Monday, December 9, 2013

Creative Style Prose: Spoken-Word Poetry

            The spoken word poem “Remember How We Forgot” is a poem that appears on the award-winning Canadian writer, poet, and performer Shane Kocyzan’s compilation titled The Short Story Long.   In 2000, Shane Kocyzan was crowned the very first Canadian to win the number one spot at the National Poetry Slam.  He has written and published three books.  His books were named Best Books of The Year in 2005 on the Guardian and Globe as well as Mail.  In 2012, he came out with a digital album of written works titled Remembrance Year in combination with the digital album titled A Short Story Long.
            In February of 2013 he appeared on a TED Talk Conference with his spoken word poem titled “To This Day.”  The poem discusses the lifelong effects of bullying on individuals who experience it, including Kocyzan, himself.  Kocyzan has received over ten million hits on many of his spoken word poems on his digital album.  “Remember How We Forgot” is among Kocyzan’s spoken word poems that can be found on YouTube.  The work appears on The Short Story Long and has received nearly a million views on YouTube to date. 
            “Remember How We Forgot” is quite a long poem.  When physically written out in its poem form, it is just over two pages long.  There are many creative rhetorical devices that are used in this poem that make the work as powerful as it is.  To begin to analyze the work based on its use of rhetoric, one can begin with the title itself.  Remember How We Forgot, both a rhetorical question and an oxymoron is an attention grabber that gives the listener a sense of wonder as to what exactly is supposed to be remembered that has been forgotten.  Following Remember How We Forgot is another rhetorical question, “remember how nobody really died in wars fought?” This is also an example of assonance, repeating of stressed vowel sounds.  Following this is “because each gunshot came from our fingertips”.  Here the author uses imagery to take us back to childhood.  To get the reader to begin to understand where he’s going with the title “Remember How We Forgot.”
            Following the rhetorical devices discussed above, the author begins to use a great deal of the scheme repetition.  In the below text taken from the poem, the word remember is used three times as a key word from the preceding clause, which is indicative of conduplicatio.  The author begins by comparing bending reality with circus strong men, which is an example of a simile.  The author then emphasizes his simile with anaphora, with the clause “like our imaginations were in shape then”, which is an example of personification.  Followed by a third like, again using anaphora, as well as imagery to take the reader back to being a little boy.  The author then uses the rhetorical question, remember how we forgot once again.  Another example of anaphora but with the second use of “remember how”, which is an example of amplification.  The author uses several instances of amplification exemplified in the examples below.  This use of repetition is for added emphasis on the parts of the poem that he wants readers to recognize as most significant.

Remember how we used to bend reality 
Like we were circus strong men
Like our imaginations were in shape then
Like we were all ninjas trained in the deadly art of "did not". 
Like "I totally got you"
"Did not"
Remember how we forgot?
Remember how our parents told us never to look directly into the sun.
Remember how we forgot?
Remember how we all caught mono and out folks would go, "oh the kissing disease"
Even though we’ve never really kissed anyone
Even though we never did half the things we said we’d done
Somehow we overcame
Somehow we pushed on
Somehow we’ve gone the distance
Test the limits 
Test the boundaries and borders 
Let us go the distance once more
Let us remember all the moments that were and were not
Like each moment inspires the next 
Like memories are the context we put ourselves in
Let us live like we meant it
Let us burn like we mean it

            The text below, also taken from the poem, is an example of climax.  The text begins with: “our dreams hung like apples”, an example of a simile, followed by an example of imagery “waiting to picked and peeled.”  The text then uses the analogy “we figure skated on thin ice” to demonstrate taking chances, followed by another analogy: “each slice of life was something sweet on the side.”  Personification is then used in the following clause: “we supplied the determination to make ideas and goals the parents of possibility.”  Akin and related is a pun for the actual definition of akin, which is being close in relation, while kin is an actual familial relation.  The author expands on the metaphor of family again, with his use of “members of this family”, “not just one branch on one tree, but a forest whose roots make up a dynasty.”  The author builds and builds in this passage until finally ending on a hyperbole using the word “dynasty” as a trope for emphasizing the oneness of humanity by discussing each individual person, first, as separation of one branch on a tree with a forest which makes up a “dynasty.”  The author also uses amplification in this instance, coupled with climax when the poem hits the word “dynasty.”

