Writing Samples

Writing Sample 1

When I was about three years old, I lived with my family in a tired little apartment on the south side of Delray Beach, Florida. My mother worked extremely hard as a domestic aide to take care of my brothers and me. Her clientele consisted of the Jewish elite a town over in Boca Raton. Not even ten miles away, the enclave of Boca Raton might as well have been on another planet.

Sometimes she would take us to work with her. On the way there in the taxi cab, or the back of my stepfather’s smoke filled station wagon, we were given a list of things that we could not do and all the things we could not touch. The homes my mother kept clean were opulent mansions, with marble columns and more bathrooms than bedrooms (which is still puzzling to me). Our rental had one tiny bathroom that always smelled of ivory soap and bleach. I spent a great deal of time in that bathroom. It was my stepfather’s favorite way to punish me for making too much noise when he was trying to sleep.

I cannot recall how much time my mother spent keeping these rabbit hole homes clean every day. What I do know is, the people that owned them were very nice to us. Every time we had the displeasure of being dragged there, we were given candy, and sometimes the much needed hand me down outfit. If we were really lucky, we would be given books. They were and are to this day, my favorite thing.

While my mother swept and gave us glances filled with warnings, I would get lost in books. We couldn’t touch the Japanese porcelain dolls, or play in the bathroom with walls made of mirrors, but books were safe. Mom approved of those. I read books about sharks, dogs, birds, yellowed copies of Reader’s Digest, National Geographic and the iconic Vogue magazine. That might seem like heavy subject matter for a girl in elementary school, but I have always been beyond my years. The brocade dresses and heavily made up faces fueled my imagination and helped me take my mind away from our paltry existence. If I had a book in my hand, I could ignore the fact that my mother was cleaning someone else’s home while our curtains hung pendulously covered with dust and sheer banality. What I remember most about that place was the thick, sticky brown carpet and the pilled brown coverlet on my bed. Looking back, the whole place reminded me of silt. Not the kind from the Nile, more akin to what Haitian ladies use to make dirt cakes. The only time I didn’t feel sorry for myself, and more so, my mother, was when I was reading a book. Not surprisingly, all of the things I read prompted me to write my own stories. I saw it as an efficient means of escape.

When I earned my B.A. in Political Science, I had my sights set on becoming the next Condoleezza Rice, or at least Susan Rice. She would do. I declined an internship working on Hilary Clinton’s campaign for an offer with The Department of Children and Families as an Economic Self-Sufficiency Specialist. Ever the altruist, I deemed it a perfect fit until I started having a series of panic attacks. Mothers with gaggles of hungry children and a crippling caseload proved a fatal combination for me. At the behest of one of my former teachers, I put in some applications at the local school district. After making a few calls and suffering through more panic attacks, I got a call for an interview. My former principal popped in during my interview and demanded that I be given the job because I was “one of her babies.” Teaching high school as a petite, 24 year-old was one of the hardest things I have ever done. For the first three months, I came home and fell asleep in my work clothes.

My support system at school consisted of older teachers suffering from burn out and disillusionment. The only thing they taught me was how to break the rules.

I served as a History and Geography teacher for four years. By the fourth year, I learned how to teach effectively and not rely on outdated materials as a means of assessing my students. I also learned that I did not want to be a History teacher. I took the English subject exam and passed it without incident. I have been a reader my entire life, and the classes I took for enrichment at the community college level enhanced my content knowledge. I understood literary elements. I also knew when Toni Morrison and Junot Diaz won their Pulitzer Prizes.

Becoming an English teacher made me want to be a writer. As I introduced my high school students to literature and watched them relate to the text, I remembered what literature meant to me at that age. I decided that I wanted to influence people with my stories too. Lindenwood University appeals to me as an artist because the courses are adaptable to the genres of writing that I am interested in and they are also heavily centered on literature. There is no writing without reading and vice versa. Earning my MFA in Creative Writing will make me not only a better teacher, but a better artist and will help me accomplish my goal of developing my own literacy institute in Los Angeles, California.

Writing Sample 2

I feel like The Eight Duino Elegy is a lamentation of the perils that come with being a thinking creature. As the speaker says, “Only our eyes are turned around.” Humans are always thinking of the past. Our past, our parents’ past, our children’s past is part of the answer key for the present and future. Animals only look at what’s in front of them as a means of surviving from one moment to the next. After reading this poem I had to wonder whether or not the ability to recall events is a hindrance to making it through life. The way we view things is largely based on what is behind us. Social ills like xenophobia could probably die if we allowed the events of distant times to stay where they occurred. We can’t, so here we are, drowning in conflict. The one part of the elegy I had to read over and over comes up in the first paragraph where the speaker says, “We never, not even one single day, have pure space in front of us, into which the flowers endlessly arise.” What a devastating revelation! I also admire the way the Rilke writes about how we sully children by forcing them to live with their “eyes turned around” by being conformists, and stealing their independence which is part of what makes them children.

