Is it funny?

The interesting thing about irony for me is that real irony is far more sincere than earnestness. To accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it. Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance. That is not to say that one should ever make light of serious and grave and important issues, but that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation. Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic.–

Throughout this semester, through every story and passage by Percival Everett that we have read and discussed as a class, I have learned to slow down. As well as the need to close read in order to understand what the words on the page meant. I’ll admit, this took me quite some time to get the hang of, but once I got it, I noticed something very distinct about Everett. Irony plays a big part in what Percival Everett writes as seen in the themes of his stories and the meanings behind his passages. In his interview with Yogita Goyal he makes it clear with how he uses irony as a literary device. This is evident when he says, “The interesting thing about irony for me is that real irony is far more sincere than earnestness.” Something I have noticed throughout his writings, is that Everett is very blunt, almost unapologetic, and usually does not sugar coat things for the readers. Before starting this class I hadn’t read anything in the way Percival Everett had written, and while at times it was startling, it was also very refreshing. Everett acknowledges when he goes too far in a topic and combats that by whipping out a reality check. In his stories he often writes about real things, which are sometimes dark and personal, however, he stops right before crossing the line and avoids desensitizing the subject.  

Looking back on these past few months, I can confidently say that I feel like I have grown as a student, as well as a writer. The focus on Percival Everett’s works and writing as many blog posts that we did was challenging and eye opening, strengthening my need for self discipline as well as writing in a conversational way. In the beginning I was quite lost, bouncing around from story to story that I didn’t fully understand until I went back, reread and made annotations. This took time to get the hang of, but once I did, that is when I started to fully understand what this class was doing, and why we were focused on Percival Everett’s works. Many of the readings that we focused on brought me out of my comfort zone, and while we did read a good amount of his writings, I can’t deny the fact that I Am Not Sidney Poitier stuck out to me the most. The quote I have at the beginning of this post mentions how Everett used irony, and I only felt that it was fitting that I would mention the Bedford Glossary’s definition of that word. “Irony is a contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality…irony comes from the Greek eiron, meaning dissembling. (Bedford 217).” I mention that second definition because I feel that is exactly what Everett is doing in his writing. His novels at first glance appear to be something simple, but when one takes the time to dismember and dig into the words he chose, the tone and the themes, it almost becomes an organized mess on the pages. 

After reading the entire interview between Everett and Goyal, I feel like I have a better understanding of who he is, not only as a writer but also a person. In one of my previous blog posts I mentioned how I connected with Everett’s character, Not Sidney in his novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. As I continue my journey through reading Everett’s works I’m confident to say that I’m constantly learning something new about not only him, but myself as well. When one is reading something new, they’re most likely to enjoy the story more if they can see themselves in one of the main characters. I found this to be true while I got to know Not Sidney, relating to his grief and his need to be in control. Everett’s use of real situations, such as the racism Not Sidney encounters quite  often in the story, him running away when things become too much, and the use of Ted Turner as the mildly confused “neighbor” were all great devices to make the story relatable. In fact, Turner’s character in a way, gave some breathing room for what Everett was doing, especially during the aftermath of Not Sidney getting abused by his teacher. 

In the interview he was quoted saying, “Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance.” For myself, this provides context for Ted Turner’s reaction to Not Sidney’s unfortunate encounter with Miss. Hancock. After the two go back and forth for a bit, Turner bringing up how he can tie his shoes with one hand while Not Sidney describes what happened to him, Ted finally asks Not Sidney if he is going to turn her in. Turner goes on to say, “It’s up to you, but I say report her. She’s contributing to the delinquency of a minor. And apparently giving defective blow jobs (Everett 33).” We see his character become serious for a moment, acknowledging that Not Sidney did go through something traumatic, but then reverts back to his usual self and makes that comment about Miss. Hancock giving bad blow jobs. I believe, now that I have that quote from the interview, that if Everett had written Turner’s character to be super concerned and straight forward, the dynamic between them would have been completely different. If that was the case, he would have stopped Not Sidney from running away, sent him to a college that he could get into-rather than just paying his way in, and he’d treat him like actual family. Everett wrote Turner the way he did because it wouldn’t have been as good if he kept him completely in the loop all the time. Turner’s ability to lighten the mood with random conversations within a conversation manages to level out what they’re talking about. 

“Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic,” Everett continues in the interview as he talks about his works and he acknowledges the fact that sometimes things get real, and when they do, there isn’t always a spot to throw some humor into it. Throughout this semester while sitting in English 203, we often split up into groups to discuss the reading of the day and many times different opinions would pop up as we talked about what we thought of the story at hand. While we were reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier, I remember that I had said that I found the book funny and enjoyable, which then led to one of my group mates to disagree and state that they thought it was a bit too vulgar for their taste. I was reminded of this when I read that quote from the interview, because while there is humor in that novel, there is also serious and sometimes triggering subject matter, which in my opinion, Everett handles greatly. 

