Symbolism.is.EVERYWHERE

Its true that you’ll find what you’re looking for once you stop searching. I had some realizations about poetry in my education class today. Even though my T/TR block is an education course, it’s an English class too. We learn how to teach English. That course is my happy place, combining two elements I love, and aspire to learn about persistently, throughout both my life and career.

We examined 3 poems/creative NF pieces, which are high-school age appropriate, but range in meaning and style. One poem by Seamus Heaney relayed the death of Heaney’s younger brother and how Heaney returned home from college in order to deal with the loss. Another poem “Things I Lost” by Brian Arundel is a busy, creative NF piece in which Arundel narrates a list of all of the things he has lost, and their significance or lack thereof. One of the more funnier lines reads, “My virginity: in 1980, a couple weeks short of 16, in a ritual so brief, awkward and forgettable that I have, in fact, forgotten it. ” This piece reminds me of how we can use snapshots of places and time periods to garner familiarity, association, and in order to serve as settings. In addition, Arundel’s piece reaches out to so many readers, despite dedicating its contents to specific things that Arundel misplaced. For example, he says, “My shit, figuratively, that same summer when Bob Weir sang “Looks Like Rain” just as my acid trip was peaking at a two-night Dead stand in Roanoke, Va”, which made me jump and say “MOM!” because I know full-well that my parents were there, probably.

After sifting through these works, my prof had us pull out “objects” that drove the story. For Arundel’s work, there was an object or item in every single sentence. For Heaney’s I drew an integral object from the line, “A four-foot box, a foot for every year” which despairingly indicates how young Heaney’s brother was when he died. Whether it’s Arundel’s virginity or “shit” or the coffin in Heaney’s family home, these objects are utilized by the writer to incite recognition in the readers. You may be saying “duh, that’s why writers select metaphor and symbolism and every other literary device to enhance their work”. Despite my understanding of how and why we write in order to convey meaning, it never occurred to me that almost all of my poems, as well as so many poems I’ve come across, build themselves upon a single object. Often we include several objects, feelings, scenes etc in our works, but do we realize that our inspiration usually appears when our eye catches something and our mind shouts, “BINGO!”? I know for me, this is constantly the case.

Tomorrow I’m handing in a poem that I’m really excited about, and I think the piece exemplifies how my writing initiates on a single matter. For my boy friend’s birthday, I blew up a big shiny dollar store balloon with my own breath, because I didn’t have Helium. Even though the balloon looked like the real deal, it would sink to the floor unless it was taped to the wall. Revisiting pictures of the party reminded me of this balloon, and I reflected on the pathetic existence of the balloon: it made itself appear like a real balloon, but without any reinforcement, it couldn’t fly on its own. Thus sprang my latest poem.

I think my post comes at a pretty appropriate time, considering how Lytton has us working on writing about ideas and specifically things, although he’s challenged us to write in a discreet manner. Feel free to share any of your other objects here, that you think could invite some writing. As a bonus question, I’d also like to know about some of your favorite symbols outside of texts, and what they mean for you in/outside of writing. For me, I will always love the roses in American Beauty. After Inception came out, I had one friend become obsessed with spinning tops. Tell me yours!

an old favorite of mine!

Hi all!

I don’t know if any of you have heard of the national recitation contest “Poetry Out Loud,” but my high school participated in it and required all students to memorize a poem and recite it in front of the class.  The students then voted on who they thought should go on from the classroom competition to the school-wide competition.  One particular poem that I loved while I was senior in high school was Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking.”  I’m not sure if I decided to recite this for POL because I loved the poem, or if I found it after.  Anyway, here it is: Continue reading

Concrete Bases

A common recurrence, and weakness, I’ve noted in my poetry is the lack of concrete. I don’t have solid images, if any images, and there are no appeals to sense. Much of what I write lately has been based in emotions. While emotions are a way to feel, they are not concrete. Also, the way I experience something like panic may be different from how someone else does. The way I describe panic, like a thousand rumbling wasps buzzing in my chest, rising up in my throat, may be different than someone who may say panic feels inevitable like water sluicing down into the lungs, slipping and filling slowly until the only thing left to do is drown. The images, still, are not entirely developed, and the setting or event that onset the panic is absent.

