Saturday, December 6, 2014

Poetry of Potter: How J.K. Rowling Influences My Writing

One of my favorite genres of writing is fiction, another of my favorite genres is poetry.  After being assigned this essay, I went back and forth in my mind over the course of a couple of weeks trying to decide if I should choose to write about fiction or poetry .  Finally, I decided that I would incorporate both into this essay.

Poetry is my preferred genre to write in, I find it both challenging and invigorating to let words flow from my heart while using my mind to attempt to arrange words in a certain way, with the right rhythm, in the right order. Orchestrating a symphony of syllables, choreographing pronouns and prepositions to create images, invoke feelings and concoct sensations, poetry is where I currently invest my writing talents (outside of essays). Admittedly, one of the other reasons I prefer to write poetry is because of the brevity of its nature, compared with fiction.  This is exemplified in the short little nibblets of linguistic beauty that are found in haikus and limericks.  A few of the poems I am proudest of happen to be haikus. Perhaps this is a testament to my own novice and lack of compositional stamina when it comes to writing, but maybe one day I’ll grow and develop my endurance to be able to write novels.

One of the authors who has influenced, not only my writing, but my own life and the way I look at the world, is J. K. Rowling.  Although she is quite famous and relatively modern, her writing has spoken to me since childhood and for that it holds a profundity with me that rivals the impact of the works of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, or Oscar Wilde. As I’m writing this I realize that all four of these writers are British, and its no wonder that when I took CLEP exams for English literature and American literature I scored higher on the English literature exam.  I must be an anglophile, but I digress.

You could say that I basically grew up with Harry Potter. When I was in the fourth grade, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone  had just come out, and my language arts teacher started reading it to our class a few chapters at a time. I was immediately engaged and enraptured by the world that Rowling had created and I read the books and followed on with the story as I grew older.  The magical world to which Harry was introduced was something that I think anyone could be interested in, but to a young girl who regularly felt out of place and excluded, it was especially easy for me to relate. Harry was raised by his harsh, strict, boring and unloving aunt and uncle and for his whole childhood he had longed for a proper family and he had always been a bit weird and had welcomed weirdness where his family had shunned it. Although I have a loving family, I have always been a bit of an oddball. I won’t go so far as to say I’ve always been a loner, even if I had phases growing up when I didn’t have many friends, I have as an adult led a fulfilling social life. But even then I have always felt like I was different, (of course, we are all different, but) like I’ve never really been understood by those around me, like I was perceiving things about the world around me that others couldn’t or wouldn’t. So of course, when  I was a child reading Harry Potter and he receives a letter from a magical school called Hogwarts and it is revealed to him that he is actually a wizard and he is swept up into the fantastical eccentricity of the magical world, it was only natural for me to hope and wish as a child that when my eleventh birthday came that I would also receive a Hogwarts letter delivered by owl post.  Alas, eleven came and went and I received no letter and continued on clinging to my Harry Potter books, getting to know the characters and imagining myself in the settings and situations of the Harry Potter world.  Flying on broomsticks, meeting strange magical creatures, learning to cast spells and brew potions, all of those things enchanted me as a child, but more than that, it was Rowling’s exhibition of magic in simple everyday things that really sent my imagination into overdrive: dishes washing themselves, candies and sweets with magical properties, paintings and pictures that move and talk on their own, ordinary commonplace objects being used as “portkeys” for magical teleportation.  These were the charming parts of Rowling’s magical world that truly gave me the most pleasure.

Aside from being just entertainment, the Harry Potter books also contributed considerably to my own intellect and intelligence growing up.  Reading the books exposed me to a new dialect of english, a whole new lexicon of fresh vocabulary, and an amusing way to learn about literary devices such as allegory, anagram, anaphora, and alliteration.  Surely, there was good reason for my fourth grade teacher to use Harry Potter to help us become better readers and students, and many other educators have also recognized the seemingly endless bounty of learning that the Harry Potter books contain.  Professors Don and Alleen Nilsen of Arizona University wrote about Rowling’s clever creativity in coming up with names for people, places, and things (including spells) within the Harry Potter realm and her meticulous use of literary devices: “One reason that the Harry Potter books have such appeal to a worldwide audience is Rowling's rhetorical density as illustrated by how much meaning she can pack into the few short sounds needed to create a name.” Among such meaningful names as Flourish and Blott’s, Twillfit and Tatting’s, Dervish and Banges, sectumsempra, Gilderoy Lockhart, cruciatus, expecto patronum, Albus Dumbledore, Helga Hufflepuff and Tom Marvolo Riddle; one of the examples they cite is the name of one of the antagonists Draco Malfoy, whose name is a clever use of apposition because his first name reminds us of either a dragon, or something draconian; while his last name is a latin translation of “bad faith” (Nilsen 1&8.)  

