My reparative reading class has been a great help to our workshop: it’s a meta-analysis of how we look at texts and the faults we’ve fallen into. It’s helped a lot during our class discussion, I learned how to look at reading through a wider lens.

I bring this up because I think it’s important to look at how we read poetry. Our class does a great job of dissecting every aspect of the works we read: meter, symbolism, line breaks, spacing, rhyme scheme, everything is picked apart and put under a miscroscope. As a class we talk about how this works and what could be changed, but we don’t talk about the implications of the work we’re reading. In her essay “You’re So Paranoid You Probably Think This Essay Is About You,” Eve Sedgewick describes how we’ve fallen into a habit of over-analyzing text, and simply stopping there. Our modern lens of analysis has trained us to systematically pick apart text for formulaic essays, but hasn’t taught us to focus on the surface context and it’s implications- only to find evidence for it. Sedgewick states that we should take a step back, and look at our own analysis from a distance, and think why we analyze text through the lens that we do.

I bring this up because I believe that it’s important in anyone’s reading to balance hyper-analysis with a grain of salt- that is, to look at everything critically, but then take a step back and consider that a surface reading is also important. We shouldn’t leave out a poem’s surface context in favor of a complex breakdown. And while it might seem childish, the base impression- the way a poem makes us feel- is just as critical as any other aspect of it.

Ambiguity

I’d been meaning to go hunting through my room for a past class book, and today I was excited to find that I still have it. It was a book I used in my first creative writing workshop back in 2013: In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit. In it, I rediscovered a poem I had liked. After reading the poem and Kowit’s discussion on it, I realized it might have strongly influenced what I aim for in my own poetry.

The poem is called “Girl in the Doorway” and was written by Dorianne Laux. It displays multiple terms and phrases that serve more than one purpose/meaning in the piece – a technique called ambiguity. I love poems that can (or have elements that can) be read in multiple ways. This is something I often try to accomplish in my writing. One of my favorite parts of a workshop is getting to hear others’ interpretations of my work, especially if there’s a variety. I think that was partially inspired by this poem, so I thought I’d share it:

Girl in the Doorway

She is twelve now, the door to her room
closed, telephone cord trailing the hallway
in tight curls. I stand at the dryer, listening
through the thin wall between us, her voice
rising and falling as she describes her new life.
Static flies in brief blue stars from her socks,
her hairbrush in the morning. Her silver braces
shine inside the velvet case of her mouth.
Her grades rise and fall, her friends call
or they don’t, her dog chews her new shoes
to a canvas pulp. Some days she opens her door
and musk rises from the long crease in her bed,
fills the dim hall. She grabs a denim coat
and drags the floor. Dust swirls in gold eddies
behind her. She walks through the house, a goddess,
each window pulsing with summer. Outside,
the boys wait for her teeth to straighten.
They have a vibrant patience.
When she steps onto the front porch, sun shimmies
through the tips of her hair, the V of her legs,
fans out like wings under her arms
as she raises them and waves. Goodbye, Goodbye.
Then she turns to go, folds up
all that light in her arms like a blanket
and takes it with her.

Two poetry-related things that make me anxious

  1. Writing the poetry book review
    I don’t “finish reading poetry books.” I have no desire to read an entire book of one person’s poetry.  Hell, I lack desire to read an entire book of collections of poetry!  When I want to read poetry, I read a few online and then walk away, because I typically don’t hold onto poems if I read twenty at a time.
    Also, does anyone really want me writing a book review?  I’ve only written one, and that was for my dad’s co-authored psychology memoir six years ago.  Now I have to review a book full of poems and find recurring themes and keep my ears open for rhyme and…

    Fourteen-year-old Megan spends recess and choir class in a classroom on the third floor.  Lined paper remains untouched as Megan attempts to conceptualize a poem analysis that will fulfill her teacher’s request.  She does not like handing in late assignments, but she had no choice when presented with this one; not even her dad could understand it, and he was an English major.  It is only on her third day of head-wracking and crying that her teacher finally says, “Just don’t worry about it.  Your grade will be fine, go to recess.”

  2. Not having a known poetic “style”
    We all know what a Grace Poem(TM) looks like, and what a Jasmine Poem(TM) look like, but I don’t have a history of taking workshops and being published so that people know what kind of shit I write. I don’t even know if there’s a theme or motif in my work the way there is in Julia’s.  Are my poems supposed to look similar?  Are they supposed to sound similar?  What if they sound too much like someone else?

Regarding poetry, what makes you guys anxious?

Limits in poetry

I think that every poet has limits–what they come to understand they will and won’t do in their poems. They may be based on structure, content, form, et. al., but I am willing to bet nearly every poet has them.