Once upon a time, we were young.
Our dreams hung like apples 
Waiting to be picked and peeled
And hope was something that needed to be reeled-in
So we can fill the always empty big fish bin with the one that got away
And proudly say that "this time, impossible is not an option"
Because success is so akin to effort and opportunity that it could be related
So we took chances 
We figure skated on thin ice
Belief that each slice of live was served with something sweet on the side
And failure was never nearly as important as the fact that we tried
That in the war against frailty and limitation 
We supplied the determination it takes to make ideas and goals the parents of possibility
And we believe ourselves to be members of this family
Not just one branch on one tree 
But a forest whose roots make up a dynasty

To further expand on this written work, analyzing the text’s intended audience gives greater significance to meaning as Koyczan expresses it within this work through creative prose.  Evidence of Koyczan’s intended audience is first represented in the title of the work itself and is reinforced through repetition throughout the entire work.  “We” broadly represents all of humanity.  It would be a generalization to say that Koyczan is referring to everyone, entirely, because not everyone has forgotten what he is describing in the text.  Additionally, not every person would be able to relate to the text, necessarily, yet Koyczan is trying to generate the widest audience possible through his use of the word we as an opener in general.  Using we as a word choice invites anyone reading or listening to the text to be a part of Koyczan’s intended audience. 
Analyzing the text based on its background, that is, who wrote it and for what purpose gives greater insight into a narrower intended audience. Koyczan, a victim of childhood bullying and an advocate for a bully-free society is narrowing in on those who may have forgotten the novelties of simply being human, living, and existing.  Either through the experience of being bullied or through the process of growing older.  As the intended audience is likely, in part, those who have been victims of bullying as individuals, as mentioned, Koyczan tries to enable those who may have lost some of their self-respect and self-efficacy due to the traumas of bullying to also remember [the narrative outlined in the poem].  The entire work is meant to inspire hope in its audience, which is concretely why we is likely, in part, those, that like Shawn Koyczan, have experienced the difficult wrath of bullying. 
Despite this text seeming to most importantly be to inspire hope in one who may need inspiration, namely, one having been a victim of bullying, there is one clause that connects to many other ideas in the text that signifies a much wider audience than just victims of bullying.  While some of Kocyzan’s other poems are meant to give voice to those without a voice, that is, victims of bullying, this particular poem is likely speaking to a much wider audience.  The following independent clause within the text gives light to this idea: “And when I ask you to remember, it’s because the future isn't what it used to be.”  This is directly talking to individuals in adulthood or at the very least, teenagers, who have learned that the future is not what it originally appeared to be during childhood.  This is signified in the preceding passage to the one just mentioned: “remember when we wanted to be Firemen? A time we now call "back then", when boys wanted to be Astronauts or superheroes. Those days when girls wanted to be Prime-ministers or princesses.” This is not only speaking to how our dreams or life goals shift as we age and recognize life from a much different, more realistic perspective, but also gives light to growing older as we internalize gender roles: “those days when girls wanted to be prime-ministers…” This passage gives insight into the “tom-boy” phenomenon girls often experience (not always) in childhood. 
It is at these stages in life that we realize the inevitabilities of life. And it is in childhood that we have the greatest sense of imagination and hope.  There are several parts within the text that talk about larger, “big picture” ideas.  Like wars, tragedy, and the reality of the lifecycle.  Each person encounters at least one of these obstacles by just being a part of the human experience.  These few passages really signify the intended audience.  The rest of the text just extends on this idea, “we figure skated on thin ice”, which represents how we took chances so freely as children---a sense of omnipotence.  The following also represents how our paradigm shifts as we grow older: “believed that each slice of life was served with something sweet on the side.”  The use of past tense, “believed” states a passing of this belief.  The succession of clauses to follow show an intense drive for defeating what we deemed to be the impossible, the connectedness we felt with others, and seeing “dreams and goals [as] the parents of possibility.”  All of these clauses represent a strong sense of inspiration, hope, and ambition for life, yet they also imply that these feelings have passed.  These few examples, and there are several more, coupled with the use of “we” in the title in addition to the repetition of the use of “we” in the same format as the title using anaphora, keep the use of we consistent and repeat the thought to the large, intended audience with each new clause.  This written works’ intended audience is humanity as we age.  It is growing older and the passing of hope. 
The core point of the message in the text is the renewal of hope by remembering what we have forgotten.  Finally, the end of the text shifts completely to a new a paradigm altogether.  The text asks the audience to now forget remembering “how we forgot.”  The succession of asking the audience to “remember how we forgot” and then abruptly asking the audience to forget remembering is asking the audience to now come into the present.  The core philosophy Koyczan’s wants the audience to grasp is each individuals’ inner “light” or individual greatness.  “The memories we are amassing will stand as testament that somehow we bend minds around the concept that we see others within ourselves”, this clause points to seeing our dreams fulfilled through others. The following clause, “that self-knowledge can be found on bookshelves, so who we are has no bearing on how we appear” is either a biblical reference to understanding ourselves from a biblical perspective already foretold or, simply, that one should not try to understand oneself based on looks. 
This likely is referencing accepting oneself on the basis of what we look like.  Kocyzan may purposely align “self-knowledge can be found on bookshelves, so who we are has no bearing on how we appear” to take the focus off of individuals looking to their image to understand themselves.  Expanding on this idea, Kocyzan is likely trying to shift the paradigm of those bullied based on their physical appearance—another example of how this text is in part, perhaps meant to renew hope or manifest a shift in paradigm to victims of bullying.  Lastly, the last passage shifting from the past to the present “forget remembering how we forgot” is indicative of an immediate call for action. 

