Tag Archives: Relations

Book Review: The Right-Hook of The Big Smoke

The Big Smoke, Cover.

The Big Smoke, Cover.

Right-Hook of The Big Smoke

In the collection of poetry, The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejka sets up an all-American underdog in that of historical boxing legend Jack Johnson. With skillful form and rich language, Matejka highlights a determination to keep his protagonist fighting for his life, to keep the heavy weight champion going, and to show the effects his character has on those near him. Matejka uses mechanical allegories and aggressive metaphors to describe a man as being similar to a well-oiled machine or animal. Whether for violence in the ring, or violence in domestic life, his gears are always spinning. The power within The Big Smoke stems from questions that it asks the reader. These questions of race, of segregation, of violence, and of gender, bring to mind an oppressive time in our not-so-distance past. The inquiries come in the densely compact prose and terse lines. This fictional history of collected poems graphically details the trials and tribulations of Jack Johnson, while it asks the reader provocative questions of racism, violence, and gender in American culture. The poems also ponder the worth of a man, in relation to his identity and appearance, while showcasing the consequence of action upon a person’s character. Adrian draws from the historical fiction based on the real-life boxer Jack Johnson. Johnson’s persona and attitude come out with Matejka’s voice. Pulling no punches, The Big Smoke reads as a how-to in boxing wins, and gives fresh perspective on the vantage point of another human, a person rooted in American history, from a completely different culture, and an antiquated time.

The Big Smoke focuses on topics of racism, the All-American rise to the top, physicality of a man, sexuality, and a violence driven sport. Themes put forward throughout his collection carry over from the distant past to shed light on topics still relevant today. Racism appears to be a key emphasis with Matejka’s African American protagonist, Jack Johnson. The Big Smoke starts out by detailing a man who is not afraid to fight to prove his worth, whether he is black or white. Jack appears as an everyman’s man. He is a deeply forthcoming and challenged individual who sets out in the world with odds against him—because of the color of his skin. He knows he must use his physical strength to get what he wants. Not only is Jack aware of his predicament, he faces it head on in physical bouts. Constant reference to fighters drawing the “colored line” shows the intense oppression that existed in American history, and in Jack’s professional life. Not only was Jack subject to being denied the opportunity to fight for his living, he was antagonized by those in the crowd while he fought. Matejka makes art of describing fight scenes of high pomp and lavish fashion. A man’s dream of success and fortune is seen through the eyes of Johnson, though the inverse is also shown. With violence, racism, and sexuality comes the idea of a dangerous living. Matejka maps out a precarious world. Jack Johnson is at times his best friend and his own worst enemy. Ego from being a champion overtakes his senses and draws him closer to his demise. When Jack has everything, the cars, the money, the champagne, the women, the sex, and the victories—even with the negative aspects of the racial strife, he still wants more. His insatiable drive within American culture is a play on the society’s lust for possession and power, and what a person will go through to get it.

The detailed setting of The Big Smoke adds unique framing the feel of the poems. Though the setting of The Big Smoke appears to exist in the south, or on the west coast, it may better reflect America as a whole. Valuable aspects throughout this collection of poetry are the greatness in details given. At times these details come off-handedly, in relation to motor vehicles, hotel rooms, intimate settings, and hot midday boxing matches where men are beaten to pulps—as detailed props of the locale. Matejka uses sharp imagery to show intense struggle and pain. In many of his poems he describes a man being torn apart physically with language so elegant and so commonplace that the reader will hardly bat an eye, only to realize the power of the line thereafter. A good author can create amazing works with the simplest words. Matejka does this masterfully, yet not without throwing hints of French, Latin, and early Modern English language into the mix. When foreign lines come up in The Big Smoke, the reader may be somewhat confused at the placement or idea of such phrases. However, these spirts and fragments show the intelligence of the main character. It sheds light on his mentality. Jack Johnson can relate to these classics—Shakespeare and the unfamiliar, he is well read black man in a southern American setting. This detail is telling. It allows for the reader to have empathy, to see eye to eye with the struggle. Jack Johnson this successful individual is only being oppressed by the color of his skin. He has been placed in the unfortunate setting of racial tension. Though it seems an odd pairing, Jack Johnson and Southern United States, it alludes to America’s melting pot makeup. We are all characters in the fight of life trying to get ahead, trying to prevail on those around us, to make it. The American South is a hotbed of controversy, steeped in oppression. The setting and language keeps the reader engaged while on edge, and this defines Matejkas talent for creating fiction of a real-life hero.