Rowling’s dexterous and skillful talent with imagery is another one of the things I admire most about her writing and indeed, one of the things I find most poetically inspiring.  Here I have included an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince which lusciously describes the “Room Where All Things Are Hidden”, one of the chambers created in the “Room of Requirement”.
“[Harry] gasped. Despite his haste, his panic, his fear of what awaited
him back in the bathroom, he could not help but be overawed by
what he was looking at. He was standing in a room the size of a
large cathedral, whose high windows were sending shafts of light
down upon what looked like a city with towering walls, built of
what Harry knew must be objects hidden by generations of Hogwarts
inhabitants. There were alleyways and roads bordered by teetering
piles of broken and damaged furniture, stowed away,
perhaps, to hide the evidence of mishandled magic, or else hidden
by castle-proud house-elves. There were thousands and thousands
of books, no doubt banned or graffitied or stolen. There were
winged catapults and Fanged Frisbees, some still with enough life in
them to hover halfheartedly over the mountains of other forbidden
items; there were chipped bottles of congealed potions, hats, jewels,
cloaks; there were what looked like dragon eggshells, corked bottles
whose contents still shimmered evilly, several rusting swords, and a
heavy, bloodstained axe.” (Half-Blood Prince 528.)

Rowling also has an ineffable talent for putting the most quotable words in her characters’ mouths. Since childhood I have logged the sayings of Albus Dumbledore and other characters into my own personal library of  memorable quotes. Some of my favorites are: “ If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” (Goblet of Fire 339.) and “Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.” (Half-Blood Prince 564.)

My work has truly been influenced more by Rowling than by any other writer, and most especially is it exhibited in my poetry.  When we wrote one of our first journal exercises about where we write and why we write, I used Rowling’s “Room of Requirement” as my inspiration for my perfect place to write.  I also referenced the contrast between magic and muggles in my piece about why I write, saying, “Because it is one of the only forms of magic still used in this mundane muggle world.” I can only aspire to try to write with as much depth and meaning and versatility within my own poetry as Rowling does with her fiction.  One of the reasons I am still in love with this series even as an adult is because it has the power to still be fresh and new to me every time I read it again.  That is one of the marks of a true masterpiece of literature, film, or art: is if you can watch it, listen to it, read it, or see it again time after time, as a child and an adult, and always discover something new about it. As J. K. Rowling said herself, “The stories we love best do live in us forever”, and the Harry Potter series is a true exemplar of that for me.

Works Cited

  1. Nilsen, Don L. F., and Alleen Pace Nilsen. "Naming Tropes And Schemes In J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter Books." English Journal 98.6 (2009): 60-68. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

  1. Rowling, J. K., and Mary GrandPré. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005. Print.

  1. Rowling, J K, and Mary GrandPré. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000. Print.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

3 Haikus

rhythmic thundering
Percy Sledge croons, lightning strikes
my dog sleeps calmly

a newspaper ball
an urban tumbleweed rolls
uphill on skid row

claws skitter at night
little critters in the walls
they find refuge here

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Anxiety, Depression, and Harassment

I just wanted to go to the museum.
That's all I wanted.
I just wanted to ride the metrorail without being harassed or annoyed by anyone. I just wanted to go enjoy a nice quiet, therapeutic time at the museum by myself without any awkward or unpleasant interactions with people.
I get off the train and start walking towards the museum, when a tall middle-aged black man sees me and says "Hey, Baby".
Since I had decided long ago not to put up with being spoken to this way, I turn and glare at him and I see his taken aback expression, and I say, confidently, "I'm not your baby." He immediately leans toward me and almost yells, "I said 'Hey LADY!". and I can see the signs of jaundice in his eyes as he glares back at me, affronted.
I immediately shrink back into myself, and with downturned eyes, I say sheepishly, "Oh. sorry. I misheard you..."
and the man looks at me with anger in his eyes before he stalks away.   In the same direction that I have to go.

