Manila’s Chinatown, dating to 1594, is said to be the world’s oldest Chinatown. It was a neighborhood set aside for Chinese Catholics across the Pasig River from the Intramuros (the fortified part of the city controlled by the Spaniards.) Chinese trade activity in the city pre-dated Spanish colonial rule, but the Spanish facilitated the Chinatown so they could keep an eye on immigrants. Chinatown is locally known as Binondo.
One needn’t be educated in the Greek classics to know that somewhere in this trilogy there is a man who gets intimate with his mom. However, the common conception of Oedipus —as in the Oedipal Complex—probably has more to do with Freud and Freudian psychoanalysis than it does with this story.
The three plays of this trilogy are “Oedipus the King” [a.k.a. “Oedipus Rex” or “Oedipus Tyrannus”], “Oedipus at Colonus,” and “Antigone” [pronounced “an-tig-o-nee” rather than “anti-gone.”] Of the three plays, the first is the most well-known.
In “Oedipus the King,” the titular character is facing a crisis in his kingdom. When the oracles are consulted about how the calamity might be brought to an end, Oedipus is told that he must banish the killer of his predecessor, i.e. the previous king of Thebes. Oedipus consults his own oracle to find out who the ne’er-do-well is who murdered the last king, and the fortune-teller tells Oedipus that he’ll never say who committed the killing —but acknowledges that he does know who it was. Oedipus mocks and threatens the oracle until the fortune-teller gets fed up and tells the king that it was he, Oedipus, who killed his predecessor. Oedipus doesn’t believe it at first, thinking it’s an attempt to facilitate a coup. Far ickier than the accusation of murder is the fact that —if true— it means that Oedipus has been getting busy with his own mother and has even sired children with her. Oedipus calls for an investigation. When a peasant who saw everything is called to testify, his story strikes Oedipus as disturbingly familiar. It turns out that Oedipus’s blood father (the previous king) had been told by his own oracle that his son would kill him and steal his wife, and so he had baby Oedipus sent away to die. Oedipus (who had been rescued from being staked up on a mountain) was coming through Thebes, not knowing it was his homeland, when he had a skirmish on the road with the man that he didn’t realize was both the king and his father. Later, Oedipus marries the queen (apparently there were no busts or portrait paintings of the last king anywhere) and becomes the king without knowing that the man he’d killed in self-defense was the last king / his father. When the truth revealed, everything goes south. The queen kills herself, and Oedipus’s response is almost as severe. Oedipus gouges out his own eyes and goes into exile. Antigone, one of Oedipus’s daughters, says she will be the ex-king’s guide, and because the old man is blind and not familiar with where he’s going, he doesn’t have much choice but to accept.
In “Oedipus at Colonus,” Oedipus and Antigone arrive at neighborhood on the fringes of Athens, i.e. Colonus, and are planning to take up residency. The locals are welcoming until they find out the blind man is Oedipus. The story of the ex-king who killed his father and got it on with his mother has spread far and wide. The townspeople agree to call in their king, Theseus, and let him decide. Theseus decides to shelter the Thebean ex-king, being moved by his story of how Oedipus was unwittingly ruined and how the former king accepted his punishment when his offenses were brought to light. Theseus’s support becomes more complicated when Creon, a royal from Thebes, shows up and says they need Oedipus back because an oracle now says that the location of his burial will determine the outcome of a future conflict. Oedipus says no way, and Creon has Antigone and her sister (who joined them at Colonus to warn Oedipus) kidnapped. Theseus faces a serious challenge because now his actions might bring the city-state to war, let alone offending the gods. However, he sticks to his guns and rescues the daughters and agrees to personally oversee Oedipus’s burial (so that no one can grave-rob and move Oedipus’s body to a position that would create a more pleasing forecast from the oracles.)
“Antigone” takes place after the death of Oedipus. The dutiful Antigone is now back in Thebes. When her brother Polyneices is killed and Creon orders that the prince not be buried, Antigone refuses to accept the decree. She steals the body and gives it a proper burial. Antigone was engaged to marry Creon’s son, Haemon, but Creon decrees that the woman will be imprisoned in a cave for disobedience of the king’s order. Haemon asks his father to be reasonable, but Creon will have none of it. Eventually, the words of an oracle convince Creon to change his mind, but he finds himself too late. Like Oedipus, various ruin then befalls Creon.
While the details of the story may strain credulity in places, these works are powerful morality tales. The recurring theme is that one can’t make an end-run around fate by way of vice and neither can one otherwise manhandle events to achieve a desirable outcome. Oedipus’s father sends his son to be killed, but the outcome remains the same. Creon can’t plant Oedipus’s corpse where he pleases and neither can he deny a man proper burial. It’s almost a karmic tale. Perhaps, the path to pleasing the gods is through virtue, and not through finagling one’s way to compliance with forecasts.