Most of my writing has been based in prose, which is easier to base a lot of descriptions, but poetry has always seemed different to me than prose. However, poetry still desires the imagery prose uses, and I’ve dropped that in favor of brevity and emotions. Prose needs both emotion and imagery, so it makes sense that poetry needs it to. Sure, poetry can be more fractured that prose gets away with, but that doesn’t mean imagery can’t exist within the shards.

One goal I’m setting for myself for the future is to use more concrete imagery in my poetry. I’ve been basing in abstract concepts that can apply to many concepts, but concrete bases can be more applicable at times.

A link! Check it out!

Hi poetry world!

Below is a link to 1989, The Number, “an exploration of the year 1989 through politics, personal history and culture. This chapbook plays like a mixtape incorporating the hottest records and stories of ’89 and reflecting their relevance for today. For hip-hop heads ’89 was the peak of the Golden Era and the Crack Epidemic. For BreakBeat poets 2016 feels like a similar meeting of incredible artistic production and critical political terror. For 6 days at the end of 2015 poets Kevin Coval and Nate Marshall took to the page to consider the past and the year(s) to come.”

It’s an awesome read/ listen, and is an awesome representation of the work of the BreakBeat Poets (explore the website, it’s dope). It also helped me a lot when working through/ thinking about the relationship between hiphop and poetry. Also, the themes are eerily relevant, a great lens through which to look at today’s political climate.

http://www.breakbeatpoets.com/1989-the-number.html

Check it out and comment with any thoughts or other insights!

Word Play with Harryette Mullen

So I’ve talked about it before, but when I was in my first workshop we read Sleeping with the Dictionary  by Harryette Mullen and it opened my world! First, I love that Mullen writes about her experience of being a black woman and yet the way she writes about it isn’t really what people would expect. This really helped me as a Latinx writer because I felt for a long time that when I said “I’m a writer” to someone looking at me I immediately introduced an elephant into the room, an elephant that asks where the Spanish and horchatas are in my writing. But now I’m more comfortable identifying as a Latinx writer without writing about those things, maybe someday I will, and Hispanic writers that do are awesome too! We just write about different things or we write about our experiences in different ways.

Image result for harryette mullen

Anyway, I really loved Mullen because of the intense wordplay she does in her work. She would most likely say the word “recycling” as her volume of poetry collections titled Recylcopedia, which is perfect titling. To give you guys a good idea of her writing I’m providing links to the poems “Any Lit” and “Sleeping with the Dictionary.”

Image result for harryette mullen sleeping with the dictionary

But for the sake of the blog post, I’ll just touch on why I love her writing in “Any Lit;” in this poem she turns the phrase, many ways to say the same thing on its head. For example, here is a quote,

“You are a ukulele beyond my microphone/You are a Yukon beyond my Micronesia/ You are a union beyond my meiosis/You are a unicycle beyond my migration/You are a universe beyond my mitochondria/ You are a Eucharist beyond my Miles Davis”

Image result for eucharist        Image result for miles davis

So, at first this feels very just repetitive, but this is only a small portion of the poem and every line functions similarly. The you is something beyond the I’s possession. The terms seem so far apart sometimes but Mullen makes you think about how these differing terms could be related. For instance, Eucharist and Miles Davis, Eucharist is a Catholic sacrament and Miles Davis is a Black American jazz musician, Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ and Miles Davis was an extremely influential figure in many stylistic jazz developments; in a way these are “essentials” of their respective literacies and can be linked with white western culture and Black American culture, though they are not particularly defining of either. But that also doesn’t understand why the you is qualified by Eucharist and the I is comparing the two. As the poem goes on the you feels very gendered and is often qualified as what we would consider important figures of white, male, and Eurocentric spaces (Yuletide, urinal, youth, euphemism, U-boat). But what is the most compelling is that the poem ends with the line “You are a uselessness beyond my myopia.”

