in my own little microcosm of misery, at times self-inflicted by my Type-A/OCD personality. I want to share something I learned from the Apr/May 2020 Yoga Journal that can help one focus on what is going right, rather than all the icky chaff that is cluttering our energy fields. It is an exercise called “What Delights My Senses” and includes five simple questions to answer generously, per the column. I share with you, dear reader, my simple answers from 23 June 2020 as an example of looking inside oneself and going with the first thing(s) that pop into one’s mind. You see, they are mostly what is right before and around us, in our humans, animals, and purities of nature. This is a rewarding exercise that can help one focus on the good and positive aspects of life, especially this year, and refocus on the potential to renew one’s energy and spirit in 2021.


1. What do I love the sight of?
– My family – wife, daughter, grandson, parents, etc…Our Pets
– My friends – inner circle
2. What do I love the smell of?
– The woods…mountain pine…pure streams
3. What do I love the sound of?
– Birds, the ocean waves, silence, a trickling brook
4. What do I love the taste of?
– Cold water, dark chocolate, coffee, a good beer, ice cream
5. What do I love the feeling of on my skin?
– Water, soft & clean sheets, my wife

Namaste

Full Moon Berserkers

We have three dogs (lost our dear Angel Lucy in March) and eight cats…our petting zoo as my best friend with whom I grew up refers to our home. I reviewed journal entries last night prior to going to sleep and recorded a new entry. I still felt unsettled and very anxious, due in-part because I am very worried about my dearheart who is far away. Anyway, the cats and dogs were acting like berserkers. Prior to turning in, one of the youngest cats was running around our main level looking for…something…behind and under every piece of furniture. We were like what is she doing, and the others were also not exactly calm. Then when we were all tucked in with several fur babies, one pup decided to go after at least two cats and got a tuft of fur from the one that was running amok earlier. This pup is the same one who sensed my anxiety and was snuggling next to me, apparently to protect me from anything and anyone. I checked my Samsung Gear and was like ah, yes of course, it is a full moon, which I already knew from looking at the twilight glow outside in the middle of the night. I must remember to more closely track the moon phases so I can fortify myself, our pack, and home in preparation for the pull of the moon’s energy. I will say it was entertaining to watch the cat run around but then I should have checked in with the energy of nature as there is always an answer. Namaste.