Sunday, 8 February 2015

Identity through Poetry

Please find a poem about identity and comment on it - or share your own poem about identity here!



Image from: http://pixabay.com/p-158195/?no_redirect

31 comments:

  1. "A Letter in October" by Ted Kooser:

    Dawn comes later and later now,
    and I, who only a month ago
    could sit with coffee every morning
    watching the light walk down the hill
    to the edge of the pond and place
    a doe there, shyly drinking,

    then see the light step out upon
    the water, sowing reflections
    to either side—a garden
    of trees that grew as if by magic—
    now see no more than my face,
    mirrored by darkness, pale and odd,

    startled by time. While I slept,
    night in its thick winter jacket
    bridled the doe with a twist
    of wet leaves and led her away,
    then brought its black horse with harness
    that creaked like a cricket, and turned

    the water garden under. I woke,
    and at the waiting window found
    the curtains open to my open face;
    beyond me, darkness. And I,
    who only wished to keep looking out,
    must now keep looking in.

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  2. "Broken Languages" by t.c.p.

    my mother has lived here for decades
    and speaks only kind thoughts
    but nobody is willing
    to look at kindness.

    "your english is -"
    and they never finish what they say
    as if they are afraid
    of cutting themselves.

    i learned to make my bed
    from shards of glass
    and find warm in them
    regardless.

    you
    who uses my home
    as a weapon
    (i will never forgive that)

    and the next time you laugh
    i hope you
    choke
    on your mother tongue -

    i hope it feels
    as foreign to you as it does
    when you tell them
    they don't belong.

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  3. "Falling and Flying" by Jack Gilbert

    Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
    It’s the same when love comes to an end,
    or the marriage fails and people say
    they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
    said it would never work. That she was
    old enough to know better. But anything
    worth doing is worth doing badly.
    Like being there by that summer ocean
    on the other side of the island while
    love was fading out of her, the stars
    burning so extravagantly those nights that
    anyone could tell you they would never last.
    Every morning she was asleep in my bed
    like a visitation, the gentleness in her
    like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
    Each afternoon I watched her coming back
    through the hot stony field after swimming,
    the sea light behind her and the huge sky
    on the other side of that. Listened to her
    while we ate lunch. How can they say
    the marriage failed? Like the people who
    came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
    and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
    I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
    but just coming to the end of his triumph.

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  4. One commonality I found between the three poems I posted above were - besides their beauty - their insights, initially focused on identities and stories that others know, and then the identities and stories they themselves are beginning to form or understand. When we form our identities, whether or not someone else's idea of you is truly relevant to who you actually are as an individual is not always the point of importance; in any case, we often look to someone else's idea of us as a starting point, or else we look inwards in order to understand how we feel about these perceived identities and what we wish to do about them.

    When I was a younger I would feel indignant whenever someone seemed to misunderstand something about my character, whether it was a major or minor aspect of my character. It was even worse when someone would act like s/he completely understood me - to me, that assumption only betrayed the fact that s/he did not know me at all. The struggle of trying to understand who I am was already difficult enough - I didn't appreciate being trapped within these assumptions, positive or negative. I still don't appreciate it; however, I have come to learn that we all have ideas of other people and that it isn't really possible to do away with them altogether. What we can do, however, is listen to ourselves and listen to each others so that we can come to conclusions based on understanding rather than assumptions.

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  5. Lovely poems, Amanda. They are all beautifully worded and thematically expressive - even on first read. I particularly enjoyed Kooser's "A Letter in October", the way he uses nature to draw the reader's focus from the external to the internal. I felt it defined the growth process you illustrated in the other two postings and outlined in your comments. I couldn't agree more with your final statement. It reminded me of an experience I had when I was out walking once that prompted me to write the poem I’ll post now.

