Monday, December 8, 2008

An Essay in Pictures: Making Meaning of Image

In her aptly title chapter, “Imagery,” renowned American poet, Mary Oliver, does well to explain figurative language, enlightening her readers with examples of metaphor, personification, allusion, and images found in poems from the likes of Elizabeth Bishop, Walt Whitman, and more. Oliver pays close attention to the idea of the image itself, that thing which becomes the centerpiece of a poem or some other piece of literature, opening up a window of opportunity for the writer to describe in full detail what lies before him in the natural world or in the world of his imagination. With some conscious consideration for detail, the writer’s world becomes an essay.

That said, I would like you to choose one video from those listed below, which are included in the presentation given in class, and interpret them in an essay of at least three paragraphs.

Son Lux's "Break":

El-P's "Stepfather Factory":

Talkdemonic's "Duality of Deathening":

Aesop Rock's "None Shall Pass":

Mike Finnegan's "i1100":

Radiohead's "All I Need"

Ross Ching's "Eclectic":

Ross Ching's "Eclectic 2.0":

The images in the video you choose should hopefully inspire in you a sense of metaphor. The question you should ask yourselves as you view the video of your choosing is: What do the images flooding my mind from the video represent?

And so the directions are as follows:
  • Watch the video. Listen to the music.
  • Pay close attention to the details of the images presented in the video and the music that is interfused with those images, lyrics included (if the song has lyrics).
  • Jot down as you view the film your basic impressions of the images and the music. What mood does it create? What emotions are expressed through the interfusion of music and image?
  • Once you (we) are finished viewing the video, write an interpretive essay in which you explain the deeper meaning of the video, giving a analysis/synopsis of its images, and an explanation of the various lyrics, if there are any. Be sure to describe the music you hear as well.

This is assignment is due on the blog or hard copy by Thursday, December 18, 2008.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Taking on a Persona: The Nature Narrative


As Tribune-Review staff writer, Tony LaRussa, stated in class last Friday, any type of writing demands that we tell a story. Such a philosophy requires each of us, as writers, to take on a unique perspective, to gather details, facts, or other bits of evidence that help us to develop and sharpen the lens through which we view the world, a piece of literature, a specific platform for debate, or another object or person. It is one thing to report; it is another to take on the role of story teller, of taking details to build a narrative that relays a unique message to a specific audience. LaRussa explained to us that our task as writers is to delve the surface, to “forget yourself”, and essentially—as Welty suggested—put on the lens of distant observer.

One way to do this is to assume a persona, that is, a voice or character representing someone or something who/that is other than oneself. It is a way, as LaRussa says, to “forget yourself”. That said, I call to mind Sufjan Stevens, whose songs take on the nature of a persona poem, giving us a good sense of what story-telling is all about: keen observation, an eye for subtle detail, and an understanding of what is hidden below the surface.

To be more explicit, a persona poem is a poem written in the first person, in which a writer imagines he is an animal, an object, a famous person - anyone he is not (

The Greek word "persona" means mask. In dramatic poems that's exactly what the writer does, he or she dons a mask and writes from another person's point of view. Even in poems which use "I" as a narrator, writers often represent another person's thoughts or feelings. Persona poems allow you to stretch your style and allow you to attribute emotions and feelings from a less vulnerable perspective. Remember that the narrator guides your reader through the poem.

Questions to ask yourself when writing a persona poem

What is its world like?
What might it see?
What might it hear?
What might it do? (Or a person do to it?)
What does it know?
What might it feel or think?

Closely entwined with the speaker of a poem is the poem's sense of place. The physical world with its sights, smells, and sounds should be more than a backdrop for your poetry. It should be specific, detailed, and central to the thrust of your poem. Your persona character must be shaped by the physical reality and culture of a specific place. Yeats said that a poet's words have "to be wedded to the natural figures of his or her native landscape."

