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October 06, 2011 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2011-10-06

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, October 6, 2011 - 3B

A toast to public speakers

The lyrical
labor ofpoets

advises its members
in the art of speech
Daily Arts Writer
Shakes. Sweats. Stutters,
"ums" and "likes" - for many,
this is what happens when they
give a speech in front of a large
But there's a club on campus
that equips its members with
the skills and tips to soothe the
shakes, dry the sweats, smooth
out the stutters and remove the
filler words.
The Ross School of Business
Toastmasters, a local chapter of
Toastmasters International, is a
non-profit organization focused
on the art of public speaking.
Pharmacy student Rachel Rarus
said the group is not only com-
mitted to advancing its mem-
bers' rhetoric abilities, but it also
helps them as people to further
develop their leadership skills.
"A lot of people who come up
to the room are very nervous and
very scared, but what we provide
'them is very positive, encourag-
ing feedback," she said. "We're
not a hostile environment."
Members of Toastmasters
stress how important speech-
giving is in contemporary soci-
ety. It's a useful art for debate
clubs, leadership positions and
jobs that require presentations.
A cinematic example of the
importance of speechmaking
can be found in this year's Oscar
winner "The King's Speech." In
the film, King George VI of Eng-
land overcomes a speech imped-
iment to raise the morale of a
country on the brink of World
War II.
But Daphne Wey, Business

Toastmasters president Daphne Wey and Table Topics Master Ben Hojnacki speak at last week's Toastmasters meeting.

graduate student and Toastmas-
ters president, said though the
group does provide a sheltered
positive environment for its
members to feel comfortable in
terms of experimenting, it's not
meant to be therapy the way the
"The King's Speech" is.
"We're less proactive in push-
ing members and setting a pace
for them on how quickly (they
advance)," she said. "We're
always there for the members,
but in terms of when they want
to give a speech, it's completely
up to the member themselves. So
in that sense, we are more pas-
Each speech, generally
between five and eight minutes
long, is subject to a series of con-
structive criticisms to help the
members improve. Though the
topics are open-ended, each one
has a different focus or theme

for improvement.
"I've been in Toastmasters
for over eight years now," said
Business graduate student and
Toastmasters vice president of
education Luis Aguilar. "The
very first time I stood up to
speak, I was sweating. I was
shaking, my voice was shaky
and you could hear my nervous-
ness. I could feel that as time
progressed, those things would
start to go. I'd first stop sweat-
ing, then I'd stop trembling and
at some point, my voice leveled."
The group's meetings are
structured with short introduc-
tory talks given by the president
and other key members of the
group. A rotating toastmaster
introduces the day's speak-
ers. Other members include the
timer, who warns the speaker
when his or her time is running
out, and the grammarian, who

not only watches for good use of
language but also the use of filler
words such as "like" and "um."
The toastmaster will then
invite the prepared speakers
to the front. After the speeches
are made, then the "table topics"
Rarus said these table topics
are the "heart and soul" of the
group and allow all the members
to get involved. A question or
picture is posted, and members
are invited to come to the front
of the room and speak sponta-
neously about it for one to two
After this portion is over, the
meeting moves on to the evalu-
ation portion, during which the
prepared speakers are praised
on their successes and given tips
to improve their speech delivery
for the next time.

f you meet as many poets as
I do, you get used to hear-
ing talk about "my work"
- how the revisions are going,
whether it's getting published
or ignored,
if maybe
you'd want to
read my new
It's not
exactly the
"work" most
people have DAVID
in mind, but LUCAS
it's the work
so many
people are "out of" in the cur-
rent economy.
If you meet as many non-
poets as I do, you also get used to
the assumption that poets don't
do that kind of "real work." You
can mention that Wallace Ste-
vens was an insurance executive
and William Carlos Williams
a doctor, but that mention gets
met with rolling eyes and snap-
ping fingers. Your exceptions
prove their rule.
Fair enough. So involved are
poets in intellectual and even
spiritual work that it becomes
difficult to imagine them work-
ing physically. But some of this
country's greatest poetry is the
poetry of just those labors.
Walt Whitman presented
himself in the unbuttoned work
clothes of a laborer on the fron-
tispiece of his self-published
"Leaves of Grass" (1855). Hav-
ing worked as asprinter's devil,
Whitman recognized the power
of the printed image in project-
ing a poetic image. He promot-
ed himself as "an American, one
of the roughs," and his "Song
of Myself" contains the sights
and sounds, jargon and slang
of working America: "The pure
contralto sings in the organ
loft," he writes. "The carpenter
dresses his plank, the tongue of
his foreplane / whistles its wild
ascending lisp."
Whitman's work represents
a beginning in our poetic tra-
dition. Other poets continue
that tradition at our current
moment. As John Casteen
worked on his poetry, he also
designed and crafted furniture
for over a decade. His poems
often meditate on the potential-
ly tenuous connections between
artistry and craftsmanship. In
Casteen's poems, physical work
is not only an opportunity for
rich description, but also for
In "How to Dig a Grave,"
Casteen instructs: "You start /
with the spade, bearing above
it and down to cut, / and stand
with your arch bold over the
rolled top edge." His physical
work merges with the emo-
tional work of mourning; the
grave proves to be intended for
a beloved "dog made short work
of by another's errand." And in
describingthe grave itself, "the
hole will do its dark work with-
out regard ... You will be made
of work by the end," the words
"work" and "end" resound.
These are examples of a cer-
tain kind of labor, but neither
speaks to the most difficult
work of all: The process we
think of both as a miracle and,
tellingly, as "labor."