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  6. Sunday Morning in Glenbrook Park:
    New Westminster, B. C. by Louise Brecht

    Walking. January skies hang leaden, weeping. Tears of silver rain paint my face, dance down, drain away. The path curves up, carved between steep banks laden with trees, canopy gone. I duck into the ravine. Maples, alders stand in stark surrender, dark arms up-stretched, stripped bare. Dead leaves at their feet. Tattered mounds of rotted rust. Shots of green. Here, the deep pile of velvet moss crawls up thick trunks, creeps over thin branches bowed with moisture. There, dark ivy vines snake through the underbrush, slither up, around everything in their path. Overhead, their leaves glisten, drip. Tumbling water. The torrent rushes downhill. Knots of ferns dot the black hillsides. Coyotes live there; I’ve heard their night cries. Chickadee calls, distant in the downpour. Easy to miss the sewer line. Manmade. Heavy, round metal lids screwed into concrete blocks, scattered up the trail. Back mould, crusted moss. This one has numbers etched in its side. There are numbers in concrete blocks up there too. To the left. Behind the tree tops. Straight up. The cemetery. Forty-seven bodies of penitentiary inmates nobody wanted. Graves close together. No names. No dates. No stories. Only numbers etched in concrete blocks. I found them once, hidden in tangles of blackberry brambles, mangled wire fences littered with rusted leaves. Overgrown with dead grass. Someone left a wreath for #880. It said his name was Johnny Peter, that he died on January 31, 1913, that he was convicted for carrying a rifle for a murder committed with a shotgun. It said he was not guilty. Walking, I think of the numbers. Clouds, steel grey.

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  7. Morning in the Burned House
    Margaret Atwood

    In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
    You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
    yet here I am.

    The spoon which was melted scrapes against
    the bowl which was melted also.
    No one else is around.

    Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
    mother and father? Off along the shore,
    perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

    their dishes piled beside the sink,
    which is beside the woodstove
    with its grate and sooty kettle,

    every detail clear,
    tin cup and rippled mirror.
    The day is bright and songless,

    the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
    In the east a bank of cloud
    rises up silently like dark bread.

    I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
    I can see the flaws in the glass,
    those flares where the sun hits them.

    I can't see my own arms and legs
    or know if this is a trap or blessing,
    finding myself back here, where everything

    in this house has long been over,
    kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
    including my own body,

    including the body I had then,
    including the body I have now
    as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

    bare child's feet on the scorched floorboards
    (I can almost see)
    in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

    and grubby yellow T-shirt
    holding my cindery, non-existent,
    radiant flesh. Incandescent.

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    1. This poem was published in 1995, a long time after the author left home, but it made me think about my own life and the place I grew up. My parents are currently in the process of moving out of the house we lived in for twelve years, where me and my sisters grew up, which is why I think this poem resonated with me, especially lines like "including the body I had then/ including the body I have now/ as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy." It just made me think about how we change as we grow up and experience space differently, but how our attachment to our home can strongly affect our identity and our understanding of ourselves.

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  8. I keep referring back to the same poem, This Heavy Craft by P.K. Page as I feel like my own interpretation of it is very reminiscent of the ambivalence with which I tend to view myself in.

    The wax has melted
    but the dream of flight
    persists.
    I, Icarus,
    though grounded
    in my flesh
    have one bright section in me
    where a bird
    night after starry night
    while I'm asleep
    unfolds its phantom wings
    and practices

    What I really appreciate about Page's poem is the openness with which it can be viewed. On my first reading I considered it to be a poem of mockery and defeat. Sort of symbolic of a dream or vision that one cannot fully attain while the bird, being able to carry out the dream, asserts its "dominance" by unfolding its wings and flying. It reminded me of the days where hard work and desire just don't seem to be enough to entertain success. However, upon further readings I changed my perception of the bird to be a part of the speaker, and therefore embodies the hope and determination that is expected in achieving ones dream. Instead of being a cruel mockery, the bird symbolizes the perseverance and power we all wield to live out our dreams and aspirations. I relate this to my own life and my own identity because of how I often view my desired trajectory of life, school, careers etc. On my good days the bird is inside me, reminding me that I can and will succeed. However, bad days the bird is detached and seizes to let me forget that I'm not quite where I want to be yet.