Also, diction (the choice of words, the way words are strung together) becomes a vital element in persona poems. Make sure that your language is language that your character would have used, or at least will appear authentic to the reader. In other words don't write a dramatic monologue about Queen Elizabeth and intersperse slang by Madonna.

Remember to choose if possible, a critical moment in the historical figure's life. Also, use details: clothing, fashion, and objects of the time period.

Here's a simple example. These are the mummy's words from "The Mummy's Smile" by Shelby K. Irons:

Blessed Amon-Ra!
I still remember the sun on my bones.

I ate pomegranates and barley cakes.
I wore a necklace of purple stones.
And sometimes I saw a crocodileSlither silently into the Nile.

Blessed Osiris!
Now I only feel cold light beneath the glass.
Now I eat the words of children passing by.
Now I wear the decay of time preserved.
And sometimes I see two lovers
embracebehind the column next to the E X I T sign.

The first stanza focuses on sensory impressions, and all the details accurately describe things this mummy might have actually experienced when she was alive.

The above information, taken from, explains the general construction of a persona poem. As discussed in class, Sufjan Stevens does well to fulfill such requirements.


That said, I would like you to do the following for individual presentations that will begin on Tuesday, November 18, 2008:

1. Find a music artist or poet who you enjoy that flexes the style of a persona poem in his or her catalogue of music or poetry.

2. Write a feature on that particular artist in which you review either a series of songs, poems, or an album or book of poetry—a la pitchforkmedia. The review should be at least five paragraphs in length and will require you to give a bit of personal/professional history of the artist as well as both description and interpretation of at least three of his or her songs or poems that take on the nature of a persona piece. Again, refer to or the album reviews that I gave you in the Stevens fun pack to understand and imitate the format of a review.

(25 pts)

3. Lastly, write an at least three stanza persona poem of five lines per stanza in which you take on the perspective of someone or something else. Include a moment of grace, or insight/revelation, which should be part of the concluding verse of the poem.

(15 pts)

4. You will have to present both your review as well as your persona poem in class starting Tuesday, November 18, 2008. I will collect all written materials via the blog or by hard copy on said day. We will present in alphabetical order.

(5 pts)

Total: 45 pts

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Quest for the Common Good

Ok Bros,

Who matches up most with the common good?

With John Rawls' theory of justice?

You tell me. You tell each other.

Let the political discourse begin.

Post away...

President Peach

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Finding a Voice": A Reflection on Welty's Memoir