Everett keeps a nice balance between the themes he deals with in his works, giving attention to one sometimes over the other, and as an English major who delves deep into writing and literature, it intrigued me when we first began reading his novels. Essentially, that’s what drew me to Everett as an author, getting excited when we would start something new of his because he had such a way of dealing with certain subjects-as seen in his poetry book entitled, re:f gesture, where he focuses on the human body in great detail in one of the sections. The careful language that he uses in his writings combated with the real and raw subject material he writes about made me want to read more and to know who Percival Everett was as a person. I’m grateful for the time I have spent in this sometimes dusty classroom, grateful for the ability to bond with an author I’ve never met, and to have the opportunity to grow as a student and a writer. I’m horrible at ending papers, and I suck at goodbyes, so, that being said, “Good morning! And in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night! (Jim Carrey, The Truman Show).” 

Run with it.

I’ll be honest (like I often am throughout these posts), whenever I got an idea for a blog it often occurred when I was watching a show/movie or listening to music. My last post was inspired by a fictional green Star Wars character, and I got the idea for this blog that I am currently writing when I was binge watching the show Narcos. Random, I know, but inspiration can hit at those moments when you’re least expecting it, and when it does one should listen to that voice in your head and run with it. Many times, I felt inspired by Percival Everett’s character Not Sidney, because I saw myself in him; how he coped with losing a parent and being thrusted into many situations that were wild and out of his control. Obviously, I wasn’t taken in by Ted Turner when my father died eleven months ago, but that feeling that Not Sidney has in the novel-about not knowing who he is, about longing for something that’s no longer there, is something I related to.

I enjoyed reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Everett simply because of the main character that was clearly struggling throughout the novel, making him real as he grew up feeling out of place even though he could “control” people with his mind. Now that I’ve had time to digest and unpack the act Not Sidney often did when he wanted to feel power over a situation, it makes sense to me. Throughout his life, Not Sidney had a lot of things happen to him: His mom dying when he was a young boy, his extreme inheritance, Wanda Fonda making advances toward him when he was still a kid, getting sexually abused by his teacher followed by no one believing him when he came forward, being arrested just because he was black, dating a girl who’s family was incredibly racist and the list goes on. In his head, when he wanted that feeling of power, when he needed that moment to believe that he was in control of people he used his “fesmerization” skill on them. He took that feeling of helplessness back and claimed it as his.

I think it’s pretty interesting when people can relate so heavily to a character that’s entirely made up, and I am one of them. When I need to feel in control, like Not Sidney does, I often imagine myself to be Princess Leia because when I was younger, I saw her as an icon for female power and it hasn’t changed now that I am twenty. When I need to feel powerful when speaking with my boss, I often imagine myself as a calmer version of Walter White from the show Breaking Bad, not wanting to feel nervous or coming off like I am a pushover. It might be silly, and it definitely sounds it, but when someone is able to relate to something separate from the situation they’re going through and are able to lean on the thing that makes them feel safe and comfortable in their own space, it truly makes all the difference. Not Sidney did this by using his eyes, seeming to hypnotize his victims into making them do whatever he wanted, and it eased his stress.

In a way, I feel personally indebted to Everett now because it hasn’t yet been a year since my dad died, and transferring to Geneseo this past September felt wrong in a way because I was leaving everything I knew to come to a school that was hours away from my family, friends and the familiarity of belonging. I feel indebted to him because his novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier helped me get over the huge speedbump I was facing, that final hurtle of needing to let go of the guilt I felt, and being able to relate to Not Sidney in the way that I did when first reading it, gave me that boost. Everett, without knowing it, helped me get over one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had, simply by creating a character with a name that was never understood by the people around him. It’s amazing how literature, better yet, how art can do such a thing, how it can heal and provide inspiration when it’s most needed. I’ve learned throughout this semester, especially in English 203 that things happen for a reason. The universe is tricky, plays jokes, pulls the rug out from under you but it’s also there to catch you when you fall. And I felt it when I walked into that classroom on the first day, not knowing who in the world Percival Everett was but I was eager to find out, and that was for good reason.

It feels kind of weird knowing that this is my last blog post, and I honestly don’t know how to end it. When I look back to the first post I wrote and compare it to my most recent I am amazed at how much my writing has strengthened in that short amount of time. I’ve learned to unpack, dig, take my time and actually know what I am saying while writing. I have grown as a student as well as a person from my time in this class and I honestly wouldn’t trade that for anything. Yikes. That was cheesy.


The significance of Baby Yoda.

            In Percival Everett’s Logic, found in re:f gesture, I found myself connecting his poems to many things that we have spoken about in class, as well as things in my personal life. Since this English class is almost solely focused on Everett’s works, I’m confident to say that I feel like I understand him, in a way. How he writes and how he describes things in such a way that makes you tear apart each sentence in order to figure out what he really means. Throughout the semester we did this through Frenzy, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and now the focus is on re:f gesture. This poetry book has been the most challenging in my opinion, moving from the alphabet, to the body and then logic, and one might not think those three separate subjects work well together-but they do. Everett plays off the poetry he writes, connecting subjects in future poems that one might not catch if they read it quickly. We see this in Body when he mentions the conception of a baby, the innocent life being brought into this world; which then switches as the reader makes their way to Logic and reads the last poem entitled, 6. “Seven men can be obliterated, burned or hanged or drowned in a lake and forgotten (Everett 70).” I enjoy this reality check that Everett brings to the table, letting us know that while life is precious, much like a baby being made, its also harsh and eventually you will die.