When I google myopia I get this:

Myopia n.

Nearsightedness

  • Lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight.
    • “historians have been censured for their myopia in treating modern science as a western phenomenon.”

Mullen exits the poem with a mic drop that essentially is saying, you, as someone who does not treat my culture with as much reverence as your own and others me, are useless. But the I is calling herself “nearsighted” but the you is so useless that it cant compare to her nearsightedness. Her writing really helped me think about the importance of words and their implications/connotations as a beginning poet.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/51631

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/54879

Book Reviews

I thought I’d share my reviews of the books of poetry I’ve been working closely with for my project! I highly recommend getting your hands of both of these. They’re very different, but I got a lot from reading them, particularly from reading them sort of in conversation with each other.

Disclaimer: I still haven’t finished Cannibal. It is a beautiful book, but heavy stuff. I issue caution in trying to read it quickly; it will overwhelm you (emotionally as well as literarily).

Undefining: A Review of Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal

Oxford English Dictionary defines “cannibal”:  noun, A person who eats the flesh of other human beings. Origin Mid 16th century: from Spanish Canibales (plural), variant (recorded by Columbus) of Caribes, the name of a West Indian people reputed to eat humans.

Safiya Sinclair’s premier full-length book of poetry seeks to redefine this word: to interrogate its origins and find within it the beauty and violence that permeate its eight weighty letters. Winner of the 2016 Whiting Award and the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, Cannibal explores in five sections of polyvocal poems questions of identity, family, womanhood, blackness, and space. Among its voices are the academic, “Osteology” a complex ode to the study of skeleton; the insightful daughter in “Family Portrait” defining her family through the dinner table; even creating space for the voice of Shakespeare’s Caliban, The Tempest’s misunderstood island native made slave.

The book organizes itself in five sections, each one defining itself a space. We come to know the poet’s straddling of identities, a Jamaican woman moved to the United States, through explorations of “home,” America, the female body, and the complexities of language, of dialect. And in these explorations, the book becomes manipulative, subverting canonical themes, critiquing founding documents, allowing marginalized selves to reclaim their personhood, to avenge their family. Drawing upon the images of the Caribbean landscape, Sinclair’s poems use the softness of greenery, the harshness of the sea and all that lies in between to give voice to the “Half monstrous” on the cover, allowing it to redefine itself.

These lush images are accompanied by an absolutely mastery of language; rich lines, stanzas bursting with sound and deftly-handled line breaks. “The Art of Unselfing” could be retitled “The Art of Writing Poems,” though shouldn’t be, as any disruption to the poem on the page as is would corrupt the art. The “Penscratch of the gone morning, woman/ a pitched hysteria watching” so carefully placed two stanzas above “Her moth-mouth rabble unfacing these/ touch-and-go months under winter.” Cannibal is kenning and reinventing, “un”ing words in an attempt to remake history, to reverse the damage and own oneself wholly.

 

Confined to Large Spaces: A Review of John McCarthy’s Ghost County

I have never been to the midwest, but I imagine it’s something like the word expanse, in its many forms. Expansive, its wide roads and endless fields. Expansion, its discovery a result of American “Manifest Destiny.” And yet, John McCarthy’s book seems to express a limit to this word, an inability to expand outside this space.

Ghost County is McCarthy’s debut book of poetry, published in 2016. Its minimalistic design, bound in white, featuring two monochrome images in a large grey rectangle blocked on the cover, the book, on a physical level, feels like it is trying not to take up space, but rather to shrink into the corner of the bookshelf where no one might notice its thin, blank spine.