Animals respect the cycle of life. I have never held a conversation with an animal, but even though evolution or God has provided them with “eyes,” to physically see, and instincts or eyes they use to understand and feel situations, from what we can tell, the cycle of life and death is plain to them. As sad as it is, I am sure we have all seen the videos of dogs or cats not feeding their sick or feeble offspring because they know the animal already has a slim chance of survival. We are armed with overwhelming emotions; the outward expressions of our feelings are different from person to person, and from one culture to another. We of course know that death is inevitable for each of us, yet we are constantly trying to create ways to stay alive longer. I am thankful for these advancements, because of my son, but I understand the folly in trying to stop the carousel that is life.

Writing Sample 3

By definition, the Bible is a collection of writings sacred to followers of Christ (Collins). It is a detailed outline of the origins of mankind, a retelling of man’s early interaction with God, and some individuals consider it to be a guide for daily living. It is heralded as the “greatest story ever told.” Non-believers enjoy honing on the “story” part as a means of discrediting the accuracy and validity of the tales and teachings found within. Believers of the faith take the writings at face value, trusting that the many authors of the tome were in direct communication with God, and put forth the information just as it was given to them. Whether or not this is true is uncertain, as human beings have their own reasons for doing things, and are driven to periods of dishonesty, despite the fact we were crafted in the image of a perfect God.

One Hundred Years of Solitude has been called “The Bible of Macondo,” by literary critic, Harold Bloom. It is a valid statement. One Hundred Years of Solitude is like the Bible since it explains the origin and odyssey of a people, is rife with supernatural experiences, and Arcadio Buendia, is forewarned about his own gory death.

The novel begins with a hazy explanation of who Jose Arcadio Buendia is, and how his family impacts the town. We learn that he is a spendthrift, and uses most of the family’s money to purchase seemingly useless items from the gypsies that float in and out of town peddling their common wares. We get the first bit of indirect characterization about Jose Arcadio Buendia when he trades his mule and two goats for a couple magnets (Marquez, 2). The items Buendia purchases from the gypsies are of no use to him since in a sleepy town like Macondo, there isn’t much science exploration or discovery happening. He attempts to use a magnifying glass as a tool of war once the gypsies show him how to use it with the sun to burn insects. His plan doesn’t quite work out. Although his outlook on life is often seen as outlandish or crazy, especially to his wife, Buendia is simply ahead of his time. His desire for riches and infamy via extraordinary uses for everyday items place him on the frills of society. Despite his poor judgment, he is the patriarch of Macondo, and for the most part, he is seen an integral part of the society. Buendia takes great pride in the fact he is the founder of the town even when feeling downtrodden since many of the items he purchases from the gypsies fail to excite other residents of Macondo. It is as if everyone else understands the products are essentially useless except for him.

Throughout the story, we learn about his family lineage. We know he is married to a sturdy woman, Ursula Buendia. If Jose Arcadio Buendia is the Adam of this tale- and he is, not only because he is the founding male, but because Adam of the Bible gets his name from the Hebrew word for “earth,” “adama (Campbell, 1). ” Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the esteemed author of the novel makes certain to hone in on Buendia’s relationship to the earth; he is always digging up the earth, and building things, solidifying his relationship to his beginning-then Ursula is the Eve. Ursula doesn’t have the same haphazard ways as Eve. She understands her husband is on a quest for something greater than Macondo, and she doesn’t necessarily mind his eccentricity, but as his wife, she likes to save money to ensure the security of the family. When she witnesses him purchasing the strange items from the gypsies, she expresses her disapproval. “Ursula wept in consternation. That money was from a chest of gold coins that her father had put together over an entire life of privation and that she had buried underneath her bed in hopes of a proper occasion to make use of it.”

As man of the house, Jose Arcadio Buendia pursues his desires. They are tantamount to hers, but at least she does attempt to stop him. Perhaps Marquez was giving us a peek into how things could have gone the same way with humanity regardless of whether or not Eve would have hatched up the idea to eat the forbidden fruit or not. Men still seem to go their own way.

Most of the Bible, mainly the Old Testament, is a telling of what went on with the descendants of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 4, we learn they first had two sons, Cain and Abel, who went on to produce generations of people who in addition to their parents, changed the course of time. Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula also had two sons who continued the family line. Their daughter, Amaranta, did not bear any children. She went to her grave seen as a virgin.

