Journal # 2 – The Language by Robert Creeley and Essay on Language by Wanda Coleman
My initial response to Robert Creeley’s poem The Language was that I liked it a lot. The poem’s simplicity and structure appealed to me with its enjambment and discordant shape. The three separate readings in class also helped give it even more life and a deeper sense of substance for me. I held this opinion until I read it again on my own. Although I still like the poem and it still appeals to me on a certain level it seems, upon further examination, to be very much about structure and very little about substance. Yeah, okay, sometimes people say, “I love you” to fill the space—I get it. It has been said a million times before in a million different ways. I appreciate the uniqueness of Creeley’s approach, but if you read this straight through without the enjambment and look at the words themselves, separate from the structure, this could have been penned as a cheese-ball broken-hearted love song by any number of 80s bands like Journey or Air Supply. Okay, now that you’ve finished imagining Steve Perry belting out “THEN WHAT IS EMPTINESS FOR,” can you kind of see what I mean? I still like the poem, however, but now mainly for its shape rather than what it says. Perhaps I’m missing something, but now I have “any way you want it, that’s the way you need it, any way you want it” stuck in my head so I’ll move on to the Coleman piece.
My first response to Wanda Coleman’s poem Essay on Language, unlike Creeley’s poem, was that I didn’t like it very much. I thought “Oh great, how cliché, another African-American poet lamenting the struggles of her race.” She, of course, has every right to point out the travails of blacks in America’s egregious history with regard to race relations, it’s just that I’ve personally felt so inundated by the media for so long about racial issues that I’m practically numb to them. I don’t want to feel this way, mind you, but sometimes I think that by constantly focusing on our differences we will never be able to live in world free from racial prejudice or strife. So anyway, back to the poem. I read it again. I realized that Coleman was not speaking another language. By questioning her own beliefs she was able to draw me in and re-ignite my own empathy for the struggles of African-Americans. She says that they (I assume she’s talking about people like me) say,“the/ best fashion in which to escape linguistic ghettoization/ is to/ ignore the actuality of blackness blah blah blah and it will/ cease to/ have factual power over my life” (24-29). Of course this doesn’t make sense to her. She can’t ignore her blackness, just as I can’t ignore my maleness (or my coffee addiction). Going back to this poem I find more to enjoy with each reading. I’m glad that my first reaction didn’t preclude me from digging deeper because, unlike Creeley’s poem, there is a ton of substance in Essay on Language. I especially like where she asks us to “substitute writer for mirror, visionary for window, hack for/glass” (48-49). When we make the attempt we are rewarded with “…when a writer does not reflect what it is? not necessarily a visionary, merely hack? can it be something other than a hack? and once it becomes a hack can it ever be a writer again?” Wanda Coleman’s poem is beautifully and eloquently written by someone who clearly knows what she’s talking about—someone like, say, Steve Perry.