We open to the first of the book’s three sections, “Back Roads Out of Loneliness,” and we head down one of those wide roads in Kansas or Indiana or maybe Illinois. The limitation of this book, also perhaps its strength, is the confinement such an expanse presents: we cannot escape the fences like “rotting teeth, corn husk,” the “Pall Malls,” or the “cracked powder-brick church[es].” This midwestern Ghost County is everywhere and nowhere, and no matter how far we drive, we never leave its blue-collar images or melancholic tone. The back roads out of loneliness a lie, an impossibility, road signs switched around like some cruel prank that leaves us driving in a loop.

And these limits extend themselves beyond tone and image, but also to content. The American Midwest explored here through teen angst, through alcohol and drug abuse, small-town Americana, and automobiles, it seems to ignore explorations of race-relations, gender inequality, even the complexities of midwestern poverty. A loss in that we lose out on large explorations of this space as more than cornfields and county fairs, there is something to be said about the collection’s seeming blindness: a blindness that the nation faces when thinking about the midwest as a space. The blurring of spaces much like the way most New Yorkers couldn’t name any of the midwestern states on a map.

McCarthy’s poems here appear unflinching, gritty in the way they lack reflection and introspection and present instead visceral images and recognizable spaces. Yet this same lack reveals a distinct flinching away from what allows the reader to understand these poems as something distinct. We lose our speaker to familiarity, the important and succinct voice that makes poetry more than image drowned out by the sound of the pick up truck.

Acknowledging this flinching, these limitations as intentional and crucial to the work here on the page, Ghost County certainly conveys a sense of claustrophobia, of inescapability. Even the penultimate poem, “On the Day I Left Town,” seems unsure that it truly has left; an imagined chorus of trumpets and ukeleles presenting a sort of dreamspace, leaving us questioning the event’s reality. Useful and subversive in thinking of the midwest as spacious, the reader finds herself uncomfortable in realizing the ways in which this expansiveness may trap us, the way these country roads may lead us nowhere but back to where we started.

More Art and a Writing Exercise

I want you to look at this painting:

I don’t love this painting. It is by no means my favorite. But every time I see it, I find myself drawn because it’s the best example of the middle finger to all of color theory. It says, fuck you, you were wrong when you said there were three primary colors. There are four, and black—the boldest color of them all–is not included. White is. White, red, blue, and yellow. And those are the only colors used in this painting. But even knowing that, the mind wants to believe that the color black is weaved into the painting, as though unable to understand how darkness can be made without such a basic color.

Based on this painting–or rather, using this painting as a starting point (whatever that means to you) I want everyone to write down three primary elements of general poetry that you lean toward. Then, I want you to think of two major elements of your poetry, separate from the three, that are unique to you. Then, I want you take one of the two away, and write a poem using only the four elements you have left, while behaving as though you have all five when one looks at the surface of the poem.

Here’s what I’ve been doing all semester!

This is mostly a preliminary post to explain why I will be inundating the blog with posts over the next week or so.

I spent last semester studying abroad in Montpellier. Under the crescent-moon indigo skies of southern France, I sometimes found myself getting lost, feeling distanced from my country (the distance made worse by the changing political climate). What helped to ground me were music suggestions from my best friend. Our friendship blossomed over a collaborative Spotify playlist, and I found comfort in the way this remained unchanged, Youtube videos and Soundcloud profiles flying six hours forward in time, 4,000 miles across the globe,  to my inbox.

A ten hour bus ride back to Montpellier from Paris, Noname’s Telefone was a strange but somehow fitting soundtrack to the rolling hills of the French countryside, the sun setting orange, the inside of the bus glowing golden. He’d shared the album with me on Spotify in September, and I hadn’t stopped listening to it even a month later. As the world darkened outside and the bus trudged on into the late hours of the night, I stayed up to message him about a more recent album suggestion: Aesop Rock’s The Impossible Kid. I had listened to the whole thing through only once, and was immediately struck by the incredible use of language in the raps. But it didn’t stick like Noname’s melancholic melodies and low emotive voice. My friend, contrarily, was drawn more to Aesop Rock’s quick-moving masterful vocabulary.