One Hundred Years of Solitude follows the members of the Buendia family and explicates its trials and triumphs. We get to understand how all the descendants of Colonel Aureliano Buendia share his same penchant for solitude and brooding. They are all deep thinkers, and seem to understand the ways of the word much better than others around them, polarizing other townspeople, yet enchanting them with eyes that speak more than their mouths.

Any religion requires a departure from logic. Reason and the belief in a higher power have no place next to each other. They make the other impossible. Those who believe in Christ affirm a child was born to a virgin, placed in her uterus by God himself to be used as a sacrificial lamb. He was created to paint himself with the sins of mankind, and be killed in order for the surviving human beings to be able to live the way they want. The Bible tells of floods and fire used to destroy mankind as a punishment for behaving in a way that did not stand up to God’s expectations. The last act of God as a means of absorbing sin was the public and brutal execution of Jesus Christ. If that undertaking wasn’t enough, it is said three days after the crucifixion that the Christ rose up out of his tomb which was secured by an enormous stone, and went home to God.

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”

Jesus Christ took this bitter cup all the while knowing it was his fate. God told him all about it, and he still went on preaching to the masses, even sharing meals with the men who would turn their backs on him and allow him to be brutally murdered.

The fate of Jesus is akin to that of Arcadio Buendia. Melquiades, one of the first gypsies Jose Arcadio Buendia encounters, is an alchemist and a mystic who spends an abundance of time with the Buendia family. The Aureliano’s, with their predilection for quiet and introspection take to him. He is a mentor in life and death. At the end of the story, we learn that Melquiades, through the reading of his ancient parchments, explains to Arcadio that he will be executed.

“It was the history of the family, written by Melquiades, down to the most trivia details, one hundred years ahead of time. He had it written in Sanskrit, which was his mother tongue, and encoded the even lines in the private cipher of the Emperor Augustus and the odd ones in a Lacedemonian military code…Fascinated by the discovery, Aureliano read aloud without skipping the chanted encyclicals that Melquiades himself had made Arcadio listen to and that were in reality the prediction of his execution (Marquez, 415).”

Melquiades was created as a God-like character. He is described as “A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands (Marquez, 2).” Most of the time, when we see God depicted in television and other forms of media, he is pictured with a long, white beard. Even the fact that he is gypsy means something. Gypsies have no home. Neither does God. He lives everywhere, and is said to have a place in everyone. The author also nods towards the divine origin of the strange gypsy when he talks about Melquiades’ hands. Matthew 10:29 reads,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”

Lastly, Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude is a Bible of Macondo because of the supernatural works included in the narrative. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a standout in the world of literature, and more specifically in the world of magical realism. One of the hallmarks of the genre is a supernatural element among everyday happenings. While the story is mainly a historical guide to Macondo, Marquez injects the tale with several anecdotes of wonder. One of the first instances occurs when Jose Arcadio Buendia kills Prudencio Aguilar for making a disparaging comment about his then sexless marriage to Ursula. Prudencio shows himself to Ursula first.

“ Ursula went out into the courtyard to get some water, and she saw Prudencio Aguilar by the water jar. He was livid, sad expression on his face, trying to cover the hole in his throat made of Esparto grass(Marquez, 22).”

Later the same night, the apparition reveals himself to Jose Arcadio Buendia, as he will continue to do throughout the rest of the story. It could even be said that the two men form a bond.

One of the next prominent examples of the supernatural comes about when Aureliano, “The first human to be born in Macondo (Marquez, 14),” comes along. He is said to have wept in his mother’s womb. When he comes out, he not like normal babies, with their feeble eyes. He looks at everything and everyone intently. He is immediately recognized as someone who has power to know the outcome of the future and he can also move things with his mind.

Perhaps the most powerful show of mysticism is the levitation of Remedios the Beauty. She had been causing all kinds of trouble in the town by taunting the men with her legendary beauty and her intoxicating scent. One day, while helping Fernanda fold sheets, she is drawn up into the air.

“Amaranta felt a mysterious trembling in the lace in her petticoats and she tried to grasp the sheet so that she would not fall down at the instant in which Remedios the Beauty began to rise (Marquez, 236).”

As mentioned before, all forms of all organized religion have stories grounded in unnatural occurrences. The Bible is famous for the many miracles performed by its characters. God himself creates Adam out of clay and blows breath into him. When he realizes Adam will be alone in the world he has created, he removes a rib from Adam’s side and crafts Eve. In Exodus 7, 10-12, Moses, is sent by God to free the Israelites. His brother Aaron’s rod is turned to a snake, as a means of showing the pharaoh what kind of power the God of Israel has. Later on in the text, Jesus resurrects Lazarus from the dead.

“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.”

