MY POETRY is whatever I think I am

I want to agree with Amiri Baraka, hug him and kiss him and say YES! That’s EXACTLY WHAT POETRY IS. And then I want to talk to him about how dumb people who think poetry should be anything else are. I want to say I am right, this is the way. My heart does little pauses whenever I think about doing this though. Not out of excitement but out of the vague guilt that says, “You’re wrong Carolina. Poetry is so much more than just you.”

Whatever I think I am is relative to everyone else. I am everyone I have ever met and all the thoughts that have been shared with me. In that way, it can’t really be my poetry, as I am only recycling thoughts and ideas. I feel so defensive of my poetry though, as you all witnessed in class when I told Meghan I didn’t care (I’m sorry!). Why is that? I feel like it’s me there on the page, trying to show you my insides. And then when people don’t understand it I just want to say, well, so what? You don’t HAVE TO understand. I’m misunderstood, that’s the point, duh.

But, it’s not something to which we should say so what, even if we want to (my mistake). It does matter. Poetry is one of the only methods that two people can truly understand each other and if we are thinking only of who we are and not about who everyone else is, then how will we achieve the goals we wish to? How will we master this art. I guess we should find a balance. Sacrifice some of the qualities we feel are exclusive to ourselves so that we can successfully speak to somebody else in their language.



Notebooks and the Writing Process

When John Gallaher was here, I noticed that he was writing sentences (or line or observations, who knows?) in a notebook throughout the class. At the end of class, I asked him “Why do you use a small notebook?” He passionately responded that he liked being able to carry it around in his pocket, so that he could write something down as soon as it came into his mind. He talked about the mead notebooks, and how the plastic cover protects it if, for example, he threw the notebook onto a table at a bar. He was so enthusiastic about this notebook, even noting the changes the Mead notebooks have gone through the years (they replaced the plastic back cover with a cardboard one, and they shrunk the size of the spiral , which made it more difficult to slide pens into loops). It was easy to tell that he was obsessed with these notebooks.

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Language is not Neutral

TwERK, LaTasha N Nevada Diggs


Following on from our conversations about access/familiarity/language yesterday, it’s worth quoting poet and critic Joyelle McSweeney’s thoughts on Diggs’s poetry, from the Poetry Foundation website:


Diggs’s work is truly hybrid: languages and modes are grafted together and furl out insistently from each bound splice. In a review of TwERK for the online literary site Montevidayo, poet Joyelle McSweeney writes, “Language is not a neutral tool, and the history of the peoples who belong to these language[s] and the hegemonic forces that would distress, suppress or obliterate both the languages and their peoples is what makes these poems so fierce, fraught, bladey and mobile. The showiness and flaunt of these poems are like the fierceness of the drag balls Diggs salutes in one poem: a visible weapon, a tactic simultaneously offensive and defensive, a wargame for the whole body. Diggs’s poems truly work the whole body of the poem, the whole body of sound, the whole body of history, the whole body of voice and ear, the whole body of language and the ability of the page to be its own sonic syntax; they articulate and rotate joints that seemed fixed; they are bawdy and triumphant and they more than work. They TwERK.”

Four Hinterland Abstractions

I read a poem recently, titled “Four Hinterland Abstractions,” by Ray Young Bear, and published in The New Yorker a little over a month ago. It is choc-a-block full of things, things I loved and things I didn’t understand.

Let’s think about the word “hinterland” to start. According to research (Wikipedia), a hinterland is “the land behind,” as in, the land behind a seaside town or port. In the first of four parts, the speaker describes a truck that “tipped / over on the interstate / somewhere”. The speaker says “this valley / was sculpted by the once lovely / wings of a vulture”. Here, the hinterland is not literally the land behind a body of water, but the land that was left behind.

This theme of ancestry and history continues in the second part, where nighttime fireflies compel the speaker and his children to “place ourselves / beside the weeping / willow grandfather”. Here, the mention of children and grandfather in the same stanza accentuates the generational quality of not only family but our lives on this earth. I love the way the above lines are formatted. The verb “weeping” and “grandfather” seem to go together in my mind, and on first reading I ignored the word “willow” by accident. It seemed to personify the tree, and was well done on the writer’s part.