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  9. As I Grew Older by Langston Hughes

    It was a long time ago.
    I have almost forgotten my dream.
    But it was there then,
    In front of me,
    Bright like a sun—
    My dream.
    And then the wall rose,
    Rose slowly,
    Slowly,
    Between me and my dream.
    Rose until it touched the sky—
    The wall.
    Shadow.
    I am black.
    I lie down in the shadow.
    No longer the light of my dream before me,
    Above me.
    Only the thick wall.
    Only the shadow.
    My hands!
    My dark hands!
    Break through the wall!
    Find my dream!
    Help me to shatter this darkness,
    To smash this night,
    To break this shadow
    Into a thousand lights of sun,
    Into a thousand whirling dreams
    Of sun!

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    1. Hughes begins by explaining that he once had a dream that was "bright like a sun" in front of him. One day that dream was shattered and a vast wall rose in front of him. He decided to "lie down in the shadow" and give up as the light of his once great dream had vanished. He wanted to destroy this wall, to "find [my] dream" and "shatter this darkness". Langston Hughes contains African American descent, and thus this poem is about the struggles African American men and women had to face in the United States. His dream was not lost, however, he simply just couldn't see it anymore. At the end of the poem, Hughes uses angry language to display his violent approach to shatter the wall. Earlier in the poem he uses shadow to display his African American descent. The second half of the poem displays this violent language, which then may be understood that if Hughes pursues this approach, he understands if he fails there will still be good in the search for this lost dream.

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  10. Into This Fractal Moment
    by Gil Raff

    Into this fractal moment
    I find myself again,
    Having been here before
    A chrysalis multiplied in mirrors
    Reflecting itself in identities
    Vastly changed by minute alterations,
    So different that, if you hesitate one instant
    You will be gone, evaporated.
    Silent whisper of scales
    Falling from the butterfly wings
    Drifting weightless reflections
    Of parallel selves,
    Non-existent but potent inhabitants of dreams
    Willing histories into being
    Nonevents into events
    Possibilities so yearned for, that, waking
    We sleepwalk forward, seeking that moment
    When chance will favor us
    And we will wake anew.

    The idea of "identity" as only one reflection of a multitude of reflections of a person is what fascinates me about this poem. Usually, identities are referred to what lies beneath the surface or what the mirror itself reflects. Instead, it breaks down identities to momentary actions,decisions, and habits--something that is ever changing, expanding, collapsing, and continuously transforming itself. The comparison of these "minute alterations" to the metamorphosis of a butterfly reflects humanity's desire to find beauty within themselves, to be able to fly to new places and horizons--occupying the same body, but with something different altogether. Identity becomes something that can be morphed and adjusted in order to fit a niche, until it reaches its full potential, its true self. That's when the multitudes of reflections shatter, and the mirror image of the "identity" is replaced with the self-growth and maturation of the individual.

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  11. “Ozymandias” written by Percy Shelley is a poem that focuses around an unnamed narrator who discovers an old sculpture that was once, as readers could imagine, large and grand. Instead of a monument to Ozymandias, what remains is a “colossal wreck, boundless and bare”. I often identity with Ozymandias. I think it goes without saying that people have a tendency to be swollen with pride and I confess I am the same. We seem to be focussed so much about leaving our mark on the world and trying to create a legacy. Instead, I feel that this poem teaches us to be more focussed on our present, rather than trying to create an image by force. I think that it is better to leave a great memory, a lasting influence on people rather than to try to create a statue or something tangible in one’s own image.

    Poem: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/ozymandias

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  12. “Ozymandias” written by Percy Shelley is a poem that focuses around an unnamed narrator who discovers an old sculpture that was once, as readers could imagine, large and grand. Instead of a monument to Ozymandias, what remains is a “colossal wreck, boundless and bare”. I often identity with Ozymandias. I think it goes without saying that people have a tendency to be swollen with pride and I confess I am the same. We seem to be focussed so much about leaving our mark on the world and trying to create a legacy. Instead, I feel that this poem teaches us to be more focussed on our present, rather than trying to create an image by force. I think that it is better to leave a great memory, a lasting influence on people rather than to try to create a statue or something tangible in one’s own image.

    Poem: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/ozymandias

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  13. Mr. Chinaski? -- John Clegg

    Am I allowed to talk about it yet?
    Ya know, about not being able to write, properly at least.
    Or going mad.
    Crazy.
    Looney.
    Just plain old insane.

    Am I allowed to talk about it yet?
    About Bukowski,
    talking about a narrator who
    talks about Hemingway,
    Celine,
    Dostoyevsky,
    and Hamsun?

