Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Poem of the Day: Ogden Nash's "Giant Baby Giant Panda"

I first encountered Ogden Nash’s Giant Baby Panda poem settled like a gem in Marianne Moore’s 1944 essay “Feeling in Precision.” In the essay, Moore writes:

"Voltaire objected to those who said in enigmas what others had said naturally, and we agree; yet we must have the courage of our peculiarities. What would become of Ogden Nash, his benign vocabulary and fearless rhymes, if he wrote only in accordance with the principles set forth by our manuals of composition?

I love the Baby Giant Panda
I'd welcome one to my veranda.
I never worry, wondering maybe
Whether it isn't Giant Baby;
I leave such matters to the scientists—
The Giant Baby—and Baby Giantists.
I simply want a veranda, and a
Giant Baby Giant Panda.

This, it seems to me, is not so far removed from George Wither's motto: "I grow and wither both together.""

What immediately charmed me about this poem was the way it thwarts traditional analysis. This kind of literary subversion is, of course, par for the course with Nash, but (believe it or not) I’d never actually read an Ogden Nash poem before this one. We could ask what the panda poem means or what it’s about, but there’s no grand aphorism to be culled from the panda, nor is any particular story being told. Those means of assigning value to the poem are ultimately beside the point. We could say that this poem is about a person who loves baby pandas and would like to have one over to his veranda for a visit, but on closer inspection, the second to last line suggests that this speaker doesn’t even have a veranda in the first place. If anything at all, this poem is simply about the fact that the word panda rhymes with the word veranda, which is a delightful observation.

Insofar as it exists for the sake of reveling in sound play, Nash’s poem is a right, welcoming choice for Moore in her discussion of enigma versus “the courage of our peculiarities.” Moore locates Nash’s peculiar courage in his “fearless rhymes.” I still wonder whether Moore meant to say that our peculiarities give us courage or that it takes courage to express our peculiarities to the world, undisguised by enigma. Either way, Nash’s “Giant Baby Giant Panda” fits the bill.  

                                                                                    —Thea Brown

Thea Brown teaches in the creative writing program at George Washington University.   

Monday, April 28, 2014

Azar Nafisi reading: TUESDAY, April 29, 7:30 p.m.

Writer Azar Nafisi will read from her work on Tuesday, April 29th at 7:30 pm as part of the Jenny McKean Moore series. The talk is in the Marvin Center, Room 407.

Ms. Nafisi is the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I've Been Silent About.  Her talk will focus on her new book, Republic of the Imagination.  

Here is her description of the new work:

"The book focuses on the question: can we have a democracy without a democratic imagination?  It is also about my experiences of 'becoming an American citizen,' of how before coming to America I had traveled to the imaginary America through its fiction, and it is through the lens of that fiction that I now encounter the real America.  My focus is on the vagrant and homeless characters of American fiction, who I believe are also its moral guardians. I begin with Huck Finn as the parent to many other protagonists of American fiction, go on to Babbitt, a critique of current utilitarianism and Ayn Randian individualism, with focus on the education system and its sorry state, then to Heart is a Lonely Hunter, where all the marginal descendants of Huck are gathered, and the Epilogue is on Baldwin.  He as you know has a great deal to say about the intersections between history and fiction, personal and public, and I will draw on that and his definition of the writer as witness."

Poem of the Day: Elaine Kahn's "Name Like an Empty Bag"

Name Like an Empty Bag

My house is a mess. Fuck. Fuck. I burned my 
sweater on the stove. The smell of melted 
acetate, of reading. What if I hate 
it just because she does a better job 
of being me than I do? Too familiar,
the sound of keeping my mouth closed.

I am wearing cycling gloves. I’d like everyone 
to put down their bran muffin for a 
moment and consider the peace that comes 
from staring into the eyes of dog. 
Everybody needs someone to be themselves 
around. But the moonlight is not the moon.

Better people buck the sentimental 
fake of body I’m no rust or green me 
gulp, I gotta. I will let my hair grow 
greasy, I am just a woman with her
arms crossed. Feeling better than I was more 
quickly than expected. That is usual.

How you come up from a nap and fear
that you will never truly be awake 
again. Bed sheets, blankets, Joan-of-Arc-like 
clothing, lamp, a ring. The material 
fishhook does not cease to be a sex act 
don’t be foolish when I tell you

I have loved you just the way you are. 
I always wanted to die of consumption. 
Nothing truer than a McRib or a 
double rainbow. I put garbage in my pockets. 
Read a book. Write a letter. Thank you for 
the object, for the attitude of grace.

The world is much more tolerant of the 
anorectic female head-case. Bravery, 
O boring masochism. I will beg 
you for your patience, trust, my weirdness 
is a side-effect of trying to be 
normal, swear, I do my best, loins, 
I’ve grown tired of girding you.

Despite I
Empty out I 
Sleeping out I

I am attracted to me? 
It is fun to sit in me?

I finish the book. 
I throw the book away.

"Name Like an Empty Bag" by Elaine Kahn is a touching poem about a woman who is frustrated with the life she is living. She calls herself and her house a mess. She calls for peace in her world and the world of others. Kahn calls for a suspension of appearances. She goes on to point out that she won't shower and she feels great not having to look good for others. At a certain point in the poem she begins to talk to herself as if she were a separate entity, She talks about how she (herself) needs to wake up and love herself for who she is. In doing that she needs to love what she does, whether it be eating or collecting scraps or reading and writing. She tells herself that the real world is much more appreciative of who she is now, but if she loved herself the world may not accept that. She finishes the poem with a series of questions about herself. Having transitioned back into her being, she is asking these questions to herself. Is she attracted to herself? Is it fun to be her?