For example: Sound poetry. I am fascinated by sound poetry and would see myself moving in that direction in the future as I continue to explore down to the letter level where I’m going in my poems. Other poets are not so interested in sound poetry or think that poems should explore real things/have functional properties. This is an okay limit to have, but I can see myself moving past it. I don’t necessarily see poetry as being tied up in the emotion of the speaker. Sometimes it has to do with the visceral, psychosomatic reaction that a reader has to the poem. And sometimes, the poem just sounds fascinating and intricate. It may just be a work of art, an experience. That’s okay with me.

But there are limits I don’t even want to get close to. For me, those are not structural or formal limits. They’re content limits. Moral limits.

Though I see poetry as an exploration of some of the deepest parts of the human, including the grotesque ones, I’m not sure how far I could go in describing depravity and evil. As a Christian, I think that there are lines I wouldn’t want to cross or even toe near. Some poets may agree with me and others may argue that I’m limiting myself to certain subject matter. I’m okay with limiting myself in this way. I think that each poet ought to decide what his/her limits are in poetry. These limits may change over time as each of us develop, but right now I’m starting to consider for myself what it means to guard morality within a poem. (For myself? For readers?)

Do you see yourself having limits when you approach your poetry? If so, what are they?

Truth About My Pieces & The Addiction Within Them

After my poems that I have written for whirlwind/workshop, I feel as though there has been speculation in relation to what parts are raw from the author as the speaker and which parts are fabricated to create poetry. This information is not something that a poet usually divulges, but I feel it necessary to get closer with you all, and have you understand my writing, and myself as a person.

I do not smoke cigarettes–nor have I ever. I do not plan on having toxic chemicals in my lungs, but I find them mesmerizing to write about. The concept that arises from them, and the sensation (I can only imagine) is so vivid that I crave to write about things in that realm of topics. There’s so many angles to take with an idea like cigarettes–something that is mental, and physical, and emotional–yet literally killing you. It is baffling for me to understand WHY people actually smoke, but it is also baffling how much fantastic language can come from such a cruel idea. I understand that this topic can be ‘overwritten’ about, but I don’t believe in that. I think that anything written is original, and that I can take a spin on something that is mainstream–making it completely my own. I tend to, personally, focus on manipulation of language, and the sonic qualities of words. That is where I took my Marlboro Orange piece. To create an unexpected, sensual experience. That is typically my goal after I ‘finish’ a poem.

Yet, I do have an alcoholic dad–and I always will. I have never truly known my father sober, except for the fourteen months that he dedicated to ‘bettering himself’ AKA rehab. However, that ended this past month–AKA relapse. But, that’s a different story for a different day. What I am here to tell you, is that my “cigarette” poem was a ‘lie’. And my “recovering alcoholic as a dad/not really recovering, not really a dad” poem is as true as it gets. That was down to my core, raw.

Not that any of this should change your interpretation of my piece, or allow you to view me differently as a peer, but it is an FYI to then look at the difference in my pieces. Personally, I think my cigarette piece was easier to write. That might be why the language is prettier, and more fluid and sensual. I enjoyed writing it. As for the alcoholic piece, that seems less ‘Julia’ to me. And that’s due to the fact that I was literally uncomfortable crafting it. But maybe that ‘uncomfortability’ is good. Maybe it will help me–in poetry, and in my family…

I am not sure what causes my inclination to write about addictive things. I honestly did not even notice that was a ‘theme’ of mine until Grace brought it up during workshop. I tend to write about the darker areas of human thought and interaction. I suppose I find it fascinating to experience on paper, in hopes that I will never have to live it in the flesh.

 

Jules

 

That First Bite

That first bite of a apple. Its crisp, juicy, and crunchy. You cringe a little if you’re eating it in a silent room because you know people can hear you, and face it they’re probably annoyed by the sound too. That crunch, that crack…how can we portray those distinct sounds in our writing? Anyone can blatantly write something like, “She took a bite out of her red delicious apple.” But as a reader, what does that sound like? The readers aren’t there to experience that sound of the bite, as a writer, our jobs are to take them through the experience, treat the reader as if they were there in that moment, stimulate their senses.

This brings me to my point of word choice. Whether your poem is long, short, or in between, every word has a purpose. Each word in poetry takes its reader through the meaning of the piece. Word choice may also be important to help create rhythm or set the tone of the piece. Poetry possesses such compact form, and with that being said, word choice affects that form. Going back to the image of the first bite of an apple, there is a difference when one may write, “She bit the apple and it made a noise and the apples juice dripped down her chin.” Compared to, “The loud crack of the apples skin hitting her teeth caused the room to fall into a hush as the juice dribbled down her chin.” The word choice in the first sentence does not evoke much sensory stimulation compared to the second sentence, it tells a mini story, almost as if the reader was there as it happened.