In "Bite Me," a poem about
the birth of her daughter, Beth
Ann Fennelly writes that she
"pushed so hard blood vessels
burst / in my neck and in my
chest ... / so hard that for weeks
to come /the whites of my eyes
were red with blood, / my face a
boxer's, swollen and bruised..."
Too often we use the cliche
"blood, sweat, and tears" in
speaking of acts that involve
none of the three. In Fennelly's
poem, the clich6 finds genuine
purchase; we are reminded that
those who produce miracles
must also suffer like saints.
Fennelly's words reveal the
mother's labor as terrifying,
excruciating, and miraculous
Though Fennelly's poem
presents the work of love at its
most dramatic, the mundane
too offers itself to poetry. In
"Those Winter Sundays," Mich-
igan alumnus Robert Hayden
writes, "Sundays too my father
got up early." The sly addition
of the word "too" here tells us
plenty of this father's work. He
"put his clothes on in the blue-
black cold, / then with cracked
hands that ached / from labor
in the weekday weather made /
banked fires blaze. / No one ever
thanked him."
Will work
for poems.
Er, on poems.
Er, in poems.
The sounds of the poem,
cracking consonants and
internal rhymes, mirror the
backbreaking, heartbreaking
labor it depicts. And though the
house was cold with "chronic
angers" too, Hayden's speaker
remembers and reproaches
himself: "What did I know, what
did I know / of love's austere
and lonely offices?" We tend to
hear the word "office" as a place
where we do work, but here, it
sounds its old, Latinate meaning:
a matter of duty. Work is work,
whatever kind it is, because it
mustbe done.
Or soI think. Every time I
feel confident writing the word
"work" here, I return to Detroit
native Philip Levine's "What
Work Is," which tells not only of
physical work as the ostensible
subject of the poem, but also
of the love "flooding you for
your brother," who is at home
"sleep(ing) off a miserable night
shift / at Cadillac so he can get
up / before noon to study his
German." It also mentions the
work of saying "I love you" to a
brother, or to anyone, something
we do too rarely "not because
you're too young or too dumb,
/ not because you're jealous or
even mean," but "just because
you don't know what work is."
It wasn't what I thought it
was after all, and it took a poet
to show me.
Lucas wants a word to write
a poem around. If you like it, pay
him at dwucas@umih.edu.

.'Middlemarch' beyond female fluff

ManagingArts Editor
When asked to name 19th-cen-
tury female writers, the one most
likely to come to mind is Jane
Austen, whose detached wit and
social commentaryhave made her
a fixture of high school English
courses. Sensitivity and passion
hidden under her lesser-known
prose, George Eliot (pen name of
Mary Anne Evans) is treated more
like Jane Austen's less attractive
and more introverted sister, albeit
44 years younger.
Eliot's a bit harder to get into
and her most famous novel,
"Middlemarch," has more
slow-blooming pithiness than
quick-wittedness. Compared to
Austen and her rampant popu-
larity, Eliot's the writer who
none of the cool kids liked but
was totally "in" with the geeks at
lunchtime for her deeper humor
and darker psyche.
A hefty read, "Middlemarch"
is really two stories in one - the
tale of Dorothea Brooke, a "later-
born (Saint) Theresa" trying to
find her do-gooder way in the
world, and a portrait of an Eng-
lish town struggling with 19th-
century modernity. Maybe at

times the two sub-stories' meld-
ing is less-than-seamless, and we
long for Austen's effortless flow,
but "Middlemarch" has a certain
relatability - a humanness -
that other writers of Eliot's time
can only idly grasp at. It's a novel
that, despite its sometimes stilt-
ed language, meshes with the
zeitgeist of today as well if not
better than the late 1800s when
it was published.
The people of "Middlemarch"
are instantly recognizable, not as
character tropes but as anyone's
friends and family. There's Fred
Vincy, the university-grad drift-
er whose only certainty is his
love for a childhood sweetheart.
There's Tertius Lydgate, the ide-
alistic, ambitious young doctor
and his wife Rosamond, whose
1800s me-generation entitlement
foils his plans and all hope for a
happy marriage. And of course
there's Dorothea Brooke, at the
novel's start a naive 18-year-old
who makes a very bad decision
and is forever changed by its con-
These people are fully-
fledged, their characteristics
derived from basic human wonts,
and they could just as easily exist
in a 21st-century college town as

in the English village Middle- what might have been.
march in the rollicking 1830s. The ultimate boundedness
What hits even harder at the suggested by "Middlemarch"
modern sensibilities of "Mid- - particularly its epilogue - is
dlemarch" is its unsettled end- closer to "April is the cruelest
ing, which ties together the plot month" than "It is a truth uni-
threads but leaves their ends versally acknowledged that a
frayed. Few characters emerge single man in possession of a
with a succinct "happily ever good fortune must be in want of a
after" - Eliot instead grapples wife." This is not to suggest that
with a more real "content most of "Middlemarch" even nears the
the time" mentality. modernist structure of one later
Eliot, but it's certainly a depar-
ture from what came before.
George Eliot Granted, Mary Anne Evans
herself was rather ahead of her
was otind ed, time. The writer lived with a
was not, indeed, married man for more than 20
a man. years, then after his death mar-'
ried a man 20 years younger
than herself. She wrote deeper
and darker than her female
Relationships in "Middle- authorial predecessors - one of
march" can dull and fade. In the reasons why even though it
the epilogue, even protagonist was acceptable at that time for
Dorothea is left "feeling that women to write, she took on a
there was always something bet- male pseudonym.
ter which she might have done, It's easy to push off anything
if she had only been better and written before 1900 that's not an
known better." Marriage, the English class staple as too old or
end goal for any self-respecting inaccessible for our generation to
female Austen character, doesn't really "get." But the realism and
quite do it in "Middlemarch" - relatability of "Middlemarch"
Dorothea's personal happiness is allow it to apply just as much to
always tempered by an inkling of 2011 as to 1874.


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