“Or,” by Thomas Sayers Ellis

I really like poetry, and literature in general, that serves a social purpose as well as a literary one. I was very drawn to this poem because it does that without being at all didactic or overly obvious. The poem draws its strength more from the reader’s reaction to the different things that are mentioned then from what explicitly happens in the rhetoric of the poem itself. I thought that would be an interesting type of poetry to read aloud. Presenting in front of the class was very different than I expected. Ellis makes many allusions to a wide variety of different things, including individuals, groups of people, social conditions, and more. When I read the poem, many of those allusions immediately reminded me of something that I knew either from history or literature. Some of the allusions, such as the use of the word Oreo, spoke directly to things I have experienced in my own life. I just assumed that when I presented the poem, everyone would react the same way to those illusions as I did. However, once I was standing in front of the classroom, I realized that my response was actually very personal, and that everyone in the class would have an equally unique approach to the poem. If/when I present poems in the future, I will try to remember that and focus more on explaining my personal connection to the poem instead of assuming that everyone else shares that connection. 

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One thought on ““Or,” by Thomas Sayers Ellis

  1. Hi, Nari. Your reading was great. I think those things that attracted you about the poem–its not-so-obvious strategy of tackling race–also make the poem potentially difficult or estranging for some listeners. It takes at least a few lines to key into the sonic structure, and a few more to grasp what the words have in common, so by the time we’ve “gotten” it, we feel a little behind. At the same time, the speed and emphasis you gave each word forced us to pay attention. I’m glad you explained significant references in the poem, like Zora Neale Hurston; it would have been helpful to slow down a bit during the description portion.
    It’s hard to communicate personal responses, but it might be helpful to ask yourself which words Ellis probably expects audiences to recognize immediately, and whether he wants that recognition to occur immediately or to emerge gradually, or for us to do a double take. Is “Oreo” more than a cookie brand a few stanzas in?

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