            Logic has everything to do with math, and why something is the way it is-and in my opinion I see Percival Everett using that tool when he’s writing. I have noticed that there’s always a bigger picture when it comes to one of his works, whether that be a poem or one of his novels. There’s a constant need to unpack what his words on the page mean, Professor McCoy often encouraging us to flip through the Bedford or our Reflective Writing book to help that process and I admit that has been a struggle for me-to connect the literary analysis component within my own writing. However, as I sat down to write this blogpost, I began to play with the idea of something being canon. Canon, as defined in the Bedford Glossary states that it is, “A body of written works accepted as authoritative or authentic (41).” When something is canon in fiction, whether that be for a show, movie or a book, it means that it is official. True.

            Over this long weekend break for Thanksgiving I was so excited to go home and visit my family, relax and take a much-needed break from school and just let my mind rest. It was great, spending time with my brothers-one who is twenty-three and the other is six, so it takes a good amount of skill to balance my time with them to make it equal. Eventually, my older brother and I sat down and started to watch the new Star Wars show, The Mandalorian, and what started as a good and quiet night-quickly advanced into a full-blown argument about if Baby Yoda was really a baby. It was a typical sibling fight that was incredibly stupid and not worth our time but were both stubborn and insisted that our separate points were correct. He believed that The Child (as it is referred to in the show) was actually a baby-his logic behind that being that it was tiny and made infant noises when toddling around. I countered his argument by rewinding to the part where the Mandalorian states that it is literally fifty years old and that species in the Star Wars universe age differently. “It’s canon!” I had shouted and my brother replied with, “But it’s a baby!” Eventually, our mom got involved and we ended up playing the next episode, too tired to argue anymore but still, we believed that we were both right.

            That argument coincidentally reminded me of poem 2 in Logic. “Let us assume X. Even such signs have some place, some language X. Constituent parts compose this reality-molecules, atoms, simple X (Everett 66).” I know I might be reaching with this whole Baby Yoda thing, but it sparked my interest into writing this blogpost, so I had to make mention of it. When reading this I thought of my English class and how we have broken things down to find out what they really mean, whether there was a point to that or not, we’ve participated in these discussions several times. One assumes X when reading something, whatever that might be, but it’s not that simple. There are several different parts that make up the writing, consistent components such as the molecules and atoms that Everett mentions. On the service Everett’s writing seems like it has one solid meaning, a concrete foundation until we, the readers, start to jackhammer into it and place it into different categories. I’ve enjoyed doing this, the practice of reading things more carefully than I ever had giving me skills that I’ll need in the future as I continue my studies as an English major.

            The Alphabet, human body parts, logic, a black man’s life being told through significant phases in his life, and a provocative novel about the god Dionysus. It almost sounds like a setup to a bad joke, but instead it’s the layout of what we have read of Percival Everett’s, and like I stated before, they rely on each other to tell each story. It makes sense-the logic of it all and how it sets each writing up for success in ways that only Everett could do. And it only took (not) Baby Yoda to help me figure that out.

A shout out to English 203.

            As I read through Percival Everett’s final section in re:f (gesture), entitled Logic, I couldn’t help but think of my English 203 class as we got to the poem, 3. In the very beginning of the semester Professor McCoy had us do an exercise on the first day of classes, where one person went around the room and repeated everyone’s names in the circle we had formed, letting us get familiar with each other. We continued the exercise for the next few classes and by the fourth class we knew each other fairly well, forming groups, inside jokes, and getting into well versed arguments about whether something meant what it really meant. I have formed memories with these people who I didn’t have any sort of connection with back in August and I am so grateful for them. I have learned in our several one hour and forty-five-minute classes together that most of my classmates are education majors and when I first learned that I shrugged and smiled, not thinking much because I barely knew them. However, now that I’ve bonded with them and we’ve shared laughs, I feel incredibly happy knowing that the next generation is going to have some really great teachers. In 3, it begins with a question, one that made me want to write this blog post, and one that I will hold onto for the rest of my time in this drafty classroom.

            “Does my memory of you consist in parts? Simple, component parts? (Everett 67).” When I read this, I instantly felt warm, thinking of the friendships I have made in this class, and not only that but the brief and genuine conversations I have had with my classmates who I might not be as close with. I know it’s unlikely for me to remember in ten years what Hailey said that made me smile so hard my face hurt, but right now I have that memory. Or that time when I was feeling really low and almost didn’t come to class, but Joe ended up being in my group for the day and he made me laugh so much that I was incredibly grateful that I showed up. Every day we make new memories, storing them in our brains until they’re not so relevant anymore and I feel fortunate that I get to make so many on Monday’s and Friday’s during this class.

            The poem continues with the following, “Ascending and descending segments, your curve in space. Are you a composite? Or are you a whole, your name, all of you at once, a simple element? (Everett 67).” In this class we have had several discussions about the importance of names. If they mean anything, how they can define a person, if you even need a name at all, often connecting that discussion with I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett. I personally believe that time is a construct and that we’re sort of all just floating on this giant planet, getting older and making memories, meeting new people until the inevitable moment that we die. What we do between birth and death is entirely up to us and having a name adds to that experience. I remember on that first day, when someone volunteered to go first after Professor McCoy went around the circle a few times saying our names, and I was shocked when they said my name. I don’t know what it is, but whenever someone addresses me by my name, I find it incredibly personal and I love it, because it doesn’t happen all the time. However, in this class Beth has encouraged us time and time again to use each other’s names when conversing so we can make connections and form relationships with one another.

