“A Disorienting Place”: On Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover”

During my internet ramblings this morning, I came across three things that have stuck together like the lint, hair, and tobacco shake that inevitably find that random piece of restaurant candy deep in the bowels of one’s purse: an article in The Atlantic titled “The Joy of the Memorized Poem” wherein Billy Collins discusses how Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” got him through an MRI, Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover,” and an article in Vice by James Franco on Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker.

Ok. Go with me on this.

I’m cruising Facebook, click on the Collins article, read it. Collins says that he discovered the Yeats’ poem in college and, after many years of reading and teaching the poem, he made himself memorize it. Of memorization of a poem, Collins writes: “This process—going from deep familiarity to complete mastery—is a challenge and a great pleasure. In repeating different lines, your reading becomes more focused than you’ve ever had before. You become more sensitive to every consonant and vowel.” And I remembered reading “Porphyria’s Lover” in college.

This was the first poem that really stuck with me, and I read it over and over, memorizing the first person dramatic monologue from the point of view of a jealous lover who kills his lady-love by strangling her with her own hair so that she would remain “mine, mine, fair / Perfectly pure and good” (Browning lines 36, 37). Naturally, I then Googled “poems about serial killers.” Which brings me to James Franco.

On September 25, 2014, Vice published Franco’s piece on serial killer Richard Ramirez complete with five blood-and-gore pictures of Franco(?) as Ramirez and four poems by Franco about Ramirez. Without discussing whether or not Franco’s poems work (see this great article in Paper by Gabby Bess for that), I want to say that the whole piece disturbed me, and not just because I was a thirteen-year-old female resident of the Los Angeles area when the fear of the Night Stalker took hold.

In the article, Franco says that he doesn’t want to humanize Ramirez; he wants to understand Ramirez from an actor’s perspective. What would it take to get into that character? (In 2011, Franco was supposedly slated to play the part of Richard Ramirez in a film that, apparently, was never made.) Franco goes so far as to write that he “can relate a little to Ramirez’s feelings” because he, too has felt the “need for power — especially sexual power.”

I recoiled at this. I wanted to dismiss the idea that taking bloodied pictures, that writing poetry was a way to get into a character’s head, and that getting into a character’s head does not humanize him or serve to “celebrate a killer” (Franco). But then there was “Porphyria’s Lover” sitting there in the back of my mind, all dead woman posed so that she would remain “perfect” for the speaker forever. Browning put himself into the speaker’s character, someone who saw nothing wrong with murder, someone who, in fact, believed he was answering his love’s “one wish” (line 57).

About his own writing, Collins says, “I want the poem to be an imaginative thrill. To take the reader to an odd place, or a challenging place, or a disorienting place, but to do that with fairly simple language. I don’t want the language itself to be the trip. I want the imaginative spaces that we’re moving through to be the trip.” The imaginative space in Browning’s poem is a disorienting place, and it is a challenging place. The reader is placed squarely into the mind of a killer in plain language. The reader feels Porphyria’s hair pull tight in the speaker’s hands. The reader sits on a bed, the dead Porphyria’s head on his or her shoulder. It is disturbing at the same time that it feels genuine, and that is what makes this poem work.

I’m not quite sure why “Porphyria’s Lover” was the poem that first stuck. Perhaps Gabby Bess comes close to explaining it in her article on James Franco’s Vice piece, “Now more than ever, there seems to finally be a sense of what can happen when men feel entitled (and that entitlement is culturally reinforced) to something that was never theirs.” Perhaps my college self needed to be disoriented, to be challenged to understand that no one owned me but me.

Bess, Gabby. “Some Observations on James Franco’s Serial Killer Poems.” Paper. Web.        14 Nov. 2014.
Browning, Robert. “Porphyria’s Lover.” Poetry Foundation. 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Collins, Billy. “The Joy of the Memorized Poem.” The Atlantic. 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Nov.      2014.
Franco, James. “Four Poems Inspired by Serial Killer Richard Ramirez.” Vice. 25 Sept.            2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

Fifth week roundup

This post is a collection of all the blogs posts since our last roundup.

Starter House–A Ghost Story

Author Interview-Sonja Condit, author of Starter House

The Spice of Backstory in Condit’s Starter House

Cheesecloth Removal: The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

You Live Where? Strange Settings in Judy Budnitz’s Nice Big American Baby

Lit Mag Roundup

Just Right Love Poem

Slaughter House Five–Not Just Another War Story

All That was Faked Turned Bad: Hemingway and the Gift of Unruly Prose

North of Hope–A Daughter’s Arctic Journey

The Gift of Focused Power in the First Person Point of View

Marking Time

Punctuate Bodies in Rebecca Thrill’s “Punctuation”

Literary Citizen and Why You Should Be One #litcitizen

What Led Zepplin Teaches Me About Writing

The Night Circus

 

 

South85 Journal

South85stack-1South85 Journal is the official literary journal of the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program.

“I won’t change anything the first year,” I said to both retiring Editor-in-Chief Sarah Gray and Contributing Editor Rick Mulkey when I took over as Editor-in-Chief of South85 Journal this past December.

