When I was first asked to consider the main epigraphs for this course, one quote quickly stood out to me due to its repetitive nature. Dionne Brand’s quote, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” repeats the word “notice” three times in order to emphasize its main message. The repetition of the word “notice” creates a small-scale recursion, or as author Ron Eglash would explain in his book African Fractals, “a sort of feedback loop, with the end result of one stage brought back as the starting point for the next” (Eglash, 8). Through repeating the word “notice,” Brand conveys that human beings are capable of understanding so much, but in order to understand, we must be more aware of our surroundings.
In my first blog post, I began to unpack the importance of awareness as a reader and pointed out a flaw in how I had originally read Alice Walker’s short story, “Everyday Use.” While reading “Everyday Use,” I was quick to judge the character Wangero, even though the story was told from her mother’s perspective. In my blog post, I explained the problem with how I first approached the short story stating, “After thinking more about the story’s perspective, I realized that Wangero may have had a completely different view on culture, but that didn’t make her view invalid.” After considering Brand’s quote and applying it to Walker’s short story, I began to understand the importance of awareness. My first blog post, however, was only the beginning of my heightened awareness as a reader.
As the semester progressed, our class worked a lot with poetry. Over the semester I’ve grown to admire this form of writing, as it can be beautifully simple, yet paradoxically, incredibly complex. Compiled in a packet of Dr. McCoy’s favorite poems, I was reintroduced to Jamaal May’s “The Gun-Joke.” Although I had read this poem the semester prior in another one of Dr. McCoy’s classes centered on author Percival Everett, I found it important to reflect on the poem again, look back and, as Dionne Brand would say, notice more. Within “The Gun Joke,” May discusses the repetition of public shootings in our society. The first lines of May’s poem state, “It’s funny, she says, how many people are shocked by this shooting and the next and the next and the next” (May, 1-2). This poem makes it’s audience aware that people should notice the seriousness of public shootings when they occur. In a blog post from last semester, I explained May’s main ideas writing, “The repetition of these events desensitizes people and their reactions. The more they repeat, the less shocked we are.” Applying themes from this semester as well, May’s poem also contends that the audience should notice how often they notice these tragic events. Similar to how Brand’s quote uses the word “notice,” May creates a small recursion by repeating the word “next” to emphasize the importance of this topic. Looking back to “The Gun-Joke” this semester provided me with a new interpretation and a greater understanding of the poem, as I was willing to notice more and had more texts and course epigraphs to consider the poem in a new light.
Later in the semester, our class was divided into groups to work on collaborative blog posts. While group blog posts always sound like an intimidating feat, combining thoughts and hearing new perspectives allows for the synthesis of so many unique ideas. The group I was in decided to close read a few poems we had come across in the semester as part of the post. The poem, “generations” by Lucille Clifton caught our attention and seemingly called on readers of the poem. As a group, we noticed this call.
In Clifton’s poem “generations,” she calls on her audience to be more environmentally aware. In the first line of the poem, Clifton writes, “people who are going to be / in a few years / bottoms of trees / bear a responsibility to something / besides people” (Clifton, 1-5). Clifton contends that the new generation will “bear a responsibility” to help the world. As an active reader, it is obvious that Clifton is speaking directly to her audience, warning us of our future duties. However, had I not noticed that she was speaking to me as a reader, one of the main messages of the poem may have been missed. After reading “generations,” I truly began to understand what Brand meant on a higher level. It is so important for readers to be aware, because it’s when we notice our power as a reader that we genuinely notice the deeper messages embedded in the text.
Later in the semester, our class engaged in Suzan-Lori Parks’ play, “Imperceptible Mutabilities.” Like Clifton’s poem, Parks’ play quickly made me aware of my position as a reader. Within the play, there is a large cycle, or rather, recursive pattern in play. Almost every character seems to be watching another character, creating a cycle. In the play, the character Verona watches a T.V. show titled Wild Kingdom in which the host, Marlin Perkins, watches wild animals and comments on them. Verona is watched by the other girls in her family, Chona and Mona. Her entire family is watched by The Naturalist, who later inserts themself into Verona, Chona, and Mona’s lives and is referred to as Dr. Lutzky. The Naturalist watches how they interact, unaware of a bug and states, “Thus behave our subjects naturally. Thus, behave our subjects when they believe we cannot see them when they believe us far far away when they believe our backs have turned” (Parks, 29). Upon reading this at first, I felt incredibly weird and uncomfortable. I thought to myself that no one should be watched this intently without knowing and having consent. Later in the play, Dr. Lutzky speaks to Verona and says, “You watch Wild Kingdom. I watch Wild Kingdom too” (Parks, 32). Here, Parks hints at this layering of spying within the play. While Verona watches the T.V. show Wild Kingdom, Dr. Lutzky watches this family in their natural setting. The craziest fact of it all, however, is the fact that we, as readers or viewers of the play, are the final layer of this cycle. As readers and viewers, we are all-knowing. Parks creatively reminds us that as an audience, we are watching someone else’s story. Readers and viewers have power. Parks, just like Brand, calls on her audience to notice our position as readers.
Throughout the entire semester, Brand’s quote, “My job is to notice and to notice that you can notice,” continuously popped into my mind with the help of other readings and major course concepts. At first, I understood the quote, but I understood it minimally. I applied Brand’s ideas to ways in which I originally interpreted readings and noticed that I could get more out of them if I reconsidered them in new lights. However, as time went on, the quote grew in importance for me. I applied the quote to what I was reading rather than how I read the work. In doing so, I found a deeper meaning. The ability to read makes a person powerful, but an actively aware and attentive reader makes a person even more powerful. Brand’s seemingly simple reminder to notice led me to better understanding the complexities of texts from this class and even themes from the outside world.
As always, a sentence can be interpreted in a countless number of ways. Therefore, the way in which I interpret Dionne Brand’s words is subjective and may differ depending on the person. After reading the works of literature prescribed for this course, Brand’s quote resonates with me as a reminder of my power as a reader. So, when I go to pick up a book to read this summer, I know that I’ll be looking back to this course, but simultaneously, I’ll be noticing more as a reader.