The conversation turned to argument, my fingers failing to keep up with my passion in the backseat of the bus, typing silently into the bright screen of my phone. We talked about hip-hop as poetry, as politics. We talked about what makes an album good.  I couldn’t help but notice the way I, a black woman, found myself identifying more with the art of Noname (a black woman); my friend, a white man, was drawn more to the art of Aesop Rock, also a white man. We talked about the way he, as a white man, often feels wrong listening to hip-hop, like he’s trying to occupy a space in which he does not belong. This was heavy, complicated stuff. By the end of the conversation, topic changed as I grew too tired to think about these things, I found myself bothered more than anything else. I felt as though I had lost this argument, as though Noname had lost, and I felt that maybe this had deeper implications. That our voices as black women were being silenced by a system designed to more-readily assign merit to white men.

This became the question that I decided to explore in my Directed Study project this semester. My original proposal reads as follows:

I plan to explore the way merit is earned, inherited, or credited to artists in the fields of contemporary rap/hip-hop music and contemporary poetry. Studying and comparing two albums of the genre released in 2016 (Telefone by Noname and The Impossible Kid by Aesop Rock), and two books of contemporary poetry also published within the last year (Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair and Ghost County by John McCarthy), as well as reviews and other sources that demonstrate public and accredited perceptions of these works as works of art, I intend to explore the way gender and race affect language and style, and the way these subsequently affect the merit of the artist’s work, and even the artist him/herself. In this, I also plan to explore the similarities/ differences between rap/ hip-hop and contemporary poetry as art forms, communities, ways of expression, etc. and draw historical connections that link the two.

As most projects do, this project has strayed from the original proposal. Quickly discovering the complexities of trying to look into merit in art, a new question seemed relevant and important as I looked deeper into these two albums. Can a black female artist write outside of blackness/ the black female experience? Ought she? Are white male artists confined by the same identity bounds? Are they writing within whiteness, or is this experience a non-experience, as the idea of “white culture” is sometimes considered a non-culture? This is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to questions I now have.

I’ll be using the blog from here on to sort of work through these questions/ vent/ post about interesting things I’m finding through readings and research/ pose questions to anyone who wants to help me answer them. Expect a lot at once, since I’m sitting on several weeks of work with this project that I want to share here!

Source: An Opinion Piece

Opinionated- it’s a word that has always seemed to find its way to me. Never have I, nor never will I ever use the word to describe myself or any other person. I mean, we all have opinions, right? Who doesn’t have any opinions? It would be absurd for a person to withdraw themselves from having viewpoints, so why do we often label people (typically women) as opinionated?

This annoyance has plagued me throughout my entire childhood into teenhood, and unfortunately, it has resurfaced into my early adulthood. Last week, a very dear old friend sent my old high school friend group a message. It was a little odd and unexpected, but very sincere and heartfelt. The sender of this message directly appealed to each recipient by naming some of the things she had missed/admired about us (no jaw dropping confessions since we have all been friends for over 10 years and know everything there is to know about one another). The sender missed Sydney for the fact that Sydney is a “selfless woman” and Emily because she is “so caring and genuine.” The portion dedicated to me began with compliments like “passionate and inspiring,” which made me smile. It reminded me how powerful it can be to spread positive words to those around you. However, the section ended like this: “You aren’t afraid to voice your opinion.” What does that even mean?

Now,

To reiterate, the group message was intended to be light and sweet. I ascertain that. BUT, here I am again, being dubbed the opinionated one. Whether words like this were offered as praise or hurled as insults, I’ve always been characterized as some type of three-headed monster- bossy, fiery, passionate, shouty, intense, opinionated. I start to wonder, is this adjective ever applied to men? Are men allowed to have opinions about things? I’m pretty sure they do, as everyone should.

