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William Carlos Williams’ “Young Woman at a Window”

I love learning new things. Last year I took a free course on Coursera – Modern Poetry with Al Filreis from the University of Pennsylvania. One of ModPo’s assignments required us to compare Williams’ two poems, but the assignment required us to say why the second one was more imagist than the other. Once again, I did things my own way and disagreed that the second poem is more imagist than the first. I guess I see things differently.

The second version of William Carlos Williams’ “Young Woman at a Window” does not follow the imagist manifesto more clearly than the first, because both poems leave a large window of interpretation. In both versions, the images are questionable and often unclear. Although they are very similar, both tell a completely different story by the way they are written in stanza. Williams’ first version (v1) of the poem tells us a story of a woman being robbed by a child. In the second version (v2), Williams tells us about a woman on the verge of a breakdown.

wcw-young-woman-version-1

In the first line of v1, “While she sits / there”, the image is unclear. The word “while” is indefinite, as we do not know what period of time this could mean. She is sitting where? “There” does not indicate where she sits, so it does not mean the criteria of imagist poetry. In the second part of v1, “with tears on / her cheek,” the stanza seems to be clear that the tears are on her cheek without any alternative meaning or image. Williams uses the lines “her cheek on her hand” in both versions of the poem, but he separates them in stanzas. We know here that her cheek rests on her hand: “her cheek on / her hand” because it is in one stanza.

Williams’ choice of words in the fourth and fifth stanzas of v1: “this little child / who robs her // knows nothing of / his theft” could be construed as being either literally or figuratively robbed. Since imagists are supposed to be clear-cut in their poetry, I must conclude that this image is blurred from the poet’s intention.

At the end of v1, Williams concludes: “but rubs his / nose”. If in fact the child robbed the woman, he could very well thumb his nose at her. If he is figuratively robbing her, he is probably tired and crying, which causes him to rub his nose.

In v2 the poem begins: “She sits with / tears on” in the first stanza. This completely changes the meaning from the way it was written in v1 if each stanza represents a separate idea or image. The word “on” could be interpreted that the woman’s tears are turned on like a faucet.

wcw-young-woman-version-2

Because v2 has been broken up into separate stanzas: “her cheek/her cheek on // her hand, the child,” it paints a different picture than the first version. Here, her cheek is emphasized, which makes the reader wonder if this particular cheek is part of her face or her buttocks. We can imagine both scenarios – her cheek on her hand could mean resting her hand on her face or sitting on her hand. Even though we may assume in v2 her cheek may be on her hand, the separate stanzas are a new idea. Then Williams throws us with: “her hand / the child.” Is the child acting up and she uses her hand to discipline him? First we had her cheek on her hand, now it seems to be on the child. Who can blame this woman, because she is clearly stressed!

However, in v2, Williams eliminates the “child who robs her” stanza altogether. Instead, he writes: “in her lap // his nose.” Here I imagine the child’s nose in the woman’s lap, the way young children bury their heads, especially after they’ve been disciplined by the hand.

Finally, v2 ends with “pressed / to the glass,” and I believe that Williams is using figurative language here. When glass is pressed hard enough, it breaks. Perhaps other readers will assume the child’s nose is pressed to the glass, but because the stanzas are separate, I imagine differently.

Although the second version of the poem is considered “more imagist,” I have to disagree. Neither are “hard and clear” as defined by the imagist manifesto, in my opinion. Just because someone claims one to be “more” than the other doesn’t make it so.

The Old Man Mad About Drawing: A Tale of Hokusai

Many times I find some of the best books at library book sales. The Old Man Mad About Drawing: A Tale of Hokusai, by Francois Place, is one of them. This beautifully illustrated book includes many of Japanese artist Hokusai’s works as well as other illustrations, and its fable-like storyline is enjoyable for both young and old alike.

oldmanmad

The story takes place in Japan, where a young boy, Tojiro, sells rice cakes on the street and meets an old man nine times his age. That man is a print-maker named Hokusai. Tojiro learns many lessons from Hokusai, who is like a master to him in many ways. This is a story that will have you laughing, nodding, and shaking your head all at the same time because many of us can relate to the book’s characters or have known characters much like them. Its many messages are genuinely charming to anyone who can appreciate what knowledge seniors have to share with us.

