What is a Listener Lyric Poem?
Lyric poetry is a formal type of poetry which expresses personal emotions or feelings. The term derives from a form of Ancient Greek literature, the lyric, which was defined by its musical accompaniment. In the book we read during this unit, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, explains a topic that sits very near and dear the authors heart. She firmly believes in the equality of black people and all of her lyrical essays stand by that theme. In this assignment we were asked to create our own lyrical essay. To get a better perspective of the story we were asked to interview them and base the poem on events and emotions the interviewee felt during this time of their life.
Toes crumpling inwards, your skin is intact with the cold tiles. Eye sockets comfortably resting on your knees, waiting for a sign to rise.
A warm acidic bulge creeps from deep inside.
The vibration harshly nudges at your back. Recollecting your thoughts, you recognize your mother's tired hands on the doorknob. She calls you out of the bathroom. She slips a smooth, slippery dress through the crack of the door, but all you can think about is the morning's buttery bread.
It is your sibling's birthday party, and the sweet smells from the kitchen stir your stomach.
The dress, oh the dress, effortlessly slips on. Hanging too low, the back sluggishly falls on your frail body, yet all you can think about are the rolls of fat bulging from every curve. You peered cautiously at the stranger looking back.
A distortion in the mirror, reflecting. A funhouse of horrors stretching in all the wrong ways. The model you had just seen wearing it a week ago looked beautiful in the lavender dress.
Why can't you do the same? Are you a failure?
You are walking up the stairs to
heaven but stray away one
step before salvation.
The same acidic bulge creeps again; you shouldn't have eaten.
You shouldn't have eaten.
You shouldn't have eaten.
That stupid piece of buttery bread. You can't go out looking like an elephant; what will people think of you? Pinned, down. Don't even show up, who would want to see such a horrifying creature in this beautiful dress? Your monster is breaking out.
No more secrets, they all know.
Deep dark pupils converge like a child waking up only find a burning building.
Interview with the Subject
- Can you describe for me how your eating disorder has brought discomfort and has been a source of conflict in your life? Describe a story of a particular situation you had to navigate to get what you wanted or needed.
When you don’t eat when you are trying to maintain a certain body image and when eating is the way to achieve that or not eating, then you can’t like your whole life is dominated by it. You let’s say there is, for example, a family dinner on Friday evenings then you have to eat her right because there is going to be food so then or at least eat something and you are not eating because you want to be thinner. Your not eating so there is very stressful situation cause there is going to be a lot of food and there is an expectation that you eat there. So to fill the social expectations of eating, I would not eat the whole day before or even two days before that to eat something like a piece of bread or a vegetable at the dinner table, so people don’t notice that I’m not eating. So it kinda dominates your life because you plan by food, everything you plan in by food and food is like your worst fear so if there is going to be food somewhere then you might not go there because there is already an expectation of eating. Let’s say I already ate that day; then I would not go to certain activities that involved food cause I would not want to eat I would want to avoid it I would want to avoid also the questions that come with it “Oh, why aren’t you eating?” “oh, your so skinny you should eat something,” and things like that or “oh your so pretty, how did you get so thin?” They prevented me from participating in a lot of things because of the food that was involved.
- What words, definitions, or ideas do you associate with the word “citizen”? How do these associations line up with your experience with eating disorders?
To be a citizen? To me, I think to be active and to be and to take part in social engagements and to that is it participating that’s it a citizen is a person who participates in a society in a positive way that contributes that can bring on promotes like thing, I believe in? Social justice equality and fairness and justice and fairness and opportunity.
- Ok, so how do these associate with your experience with an eating disorder.
So, of course, when you are not able to participate in social engagements because you are not eating, then you are not participating as a citizen, but also, I think when you are very much when you have a problem. Then you are very selfish you are all the time consumed by your problems cause you know that you have a problem you know that something is not ok. But and you are all the time involved with that and finding solutions you are like a trapped animal you all the time try to navigate your life around the problem. You, it becomes very self-centered. It becomes very much about yourself and what you need and what you are facing the problems and the hardships you are facing and when you are all the time involved in yourself. Your problem then you are not able to contribute, you are not able to be a positive player in the game.
- Can you tell me a story about a time you felt prejudged or discriminated against because of this aspect of your life? Have there been any other experiences like that that you’ve experienced or witnessed?