That was before I led my first staff meeting at the Converse Low-Residency MFA program, where I was inspired by the enthusiasm of the staff.  Not only did all of the previous staff members (except Sarah Gray, of course) decide to stay, but quite a few new people joined us:  David Colodney, Kristi Hébert, Rebecca Landau, Connie Thompson, and Jacob Allard.

I left the meeting with my mind racing with ideas about what to do with everyone who was interested in serving our journal.  Improvements I knew we needed to make – like a weekly blog, a social media presence, a review section for the journal, and a brand – became possible immediately rather than in the months – or even years – to come. We now have a Blog Editor, a Review Editor, an Artistic Director, and a Social Media Director.

With these new positions, we have created a logo, redesigned our site, started posting to our blog weekly, begun conversations on Facebook and Twitter, and planned reviews for our upcoming issues.  In addition, we have kept up with our regular task of reviewing work submitted to us for our 2014 issue.

So, if you haven’t visited our website lately (or ever), please stop by.  If you like what you see, here are three ways you can support us…  and none of them involving donating or spending any money: `

1.  Read

One of the most important things you can do for any literary journal to read  it. As much as writers say they write for the love of writing, writers also want to be read. And without readers, there would be no reason for literary journals to exist. So, check out our past issues. If you like what you see, sign up for our e-mail newsletter, and we’ll let you know when the next issue is available. Also, visit our weekly blog for a little literary inspiration. You can subscribe to it using your favorite RSS reader, or sign up to receive posts in your inbox.

2.  Contribute

If you are a reader, a writer, or an artist, we want to see your work! If you love to read and want to tell others about good books, join our staff as a reviewer. If you’re a writer or an artist, you can contribute your work to our journal. Our reading period ends April 30, so don’t delay if you have something good to show us! We are looking for poetry, creative non-fiction essays, short stories, and visual art. Also, we have a weekly blog where you can share your thoughts on all things literary with other likeminded people. Visit our submissions guidelines page for information on all of these categories.

3.  Participate

We are not a static, stuffy journal of the past! We want our readers and contributors to be a part of the conversation. Plug in by following us on Twitter and liking us on Facebook. We are planning some fun contests using these two outlets starting this summer, so you don’t want to miss them.

Thanks in advance for your support!  We look forward to seeing you online, and please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any ideas about how we can improve our journal.

Debby DeRosa holds a BA in English from the University of South Carolina-Columbia and an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College.  In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of South85 Journal, she is the Marketing Manager of Five Star Plumbing Heating Cooling in Greer, SC, and she freelances as a copywriter and content developer.

 

Literary Citizen-and why you should be one #litcitizen

Lit Citizen-literary citizen. Loose definition—promoting others’ work over your own.

It’s a concept worth practicing—share others’ work instead of relentlessly promoting your own. But not just anyone’s work; share work you believe in.

*Read books and share the good stories, across all genres. Read, and then promote the work that you believe needs shared with the literary world.

*Support literary magazines through subscriptions if you can; but at the very least track down issues at a library, read, and then share the stories that resonated with you with others.

*Buy books and post reviews of the ones you believe need more readers.

*Support authors you enjoy by sharing their work and sending them a note of encouragement/appreciation.

Read more about literary citizenship at the Literary Citizenship blog.

Cathy Day teaches a class on literary citizenship at Ball State University. Check out their website and follow them on twitter.

Become part of the conversation. #litcitizen.

 

 

 

Lit mag roundup

Support literary magazines–they need you!

River Teeth Journal–publishes non-fiction

Wips Journal-Works (of fiction) in Progress–focuses on fiction.

Superstition Review-publishes art, poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction

New Ohio Review-publishes fiction, poetry, and non-fiction

Contributor Gabrielle Freeman has started her own website–Lady Random. Her tagline: “Writing is your mistress. Submit!”

Also check out Rocko Rocket–creation of contributor Yolande Clark-Jackson

 

Writing Advice-Voice

Voice-as defined (sorta kinda) by wikipedia-states “The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).

For more thoughts on voice, check out these blog posts:
Ten Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice
How Can I Find My Writing Voice?
What Is Writer’s Voice?

Still Searching For My Voice

How To Craft a Great Voice

Develop voice by Listening

Finding A Voice

Know of any posts/articles/advice on voice? Post the links in the comments. (links not contributing to the discussion will be deleted)

Wanted: Supervillain. Apply Within.

Over the past year, I have spent a good portion of my time revising two poetry manuscripts and sending them out to publishers. And revising them and sending them out to publishers. And revising them…you know the drill. I try as much as possible to send them out to presses that I think they are a good fit for, of course, but also to presses that offer open reading periods – free open reading periods.