I give this book a 5-star rating.

Puff the Magic Dragon Inspires Fearlessness

I have very vivid dreams every night and have been keeping dream journals consistently over last several years. So far I’ve filled three dream journals over that period of time, and it seems that the more I write them down, the more I dream. Sometimes I can easily interpret them, other times I am completely lost as to why I would dream such bizarre things.

One night I had this very vivid dream of being on a journey, flying horses and calling one of them Puff the Magic Dragon. Upon waking, I had no idea what in the world any of it meant, as I did not remember the story of Puff. Thankfully for Youtube, I watched the three 9-minute segments of the 1978 cartoon and there was the answer to my dream.

I had already known that the meaning of flying in a dream is overcoming something or rising above a situation. Horses in a dream symbolize strength and endurance. Next, it was up to me to discover why I was recalling the cartoon about Puff the Magic Dragon.

The story of Puff begins with a little boy named Jackie Draper who does not speak. A dragon named Puff appears at his window and tells Jackie he is there to help him help himself. Puff draws a picture of Jackie and names him “Jackie Paper”, and takes Jackie Paper on a journey in a boat to discover the land of Honah Lee. Along the journey is a big mean-looking pirate, which at first the little boy fears.

“The first step in not being afraid is to see things as they really are,” Puff tells Jackie. All of a sudden, Jackie sees the pirate as a baker and is no longer afraid.

The next fear that Jackie must overcome is the sea. Puff tells the boy that it’s not the sea he’s afraid of, but the dark clouds that cover the stars – because the clouds are jealous of the stars. The clouds believe they can deny beauty by hiding it, and just as a star falls from the sky, Puff tells Jackie that the clouds are always happy when a star dies.

As the star lay dying in his boat and cannot speak, Jackie says, “She wants to talk but she can’t. I know how she feels,” and although he is still afraid, the boy makes it his mission to save the star – and he does. Immediately after his mission is accomplished, the boat arrives on Honah Lee, but the place is not as they expected. The inhabitants of the island are all big noses that only sneeze and feel discomfort, which helps Jackie to understand that the reason they act that way is because they feel so miserable.

In the end, the pirate-cook comes along and creates rain made of chicken soup, thereby curing the inhabitants of Honah Lee. Puff brings Jackie Paper back to his room and tells him that he needs to be Jackie Draper, who is able to speak once again.

The moral of the story is that if you are fearless and see things in a different perspective, the stars and sunshine will come out – after the clouds and rain. I then understood the meaning of my dream.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Sexual Innuendos, Weak & Evil Females

I took an online course taught by University of Michigan professor Eric Rabkin. Fantasy & Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. Our first assignment was to read Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales (Lucy Crane translation with Walter Crane illustrations) and write a themed essay of 270-320 words.

Shannon's Creative Work: PARANORMAL PROJECT &emdash; History Repeats

Several of the Grimm stories contain sexual innuendos and exhibit female characters as either weak or evil. In the weaker female character versions, they can only be saved by a male.

In “The Rabbit’s Bride”, the female character (maiden) is both lonely and gullible. The male character (rabbit) lures the maiden to sit on his tail, which is clearly a sexual pun, and the gullible maiden agrees to run off with the rabbit to get married. Likewise, the female character (mouse) in “Cat & Mouse in Partnership” is both gullible and weak. She believes her male (cat) partner’s lies and in the end becomes his victim when he no longer wants her to speak. The weak and gullible female (princess) character in “Faithful John” is taken by the merchant upon false pretenses after he opens his coat and shows her his “golden wares”, which could be yet another sexual innuendo. Even after being fooled, the princess still marries the King and later believes the lies he tells her.