            Memories are a universal thing, everyone has them but it’s interesting that two people can be in the same situation but have two separate memories of that shared time. I have overheard and been a part of disagreements breaking out in our small groups, which mostly occur when someone doesn’t agree with an opinion about whatever reading we were discussing. Even though some get heated I’m grateful that as adults were allowed this academic space to have these conversations which sometimes don’t make sense when we take a step back. However, I personally have developed an understanding for almost everyone in the class and a level of respect for their opinions when we get in groups, which allows me not to jump on someone when they don’t agree with what I have to say. During this semester we as a class as a whole and in groups have analyzed, unpacked, and broken down several things that I normally wouldn’t have thought of. When we were discussing the alphabet, I didn’t question it when we were analyzing why it was in a certain order because I had gotten so used to these strange and mind melting questions that make me reconsider everything. At first, I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan of all the group work that this class required but over time I have learned to love sliding across the hardwood floor to get to my group and begin the discussion of the day.

            I admit, this blog post is a little all over the place, but today when I was in my group, laughing so hard because the discussion changed from Logic to Percival Everett’s personal life, I couldn’t help but feel a whole lot of love and admiration for my class. Throughout these last few months we have grown as students together, encouraged each other through random things, made each other laugh and in my own case, heal after a major loss. So, if anyone from 203 is reading this right now, you mean a lot to me champ, keep it up, and let’s finish this semester on a high note.

Let’s talk about it.

In my group today there were mixed emotions expressed as we read through the poems of Body by Percival Everett. We spoke about how technical and literal each poem was, laying the definitions of the specific body parts flat out rather than sugar coating anything. I mentioned how much I appreciated how Everett wrote in the way that he had, making the poems something more than just a medical definition. In my group there was a shared agreement that Everett has a talent for making his readers “uncomfortable” when discussing these kinds of topics, the intimacy of it all not often seen in other works of literature we have read. In my previous blog post I mentioned how Everett draws attention to parts of the body that can be overlooked-or not visible with the human eye and as we read through it again today, I’m confident to say that this book of poetry is a huge celebration of the body.

We see this in Obturator Internus, which is a part of the hip, and Everett writes with such confidence about this one part-it’s quite lovely. “Behind the pelvic brim, thrusting from the upper, arising also from the inner surface at the posterior, completing the arch, the canal for passage, where fibers converge rapidly, backward, downward (Everett 49).” Before reading this, I had no idea what the obturator internus was, and when I found out it was a bone in the hip, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself because of how well he detailed it. Everett highlights parts of the body that one might overlook because for one-they have intense names, and two-you can’t see them. I said to my group today, “Who writes a poem about the labia majora? Percival Everett apparently.” As he should. He’s celebrating these body parts by making individual poems about them, giving them their moment in the sun, and forcing people to acknowledge them.

My group also agreed that Everett’s Body could be connected with the blazon form. Blazon, defined by the Poetry Foundation states that it is, “French for “coat-of-arms” and “shield” also means the physical attributes of a subject, one that is usually female.” We see this in Body, referring to the body parts that a female can have as well as the pronoun “she” thrown around every once and awhile. Blazon favors the female body, like Everett does but not to the extent, keeping it more technical while Blazon’s examples are more romantic. Spenser’s “Epithalamion”as shown on the Poetry Foundation is an example of that, “Her goodly eyes like sapphires shining bright/ Her forehead ivory white…” is quite the contrast to Everett’s Nasal Fossae.

“I smell your sex, pressing through the outer nose, filling my upper and central septum, brushing my bone. Deflected from the mesial plane, one side increases, the other diminishes, unequal only spatially and deep inside, your sex still drives, finding the blind pouch the wall of cartilage, and more (Everett 51).” While Everett isn’t as romantic, his writing is sensual and full of emotion even though he’s talking about the nasal cavity. As many conversations started in our group at once Hailey and I started to talk about this poem, sort of confused as to why he mentions sex while talking about the nose. It occurred to me that he was being incredibly intimate when writing this, smelling someone’s sex isn’t something one does casually, but when two people are in a vulnerable setting. The naval cavity is more than just a body part, it’s a device that we use when engaging in sexual activities.

I noticed in today’s class the back of the book, where quotes from other authors and renowned newspapers are displayed, and one caught my eye. “…An author who dances with language as effortlessly as Fred Astaire”-Daniel Quinn. It caught my attention because of how true it was, Everett forming these beautiful pieces of writing, confident in his work because he knows what he’s talking about-just as how Fred Astaire is considered to be the most influential dancer in television history. To compare Everett to Astaire just feels right because of how well they both perfected their craft, leaving their audiences satisfied and yet, wanting more.

I’d like to end this blog post with my favorite poem from Body. The Fissure of Rolando. “…Carried across from the root of one auricle, passing up, curving back between fontanelle and parietal eminence, but near the lower end lie the controls for my mouth, for my tongue, the tongue she tells me she loves near, and in, and on, and around her sweet fissure (Everett 58).” I told my group today that I appreciated where Everett took each poem, going further than needed, letting us (the readers) know that it’s okay to talk about these things.

