Tag Archives: Women

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.

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How Irish Literature Established a Fictionalized Gender

How Irish Literature Established a Fictionalized Gender
By Terry Scott Niebeling

Within Irish culture and literature, there are many great divides, sorts of impasses, in relation to religion and nationalism, and also, especially, in relation to gender. Gender in Ireland is an understanding brought to the forefront by writers and playwrights as a hot-button topic, established, by what seems innocuous intent. This presents an image of the proper, or decidedly generalized Irish woman. In establishing a gender, male writers depict the assumed typical Irish woman in her natural element, she is true to family, true to duty, and appears, always dependent and unsure, and reliant on the male’s wants and needs. What Irish male writers do, by creating an archetype for Irish women, is to enable a preconceived notion of a group through observing an individual, through single examples, and thus degrades and enforces these stereotypes on a diverse group. In this action, there exists a logical fallacy, the fallacy of composition: one part of the whole cannot represent the whole entirely, absolutely. This gender construction is a status placeholder, allotted and acknowledged by those in close proximity, and those in the mainstream, those who witnessed one individual, not an entire group and wrote on that. In Irish literary culture, by way of written word, there is an immense disparity in gender, and an assumption on the roles each gender plays.

The masculine perspective in Ireland, per writers e.g. Joyce, Martin McDonagh, establishes a pariah shut-in interpretation of women, and this formula for a gender, by “Othering” the kind, creates a subjective perspective authored by men. This act alone assumes and mislabels an object as subjective and discrete, predictable, lowering the female status to an “ism”. Irish writers have presented gender, not as objective, but subjective, creating a vast stereotype which damns, and absolutely requires dispelling. Irish females are iterated by men in the past-tense, not in the present because of these texts.

While ascertaining the meaning and value of a label, you must look into the agency creating the label. This assessment is similar to understanding who writes history. In the case of Irish gender identity, the female persuasion is explained (in these instances) through the eyes of males. This patriarchal observation gives females a patina of disparaged hue, one of subservience, one of a life filled with chores, family responsibility, and sheer lack for personal pleasure and fulfillment. Within The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the reader is introduced to what you could assume is a traditional family of western Ireland. Immediately, dynamics are skewed; readers are given bickering women, embattled over food in a kitchen, caring for one another, while one, Maureen hopes for more, and the other Mag, wishes to keep family around her to care for her, because she does not want to be sent away from her home. The only reprieve from this situation for Maureen is to find the next male that shows her attention. This male is her ticket, her future. McDonagh gives these women a typical aspect, one from a male perspective; Maureen’s salvation is through a salacious male after a one-night stand. Not only does this situation come across as fictional, it comes across as lowering Maureen to a level lacking, needy for love. Her only outlook on life depends on that of another, particularly that of a male.

Another example of the stereotypical Irish female is presented in James Joyce’s Eveline, a story from Dubliners. Within this story the reader is shown a woman in love, about to commit to a relationship, which her family disapproves of, naturally. Eveline is sure she is in love with a sailor named Frank. It appears, at first, as if Eveline is set in her ways; she will leave, she must. Yet after some contemplation and a melancholic climax at the train station, she leaves and appears to directly disassociate herself with her future life and lover, for one of the past. In this story, pressures from home, the familiar, specifically from her father, create a cognitive dissonance within Eveline, affecting her decision. She, a young woman, has her whole life ahead of her, yet she inevitably has to choose between two males. One side of this story focuses on the independence of Eveline. The other side focuses on the considerable influence males around her have on her decision, essentially her fate. Eveline’s fate is chosen by the pressures around her. The males within proximity judge, label, and degrade her, in hopes that she performs her task as the stereotypical Irish woman. Eveline, we can assume, becomes a caretaker for the family, a creature that exists at home and cares for her father and family’s needs rather than her own. And fate is just a go-to word which explains it without actually explaining it. She was fated to attend to her family.

To that, a concept that is most astonishing, when considering these gender stereotypes, and the frequency of utilization, is the stark contrast between movement and labeled-gender; moreover, location: west and east, within Ireland; and homebody versus traveler, without. Purpose and place of the character, the individual, is allotted by this movement. If the individual is mobile, the individual is male. If the individual is immobile, the individual is female. Through experience one sees this from west to east, or vice versa. The more progressive and more mobile individual is located in the east of Ireland. The less progressive and less mobile individual is located in the west of Ireland, perhaps. In the west, our group experienced males who drove vehicles, busses and ferries; accordingly, we experienced women who were sedentary, in shops and cafés, similar to the character roles depicted in Once and The Dead. In Once the audience is shown a woman stuck, unmoving in her ways, tied to her husband and family. She, “Girl” (her name is exactly one of gender), exhibits convictions to a male (or two males), and to her family. To contrast, “Guy” does not live by these same rules, he is free to go back to England, and to search for his love. “Girl” is not able to branch out, to find love, which does not allow her to move on, or move in any manner. Within The Dead, again, the women are portrayed as housemaids, cooks, organizers (at their own party, Women’s Christmas), furthermore none of the women appear to be experienced travelers. While Gabriel writes for a newspaper abroad in London, -embarrassingly so, Gretta sits at home contemplating Michael Furey and the love she could have had. The women within these texts lack mobility, and conversely, the men are free to go anywhere, free to move at will.

