The Metaphoric Perspective of Kataalyst Alcindor

Comment

The Metaphoric Perspective of Kataalyst Alcindor

An Analysis of Kataalyst Alcindor's Poem: "When Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor"

by Suzanne Carroll-La Follette

Kataalyst Alcindor angles the subject of sexual assault by approaching it from the perspective of survival, moving on, loving and living again. "When dating a sexual assault survivor avoid the words: victim, rape, broken, stupid, failure, and goodbye. Go slowly, always, with everything," he begins. And we listen, he sounds like a man who knows, who has loved someone that has survived rape and then he turns on his heel on the second line. "We are always in the process of making our bodies ours again." This subtle and purposeful turn using "we" and including himself as a survivor caused a gentle tingle to run down my spine. This is the kind of poetic device that works wonders when on stage because of the visual presumptions the audience makes about a speaker. These words, spoken from a man instead of a woman, challenges who we see as sexual assault survivors, who we see as assailants and who becomes the lovers of survivors. Alcindor doesn't play it out long, just two lines and the speaker has taken a perspective of a survivor speaking to those who may try to love him and other survivors. Alcindor's poetic tricks don't stop there. He uses this how-to-manual of a poem to point-by-point work his way through the difficulties of loving and surviving. Through this format each line has the possibility of tackling another subject, the lines could be bullet points he works his way through. This specific perspective on the subject seems fresh and challenging, tender and heartfelt.

 

So, besides the well-chosen perspective, what makes this a great poem? There are several lines of this poem that stand out as beautifully crafted. Let's take a look at a couple of them one by one. Early on in the poem Alcindor delivers the line, "Make your compliments into flowers, lay them at the headstone of the mass grave we call our self-confidence." This double metaphor unfolds with a poetic cadence that introduces Alcindor's ability to craft a line. A double metaphor expresses two equivalences. In this case, compliments=flowers and a grave=self-confidence. These two images attached to their new meanings invite a greater despondence to an already unhappy image of flowers at a grave. 

 

Alcindor continues with more metaphor, "We are the missing pages of life all holy books seem to omit." This short vivid line stands out between longer lines of extended metaphor as Alcindor breaks up his cadence and varies his line length. Short lines like these often stand out and have the possibility of cutting to the core with a quick and poignant image. "All holy books," encompass religions as a whole pulling in every possible audience that has ever felt excluded from their God, or history. A specific book named in its stead would not have the same affect, would shift the focus of the poem. As a metaphor this line equates sexual assault survivors as missing pages and his accuracy is haunting.

 

This brief study of Alcindor's metaphor draws me to the use of metaphor in poetry as a whole, but more specifically the use of metaphor in spoken word. One of the reasons metaphor rises to the surface in the ocean of poetic devices is because of its ability to create community. We attend poetry performances to be part of something greater than ourselves, to enjoy poetry in a room full of friends and strangers rather than alone at home. That's exactly what metaphor brings to a poem as examined closely in Ted Cohen's "Metaphor and the Cultivation of Intimacy." According to Cohen, the reason why metaphor remains such an important linguistic device is because, "There is a unique way in which the maker and the appreciator of the metaphor are drawn closer to one another." He goes on to explain that the speaker of the poem offers a "concealed invitation," then, the audience "expends special effort to accept the invitation" and this "transaction" creates community between them. So, if we think about metaphor like Cohen thinks about metaphor, where do you, as a writer, invite the audience?  Where do you, as an audience member, allow yourself to travel inside another's poem? And where then, did Alcindor's metaphors take you? 

Comment

Amber Tamblyn, The Poetry Director

Comment

Amber Tamblyn, The Poetry Director

by Suzanne Carroll-La Follette

Amber Tamblyn knows exactly what it's like to be in front of a camera. She starred on General Hospital for six years, as well as a long list of films including the Sisterhood of the Travel Pants I and II. More recently, she's appeared in Portlandia, Inside Amy Shumer, Community and more. She comes from a family of performers and lives the life that many of us have dreamed about. Even better, she writes poetry with stunning imagery, sharing with us a slice of movie star life.