Everett’s celebration of the body should be talked about more and should inspire other artists to talk openly about the subject that’s usually not talked about as freely. Society has taken several steps back from making advancements of self-love and body empowerment that we don’t nearly see as many examples of in literature. Re: f (gesture) starts to have that conversation and I’m grateful for it.

What’s the big picture?

As my English 203 class starts to read through Percival Everett’s poetry book re: f (gesture), I can’t help but notice how eloquently Everett can make intimate topics sound…not too dirty. In the book we’ve moved on from Zulus and now we have crossed over to poems about the Body. Percival Everett takes us through the more vulnerable body parts, such as the copora cavernosa, the tunica vaginalis and the labia majora. The way Everett describes these intimate parts in such detail, that at times one might not know what he’s even describing, the fluid language he uses creating a mirage over the topic at hand. I have to admit that at times when I was reading through the poems, I often found myself blushing from the sexual nature each piece of writing takes us through, and I appreciated it. A topic that can be considered so taboo-the human body, and Everett is here, writing this beautiful book of poetry and embracing parts that aren’t visible to the human eye.

In I Am Not Sidney Poitier, Everett continues his way of writing about sexual experiences, not so much batting an eye as he describes Not Sidney receiving a blowjob from his teacher. “Hormones got the better of me and I began to swell, at least my penis did, but before I could get completely hard she’d start in with her teeth and my organ would retreat. It went like that for bit, back and forth, pleasure and pain, arousal and repulsion, erection and deflation (Everett 36).” Everett takes this scene and writes it in such a way that the reader is reacting as they flip through the pages; no matter the reaction, the bluntness of this paragraph would cause some kind of emotion. And that is what we get when reading Body in re: f (gesture).

The Labia Majora in medical terms is the lateral boundaries of the vulval or pudendal cleft, which receives the openings of the vagina and the urethra. Pretty standard, necessary for the female body and yet when Percival Everett writes about it, he makes it seem different and almost beautiful in a sense. “Downward from the mons Veneris to the anterior boundary, they are cutaneous folds, salient, enclosing, each with two faces; outer-pigmented, covered by crisp hairs, inner-smooth beset with sebaceous follicles…” Everett is technical with his word choices and yet paints a picture for the reader, taking something that could be considered minor in the body and placing it on a pedestal with its own poem. Almost as if we should be paying more attention to it.

The poem Orbicularis Palpebrarum in Body is about the muscle that helps close the eye, something that sounds so simple and one we might not think about because it’s a function that you do hundreds of times a day-blinking. However, Everett once again twists it around and crafts yet another form of writing that makes one sit back and think for a hot second-because was it really just about a muscle in the eye? “Lend us a wink, she says, give us a wink, with that little sphincter muscle about your eye. Wrap around the ball, around the lid, from the frontal bone, from nasal process. Thin and pale, concentrically curving, covering the eyelids, surrounding the orbit. Send us a wink, thicker now, with that sphincter, with that muscle around the looking.” In this poem there is a heavy flirtatious tone added to the text, and when I read it for the first time I got so caught up in the “she says” that I momentarily forgot this was about an eyeball. Who is she? Why was she important to mention if this is a poem about a muscle? What is the bigger picture?

I have learned in these past few months of reading Percival Everett’s works that there is always a bigger picture-no matter how basic and nonchalant it may seem. The detail he uses provides context in areas that one might get lost in, an example shown in the poem Palmar Fascia which is the palm of your hand. “Squeeze unconsciously when I am a baby, give gently when I am a man, control my thumb. Let my greeting be broad and expansive, firm and protect my bones which break so easily.” As I read through this poem I got lost for a moment because of where he took it, but upon breaking through the smokescreen of what Everett wanted us to see first-I put the pieces together and honestly stared at my hand for a minute afterwards. I really enjoy how his writing makes me feel things, different emotions at a single time because it is important to know and understand what you are receiving-no matter what you might be reading.

A thank you to one of the greats.

            In my first year of college I prided myself in acting like I knew everything there was to know about William Shakespeare, because as an English major I thought that acting pretentious and quoting Hamlet from time to time was a requirement. And it wasn’t until I sat down and read The Tempest, did I actually begin to appreciate all that Shakespeare did for literature as a whole. I enjoyed how I was challenged to actually pay attention to what I was reading, the language making me think and question why I was even reading a play that made my head hurt at times-but that is Shakespeare. He uses narrative to his advantage and runs with it at times, making it his own whether he’s writing a play or a sonnet. Narrative, defined by The Bedford Glossary states, “A story or a telling of a story, or an account of a situation or event,” which Shakespeare did a great job at. This blog post is essentially going to be a long thank you letter to Sir William Shakespeare.

 After reading The Tempest I threw myself into his other works, such as Macbeth, Caesar, and Romeo and Juliet, getting myself familiar with the language as I read more and more, devouring his writing as I now enter my junior year. It’s important to mention the level of skill Shakespeare had when he was writing these masterful works, often talking about love and how intense it could be. Love was a big thing for Billy (William), I mean the guy wrote 150 sonnets which were mostly depicting that emotion, as well as tragedy. Shakespeare was complex but he also knew what he was good at and he stuck to what he knew, and that’s respectable.

