Who Are We?

Comment here for our poems on identity for next time (though, as we said in class, we’ll spend the first 15 minutes or so finishing up “Howl”).  Here’s our prompt for next time–which of these poems’ speakers seems to have the strongest/weakest sense of identity to you?

It may help you to understand the Goodison to read this poem by William Wordsworth, if you haven’t done so in English 252.

As usual, a smattering of other writers for whom our group next time is standing in; we’ll leave off Walcott/Kincaid/Goodison’s fellow Caribbean writers until we read Oscar Wao, I think, and the Black Arts successors to Harlem Renaissance poets like Hughes (such as Brooks) until our Mass Media day.

English “Movement”/”Angry Young Men” (with Larkin): John Osborne (playwright, major work Look Back in Anger)
Kingsley Amis (novelist, major work Lucky Jim)
Alan Sillitoe (fiction writer, major work “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”)
Ted Hughes (poet, major work Crow)
Feminist Writers* (with Rich): Sylvia Plath (poet and novelist, major works Ariel and The Bell Jar)
Margaret Atwood (poet and novelist, major work The Hand-Maid’s Tale)
Doris Lessing (novelist, major work The Golden Notebook)
Audre Lorde (poet and essayist, major work Zami)
Joan Didion (essayist, Slouching Towards Bethlehem)
Rita Dove (poet, Thomas and Beulah)

*These are among the more famous of the many women writers who have been identified as feminists at some point or other, but they have vastly differently attitudes toward what “feminism” constitutes and as such don’t constitute a unified movement per se.  (In particular, Didion is despised by many feminists.)

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13 Responses to “Who Are We?”

  1. nmulet says:

    I think that “Girl” has the weakest sense of identity out of all the poems. I wasn’t sure who was speaking in this poem. I figured it was either a mother addressing her daughter, or a daughter talking to herself in the mirror or something. But I think it made more sense going with the idea that a mother was telling her daughter what it means to be a girl. The italicized comments would then be spoken by the daughter.

    I think this has the weakest identity because the mother ends up contradicting herself. She starts off strong, giving clear-cut instructions. But by the end, she starts giving pointers about things that aren’t lady-like. She tells her daughter how to make a medicine that will give her an abortion. Girls/ladies don’t have abortions. They get married and then have children. Most girls don’t usually fish, but maybe that’s passable. She tells her how to bully a man. The mother also tells her how to love a man, which is ironic because she’s so concerned about her becoming a slut. But I guess giving an education isn’t the same as giving approval. Another contradictory thing she tells her daughter is how to spit. If she wants her daughter to know what being a girl is, she shouldn’t be showing her that.

    The last thing that I thought was weird was the very end when she seems offended that her daughter might grow up to become a woman who wouldn’t be allowed near the bread. But everything before that was about her daughter not becoming a slut. Wouldn’t the mother rather her daughter be someone who isn’t allowed to feel the bread than a slut? Overall, it seems that the mother is less confused about the identity of a girl than confused about her own identity. The mother tries to instruct her daughter on how to be lady-like and let her know what being a girl is all about. But parts of the mother’s own un-lady-like-ness keeps coming through. She wants her daughter to be a “good girl”, but the mother isn’t one herself.

  2. jeanine says:

    The poem this be the verse was the strongest to me. The reason I say this because he’s talking about parents and we all can relate to it. Everyone has problems with their parents nothing is always peachy with them. And the weakest was we real cool because there is a a lot to say but not so strong nothing really comes at me from this poem.

  3. khaff88 says:

    In the poem, ‘This Be The Verse” I felt that there wasn’t a sense of identity and that is why he put so much anger towards parents and people of an older generation. The most he can identify with himself and others is that everyone is miserable. In the poem ‘We Real Cool’ there is a strong sense of identity; the poet is aware of what they do, how they act and what it is about him that portrays this “cool” personality and the consequences that come with it. I feel that both these poems possess this idea of a rebellion about the way people should act in society.

  4. hamidah says:

    In Brooks, “We Real Cool,” the speaker has a strong sense of their identity. They think that they are the real deal in being cool. People who are cool are usually people who are popular. Being cool leads them to do things that are horrible and tragic. They commit sins and foul deeds. They hide in the night and move on without looking back. As a result, these actions soon will become their final moments on earth.

  5. mhealy101 says:

    One of the poems on the list that I felt had the strongest sense of identity was Phillip Larkin’s “This be the Verse”. In the poem you can really sense his anger and you can’t help but think that this poem must be about his own parents. I can’t really think of any other reason as to why he would write such an angry poem if these weren’t his parents that he was talking about in the poem.

