Author: Jessica Schneider

Jessica is a novelist and poet. Visit her Amazon Book page for a glimpse into what she's shared. Her unreleased works include several trilogies and poetic novels on religious themes. She is currently working on a poetry collection on French painters. She also runs a YouTube channel on the arts.
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A stylized portrait of Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr.

Early Glimmer: The Young Writer’s Potential As Seen In Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr.

Creative talent is not always easy to assess. At least not immediately. Rather, it is something more nuanced—something that requires not just practice but also understanding. (And this applies to both the creator as well as the percipient.) ‘Great art demands great audiences,’ Whitman said. And when attempting to assess talent, one must take into account the age of the creative individual.

‘Wait—but you have always said that what matters is what is on the page and that the artist is irrelevant! And here you are making excuses! A hypocrite you are!’ Hold tight, jerk-face reader. While this is true—that all that does matter is what is on the page, the age of the individual must be taken into account in order to render some sort of judgment with regards to talent. That is, one’s mere creative potential. As example, if a teenager writes a poem, it will invariably be filled with some sort of cliché. Not always, mind you, but one would be hard pressed to uncover an exception.

When young people have sent me their writing, I often focus on the phrasing—is there the occasioned good turn of phrase in midst the cliché? Is the young writer attempting something interesting? Or is this just another generic ‘I hate the world because my parents made me clean my room’ poem/story? Or another bad rip-off of Plath? Does this person seem to have a rawness within that only needs the nurture of dedication and study? Or are these clichéd works written by someone in their adult years still lauding the lazy, inarticulate Bukowski? […]

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Shot from Otto Preminger's "Anatomy of a Murder"

The Assertion of Character in Otto Preminger’s “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959)

Do we ever really know anyone? Are we defined by our actions, or more so the perceptions of our actions? How exactly do we assert one’s character when our basis is only an impression? So begins the dissection of Otto Preminger’s 1959 classic Anatomy of a Murder.

I love when I uncover a classic film I’ve not seen. As a Criterion Channel subscriber, this happens only on occasion given their copious selection. Likewise, I have made an effort to see all films with James Stewart (who won me over in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life), as well as George C. Scott (Patton, Dr. Strangelove) and Ben Gazzara (The Killing of a Chinese Bookie). With this cast, and Otto Preminger directing, I was prepared for excellence.

The film begins with Stewart as Paul Biegler, a small town semi-retired lawyer who spends his evenings playing piano while studying law books over a glass of bourbon. He appears to enjoy his bachelor life. Soon, he is approached by Laura Manion (Lee Remick) in her attempt to land him as her husband’s (Lt. Frederick Manion, played by Ben Gazzara) lawyer, who is in jail for the murder of Barney Quill—a man she claims raped her. We learn early that Lt. Manion has a propensity for jealousy, and that Laura is an overwhelming flirt. Upon meeting with Biegler (Stewart), despite her black eye that she covers with sunglasses, she immediately begins eying him, ‘Call me Laura,’ she says. ‘I see the way you look at me. Don’t you like the way I dress?’ she asks, while curled up on his couch during their meeting. She appears to be more interested in flirting than in clearing her husband’s murder allegation. […]

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A still shot from Andrei Tarkovsky's "Mirror" (Zerkalo) (1975)

Contained In Captivity: On Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Mirror” (Zerkalo)

I open this essay unsure how to approach it—I’ve seen Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film Mirror about a dozen times, and each viewing is different. Each is a separate experience and yields something new. I find myself mentally revisiting certain scenes over others, but then in rewatching, my mind will rearrange into whatever I am feeling at the time. Perhaps, then, this is the best way to interpret this memorable film about memory, where it captures just how the mind drifts between past and present and often interchanges people’s faces with that of one’s dream. Reality and dream—is there a difference? To Tarkovsky, they are one and the same, as the director admitted that he often utilized his own dreams as an inspirational source for his films. And his films really are the closest one could get into being inside another’s dream. Decades pass in moments and then the past returns and then some occurrence in present day alters the viewers—we come to remember another’s memory and so on.

The film begins with a television screen—this gateway into fantasy—where the viewer, presumably the speaker (named Alexei), is witnessing on film a young man with a stutter—he is undergoing treatment at the hand of a nurse, and the film, which involves so much of the mind, begins with the body. ‘Your hands are tense,’ she says. ‘Lean back,’ she instructs, continually coaching his physical form. Then, in some hypnotic attempt, the young man is cured of his stutter, wherein we are then transported to another form of ‘hypnosis’— that is, of Andrei Tarkovsky’s dream. All this occurs before the title credits roll.

Margarita Terekhova is the actress who plays both Alexei’s mother as well as his ex-wife, Natalia. ‘I always thought you resembled my mother,’ he tells her. ‘When I imagine my mother, she always has your face.’ This is an insightful move on Tarkovsky’s part, as how often have we thought of someone only to imbue another’s face from memory onto them? That the scenes move back and forth between Alexei as a boy in 1935 pre-war to that of present day, only adds to this element of passage. Life and time are interchangeable. Our minds are just the onlookers, the photographers left to interpret what we’ve witnessed. […]

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Three images of Carl Sandburg, including a bust of the poet.