In lieu of the fucked up state of our country’s leadership, it’s easy to engage in political debate everyday, with friends, family members, crude boys from high school, even strangers on the internet. Understandably, everyone seeks to voice their opinion. Yet, I tend to steer clear of this form of debate due to my boy friend telling me to ignore Facebook, or stop watching the video. My own mother advises me to stop reading news and posts that “upset me.” Mom has kicked me under the table during multiple family dinners when my grandpa has started to quote the only trustworthy news source, Fox News. Don’t, her eyes warn me. I listen.

I’ve gotten to a point where I feel as if I’m going to explode. I know so many others do, too. Since the start of spring break I haven’t been shying away from expressing my opinions as much. In fact, I haven’t turned a conversation away as long as I have something meaningful to say. Of course, I’m staying in check with my facts and feelings, because we all know the ugly form that hate speech and baseless allegations assume. Nevertheless, I say fuck it. Be bossy, fiery, passionate, shouty, intense and especially opinionated. If there was ever a time to scream, it’s now. Just scream with purpose.

Emptying these built up frustrations and addressing repressive words such as opinionated has really liberated me. I wrote more this past week than ever before. It’s cathartic. To conclude this post I want to share a speech from the SAG awards that reminds me to stay opinionated. Stay involved and don’t surrender because someone believes that you should disengage. Here, David Harbour delivers an emotional, electrifying call to arms. He cuts loose and speaks what’s on his mind, and my mind. Though we should heed him figuratively and not literally, I’m ready to punch some nazis in the face.

Also Winona Ryder’s exhilarated facial expressions are worth the watch alone.

Library Hours

Over the “spring” break, while trapped in my lovely boyfriend’s small hometown for three extra days due to the blizzard (can’t complain), I got some much needed library time. He and I, both advocates of “Woah There, I Need Space” tend to do this thing where we frequent bookstores and libraries, but the moment we walk through the doors we fully acknowledge that we won’t see each other for a good two hours, besides occasionally hearing a snicker or a gasp from a few shelves over (side note- wondering how I could bring in a physical representation of these cherished moments for the source showcase). That is my idea of love. Braving the bitter wind and whiteout conditions, arm-in-arm, glove-in-glove, the walk to the local public library felt like a mission or maybe the trek to Disney World. It also felt like frozen eyelashes and potential frostbite.

After perusing the local history section, trying to persuade myself into caring about the forefathers of Albany and Schenectady, I struck gold in finding a massive dusty anthology about wildflowers of New York from the early 1900s. Laying on the carpeted floor in the botany and nature section, I was overwhelmed with the amount of language I had found in this book. I then pulled Jorie Graham’s “The Dream of the Unified Field” and read these two vastly different collections side by side. I felt like an alchemist, scribbling and discovering the intersections between Graham and Mr. Wildflower (I couldn’t remember the author) in my trusty journal. I felt a little sheepish in trying to craft a poem that stole lines from Jorie Graham, as if my poems should be bowing down to her in reverence, but for some reason this combination of sources just worked. I don’t think I’m insightful enough to describe why, but somehow these channels of source and language gave me what I needed to write a poem I’ve been meaning to write for awhile (but wanted to do justice). It was a sort of magic.

I want more library moments in my life, in my writing. I am continually wondering how many faded shag carpets and bookshelves I’ll have to loiter until I have some sort of divine intuition about what can combine, what I can mash my experiences and ideas with to create something new. I wonder how to come across source not just by accident but by knowing that the sources will work well together. I love the idea of having a poem in my head, in my Grace-voice, and being able to employ multiple sources that use language and images that attack my head-poem and contribute to it from wildly different angles.

When it comes to multiple sources, how do you know what the poem in your head needs? How do you know what it dreams of? How do you peruse the shelves of the library with intention rather than stumbling across books and other sources that happen to work? Or is this just another case of the “happy accident?”

P.S. I was so excited I lost track of time, but boyfriend managed to find me and pull me away from the library with “we should probably eat dinner at some point.”