Weaseling out of Assignments (with Poetry!)

So ever since I started taking writing classes (not counting that one in high school), I’ve found that I’m less and less willing to write standard essays. Has anyone else found that sort of thing happening? I’ll get a research assignment for a literature class or an honors class or the odd philosophy class, and I’ll just find it impossible to think of a way to make it fun for myself. Once I’m writing an essay I can get into it, but it takes a while to break from writing from an artistic perspective. I know it might sound a bit pretentious, but I’ve been finding even the idea of a standard essay kind of boring, and it’s gotten to the point where I’m looking for ways around it.

The best way I’ve found so far is in my honors class, where we don’t necessarily have a set format for our papers, but we’re expected to do a final research paper on art during the Third Reich. I approached my professor, asking to write a research paper by way of writing a poem on a subject, instead of your normal fifteen page conglomeration of sources and thesis, and she was surprisingly open to it. I plan on writing about the battle of Monte Cassino, which took place in Italy just outside of Rome, and resulted in the needless destruction of an ancient Benedictine abbey. I’ve got a few first hand sources and reports from soldiers and officers on both sides of the conflict, and I plan to find the dialogues that chronicle the Allied decision to bomb the abbey. I’ve never undertaken this sort of writing before, and it certainly is daunting, but I’m hoping that writing a poem that requires extensive research will expand my writing abilities. Plus I don’t have to write a standard research paper anymore.

I’m not sure yet what the project will hold exactly, but I feel good about the decision to write a poem instead of a research paper, and I’d encourage anyone else to try it, if they’re in the right kind of class.

The Poetry Hangover

Or, in other words, that feeling of reading a poem/collection of poems that are so beautiful and inspiring that you feel you can’t read or write any more, ever.

I’m the emotional sort of person to cry at everything from sad commercials to happy endings in movies, so I’m never entirely surprised when I’m affected by writing enough to get one of these Poetry Hangovers, but it’s still an inconvenience, considering being a creative writing major and the need to be inspired to complete writing assignments.

The inability to write and read that I get with this is because my head feels too full of other words.  It’s like listening to a song through headphones while trying to compose new music; It’s near impossible.  The Hangover continues: Continue reading “The Poetry Hangover”

Are All Poems Narratives?

In class today, Lytton quoted Aristotle and his views on what makes a narrative and whether or not Myung Mi Kim’s Dura fits this definition or not. Kim defends the collection and says that it has a clear narrative while many of us wholeheartedly disagree. By Aristotle’s standards, is all poetry narrative? If all lines in a poem (beginning, middle, and end) are in conversation with each other and thus causally relate to each other, is the poem a narrative? Is Dura a narrative?  Continue reading “Are All Poems Narratives?”

Poetry, Prose? Where’s the Line?

We’re a few weeks into the semester now, and as I’ve probably mentioned in class I’m currently taking Lyric Essay with Steve West, in addition to our own wonderful Poetry Workshop. I entered both classes with a somewhat strong idea of what categorized each genre: poetry has stanzas and line breaks, beautiful images that are stringed along with some sort of unifying idea or moment; lyric essay, a subgenre of CNF, I thought was usually more narrative—it could have beautiful images like poetry, but those images were usually unified through the personal experience of some sort of first-person narrator or embodied self presented within the essay. Continue reading “Poetry, Prose? Where’s the Line?”

Making Sense of Something Foreign

Upon first opening Myung Mi Kim’s Dura, all I really saw were double spaced lines and occasionally separated words in those lines. Lots of the word choice seemed random to me, though I know that most published poets have a reason for their decisions, even if those reasons yield illogic. I continued reading, not understanding most of what was going on (that’s contemporary poetry for you, at times, I guess) but still accepting what was to come. Despite the initial frustrations, I appreciated a lot of the rhythmic sounds. For example, on page 6, the last line just echoes to the beat of some drum playing quietly in the reader’s head: “Lop off the top where the milliner’s wooden box doesn’t reach”

This brought me back to the discussion of rhythm, meters and emphasis in words we had in class a few weeks back. Myung Mi Kim demonstrates emphasis within words and lines perfectly here, as when it is read aloud, it sounds like: LOP off the TOP where the milliner’s wooden BOX doesn’t reach”

The word “milliner’s” is spoken the fastest. It is also the word with the most syllables in the line. Looking at emphasis like this in a book of poetry leads me to thinking about the chapter I read for my Teaching English as a Foreign Language class called “Teaching Pronunciation”. In order to teach a foreign language speaking student how to emphasize the correct parts of a word or sentence, they must learn prominence. Prominence is the focus of the sentence, where the emphasis is placed most. For example: Did you hear that John moved to ChiCAGo? CAG in Chicago is emphasized because where John is moving is the main focus of the sentence. Word stress works the same way, but within a single word. Think of the word economic. We say it like ecoNOMic. There is stress on the NOM. Then there is connected speech, where two words sound like one when they are pronounced in conversation, such as Kim’s milliner’s wooden. Outside the context of her poem, these two words wouldn’t sound connected, but because they are bound together in a rhythmic line, they are spoken faster and sound like they are together.