Below is my own essay in response to the assignment, though I bend the rules a bit. Instead of focusing on chapter three alone, I focus on the entire book. As you will see, I do not keep to such a strict format as I suggest for each of your body paragraphs. Regardless, I hope this is a helpful model for you:
  • Opening paragraph with some summary and thesis statement in bold/italics:
In Welty’s autobiography, One Writer's Beginnings, we learn of a woman whose passion to write was inspired by a love for family, for home (Jackson, Mississippi) and the various intricacies of life itself. From the age of two, Welty writes, she learned that “any room in our house, at any time of day, was there to read in, or to be read to” (5). By the time she was five or six, she recalls securing that sense of “hidden observer” (20) diligently monitoring and recording various subtleties of those people and things that surrounded her. She writes, “A conscious act grew out of this by the time I began to write stories: getting my distance, a prerequisite of my understanding human events, is the way I begin work” (21). Welty’s respect for the “holiness of life” (33)—in all of its ironies, juxtapositions, comedies, and tragedies—stemmed from her acute observations of the human experience through the function of memory. The insights of daily life could be best understood through memory and best described for her in words.
  • First developing paragraph involving a significant memory of Welty's childhood with a key quote:
Welty's appreciation for memory as a function of writing stems from her mutual appreciation for the events of her childhood. Furthermore, Welty’s sense of freedom as a writer set to see the world and frame it through memory really seems to have developed on those long road trips (later train rides) her family took to see the father’s side of the clan in the rolling farmland of Southern Ohio and the mother’s side in the mountainous terrain of West Virginia: "It took the mountain top, it seems to me now, to give me the sensation of independence. It was as if I’d discovered something I’d never tasted before in my short life. Or rediscovered it—for I associated it with the taste of the water that came out of the well … The coldness, the far, unseen, unheard springs of what was in my mouth now, the iron strength of its flavor that drew my cheeks in, its fern-laced smell, all said mountain mountain mountain as I swallowed. Every swallow was making me a part of being here, sealing me in place, with my bare feet planted on the mountain and sprinkled with my rapturous spills. What I felt I’d come here to do was something on my own" (57).
  • Second developing paragraph in which I interpret the above quote from page 57 and discuss the nature of time according to Welty:
In this way, Welty speaks of the sense of time and place that suffuses (or fills) her work and transports the reader to her vanished past. This sense of independence would stay with Welty. It was as a central piece of her history and the foundation of her identity as a woman longing to capture the world that passed by quickly from the window of a car or train. When she did begin to write in her twenties, the stories took shape from revelations she had while traveling in those summers of her youth. These revelations came through memory. Welty believed that time took on a chronology all its own in fiction; an ineffable chronology following along the “continuous thread of revelation” (69). Welty kept life from running away as she says, and learned that every “feeling waits upon its gesture” (85) particularly in regards to writing and memory, which both encapsulate transient life and hold it in one place.
  • Third developing paragraph in which I continue on the theme of writing as a way to exercise memory/observation and capture life's moments in time and place:
Although Welty never physically separated herself from her region for any great period of time—she graduated from University of Wisconsin and went to graduate school at Columbia in New York City—she too wished to remain invisible: “My temperament and my instinct had told me alike that the author, who writes at his own emergency, remains and needs to remain at this private remove” (Welty 87). In other words, Welty claims that to gain a wide frame of vision and a greater perspective on the whole of things in their parts. One must be able to set them at a distance. This is especially true, according to Welty, when observing humans. Welty writes that humans change with time as a result of the inward journey where “each of us is moving, changing, with respect to others” (102). Humans therefore remain vibrant through human memory where they are kept alive and thriving.
  • Fifth pargraph in all / Closing statements in which I make my conclusions about memory with Welty's help to back me up:

For Welty as for any writer, words help to hold transient life in place. Like Welty says of photography, I would propose that writing captures the transience of time by portraying those single moments when history unfolds before us in the events of everyday life. As Welty states in the final page of her memoir, "The memory is a living thing--it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remembered joins, and lives--the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead" (104). Indeed, memory is a way to resurrect that which we thought was dead and nothing could make that which seems impermanent more permanent than writing. Indeed, "Each of us is moving, changing, with respect to others. As we discover, we remember; remembering, we discover; and most intensely do we do this when our separate journeys converge" (102). In other words, it is our inward journey that leads us through time and, when joined with the journey of someone else, it becomes the charged dramatic field of writing (Welty 102)--the ultimate exercise of memory.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Journey for JSTOR


Available now in the library is an internet research database called JSTOR (

The goal of JSTOR is to introduce students and scholars to the wide world of literary criticism.[see footnote below] It is also ideal for modeling how to write works of literary criticism.

To familiarize yourself with how to use the system, I would like each of you to:

  • print out one scholarly article chosen from the following list of articles and

  • submit a one-paragraph “abstract”—a summary of a text, scientific article, document, speech, etc.—on that article to the blog or on hard copy, being sure to indicate the title of the article as well as its author.