I know as a writer I personally struggle with word choice. But one technique I found to be helpful was just writing down whatever I wanted to say, no matter if it made sense or not, and then rereading it and editing it as much as possible to cut down or add necessary words. Word choice is tricky, but as long as you strive to take your reader on a journey, you have succeeded.

Abstract Meaning

After being asked to think of what readers should glean from reading our work, I began to think that I am one of those obnoxious writers who wants my readers to pull apart my work, and find all the hidden nuances that I hid within the words. I’m comfortable with eccentric format and strange phrases as long as they mean something.

This seems to be a tragic flaw, not just in my writing, but in reading. I thought I read for pleasure until I began to think how frustrated I get when someone says “Why does the poem have to mean something?” My frustration stems from the writing process itself. In poetry, every word must mean something; there is no where to hide on the page. It makes perfect sense that a poet would take time to choose the word or phrase that means something to the poem. And yet, there are poems that are too abstract to begin to understand. e.e. cummings is one of those poets that cause me to make grand assumptions when searching for meaning (which I search for in the capitilized words). I think it shortens my ability as a writer to not be able to simply appreciate poems that are based solely on sound, image, or experimental techniques. It’s something that I’m working to understand, and maybe one day enjoy.

Fiction and Poetry

As a person who now writes fiction sometimes I am hesitant into where it falls in regard to poetry. I remember once writing a poem that was in the early stages of editing. One of the things that drew me to edit this poem further was that I wrote it purposefully with a feel-good moment, that made me feel joy later when I reread it to myself. When one of my friends (@Grace) read it I could see her smile form as I followed her eyes down the stanzas. At the end, she asked me, was this a memory of you are you sister, right? When I told her that the poem was a work of fiction she looked taken aback for she felt that real emotion was there, I think there was too. I think that’s an interesting aspect of poetry, that it can include fiction or nonfiction without stating it explicitly to the reader. As someone who involves both fiction and nonfiction in my poems, it’s interesting to think that the reader may try to tell the difference since a lot of poems tend to engage us emotionally speaking.

Poems are vessels that can be used to hold emotion, even if we do not experience the literal aspect of the poems in real life. I like to think of my poems like a sample size perfume. You get the scent and know what it is going for (hopefully), you know how the lines are trying to reach into your mind and activate something that the author could never guess was there.

In poetry, often I use what I have learned from fiction writing to draw up an intimate world, that at its core, is powered by the desired feeling. I hope this doesn’t make me an artificial poet, that I can recreate events that have no technical connection to me, scenes that read as non-fiction that isn’t, hugs between imagined siblings that are inspired by my own love of my sister and our childhood innocence.

Remember when we were talking about images AS poetry? or A Thing Megan Is Not Qualified to Talk About Pt. 2

*SPOILERS FOR BLACK PANTHER*

I saw Black Panther with BSU today, and holy hell some of you would absolutely love dissecting some of these images. (field trip, anyone?)

Anyway, I have to touch on this one image (here come the spoilers): when T’Challa is laying in that snow coffin-pit-thing, nearly dead with just his head and chest visible, it paralleled an image that Black poets have been summoning in their poetry for a long time.  Some of you probably know where this is going (although Will Antonelli didn’t, so maybe not): it was Emmett Till in his open casket.  I mean, T’Challa’s face wasn’t disfigured (Hollywood wouldn’t do that to a Marvel hero, they have to look pretty), but the film mirrored all of those poems that evoke Till in the coffin.*  T’Challa’s body was even found in a river, just like Till’s, and carried to his grieving mother.  It’s damn poignant, but this isn’t even the poetic part.

You already know T’Challa isn’t dead; not only is he the title character, but Marvel has plans for him to be in Infinity Wars.  This is where the poetry comes in: T’Challa, after going into that spirit realm for a few seconds, literally rises from the snow pit!  Guys, they raise a Black man character from the dead, as his mother, sister, and lover surround him.  And, idk about you guys, but I think the poetry is conveyed when reality and fiction suddenly clash.  Black men are killed irl all the time, and only this fictional character is saved.  He lives on, in movies and comics, and the rest bleed and blend into pavement and dirt.

Besides a select few.  Emmett Till, for one.  (that’s where my thought ends; I know there’s something else significant there, but I’m not finding it at the moment)

 

*Also, I’m not quite sure why that particular image is utilized so often in poetry, save for the fact that people can place the tragedy fairly easily.  I’m looking into it now, I’ll get back to you if I figure it out.