Kahn's writing style is very refreshing. She is very quick to use enjambment so that the first words and the last words on each line have their own punch to them. Also very interesting is her use of questions throughout the poem. The questions are concentrated around the beginning and end of the poem where she is switching persons. She is switching out of her body and talking about herself from outside herself. The poem proceeds in free verse; there is no rhyme scheme or constant meter. The poem flows in a different way. The enjambment, while still having the effects mentioned above, aids the flow of the poem in such a way that each sentence leads into the other. While reading this over and over again, I found myself noticing when sentences ended at the end of a line. These lines were usually the most impactful.

The title is a very key operator in the poem. The title "Name Like an Empty Bag" sets a lens through which the reader has to read the poem. The poem never provides the reader with a name to this character that is so thoroughly discussed. That is reflective of the title. The title equates a name to an empty paper bag; a worthless object with no meaning and next to no use. It's just used to carry things in and to give other objects to other people. There is no lasting meaning to a paper bag and that is how the reader is to perceive this speaker's view of herself.

                                                                                                     -- Nelo Keith Lang

Nelo Keith Lang is a freshman in the Columbian College who aspires to become a high school teacher. He hails from the and only Brooklyn, New Yor

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Poem of the Day: Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise"

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

*Today we feature TWO introductions to the Poem of the Day!*

Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” poem is one of my favorite pieces. The poem speaks to overcoming oppression and resilience with a confident and sassy tone. I chose this poem because I admire the speaker’s confidence throughout it with her rhetorical questions (“Does my sassiness upset you?”), her bold and direct references, and just how clear it is to the speaker and the reader that the oppressors can’t hold her back. She directly references the oppressors, calling them out on their “bitter, twisted lies,” amongst other wrongdoings, and using their wealth to mock them.

Angelou also has vivid images throughout the poem. One that stands out the most is “I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide / Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.” Oceans are seen as free, lasting forever, and she shows that regardless of what oppression she experienced (“shoot me with your words,” “cut me with your eyes,” “kill me with your hatefulness”) she still rises, she’s still here, and she perseveres.

“Still I Rise” directly addresses the oppression of African Americans throughout history, and the speaker even refers to herself as “the hope of the slave.” The poem serves as a tribute to the African American race for experiencing the worst circumstances—slavery, discrimination, segregation, and more—and still persevering, serving as an inspiration and instilling confidence in African Americans.
She also addresses women’s issues in the poem and boldly states, “Does my sexiness upset you? / Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?” This stanza exudes confidence, with her bluntly mentioning the diamonds between her thighs, which many might see as taboo. However, the poem does not speak to only African Americans or women, but to anyone who has been oppressed in some way. Her beautiful references to race and gender do not dominate the poem, making it easier for others to understand the meaning.

The final two stanzas not only have great imagery, but also have a great tempo for the reader to follow. Angelou shows what she’s rising from and then repeats “I rise.” For example, she writes, “Out of the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain / I rise,” and then she creates the image of a black ocean “leaving behind nights of terror and fear.” As the poem takes a more positive perspective, Angelou ends with “I rise / I rise / I rise.” This repetition really helps the message resonate with the reader and gave me goose bumps when I read it.

--Ashlynn Profit

Ashlynn Profit is a senior from Dover, DE majoring in Communication and minoring in Journalism. She enjoys writing, service and all things Beyonce.


This poem was published in 1978 during one of the most productive periods in Angelou’s career. The poem’s theme focuses on how to rise above difficulty and discouragement. Listening to Angelou read her poetry touches me every time, but when I see her perform her poem I feel as if she is talking directly into my soul. She speaks in the present about having to overcome all of the hardships of her past and knowing how now she is a strong African American woman. She repeats “I rise” numerous times in the poem to show her ability to overcome oppression by staying prideful and having confidence.
Angelou paints powerful images in her readers’ minds based on metaphors such as “Shoulders falling down like teardrops / Weakened by my soulful cries” and “‘Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines / Diggin’ in my own back yard.” The way she uses tears and soulful cries immediately makes me think on sadness. She doesn’t deliberately say she is crying and hurt but through her metaphors and similes I get a clear association with sorrow.

The main symbol in the poem is the continuous rising above all those dreadful moments. Angelou, from what I see, was once on the ground and struggled getting up because of the negativity keeping her grounded. Later she realized that she had to pick herself, she had to believe in herself. She is confident and she does have pride, and with that image in her head she was able to rise.

I will always have a strong connection to this poem because, like Angelou, as an African American woman I struggle on a daily basis with negativity surrounding me but I do not stay down. I repeat to myself every day, “You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I'll rise.”

Maya Angelou has taught me to not hold back my words when writing because when others read my work they might also by enlightened. Angelou did it all as a poet, civil rights activist, dancer, author, and actress, and she gives me the drive to not only become a journalist but to pursue all my dreams to their fullest extent.

--Nana Agyemang

Nana is currently a sophomore in the School of Media and Public Affairs at GW.  Although she aspires to be a TV broadcast journalist, her real dreams lie in her love for poetry. She enjoys writing to music by artists such as Toro Y Moi and Lauryn Hill because they allow her to dig into her deeper thoughts and take her into another place.