Poetry in Music: Bon Iver's "29 #Strafford APTS"

Bon Iver is a indie folk band founded by singer-songwriter Justin Vernon. Vernon was launched into fame with his first project “For Emma, forever ago” which he wrote in his hometown of Eau Claire. His fame can largely be attributed to his distinctive falsetto and innovation in the folk genre. Bon Iver’s “29 #Strafford APTS” from 22, a million is one of his most poetic and beautiful songs. The song serves as a reminder of the comfort and shelter found in memories. Additionally, it addresses the tragic temptation of trying to change things back to how they were in the past.

The song begins with the narrator reminiscing about a time they smoked pot with their friends in a parking lot. Then in the second verse Vernon continues this story:

Hallucinating Claire

Nor the snow shoe light or the autumns

Threw the meaning out the door

(Now could you be a friend)

There ain’t no meaning anymore

(Come and kiss me here again)

One the first level, Justin Vernon is referring to someone named Claire hallucinating. The chorus refers to smoking pot (rolling up, holding up) so it can be inferred Claire is someone who was smoking and is now tripping on drugs. However, Vernon commonly uses Claire to Allude to his hometown of Eau Claire. He gives a place a name like a person, emphasizing the personal connection to it. Finally, on a third level, the name Claire means clear in french. So juxtaposing hallucinating with clear and then winter (snow shoe light) with autumn makes Eau Claire seem unrestricted by the limitations of time. This larger than life depiction of Eau Claire further emphasizing Vernon’s strong connection to his hometown.

In the next verse, Vernon tries to put the memories of Eau Claire he has been talking about behind him:

Fold the map and mend the gap

And I tow the word companion

And I make my self escape

Vernon uses sea ship metaphors to address how he has to move on from his past. A person folds a map when they get to their destination and are done navigating. Therefore, when Vernon folds the map he is done with his nostalgic journey. Additionally, towing the word companion is a metaphor for how Vernon is dragged down by his attachment to his former relationship.

In the last chorus of the song, Vernon comes back to the present. He describes the event that triggered him to think about the past:

I hold the note

You wrote and know

You’ve buried all your alimony butterflies

Vernon describes how the narrator is holding the note that their partner gave to them. “Alimony” is a popular legal term that refers to the money paid by an individual to a former partner, usually court ordered during divorce procedures. Therefore, Vernon looks at a note that seems to have lead to a divorce. On a metaphorical level, Narcissus ‘Alimony’ is a type of flower. One of the flower’s pollinators are butterflies. Since the other person has buried these butterflies it means they have lost there chance at getting Alimony by giving this note.

Hope for the Future as seen in "Beloved" by Tony Morrison and "Alright" by Kendrick Lamar

After reading Beloved by Tony Morrison I was left with a sense of hope. Slavery is a gruesome and terrible time in America’s past. When writing about this period in our nation’s history, most author’s stress the inhumanity in the way that African American were treated. They describe the atrocities of the Slave Trade and the plantations. They point and say, look how these victims were abused, look at how bad things were.

Morrison, however, decides to take a different approach. She does not only focus on condemning slavery, but also on the growth and healing afterward. The novel is set a decade after the civil war. Therefore, it is more relevant and focuses on an issue we still deal with today: how to live after slavery. At the end of the novel, Sethe and Paul D, two former slaves that had worked at the same plantation, mend their relationship and try to live a normal life together. The book gives the reader hope for the future. Morrison shows that although this terrible thing happened to these group of people, we can survive and we can are strong enough to get past this.

The hope I got after reading beloved reminded me of another song by a more recent writer. Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” condemns the issues African American’s still face in the twenty first century:

I recognize you’re looking at me for the pay cut

But homicide be looking at you from the face down

What MAC-11 even boom with the bass down?

Here he talks about African American’s role in society as seen by White America. Although Kendrick is one of the most popular and influential rappers, he still feels he is only seen as a way for the record industry to make money. Similar to slavery, Kendrick is not seen as a person, but rather a tool to profit off of. With the next two lines he then focuses on the problem of gang violence and the nation’s ignorance to the issue.

However, just like Morrison, he still has hope for the future and knows that African American’s can overcome and survive racism. During the chorus of the song Kendrick says,

My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow
But we gon’ be alright

Although Kendrick is fed up with the state of oppression African Americans are in (“My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow”), he still has hope for the future that everything will work out (“we gon’ be alright”). Kendrick and Morrison’s focus on the future is empowering. If we only focus on the past, how can we grow?

The Power of Love in Exit West

Exit West, by Moshin Hamid, is a novel about love and migration. The novel follows the love story of Saeed and Nadia, A pair of refugees fleeing their home town on the verge of civil war. However, unlike most romance novels, Saeed and Nadia’s relationship ends with an amicable, fizzle-out breakup.

Compared to most contemporary novels, this ending is quiet odd. We are so used to seeing the story of young lovers fleeing the familiarity of their home and embarking on a long, difficult journey to find somewhere safe were they can be happy and grow old together.

This is not the case in Exit West. Yes Nadia and Saeed venture on a strenuous journey, living in dangerous refugee camps in tense situations; however, the journey only drives them slowly apart and not in the way you think. Usually the couple in a love story is forced apart by external forces, a conflict that seeks to destroy the couples love. However, Nadia and Saeed never experience this type of division. They just slowly drift apart without any drama or action.

Hamid’s choice to include the unorthodox love story in Exit West is not without reason. Nadia and Saeed’s story makes the novel feel more honest and realistic. It is more accurate to what a lot of people might experience in their relationships. In this way, Hamid strengthens the credibility of his argument and makes the whole story more believable and relatable.

Existentialism in “Dead Poets Society”

When reading “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus, the vivid exemplification of existentialism in the novel, and its embodiment in the protagonist, Meursault, reminded me of a recent movie I had seen. Meursault’s complete detachment from social norms and societal constructions was reminiscent of the movie “Dead Poet’s Society” by Peter Weir.

In the movie, Robin William’s character, John Keating, plays an English teacher at a rigirous and strict private school. However unlike the other teacher’s at the school, Keating does not believe in textbooks and rating literature on a graph. He tells the students to take the pages of their textbook and rip them out because they are meaningless. He even disregards the societal rules by telling everyone to stand on their desks.

Just like Meursault, Keating’s unorthodox manner does not go over well with the rest of society. The schoolmaster is offended and upset with Keating for not teaching correctly, or in other words, following the social construct of what a teacher should be. As as result he is fired and the kids are assigned a new teacher. The kids of course were engaged and actually cared about the subject when Keating was teacher, so they were devastated when he was fired.

In both works, existentialism is rejected by society, and they are both worse off for it. If only society could understand and adopt the construct-free way of life then everyone would be better of because of it.

“Black Box,” a Glimpse Into Modern Storytelling

Since the creation of the internet there has been an undeniable and fundamental shift in how people consume and create media. For youth, the lifeblood of this new content, everything must be available and digestible within seconds. Due to this shift, Social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat provide never ending streams of content that entertainment-crazed adolescents incessantly consume.

On these new platforms older types of media like literature have been pushed aside and forgotten, left alone for those bored enough to waste a few hours of their invaluable mindless scrolling. However, “Black Box,” by Jennifer Egan, solves this problem by bringing literature to the youth. Egan released the story over the course of several weeks, tweeting out each section in small chunks. With each new post came another quick two-hundred words of the intense sci-fi story.

In doing this, Egan made the story relevant to a hyperactive youth, allowing more exposure to the deeper level thought that good literature can provide. This success is a clear indicator that there is a spot for good writing in youth culture; all we need is more writers who are ready to adapt to it.