    Am I allowed to talk about it yet?
    How I haven’t had a poem
    published since my last one,
    and my last one (which is my first one) is
    forthcoming,
    or so they say.

    Am I allowed to talk about it yet?
    Am I even allowed to
    write this down? Will the
    academy come get me?
    I guess I’ll go crazy in my
    own way.
    Different than Bukowski and
    Hemingway. Unlike
    Hamsun,
    Dostoyevsky,
    and Celine.

    PS: This sounds super show-offy (even if it's nothing to brag about, which it isn't) but since I don't have any sort of social media I feel the need to do this for people that put faith in me. My poetry is forthcoming in The Feathertale Review (feathertale.com) and The Warren, both are Canadian journals that appreciate any and all readers. Both are excellent reads (outside of my own work) and would surely benefit from your viewing. Thanks!

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  14. When we are in a relationship, I feel that it is easy to allow that significant other to become part of our identity. This is a poem I wrote about loss, and what happens to our identity after that loss.

    A girl cried in the walls of her bedroom
    She said:
    Why we chose to say goodbye is more complex than anyone will know
    Even with farewell you uttered you loved me so
    My mind consists of clouds of racing emotion
    Then it briefly feels peace, remembering the love we had chosen
    Kind, simple, sweet, withstanding tragic obstacle
    Through you I was taught the most important lessons to tackle
    How to love unselfishly and be a companion without greed
    Then I feel anger at the thought that you did leave
    I ask, “What good would that make?”
    And, “Is this really the path I will choose to take?”
    You have already given me more than I could ask
    When you loved me and stayed

    A boy held on to a string of fleeting memories
    In the depth of his heart he felt a pure, painful mess
    He said:
    I miss you so much
    I miss the way we would cuddle on a misty, rainy day
    I reminisce on how you made my heart pound and race
    I miss your dorky smile and your affectionate hugs
    The light scent of your skin and the warmth of your touch
    Now, I believe I must let you go
    But because of age and naivety
    I truly continue to believe and hope
    Imagine the future we said we would have
    Long for the plans we promised would always last
    In my heart and not in my life is where I will keep you
    Your journey without me will be free and true
    The kind of paths you will take
    Those sweet choices you will make
    I sincerely pray for happiness with whatever life gives you to face
    Because when it is unconditional it is true
    I could never think anything less of you.

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  15. "Who am I you may well ask
    I really wish I knew
    If I am not myself at all
    Then maybe I am you
    To discover who I really am
    Is really quite a task
    Maybe I am someone else
    Who wears a funny mask
    I strive so hard to know myself
    To discover the “real me”
    My thoughts and feelings all confused
    Yet still I cannot see
    What makes me tick?
    What makes me feel?
    So very special and unique
    My purpose in this glorious world
    Is what I truly seek
    I wish I could be creative, self confident and smart
    Not quiet, shy and insecure
    Emotional at heart
    I wish I had the confidence to say what I really feel
    Instead of fearing criticism
    Uttering words that seem unreal
    Why at times do I feel so alone
    And just yearn for a friendly face
    While at others I just long to be
    In some far off distant place
    With no one else to bother me
    And disturb my rambling thoughts,
    Until my conscience brings me back
    To do the things I ought
    And so I continue on my way
    On this journey they call life
    I try to do the best I can
    Though at times the goings tough
    I’ll do my part to refine the world
    And make it a better place
    By being “me” to my capacity
    With each trial I have to face" - Faigie Rabin

    Discovering identity and self-worth is something that we all struggle with in life. We are given so many opportunities to discover who we are, and through this, we are able to identify with different things. Whether that be with other people, objects, animals, concepts, theories, art, etc. From these different forms, as individuals, we are able to structure who we are. But it must also be recognized that reality can be difficult at times and that there are struggles that we all endure while on the path of finding ourselves and identity.

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  16. We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
    We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
    We wear the mask!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask" uses masks as a metaphor for identity. In this case, the context of the poem refers to the oppression of African-Americans in the late 19th Century. While masks can be often used to portray positive aspects of our personality, Dunbar criticizes this. He explains how African-Americans were using masks to hide their true selves and their true emotions such as anger or suffering due to the discrimination. It's a different take on identity that makes us question the use of metaphorical masks in our lives.