Not wanting to appear as flustered as I am, I walk determinedly towards my destination, and halfway to the corner where I will have to cross, the man bends down to tie his shoe, so I am not walking in front of him.  I keep walking, afraid to look back. I stop at the corner and turn left, praying to Hod that the crosswalk sign will change so I can go before he gets level with me. It doesn't. After he passes me, I hear him.  Muttering out of the corner of his mouth back at me, he says, "I like the way that butt shake, though." And he saunters away.
At this moment, I'm enraged, offended, frustrated, scared, and humiliated all at one. I say nothing. I stand there on the corner, trying to cover myself with my cardigan, clutching onto my purse as a shield, not wanting to leave any other areas of my body open or visible, or vulnerable to comment.
Now, I sit in the public restroom at MFAH, in tears, feeling terrible about myself. Questions assault my heart, mind and soul. Is this my fault? Am I rude? Am I over-sensitive?  Should I have just ignored him in the first place?  Would I have avoided the entire disgusting exchange if I had just kept walking? Did I take what could have been a stranger's seemingly friendly greeting and turn it into street harassment because I was so sure he was being disrespectful? Was I too "eager to be offended"?  Maybe he would have ended up objectifying and disrespecting me even if I had ignored his initial address.
Either way, I feel like I never want to go out in public again.  Never want to be around people again, never want to be looked upon with a man's (or maybe even anyone's) eyes ever again. I wish I had an invisibility cloak. So I could go where I please and be free from staring, leering, comments, and come ons.
Just when I start to come out of my misanthropic carapace, just when I start to feel confident about myself.  A seemingly trivial moment with a stranger like this has the power to crush my self-esteem and increase my introvertedness, my desire for solitude-even hermitage. Guilt and shame weigh heavy on my heart.
I hate that man
I hate men like that
I hate when men behave like that.
I hate being so emotional.
I hate that PMS makes me (even more) so emotional.
I hate that I cry about (almost) everything.
I hate that I cry when I’m angry.
I hate that crying is seen as weakness.
I hate that being emotionally sensitive is seen as weakness.

I hate feeling everything.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stop Telling Women to Smile

Misogyny is still alive and well, even in ways that people don't recognize. Everyday just the way I hear men talk about women, and even (unfortunately) how some women talk about each other.  One of the ways biggest ways I've experienced it personally is from street harassment (sexual harassment outside the workplace).  Just yesterday I was walking down a hallway at school when this dirty looking older guy (who did NOT look like he was a student or a worker) looks at me and twitches his eyebrows then makes a kissy face at me as he passes me by.

I stopped putting up with that shit a long time ago and I immediately whipped around and told him, "That's disrespectful!" and he shrugs it off and mumbles some hurried apology, but I'm pretty sure he hadn't gotten that kind of reaction before from a woman he harassed.  

I know probably all of my female friends have experienced this type of behavior at some point, and I dunno about y'all but after each experience like that, not only do I feel extremely PISSED OFF, but I also feel disgusted.  When a man looks at me or says something to me in that way that's completely unwarranted, it makes me feel DISGUSTING. It makes me want to curl up into a ball and hide from the world, it makes me want to cover myself up and hide or wish that I had an invisibility cloak, because I feel violated without a man even touching me, he has managed to make me feel violated and gross. 
I think for women it's really important, besides standing up to guys who harass us, for us to spread awareness to our male friends and acquaintances that they need to realize that women do not exist just for their viewing pleasure. Even though most of our friends who are men would probably not speak to us in that way, that doesn't mean they don't still carry around the mindset of reacting to women they first meet with some type of comment about their appearance.

"Stop Telling Women to Smile" is a project working to raise awareness about street harassment all over the nation, and to challenge men everywhere to check themselves and change the way they view women.  Plenty of men are harassing women and they might be thinking they're actually giving us a compliment by saying something like, "Smile!" or "You look fine" or (my favorite) "aren't you a tall glass of water?" (or some other offensive reference to my height and vague comparison to a beverage).

Men aren't just going to stop thinking of women as objects, as property.  Even our most seemingly respectful guy friends might still harbor the mindset hammered into them by a patriarchal society and misogynistic media that women should immediately be appraised on their physical appearance (whether these ideas stay as only thoughts in their heads or not). We need to start letting men know that there is a fine line between a compliment and un-called for harassment.

So if you're also sick of men talking to you as if you exist solely for their aesthetic pleasure, and hearing everywhere speech that undermines women to just objects to be admired/judged/used, and you'd like to get involved in an organization to raise awareness and help stop street harassment, click the link above to learn about opportunities to put up posters in your area like the ones pictured.

Also, next time a man says something to you that makes you feel uncomfortable or harassed, don't be afraid to stand up for yourself and say "Please don't speak to me that way, that is disrespectful."*, or just use any of the choice phrases from the posters. :]

*Unless you are in a situation/environment where you feel you may be in danger, then run.

Disclaimer:  all rights to photos belong to