“Oo you’re an English Major, I’m sorry”

            The last Percival Everett book English class 203 read was re: f (gesture), in which he sectioned off his book into three sections that at first glance do not correlate. However, after close examination of the book, I figured out that they indirectly relate to a topic I feel pesters the Liberal Arts community. One common misconception about being a Humanities major is that it is always the same; for example, “how many ways can a writer interpret Shakespeare’s sonnets?” or “how can one person be creative if the idea is already pursued in a different way, it’s just repetitive and seems like copying” and I believe these are the questions Everett is trying to answer in his book of poems. He may be trying to break this tainted view of humanities being boring, lacking creativity, repetitive, and not change.

            In the article written by Colleen Flaherty titled “Major Exodus” on the Inside Higher Ed forum, she discusses the constant decline in humanities majors not only in the University of Maryland but all over the country. William Cohen a professor and chair of the English department at Maryland stated that the decline can be partially due to the culture surrounding the Humanities; to some students and families, a Humanities major is not good for employment as other majors would be for other fields.  It is a common misconception that the opportunities a student can receive in a STEM field seem to be higher since the development of new technology and cures for diseases. However, what good is a doctor if they cannot speak to their patients; this is one of the reasons medical schools began to broaden their acceptance to students perusing majors other than Biology. Everett fights this notion of the irrelevance of Humanities majors in his book of poems.

            Since the book is divided into three sections, “Zulus”, “Logic”, and “Body”, that seems to not correlate at first glance it may be hard to see this idea of creativity in common knowledge, breakthrough. In the section titled “Zulus” Everett writes a poem for each letter of the alphabet in which he uses common knowledge associated with history: generals, battles, wars for independence, significant bible figures, and famous scholars. For example, in the “A” dedication poem he writes about Achitophel, Absalom, Solomon, Plato, Aristotle, and Anaximander, this was Everett’s first poem of his book where he tackles the notion of common knowledge, but also starts to break the “boring” stigma associated with English. Everett was not the first and probably will not be the last person to write an alphabetical poem, but he takes a different approach to his version; by incorporating common knowledge outside his field the poem becomes less about common English approaches it becomes more about spreading a writing style over another field where the author does not have an academic degree in. By doing this in his first section he brings this idea of creativity and shows that English can be fun if the writer takes different approaches to it, allowing for change.

            In the section titles “Logic” the last poem of the book is set up to demonstrate another creative outlook English major can create. On page seventy, the poem titled “6” discusses the death of seven men and even though these seven men die the number seven remains constant. In the poem, he says “Seven men lost, but not seven. Seven is, will be. All men will die but not seven”, through these lines we can see the number seven adds a spin to his poem. Seven like the alphabet does not seem to hold a lot of weight other than the fact that it is a number that tells you how many groups of objects are in a section. However, Everett makes the number seven significant by creating a sense of consistency in his poem. As shown in the line above the seven men die but the number seven will remain, it is consistent and adds a creative spin to the “boring Shakespearean poems” that we all dreaded reading in high school.

            Lastly, in the section titled “Body” Everett uses the common knowledge associated with the medical field, using medical terms for body parts versus the everyday names. In the poem titled “The Sternum” Everett writes about the breastbone in the human body calling it the “centerpiece of the table of my chest… Manubrium, gladiolus, ensiform, come together, absorb the world through compact tissue” (44). In this line Everett’s creativity shines through with the comparison of the chest bone to the centerpiece of the table as well as comparing the compact tissue to the commonly used phrase by Maya Angelo, “I want all my senses engaged. Let me absorb the world’s variety and uniqueness”. In writing a set of poems about the human body Everett adds a fun twist to his already interesting book; adding this section about the human body allows readers to know that English is not boring and because it is not forever changing like the science fields it can still be interesting if writers think outside of the box. When Percival Everett’s re: f (gesture) is read with a close eye there are many real-world issues that he addresses; one is that English is a waste of time, since finding work outside of college is hard, there is not much creativity since everything in the past is set into stone, and the notion of the major is boring. Everett takes many approaches to this misconception of English being “boring” and “uncreative”, with his ABC poems which address multiple people and events in history, then his poems about the human body parts, and lastly talking about logic; fighting this idea through his own craft within his field of humanities.

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