Posts Tagged ‘Carola Kaplan’

My Monkey Makes my Mother Mad

March 16, 2013

I had no idea what I was doing when I began the project that eventually culminated in this blog. Looking back on it, I’m reminded of the character played by Richard Dreyfuss in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind who was compelled to mindlessly build that miniature mountain inside his house. I just had to do something, but I really didn’t know what or why.

So I kept writing and reading about writing. And I took some English classes at Cal Poly Pomona. Then one of my professors, Dr. Carola Kaplan, suggested I apply for their MA program. (She advised that if I continued to take classes, sooner or later I would “accumulate” a Master’s Degree.) Many of the longer articles on this blog began as academic papers.

I continued to write until my computer was constipated. So I read the books on how to write the perfect cover letter and I sent out queries and more queries. And all that ever got me was shoe-boxes full of rejection letters.

After more than a decade of unrequited querying, I finally went on an Open Thread at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog and asked the nice people there how much it would cost to start my own blog. When they told me it was free I said, “Thank you so much. If I had known that, I would have gotten myself a blog years ago.”

Sometimes I begin writing a poem knowing exactly what I want to say and it turns out just like I planned. Sometimes. Other times I set out to write something, but I end up writing something else. And sometimes I think I have a long way to go when the poem suddenly informs me that I’m finished.

And sometimes I start with an idea that’s bugging me or just a single word. (I began this poem thinking about how much I like the word notion.) Other times an entire line will pop into my head. Once a line zipped across my brain, but I ignored it. A few days later it returned—louder. It wasn’t until I sat down at my computer and typed it up that I realized that the line was entirely alliterative: My monkey makes my mother mad. But I didn’t know what the poem was going to be about until I had finished writing the first stanza.

My Funny Farm

My monkey makes my mother mad
He also aggravates my dad
He took his car the other day
And drove it to the Hudson Bay

My kitty cat is kooky too
He likes to strut down to the zoo
And tell the tigers to all stand back
If they don’t want to get attacked

I have a hamster named Houdini
And though he is rather teeny
He’ll quickly pick a thousand locks
You could not hold him in Fort Knox

My kangaroo’s a real joker
Up all night playing poker
His friends come to destroy the house
I think I shoulda’ got a mouse

I got a hippo last July
He really is one swell guy
Everything he does is super
I got a giant pooper scooper

Living on this funny farm
I know my pets don’t mean no harm
But both my parents moved away
And no one wants to come and play

Richard W. Bray

Application #2

April 27, 2012


Here’s something I wrote a few years ago in graduate school for Professor Kaplan:

Application #2

Langston Hughes’s poem Harlem complies with Cleanth Brooks’s assessment of modern poetic technique as “full commitment to metaphor.” The poem consists of six cogent metaphors steeped together to create an elixir incomparable to the flavor of any one of these images standing alone. A raisin, an oozing sore, rancid meat, a sugary crust, a sagging load and an explosion are, by themselves, images which either assault or delight the senses. Hughes’s alchemy blends the first four contradictory metaphors, then offers a lull in the image of a sagging load before suggesting the possibility of an explosion.

The splattering of metaphors in Harlem qualifies as irony according to Brooks’s loose definition: “The obvious warping of a statement by context.”

The tension, or “pressure of context,” resulting from the incongruity of the metaphors in Harlem is resolved through the prospect of obliteration (explosion) of the entire batch of metaphors. This final loud, bright, apocalyptic eruption, so inconsistent with the lazy, passive images which precede it, relieves tension by hinting at annihilation.

The liquid quality of the poem’s first four metaphors reveal the fluid quality of human emotions. They also contain three food images and two carnal references, suggesting that the fulfillment of our dreams is a need just as basic and primal as the appetite for food.

by Richard W. Bray