“Clever Grethel” lives up to her name. She is conniving with both her gullible male master (who is perhaps her husband) and his guest. Giving that she is cooking two “cocks”, it may be suggested that the guest is someone with whom Grethel is having an affair.
Shannon's Creative Work: PARANORMAL PROJECT &emdash; Out of the Darkness

Some of the stories contain both a weak and an evil female character. While the princess in “The Goose Girl” is too weak to fend for herself against the wicked waiting-woman, in the end it is a male character that saves her. “The Raven” is another example of a story in which the main female character (princess) can only be saved by a male, and the male is deceived and drugged by an evil female (old woman) to keep him from rescuing the princess.

Kids Shouldn’t Know the Meaning of the B- Word

(**I wrote this a few years ago when my daughter was a teenager. It was published in the New Smyrna Beach Observer.**)

The b-word is a silent word in my house. I glare at anyone that uses it, and they know to stay far away from me if they do. It’s not the b-word you are probably thinking of. It’s the word bored.

Imagination is the key.

If you are a parent, chances are you hear the b-word quite often, especially during long summer vacations, spring break or on those horrible half-days the county has so generously offered its students. When my 17-year-old, Kayla, allows my ears to hear what a dull life she has, I hand her a “nothing to do list” that may include the following: wash the car, read a book, pull weeds, or watch the birds play in the trees.

Of course Kayla doesn’t seem to appreciate my “nothing to do list”, usually answering back with something like, “That was the old days, Mom. Kids don’t do those things anymore.”

“Then here are the car keys,” I say smiling, handing her the keys, and watch her eyes light up for a slight moment. “The only place you’re driving is on the lawn – where you will be washing the car.”

After enough times of creating my “nothing to do list” for her, Kayla is learning slowly but surely that life isn’t so boring after all. Miraculously, her mind is suddenly stimulated with her own to-do list when she sees me pick up that pad of paper and pen.

Except to write this article, the word bored is not even a part of my own vocabulary. With a never-ending to-do list, I cannot fathom being bored with nothing to do. I do confer that if you find yourself bored, then more than likely you are probably boring as well. Incidentally, the definition of the root word bore means a dull, tiresome person or thing. If your children are bored, perhaps it’s time to take a look at meaningful and enriching things for them to do with their lives. The same applies to bored (or boring) adults.

Just the other day I was observing old photographs of children taken in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. I wondered how bored they must have been without television, video games, cell phones, and computers. What in the world did those kids do to entertain themselves? What boring lives they must have led! Then I quickly remembered my own childhood during the 1970’s and 80’s.

I didn’t have video games, my own phone, a computer, or cable television either. Our family was a little on the poor side, so most summer vacations and spring breaks were spent riding my bike or going to the beach, and of course as I got older I worked. I had books to read, poetry to write, and friends to play with in the street. Since most of my friends also came from monetarily challenged families, we did anything and everything we could to be out of our houses, because most of us didn’t have the luxury of living in air-conditioned homes year round. We weren’t given many choices, which forced us to think creatively instead of clouding our reality with things of substance rather than superficial junk.

I have lived in different cities and have had the opportunity to teach amongst various income levels throughout my adult life. When I taught young children, I would take them out to recess and they always wanted to bring the balls or hula-hoops. Sometimes I wouldn’t let them bring the balls or hula-hoops or anything, and I’d tell them they had to bring their imaginations. At first they would be angry with me, moping around the playground, kicking sand and pouting, and then I would suggest they use the slide as a ship, the dirt as a fort, etc. After awhile they caught on and they’d laugh and say “Can we go to recess and bring our imaginations?”

Given too many options, children will become bored, and ultimately will become boring adults as well. What children need are not new gadgets; what they need is fostering of the mind. Take away all of the shallow objects they think they need and see what becomes of them. They may amaze you with some of the things that can come from within themselves. Or you can do like me and hand them a “nothing to do list” next time that b-word comes out of their mouths or just tell them to bring their imaginations!

At a loss of words for the children

As most of us probably are today, I am at a loss of words about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.