Forget remembering how we forgot
Live like a plot twist exist now and in memory
Because we burn bright
Our lights leave scars on the sun
Let no one say we'll be undone by times passing
The memories we are amassing will stand as testament
That somehow we bend minds around the concept
that we see others within ourselves.
That self-knowledge can be found on bookshelves
So who we are has no bearing on how we appear
Look directly into every mirror
Realize our reflection is the first sentence to a story
And our story starts:
"We were here.”

Overall, the author’s use of repetition is meant to lead up to his main idea, that being, “we were here”, despite the cycle of life.  All of it builds in an exciting way that enables the reader to keep reading to find out where the author is going to end up.  With that said, the use of simple creative rhetorical devices, that is, amplification, rhetorical questions, personification, hyperbole, assonance, pun, and climax makes this written work both playful, yet serious.  It takes one back to childhood, yet identifies a certain generation with its use of eponym “we just spun yarn like Rumpelstiltskin spun gold”.  According to the TED Talk Kocyzan was featured on, The Short Story Long as a compilation is meant to especially inspire those ridiculed by bullying and the lasting effects bullying can have on people as they grow from children into adulthood.  Koyczan, a victim of bullying himself, uses creative rhetoric to shed light on the bigger themes of life that can sometimes be forgotten if we don’t remember how we forgot.
Kocyzan may have indirectly stated many of these ideas to allow individual interpretation and not force-feed individuals listening to his message an idea, but letting them interpret the text from their own perspective.  This idea as a whole outlines much of the point of creative works, especially poetry, and what divides creative prose from the other styles of rhetoric, official and plain, because quite literally, interpretation is up to the audience when it comes to creative prose.  While there may be an official “right answer” to what certain creative prose in poetry means, often, again, artists want to leave interpretation up to the audience to allow freedom of interpretation. 
By: Courtney Joslin

Prose, Activity Systems, and Context: Instructions for Changing a Flat Tire

No matter how new or old your vehicle is or whether you have roadside assistance, it is important to try to be prepared for unexpected situations.  Many of the newer cars that exist come with systems that alert you when your tire pressure is low and you are in need of putting air in your tires, yet, many people do not own a newer vehicle.  No matter what your situation is, knowing how to change a flat tire on your own is an important and essential skill.

Many venues on the Internet offer a step-by-step procedure on how to change a flat tire., a well-known site that according to the site itself and the Better Business Bureau began in the 1960s as a newsstand publication, provides an extensive amount of vehicle data, reviews, and advice.  Among the content on the site is instructions on how to change a flat tire.  The popular site provides background data, in addition to, expert and customer reviews manifested over time exclusive to individual vehicle makes and models. 