The Grit and Dirt of Carl Sandburg (Four Poems Analyzed)

The first time I read Carl Sandburg I was in high school wherein the words, ‘Hog Butcher for the world,’ composed the first line of text, which is of course the first line to his famous poem “Chicago”. I recall not knowing what to make of the poem upon my teenaged read, as I always preferred to reexamine poetry multiple times. But I always remembered it. The poem puts me in mind of Upton Sinclair’s well-known novel The Jungle, which is also set in Chicago, and both Sandburg and Sinclair share a love for exposing the political underbelly of culture. It has been argued that Sandburg is a Neglected Poet in that, while his reputation is not obscure, it perhaps should be grander than it is.

At his best, Carl Sandburg is an excellent poet that does not steer away from the grit and dirt of life—the life of the struggling poor, or just his love of city and nature. At his worst, he can at times veer into preaching cliché (however minimally) and his lesser poems don’t hold the heft as those of someone like Robinson Jeffers or Wallace Stevens. But while Jeffers and Stevens are more philosophical, Sandburg is more social. […]

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A sculpture with a quote from Gwendolyn Brooks

Choosing Wisely: A Case For Gwendolyn Brooks (4 Poems)

Poetry is a fascinating art because there are so many ways to succeed (and likewise fail). As example, a Gwendolyn Brooks poem succeeds differently from that of a Yeats, Rilke or Crane. She manages to capture the ‘ordinary’ and insert it into a form or rhyme most memorable. She somewhat resembles Hazel Hall in this way. While very different poets in their own right, both Brooks and Hall tackle the average and everyday in such a way that is insightful and memorable. They both contain phrasings that ‘hook’ readers, leaving us longing for more. Kurt Vonnegut, with his spare, poetic writing of Saab dealers and Holiday Inns within Midland, Ohio—the dullest city imaginable—might be the prose equivalent.

I don’t recall the first time I read Gwendolyn Brooks, but I can say that there isn’t an instance when I didn’t know her work. (I believe I read ‘We Real Cool’ for the first time in high school.) The first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize (back when they meant something and went to writers of quality), she has since cemented herself as an important writer within American Letters. Her verse is clever and musical—wherein her poems possess great synergy. Seemingly plainspoken, yet intricate and intelligent, her verse tugs with her deft pull of words. A master of sonnets and couplets, her rhymes are natural and internal—they move with the reader.

Now, onto the poems. […]

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Jeanne in handcuffs from Robert Bresson's "The Trial of Joan of Arc"

Crossed Examination: On Robert Bresson’s “The Trial of Joan of Arc” (1962)

Few historical figures have occupied as many works as that of Jeanne d’Arc. For someone having only lived 19 years, her death in 1431 is considered both iconic and cruel—that this young, illiterate peasant girl from a small French town could somehow be summoned by angelic voices to lead the French Army in the One Hundred Years War. Even as I write this, the events within such a deeply misogynistic society seem implausible—the story of legends.

And yet, there really was a Jeanne d’Arc and the events as we’ve been told really did happen. Perhaps this is why so many have attempted to relay her tale—each imbuing themselves into whatever image one imagines. Just as there are no known images of her—no paintings, no pictures—we are faced with the dilemma of constructing our own idea of Jeanne. Just who was she?

Robert Bresson admitted in a 1962 interview with Page Cinema that he’d always been drawn to do a film about her. “An attempt to make her present,” he said. “We are kidding ourselves if we see Jeanne as the little peasant girl of the legends. I think she was very elegant. Witnesses, people around at that time said this. I see her as a modern young girl,” he added. […]

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A stylized photo of Hazel Hall

Curtains On the Wall: The Poetry of Hazel Hall

“All art is political.” Oh, yawn. Not again with the politics. Why are people occasioned to state this? Would it be any different to claim that all art is religious? That where one sees politics another sees Jesus? What would be the difference? Allow me to explain. Not about politics or religion, as that is a different essay. But rather, I immediately was reminded of Hazel Hall, a poet who has been largely overlooked, but my hope is that future readership will alter this.

Hall was not a political poet. (Nor was she particularly religious for that matter.) In fact, her poems are, on surface, easy to overlook. Many involve her love of stitching or the sound of footfalls, or even watching others walk. She is, in fact, anti-political. Why? Because she remains outside the regular clamor and din of political chatter. Spending much her life within a wheelchair, Hazel Hall is the utmost poet of observation. She sat and looked and reflected, and then wrote about it later. Who knew her? Who looked up into that window that housed this not so silent woman? Many compare her to Emily Dickinson, and there are indeed some similarities. Both engaged in reclusive lifestyles. Both wrote in a somewhat rhyming form (which you will see later), and neither longed to engage much past their private windows. Hall perhaps had more opportunity to engage others, but with so little known of her, readers can’t be sure. […]