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  17. Passport - Mahmoud Darwish

    They did not recognize me in the shadows
    That suck away my color in this Passport
    And to them my wound was an exhibit
    For a tourist Who loves to collect photographs
    They did not recognize me,
    Ah.

    Don’t leave
    The palm of my hand without the sun
    Because the trees recognize me
    Don’t leave me pale like the moon!

    All the birds that followed my palm
    To the door of the distant airport
    All the wheatfields
    All the prisons
    All the white tombstones
    All the barbed Boundaries
    All the waving handkerchiefs
    All the eyes
    were with me,
    But they dropped them from my passport

    Stripped of my name and identity?
    On soil I nourished with my own hands?
    Today Job cried out
    Filling the sky:
    Don’t make and example of me again!
    Oh, gentlemen, Prophets,
    Don’t ask the trees for their names
    Don’t ask the valleys who their mother is
    From my forehead bursts the sward of light
    And from my hand springs the water of the river
    All the hearts of the people are my identity
    So take away my passport!

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. (1) (2,3) (4)

    Minstrel Man - Langston Hughes

    Because my mouth
    Is wide with laughter
    And my throat
    Is deep with song,
    You do not think
    I suffer after
    I have held my pain
    So long?

    Because my mouth
    Is wide with laughter,
    You do not hear
    My inner cry?
    Because my feet
    Are gay with dancing,
    You do not know
    I die?

    This poem by Langston Hughes references Minstrel shows in the 19th century. Individual performers were in blackface, which is a form of theatrical makeup used to represent African Americans, and entertained the audience with the use of comic skits, dancing, and music. "Minstrel Man" by Langston Hughes makes a comment on how the Minstrel Shows changed how Americans perceived the African Americans. Though they may have been represented as happy individuals partaking in comic skits and dancing during these shows, it did not change the fact that they have suffered and were discriminated against. These performances masked the true feelings of African Americans and discriminated against them by concealing their years of suffering behind their comical depictions in the shows.

    I find it appalling that these minstrel shows and the blackface makeup even existed. It is a terribly dark time of our past and though racism still exists today, I am glad that individuals are more aware of how terrible these were.

    On a side note, this poem also comments on how many individuals in society tend to put on a mask to hide their identity. Though an individual may seem happy, calm, or composed on the outside, on the inside, they may be just the opposite.

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    1. Hey! I definitely agree with the notion that this poem can also represent how society tends to stereotype individuals with a seemingly "happy, calm or composed" attitude that they might have on the outside, as opposed to really trying to understand what's going on, on the inside. This in itself is definitely a mask, and the fact that the poem so clearly illustrates how by putting on 'blackface,' they are essentially choosing to openly showcase that they do not understand, or truly want to understand what these African American men and women really feel. Thanks for sharing this!

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  20. The Men That Don't Fit In - Robert W. Service

    There's a race of men that don't fit in,
    A race that can't stay still;
    So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
    And they roam the world at will.
    They range the field and they rove the flood,
    And they climb the mountain's crest;
    Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
    And they don't know how to rest.

    If they just went straight they might go far;
    They are strong and brave and true;
    But they're always tired of the things that are,
    And they want the strange and new.
    They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
    What a deep mark I would make!"
    So they chop and change, and each fresh move
    Is only a fresh mistake.

    And each forgets, as he strips and runs
    With a brilliant, fitful pace,
    It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
    Who win in the lifelong race.
    And each forgets that his youth has fled,
    Forgets that his prime is past,
    Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
    In the glare of the truth at last.

    He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
    He has just done things by half.
    Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
    And now is the time to laugh.
    Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
    He was never meant to win;
    He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
    He's a man who won't fit in.

    Robert W. Service (1874-1958) was a well-known Canadian poet. While browsing through his poetry, I noticed this one and thought that it seemed fitting given the theme of our class. These men that don't fit in are constantly trying to find their niche in the world and to discover their identity. This poem seems a bit prescriptive, and perhaps judgemental, in that the speaker is mocking those who can't quite gel with society, telling that they must be a certain way in order to succeed. This message is, to some extent, still true today. While we may be more accepting of differences, there are still many who find themselves ostracized because of their differences. I think that making many "fresh moves" and taking risks should be seen as a good thing because it helps in learning who you are.