I found it interesting that my Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language textbook related so much to my reading of Dura. But then I flipped back to the Preface by Juliana Spahr.

First of all, she defines dura for us: an enveloping membrane. But it can also mean “hard mother” in Arabic, “to last” in the French infinitive, “feminine stiffness” in Spanish, or an ancient city that once existed in Syria. The many meanings of one word, the title of the book, open up our language and reveals to us that the context is different, not so precisely defined, and she ultimately tells us that things are not always what they may seem. She discusses the cultural gap in her poetry. Suddenly, her use of white space made sense to me.

Kim confronts the language and cultural gap through poetry, and expresses the difficulty of translating Korean to English, and vice versa. Her poetry in this book is mostly comprised of fragments in order to reflect broken English and a foreigner’s communications.

Learning a new language is hard, especially English. And the entirely new, possibly conflicting cultural aspect makes it even more intimidating. I found Spahr’s words resonating with me when she concluded, “For to write in this ‘America’, is to write with the 38th parallel, the line that separates North and South Korea, the line that crosses the San Francisco bay” (x). According to my Teaching English professor, English is the most desired language in the world (to be spoken, written and used in general). American English demands its own cultural barriers and limits that may sweep foreigner’s values or traditions under the rug. How much of this English speaking continent allows all of that to go lost in translation?

[Insert Poet’s Name Here] Poems

As I finished writing my comment on Katie’s post about the “Geneseo School” I was comparing the different types of writing going on in our class by referring to it by the writer’s name (see my title) and I realized it’s an empty and inaccurate, though convenient, way to describe a body of work. Its not only detrimental to thinking constructively about a poet’s work, but insulting to the poet. We re-enforce the idea that poetry is somehow purer in reflecting the soul or essence of the writer when we say this; an idea that I know I’m outspokenly against. Its as if we’ve nailed down some aspect of the poet’s personality by noticing patterns across their poems.

I think the fix is simple. To use an example from class, instead of calling Savannah’s most recent workshop poem a “Savannah Poem” why not call it a “Nesting Poem” or an “Inside poem.” Obviously these quick references fail to capture the complexity of a poem, but its a step in the right direction.

Any suggestions?

Finding the Time

One of my friends today mentioned that one of her plans for tonight was sitting down with a glass of wine and poem revisions.

I all but howled in longing. (I think I actually gave a quiet moan and put my head down on the desk.) The cantankerous, perpetually dissatisfied old lady voice in me went, “I wish I had time to do that. Grumble grumble. Wish that could be my night. Wow, that sounds so nice. Wish I had spare time. Kvetch kvetch.” In reality, I technically do have time to do that.  I’m just not making it the priority it should be. Even thinking about my day: if I cut out the ten minutes I spend checking my email and Facebook (every hour) and  the twenty minute nap I take religiously, I would have thirty minutes (at least) to write or revise a day. It’s just not a priority and it should be.

One of the struggles of writing/revision is always finding the time. Everyone I know has an incredibly busy schedule, between a full course load and various extracurricular commitments. Sometimes all we want to do at the end of the day is drop into bed and stare mindlessly at our Netflix options for the night. Writing is hard. Revision is hard. It involves brain power and thinking and creativity. There are definitely days that we need to give ourselves a break, but I find myself pushing writing and revision back farther and farther in my to-do list as the semester picks up. Almost every seasoned writer offers the same advice: Try and write every day.

I was very good last semester–I tried to journal once a day, even if it was to put down three good things that happened in my day, and was constantly carrying around a poem to revise/made the effort to be in some kind of creative process. I would get up early or stay up late and write. This year for some reason, it’s been much harder.

How do other people incorporate writing and revision into their daily lives/schedules? When do you write best? Do you feel that you make writing a priority in your busy college life full of other commitments? How do we best go about this juggling act?

An Unspoken Hunger

Terry Tempest William’s “An Unspoken Hunger” was the first poem I read in my freshman creative writing class that actually made me nauseous. And by nauseous, I mean it was incredible–when I finished reading it, I wanted nothing more than to pass out or vomit or sit very still for a very long time. I think that poems should create some sort of physical reaction within a reader (even if it is just imagined). The poems I have loved the most, or that have stuck with me the most even if I didn’t particularly like them, are the ones that made me feel so ill that I wanted to empty my skull for a little bit. The poems that make us feel something beyond an “oh, that was nice” are the ones that are (in my opinion) successful. For me, An Unspoken Hunger has absolutely nothing to do with avocados, and yet the poem (or maybe it’s just a hunk of words, who knows) in its simplicity and clarity of image was able to convey so much. I encourage everyone to pay closer attention to the way poems can manifest themselves physically. and to embrace poems as something to be read as such.


“It is an unspoken hunger we deflect with knives-one avocado between us, cut neatly in half, twisted then separated from the large wooden pit. With the green fleshy boats in hand, we slice vertical strips from one end to the other. Vegetable planks. We smother the avocado with salsa, hot chiles at noon in the desert. We look at each other and smile, eating avocados with sharp silver blades, risking the blood of our tongues repeatedly.” – Terry Tempest Williams