Voice, aggression, cocky confidence, self-assured prize fighter, forget the race, swagger, these are the authors tools for creating a violent machine of a man, a man on the verge of becoming a veritable monster, and a master of his sport. Matejka challenges the reader with such pointed topics by using straightforward words and dialogue. Jack Johnson as the subject is not a timid creature, but iron-fisted boxer with his assertions. He is explosive. His dead-pan humor is either that to be laughed at, or completely serious and not at all. He is not an individual to tango with. If he wants something, a woman, a hit, a win in a fight, he takes it without asking. The way he eggs his opponents on is textbook bully. His nature is captured by referencing animals and machines. Matejka has created a working Goliath of a man in his beginnings, in his prime, and in his relative demise. Jack Johnson may tell the other fighter how to take a punch, or how to go down, tell his love interest that he will choke her, or buy her jewelry, but he is foretelling of his action, and this creates the intrigue. He has thoughtful meaning about him. While some aspects of his personality may be hidden in brief breaks for correspondence between Jack and his companions, the lack of information given provides a natural tension to ensure the reader’s locked into the story. Matejka’s words work as tools to produce a dangerous man partial to violence. Jack is an interesting example of a product of his own environment. He gets violence and he gives it back. He is the champion of boxing, yet he is the champion of a violent and barbaric sport. And those bold attributes carry over into both aspects of his life, sport and personal. Jack Johnson’s larger than life persona is Matejka’s Goliath in print.

Matejka gives you the visual, the historical background. In the opening of The Big Smoke while he discusses Shakespeare and Bear fights. The world his poems create is one of old—yet still relevant. He sets up Jack as an animal, a monster, yet with an empathetic quality of which the reader can relate to. His barbaric nature is countered always with luxury, or education, or elegance in style of the day. To quote Shakespeare is to know of Shakespeare. To ride in fancy car, buy expensive jewelry, and pop fine champagne in bathtubs, is to understand luxury. Jack’s life is setup up so that the reader can be carried into the success and failure. This gives feeling of closeness of relation to the reader. Jack’s voice is seen through with Matejka’s language. Matejka cleverly uses colloquialisms and low-demotic dialogue to push the reader into a caste system and to show where the fighter came from. This place in society is painted perfectly. Human nature is reflected within the subject’s needs. Jack needs money, he needs women, and later in the book he needs a high society lifestyle. Matejka’s voice, given to Jack, is one of many facets, a history of the man. The way that Matejka creates the quality of each character draws the reader into the collection emotionally.

Historical America, and its oppression, is shown within Matejka’s collection of poems. The question of historical oppression comes to the fore especially in the boxing ring. When Johnson is to fight someone outside of his race the intensity within the poem is turned up, this intensity creates excitement of the material. Aspects of life become more vivid. Reflecting on Jack’s fight, Matejka will focus on minute aspects such as sweat, or the sun, or the insides of a person being pulverized. Even the colors within the poems appear brighter. The glint of Johnson’s gold teeth and the biting language come out, at times tragically so. Adrian’s tone and tenor create a landscape in his poetry that is easy for a reader to agree with, even if the topic itself is difficult, melancholy, or traumatizing. The historical presence throughout brings the collection closer to home, and offers insight to our country in earlier historical times. Matejka’s ability to imagine and relate appear on each page.