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  21. A Child is born Free of Mind
    by Raj Arumugam

    A child is born free of mind
    but is hardened into thought
    and by the time one dies
    most are fixed and screwed into
    worlds of their making,
    heavens of their fantasies

    so one thinks one's an Indian, one a Chinese
    or an American or British or Swedish
    or French or Russian or German;
    or one thinks one is a Christian or Muslim
    or Jew or Hindu or Sikh or Catholic
    or Doaist or Buddhist or Marxist or Communist
    or even for that matter, an atheist
    - or whatever you will...
    one finds a badge to pin proudly to one's chest
    and each identity becomes so strong
    it becomes so real
    it all comes into the question of right and wrong
    of evil and good
    and it falls into loud declamations
    and my tribe is good, your tribe is evil
    my brand is holy, your brand unholy...
    and so it goes,
    with all sorts of justifications
    that beat sense out of all loyal adherents
    and it squeezes humanity out of the human
    as paste out of a tube...
    ah, and yes,
    the energy goes on into the afterlife
    as Christians go into a Christian Heaven
    and Hindus and Buddhists into various Lokas
    and Muslims in their own Paradise
    and so it goes on,
    this Human Tragi-Comedy,
    yes, yes, certainly all created by the Almighty
    who was created by your mind's poverty
    so that
    a child is born free of mind
    but is hardened into thought
    and by the time one dies
    most are fixed and screwed into
    worlds of their making,
    heavens of their fantasies

    "A Child is born Free of Mind" by Raj Arumugam is a powerful poem about identity, telling us how we are born as babies with a free mind and with countless potential identities. However, what Arumugam explains is that once we find our identities, we go on to compare and judge that of others. Identities become a matter of "right or wrong, evil or good" when it should simply be badge of who you are. It sickens me that people have the audacity to judge another by their identity, when they can stay content with their own. Whether the identity be a religion, a race, nation or job, they should all be respected equally.

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  22. Don McKay

    Astonished -
    astounded, astonied, astunned, stopped short
    and turned toward stone, the moment
    filling with its slow
    stratified time. Standing there, your face
    cratered by its gawk,
    you might be the symbol signifying eon.
    What are you, empty or pregnant? Somewhere
    sediments accumulate on seabeds, seabeds
    rear up into mountains, ammonites
    fossilize into gems. Are you thinking
    or being thought? Cities
    as sand dunes, epics
    as e-mail. Astonished
    you are famous and anonymous, the border
    washed out by so soft a thing as weather. Someone
    inside you steps from the forest and across the beach
    toward the nameless all-dissolving ocean.

    Petrified -
    your heart’s tongue seized
    mid-syllable, caught by the lava flow
    you fled. Fixed,
    you stiffen in the arms of wonder’s dark
    undomesticated sister. Can’t you name her
    and escape? You are the statue
    that has lost the entrance into art,
    wild and incompetent,
    you have no house. Who are you?
    You are the crystal that picks up
    its many deaths.
    You are the momentary mind of rock.

    Don McKay is a Canadian poet from Owen Sound, Ontario. His book of poetry Strike/Slip (which includes these poems) won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2007. Although, upon further examination, the “you” in each poem is the landscape, I first interpreted the poems as if they were comparing human life and identity to geological time. I often meditate on what our identity as human beings is relative to the rest of the natural world and furthermore the universe. These poems seem to question the in-between-ness of human thought. On one hand, as with all creatures, the lives of human beings are focused on themselves and their immediate world. On the other hand, as a species, we have this amazing ability to think outside of ourselves and question what our existence means. We are able to ponder what does not physically exist and what we cannot see, which leads us to these larger questions. In the first poem, “Astonished”, McKay seems to compare the human body and human experiences with earthly processes. Fleeting human emotions are compared to the permanency of “stone” (2) that experiences “slow/ stratified time” (3-4). The astonished human face is “a crate[r]” (5). Human identity is belittled next to the slow pace of geologic time. The part that most struck me in the poem was lines 13-15 – “Astonished/you are famous and anonymous, the border/washed out by so soft a thing as weather.” – as if human self-importance is a fleeting as the weather. The second poem, “Petrified”, in my first interpretation, suggests human beings rejoining the earth and becoming rock after death. The title itself, petrified, suggests the actual process of becoming rock, as well as the human emotion and the fear that comes with being silenced by death - “your heart’s tongue seized/ mid-syllable” (1-2). In actuality, Don McKay’s intention was to personify the rocks – “Astonished” describing where the earth becomes stone and in “Petrified” where the earth becomes rock – as Strike/Slip was inspired by the terranes of Vancouver Island.

