Poetry, Perfidy, and Passion

Hopewell Valley Student Podcasting Network 

Books, Ballads, and B-Roll

Poetry, Perfidy, and Passion

Episode #6

You are listening to Books, Ballads, and B-roll the podcast with your hosts Bee and Alastair.

In this episode, we will discuss three different media that incorporate poetry. Just a warning: this episode will deal with themes of suicide, mental health struggles, and violence, as well as events that may be upsetting or fraught. 

Segment 1: The Dead Poets’ Society

Another warning: this discussion contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie, we greatly recommend it, although it’s a heavy watch!! 

The Dead Poets’ Society, directed by Peter Weir and written by Tom Shulman, came out in 1989, but the movie is set in 1959. It’s set at an all-male boarding school in Vermont called Welton Academy and centers around two students, Neil Perry and Todd Anderson, who have been assigned each other’s roommates. Neil is confident, outgoing, and charismatic, but hampered by an extremely strict father who seems more concerned with his son’s academic and financial success in life than his happiness and wellbeing. Todd is more shy and has trouble speaking in front of groups, but he starts coming out of his shell with the help of Neil’s firm friendship and the encouragement of their new English teacher, John Keating (played by the renowned Robin Williams). Keating surprises the class with unorthodox teaching methods that prioritize creativity and independent thinking over memorization of facts, and he instills a new appreciation for poetry in them that prompts Neil and several of his friends to found a group called the Dead Poets’ Society. Under the cover of night, the friends meet in a secluded cave in the woods beside the Welton campus, and read poems aloud. Keating and the club encourage them all to live their lives on their own terms. Todd starts writing poetry of his own, and Neil discovers his love of acting and successfully auditions for the role of Puck in a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, things take a turn for the worse when Neil is confronted by his father’s disapproval of his participation in the play, wanting him to prioritize the career in medicine already planned out for him. Mr. Keating advises Neil to convince his father how important acting is to him, and he successfully persuades his father to let him stay in the play. However, his father unexpectedly shows up to watch the performance and disapproves of it even more as a result; immediately after, he angrily tells Neil he’ll be disenrolled from Welton and put in a military academy, and will no longer be permitted to act. Neil is devastated, unable to express his feelings to his father, and receiving no support from his mother. That night, feeling extremely trapped and distraught, he ends up taking his life.

  • We talk about societal constraints and hierarchies, how they often crush the individuality of those they claim to uplift, and how this relates to the current meritocratic education system
  • We discuss how poetry and other creative forms of self-expression are made in response to and pose a threat to authority and oppressive social constructs
  • We explore the plausibility of a romantic interpretation of Neil and Todd’s relationship and discuss the role of heteronormativity in this movie

Segment 2: Ivy

Ivy is a song by Taylor Swift from her album, Evermore, which was released during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We really like the ambiguous nature of this song, and there are many really interesting and in-depth theories on what it’s about. To us, it seems like it’s from the perspective of a woman, probably around the 1800s. It’s likely set in some time period where marriage was mostly seen as a business transaction, so the woman in the song feels imprisoned in a marriage she’s unhappy with. When she sings “And the old widow goes to the stone every day/but I don’t, I just sit here and wait/grieving for the living” it seems like she’s comparing herself to other women who grieve for their husbands after they die. She should feel lucky to not be in their situation, but some guilty part of her envies them, and she wishes she had some easy way to escape the marriage. Her situation is worsened because she’s in love with a woman. She compares this woman to ivy growing around her “house of stone”. The house in this situation may refer to her heart. For so long, she’s felt like there was a problem with her or that she was cold because she wasn’t able to give her husband the love other women could, and she blamed herself. This song is a love song, but it also overflows with an overwhelming sense of anxiety. Her urgency builds throughout the song. She is terrified of what her husband’s reaction will be if he finds out. She plans to run away with her lover, and she urges her to “Tell me to run/or dare to sit and watch what will become/and drink my husband’s wine”.

  • The reason why we selected this song for our poetry episode is that many people have theorized it to be about the secret relationship between Emily Dickinson and her brother’s wife, Sue. We examine some of the compelling evidence for this theory
  • Bee gushes over the poeticism of this song’s lyrics
  • We draw connections between the gay subtext and oppressive environment in this song and The Dead Poet’s Society

Segment 3: F*ck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying

This poem was written by Palestinian-American poet, Noor Hindi. It was written in 2020 and was a response to how overwhelmed she felt by a lot of different events, including the killing of George Floyd, the pandemic, and Israel threatening to evict families in Sheikh Jarrah. 

The Poem:

Colonizers write about flowers.

I tell you about children throwing rocks at Israeli tanks seconds before becoming daisies.

I want to be like those poets who care about the moon.

Palestinians don’t see the moon from jail cells and prisons.

It’s so beautiful, the moon.

They’re so beautiful, the flowers.

I pick flowers for my dead father when I’m sad.

He watches Al Jazeera all day.

I wish Jessica would stop texting me Happy Ramadan.

I know I’m American because when I walk into a room something dies.

Metaphors about death are for poets who think ghosts care about sound.

When I die, I promise to haunt you forever.

One day, I’ll write about the flowers like we own them.

We feel that this poem is always quite relevant, but we thought it was especially important that we share it now because as we’re here watching movies and discussing poetry, Gaza is currently being bombarded, whole families are being wiped out, and buried under the rubble of their own homes, unable to hear the birds or see the flowers. Poets and writers are being killed and their voices are lost forever. But the poem is also a reminder that Palestinians have experienced violence and oppression for a long time before what we’ve been seeing in the news the past couple of months.

  • Alastair discusses the way some of the transcendentalist poetry referenced in The Dead Poets’ Society, and in Ivy and other Taylor Swift songs, often comes from a place of privilege because the people writing it can afford to talk about the beauty of nature without worrying about destruction and suffering that others might be experiencing.
  • Bee suggests that all poetry is a political statement (for example, how in The Dead Poets’ Society comparatively idyllic subjects of poems are used to subvert the standards of conformity imposed by Wellton) and that writing and art are often created in response to people feeling powerless.

Music Credits:

  • Flowers and Weeds (Acoustic Guitar & Penny Whistle) by Axletree
  • Marty Gots a Plan by Kevin MacLeod

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