In Romeo and Juliet, we see an example of this when Mercuito and Romeo are talking, Romeo asking, “Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, / Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.” Mercuito responds with, “If love be rough with you, be rough with love! Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down. Give me a case to put my visage in: A visor for a visor.” I appreciate Shakespeare’s use of phrasing in this brief part of the passage, one that’s beautifully written. Two men discussing love and what it means, going back and forth until Mercuito tells Romeo straight up that love is one of the best things there is, and to go for it whether you get hurt or not. Further on in the play when Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time, Shakes does what he does best and paints the scene for us readers. By writing dialogue so wonderfully that one can picture what’s happening as they dance before Romeo kisses her and says, “Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.” Juliet: “Then have my lips the sin that they have took.” Romeo: “Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again.” I mean, come on. That’s some poetic shit right there.

Let’s move onto tragedy and something darker as I shift the focus to Caesar. Shakespeare once again takes us on a ride as we read the betrayal that Caesar faced from his men and it’s interesting to see how movies and books in this century have taken this trope and made it modern, an example being Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kanobi from Star Wars. I digress and would like to discuss the short monologue that Caesar delivers before the whole attack happens. Caesar: “I could be well moved, if I were as you: If I could pray to move, prayers would move me: But I am constant as the northern star, Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament.” I love this, the power of dialogue, because whether Caesar knew he was about to get killed or not-he was stating the power that he wields. The line about him being constant as a northern star is ridiculous and so very true to his character, that when he asks the question, “Doth not Brutus bootless kneel?” a few sentences later in the play, its about time that someone takes him out. I have to admit, no matter how many times I read it, when Caesar says, “Et tu Brute?” just before Brutus kills him, it takes my breath away. I know, that’s dramatic but those three words have become an iconic sentence in literary history, you can’t help but feel some type of way as you read the betrayal.

When my dad passed away this past January, I distracted myself by reading Macbeth-which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best story to dive into after losing my father. However, I turned to William Shakespeare to be transported somewhere else as I simultaneously planned a funeral while also signing up for my last round of classes at my previous college. It was the combination of Banquo, the Witches and Macbeth himself that got me through those first few weeks of not knowing what I was doing, or how I was feeling and being so caught up in everything that I pushed aside time to properly grieve. I know, I know, reading something so dark and dreary shouldn’t have helped me out of my depressed state-but it did. Reading Macbeth’s conversation with the witches before Banquo reveals himself to be murdered is incredible, the tension rising through the scene.

Macbeth: “Yet my heart Throbs to know one thing: tell me, if your art can tell so much: shall Banquo’s issue ever reign in this kingdom…I will be satisfied: deny me this, and an eternal curse fall on you! Let me know.” The Witches: “Show his eyes, and grieve his heart; come like shadows, so depart!” And then the moment comes that we’ve all been waiting for-the reveal of Banquo. Macbeth: “Horrible sight…Now, I see, ‘tis true; For the blood-bolter’d Banquo smiles upon me, and points at them for his.” It’s so good, the richness of text and dialogue that carries this scene all the way through, being able to place myself there as I read it, made all the difference.

As I was preparing to write this blogpost, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going to go with it, but then I noticed a phrase in the Bedford Glossary that I’ve never heard of before-Purple Patch. Purple patch, as defined by our friend the Bedford is, “A passage that stands out from the surrounding prose or verse by its ornate style. Purple patches are generally characterized by an abundance of literary devices, particularly figurative language, and the marked use of rhythm.” Shakespeare used purple patches in his work, especially in Macbeth, and when I read that definition, I felt the need to take some time and write about one of the most influential writers in history. So, thank you William Shakespeare.

Why keep him around?

Last Monday in English 203, while we were gathered into small groups, Professor McCoy instructed us to write down what we wanted to figure out as we continue to read through, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. I have to be honest, when Professor McCoy first instructed us to begin to write I was in a moment of pause, watching as my peers began to type hastily on their computers as if they knew what Beth was going to have us do before she even instructed it and I was slightly jealous that their minds moved so quickly. I sat there for a minute, thinking back to what we’ve read so far in the novel and the one person I kept going back to was, Ted Turner. I then managed to snap out of my thoughts and began to type a paragraph that was messy and rushed but when the time came for me to share with the class what I wanted to figure out I managed to sum it up by saying, “Why keep Ted Turner around?”

            Ted Turner’s character in I Am Not Sidney Poitier is without a doubt one of the most interesting characters I have ever read and explored and I’m able to appreciate him because he’s so different and honestly, quite strange. His dissociation with reality is what really draws me to his character, providing Not Sidney with strange and almost useless advice when Not is looking for actual help, is intriguing because that’s not the usual way an average adult deals with issues. And that’s just it-this version of Ted Turner isn’t an “average” adult; he’s a billionaire that is able to do anything he wants-not to mention that he’s also white, so he’s basically a walking billboard for privilege. Usually, I wouldn’t be so in tune with a character like this because I find it boring to read the same white, lead, male character trope over and over, but Percival Everett has minimized Ted Turner into a side character that doesn’t get too much screen time, and its perfect.  