The third part of the poem was the most confusing to me. It was more abstract. I got caught by the lines “a winsome / ghost that’s awash in green / & yellow pulsating colors”. What does this mean? How does it relate to hinterland?

The fourth and final part was also beautiful. The speaker meets a man, possibly a young soldier “wearing boots covered / with ochre grains of distant / battlefields”. The battlefields are the hinterlands, the far away place. The soldier “reached down / & crushed several into small / clouds,” only adding to their place in the background of the past, while he stands in the foreground, the present.



Geneseo Poet’s Society Meeting!

Hi all!
Today I went to the first official Poet’s Society meeting. Pam and Sara are co-presidents, and it’s really nice to see some familiar faces leading something we (for the most part) love. We did a fun writing prompt–Write about a conversation you’ll never have with someone–and I thought it was very thought-provoking. It actually helped me finish my poem for exercise 3. I took bits of what I had already started and mashed it together with some bits I wrote at the meeting. I have never really mashed poems together like that before, but it was really effective for me. Do you guys find yourselves ever “mashing” snippets of different poems together? If so, why? The ones that I used were unrelated but I filled in the blanks by adding/cutting. I will definitely be doing this again in the future. Interested to hear what you all have to say about this!
Also–anyone interested in meetings should definitely come! I was having a bad case of writer’s block all last week and the meeting really helped get me inspired. The meetings are Saturday at 6 in the Fireside Lounge. Hope to see you poets there!

Review: “Matins” by Louise Glück

Since I’m struggling to think of what to blog about, I figured I would just write about a poem I really like. I came across Louise Glück’s book The Wild Iris one day last winter when I was in the library looking for books to take out just for fun. I was choosing, as I have the bad habit of tending to choose books, by covers and the vibes they gave off (I know I sound like some weird hippy). The cover of The Wild Iris reminded me of an art project I did at summer camp some years ago where we pressed flowers to pieces of fancy photo paper, left them out in the sun, and were left with cool negative prints. So of course, the book gave off a “good vibe” and of course, I borrowed it and loved it. The poem “Matins” (the second poem in the book by that title) turned out to be one of my favorites. It’s a religious poem, which for some reason I’ve been drawn to lately, specifically ones like this where the speaker is struggling with their faith and there’s a palpable tension between human imperfection/rebellion and godly “tough love.”

The poem starts very unexpectedly, with the first line addressing God not by something typical like “dear Lord,” but instead “Unreachable father.” The word “unreachable” speaks volumes–the God of Judaism and Christianity (which is who I assumed is the god in this poem because of the next line mentioning an exile from paradise) is supposed to be omnipresent and ever-listening; so what has happened to make God “unreachable,” as if his telephone wire has been cut? Where does the fault lie–on God for not hearing what the speaker is communicating, or on the speaker for not successfully communicating? The speaker continues by describing humanity being cast out of paradise and sent to “a replica, a place in one sense / different from heaven, being / designed to teach a lesson: otherwise / the same–beauty on either side, beauty / without alternative– Except / we didn’t know what was the lesson.” I love the “beauty on either side, beauty / without alternative” line. The first part makes me think of the world in a more collective way; rather than a vast globe broken into continents and seas and countries with pockets of good and bad, the earth is a whole, simple thing, almost like a sheet of paper, with beauty on both of its faces. The second part reminds me how abstract and yet unfathomed some human values, like beauty, are; beauty is an absolute that cannot be broken down into smaller terms, try as we might. I think one could substitute “God” in both lines for “beauty,” but the fact that it is “beauty” rather than “God” almost makes it seem like the humans in this poem have been shallowly worshipping appearances rather than their creator.

