New Poetry Genius Page on Rap Genius!

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Introducing Poetry Genius on Rap Genius!

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The days of the blog you’re reading are numbered. Starting this week, we’re phasing it out in favor of the brand new POETRY GENIUS PAGE on Rap Genius.

The PG page has all the perks of the main RG homepage, including blog postlets, Editors’ Picks, and a list of our most popular texts. Very soon it’ll have a revamped design and other goodies as well.

Not only that, but RG now has landing pages for its other sibling sites, too: check out the new Rock Genius and News Genius.

In the coming weeks we’ll be porting over some of the most popular posts from this blog, then redirecting the poetrygenius.com URL. (You can also bookmark poetry.rapgenius.com, but they’ll soon be one and the same.) In the meantime, take a nostalgic spin around our archives—and enjoy our new digs!

All of Joyce’s “Ulysses” Is Now on Rap Genius

Yes I said yes. The most groundbreaking novel of all time is now on Rap Genius in its entirety. Help us decode James Joyce’s Modernist masterpiece, Ulysses.

Sure, there are a number of thorough annotations of Ulysses out there already: Stuart Gilbert’s James Joyce’s Ulysses, Don Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated, and so on. But we think that, with your help, we can build something a little more epic. We’d like this to be a Ulysses companion unafraid to poke fun at Joyce (just as he was unafraid to poke fun at other authors). One that offers not only criticism and commentary but also illustrations, videos, recordings of Irish ballads, memes, mashups, and of course, puns. One that elaborates on the novel’s vast complexity by fully enmeshing it within the infinite complexity of the Web.

Like Rap Genius as a whole, it’s an outrageously ambitious project. And it won’t be finished in a day (ha, ha). But we’re inviting Joyceans old and new, professional and amateur, in Ireland and around the world, to come together and make it happen. It’s going to be a pretty damn fun odyssey.

NEW: Podcast with Michael P. Jeffries!

PG followers may remember cultural critic and Wellesley prof Michael P. Jeffries from his star turn as a featured author earlier this year. His annotations on his new book, Paint the White House Black: Barack Obama and the Meaning of Race in America, elaborated on an already unsparing study of modern racial dialogue. Now Jeffries is back on Rap Genius, joining our Editor-in-Chief Shawn Setaro for the latest installment of our Outside the Lines podcast. An avid fan and scholar of hip-hop, Jeffries talks ‘Pac, politics, and much more. Listen and enjoy!

NEW: Charles Simic’s “Watermelons”

While we honor those fallen in service for Memorial Day, we also welcome the arrival of summer as May fades into June. And what could be a better harbinger of the season than that juiciest of fruits, the watermelon?

“Green Buddhas

On the fruit stand.

We eat the smile

And spit out the teeth.”

Well put, Charles Simic. In four lines, the Yugoslavian-born poet manages to comment on the nature of human existence–the constant struggle of creation and destruction–as well as make your mouth water. Don’t be fooled by the poem’s simplistic appearance; each line contains multitudes.

Simic was also no stranger to warfare. He suffered a difficult childhood during World War II in Belgrade and, after emigrating to the U.S. in 1954, was drafted into the Army at the age of 23. He has since published several books of poetry and translated the poems of others in five different languages. Since he didn’t learn English until the age of 15, he was “especially touched and honored” to be selected as the American Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 2007.

As the season heats up, come cool off with Simic’s short and sweet poem, “Watermelons,” now fully annotated on Rap Genius.

Bonnie & Clyde: American Gangsters and…Poets?

Well, maybe not Clyde so much, but gun-totin’ Bonnie Parker fancied herself something of a writer. Her interest in poetry began at a young age and in 1932, while incarcerated for a botched burglary, she penned a chapbook entitled Poetry from the Other Side. The ten handwritten poems brought even more sensationalized attention from the media, which was already crazy for the infamous duo.

“The End of the Line”–published as “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” by the press–is Parker’s take on  the unjust nature of the law and society in general, especially in times as harsh as the Great Depression. In the sixteen-stanza poem, she denies accusations of crimes “they had no hand in,” then accurately predicts her own demise.

“Some day they’ll go down together;

And they’ll bury them side by side

To few it’ll be grief–

To the law a relief–

But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”

While Parker was no Emily Dickinson–notwithstanding her fondness for dashes–her heartfelt ballad still echoes the sentiments of some artists today, who feel that the pressure of poverty and injustice force them into crime.

“They say an eye for an eye, we both lose our sight

And two wrongs don’t make a right

But when you been wrong and you know all along that it’s just one life

At what point does one fight? (Good question, right?!)”

–Jay-Z, “Justify My Thug

Beyoncé and Jay may be the self-appointed Bonnie & Clyde of ’03, but let’s not forget the original gangsters of ’30.