This lack of mobility comes with a price. As a group we ventured further to the west of Ireland, this mobility of gender, or lack thereof of, became ever more apparent. Jerry our bus driver carried us along narrow roads, regaling us with local experience and traditional lore. We learned a little something from Jerry, whether good or bad, -from the Irish male perspective. We were told of a jogging path along the shores of Galway, and what Jerry called it; a name which was rooted in woman’s anatomy, perversely. When we came to the ferries, we also learned that it was piloted by males. After arriving at Inishmore, with the sweater shops and cafés, we were introduced to women. Those of a gender stuck inside. Whether or not they remained inside or not throughout their day is unimportant, the image given is one of a static condition, in comparison to that of the males. We were given the perspective of a male through Jerry, through his microphone, while he maneuvered his bus. While I purchased my wool wares and lunch, I heard few tales of experience from the women attending to me. Even that last sentence feels oddly disparaging.

Accounts of experience learned through the journey were given ubiquitously by those Irish males we had come into contact with. Those reiterations of experience will hold a place within us for some time. Because we journeyed to a new area we saw. Had we not, we would lack that of which we experienced. By way of experiencing we become more seasoned, flavored, more educated, well-rounded, and intelligent. As a foreigner, taking in the literature and the real-life encounters, one notices that things are not as described in a book, but different. Though, if that stereotype is carried over from a book and assumed genuine it can diminish the character of real-life in a way that it cannot progress. If Irish women are depicted as shut-ins, homicidal for the love of a male, and destined to be caretakers for their families, in frequently read literature, then who is to oppose this generalization when met with it head on? Those who observe both the literary and physical examples can only go on those experiences, respectively.

In both of these stories, The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Eveline, the female gender is depicted as unable to leave, -though not unwilling (interestingly), stuck in ways of the past. There is one sole duty of a woman in the Irish community. That duty is to maintain her family, appreciate the desires of males, and to be content with that existence. Perhaps Joyce and McDonagh thought to represent an aspect of life. This representation, this realism they experienced; although the reality they create is one of sedimented ideology, beliefs, thoughts, concepts based on ways of the old. By presenting females in such a light, these authors have squelched that gender’s very social ascension, and the literal status of women in Irish society. What is even more disturbing is that readers today may take these literary works, examples, and estimations as genuinely definitive. In this exchange of “knowledge”, Irish women become misrepresented in their own culture’s historical “masterpieces”, by those writers who made the time to designate a single example as true of an entire group. These stories are protocol for what good Irish women do, not what progressive Irish women do. Stay safe, stay orthodox.

Some Irish literary works have cast a stereotypical shadow, a female archetype, by way of male playwrights, -those who appear modern and progressive and authentic to locality, within Ireland. By way of employing a label, a caricature typecast of the female gender, and their static ways, notions, and goings-about, certain Irish male authors have placed Irish women at a disadvantage. These authors enable a stereotype which proliferates and thrives in present-day culture, in the very existence of these stories. Had readers not been exposed to such generalizations, those iterated by male writers, readers, as observers may have had the opportunity to view Irish women with a fair and objectively sound eye; however now, with this literature, the concept of an Irish woman is sedimented in subjective design, fictionalized, an anomaly to be pondered and put forth.

Work Cited:
McDonagh, Martin. The Beauty Queen of Leenane. London: Methuen Drama in Association with the Royal Court Theatre, 1996. Print.
Joyce, James. Dubliners,. New York: Modern Library, 1926. Print.
Once. Fox Searchlight Pictures :, 2007. Film.

Nude Models on Strike, How Revealing…

Oh La La! The Nude Models of Paris Go on Strike

Sometimes I wish I was a nude model, but then again posing naked all day is something I do for fun.  I wouldn’t want to ruin that kind of activity by making it a career.

Also, I agree, they do deserve Vacation and Holiday pay, moreover tips.  Support these models, they have mouths to feed, designer threads to rock, and good times to have.  ART!  Cheers!