In her book Dark Sparkler Tamblyn approaches the matter of fame through a very dark lens: the death of young actresses. The titles of her poems are the names of these actresses, who left this world all too early. This poem, "Brittany Murphy" focuses on Brittany Murphy's death, "Her body dies like a spider's. In the shower, the blooming flower seeds a cemetery." Within the first four lines we are in the shower with Brittany Murphy on the day that she died, "like a spider." Although Brittany Murphy is already gone in the beginning of the poem her body is, "the blooming flower (that) seeds a cemetery." Tamblyn juxtaposes life and death in the same line, highlighting the grotesque loss of blooming youth. She continues, taking the details of Brittany Murphy's death and braiding them into the most beautiful images.

It may help to fill in the gaps by explaining how you know Brittany Murphy. You know Brittany Murphy from Clueless, 8 Mile, Riding in Cars With Boys, or as the voice of Luanne Platter on King of the Hill. She died at the age of thirty-two. She was found in her bathroom. Some say that she died of pneumonia and the medications she took for her illness. The more you read about it, the more mysterious her death becomes. Tamblyn creates a vivid scene, even if you've never seen a Brittany Murphy movie, you still see the bathroom where she died.

Tamblyn refers to the pills she took that could have caused her death, "A pill lodges in the inner pocket of her flesh coat." This image seems nearly impossible to visualize but all too real at the same time. The term "flesh coat" is used in the making of dolls, as they apply the skin.  "The inner pocket of her flesh coat," stands out as some secret pocket inside her body that Tamblyn has opened up for the reader to take a peak inside. This mirrors the exposed life of an actress, as we gaze upon her insides. 

Then, "Her breasts were the gifts of ghosts, dark tarps of success. "Here, the reader finds the gem at the heart of this poem. She mentions her breasts as gifts, as if they were gifts to us all on screen, like so many actresses sharing their bodies with the audience. She then refers to them as, "dark tarps of success," as if the breasts themselves were her demise. The same gift that she gave the world covered her body in the end.

I could continue, with every line of detailed imagery, as Tamblyn focuses so closely on this scene for the first half of the poem. Then, like a skilled director, Tamblyn widens the focus from the scene of the bathroom to the tabloids, "The country says good things about the body." She could have stayed focused on the bathroom scene for the entirety of the poem, but the turn widens the lens to a national perspective. "They print the best photos..." Much like the life of an actress from scene to tabloid, from tragedy to grocery-store-line-browsing, the poem follows the very same path. Where would a poem like that end? Like this, of course, "How bold her eyes were, bigger than Hepburn's. The way she could turn in to her camera close-up like life depended on her." The gravity of the role of an actress in our society weighs heavily here. These people that we watch, take for granted, love and hate, pick apart and hope for scandal couldn't be more visceral and vulnerable than in this poem. 

Comment

Sha'Condria "iCon" Sibley Steps Up to the Mic and We Listen

Comment

Sha'Condria "iCon" Sibley Steps Up to the Mic and We Listen

by Suzanne Carroll-La Follette

Sha'Condria "iCon" Sibley created an identity poem written from third person point-of-view using the moniker Black Woman as a representation of the main character in this poem. Of course, in the world of poetry we cannot assume the speaker and the poet are one in the same, can we? Poetry has never claimed to be non-fiction, although we would often times prefer the poems that we love to be absolute truth. This poem may not be about Sha'Condria at all, but her words coincide with the action the audience is witnessing. Meaning, Sha'Condria describes the experience of a black woman sharing a poem with an audience full of white faces, "in front of a jury, Texas Grand Slam, who don't see her as their peers." She performed this poem at the Texas Grand Slam Poetry Festival and she was being judged, by five judges in the audience that held up scores seconds after she finished her poem. This meta-poetry approach, of writing about what it's like to perform her poem, creates an incredible sense of now, that Sha'Condria builds on throughout the performance of the poem.

Why, then, do you think Sha'Condria decided to write this poem in third person, rather than first person? Poets and writers deal with this question constantly. Will my message come across more powerfully from a first person perspective, a point-of-view so personal others understand? Or, by using third person do I broaden the definition of "I" in the poem and invite more people under the umbrella of the experience? In this case, I would suggest that the latter is true. Sha'Condria created something amazing when she decided that Black Woman was going to be the main character of this poem, both in perspective and in repetition. Although she describes the specific experience of performing at a poetry slam in front of an audience, when she uses the name Black Woman her umbrella reaches out to everyone who has felt, "too insignificant to be acknowledged." In that moment, it doesn't matter if the audience has ever been a poet, has ever written a poem and taken the stage at a poetry slam. Poetry becomes a representation of any opportunity to speak, to be silenced, dismissed or to be heard.

