These three cats nail the symbolism and juxtaposed sensory manipulation. Loud stench. Sour sight. Also — how the hell did Alpharaoh know the parka jacket was from Uniqlo? Anyway. There’s no question about their comprehension in their Harlem Round Midnight review. Let’s talk about the dynamic of their biases in relation to each other while formulating their final opinions.
The Pen Clique’s Harlem Round Midnight review is how all reaction videos should look. Set up with three different perspectives:
The Visionary — The Realist — The Empath/Dualist
All equally paramount. The Visionary — Kuya– says, “Wow I could definitely see where you’re trying to take this.” The Realist — Daniel — says, “This could have hit much harder and needs more.” The Empath/Dualist — Alpharoah — as an audience member says, “This isn’t very satisfying after such a setup.” But also says as a writer, “this makes sense and is done purposely by the writer.” He resonates with both. And he pretty much nails why the ending is so anticlimactic. Alpharaoh notes how the beginning feels very personal and then becomes impersonal. He’s right.
Harlem Round Midnight’s style is inspired by the naturalistic style of short story To Build a Fire by Jack London. Spoiler Alert. He dies. The world keeps on spinning. The second to last line citing, ” the stars that leaped and danced and shone brightly in the cold sky. ” There is no punch line. No twist. The world lives on as is despite the suffering of man. In Harlem Round Midnight, “Some dreams never end” nods toward there being no resolution to the dreams and desires for those in poverty. Their dreams more often remaining just that. Dreams. “The night sweats faces– sodden in evaporated moonlight.” The faces of those afflicted by poverty remain soaked in the sweat created by this seemingly never-ending night. Admittedly, it was quite a fluffy way to put it. Word-swag as Daniel put it.
Something’s missing, though.
At 11:17, The Realist says something a bit convoluted. “I want some concise, contextual something. I want something that’s going to tie this into…um… something…” Some would just dismiss a criticism like this as just ‘hating.’ But it’s not. It’s very valid and relateable point. You can tell when something is missing. Oftentimes we don’t know what that something is. We just know we are left hanging; dissatisfied. The Visionary explains that it’s probably exactly what the artist intended. While saying, ‘Well its like that on purpose’ is an easy cop out to defend something you like, Kuya isn’t wrong. Contemporary narratives have made us used to resolution and uniformity in works of art to the point that something always has to have a concise ending. But Harlem Round Midnight is meant to be more immersive than it is entertaining. The melancholic, open-ended nature of the piece is purposely meant to put the audience in the same, dissatisfied mood as the characters in Harlem Round Midnight. The Empath reminds them of how relateable this feeling is to the reality of people’s feelings everyday in cities like LA and NYC. This isn’t just a movie. It’s reality.
The Realist seems undecided as to whether he likes it or not. Mediocre. Yet Lit? It’s Okay. But it’s DOPE too. No shade. This was literally me after watching movies with rage-inducing endings like Gone Girl. Spoiler alert, he stays with her crazy ass.
The three all seemed to enjoy Harlem Round Midnight from the start. But then unanimously had “That’s it?” written on their foreheads. Yeah. That’s it, man. It sucks, but that really is it. This poem shouldn’t make you feel cool or entertained afterward. I want you to feel how I felt when I wrote this, living surrounded by this reality every day. Empty, dissatisfied. Or maybe it really is just a shitty ending. You mostly remember the ending of a piece. It makes sense that The Realist is simultaneously intrigued yet disappointed in it.
Rate from 1-10?
Not a huge fan of putting numbers on art.
There are plenty of films I’ve watched with 44% on Rotten Tomatoes that were amazing. Plenty of pieces I’ve watched with 80% that were an absolute snooze-fest. There’s no truly honest way to rate something as subjective as poetry. Especially if you’re in a room full of a bunch of people that might influence your rating.
A critic admitting to enjoying something everyone else hates ruins their ‘credibility.’ Especially in the gaming industry where many companies are paid to review games. But what if they just genuinely enjoyed something no one else did?
I could never be offended by someone giving me a 2 and another critic giving me a 9. A piece of art resonates differently with every person. I would hope that poetry wouldn’t mirror the film industry’s elitist attitude of “You scored low. You’re just a hater. Can’t trust your judgement” VS “You scored too high. You’re too easily impressed. Can’t trust your judgement.” Sometimes people just don’t like things because they’re not feeling it. We can be as ‘objectively’ good by using all the literary devices and punchlines we want. But for some, it may not resonate with them. It is natural for them to not enjoy it.
Maybe the ending turned off the Realist and he simply doesn’t like it, but he feels the need to give it a decent score because he doesn’t want to seem like an asshole. Maybe the Visionary wanted to rank it higher but didn’t want to seem like a dickrider. Too many variables influence people’s number ratings for it to be a measure of something being enjoyable or not. I enjoyed Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles more than Dunkirk.
I probably won’t watch Dunkirk ever again. But I could definitely get smacc’d and watch TMNT with my boys.
But I get it. It seems each have a background in Slam poetry, which is a genre with a heavy expectation of punchlines and flamboyant delivery. The Visionary also points out that this is a poem written for visuals. Not Slam. If you try to separate the visuals from the text, neither will be satisfying. Because both are poetry. Harlem Round Midnight could never rank in a Slam Poetry contest (it’s too short anyway). And it doesn’t work for radio/podcast as Alpharaoh mentioned as well. You can’t take the lettuce and tomatoes off a Big Mac and rate it as a stand-alone burger.
The Visionary’s judgement is based on influence.
When people say Kendrick is the best MC, we know that we can find someone down the block in our hood that can beat him in a rap battle. The subjective influence of setting standards is also part of that praise. We know 2001: A Space Odyssey isn’t the best of it’s kind. But it’s iconic because it created the new wave of mixing philosophy & symbolism into Sci-Fi. Like Kendrick made “Woke” rap mainstream again. You can be very talented and even skilled at something. But what really leaves your footprint after you die is your influence and if you change the game. Kuya sees this potential beyond the piece itself. What it can become for social media and giving poetry a wider reach. The sky and beyond. Daniel wants to stay down to earth and be realistic about what practically makes something a good poem. The Empath says anything after this has to be FIRE.
When we watch things alone, we are all three of these people. These perspectives mirror the stages artists circle through when they experience another artist’s body of work.