I don’t think anyone knew I had an eating disorder, so no one ever judged me about it.
- No, let’s say people came up to you and said omg you are so pretty you’re so skinny like isn’t that kind of like a prejudgment.
People will people always judge. I think everyone is concerned with their body image I don’t think I know anyone that is not concerned by how they look and what they do that, so I wasn’t judged for the condition I think everyone judges everyone by the way they look. And i think maybe i would be the judgmental person if I wanted to be honest I would judge other people because I would see other people eating a pizza and complaining about the way they look and their weight. I was like, if you are worried about your weight, then why are you eating just stop complaining and don’t eat. Like you don’t like, no one wants to hear your whining during your eating because I feel like I had that ability that strengthens the will power to control my eating, and I felt like other people were maybe weak for not being able to stand by what they need. If they need if women especially women if women are abused by the way they look and they want to change that then they i felt like the solution was very simple it was to just stop eating. But it’s not true. Ya, that is a prejudgment I made.
- What kinds of images and stories in the media about eating disorders concern you the most or cause you to react emotionally? Why?
That’s very easy. I don’t like the fact that always it the fat people and always it’s the old people, and it’s always the ugly people that have the role of the evil person or the ridiculous person, or I don’t mind. Do you understand what I’m saying in everything starting in a teen from teen sitcoms to everything gets everywhere it always is a person that looks a not as attractive that get the role of the bad guy. Even the smart guy they get the unattractive role and unappealing and different.
And then people take it as they don’t want to be portrayed like that they are never the center of a love story or like a real love story like just a regular life story or infatuation no one ever falls in love with them it’s always you see a beautiful person in that everyone is willing to die for in a movie no one will ever die for a fat old ugly person. I know that movies take everything the extreme right like no one is ever going to die for a beautiful person in real like right. Still, it’s an extreme but if that’s the way the movies are, and I feel like there is a big grey area in between like actually the most extreme that you can see this bigotry or the racists against is children’s movies like that would be the most obvious like it’s always the fat teenager that gets judged like they are ever empowered. Never the center of the show like they don’t have life or thoughts like they don’t have. Like it doesn’t even matter what the inside of a person is, they just judge you all of the media just judges you by looks. Everywhere in the media they only judge you by looks. That’s the only thing that matters. No one talks about anything deeper than that. It’s really hard to find that in movies and fiction, I’m not talking about nonfiction but fiction.
- Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” Does this statement feel true to your own experience in some way? Can you rephrase this statement to express your own experience more accurately?
So I always felt more comfortable around fatter people because when other people eat, they don’t notice me not eating that much.
- Is that how you interpret that statement?
When other people eat, then I feel more comfortable when someone else is eating, then they don’t notice that I have a problem, not eating.
- I felt like they notice more when they are eating, so they are like, why aren’t you eating.
No, they just keep eating.
- Has your outward appearance ever caused you to feel invisible, hyper-visible, or both?
No, I don’t think, as a teenager it made me feel hyper-visible especially in Israel where its a culture where everyone says what they think all the time, especially men on the street they give you a lot of comments on the way you look and about different features like how your stomach is how your breasts are how you behind is like everyone has a comment about everything and a lot of people will just declare their love for you on the street and will ask you to come it’s very sexual and very demeaning to women its a very sexually demeaning culture to women. So I think women, in general, have a harder time even just walking down the street. Without being touched and harasses and talked o based on the way they look or appear so it makes you even more self-conscious about your body, and it puts the emphasis on your outer characteristics instead of your inner ones. I think that is a lot of the problem with eating disorders that they focus on the outside, and our culture, in general, focuses more on our side than out insides. Especially on television where everything is fast fast fast, everything is fast; the first reaction is what you see.
- Has your self-image or your perception of your own body ever been challenged or changed by how others see or relate to you?