            When Bloom called One Hundred Years of Solitude the Bible of Macondo, he had in mind the beginnings of town, along with the weaving of kinships and tribulations that echo the detailed timeline found in the great handbook of Christianity. When reading the Bible, whether for the first time, or the 50th time, it is tempting to go past the sections of the New Testament where one learns about what man fathered which children. Marquez makes the story the Buendias vivid and highly relatable. Many families, big or small have the one brother who is a brutish womanizer, or the one who resigns himself to a life of severity and endless pontification.

Melquiades, the God-figure, omnipotent and omniscient, sticks close to Jose Arcadio Buendia and his sons, foretelling of Arcadio’s death, and provides the members of the family willing to believe in him with invaluable information that will help them live their best lives. The many miracles of Macondo also provide the parallels that Bloom uses as his basis for comparison, making One Hundred Years of Solitude an unforgettable and necessary novel grounded in the holy text of Christianity.

Works Cited

“Bible”. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 21 Jun. 2017. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/bible>.

 

The Holy Bible. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. Print.

 

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia, and Gregory Rabassa. One Hundred Years of Solitude. London: Penguin, 2014. Print.

 

Writing Sample 4

I didn’t learn about my mother being adopted until graduating from college. She told me about it like you would tell someone you had a soda with lunch. No big deal. I was so shocked. We were in Jamaica, listening to and watching the falling rain. We had been there for one day, and I was already in love with the place. I didn’t care if I never saw South Florida again. There was an endless supply of exotic fruit, and a veranda on just about every house around (I love verandas). I must have asked about her childhood home or something, and she casually said, “I was adopted. My mama just gave me up.” I never knew her. People tell me she was a maroon.” And then, after that heavy revelation, she turned to me, and told me to go shower, keeping in mind there was no hot water. My head was still spinning. It’s a wonder I didn’t drown. I was a little angry-not sure why. That’s the way she is. Every now and again, if you listen closely, she will drop a few breadcrumbs for you to follow.

This week’s reading made me reconsider the information I put in my memoir. I started writing it about five years ago. I was in a relationship that my father didn’t accept, and as a result, he turned me out. He had been my best friend since I was a little girl and losing him was devastating. I took it hard, although I didn’t tell anyone. Writing helped me make sense of everything. I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I put it all in my book. Everything. About how my mother’s husband was an even worse fit for her than my father had been, and how she used to dress up, and take pride in her long, pretty hair, but the stress of being married to a beast took that away. How the violence took away her self-esteem. How confused I was that she could be so docile when it came to her mates, but very hard on me.

My mother has never seen said memoir. I put it far away so I could let it rest, and after taking a few stabs at editing it, I decided that it wasn’t quite right. “Writing the Family,” appealed to me, because while I want to talk about my mother and her struggles, I don’t have to. I can explain that she was a glowing example of a mother instead, and leave my questions about her strength and choices in men alone. It isn’t worth writing about because I know if she ever saw in in print, on a shelf at Barnes and Noble or on her Kindle screen, it would hurt her, and that’s the last thing I want to do. I am going to turn to some of the more commendable things. She cooked for us every single day. When she came to the country, her first jobs consisted of domestic work for the Jewish elite in Boca Raton. They taught her all about matzo balls and potato latkes. I didn’t enjoy eating either one, but just seeing her come through the door and knowing she was going to cook us something while singing and kissing us made me feel warm. And loved.

Another one of the suggestions from “Writing the Family” was to save the more salacious details for death, but not even then will I share her regrets and what I consider to be downfalls. I am not equipped to tell her truth. If the day comes when I want to write about her abysmal relationships, I will make it a novel, and hers will be just another story. It already is.

Writing Sample 5

 

The Universe has a way of turning seemingly broken things into beautiful things. The piece of marble used to erect the statue we now know as “David,” was a daunting monolith, referred to as “The Giant (“Michelangelo” 1).” The two artists commissioned to work on it before Michelangelo both left it behind because it had too many flaws. They were concerned that it would fail structurally and turned abandoned the project. Moses, the famed Hebrew prophet, was said to have had a stutter. He later led his people out of the Promised Land with his eloquent and invigorating orations. Thomas Edison, the father of invention, was considered too dumb to learn. Audre Lorde was born legally blind and with a tied tongue (Barcella 68), yet she had unending vision and lived to create poetry for the powerless using themes of racial pride, mother-daughter relationships, and womanhood.