Next, the speaker talks about how the humans “left alone… exhausted each other” and then “Years / of darkness followed; we took turns / working the garden, the first tears / filling our eyes as earth / misted with petals, some / dark red, some flesh colored.” I love the feeling here of humans being left to learn their lesson the hard way, forced to forge lives without the guidance of God. Then finally, after all the suffering and toil, they have succeeded in producing something good. The red and pink imagery of the fruit of their labor felt very corporeal and raw to me–it reminded me of a heart, a stomach, or even a newborn. I love the line “misted with petals” partly because I love flowers as a metaphor for life(-giving), and partly because “misted” makes me think of “spray” like in a spray of flowers which, although it sounds pretty, is typically only used for funerals. The tension between life and death that this creates is really interesting. The last few lines are “We never thought of you / whom we were learning to worship. / We merely knew it wasn’t human nature to love / only what returns love.” Here is another abstract, unfathomed value–love– and humans discovering it for the first time. Real love, I think, is given unconditionally, with no expectation of getting any back (although one may hope). Humanity continued to cultivate the earth through “Years / of darkness,” showing it love even when it yielded nothing at first. I love the accessibility and relevancy of the poem’s theme–practicing love, no matter what.

The poem can be found here if you flip through the front matter and past the first two poems.

A Love Poem

Hi everyone – happy Friday!

I discovered a poem today, here:, called Fast Gas, by Dorianne Laux. I promise it is worth the read.

I was looking up love poems, because I’ve always thought them to be a peculiar breed – so overdone, right? It was brought on by my boyfriend, asking why I only ever wrote about things that were sad and I thought, dammit, I’ll write about something happy – I’ll write a love poem! Which turned out to be a mess, because love poem can become so… trite? so easily.

So anyway, I was researching love poems and I found this one and it spoke to me and I was hoping it might speak to some of you and – if it did – that you might tell me why. I found this poem to not be trite at all; when I read it aloud, the words made my mouth feel full and my skin heat just a little, and most of the poem is not about love and yet it is.

For me, I think, that’s what was key – the poem used content to tell two stories; every line worked two ways telling a story of gasoline and a story of love (and the way love can be explosive, just like that fuel). Especially, I loved the way these lines worked: “the gas/backed up, came arcing out of the hole/ in a bright gold wave and soaked me — face, breasts,/belly and legs”. Love explodes out of that place we can’t see inside us, a bright and golden (so positive!) wave, soaking our whole body in hormones and making our whole body, from face to legs (and especially breasts, thrown in there perhaps for a little sexualization), tingle. The next set of lines I particularly loved: ”

Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt
pure and amazed — the way the amber gas
glazed my flesh, the searing,
subterranean pain of it, how my skin
shimmered and ached, glowed
like rainbowed oil on the pavement.

” Doesn’t that seem just like love? Making us light-headed, making us feel raw and amazed. It contains that pain and yet that shimmering beauty. It covers the ordinary nature of us, the asphalt, with the beauty of the rainbow, glowing. “Shimmered and ached” – that feels like love to me.

All this being said, I almost wish the poem had not transitioned into being so explicitly about love; I was feeling the metaphor so strongly that when it transitioned and was explicitly mentioned I was disappointed for having it all explained to me. Did others feel the same?

Another love note (haha- get it?) was for the form. The run-on,  no stanza breaks made me feel the love, and its tension, full throttle with no stopping. It was certainly fast gas. There was no time to stop and take a breath, and love is often that way; fast and all-consuming.

I also wondered if this poem spoke to me simply because of my past experiences – my dad and I spend hours in the garage together, and he has worked on cars his whole life. Thus anything about cars, even the smell of gasoline, can feel like love (though paternal love, generally) to me and evoke a sense of, at the very least, contentment. Did it speak to others, even without this background?

On Culture and Diversity

I have been thinking a lot lately about our conversation on what we have permission to write/writing in another’s perspective. I’ve really enjoyed hearing what everyone had to say and have a few ideas of my own to add.

On writing diversity in:

There seems to me to be big problems with the idea that a majority culture/gender/race etc… can ‘write’ in underrepresented people. People of minorities are not accessories that can be inserted into a piece of writing or artwork in order to expand or contract its level of diversity, and more importantly when we add characters who’s experiences we can’t relate to for the purpose of ‘adding diversity’ we can easily misunderstand or misrepresent them and, as Megan said in class, risk outweighing or even silencing their actual voices with ours, which inherently have greater access to a platform. What’s more important, as a majority culture, than sprinkling our writing with minority characters or cultural taglines, is to make sure we are actively listening to, maximizing, and providing safe forum for the actual voices of minorities.