    http://www.griffinpoetryprize.com/see-and-hear-poetry/h-n/don-mckay/

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  23. "Old Man" - Neil Young

    Old man look at my life,
    I'm a lot like you were.
    Old man look at my life,
    I'm a lot like you were.

    Old man look at my life,
    Twenty four
    and there's so much more
    Live alone in a paradise
    That makes me think of two.

    Love lost, such a cost,
    Give me things
    that don't get lost.
    Like a coin that won't get tossed
    Rolling home to you.

    Old man take a look at my life
    I'm a lot like you
    I need someone to love me
    the whole day through
    Ah, one look in my eyes
    and you can tell that's true.

    Lullabies, look in your eyes,
    Run around the same old town.
    Doesn't mean that much to me
    To mean that much to you.

    I've been first and last
    Look at how the time goes past.
    But I'm all alone at last.
    Rolling home to you.

    Old man take a look at my life
    I'm a lot like you
    I need someone to love me
    the whole day through
    Ah, one look in my eyes
    and you can tell that's true.

    Old man look at my life,
    I'm a lot like you were.
    Old man look at my life,
    I'm a lot like you were.

    Neil Young wrote this poem after moving into a Ranch in North Carolina when he was just 24 years old. On the ranch lived an elderly caretaker who inspired Neil to write this song. In this song Neil talks about love, age, and the commonality of Neil and the old man. Even though the two come from completely different walks of life, Neil finds the common ground between them and sees himself in the old man.

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  25. Song Of Myself, I - Poem by Walt Whitman
    I Celebrate myself, and sing myself,
    And what I assume you shall assume,
    For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

    I loafe and invite my soul,
    I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

    My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil,
    this air,
    Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and
    their parents the same,
    I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
    Hoping to cease not till death.

    Creeds and schools in abeyance,
    Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never
    forgotten,
    I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
    Nature without check with original energy.

    One of the main themes of this poem by Walt Whitman is identity. At the beginning of the poem Whitman states that he celebrates all parts of himself and humanity in general. In the poem we see Whitman split his personality into three different sectors, his everyday/usual self, his inner self, and his universal self or his soul. He believes that his identity can be connected to everything in the world. Whitman believes in the connectedness and harmony of all living beings. Whitman stresses that all though we are each individual unique things, we all have a sense of oneness as well.

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  26. In the interest of relating back to our course themes, here's an identity poem that uses the symbol of the mirror!

    My reflection is vague, perception unclear.
    My mind is like a shattered mirror
    That devises a veneer fashioned of my fears.

    I'm seized inside this illusory disguise
    That's only feeding me a mouth full of lies.
    Oh, how I hunger to be recognized…

    Actuality stays hidden behind the scenes:
    What my eyes perceive is make believe.
    Trickeries are fitted in deceiving sleeves.
    I'm incapable of comprehending the genuine me.

    By Anne Currin

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  27. On the thread of identify I'd like to comment on a slam poem that meant a lot to me. Titled "Explaining My Depression to My Mother", the poem goes through the misunderstandings of depression and their manifestation, or counter part, in people suffering from mental illness. It gives a moving account of Sabrina Benaim experiences with the illness. I find this poem is a poem about identify in the way that mental heath and mental illness form a person's state of being. An example would be anxiety or the inability to get out of bed, these kinds of things are not only related to the way people perceive you but the way you perceive yourself. In this way mental illness is a key factor in forming someone's sense of self and identify. Being a topic that I believe requires more attention I have attached a link to the poem below. I hope it moves you as much as it moved me

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=aqu4ezLQEUA

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