It’s not that I mind reading fees; I don’t. But these things add up, and rejection emails don’t exactly feel like a good return on an investment. So when a press I like has an open reading period and offers a choice between a reading fee and a book purchase, I always buy a book. Not only do I feel like I am supporting their work in a small way while also submitting my own work, but I am also exposed to authors I might not have found otherwise. So, a few weeks ago, I submitted a manuscript to Steel Toe Books, and I received Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Becoming the Villainess.Image

I’ll admit I chose it for the title and cover art. I mean, seriously. Look at it! (I did read the reviews, ok?) I do love comic books,  heroes and villains, fairy and folk tales; this book seemed to be right up my alley. After reading it, I’m happy to say I was correct. The poems in this collection examine the lives of characters we are familiar with – Ophelia, Cinderella, Alice, Wonder Woman (my favorite!) – in unfamiliar ways. The variety of text and character sources keep the reading fresh through to the last poem.

In the poem titled “Job Requirements: A Supervillain’s Advice,” Gailey presents a new take on the bad guy in the form of a list. Want to be a supervillain? Make sure you “[e]xperience isolation from ‘normal’ childhood / activities” and “[m]ultiple traumatic incidents welcome” (51). Also, “Physical limitations, such as an unusual but poetic disease / or a deformity due to mutation, are preferred; / problems due to accidents involving powerful / new weaponry or interactions with superheroes / are also acceptable” (51). Using the language of a job ad draws the reader in to the construct. The speaker also offers prospective evil doers the following advice: “Chaos, destruction, death: these are your instruments. Use them wisely” (51). The list of good (bad?) villain characteristics leading to the job-specific pointers takes the reader into the minds of all the supervillains he or she has ever read or watched, and it makes the reader consider the qualities we believe makes someone evil.

In the end, Gailey hits the reader with this poem’s truth: “In the end you are the reason we see the picture; / we mistrust the tedium of a string of sunny days. / We like to watch things crumble” (51). No matter what the story is, the villain is a necessity. There will always be openings in that field.

Gailey, Jeannine Hall. Becoming the Villainess. Bowling Green, KY: Steel Toe Books, 2006.

Journal Focus

Image Journal: Bridging Faith and Imagination. Their blog “Good Letters
From Image’s About page: A culture is governed by its reigning myths. However, in the latter days of the twentieth century, there is an uneasy sense that materialism cannot sustain or nourish our common life. Thankfully, religion and art have always shared the capacity to help us to renew our awareness of the ultimate questions: who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. Read more at the above link-Bridging Faith and Imagination. Publishes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction

Ruminate   From Ruminate’s About page: ru’mi-nate: to chew the cud; to muse; to meditate; to think again; to ponder. Ruminate is a quarterly magazine of short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction, and visual art that resonate with the complexity and truth of the Christian faith. Each issue is a themed forum for literature and art that speaks to the existence of our daily lives while nudging us toward a greater hope. Because of this, we strive to publish quality work accounting for the grappling pleas, as well as the quiet assurances of an authentic faith. Ruminate Magazine was created for every person who has paused over a good word, a real story, a perfect brushstroke— longing for the significance they point us toward. Please join us.

Ruminate’s Blog:

Tin House-check out their latest issue. A story by Stephen King. Interviews of Margaret Atwood and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and much, much more. Blog

Unstuck publishes once a year. From their about page: Unstuck is an independent, nonprofit annual based in Austin, Texas. We emphasize literary fiction with elements of the fantastic, the futuristic, or the surreal—a broad category that would include the work of writers as diverse as Abe, Ballard, Borges, Calvino, Tutuola, and (of course) Vonnegut. In our pages, you’ll find everything from straight-up science fiction and fantasy to domestic realism with a twist of the improbable. We feature a mix of established and emerging fiction writers from both the genre and literary publishing communities. We also publish a limited selection of poems and essays. Interviews and Excerpts

Coconut Poetry. Submission guidelines

Around the web

Posts in regards to:
Writing issues

When the Manic Muses Show Up

One Writer’s struggle with Writer’s Block

When the Novel You Delete Isn’t Yours: Oops

Do stories have expiration dates?

How to Plot A Novel

Writing resources:
Resources for Writers

Fun stuff:

Lego Librarians

Clued into Lego Librarians at Book Riot

Another fun post from Book Riot

Creating a Pen Name

Fifth week round-up

Fifth week round-up highlights posts in the last few months:

May’s roundup

History and Humanity in Summary

A Different Sense of Place: Where a Story Begins and Ends

I Want Every Poem to Change My Life. No Pressure

Blogs You Should Be Reading

Winging It

Down the Rabbit Hole: Growing Strangeness in The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club

The Snow Child

Barry Hannah’s Monstrous American Hero

“Words that burn”: Honesty in Denise Duhamel’s Blowout

June’s round-up:

Writing Tips to Get You Through the Summer Doldrums

Diamond Mining

Biblical Allusion in Flannery O’Conner’s The Violent Bear It Away

Just Breathe

July’s round-up:

Lines That Linger

Repetition in Tanya Olson’s “Notes from Jonah’s Lecture Series”

The Threat of Violence

Werewolves and the War on Terror: A Literary Snob on Betrayal

Literary Magazine Highlight-Glimmer Train, Slice