Witchy Weekends: Frank Sinatra and the Question of Agency

Here’s a cute little song from days gone by. It’s kind of fun to listen to, if you have fond memories of the music of this era.

But there might be more to it.

The premise of the song is fairly straightforward, fairly simple: “You’re an alluring lady, so much so that my attraction to you goes beyond normal, and so there must be something supernatural going on here. But that’s cool, I can roll with that.”

The subtext is also pretty clear: “You’re an alluring lady, and I’m going to enjoy pretending I don’t need to take any responsibility for my actions because of how attracted I am to you.”

I can already hear some of you protesting that I’m making this nonsense up. That I’m ruining something sweet and nice.

Buckle up, buttercup.

You can’t denigrate witches as the ultimate evil predator in league with the devil — a Christian concept if ever there was one — and then also say how lovely and fun and exciting and marvelous and sexy witches are at the same time, unless you do some serious introspection on your particular fantasies and fetishes.

***

In my English classes we spend a lot of time talking about character agency, or (rather simply) the ability of a character to make decisions and enact choices that have consequences, which in turn have bearing on the plot. (You can read an excellent explanation of character agency in stories here on Chuck Wendig’s blog.)

This song suggests that part of the allure of the “witch” in the song is the usurping of the singer’s agency, “[stripping] [his] conscience bare,” and he’s totally on board. But why?

In the current miasma of what passes for public debate these days, some of the more socially conscious have been talking a lot about personal responsibility.

When I taught AP Gothic Lit., we spent an entire unit of study on the heritage of the Witch as a political figure and literary archetype. Fascinating stuff. For a very small taste of one part of this, check out this wonderful article on the archetype of the “sexy witch” in literature.

One thing that comes up again and again is that — in fairy tales, for example — witches are those characters who are agents of change. Sometimes for nefarious purposes, such as the crone living in a gingerbread hut in the forest or a wickedly vain queen. And sometimes their magics lead to positive outcomes: think fairy godmothers and Glenda the Good.

In the Burning Times, “witches” were more often than not women; and more often than not, defenseless other than through their own fierce and fearless agency; and more often than not, opinionated or otherwise empowered in a way that threatened the patriarchy (in whatever form that might have taken, be it political or religious or social). These days one might imagine a representation of the greatest perceived existential threat to the patriarchy might be depicted as a flash mob of women, having the time of their lives bellydancing in the streets, wearing pointy hats.

Others have written on this subject more eloquently and more coherently than I. Right now, so much of this subject is just swimming around in a maelstrom in my brain. ‘Tis the season and all.

Please, discuss. What do you think of all of this?

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Monday Earworm: Space

When I taught AP Gothic Lit. I included this song as a springboard into discussion about female vampires in 19th-century literature. Now that I’m going to be teaching a different AP class this year, I might still use this song as part of a unit on feminist literature — and why sometimes people who don’t understand the concept of feminism very well still assume it to be threatening.

Please feel free to add your thoughts to this discussion in the comments below.

 

New Year’s Round-Up (Part 2)

Yesterday I posted the first part of this round-up, in which I discussed my blog’s 2017 statistics and some cool author and artist things coming up for 2018.

New Year’s being a traditional time to make resolutions about one’s life, and my general penchant for fresh starts and improved routines being an ever-present concern, I feel optimistically compelled to participate.

Yet I’ve had some real trouble crafting this blog post. All of last week, it was so hard to do it. It’s not just that Continue reading “New Year’s Round-Up (Part 2)”

Witchy Weekends: John Donne

I may have shared this poem with you before? John Donne is one of my favorites of the old poetry masters.

“Witch” is an epithet hurled at many a disobedient or otherwise displeasing woman, and “witchcraft” levied at her actions.

I could go on and on about this for days, but I’ll save it. Instead just have this poem, Donne’s “Witchcraft By A Picture.”

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Witchcraft By A Picture
by John Donne

I fix mine eye on thine, and there
Pity my picture burning in thine eye;
My picture drown’d in a transparent tear,
When I look lower I espy;
Hadst thou the wicked skill
By pictures made and marr’d, to kill,
How many ways mightst thou perform they will?

But now I’ve drunk thy sweet salt tears,
And though thou pour more, I’ll depart;
My picture vanished, vanish all fears
That I can be endamaged by that art;
Though thou retain of me
One picture more, yet that will be,
Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.

Poem-A-Day: Christine Heppermann (once more)

All right, I have one more poem by Heppermann I want to share with you this year. Previously appearing on this blog were some of her poems about sexism and the beauty myth. Today, we’re looking at a feminist reimagining of a fairy tale, “Rumpelstiltskin.”

And I have a question for you at the end. I’m fascinated by what your answers might be. Please leave your response in the comments.

