One thing I’ve always been unsure of is how someone goes about writing a poem (or any other work) with another person. So when Lucia suggested we try and do a collaboration, I was all for it. Our poems often end up being in conversation with each other (intentionally or unintentionally) and I thought it would be interesting seeing how two different styles can come together; what the challenges and thrilling parts of that might be. We got together earlier in the month and started talking about possible topics/themes we wanted to discuss in the poem and finally settled on perception vs. person, unsurprisingly coupled with a healthy dash of feminist perspective. Then the tricky part came: the actual writing.

We wrote remotely & separately for awhile and then loaded what we had so far into a Google Doc. Watching something get written/deleted/re-written/moved around in real time is crazy. Both of our sections ended up getting merged and entangled with the other (after some confused messaging about perspective back and forth). Instead of having two separate sections, it was clear that both of our words and styles were combining into one collaborative work, which was awesome to see!

Do you think you would try a collab? Who would you want to collab with? What are challenges you foresee? What might be awesome about getting to collaborate with someone?

Negative Image

I will admit that I struggled finding a poem to do exercise number 8 with.  Having never done anything like this exercise before, I wasn’t sure exactly which direction to take it in. I  chose Norwood’s poem, ‘Anyway I Ran at the Tree Again’ and, at first, I tried to reverse the meaning of every word, but ended up with a garbled mess.  Returning to the poem, I tried to reverse the meanings of individual lines, but still ended up with something that sounded incomplete. Eventually, I figured out what the heck I was trying to do and I submitted it, but it made me take a different approach to reading the poem than I had before.  I read the poem as having a different meaning than the first few times I read it. Also, I began to think about what the poem was implying with its unsaid “Negative Image”. Did anyone else change their perspective on a poem because of this exercise?

Eight Weeks In

This semester is already halfway over (doesn’t feel like it, does it?) and this is just a brief meditation on where we are right now. Personally I feel like I’ve learned so much from you guys–reading your poems, hearing your comments on everyone’s pieces, and reading your responses have strengthened my writing (not only as a poet but in general) and given me a better understanding and appreciation of poetry. There are still things I want to work on, of course, like experimenting more with punctuation and meter. I’m both excited and terrified that we only have eight more weeks left together, and what that will mean for our continued progression. We have so much time yet so little.

With that, how do you guys feel you’ve grown as poets and writers so far this semester? What haven’t you tried yet that you still want to? I think it’s great that we’re pushing each other and ourselves.

This is Just To Say I Started An Experiment

Yesterday, after picking up my roommate at the airport, I had to drive her to her lab in the ISC to feed her cells. Currently they’re looking at cancer cells and watching growth patterns. She said I could see the lab if I drove her there after the airport and I figured why not. When we walked into the lab room (which was a lot messier than I expected), she prepared herself (ie. washed hands, put on the goggles, and other lab safety things) and like a kid in a china shop, I walked around the room with my hands behind my back. Then I found a seat at the middle lab table strewn with plastic pipettes, lab packets, highlighters, empty petri dishes, and other items that shouted biology. At the table, I saw a lab packet with a paper towel note explaining that the one lab partner used a specific chemical but he promised to replace it soon and not to worry. Because I tend to be a little mischievous I decided to leave a note too.

Continue reading “This is Just To Say I Started An Experiment”

A love song for “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

With Prufrock getting a fair amount of attention in class I wanted to post a recording of Eliot reading the poem in the hopes that you all will have some line of it repeating in your heads on the way to class. By some great/awful circumstance the first book of poems I ever seriously read (aside from Where the Sidewalk Ends) was Eliot’s collected poems, and by some great circumstance my local record store had a record that included Eliot reading Prufrock. I was generally confused by Eliot (why is he talking about Michelangelo?  What’s up with these claws? Lazarus?) until I listened to the recording. It didn’t suddenly make sense like Eliot’s voice was imbued with some secret timbre that gave me great powers of literary criticism; all that happened was that lines began to echo through my head, and they still do today. In fact, just this weekend I was biking home across campus while reciting it to myself, probably looking like some schizoid character.