            When Not Sidney first told Ted about being abused by his history teacher, Miss Hancock (which is a sad play on words in this case), he reacts in a way that’s suspected for his character. “Well, you know, that doesn’t sound too bad on the face of it, but it seems a little inappropriate,” is Tuner’s initial response and when I read that sentence I found myself getting upset because there are so many real stories of what Not Sidney went through followed by that exact rationality that Ted brings up. The very common line that one often hears when a boy is taken advantage of by a woman, one that means to make the boy feel good about himself because he got the attention of his abuser, rather than call it what it is. It’s sick. For a moment I was upset with Ted for not being the responsible adult that Not Sidney needs at that moment, but then I remembered that he isn’t much of an adult himself. While Not is explaining what had happened, Ted is casually chewing gum, thoughts clearly elsewhere as he stares at the section of the house where Not Sidney stays.

            He then launches himself into this brief story about his Italian shoes and how he practices tying them with one hand in case he ever loses one of his arms in a crazy accident. I appreciate how Not Sidney reacts because at this point, he knows what to expect when he talks to this odd guy, but it still surprises him to a certain extent as they sit there. “‘But wait. Ted, how do you get to choose which arm you’ll lose in an accident?’ Ted stopped working his gum for a second. ‘That’s a very good question, Nu’ott. I hadn’t thought of that. I guess it had better be my left. So, are you going to turn this teacher in?’” That’s how Ted bridges the gap from his warped sense of reality, to being in that moment with Not. They go back and forth for a bit before Ted settles back into his usual self and the interaction ends with him saying, “This teacher, does she have full lips? Does she wear makeup? How short are her skirts? Just trying to get a picture of the whole thing.”

            My question still remains unanswered, why keep Ted Turner around? In the writing exercise Beth had us do I asked myself, “Why is it Ted Turner, when Not Sidney was wealthy as shit?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m most likely Ted Turner’s biggest fan and I’ll defend this character to the very end-but why was it him? In my previous blogpost I mentioned that the side characters in this reading don’t provide much meat to the plot of this story, and that’s very true, but Turner offers a sense of comfortableness that one can enjoy. His advice that he provides is very random and almost useless but if we didn’t have the dialogue that we do between him and Not Sidney, the novel wouldn’t be as rich as it is.

The power of Wanda Fonda.

Currently in my English 203 class Professor McCoy has us reading Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier and even though we are only twenty-eight pages in, I can’t help but notice how well this novel is written. Allow me to unpack that statement; the Bedford Glossary defines satire as, “A literary genre or mode that uses irony, wit, and sometimes sarcasm to expose humanity’s vices and foibles” and Everett’s novel relies heavily on those factors. Like Professor McCoy said in class on Friday, the book starts with a joke, our main character, Not Sidney, explaining to the readers that he was the product of a two year long hysterical pregnancy, but he quickly dismisses the idea that he could be hysterical himself, claiming that he was “rather calm and waveless.”

While discussing the opening lines with my group today I admitted that I thought this was a pretty funny novel and Kevin and Julia agreed, liking the way it was so abrupt and the use of dry humor as Not Sidney described his childhood. I appreciate how Everett doesn’t stay too long on the topics that Not Sidney goes through, managing to sum the death of his mother up in a short paragraph before we get back to, in my opinion, one of the best characters of the book (besides Wanda Fonda)-Ted Turner. In fact, that’s what I would like to focus on in this blog post-the side characters of this novel that I find so incredibly interesting because for most of them, they offer very little to the meat of the story but on their own, they have their own side stories that are so unique to what’s happening in the main plot.

I’ve enjoyed almost everything that we have read so far in this class because of how well each story gives life to the characters, an example being Vlepo from Frenzy-who we constantly brought up in class because we couldn’t quite figure out what or who he was, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating his character and feeling real emotion for him. I can confidently say that I Am Not Sidney Poitier is taking the cake for my favorite piece of reading thus far in the semester, and a big part of that is due to Wanda Fonda, Jane Fonda’s niece who shows up in the novel for a boat trip before disappearing entirely from the rest of the book. Her name is everything-the fact that it rhymes and the fact that she hates it gives her character, as well as her ability to sail at such a young age, plus the fact that she has a tattoo that means something sexual and she’s only eleven-really rounds her out. Wanda Fonda is complex, and has her own problems that aren’t as explored as I would have liked, such as the desire to expose herself to Not Sidney after briefly meeting him as well as her attachment to him in general but in reality-she was a kid who was most likely exposed to too many things at a young age because her aunt is the lovely Jane Fonda.

Ah, Jane Fonda. I love that she was included in this novel and her character is everything that I imagine the real Jane to be like, careless and unbothered. Not Sidney’s fascination with her is great and weird, his pubescent nature showing as he instructs Wanda to toss Jane’s bikini top overboard and the unsatisfied feeling he gets when she simply goes about her sunbathing, chest exposed, is important to notice. Not Sidney is a young kid who lost his mother, moved in with a wealthy white guy and his wife, and he’s starting to develop feelings for almost everyone he sees. He describes how he likes Ted Turner, and how he also likes Betty-his teacher, and he liked them both so much that he wanted to see them kiss because it would bring satisfaction to him, and yet it doesn’t happen. And now, that Jane Fonda was exposed to him and not doing a thing to cover herself up-it doesn’t hit right for him so he tries to use his intense mind controlling stare on her because he needs to see her eyes-the one thing that’s still shielded from his own gaze. Jane Fonda, being the millionaire actress and model that she was, simply stares back at him with her sunglasses off, which makes Not Sidney believe that he could actually control her mind, but in reality she was simply a bit creeped out by all the staring this kid was throwing her way.