Audre Lorde was the progeny of immigrant parents. Her father was from Barbados, her mother from Grenada (Belasco 1415). Audre herself was born and reared in Harlem, New York, but both her parents yearned for their homeland, and since their dreams of returning to the Caribbean were dashed by the crippling financial realities of The Great Depression (Barcella 68), they stayed in the states, and filled their daughter with tales of home. It is no wonder, with her mother being from such a beautiful island, characterized by melodious dialect, that she loved language and literature. Despite Audre’s physical challenges, she learned to read and write when she was four years old (Andrews/Foster/Harris 461). She sought to emulate her mother who loved books, even though she could not see any farther than the tip of her nose. Her parents stressed education and used strict methods of discipline to ensure her academic success. They never quite got over the fact that they came to the United States and had to become domestic aides, so they did all they could to make sure that Audre and her two older sisters did not slack when it came to their studies. She was not able to actively commune with the African-American children in her area. Her parents were afraid of the influence they could have on her. They sheltered Audre from neighborhood children by sending her to parochial schools where there were not many other black children, immigrants or otherwise (Belasco 1415). The children at school were reluctant to engage with Audre. Alienation fueled her foray into writing. She used it to emotionally push back and fight against her parent’s harshness and the exclusion of her peers. Lorde wrote her first poem in the eight grade. Once in high school, she met up with young people that were going through her same trials and formed their own misfit group. They dubbed themselves “The Branded,” and used writing to make sense of their marginalized existence (Belasco 415). The world got its first taste of Lorde’s writing when the literary magazine at Hunter High School, The Argus rejected one of her submissions. Showing the perseverance and power that would become one of her hallmarks, young Audrey submitted “Spring,” to Seventeen magazine, and it was accepted (Barcella 68).

Audre continued to write her way through high school. The death of a close friend sent her into a tailspin, and upon graduation from Hunter High, she made an unceremoniously hasty exit from her family, leaving for Hunter College (Andrews/Foster/Harris 461).

After one year of undergraduate study, she took a hiatus from Hunter and spent time exploring her sexuality in Greenwich Village. In an interview at UCLA in 1990, she describes awkward interactions with black lesbians that “only wanted to cuddle,” and white lesbians that fawned over “her ability to tan, since she was a Negro (Big Mouth Girl).” Audre was shocked to learn that these women had been the outcasts of their families and social circles as well. They were her new family, and even though she found it hard to connect with some of her new associates because of race, they found common ground on a sexual and intellectual level, since many of them were college students. Using her newfound self-confidence, she involved herself in radical politics, and eventually made her way back to Hunter in 1954 (Andrews/Foster/Harris 461). To support herself, the budding writer took jobs as a factory worker, social worker, X ray technician and arts and crafts supervisor. She earned her undergraduate degree in Literature and Philosophy in 1959 (Belasco 1415).

Audre’s relationship with the written word reached a new pinnacle when she earned her Master’s degree in Library Science from Columbia University and was offered a position at Mount Vernon Public Library (Belasco 1415). Being surrounded by the scores of books at her job made Audre remember her true passion. After several years of working as a librarian, she started to write and teach poetry.

Unconventionality continued to weave through Audre’s life. In 1962, she married Edward Rollins, a bisexual lawyer and bore him two children, Jonathan and Elizabeth. Around this same time, her writing started to gain attention and she had her work published in Sixes and Seven. By this time, Lorde was actively involved in the civil rights struggles and feminist movements. The indomitable Langston Hughes found her work bewitching and published two of her verses in his anthology, New Negro Poets (Andrews/Foster/Harris 461).

A former member of “The Banded,” Diane di Prima, published her first book of poems, entitled The First Cities (Belasco 1415). This volume of poetry was well-received by the literary community, since Audre veered away from using angry tones in order to discuss the racial tensions of the time. She included pieces that the world at large could relate to using her exceptional command of the language.

On the heels of the publication and wide embrace of The First Cities, Audre was offered the position of writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College, a historically black institution in Jackson, Mississippi. Lorde underwent a sort of renaissance during those pivotal six weeks. Not only did she find herself yearning to teach again, but she also found herself smitten with a woman. Just as it had during her youth, writing forced Audre to find and accept her true self. Upon her return from Tougaloo, Lorde put an end to her relationship with Rollins and started a life with Frances Clayton, a psychology professor at Brown University (Belasco 1415). While at Tougaloo, she wrote her second volume of poetry, Cables to Rage. Published in 1970, this collection gained popularity because of “Martha,” a poem that affirms Audre’s place as a black lesbian. She went on to release A Land Where People Live, which was nominated for the National Book Award in poetry in 1973 and New York Head Shop, in 1974 (Andrews/Foster/ Harris 462). Both these titles emphasized her interest in politics and her feelings of invisibilty. One of her most well known collections to date, Coal was the first to be represented by a major publisher, W.W. Norton. This volume was the catalyst for her relationship with Adrienne Rich (Andrews/ Foster/Harris 462). Although Coal was created using blackness as a central theme, her association with Rich widened her fan base and opened her up to a larger white audience. Although her new white constituents could not identify with being black, they were drawn in by her themes of womanhood and skillful use of figurative language.