I think that that also answers because I would
- like how did you get over your eating disorder
I’m not sure I don’t think you ever get over it, I think as I got older and as I got wrinkles people don’t hauler after me on the street and men don’t holler anymore, I feel that it has calmed down. I don’t feel hyper-visible anymore i don’t feel that exposed I don’t feel judged, but again it’s not that other people judged me. It’s that I judged myself i don’t blame other people for this. It’s me, growing up I think i didn’t have the guidance i didn’t have someone tell me that I was worth my inner self no one was nurturing my good qualities my ability to care for other people my sensitivity to other people my wanting to help animals you know me caring about the environment and about wanting to help no one nurtured that no one told me that that was everything I don’t need to do more so I put the emphasis somewhere in between there was a disconnect. I started emphasizing outer qualities on things that other people judge and outside, but as I got older, I’m not being judged outward I’m already passed it I’m somehow in a way it subsided a little bit. Still, i don’t think it ever goes away when you are so ingrained in these patterns of thought of food, and food becomes your enemy, and you do everything to avoid food. I don’t think; I don’t know if you know this, there was a time where I didn’t eat for two-three weeks. It was my friend and me we both went to the beach every day and didn’t eat we felt powerful we were you feel invincible when you can steer away from something so earthly suck as food. It’s like everyone does it and everyone in the media so everyone says oh I’m too fat, and you can control it, it’s like you are on a high you feel so able. Like something in you can stop that need you feel invincible. And it’s very hard to achieve.
- In the book Citizen, author Claudia Rankine uses many narratives of “microaggressions,” or individual acts of racism that collectively form the crushing experience of racism in America. Have you ever experienced or witnessed microaggressions directed at yourself or people like you? Can you describe one or two specific instances? How have these microaggressions affected you over time?
Like someone telling me, oh, you look so pretty, and you are taking it the wrong way. It shows an instant when you have an eating disorder, and you have the low self-esteem of the way you look, and someone says that about the way you look when you feel like they are not seen the real you feel disconnected because you inside feel like you are the ugliest person in the world. Someone tells you, you look good, you are angry you are like can’t you see my inner self that inside in struggling I feel so miserable like how can you tell me I look good when I feel so miserable. Right or how dare you tell me i look skinny. Then i would let’s say someone would tell me oh you look so skinny, oh this dress looks so pretty on you or someone oh this dress is so pretty I would say no I have some fat under my arms I don’t like how it shows my belly fat. They would say no like they would dismiss my like no you don’t have any belly fat, and I just revealed to you my greatest secret in the world that I’m insecure about my body I just told you I did reveal to you my inner self I just revealed that and you are like no no no you dismiss me. I just revealed what I’m going through, which is terrible, which my self-esteem is very low, and I shared that, but you just dismissed me. This would make me angry and feed my disorder. So when I prejudged that people only see you by the way you look instead of the inside and when I revealed how I feel, it didn’t strike them as a problem. Like you are just making us try and feel bad for you. And when I did complain about my weight, it was a cry for help because I had a problem.
- In Citizen, Claudia Rankine uses many different visual images that serve as metaphors for the experience of being Black in America. What do you think could be a metaphor for your experience?
It’s like wearing a monkey suit, and everyone keeps on acting normal when they are around you, and you ask them you’re acting normal when I’m wearing a monkey suit, and they are like oh no, and they don’t see you and how you are doing.
- Do you have a specific experience that happened?
I remember my friend trying to my friend teaching me how to throw up shoving her fingers down my throat after I ate so it wouldn’t become body fat.
Lyrical Essayist Study
What is the purpose of this project?
In this English honors assignment we were asked to read a lyrical essayist’s book and then adapt their style as our own to create our version of their work. After mimicking it we were asked to analyze their writing style and why we chose to analyze their unique writing techniques.
- The cold breath of gray whispers in the night. Interrupted by the warm bud of a cigarette tip. In and out, your breath takes control of the flyaways. They rustle to infinity, slowly drifting away. The orange becomes visible in the darkness, red, yellow, and in between the cracklings is an orange blaze. They have been overused and tired. They drop to the ground, curling to the bottoms of the earth. Landing on a parachute of air and finally on the floor turning into dust.
- The loneliness of the night is interrupted by the warmth of addiction. It fills you up until you are done with your pack. Wondering when it would be filled up again. Sparkling in your mind like a fire, orange as it explodes with desire and cravings.
- You are in your darkest times, but the light shines so brightly in front of your dazed eyes.
- The grey dust still fills the back of your throat.
- A face smiles at you, it is morning now. Freckles, a glittering fire. A little girl reaches to touch your dry, wrinkly skin. It fills your addicted heart with warmth. Orange blotches remind you of sunny days. Freckles like sand on a beach. During the cold winters fire was the only thing keeping you warm.
- Orange is associated with passion and desire to your cold, old heart.