As an amateur poet it wasn’t great to have Eliot in my head; I wrote a bunch of very mannered poems.  I would get comments back on workshop poems like “Is the speaker in this a grandpa?” Now that I’m a little more knowledgeable its wonderful to have the lines repeat in my head. I can think about their meanings instead of thinking “man, how can I write a poem that sounds like that.”

Anyway, here’s the recording: (I tried to make this a cool hyperlink, but I guess you’ll have to copy paste.)

What are the lines that might be repeating in your head?

For me, the line “almost, at times, the Fool.” at the end of the “attendant lord stanza” has been repeating recently.

Getting Lost in Translation

Towards the beginning of this semester, I was asked to do a translation for Gandy Dancer; that is, to pick a German poem and translate it into English. It felt at the time (and still feels) like a daunting task, even some months later, after I’ve wrestled it into some workable English form. Like the punctuation exercise we did, I think part of the difficulty lies in feeling like I’m trying to step into another author’s shoes. I’m translating Bianca Döring’s poem “Allein” (you can find the original here) and in the way of German poetry, it’s straightforward and powerful in its conciseness. There’s a good number of what we American poets would call “abstractions” but a complex layering of what’s simply understood by a word in German. For example, the last line reads “der Liebe sind verbrannt and tun nur weh.” The word “wehtun’ in German literally means to “to do one pain”–and even translation, literal as it is, isn’t doing full justice to the German word. My first translation read: “the love is burned and hurts,” but “wehtun” is a very active word, something not quite captured by “hurts.” Additionally, “verbrannt” is a much more complex word than simply “brennen”–both at their most basic level mean “to burn”, but verbrennen has a more twisted or violent connotation to it, because of the suffix “ver-.” Adding in the complexity of German grammar–depending on the dative or accusative case being used, the meaning also changes slightly again, it’s a welter of various dictionary tabs and texts to German friends asking, Are you sure there’s no other weird colloquialism associated with _____?  No? Rats. Okay, well what about ____?
If you couldn’t tell, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks feeling like I’m chasing my tail.

In addition with “borrowing” someone else’s words, there is of course, the fear that I’m interpreting or changing the poet’s original meaning. I don’t want to do her the violence of taking her words and completely changing them. (This terror is only heightened because the poet requested I send her my translation when it’s finished. I half wanted to write back and go I’m only twenty-one and I have no idea what I’m doing, I’m so sorry if I eff your beautiful poem up. Although I’m not sure how that panic would get translated into polite, formal German.) Our styles of writing are very different and the abstractions like “bright” or “night” make me twitch every time I read them and I just really, really, really want to muck around with white space and punctuation more than I already have, while still trying to stay true to her original poem.

Dr. Smith suggested I just take a look at the English version I’d managed to squeeze out of the German poem and consider it from that perspective. If this was to be workshopped, what would I change? What precise tightening of the language could I do? Would the addition of a word here or there reinforce the overall tone of the poem or the feeling of the line, even if it wasn’t in the original poem? What about taking out some words? (I gleefully cut a few of the “ands.”) Translation is an interesting process for sure, and one that has made me think of language in a much different way. It also astonishes me how many things are simply understood by speaking the language–all the nuances and complexities that are simply assumed by speaking that language and understanding those connotations.

Have any of you thought about doing translations? What are your worries if you have done/are thinking about doing a translation?

Punctuation as Noise (and White Space as Silence)

After reading Amy’s poem for workshop, I realized that the quadruple colon (::::) created a kind of noise for me by the end of the reading. Since the speaker was making a telephone call, the recurring :::: sounded like static. Plus, Katie brought up in class how the it could symbolize a “double mirror” since we like to think of the double colon as a mirror in all its glorious symmetry. This brought me to the conclusion that a double mirror could suggest the reversal of roles. Who is really making this phone call? Who else could possibly be speaking besides the father?

