Ocean Vuong, “Seventh Circle of Earth” (2016)

“I wrote ‘Seventh Circle of Earth’ [from Vuong’s 2016 collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds] shortly after hearing the news of two gay men being murdered by immolation in Dallas, TX. I originally wrote the poem in tercets, echoing Dante’s terza rima format. In the Inferno, the stanzas work as a network of rooms the speaker moves through as he descends through the circles of hell. In ‘Seventh Circle of Earth,’ however, this grouping felt off, even fraudulent, to me. A persona poem at its core, it takes on the voice of one of the men speaking to his partner. And in the midst of that fraught position, a poem in tercets, or, in other words, a ‘traditional’ poem, felt like a diluted, forced recasting of a horrific event. I ultimately abandoned the poem.

“It was not until three years later, while reading a critical work on violence and scholarship, did I see, more clearly, the footnotes on the bottom of the page. I found myself slipping right to the notes as I progressed, reading them first. They possessed, in that reading, an urgency that began to stitch itself into a fabric of broken utterances fused together by parataxis. It was, in a way, found poetry. That gave me the idea to re-work ‘Seventh Circle of Earth’ into a piece written entirely in the footnote. This time, the vast and utter emptiness one confronts on the page felt more faithful to the violent erasure of the two murdered men. It felt right to begin the poem with its own vanishing.” [. . .]  — Ocean Vuong on “Seventh Circle of Earth” for Poetry School

Read the rest of Vuong’s comments and the poem at poetryschool.com.

Contributed by Su Ertekin-Taner (The Bolles School ’22)

“The Seven Circles of Dishwashing Hell”

“I don’t want to be dramatic or anything, but sometimes, even the most mundane of chores becomes epic to me. Dante Alighieri may have been writing about Hell in his Inferno, but it seems just like dishwashing to me.

Every night after dinner, it goes something like this:

Limbo – Some people think dinner is over. Some people just finally sat down to eat 30 seconds ago. No one is actively clearing the table, but some dishes are in the sink.

[. . .]

Gluttony – So I ate the brownies and ice cream. And it became like the mud Virgil (Dante’s guide in the underworld, you’ll recall) fed to the three mouths of Cerberus.

[. . .]

Violence – A river of blood (how my hands feel right now) is where Dante finds those who are violent to their neighbor. Gnarled thorny trees (how my hands feel) are those who are violent to themselves. The great plain of burning sand (does anyone have any Bag Balm? I think the skin on my hands needs revitalizing!) is what awaits those who are violent toward God.

[. . .]

The absolute center of hell – Like Lucifer, half submerged in the ice lake, one last thing remains in the sink: the soggy, stubborn end of an onion, carelessly tossed in the there and causing a slow drain. I pluck it out and head literally to the TV room, but metaphorically into the River of Lethe, or forgetfulness. Otherwise, why would I do this again tomorrow night?”    –Beth McConnell, A Madison Mom, September 10, 2016

The 9 Layers of Thanksgiving Hell

–Rae, Peas and Cougars, November 22, 2011

“The Hellish Descent of the Central African Republic”

“The death records of the Bangui morgue in the Central African Republic read like a chapter out of Dante’s Inferno: page after page of people killed by machetes, torture, lynchings, shootings, explosions and burning. The overwhelming stench makes it impossible to stay there for long. On really bad days only the number of dead is recorded – not their names nor the causes of death – before the bodies are buried in mass graves

“The morgue is a terrible symbol of the toll of communal violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), which has raged for months and claimed tens of thousands of lives, displacing even more. Recently, the Séléka, a predominantly Muslim group of fighters that seized Bangui, the capital, and toppled the CAR’s government in early 2013, have lost some ground – although they continue to terrorise wherever possible. In response Christian forces known as anti-balaka (balaka means ‘machete’ in Sango, the local language) have stepped up attacks against Muslim civilians in places where the Séléka no longer holds the sway it did a few months ago. ” [. . .]    –Peter Bouckaert, The Telegraph, February 19, 2014.

Thinking Against Violence

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Images projected in Lyon, France, as tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks. Credit Robert Pratta/Reuters

This is an interview with Brad Evans, a senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Bristol in England. He is the founder and director of the Histories of Violence project, a global research initiative on the meaning of mass violence in the 21st century.

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[…] “But let’s consider for a moment what the thinker [the sculpture by Rodin] is actually contemplating. Sat alone on his plinth, the thinker could in fact be thinking about anything in particular. We just hope it is something serious. Such ambiguity was not however as Rodin intended. In the original 1880 sculpture, the thinker actually appears kneeling before the Gates of Hell. We might read this as significant for a whole number of reasons. First, it is the “scene of violence,” which gives specific context to Rodin’s thinker. Thought begins for the thinker in the presence of the raw realities of violence and suffering. The thinker in fact is being forced to suffer into truth.

“Second, there is an interesting tension in terms of the thinker’s relationship to violence. Sat before the gates, the thinker appears to be turning away from the intolerable scene behind. This we could argue is a tendency unfortunately all too common when thinking about violence today. Turning away into abstraction or some scientifically neutralizing position of “objectivity.” And yet, according to one purposeful reading, the figure in this commission is actually Dante, who is contemplating the circles of hell as narrated in The Divine Comedy. This is significant. Rather than looking away, might it be that the figure is now actually staring directing into the abyss below? Hence raising the fundamental ethical question of what it means to be forced witness to violence?” […]   –Natasha Lennard and Brad Evans, The New York Times, December 16, 2015

Google+ and McSweeney

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Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, August 1, 2011

Contributed by Steve Bartus (Bowdoin, ’08)

Dante at the Supreme Court

dante-at-the-supreme-court“From Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in today’s case involving violent video games, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn.: California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none.  Certainly the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore. . . In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface . . . Justice Alito accuses us of pronouncing that playing violent video games “is not different in ‘kind'” from reading violent literature.  Well of course it is different in kind, but not in a way that causes the provision and viewing of violent video games, unlike the provision and reading of books, not to be expressive activity and hence not to enjoy First Amendment protection.  Reading Dante is unquestionably more cultured and intellectually edifying than playing Mortal Kombat.  But these cultural and intellectual differences are not constitutional ones.  Crudely violent video games, tawdry TV shows, and cheap novels and magazines are no less forms of speech than The Divine Comedy, and restrictions upon them must survive strict scrutiny[.]” […]    –Marc DeGirolami, Mirror of Justice, June 27, 2011

Contributed by Patrick Molloy