In my group today we were discussing what relationship Not Sidney and Ted Turner have; Lauren said he was a father figure, someone else said a brotherly figure, and then Brian made the suggestion of the “fun uncle” and at first I liked that idea because I could see how it was true. Ted was rich, took him to do fun things, and wasn’t really involved with Not’s personal life, but after giving it some more thought, I don’t see Ted Turner being an authority figure to Not Sidney at all. He’s more like the guy who’s living in the other side of the house that Not sees from time to time and I love that idea more, simply because he seems so disconnected from reality in general. The way Percival Everett writes Turner’s character is great, even his accent that practically pops off the page as one reads the way he pronounces Not’s name, “Nu’ott” with his southern drawl is so good. When reading this and observing the way that Ted and Not interact I can almost envision it, simply because the latter wasn’t expecting to take this kid in who’s extremely wealthy on his own, but he does and they’re both sort of rolling with it as time goes on.

Characterization is so important and to me, it’s what makes a story worth reading, because if Wanda Fonda wasn’t in that boat scene I can confidently say that it wouldn’t have been as interesting as it was when I first read it.

Pentheus’s moment in the sun.

“Thank you,” I said. “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost, to reunite if not with my whole self, then with a piece of it. What I’ve discovered is that this thing is not here. In fact, it is nowhere. I have learned that my name is not my name. It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself. My mother is buried not far from this auditorium, and there are no words on her headstone. As I glance out now, as I feel the weight of this trophy in my hands, as I stand like a specimen before these strangely unstrange faces, I know finally what should be written on that stone. It should say what mine will say:


 — Percival Everett 

When one reads this passage, they can feel a number of things. They can find it relatable, or quite the opposite and have no idea what Percival Everett is saying because how are you not yourself today? There’s that saying, you can be in a room full of people but still feel lonely and I believe that’s important to mention because of how that applies to this passage and I feel it also applies to Pentheus in Frenzy on pages fifty-one and fifty-two. I know what you’re thinking, Pentheus is this super strong king who shouldn’t feel like he doesn’t know what he’s doing so how will this be relevant? However, we see this take place when he’s having a conversation with Dionysos.  It’s important to mention the setting while discussing this part of Frezy, because we see Pentheus almost let his guard down and have a real moment, not one that’s covered by sarcasm and where he’s trying to be “kingly” and show off his power. Pentheus is most likely in his quarters, feeling worked up from the conversation he had with Kadmos, his grandfather and essentially, we see him doubting himself. Dionysos is there, of course, to taunt Pentheus about what he’s feeling.

“‘You feel pain?’ Dionysos asked. “Does this power weigh you down? Or is it in your blood.” And there it is, the bait that Dionysos is throwing to Pentheus because he almost wants to see the king crumble, to waver even in the slightest, and to believe like Percival Everett said, “It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself.”

“My grandfather believes I am a puppet,” Pentheus admits and here we have this powerful being, the king who has fought battles and everything imaginable, questioning himself because someone that he’s close to is doubting him. “I did not ask to be king,” he continues and that’s his title, his brand that makes him who he is, so far up in power that he almost can’t be touched-his name. Dionysos is still there, and when I read this, I picture him lounging on a couch, utterly delighted that Pentheus is shaken up as he paces the floor, and he asks him twice, “And what do you believe?”

Pentheus stops for a moment, gathers himself, remembers who he is-just how important he is, and crosses the room to sit himself back in his chair, “I believe that I am king.” As king, he has a following, people that love him, hate him, tolerate him-regardless he’s has a platform and after that very brief identity crisis he remembers them, remembers that he has a job to perform and it seems that Dionysos is not phased with Pentheus’s bounce back to reality. “How goes it out in the wild?” Pentheus asked and it almost seems random because they were just talking about something important and Dionysos portrays what we’re feeling when reading this. He loudly sighs and drifts his eyes to the ceiling, lazily asking, “And what does that mean?” 

Percival Everett ends his passage by saying, “As I glance out now, as I feel the weight of this trophy in my hands, as I stand like a specimen before these strangely unstrange faces, I know finally what should be written on that stone. It should say what mine will say: I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.” I really enjoy that this is how it ends, because Everett is coming to terms with not only his mother’s headstone but also how he genuinely feels. To me, I feel like there should be something else at the end of the sentence, maybe more context but when you take a step back and really look at it, you realize that it’s enough like that. And we can apply this same thinking to how the conversation between Pentheus and Dionysos ends.

“The god clapped his hands together as if to capture a fly he aimed to do no harm. ‘It’s-wild.’” I felt it important to focus my attention to this seemingly brief conversation between two people, because when one begins to unpack and visualize this conversation happening-it’s more than just a passing encounter. In the very beginning Pentheus is doubting himself, pacing the floor because he doesn’t like feeling this way, vulnerable, under the heel of his grandfather and by the end he’s found himself again, slinking back into his seat and he’s relieved. Of course, he is, because that shaken up boy is not who he is, and yet it’s so important that he had that moment. I believe that Percival Everett’s passage of not knowing who he is strongly applies to Pentheus in this moment, letting us feel him out as a character and are able to know that he’s not just a power fueled king.