Article List:

(you can find and print in full any one of these articles by clicking the PDF link attached to the citations below):

Sonny's Bebop: Baldwin's "Blues Text" as Intracultural Critique Sonny's Bebop: Baldwin's "Blues Text" as Intracultural Critique
Tracey Sherard
African American Review, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Winter, 1998), pp. 691-705
Article Information Page of First Match PDF Export this Citation

"Sonny's Blues": James Baldwin's Image of Black Community "Sonny's Blues": James Baldwin's Image of Black Community
John M. Reilly
Negro American Literature Forum, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Jul., 1970), pp. 56-60
Article Information Page of First Match PDF Export this Citation

James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues": A Message in Music James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues": A Message in Music
Suzy Bernstein Goldman
Negro American Literature Forum, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Autumn, 1974), pp. 231-233
Article Information Page of First Match PDF Export this Citation

Flannery O'Connor's Rage of Vision Flannery O'Connor's Rage of Vision
Claire Katz
American Literature, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Mar., 1974), pp. 54-67
Article Information Page of First Match PDF Export this Citation

Flannery O'Connor's Mothers and Daughters Flannery O'Connor's Mothers and Daughters
Louise Westling
Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Winter, 1978), pp. 510-522
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Flannery O'Connor and the Violence of Grace Flannery O'Connor and the Violence of Grace
Thelma J. Shinn
Contemporary Literature, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Winter, 1968), pp. 58-73
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The Moment of Grace in the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor The Moment of Grace in the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor
Bob Dowell
College English, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Dec., 1965), pp. 235-239
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Through a Glass Darkly: Visions of Integrated Community in Flannery O'Connor's "Wise Blood" Through a Glass Darkly: Visions of Integrated Community in Flannery O'Connor's "Wise Blood"
Susan Edmunds
Contemporary Literature, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Winter, 1996), pp. 559-585
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Eudora Welty Eudora Welty
Granville Hicks
The English Journal, Vol. 41, No. 9 (Nov., 1952), pp. 461-468
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Eudora Welty's Theory of Place and Human Relationships Eudora Welty's Theory of Place and Human Relationships
Bessie Chronaki
South Atlantic Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 2 (May, 1978), pp. 36-44
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To See Things in Their Time: The Act of Focus in Eudora Welty's Fiction To See Things in Their Time: The Act of Focus in Eudora Welty's Fiction
Lucinda H. MacKethan
American Literature, Vol. 50, No. 2 (May, 1978), pp. 258-275
Article Information Page of First Match PDF Export this Citation

You can access JSTOR from the library or from home by clicking the link to the right.

Each of you will have to register individually with an easy-to-remember personal username and password (record them in your journals so that you do not lose them).

DUE DATE: Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Please be sure to submit your article with the proper heading:

Your Name
My Name
ENG 165 / Writing the Essay
Due Date

Article Title:
Article Author:


literary criticism noun
1. a written evaluation of a work of literature [syn: criticism]
2. the informed analysis and evaluation of literature

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interpreting "Sonny's Blues"


As you were assigned in class, interpret the below passage and relate it to a theme of the story, "Sonny's Blues." Be sure to use specific examples from the text as well as direct quotes to illustrate your points. Refer to the "Writing About Fiction" fun-pack that I gave you in class last week for help on formatting, etc.

The quote: "For while the tale of how we suffer and how we are delighted and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard."


I have finished my own answer to this prompt, albeit without having proofed it yet. But I hope my own, sometimes too wordy writing, serves as a decent model of one way you could go about developing your thesis points.

I have in bold and italics my thesis statement, which is pretty indirect. The body paragraphs follow the basic, thesis idea and are illustrated with examples--direct quotes and some summary--from/of the story itself. Notice that none of my quotes are "hanging" alone. I introduce them with a phrase or weave them into a complete sentence. I also make sure that they are supplemented with some explanation that helps the reader to interpret them.

This is due by class time on Thursday, September 25, 2008. Please be sure to follow the proper heading format as I demonstrate below.