I find it fascinating how crucial a role is played by oracles throughout the three plays—and what that says about human nature. The fortune tellers are always right and are always heeded. In a sense, this story tells one about humanity’s fear of uncertainty, what people are willing to do to allay that fear, and how the world is ultimately too complex for those attempts to work out. The law of unintended consequences remains ever-present.
I enjoyed these plays. They are brief, stirring, readable, and thought-provoking. I would recommend them for any reader—particularly those interested in the classics.
This collection of poems is quite similar in format and subject to Kaur’s more recent work “The Sun and Her Flowers” (which I reviewed recently.) This book also gathers short free-verse poetry (with the occasional prose poem) together with line-drawn artworks by the author. The subject matter includes: sexual abuse, parental relationships, love relationships, and self-image problems. My likes and dislikes for this collection are much the same as they were for the more recent work, as the two books feel like volumes in the same work.
The book is divided into four parts: “the hurting,” “the loving,” “the breaking,” and “the healing.” One will notice the roller-coaster effect implicit in that organization—like alternately drowning and bobbing up for air.
Kaur is bold in her poetry. It’s daring in its confessional nature and courageous in her willingness to be so intensely feeling in a society that gets cynical of emotionality fairly quickly. (It almost feels like a JP Sears caricature of itself sometimes–particularly it the lulls of melancholy.) It also has the condensed effect that comes from a sparing approach. Both the art and verse take a minimalist approach, avoiding getting lost in complexity of form and presentation, and they are all the better for it. This simplicity doesn’t mean that Kaur doesn’t offer some clever turns of phrase. On the contrary, it gives it all the more punch. The words and drawings frequently form a synergy.
Both the poet’s courage and her sparse and simple cleverness overwhelm the collection’s downsides. Said weaknesses include frequent bumper-sticker truisms that feel a bit preachy and / or banal. As I hinted, sometimes the book feels a little bit like the “No, I just have a lot of feelings” girl from the movie “Mean Girls.”
I enjoyed this collection for its poetry, its art, and—perhaps most interestingly—the interplay between the two. I’d highly recommend it.
I like short poems, and not just because I’m attention-span challenged. Short poems have punch. They are condensed emotion, and it’s rare to be able to keep beautiful sound resonating throughout long verse. So, it’s not a surprise that I would enjoy this anthology of brief poems from over 80 poets ranging from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries.
There are between one and four poems from most of the poets included. I’ll list some of the poems that are particularly popular, personal favorites, or some combination thereof.
– William Shakespeare: Sonnet 18 [Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day]
– Robert Herrick: “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”
– Anne Bradstreet: “To My Dear and Loving Husband”
– William Blake: “The Tiger” [often written “The Tyger”]
– Robert Burns: “A Red, Red Rose”
– Lord Byron: “So We’ll Go No More a-Roving” and “She Walks in Beauty”
– Percy Bysshe Shelley: “Ozymandias”
– Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways”
– Henry David Thoreau: “I Was Born Upon Thy Bank, River”
– Walt Whitman: “I Hear America Singing”
– Emily Dickinson: “I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died”
– Emma Lazarus: “The New Colossus”
– Francis William Bourdillon: “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes”
– Ella Wheeler Wilcox: “Solitude” [Laugh and the World Laughs with You…]
– A.E. Housman: “When I Was One-and-Twenty”
– Gelett Burgess: “The Purple Cow”
– Stephen Crane: “In the Desert”
– Robert Frost: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Road Not Taken”
– Carl Sandburg: “Fog”
– Wallace Stevens: “The Emperor of Ice Cream”
– William Carlos Williams: “The Red Wheelbarrow”
– Joyce Kilmer: “Trees” [I think that I may never see…]
– Edna St. Vincent Millay: “First Fig”
– Langston Hughes: “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
– Dylan Thomas: “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”
If you like short verse, you’ll enjoy this Dover Thrift Edition. It’s all works in the public domain, so don’t expect to find present day poets in the anthology. Also, probably all of these poems are available on the web for free, but the price is minimal to get them collected together.
monster tonic sells by the gallon
glugged, while grasped in a talon
it promises to topple empires
but what it builds is dirty liars
who pitch their forks into the fire
and listen to the awful sizzle
as the fat melts into a drizzle
after its prey’s fight long fizzled
oh, the foul. oh, the fair
it catches monsters by the hair
oh, the wild. oh, the free.
you can sip it in mid-winter tea
my mind is a flash mob
living to kick and dance
to music’s wail & throb
IT plays a game of chance
when my mind is blown
IT does the blowing
when i’m in the flow
IT does the flowing
how cheap, IT is, they say
but rent ‘s not paid each 30 days
each time i roam the bill comes due
as i’m kicked back to end of queue