If written in first person the repetition of Black Woman would become "I" and, it could shrink the audience of the poem. In this poem the repetition of "I" seems much less powerful than Black Woman, too singular for the cause of the poem, "Because Black Woman has become accustomed to having her babies slaughtered." In this line we can hear the voice of women who have lost their children to police officers and violent neighborhoods. We hear voices both current and ancient.

The use of meta-poetry in this poem reaches a height with the line, "Black Woman is told never to be heard, that she don't feel a thing, that the melanin and estrogen cancel out the human in her DNA." Just reading the line doesn't do it justice. Hearing the line delivered from Sha'Condria in a room full of people, attentive to everything she has to say, and feeling her words, defies the social norms Sha'Condria laid out in this poem. It's a poem that not only catches our attention but refuses to be ignored. 





Comment

Khalid the Future Knows His Bible Stories

1 Comment

Khalid the Future Knows His Bible Stories

by Suzanne Carroll-La Follette

This persona poem by Khalid The Future ties together the many stories of Saint Peter while dipping in and out of the St Peter's voice, using modern dialect and hip-hop rhythm at poignant moments in the poem to connect to his audience. Although, in the first few lines Khalid introduces himself as Peter, "The Rock," if he were to actually maintain the voice and dialect of Saint Peter he would sound like the King James bible and this could easily cause a slam poetry audience to fall asleep. Khalid knows his audience and continued the poem in his style while still sharing the stories of Saint Peter from a first person perspective.

Slam poems with Christian themes seem to be few and far between and I imagine Khalid wanted to share Peter's story and perspective without preaching to the audience. As a poet, he needed a delicate balance of history, energy and love for his subject matter to come across well on the stage and he succeeded with this poem.

Line by line this poem delves into the history of Saint Peter. Khalid knows his bible stories and knows how to write about them. "Can someone shut this rooster up? I'm trying to talk here," he repeats as a refrain throughout the poem. The refrain, even if you didn't catch the meaning still brings an urgency throughout the poem as the speaker tries to share his perspective while this pesky rooster continues to crow. The line comes from Jesus' prediction during the last supper that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crows. Once Peter denied him three times, he heard the rooster crow, realized what he had done, and began to repent immediately.

Khalid braids the stories of Saint Peter as a fisherman, a disciple of Jesus, a witness to Jesus walking on water, "It's like the water lost its self esteem the way Jesus walked all over it." He tells the stories of Jesus feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fish, the healing of diseased followers, the raising of Lazarus, "Add the muscle, apply the skin and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't stop Jesus from putting Lazarus back together again." Khalid uses Saint Peter's perspective to account for the miracles of Jesus, just as Peter would have watched in awe of these miracles. His use of Humpty Dumpty as a familiar nursery rhyme and the story of Lazarus create a crescendo of energy mid-poem. The nursery rhyme is accessible and familiar while the vivid imagery of putting a human body back together again piece by piece creates a captivating moment for the audience.

Shortly after that Khalid breaks character even further by addressing the audience with, "Let me slow down before I halle-lose-yah." This check in with the audience is self-aware and causes a moment of pause, and laughter. But he doesn't stop long before he launches into his final crescendo of images of angels walking up, "...like fifty deep." These intentional breaks in language, bringing the modern to biblical stories, not only helps the audience to relate but also adds a bit of humor to the poem. Then he builds up to one of the strongest lines of the poem, "How you gonna fight something you can't see?" It's a question Khalid never answers but rather allows it to hang in the air for a moment before he continues. With an open-ended line like this the audience begins to fill in the blanks, possibly seeing their own demons, their own battles.

Khalid ends the poem with another break in the persona that becomes a challenge to the audience. "Yeah, you seen the paintings but have you ever talked to him? You read the book but have you ever walked with him?" This line brings us back to modern times as the book and the paintings that he is referring to did not exist in Peter's lifetime. Yet, these moves seem intentional on Khalid's part, again addressing the audience, challenging them to think about their relationship with Jesus. At the close Khalid could have left it there, became a preacher, guided the audience to do what he, as a poet, thought they should do, but he doesn't. That's the greatest part. Again, he leaves that open, a two line challenge, then he reminds us that he has walked with Jesus and washed his feet because he is Peter, Jesus called him "The Rock," as in the rock of the church. This gentle use of persona gave Khalid the cover that he needed to share this perspective of Jesus from, not his, but Peter's eyes. The audience leaves with a refresher on biblical history, and few questions to ponder on their own.


1 Comment