To post a comment, simply click "Post a Comment", or, if that is not listed, click "Comments" and then follow the rather self-explanatory directives that pop up in the new window. In order to make it easier for yourself in terms of formatting your own response, write out your response in a WORD document first and then copy and paste it into the "Comment" box. If you want to see the original post as well as the comments on one page, click the header above: Interpreting "Sonny's Blues"

Happy Writing!
BRobPeach, FSC

Bro. Robert Peach, FSC (my name)
Bro. Robert Peach, FSC (the teacher's name)
ENG 165 / Writing the Essay (the subject)
25 September 2008 (date due)

Yesterday's Blues: Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" and the Restorative Power of Music
(a relatively clever title)
Thesis paragraph: Towards the end of James Baldwin's short story of interpersonal healing, "Sonny's Blues," the narrator tells us, "For while the tale of how we suffer and how we are delighted and how we may trimph is never new, it always must be heard" (51). Speaking through the elder brother of the afflicted genius, Sonny, Baldwin proffers a personal philosophy which suggests that while human experiences are often the same--be they ones of despair or hope--they are made uniquely real by the power of their expression in communication with others, be it through conversation or, as in the case of young Sonny and his older brother, through music (i.e. jazz and the blues). Baldwin's short story of reconciliation between two, formerly estranged brothers is thus a fitting declaration of victory over the pain of human suffering that demonstrates the religious power of art to express the deepest of human emotions, to indeed serve as a means to "tell the tale of how we suffer and how we are delgithed and how we may triumph," which, though never new, "must always be heard" if we are to survive (Baldwin 51). In "Sonny's Blues," it is through the character of Sonny and his love for music that the narrator's own story of suffering is expressed in a way that brings him and us into a better, more empathetic, understanding of Sonny's story of struggle and triumph.

First developing paragraph (2nd in all) with some summary: Ironically enough, Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" is less about Sonny than it is about Sonny's older brother who, again, is responsible for telling Sonny's tale. But as he recounts his difficulty in confronting his little brother's battle with an addiction to heroin as well as Sonny's rebellious love for playing the blues and jazz, which seems to isolate him from his family, we see that the narrator ultimately comes into a greater understanding of himself in relation to Sonny. Really, Sonny's own struggles to find an identity as a young black musician in the harsh urban environment of Harlem provides a shadowy backdrop to the setting of his older brother's battle to reconcile--spritiually, emotionally, physically, psychologically or otherwise--with broken relationships involving his dead, alcoholic father; his deceased daughter, Gracie; or Sonny.

Second developing paragraph: Moving like an improvisational jazz tune or mournful blues anthem, the narrator's tale of fraternal strife and ultimate healing moves back and forth in time as he recalls in bits and pieces his shared history with Sonny. The story transitions into the subtley warm moment of jazz-inspired reunion at the end with the image of Sonny lifting up all of his woes in full-bodied piano notes as if praying to the heavens for release. The narrator's account here stands in stark contrast to the beginning of the story wherein, at the news of hearing about Sonny's arrest for drugs, he states, "A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting their slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra" (Baldwin 26). The narrator's emotionally distant iciness that sent "trickles of ice water all up and down [his] veins" (Baldwin 26), eventually transforms into the burning heat of an alchemist's refining fire that transmutes base metal into gold, thus inspiring the narrator to experience a sort of communion with his brother. He says it best: "Sonny's fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others. And Sonny went all the way back, he really began with the spare, flat statement of the opening phrase of the song. Then he began to make it his. ... I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, with what burning we had yet to make it ours, how we could cease lamenting. Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did" (Baldwin 51).

Third developing paragraph: In this musical baptism by fire, Sonny, like a holy priest, annoints anyone willing to listen to the story of his having suffered a lonely childhood--one of "privacy" like his dead dad (Baldwin 34)--and the loss of his child-like innocence that Sonny's parents, or at least his mother, tried to preserve in the lives of him and his brother. As the narrator notes in recollection of faraway days when he and Sonny used to sit in the living room on a "Sunday afternoon, say, when the old folks were talking after the big Sunday dinner" (Baldwin 34): "The child knows that they won't talk any more because if he knows too much about what's happened to them, he'll know too much too soon, about what's going to happen to him" (Baldwin 34-35). Indeed, Sonny is not the only one whose innocence was lost in face of the harshities of existence. He shares in a history of sadness and tragedy with his Mother whose husband turned alcoholic in reaction to the death of his brother--Sonny's uncle--by a group of drunken, white hit-and-run drivers. And as we learn towards the middle of the story, Sonny also shares in the suffering of his older brother. In lamenting the loss of his Gracie to an asthmatic attack spurred on by polio, the older brother, in truly empathetic fashion, states, "My trouble made his [i.e. Sonny's] real."

