National Poetry Month — Poetry Hit

When I was 16, I was protesting the first Gulf War. I remember walking down a hallway, maybe into the library at school, and catching a glimpse of the bombing of Baghdad and the green tracers like aberrant fireworks in the dark night sky. I had never seen a war on TV before, and it was real in a way that nothing is real anymore after all these years of TV and war and violence on it. There were people under those bombs and because of the TV they were real to me, people like me and my family, who lived around the world in time zone where it was already night.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Also the 10,000 Maniacs performed the poem in the song The Latin One during their Hope Chest tour in 1990.

National Poetry Month — Poetry Hit

April is National Poetry Month in the US. To celebrate, I’m posting some of the poems I loved at 17.

Meeting at Night


The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

Reading Sayer in the 21st Century

Early paperback edition cover

Early paperback edition cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayer took some adjusting to. I had never read any early mysteries so at first the genre conventions were baffling. (Along with the actual 1930s Britishness of it, as opposed to the fake or “translated” Britishness we often get on this side of the pond.) However, it was also exciting to read something with no knowledge of the conventions and consciously compare and contrast them with the ones I’m familiar with, like pages and pages of dialogue without dialogue tags or physical descriptions. Sometimes it’s a bit of a game to figure out who is speaking and what exactly is going on as they react to action that is not described. And pacing. Holy moly is the pacing different. But that’s to be expected, since everything today is super fast paced. Movies from the 80s seem slow.

As a 21st Century reader, my biggest problem was Peter Wimsey’s treatment of Harriet Vane. There’s one scene where she’s in prison and he’s promising to prove her innocence but it hasn’t been going well. He takes out his feelings on Harriet Vane until he feels better and she’s red faced and upset. He leaves whistling, I believe. (I’ve returned the book to the library, so I don’t have the exact quote.) And then there’s, to my mind, the ethical question of whether it’s appropriate for Peter to repeatedly ask a woman in jail to marry him, when he’s the only one trying to prove her innocence. But that wasn’t even on anyone’s radar in the 1930s apparently.

I struggled more to get through Have His Carcase. Maybe because I would have liked more Harriet Vane. Maybe I didn’t care as much about the murder victim and didn’t feel like I could figure out the mystery before the author tells me the answer. Maybe it was the pacing. It also seems a less funny book at the beginning, though it gets funnier as it goes along, to the point where I laughed out loud a few times.

And maybe it’s all that plus some of those 1930s attitudes are less than charming.

Harriet Vane: “There might be a few scattered houses on the road, but they would probably belong to fishermen, and ten to one she would find nobody at home but women and children, who would be useless in the emergency.” (p15)

Really? The women farmers and fishermen’s wives, who run the farms and houses while the men are gone, probably logistically a challenging job, who probably work beside their husbands, doing physical tasks Harriet would be hardpressed to do, who are probably tough and pragmatic and used to taking care of emergencies on their own, wouldn’t be much use in an emergency?

And then there are the casual racial and ethnic slurs. And while I don’t think “dago” has been much used since the mid-20th Century the n-word makes an appearance a few times. Dago was used freely in the book. While it doesn’t have the same visceral impact that current slurs have (no one has ever used it against me, and I’ve never heard anyone called it. I only know it from textbooks, and I probably only remembered it because it was used against my ancestors—but I was already safely considered white by the time I was reading those textbooks), the attitude behind it was shocking. And I don’t think I’ll ever be desensitized to the n-word. It was such a casual othering.

National Poetry Month — Poetry Hit

April is National Poetry Month in the US. To celebrate, I’m going to post some of the poems I loved at 17.


by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Also famous for the title of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

I loved Leda and the Swan, but since that’s a poem about rape that I cannot love as an adult, check out June Jordan‘s Poem About My Rights, which I discovered about three years later.

Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

Trigger warning: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

So, you know those things you think you know? Or better yet, you know that quote by Mark Twain?

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

I am here to tell you about the dreaded choke hold. It’s not the end game most writers think it is.

You know what I mean. When the bad guy gets his hands around the woman’s (and sometimes even a man’s–hey, strangulation must be pretty respectable if it’s done to men, too) throat. That’s it, right? Unless someone else comes to save the damsel in distress or, sometimes, she finds something conveniently to hand to smash into his head.

I was watching Alias when I thought of this post, but the chokehold comes up at least once a season in any TV show with violence. Alias is only egregious because Sydney is supposed to be a highly trained, deadly CIA agent. We see her fight, and win, many times during each episode (yay, that’s great! Women who know how to fight!). She knows some kind of martial art. She knows how to use weapons and do other spy things. She’s kind of like a female James Bond. So why, the moment she’s in a chokehold, does she fail to do what any trained, professional fighter would do to break the hold?!


(I’ll tell you my suspicions: 1. rape culture 2. most writers don’t actually practice a martial art/take self defense classes 3. most TV writers are male, why would they question what they know? 4. everyone else is doing it, it must be true 5. writers can be lazy (I can say that because I’m a writer and it’s soooo easy to be lazy))

But back to Alias, Sydney and chokeholds. First, let’s have an anatomy lesson: elbows bend.

End of lesson.

Getting out of a choke hold is often one of the first things you learn in a self defense class, probably because it’s incredibly easy to learn and therefore gives students a feeling of power and control. And because any able bodied person can do it and many physically handicapped people can too. As suggested by the review above, it depends on anatomy and physics rather than body strength, agility or fancy martial arts knowledge.

If someone has you in this position, what you need to do is shoot one arm straight up into the air, rotate your body sharply away from your upraised arm, and bring that arm down, as hard as you can, on the other person’s elbows. Remember that anatomy lesson? Their elbows MUST bend under your blow.

That’s hard to picture from the description so I’m linking to a random video I found on the internet. Elbow down self defense for choke hold.

You are also weakening their hold on your neck by turning your body away from them and you’re ensuring that you get both their elbows, not just one. Now, as with all self defense moves, the more power and strength you put into it the better. And just because you’ve broken out of the choke hold doesn’t mean the other person will automatically stop trying to hurt you. Follow through is essential.

Keep in mind, I am not bad-mouthing the heavy thing to the head tactic. I just want to tell you the more direct route.

For Alias, this was bad, lazy writing. Sydney would know this move and she would have used it (or some other similar move instead of hanging out until the last possible second and searching through his clothes or whatever she does(. For all the other TV shows and movies that use this? BORING. A lot of women know self defense. A lot of women take martial arts. A lot of women save their own lives when they are attacked, whether that’s by a stranger or someone known to them. It’s not the 1960s Mad Men world anymore. Wouldn’t it be cool if some of the women on TV reflected our reality? Wouldn’t it be cool if we all knew how to protect ourselves?

But hey, if even super competent heroes like Sydney can’t get out of a chokehold, what ordinary woman could, right? Why should you—yes, you, sitting there reading this—think you could? Learned helplessness, you say!? Excuse me while I go practice some self defense.