- You try to make it go away, the addiction, the suffering, but it just keeps coming back around like the orange fruit. The orange of your life filling up the cup whenever you come down and cry, tears. Ambrosia flips your intentions, the drink of the gods is unforgiving and overrules your life.
- You can no longer see the happiness without it. The grey dust still fills the back of your throat. Never leaving you alone.
The collection of lyrical essays by Maggie Nelson, Bluets, is a series of short lyrical essays. These pieces incorporate historical facts, mythological references, and quotations. The majority of the text features her authors she’s read the work of including: Leonard Cohen, Joseph Cornell, and Joan Mitchell which also write about blue. Nelson combines the ideas of others into memories she’s hung up on. The book is a philosophical and personal exploration of what the color blue has done to Nelson.
This gathering of passages, all with repeating themes, are very intimate to Nelson. The analysis and recommendations work together to form a guide for the personal elements. They create the main focus of the poems and make them even more direct and to the point. Having modality is the main focus of her essays. This assortment covers an enormous array of terribly personal problems, as well as love, depression, and in her writing, Nelson shares that with her readers. Every individual poem is an intricate examination of those emotions and moments.
The short direct format of paragraphes works well for the complex topics because it allows both distance and intimacy. With every verse, we tend to center on specific pictures, but on the other hand, we are learning to deal with darkness, loneliness, and balance of things. The variation creates movement within the verse form and attracts us in deeper. However, the running thread of blue throughout the lyrical essays makes the reader feel a connection between the poems, the images, and the emotions. Nelson takes the reader on a journey that addresses familiarized topics and feelings in a manner that’s new and honest.
In my lyrical essay sequence, I used similar writing techniques as Maggie Nelson,. using the orange- themed imagery and feelings in the speaker’s life. According to psychologists the color orange is an energetic color and associated with excitement, enthusiasm, and warmth. Orange is often used to draw attention. Although in my opinion orange is the color of brightness, passion, and desire; moreover, I used it in these essays to evoke those emotions with different memories, activities, and objects. The fire was an image that I focused on, which withholds the color orange along with freckles and sand. While Maggie nelson uses blue items in her work like the ocean, tears, blue eyes, and bottles. These different objects make her feel a type of way. I decided to emulate that but with my own color of choice. She writes, “I can think of many occasions on which a blue has made me feel suddenly hopeful […] abruptly finding an ocean […] shining mountain of broken blue glass […], but for a moment, I can’t think of any times that blue caused me to despair” (Nelson 13). In my essay, I try to recreate this by talking about the color orange and how it evokes the feelings that come along with addiction like helplessness. I wrote about this because I believe that orange is a beautiful color that can bring about feelings of excitement and passion, both of which can be looked at as positive and negative traits. The fireflies of smoke coming out of the tip of the cigarette and then talking about how it relates to desire.
The second way I tried to emulate Maggie Nelson’s writing style is by focusing on highly personal stories. I chose to write about addiction to cigarettes. Where I am from, Israel, there is a high level of addiction to cigarettes, which unfortunately affects many people in my family. Orange is my favorite color, made me relate to it, and associate it with deeply personal things, just as blue was for Nelson. She experienced tragedy in her life when a close friend of hers died. She describes her sorrow in color: “After my friend’s accident, I began to think of this lady of the bruised eye and these glittering white objects with more frequency. Could such a phenomenon be happening to me, with blue, by proxy? I’ve heard that a diminishing color vision often accompanies depression” (Nelson 11). In this quote, she talks about the color blue and how it accompanies the sadness she feels after her friend passed away. I used orange as a color for addiction and passion towards that object.
The author used different researched figures such as Goethe, Cazalis, and Newton. I tried to use researched philosophers and ended up writing about greek gods. There wasn’t much to write about, especially when orange is a unique color to write about. I emulated this type of writing style by using Greek mythology and some things I knew already. Ambrosia, the drink of the gods, is one example of me trying to write in the same manner as Nelson.Nelson chose to unify Bluets through repetition of colors and emotions, creating an extended myth out of many short lyrical essays. Some techniques Nelson used in her book I tried to emulate in my lyrical themes like writing about a specific color, personal issues, and mythological references.
Nelson chose to unify Bluets through repetition of colors and emotions, creating an extended myth out of many short lyrical essays. Some techniques Nelson used in her book I tried to emulate in my lyrical themes like writing about a specific color, personal issues, and mythological references.