  6. “This be the Verse” by Larkin, I believe the author in just 12 lines describes the conflicts in the world. I think that this poem can be interpret in many ways and perhaps that was his intention. I think that he express his feelings about humanity and his shares his disagreements with us.

  7. javeriasid says:

    The poem with the weakest sense of identity is “Dinner Guest Me” by Langston Hughes. In this poem Hughes writes about the “Negro Problem,” which in this case he seems to have a difficult time answering himself. The poem describes the lavish life he is living, “being wined and dined” by the white people but he seems to accept himself as a second class citizen, “answering the usual questions that come to white mind.” He seems to be adding to the problem by accepting everything, despite seeing through their phony persona.

  8. Jamie Rohr says:

    The poem “This be the verse” had the strongest sense of identity. To me, Identity is most shaped by your past and parents are one of the biggest contributors to one’s identity. In this poem, you can get a sense of all the pain and all that the speaker has been through. His harsh words express his anger and the choice of topic, about parents in general, says more about him than he may have meant to. I completely understand who he is as a person and what hits home for him and I feel like I can even relate.

  9. seanlevine says:

    I found the idea of identity relevant to all of these works, however I felt it was explored in an especially interesting way in Kincaid’s “Girl”. This largely stems from the fact that the “girl” alluded to in the title seems to be on the receieving end of a diatrabe from her mother; wherein the mother is trying to impress an identity onto her daughter through a very lengthy and precise run down her own expectations concerning the role of a daughter in their family/culture. As a result I’d say that the speaker in this poem (the mother) has a very strong sense of identity, but the intended target of her words has a rather weak one. A claim bolstered by the fact that the daughter seems rather unable to voice her opinion and defend herself against the demands of the mother. For instance I took the italicized portions of the poem to be the daughters retort to her mothers dication; but even those two brief replies aren’t reflective of the “girl” being assertive of herself and her desires. Rather they are almost apologetic, for instance in saying “but I don’t sing benna on Sundays…” In doing so the girl is trying to reconcile her faults to her mother, which further cements the idea that she is willing to eschew her own individuality and bend to the will of her mother/culture.

  10. jerryLaera says:

    Larkin’s “This Be The Verse” I got a notion of the narrator coming off as a weak individual. In Kincaid’s “Girl” women were kept from working and eventually felt compelled to do something more. The role of women as described by Jamaica Kincaid in “Girl” depicts what a woman is expected to do. Kincaid’s piece is a short story about society, in which is run and organized predominantly by males who have since time been dominating women, and arranging their lives in such a way so that they can have the greatest advantage over women. Kincaid’s piece enhanced our understanding of the life women led and how strong one should be in order to keep the household moving. At the time it was their job, in todays time it wouldnt sound so appealing for a woman to do all those things and stay home, when she could be working out in the field.

  11. GordonWTam says:

    Larkin’s “This Be The Verse” has the weakest sense of anything. Be it identity, self, or mind, this speaker is weak. We can infer that this speaker has faults of his/her own, because of how much the speaker believes parents mess you up. That leads into my argument that the speaker is a weak coward. Only weaklings push all of the blame onto others, and the weakest of all blame the ones that gave them life.

  12. cbergmann says:

    Girl by Jamaica Kincaid really came off as a piece where the speaker has an extremely weak sense of self. The whole piece seems to be about about advice or demands that were being thrown at the speaker, only once or twice does she interject with her own thoughts. It seemed to be a laundry list of necessities one needs to be a proper lady and it did not leave room for the speaker to question why she should do these things. Also it left no room for the speaker to internalize her own wants and needs as an individual. On the other hand, after reading Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich I felt as if the speaker had a deep sense of self-awareness. The speaker is diving into the ocean and into the complete unknown to search for the remains of a shipwreck. Towards the end of the poem I began to realize that although the speaker was searching for a tangible thing, they were also searching for themselves. In my opinion when someone goes out searching for him or herself and asks questions that shows a sense of reality and self-awareness, if you do not ask questions (like in Kincaid’s piece) you easily conform to what others want you to be.

  13. gvelella says:

    I thought the Poem with the strongest sense of identity came from Hughs’ “Dinner Guest: me.” it seems he was making a point about Being this black author who wrote about being black in a white society, which he is famous for. But now, he’s being celebrated by white people and has become one of them, eating lobster on Park Ave. And feels guilty for doing so because he’s not solving any problems by being there.