Starting with the title, Lorde uses metaphor. She compares coal to the name given to her, and people that look like her. She calls herself “the total black (Belasco 1417),” maybe alluding to the fact that her bloodline is totally African, which may or may not be accurate since her parents are from the Caribbean. African slaves were brought to both Grenada and Barbados, but the colonies were hotbeds for both rape and consensual sexual relationships between slaves and whites. She goes on to assert that she has been “spoken from the inside of the earth (Belasco 1417)” which we know is extremely hot, and more than likely black. The second to last line of the first stanza is filled with double entendre. When remarking about how sound comes into a word, she remarks that it is “coloured by who pays what for speaking (Belasco 1417).” The word coloured here is a nod to race. She creates rhythm in the poem by repeating “words” and “open.” As one stanza follows another, Lorde relies on simile to draw parallels between words and diamonds on glass windows, stapled wagers in a perforated book, breeding adders, gypsies, and sparrows. The last stanza goes back to the theme of race, as Lorde states that she is black because she comes from the earth’s inside. The visual imagery in this poem makes Lorde such a force in the realm of women poets. She goes where others dare not to and leaves the reader with so much to imbibe. Her talk being black because she is from the core of the earth brings to mind images of childbirth, since children grow in the cores of their mothers. Her words are sound and unwavering. Coal is not only one of Lorde’s best poems, but one of the best poems in the female literary canon and the poetry canon at large.

 

 

“The Woman Thing,” is another selection from Coal. In this poem, Lorde examines both the themes of femininity and mother-daughter relationships. What is perhaps most interesting here, aside from tone, is her voice. Reading through the stanzas, Audre describes “men hunting out in the snow (Belasco 1418)”, yet returning home to their women and children lacking spoils. In traditional societies, men go out and hunt for food while the women wait, ready to prepare the meat so their babies and men can eat, and rewarded for their efforts. In the second stanza, pointing to the way men sometimes treat women as mere toys, she says, “In the night after food they may seek young girls for their amusement (Belasco 1418).” Keeping in line with the idea of men as pseudo-savages, she mentions “the men shouting, with injustices dripping from their mouths (Belasco 1418).” This evocative poem ends with Lorde recalling “the woman thing her mother taught her (Belasco 1418).” Lorde and her mother had a tumultuous relationship. She was the youngest of her mother’s children and the most rebellious. The speaker’s tone is very cavalier at the end of the poem, assuredly hearkening back to what her mother taught her in terms of being a woman, in other words, knowing how to take care of a man.
“And What About the Children,” clearly focuses on the mother-child relationship. The poem expresses disdain for family members making judgments about a newborn boy’s appearance. It is unclear who the speaker is in this poem. She seems annoyed at the involvement of her family members and their commentary about her baby. “The negatives are waiting, watching and the relatives keep on touching…(“Feminist” 1)” Audre shows her immense depth here. The negatives in question are people viewing the baby, however, looking further into the language the reader could also have in mind negatives from photographs, waiting to be developed, spoiled by people that are touching them prematurely, just as they are touching the baby. “If it is said at some later date that my son has his head on straight he won’t care about his hair, nor give a damn who’s wife I am (“Feminist” 1)”.” This last suggestive line indicates the possibility of Lorde being the speaker since after meeting Frances Clayton, she leaves her husband Edward Rollins and raises children with her. Rollins and Lorde had an open relationship. It is possible that although she had children with him, she knew they would not stay together because of their proclivities.

“Black Mother Woman” highlights the negative feelings associated with a mother-daughter relationship. The reader can infer that Lorde herself is the speaker. “I cannot recall you gentle yet through your heavy love I have become an image of your once delicate flesh split with deceitful longings (Belasco 1419).” It is the oldest story ever told. All women eventually turn into their mothers. The speaker’s mother loved her in what was perceived as a smothering or overbearing way, yet she herself has come to be the same way. Lorde’s use of imagery is magical. Heavy love is such a concept, something the reader can feel easily, whether it has come from a parent or a lover or from the reader themselves. “When strangers compliment me, your aged spirit takes a bow jingling with pride…(Belasco 1419)” The poet is like a master weaver here, cementing in the mind of the reader just how much of an influence mothers have over their children, even in adverse relationships. “But I have peeled away your anger down to its core of love I am a dark temple where your true spirit rises, beautiful tough as chestnut…(Belasco 1419)” The speaker seems to sympathize with the mother here, using more visual imagery to illustrate the act of getting to the root of her mother’s harsh treatment. She knows that at the center of the rotten behavior is love, brought on by circumstance.

