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Seeing the Trayvon Martin saga through a Bonaventure alum’s eyes

By Samantha Berkhead

 

 

Throughout the last few months, the Trayvon Martin case has ballooned from a quiet story of a shooting in suburban Florida to a national media controversy.

By the time editors at The New York Times asked Dan Barry, ‘80, and Serge F. Kovaleski, Campbell Robertson and Lizette Alvarez to cover the case, the story of the 17-year-old Martin’s death by the hand of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman had become common knowledge — a household subject.

Somewhere underneath the media’s love affair with Martin’s hoodie and the seemingly never-ending debates about the role of racial differences in the event lied a story, albeit a controversial one.

Up until that point, Barry had been primarily known for his New York Times column, “This Land,” which comprises of anecdotal articles observing the vast diversity of human life throughout the United States. It was a far cry from what he had been known for at St. Bonaventure during the late 1970s. Barry started his own magazine, The Convex, which dealt with investigative reporting on-campus.

“I think I was kind of a journalistic smart-aleck imbued with the power of the word and the platform of the college magazine,” he said of his collegiate career. “I was kind of a big, goofy sophomoric kid who could get stuff published being the wise guy.”

For the Trayvon Martin story, Barry and his coworkers had to take a much more sober approach than what he had been used to.

“The story appeared a full month or so after the shooting,” he said. “First of all, most of the media were slow to understand what had happened. Then, when we did our story, I think the goal was to take a deep breath, take time and try and figure out what had happened as best as we could determine, and who these people are in this tragedy that played out in this wet grass down in Sanford and tell that story.”

Add that task to the deadline looming over the reporters’ heads, and they had a daunting challenge.

“For me, every story is a challenge,” he said. “I try to do my best with it, given the situation. That takes time. We had a lot of material to cover in the story with not a lot of time.”

With the time they did have, the four journalists voyaged to Sanford, Fla. and searched for threads of the truth. They spoke to Martin’s and Zimmerman’s families, friends, schoolmates and others who had known the two in order to convey the basic humanity within each of them.

Upon arriving in Sanford, Barry discovered a city carrying on with life as usual, yet at the same time tarnished with the deep-seated mourning that came from losing one of its own.

“Depending on where you were, you could have been in Orchard Park, you could have been in Rochester, you could have been anywhere,” he said. “It was just calm and life was continuing. Then there were other times, specifically in downtown Sanford, where there was a rally being held and there were hundreds and hundreds of people coming together to protest how the case had been handled by the police. When you’re in downtown Sanford and one of those rallies is taking place, the atmosphere is emotional. There is anger and sorrow and a lot of emotion on the street.”

After investigating, discrepancies and inconsistencies appeared within the narrative that challenged the idea of telling the story start to finish.

“There are critical moments in the narrative, and I think the most critical moment is when George Zimmerman stepped out of his truck,” Barry said. “He was a neighborhood watch coordinator and he acted on this suspicion, whether it warranted or not. Once he stepped out of the truck, I think things changed. There’s no narrative we can hear from Trayvon Martin, because he’s dead. One could argue that he went beyond his responsibilities or purpose once he stepped out of the car.”

As for the case itself, Barry said he remains uncertain as to the fate of Zimmerman or of Martin’s memory. However, he said he hopes the work he did will help convey the truth to the American people.

“I don’t know what will happen,” Barry said. “I’m as uncertain about what’s going to happen in that case as anybody. I think that the case itself resonates around the country for a couple of reasons. It highlights, yet again, the issue of race. It’s not a resolved issue in the United States of America in 2012. The issue of gun control remains of-the-moment. There are still things that need to be worked through as a country.”

To read Dan Barry’s reporting on the Trayvon Martin case, visit nytimes.com.

berkhesj10@bonaventure.edu

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Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow

By Samantha Berkhead

 
As the first nips of frost that freeze your eyelashes and cause the grass to crunch beneath your boots spread through the air last month, Kate Bush released one of her best, most starkly beautiful records — the aptly named 50 Words For Snow.

Hailing from Great Britain, Bush has been one of the most influential artists of the past three decades. From Tori Amos to Florence Welch, echoes of her canon can be heard all over today’s sonic palette.

Over the metronomic, atmospheric sounds of “Snowflake,” the album’s opener, Bush coos “I was born in a cloud … Now I am falling.” While she sings in the character of the snowflake here, there’s no reason to say her words don’t reflect the fallen, shattered world oft found in the human experience. She sets the tone for the rest of the album at once with this track, a stroke of brilliance from a veteran.

On “Misty,” a 13-minute wisp of a song that cuts deep with its ethereal melody and chilling lyrics, Bush personifies a snowman as a lover gone cold. When Bush warbles “He is dissolving, dissolving before me and dawn will come soon. / What kind of spirit is this? / Our one and only tryst,” it feels as though she’s confiding about her broken relationship to you alone. Yet at the same time, a part of Bush remains elegantly reserved in the song, never letting you too far in.

Despite the album’s desolate, wintry expanse, Bush deftly manages to create an intimate atmosphere. Her lyrics are at once distant and immediate, aloof and claustrophobic. This stunning dichotomy, combined with 50 Words For Snow’s poignant, cathartic instrumentation, demonstrate nothing more than Kate Bush’s pure genius.

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Bring poetry back

Two hundred years ago, poetry dominated western society as the premier art form. People like William Wordsworth and Lord Byron had a devoted readership of millions during and after their lifetimes. Words made sense of the surrounding world and its beauty as well as the often-elusive human soul.

Yet today, poetry occupies the outermost circles of our waning cultural focus.

The evidence lies at your fingertips. Do a comparative search between Kim Kardashian and William Wordsworth on Google Trends. You’ll see Kardashian’s graph gradually rise over time like an economist’s fantasy. Wordsworth’s, however, remains a flat line hugging the lowest part of the y-axis.

No “bright young things” in today’s world of poetry have captivated a mass audience. We think of poetry as a dry, snobby way to whine about our feelings; inaccessible words reserved for dust-covered academic types.

Somewhere along the way, people lost their way. The bliss and illumination that can come from reading a poem became obscured by flashing lights and big movie screens.

The trend began with the advent of the consumer culture. Sometime after the Industrial Revolution, a middle class was born—and this middle class really liked having things. Owning the latest technologies and amenities, once a luxury, became an addiction for many as the twentieth century progressed. Mile-long lines of people sleep overnight on stores’ sidewalks in hopes to acquire one of the first copies of a video game or a brand-new television. And the only way to have nice, new things is to have money.

Writing poetry won’t really earn anyone a comfortable living. Wouldn’t you feel fine spending every day in an office cubicle if it meant you could live the suburban dream?

American society measures the worth of others by the extent of their worldly possessions, not by the content of their souls. In poetry, the soul is everything. The loss of such an artistic rendering of the soul can prove fatal for our own.

Yet poetry’s downfall may not have been due to strictly economic factors. Motion pictures rose in prominence during the first half of the 1900s. Not only a visual representation of plotlines, movies also require little to no effort to comprehend. A person burns fewer calories watching a movie than he or she does while sleeping. Not many activities can boast that feat.

Unless it’s a dense, art-house movie meant to be viewed several times, everything is in plain view with film. It’s easy to see how easily poetry, often full of elusive and obscured meanings beneath distilled words, faded away in comparison to something that often takes little effort to enjoy.

Ultimately, poetry’s return to a more accepted, revered place in the mass consciousness will take decades if not centuries. A fundamental, not structural change, must occur—for poetry to come back, people must want it to come back. The common psyche of this culture must realize it needs art such as poetry to survive.

 

— Samantha Berkhead

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