When analyzing the activity systems that surround this text, it was initially thought that the text was written foremost for one who had experienced their first flat tire and wanted to learn how to replace it.  This initial assumption was based on the idea that the audience likely does not know a great deal about cars if they are looking for information on how to do this very basic car repair.  I, myself, am not completely ignorant to common car issues because I have had my fair share of minor car troubles, yet, I did not know how to change a flat tire.  With that said, after thinking closely about the different aspects that make up an activity system, I really started to focus on the aspect of the terminology used in the text.  There were parts that were easy to understand because the text used the rhetorical device distinctio, that is, it defined what the tools mentioned in the text needed to change a flat tire were based on what they looked like and what their uses were to expand the size of the audience.  But, it was not until later on in the text that the use of terminology lost me even as one who is novice on the topic of “car part” jargon. 

          The following example illustrates where I became lost: when first tightening the wheel lugs back on the spare tire once the flat tire is removed, the text instructs the reader to be sure to not “cross-thread” the lugs and they should then screw on easily.  To better understand this, I decided to look up what cross-threading is, and defined it as: “the characteristic of a bolt inserted at an angle so that the original threads aren’t damaged.”  After reading the Dictionary definition, I was still a little confused due to the jargon of the definition itself.  Now this might not be commonplace for most people, but I am going to assume it might be unless the individual has been subject to instances where they have worked with having to put things together using nuts, bolts, and the like.  With that said, I argue that the text is predominantly terminology males would know over females, however, in order to not generalize, I want to point out the important cultural aspect of activity systems and the activity systems that make up this text. 

Men generally do more manual labor than women do in the United States.  This may have begun based on their biological build in comparison to the anatomical build of a woman.  Men generally have more muscle mass than women do and are able to lift larger objects with greater ease.  However, as women have become a large part of the workforce in the United States, there is actually an aspect of organizational communication theory dedicated to the gender-based division of labor found in occupations in the U.S.  These concepts are known as “gender-work” and “gendered-work.”  Gendered-work is work delegated to women and gender-work is work confirming women’s natural tendencies and abilities (Buzznell 1994).  Based on these concepts and taking an even closer look into the activity systems that make up this text, it became apparent to me that the terminology is likely directed toward men or occupations that are statistically more likely to have more males working in them than females.  Those occupations within the activity systems surrounding this text being roadside assistance personnel, that is, those that are responsible for providing paid customers with help when they are experiencing an issue with their vehicle (that show up driving a tow truck), mechanics, and even police officers in some cases.  After considering those whom are most likely to get a call to aid one when they have a flat tire, individuals in these occupations would be most likely to make up the divisions of labor within the activity systems that make up this text.  There is a reason many American’s carry roadside assistance, it is likely that they have become accustomed to reserving any needed repairs on their vehicles to those whom specialize in vehicle-based activity systems.  These activity systems being divisions of work that are predominantly “male jobs.”

Outside of analyzing the activity systems surrounding the text, analyzing the writing style the text is written in outlines the reason for its use of prose.  While elements of the official style can be found in the text, as mentioned, the author uses distinctio when defining what a tire iron is by describing how to locate the “jacking points” on one’s vehicle: “the tire iron is the L-shaped bar that fits over the wheel lugs.  If you don’t know where your jacking points are, look them up in your owner’s manual.”  By defining these terms the text reaches a much larger audience.  The text also uses exemplum, or examples of what was stated in the preceding paragraph in the text using example, but its use of exemplum is outdated.  The text references the 1970s sitcom Happy Days for entertainment purposes, which is hardly a television show of today’s generation, which points to an older anticipated audience and also limits readership.  The following is an example of how exemplum, that is, a “real-life” example of running into the situation of getting a flat tire in the following example used in the text:

Changing a flat tire is not a very pleasant experience. It seems like your car purposely tries to get a flat tire at the least opportune moments. Like when you are rushing home from work to catch your favorite episode of "Happy Days," for instance. You know, the one where Fonzie rides the killer bull while on vacation in Colorado.

The other examples used clearly for entertainment purposes reference a stream of commercials that were popular in the early 2000s narrated by a loud, large-muscled, tall, African American man known as “Mr. T.”   Mr. T yells utterances in these commercials that are hardly understandable, yet the commercials are meant to represent a comical approach to remaining tough in difficult situations.  The examples used in the text use men as their subjects, and Mr. T. is undoubtedly meant to pertain to a male audience.  The message behind Mr. T. as the main character in the commercials he is represented in have an underlying message of “toughness.”  Toughness is a male characteristic, yet, of course, that is not meant to suggest that only males embody toughness.  However, there are feminine and masculine personality traits that exist and toughness is a masculine trait.  