So, upon hearing that static in the quadruple colon, I began to look at all punctuation as noise. I say noise instead of sound because I figure that the words work as sound in poetry, poetic phonetics if you will.

If punctuation were to function as noise, what would the reader be hearing in your most recent poem? What does a comma sound like in comparison to a period? An em dash? And does this mean poems with a lack of punctuation are necessarily more quiet?

Just some food for thought that where there’s punctuation, there’s lack of space, which makes for a lack of silence! What sounds do you hear most?


So I was thinking about writing a post dealing with the differences between writing music and poetry. For me it’s easier to write poetry than it is to write music, and I have no idea why that is. I think it’s something to do with the feeling that I find a lot of freedom on the page, but that everything amazing in music has already been written (I mean come on: Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Springsteen–it doesn’t get better, at least for me). I know there’s freedom in music too, but I’m still having a hard time working it out. Anyway, that’s not this post.

I wanted to talk about the band “mewithoutYou” in this post, and their ridiculously impressive lyrics and projects. They’ve been pegged as a Christian band, but I think that was the work of some pretty shortsighted music critics, because their lyrics use Christian, Muslim, and Jewish images and stories to explore themes about the self and relationships to the rest of life. They also take stories and images from the Bhagavad Gita, and historical events. Their album “Ten Stories” focuses on a traveling circus train that crashed in Montana in the late 1800s, and every time I listen to it, I find more and more to love about the lyrics.

Grist for the Malady Mill” is the second song on the album, and my favorite because of the rhythm of the lyrics, and the intense images they use. Give it a listen if you’re curious, it’s pretty intense (especially that intro), but if you listen for the lyrics, I hope you’ll see the brilliant images involved in a simple story about animals fleeing from the train crash. My favorite lyric comes in the chorus “rail spikes rip like the seam on a wineskin”– it’s just the perfect image, the perfect amount of alliteration, that nice long e in wineskin. Enjoy!

Music & Poetry

Something that caught my attention about the Gallaher reading “A Line Is a Hesitation, Not a World” in A Broken Thing is a line in which he says, “I dislike hearing someone mention the ‘music’ of the line just about as much as I dislike hearing someone speak of the ‘poetry’ of things that aren’t poems” (97.)  I understand this sentiment in context to the idea that the “music” of poetry can lead to someone reading a poem in a way that feels too “poet-y,” but I feel like this view is a little short sighted.  From an anthropological/historical perspective poetry is interesting because the written form was born out of an oral tradition (at least in North America; I’m not confident enough to say this is universal, although I feel like it would be.)  If we look at poetry this way the music in the words is unavoidable.  Although I don’t know much about music, and I tend to always view poetry as literature, I do find that the way the poem sounds out loud is important to me.  I always read poems I write out loud to try and hear the sounds and rhythm better.  Has anyone gone to a reading a felt a certain way about a poem after they heard the poet read their work aloud?  I know this happened to me when I watched videos of Ilya Kaminsky reading his work after we read his collection Dancing in Odessa in Poetry last fall.  Has anyone else thought about this?  When you write poems do you pay attention to the sounds out loud, or have we forgotten the oral tradition of poetry?

QuickType Poetry

The first half of this semester has taken its toll on me, and so, devoid of any idea for a decent blog post, I lazily googled “Poetry” and clicked on the News tab and clicked on the first thing that came up. It led me here:

The link will direct you to a brief article by Susie Ochs about iOS 8’s fancy Big Brother keyboard that predicts what you’ll type before you finish typing it. One implication of this technology is weird, autonomous poetry. In a way this QuickType poetry reminds me of Christina’s post, “Bot or Not,” which delves into computer generated poetry and the eerie resemblance it can have to human generated poetry.

I don’t find any of the poems in this article that impressive or coherent, and I’m bothered by Ochs’ glibness toward poetry (“Your phone might be a poet and you don’t even know it.” Cringe). Still, it’s worth a quick look.

Is our ever-increasing intimacy with technology a detriment to our creative impulses or a useful tool for uncovering them?