Concluding paragraph (5th in all) with some final statements, emphasizing, without restating, my thesis idea of reconciliation and restoration through music: And so it is through Sonny's desire to share his pain with his elder brother by seven years that the two are ultimately reunited as their mother hoped they would when she warned the aloof older son to "let him [i.e. Sonny] know you's there" (Baldwin 37). It isn't until after years of estrangement that the older brother completes that simple task that requires him to merely listen, if not understand. By doing so, Sonny paradoxically becomes the wiser, he becomes the prophetic healer who, by expressing his passion in music, opens up his brother's heart to allow room for compassion and to tell his own story--a feat that, in the end, begins the process of healing between brothers and helps them to let go of all those painful memories of their shared past. Like Isaiah, Sonny successfully takes out of his own and his brother's hands the "cup of trembling," which glows like that smooth concoction of milk and scotch atop his piano--that instrument of peace that instills in the two brothers strength enough to no more drink of that cup of trembling again.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Course Objective

“Writing the Essay” is to serve as a foundation course for college writing. With focus on the development of both vocabulary and argument in writing, the course aims to provide upperclassmen with an adequate basis for thinking more critically and analytically—a skill set that will be of crucial importance in the collegiate environment. After all, good writers make good thinkers.

The course will be rooted in the philosophies of Southern American writers, Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, whose One Writer’s Beginnings and Mystery and Manners, respectively, discuss the nature of writing (particularly that of fiction writing) as revelatory—of revealing to us things, in their essence, that too often go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. These two women have much to offer us in the way of reading deeply into the text and becoming deep thinkers—as writers—ourselves.

Thus, their works will provide the foundational philosophy for this course, which, practically speaking, will focus on developing your skills as writers of literary criticism and of critical research. We will hone in on a lot of short fiction and essays—poetry, short story, and autobiography—to flex our own creative and critical muscles.

There will be a major writing assignment due before the end of the semester so stay tuned and pay close attention—you never know what lay ahead in those unforeseen shadows of the written word and your own mind.

Course Philosophy

Whatever we write—be it the formal paper for a class, the college application essay, the piece of poetry, or the work of fiction—is an autobiography, reflecting some piece of our individual histories, our prejudices, and the cultures in which we have grown up. Whether you are conscious of it or not, your choice of language and the subject matter you choose to address in a piece of writing gives you and your audience a glimpse into your deeper self—that bit of being that no one gets a chance to see on a regular basis. That is the beauty of writing in whatever form; it gives us the chance to reflect and, in reflecting, to respond to those deeper insights that churn inside of our mind and heart.

This course is thus undergirded by a philosophy which espouses the written word as a creative means to navigate previously unforeseen territory in our individual consciousness. In this way, writing becomes a vehicle for self-expression—not so much a chore as an opportunity to travel, to re-create, and to simply “be.”

That said, I challenge you to take this course as a way to access those deeper parts of self, to explore the world around you through the written word, and to develop a language for yourself that bespeaks a hidden reality behind that persona—i.e. that “front”—we all put up on a daily basis, either because we are too caught up in the “busy-ness” of life or because our ego tells us there is no use for the reflective space which writing provides.

But that’s just it! It is through writing that histories are written and that the “business” of the world is both communicated and carried out.

So, let your histories speak through this course and beyond the bounds of this classroom. Let the world hear your voice.