The Complete Works of Jane Austen Are Now on Rap Genius

All six of Jane Austen’s finished novels—Sense and SensibilityPride and PrejudiceMansfield ParkEmma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion—are now on Rap Genius and yearning to be annotated.
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Yes, Jane’s oeuvre now shares a home with Jay-Z’s. It’s a beautiful thing, and all part of RG’s expanded mission: to annotate the entire world. Starting this month, the site is taking a big step toward that goal by uploading every major public domain work in the English language.
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It’s an endeavor we’re incredibly proud of, although we’ll be the first to admit it’s confused some people. The UK’s Jane Austen Society, for example, which we approached earlier this year with a polite invitation to participate in the annotation process. Just as politely, their Honorary Secretary declined, but in a fashion that indicated she’d misunderstood the nature of the project (she believed we were asking members to “transcribe [their scholarship] line-by-line”). We followed up with further clarification (Persuasion?) and an offer to walk her through the site, etc. Her response:
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I’m afraid I really must decline your offer.  The Society regards the canon of published criticism and annotation of text over the years by respected academics/scholars as reasonably definitive and not a matter for online/open “collaboration” from contributors worldwide.
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As I said, there are many JA websites that provide such interaction for those who wish to query, or comment on, specific items in the novels, but such “collaboration” must be relatively subjective.  Wikipedia has done a largely successful job of outlining the facts of JA’s life (even if I do cavil slightly at small bits of the content) and background to the novels, and an even-handed approach in repeating scholarly criticism.  It also gives a fairly lengthy list of bibliography including the Cambridge text I mentioned previously, and I would have thought this a better starting place for a “close reader”. As well of course by contacting the Society through its own website.
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Finally, since the Society does not itself publish such criticism/annotation it cannot contribute to your website, nor is it Society policy to advertise/ recommend/ endorse such items.  I’m sorry I cannot help you further.
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Kind Regards
Too sad! Secretly we still love them, so hopefully they’ll give in and dance with us someday.
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“Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” on Rap Genius

Any Wes Anderson fans out there? We’re breaking down some classic scenes penned by one of America’s most poetic filmmakers, including the first meeting between Max Fischer and Miss Cross in Rushmore (“Harvard is my safety”) and the “Hey Jude”-scored opening of The Royal Tenenbaums.

Oh, and the play-within-a-film in Rushmore. “LOCK AND LOAD, SURF BOY!”

Got others you’d like us to break down? Leave a note in the comments.

Patricia Smith Breaks Down “Hip-Hop Ghazal”

In a beautiful convergence of hip-hop and poetry, teacher, poet, and overall “word woman” extraordinaire, Patricia Smith, has shed light on her “Hip-Hop Ghazal” on Rap Genius. What’s a ghazal, you ask? Read the annotations to find out!

Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.

Smith moves masterfully through the musical couplets, cheekily evoking the joy and pride of “brown girls” swinging their “blue hips” while the jukebox plays. In keeping with ghazal tradition, she even makes playful reference to herself:

Crying ’bout getting old—Patricia, you need to get up off
what God gave you. Say a prayer and start slinging. Cue hips.

Smith is the author of numerous books including Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press, 2012); Blood Dazzler (2008); Teahouse of the Almighty (2006), a 2005 National Poetry Series selection; and Big Talk (1992), which won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award. She’s also been a four-time individual National Poetry Slam champion and a featured poet on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. One of the most acclaimed living spoken word artists, she has performed her work around the world.

Minnesota Senator Reads “Let America Be America” in Plea for Marriage Equality

This week, Minnesota became the twelfth state in the U.S., and the the first state in the Midwest, to legalize marriage between same-sex couples. The unions will be acknowledged as legitimate starting August 1, 2013.

Just minutes before the Senate vote on Monday, openly gay State Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) read three stanzas from the yearnful Langston Hughes’ poem, “Let America Be America,” in a plea for marriage equality.

“Let America be America again

Let it be the dream it used to be

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free

(America never was America to me.)”

However, in the Senator’s rendition he omits the parenthetical lines, explaining, “…I left those out on purpose. Because this is not a day about being alienated and disaffected from the state and the country we all love.” The choice prompts the question: by excising a layer of irony from the poem, did Dibble rob it of part of its force?

Check out the poem that inspired the heartfelt appeal for equality, all up and annotated on Rap Genius.

“The Waste Land” AND “Notes on the Waste Land” Annotated on Rap Genius

Maybe you came across our annotated Waste Land a while back; it got some very kind attention from some pretty cool places. Today we’re pleased to announce that Rap Genius not only features a crowdsourced breakdown of T. S. Eliot’s masterpiece, but also a crowdsourced breakdown of T. S. Eliot’s notes on T. S. Eliot’s masterpiece. Eliot originally tacked on his “Notes on ‘The Waste Land’” to pad out the poem to book length, but they contain some genuine insights into the dense thicket of cultural references…as well as some clever bullshit (a word Eliot loved) to keep you on your toes.

Check out The Waste Land here and the Notes here. And for good measure, check out our analysis of young Obama’s analysis of the poem.

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