Next to Coal, The Black Unicorn is Lorde’s most well known set of poems. When writing these verses, she went back to African mythology and used it to dig deeper into the themes of motherhood, racial pride and womanhood. “Hanging Fire,” is by far one of Audre Lorde’s best and most well-known poems. It has been featured in textbooks all across the nation and speaks to young girls about the travails of womanhood. There are traces of mother-daughter tension in it as well, but womanhood and all the new challenges it brings is at the forefront of this poem, making it ideal for younger women. What woman cannot identify with the speaker when she says, “ my skin has betrayed me (Schakel/Ridl 836)?” Acne is a rite of passage for most girls and betrayal is the best word to describe the way it makes a girl feel when her skin breaks out. Along with the erupting face comes the feelings of sexual desire, but pimples make it difficult to attract positive attention. “I have to learn to dance in time for the next party (Schakel/Ridl 836).” Dancing is a requirement during adolescence. It is a mating call, an advertisement of the crossing over and ripening of a once child-like body, ready to engage in adult acts. Staying true to her feminist roots, Lorde throws in some casual criticisms of the establishment. The speaker says, “ Nobody even stops to think about my side of it, I was supposed to be on math team, my marks were higher than his (Schakel/Ridl 836).” Women have been disregarded as equals for as long as we have been assigned as “helpmates,” to men. The line seems like an induction of sorts into the sorority of womanhood, which teaches us that in many areas of life, we will be given a backseat role because of our sex.

“My mother had two faces and a frying pot where she cooked up her daughters into girls before she fixed our dinner (Lorde 6).” These words are part of the first stanza of a poem called “From the House of Yemanja.” This poem is also from The Black Unicorn, hence the African name. Yemanja is a Yoruba queen of the oceans. This poem is directly in line with her reverence of African mythology, yet also connects to her own life. Since her mother had three girls, it is possible that she drew from personal experience with these verses. “My mother had two faces and a broken pot where she hid out a perfect daughter that was not me (Schakel/Ridl 836).” Audre gave her mother a new experience when she came along. Audre was not a child, she was an event, proving to be to high-maintenance from the start with her vision troubles and desire to answer even the simplest of queries by reciting poems and dropping the Y from her original name, Audrey, because it had a more even quality when attached to her last name, Lorde (Barcella 68). “I have no brothers and my sisters are cruel,” the speaker laments before going on to petition her mother,

“Mother I need

Mother I need

Mother I need your blackness now as the august earth needs rain (Lorde 7).” Lorde’s familial troubles make their way into her work and stun us with sadness.

Before bowing to a woeful fight with cancer, Lorde went on to produce six other works after The Black Unicorn (Andrews/Foster/Harris 463). The world suffers a tremendous loss by not having her here to offer insight; especially with the way the world has changed for women, homosexuals and blacks. Humankind would certainly be richer if given the opportunity to allow Lorde to speak on our current ways of life and bless us with beautiful poems centered on race, womanhood and mother-daughter relationships.

 

Works Cited

Andrews, William L., Frances Foster Smith., and Trudier Harris. The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

Barcella, Laura, and Summer Pierre. Fight like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World. San Francisco: Zest, 2016. Print.

Belasco, Susan. Bedford Anthology of American Literature Volume 1 -beginnings to 1865, Volume 2 1865 to The.. S.l.: Bedford Bks St Martin’S, 2008. Print.

BigMouthGirl. “Audre Lorde Live at UCLA circa Early 1990s.” YouTube. YouTube, 28 June 2015. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.

“Michelangelo’s David: Admire World’s Greatest Sculpture at Accademia Gallery.” Michelangelo’s David: Admire World’s Greatest Sculpture at Accademia Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.

“Feminist Poetry.” Feminist Poetry. N.p., 2004. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.

Lorde, Audre. The Black Unicorn: Poems. New York: Norton, 1978. Print.

Schakel, Peter J., and Jack Ridl. Approaching Literature: Reading Thinking Writing. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012. Print.

 

Writing Sample 6

Storytelling is the human way of making sense of a world that isn’t always kind, or easy to understand. Story doesn’t always equate to “It was a dark and stormy night,” or “Once upon a time.” Essays and memoirs are stories too. In each of us, there is a need to figure out, a need to explain, a need to deliver a message. The best part of this understanding is that we get to spread the news about life however we want.