The readability of The Big Smoke comes from the theme and the text itself. This by no means suggests that the topics and themes of this collection of poetry are not without significance. The topics within are American made. The All-American rise is at hand. Jack Johnson starts out by declaring his mother is a slave. He comes from this environment. His inspiration is getting ahead, essentially following the American Dream. He rises by fighting for necessity and eventually gaining a reputation as a fighter. The fame and fortune which comes is desirable to the reader. Having a constant underdog lends to the framework of a story immensely. Even while Jack is at the top his internal struggle, with women, with race, with caste systems, create problems for him, by his problems he is easily relatable. This theme would also be less readable had it not come with clever language. Matejka avoids being lumped into a category of poets who use big words to please the pretentious, though he does at times throw in flashy demotic. He also avoids objective history, because what is that? The way he manipulates tenor reflects in the language of Jack Johnson. Jack is clearly beyond the ordinary man, he is powerful, almost super-human, and intelligent. Matejka proves this by alluding to his literary repertoire. He also makes this visible through powerful dialogue, dialogue between Jack and the women in his life, and italicized words which are either assumed direct quotes or mere quick thinking. The Big Smoke allows the reader a mix of close imagery and insightful thought through the use of risqué topics and lean prose.

The Big Smoke presents diverse language on a diverse and difficult topic, racism in America, violence between humans, and the ever pressing framework of a hierarchy. These elements are presented with Matejka’s artful prose. The storytelling and smart verse keeps the reader entrenched and imagining. Realism in imagery and description make a fictional story seem as the real thing. The idea of Jack Johnson as an American underdog, starting with nothing and rising to the top, is one rooted in the American Dream, no matter race. Jack Johnson as a character embodies the trials and tribulations set forth by an oppressive and judgmental society. He goes on to prove that he is the man in charge, though he is the person who ruins himself in the end. This espouses that Jack Johnson was in control, no one controlled him—but he himself. Throughout Matejka’s collection of poetry Jack Johnson is a force to be reckoned with. The Big Smoke is an inspiring and gritty book of poems rooted in the clashes of American history and culture, which speak to the essence of the American Dream.

Work Cited
Matejka, Adrian. The Big Smoke. New York: Penguin Group, 2013. Print.

Things to Think on: “Untold History of United States”

Equal parts Equal; Gilda and everyone else

Gilda_trailer_hayworth1            Gilda is a striking and beautifully shot movie, Rita Hayworth’s talent highlights this quintessential noir.  Silhouetted characters, shadows, and hazy deception are used heavily throughout the film.  Straight on glam shots pose as useful with a starlet such as Rita Hayworth, especially when showing character interaction.  We see long profile shots with facial manipulation, a sexual allure; smoke drifting out of the frame, darting doe eyes, the introduction of the character of Gilda being a prime example.  The camera shows the men walking up a flight of stairs, a woman’s voice in the background, and then we see her.  They have essentially found their queen herself in her castle, falling all over her newly found luxury and fine garments.  Front and center, there is nothing else in the shot but Gilda.  From this point on the movie is changed.  These men, unsuspecting as they were, have their worlds turned upside down by what seems to be love, or possession of something labeled as “love”, or this amazing woman, Gilda.

Subtle hints in direction fill up every moment of the film.  Gilda starts out with the roll of dice- literally, face first into the camera, from the ground up.  I suppose this captures the entire concept of the plot; Johnny moves from the ground up, then someone dies on the floor.  We see the roll, the gamble, and the pan up.  The viewer is given insightful narrative of the sorted people around the protagonist, and the need to leave, and then Johnny is caught in a dark alleyway, gun to his back.  He has come to the end of the line.  This is when we meet Ballin Mundson, a casino owner.  Ironically, Johnny is saved by the very knife that will in the end kill his would be killer; the person who once saved him from his would be killer, Mr. Mundson.  Why is this well-dressed casino owner in this dark and mysterious alleyway saving an inconsequential bum’s life?  Is Johnny his patsy?  We won’t find out until later, but the opening scene has it all.

I feel Johnny’s life being spared is an ode to living by the sword dying by the sword for Ballin, considerably when we see how quick he is to make sharp and drastic decisions, such as, nixing the Number 2 Black Roulette man.  We see Ballin walking around with an innocuous looking cane, and then boom, the next moment it’s a blade ready to slice at whatever, or whoever is in the way.  Also this plays into Johnny and Gilda, when they are ready to do whatever, whenever to get whatever they want whenever.  They are sharp and ready to monopolize on any advantage.  They attempt to cut each other down with jealousy, words, possessive antics, and cold stares, at times without being detected.