The author also uses parallelism, that is, putting ideas of the same importance into like structures grammatically by breaking up the two major, broad steps of changing a flat tire into two bolded headings. The first of the steps being “jack up the car” and the second being “remove the flat and install the spare.”  This rhetorical device provides additional clarity and removes the potential for abstraction by using distinctio in the paragraphs following each of the major steps.  

            The examples of the rhetorical devices are clear indicators that the text is written, in part, using plain style prose.  The text does not oversimplify the process of changing a flat tire, because even the last paragraph’s closing instructions tell the reader to look for the maximum speed the driver can operate the vehicle with based on the anatomical structure of the spare tire.

While plain style prose is supposed to generate the widest audience based on its very plain use of language, in this text, a large audience is left out.  With that said, while this text is step-by-step instructions for how to change a flat tire and effective instructions for how to do a task is best written in plain prose in order to elicit higher levels of reading ease, this particular text is not solely representative of plain style prose.  Elements of the official style are represented in the text with its use of technical jargon, such as, the use of the technical term “cross-threading.”  Official style prose largely limits audience size because only those with specialized knowledge of the topics within are able to understand it.  For that reason, official style prose is largely marked by low reading-ease and a higher grade-level of writing.  Based on this idea, discussing the context this particular text is found in sets up the foundation for better understanding how the activity systems within the text connect to the context, and most importantly, the text itself. 

Going back to discussing gendered-work or occupational divisions based on gender, the context itself reinforces the concepts the activity systems and prose style reveals about the text and a narrowed audience.  After exploring the site’s surroundings of the actual text or its context, the text appears to be largely directed toward a male audience. This is based on the examples used, that is, Happy Days and Mr. T.  In addition to its use of the official style prose and technical jargon found in the activity systems that make up the text, and other elements such as the pictures located on the instructions for changing a flat tire’s page.  The pictures include only males, and the caption below the pictures reads: “make sure to jack up the car using the proper jack points.”  This is located at the top of the page prior to the beginning of the actual text, which suggests that outside of the title it is one of the first things the viewer sees.  This use of official style prose right away in the texts automatically minimizes the audience to a smaller size because it is written before the actual text itself.  Jargon that loaded suggests an assumed knowledge base of the subject matter.  These concepts suggest connections between activity systems, context, rhetorical devices, and prose used that make up a web.  That web being the text itself, which embodies all of these elements and suggests larger themes.  

-C. Joslin

Official Style Prose & Internet Permanence

             Today, more than ever, we find ourselves in a digital world.  Even if one wanted to escape it, one would find difficulty in doing so as it has become deeply imbedded in our day-to-day lives. Previous eras, prior to the rise of the Internet did not have the same opportunities those growing up in the Information Age do; however, they did have the benefit of much greater privacy.  The Internet, while great for its use as an academic tool, a way to connect socially, among several other beneficial things in reference to its uses, also has one very distinct and almost frightening aspect to it---its permanence.  
When the Information Age began, the idea of Internet permanence was not critically considered by many individuals.  This idea is obvious with the rise of individuals trying to remove unwanted information from, possibly, a previous time in their lives that wasn’t so favorable.  Considering employers take advantage of the Internet as a tool to get a great deal of background on an individual before considering them for hire, the idea of Internet permanence can become frightening because it’s as though individuals are no longer fully living with the right of privacy and any information posted on the Internet is somehow always there.  
In looking for information on Internet permanence written in the official style, I accessed a scholarly research database to find articles on the topic.  The article Publicity, Privacy, and Permanence of Information came up in my search database using the keywords “Internet”, “information”, and “permanence”.  The article was published in AIP Conference Proceedings, which, according to Wikipedia, is a series of scientific journals published by the American Institute of Physics.  To begin, being as this was one of the first articles to pop up using the keywords I did, I argue the title of the article in connection with the article’s context is a little misleading.  It isn’t until you research the journal the article is found in that the context makes sense given its title for a few reasons.  One of those reasons being that the activity systems that make up publicity, privacy, and permanence could be a long a list of phenomena not often linked to quantum physics.  To expand on my argument, consider the activity systems often linked with the words “publicity”.   The activity systems that come instantly to mind are the media and technology.  I argue this based on quantum physics being among the sciences and that the sciences often use specialized jargon based on the subject, while the humanities is more apt to use more mainstream terms like publicity; therefore, the author uses prose appropriately given the quantum physics aspect of these concepts, but the title is misleading in that it uses language heavily discussed, I’d argue more so, in other activity systems than physics.
Although the title is misleading, I argue that the author used the official style correctly, as well as, ethically, given the context of the article.  Especially when considering the content in the article from the author’s perspective.  According to Richard Lanham, the official style of prose came along when “modern science was looking for a special language.” Being as this article is published in a scientific journal, the beginning passages suggest the proper use of the official style of prose.  I argue that the following excerpt taken from one of the beginning passages discussing the basis of quantum physics and permanence is written in the official style based on its slow sentence opening, as well as, its use of complex sentences.  Consider the following excerpt as example:

Though a very novice reader can make sense of what the author is saying, it is written in a manner that doesn’t get straight to the point.  This may be a result, again, of the topic, namely, quantum physics. Further, looking at it from another possible perspective of the author’s point of view, it may be written this way so that the novice reader, potentially an individual just beginning in the field of quantum physics has an easier time understanding the concept.  With that said, I argue that some uses of the official style are correct and even useful given the context in which we’re finding this type of prose in.
In the paragraph to follow, the author uses a jargonistic excerpt continuing to explain quantum physics as it pertains to information:

 Though this is written in the official style prose and for me as the reader is difficult to understand given the specialized language it uses, I would argue that because it is published in a scientific journal by the American Institute of Physics, from the author’s point of view, the language the author uses is ethically sound and correct given the author’s anticipated audience.  Further, it works to establish the author’s credibility on the subject of quantum physics through its use of jargonistic language.
            The following and last excerpt that will be represented in this critique indicates the beginning of a working conclusion for the article:

The beginning paragraph of the excerpt is verbose; however, though this is the case, I argue that the idea within the paragraph is complicated, and thus needs to be verbose to be adequately explained.  The first of the three bullet-points breaking down the author’s main idea in the example above is written in the official style prose because it uses jargonistic language; however, I would argue the last two are written in plain style prose because they get straight to the point.  It appears all the words included need to be there, and that the idea could not be broken down any simpler (it is a complex idea).  With that said, I argue that in order for the official style prose to be used ethically.  In order to justify the author’s credibility on the subject and not confuse the audience, there needs to be places within the piece where main ideas are written in plain style like those in the last two bullet points.  If the author truly knows his or her subject, there should be places within the text where the plain style prose is used.      
Finally, in the paragraphs to follow after the bullet points, the author switches to plain style of prose when discussing information permanence in the context of other activity systems.  In specific, the author uses the activity system of the computer and reflects on many of the themes found in this activity system, that is, the Internet, data storage and recording, to name a few.  More concretely, the author taps into the activity system of technology as a whole, in doing so, going outside the realm of quantum physics as it pertains to information permanence.  With that said, the author presents the reader with objective information about information permanence by looking at the many aspects that go into the subject---not just from the aspect of quantum physics.  
To conclude, much is to be learned from this example of the official style prose.  First, not all verbose writing is needlessly verbose.  At times, complex ideas call for wordy prose in order to be sufficiently explained.  Second, the official style as it is used in the sciences, in this case, quantum physics, defines a moral and ethical reasoning for using this style of prose.  I argue this because it contains jargonistic language by nature and many of the concepts are complex and thus take longer to explain.  It would be unethical to take a complex idea, such as those often found in the sciences, and use plain style prose and leave out aspects of the idea that are needed to fully explain it to the audience.  To continue, in looking at the text’s readability statistics as a tool for further analysis the piece scored a 34.6 on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease, indicating the article, while written in the official style, is very readable.  Finally, with that said, I argue the official style need not be extremely difficult to read in all cases and can be used in an ethical way when presenting specialized ideas to a specialized audience, such as the novice quantum physics student. 
-C. Joslin