***

Retelling

 

What the miller’s daughter should have said
from the start
or at any point down the line is,
no.
No, you can’t drag me to the king.
No, I can’t spin that room full of straw into gold.
No, not that room, either.
Or that one.
Quit asking.

No, I won’t give you my necklace.
No, I won’t give you my ring.
No, I can’t give you the child;
the child will never exist.
End of story.

Once upon a time
there was a miller’s daughter
who got a studio apartment,
took classes during the day,
waited tables at night,
and when customers asked
what’s in the gravy
on the rump roast sandwich,
it’s the best thing they’ve ever
tasted, she winked and said,
Guess.

***

So I’m curious: what do you think is in the gravy?

***

This poem has been posted here with the permission of the author.

***

Christine’s writing for children and young adults includes fiction, poetry, and narrative nonfiction. Her books include the highly acclaimed book of poetry, Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty; the novel-in-verse Ask Me How I Got Here; the nonfiction City Chickens; and the Backyard Witch series (with Ron Koertge).

Christine has been working in the field of children’s publishing for more than twenty-five years. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Horn Book Magazine, The Five Owls, and The Riverbank Review of Books for Young Readers. She has been a book reviewer for many newspapers; currently she writes the young adult roundup for the Chicago Tribune.

Christine lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her two daughters, two cats, and one husband. Find her online at christineheppermann.com. She can be reached via email at info@christineheppermann.com.

 

Poem-A-Day: Christine Heppermann

When the Poem-A-Day series meets Women Writers Wednesday series meets Whom I’m Reading series…

My friend Sarah gave me a book of poems for Christmas called Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann. I love this book. The first time I read it, I did so all in one sitting.

Heppermann has written a collection of smart poems that investigate the intersection between fairy tales and gender roles, and that also explore the toxicity of the anti-feminist culture which is the fruit of those loins. E. Lockhart’s blurb on the front cover calls Poisoned Apples “[a] bloody poetic attack on the beauty myth that’s caustic, funny, and heartbreaking.” I don’t think I could have described it better myself.

Paired with these sharply witty poems are black-and-white photographs, by a variety of artists, which communicate the ideas of the poems without being too on-the-nose, and which are standalone pieces of art in and of themselves. I highly recommend this book.

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A Brief History of Feminism

 

Simon says touch your toes.
Simon says turn around.
Simon says touch your toes again.
Now wiggle a little.
Simon says he is not a pervert.
Simon says hop on one foot.
Simon didn’t say stop hopping!
Hop closer.
Simon says hop closer.
Simon says is that a push-up bra?
Geez, honey, calm down.

Simon says calm down.
On second thought,
Simon says you’re pretty cute
when you’re all worked up like that.
Wanna hop your sweet self into my office
and see my sofa bed?
Simon says, we were just playing, Officer.
Simon, anything you say
can be used against you in a court of law.

***

This poem has been posted here with the permission of the author.

***

Christine’s writing for children and young adults includes fiction, poetry, and narrative nonfiction. Her books include the highly acclaimed book of poetry, Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty; the novel-in-verse Ask Me How I Got Here; the nonfiction City Chickens; and the Backyard Witch series (with Ron Koertge).

Christine has been working in the field of children’s publishing for more than twenty-five years. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Horn Book Magazine, The Five Owls, and The Riverbank Review of Books for Young Readers. She has been a book reviewer for many newspapers; currently she writes the young adult roundup for the Chicago Tribune.

Christine lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her two daughters, two cats, and one husband. Find her online at christineheppermann.com. She can be reached via email at info@christineheppermann.com.

Poem-A-Day: Sarah Blake

Lately I’ve been exploring myth poetry and fairy tale poetry with my Creative Writing students. These are ekphrastic forms, responding in some way to some other art that has gone before –– in these cases, the art being cultural and literary. It’s amazing stuff, and I love it, and they seem to as well. In fact, every year I teach these, the myth poems and fairy tales poems my students write are sometimes their best work to date.

So I recently came across this myth poem, which offers the reader such a smooth transition from dreamlike story to gut punch. If you enjoyed Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s poem last week, even though this poem by Sarah Blake is stylistically different, my guess is you’ll dig on this one, too.

***

Aphrodite’s Dreaming

A shark bites my hip
and I watch the blood
curl out into the sea.

Poseidon pushes him
away and runs his hand
over the teethmarks, each
a little frown.

He’s having me
for tea, and everyone
is naked. He says, That’s
how fish are. Don’t be so

embarrassed. But that’s
not the right word.
I stir my tea with his
trident. I stir my tea

with his crown. I stir
my tea to forget
how he touches me,
knowing soon I’ll wake.

***

Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West and the forthcoming collection, Let’s Not Live on Earth (both from Wesleyan University Press). An illustrated workbook accompanies her first chapbook, Named After Death (Banango Editions). In 2013, she was awarded a literature fellowship from the NEA. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and son. http://www.sarahblakepoetry.com