Gilda gives these men power.  She becomes the third-wheel in what is a seemingly well-oiled machine for a business/relationship.  It is later revealed that both Johnny and Gilda come from the same knit.  They are very similar, if not spouses (which I assume they were).  Mr. Mundson essentially loses his mind because he cannot control the movements of his bride.  In a sense the director has created Gilda as a possession, an object, whoever has this possession is in charge, yet Gilda has plans of her own, clearly.  She does whatever she wants, she doesn’t ask for permission, and she is outspoken- rather risqué for the time (1946).  The men appear pensive and timid, especially in times of dealing with lover’s betrayal.  The culmination of this pent up aggression results in violence towards Gilda, and further deception by Ballin, the one we believe is being deceived (when he fakes his own death, excessively: plane crash/explosion into the ocean).  The director may be giving a nod to the idea of equality, equating Johnny and Gilda, and Ballin to Johnny and Gilda.  Everyone is pretty much equal in their betrayal and deception.

Johnny starts from the bottom and quickly rises to the top, as Gilda eventually does, as Ballin once did himself.  Johnny even expresses to Mr. Mundson, something to the effect of, “I taught her everything she knows.”  I feel as though both Johnny and Gilda have fallen in love with the same man, and again with each other, for similar reasons: security.  Johnny’s almost effeminate appearance and boyish charm seem lover-boyish, also his jealousy towards Gilda and Ballin’s relationship with Gilda shows the love he has for the man, and for Gilda.

Another interesting theme in the movie is the barbershop attendant, who looks like the Wizard of Oz, who always acknowledges Johnny as peasant, as if even if he has all of these lavish material possessions, power, he is still the same at heart, a lowly peasant.  One can compare this to the love/hate relationship he has with Gilda, even if he appears different now, he is still very much in love with Gilda all the same, and powerless to her charm.

Al Franken, the Politician (asking for money)

PSjVDM4iTekrfovq7MK1F9sjBOus6a6vtp0hIhPqJgxT8q7ssb4WGBMISdyRYhSB5ypAyL3wH2dtXQ04QzYSygOWepwxdXCl=s0-d-e1-ft 10405432_573269972782558_1090336024728622366_nDear Terry,

Team Franken Field has a big day today. It’s part of our statewide Volunteer Weekend of Action. They’ll be knocking on doors and making phone calls all day long.

Now, a lot of you can’t get out and volunteer this weekend. But I don’t think that should stop you from getting in on all the Weekend of Action fun.

So today, we’re also hosting a Team Franken ONLINE Day of Action. $20,007 in a single day to help Al in the final 9 weeks of this election. Can you give $5.07 or more to help us out? (The .07 cents lets us know the contribution is part of our Day of Action!)

If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately:

Express Donate: $5

Express Donate: $10

Express Donate: $25

Or donate another amount.

We’re entering the playoff portion of our race. Al’s opponent is on the air attacking us. The Chamber of Commerce promises to come at us with “aggressive” spending. One super PAC has been formed specifically to defeat Al.

There are a bunch of ways we’re fighting back in the last two months of this race. We’ve got ads running. We (obviously) have volunteers all across the state.

All of those operations take money. That’s how it is. And that money comes from you.

Help us reach our $20,007 Online Day of Action goal before midnight. Give $5.07, $10.07, or whatever you can toward our goal.

Thanks for making this a great day for our campaign.

Matt

Matt Burgers*
Campaign Manager
Al Franken for Senate 2014

P.S.: Don’t forget — adding the .07 cents on the end lets us know you’re part of this Online Day of Action. Give what you can with .07 cents on the end before midnight.

***

 
 
 
 
Hello Matt,

Please stop sending me emails about contributing donations to your organization.  As a matter of fact, take me off of your email list.  If Al (Al Franken) needs money so bad he should get it back from Israel, where he voted on spending some 280 million dollars for defense (as did 100 other elected officials), to perhaps indirectly slaughter Palestinians: Wars vs. Local Education; Al Franken, as the Senate Votes.  I could use that money for tuition, for rent, for food. 

I think he is a piece of shit (for sponsoring such atrocities in foreign lands and neglecting the citizens, locally, who elected him into office).

Thank you,

Terry Scott Niebeling

*name changed