In “The Fourth State of Matter,” Jo Ann Beard gives a chilling account of a workplace shooting. It claimed the lives of her good friend, and several other colleagues. Swirling around this event are a couple others worth noting. Her husband has taken leave, residing in an apartment not to far from hers. He constantly calls and leaves voicemails that put her in a hazy place. “ For now, the boxes and phone calls persuade me that things could turn around any moment (Beard 3).” One of the other major situations involves a dog that is nearing his end. The author takes meticulous care of the animal, helping him up and down stairs, and derives pleasure from washing the bundles of blankets he wets during the day and night. She is a woman caught in a place where giving up is a slow process. Beard cleaves to the husband who is all but totally gone, same with the ailing dog. The only thing she can part with by the conclusion of the essay is the family of squirrels living in an upstairs room that is also home to her husband’s old things. Even that becomes an ordeal once she realizes there is a baby involved. Jo Ann’s essay tells us two things. We don’t have to let go until we are ready, and sometimes life doesn’t care if we are ready or not. That is the story. As I read the essay, I thought it foolish of her to not let go of the dog. What trouble it was causing! Constantly peeing everywhere, needing such special treatment, all while dealing with being abandoned- I don’t think it was something I could have dealt with, but I enjoy getting rid of things that don’t serve me.

Beard reminds me of my mother. My late stepfather was not a nice man. He was not good enough for my mother. I remember asking why she was still with him. She told me he didn’t bother her. Despite all the abuse, she took care of him up until the day he died, cleaning excrement and holding his hands. She could have let go a long time ago. Like Beard, she wasn’t ready. Chris left Beard’s life in an unexpected and terribly violent way. The day he was gunned down, she had left work at his behest. There was no real warning. As a reader, I had a slight inkling Gang Lu would hurt someone. I imagined him wearing either a permanent scowl or a face devoid of emotion, brewing with self-hatred and feelings of disdain for the people around him. He felt ignored and passed over. Unlike the situation with the dog or her husband, Chris was stolen from her grip. Which is sometimes exactly what we need.

Joan Didion’s story teaches us almost the same thing as Beard’s. Didion shares her experiences as young woman moving from one side of the country to another, falling in love with New York and all its possibilities only to realize that after a while, the allure has worn off. She ultimately heads back to the West Coast to live life again. This time, she has a husband. “Goodbye To All That,” is a testament to what can happen when we take too long to let go. Feelings of dread began to enter her consciousness when she was twenty-eight. She had no interest in “sitting in little bars near Grand Central (Didion 6).” She wanted nothing to do with the library. Not only did she tire of the city, she was also done with the people, citing that she “Hurt the people she cared about, and insulted those she did not (Didion 6).” I certainly feel that it is possible to outgrow a place. I know for certain had I stayed in Florida with the same partner, same job, same apartment, I wouldn’t be in an MFA program right now. I probably wouldn’t have a family either. I took the hint and I got out. And then started my life.

Writing Sample 7

“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be, rather than recognizing who we are.”

-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

 

It is true that everything stems from our childhood. Sharon Olds, one of the leading poets of our time, puts us in touch with her strict religious upbringing in “Sex Without Love.” Religion is a major theme in this redolent work, as is athleticism.

The speaker begins by asking how “they do it (Barnstone/Willis 706).” She is referring to people engaging in sexual intercourse without actually loving each other. The question feels like admonishment. As the poem goes on, she couples imagery with simile to further hone in on how personal the act is, and thus how strange it must be for people to do it without having strong romantic feelings for one another. “Beautiful as dancers, gliding over each other like ice skaters (Barnstone/Willis 706)…” Analyzing those lines, the reader puts meaning to the comparisons and would almost agree with the speaker. Watching dancers interact with each other is so provocative. They are in sync. How is it then that two people who don’t love each other can be so beautiful and sensual without anything behind it? “How do they come to the come to the come to the God come to the still waters and not love the one that came there with them?” This is where evidence of her connection to Christianity comes into play. The speaker not only mentions God by name as lovers often do while making love, but she uses Biblical allusion. The “still waters” is a reference to the 23rd Psalm. “He leadeth me to the still waters, my cup runneth over (Arthur/Whitcomb 984). “Christianity, along with other world religions, holds that sex is to be shared between two married people. There is an assumption that married people love each other, and so they can be privy to sex, which is the act of love. This is a limited view of human nature and should be done away with, which the speaker hints to more and more as the poem goes on.

After initially professing astonishment at the thought of people making love without love, the speaker lauds those who would dare to do it, saying, “These are the true religious, the purists, the pros, the ones who will not accept a false Messiah (Aliki/Barnstone 706).” She acknowledges that one doesn’t need the other and the end result is what people are after when physically sharing themselves with another person. After her talk of God, Messiahs and priests, she returns to her comparisons based on agility and sportsmanship. “They are like great runners, they know they are alone with the road surface, the cold, the wind, the fit of their shoes (Aliki/Barnstone 706)…”

Olds’ poetry is marked with sensuality and refreshing honesty about women and sexuality. “Sex Without Love” is an assessment of human nature and the unrealistic constraints we place upon it when we forget that we are just animals armed with theories and thoughts.