It is important to keep in mind that the oftentimes uncomfortable and difficult scrutiny of motives, consequences, and unfairness is a direct result of the inequities that exist in society.

On the blurring of cultural lines:

I’m sure that you have all heard about the ‘yellowface’ scandal that rocked the literary community recently. In short, a white male author used a female, Chinese pseudonym when submitting a poem for publication, for the explicit purpose of benefiting from the position of a marginalized Asian woman. In a way that is very similar to cultural appropriation, this author (his actual name being Michael Derrick Hudson) benefitted from hitching himself onto an underrepresented gender and culture (to which he does not belong or suffer any of the other consequences of belonging to) that would, in the life of the person who actually belonged to that culture, be used to hinder them. Hudson claimed an identity that was not his, identity being inseparable from personal experience and culture and voice, all things that contribute to our poetry and other’s readings of it.

Hudson’s actions are ultimately unacceptable in my opinion, and lead me to think of how easy it can be to simply use or hitch on to a culture for the weight or associations or trappings that come with it. There have been arguments made for Hudson’s case, referencing a long tradition of doing the same thing but in reverse (i.e. women taking on a male pseudonym), however in trying (unsuccessfully) to compare these two situations, these arguments completely undermine the inequity and unfairness that has led to this entire conversation.

Lastly I would like to emphasize the importance of accepting that different people have different experiences, especially from within minorities as I feel individuals belonging to a minority often get lumped together into a single experience or worldview where as the majority (thought of as the ‘norm’) has the luxury of being a society composed of individuals with unique opinions and experiences. As an example, let’s say that an American author just watched Slumdog Millionire, became super inspired, and decided to write a poem from the perspective of an Indian character. To be safe, the writer shows this poem to her Indian friend who says that she approves of and loves the poem. This does not mean that every other individual who identifies with the Indian culture and race is going to like this poem, and that is okay, as long as the writer respects the validity of other’s differing experiences, feelings, and opinions.

I had a some degree of a difficult time articulating all of this, so please let me know what your thoughts are, places where you agree or disagree, and so forth.

-Christy L. Agrawal

Is the art the product, the process, both or neither?

Confused? So am I. Actually, I think I have been living in a confused state since I turned twenty, with slight moments of enlightenment/clarification. Hopefully it’s a phase.

Poetry is an art. You see something, you write about it and then you edit profusely until it communicates what you want it to or just something that’s hopefully relative to what inspired you to write the poem. Some would say that the artistic part of this is the finalized product.  After blood, sweat and tears, you finally know that your poem is finished, that it’s saying what you mean it to and that people will be moved by your words. That is the art. The act of moving others, of inspiring and of mastering.

Others would say that the art in anything is the act of creation. In poetry, this would be the blood, sweat and tears, second guessing, constant re-writing, seeking advice, days, months of obsession over a small word which may or may not be useful.

And then there is the question of, is the art both of these things? Is the art in poetry made whole by the product and the process? And then is an unedited poem incomplete? Or a poem which does not move or inspire anything?

I ask these questions because as I thought about what I wanted to do or what I seemed to be lacking in my poems, I realized that what I wanted to mess around with was fancier word usage. I want to have adjectives which are more focused and exclusive not because I think these words are important or because I think that my point will be communicated any more effectively than it would be with simpler language but because it looks pretty and sounds pretty. That is the root of my desire. If we’re being honest, it’s shallow.  Would it make me less of a poet if I did this? Where do we draw the line in art? Do we, should we?

If a poem dedicates itself to nothing but the use of pretty words, if it has no meaning, no moral, no intent to inspire or to tell a story, is it still a poem? Moreover, if I put together a poem without wanting to inspire and without editing, is it still art?

Can a poem be void of purpose?

Just some things that have been on my mind.

What are we allowed to write?

I’ve been really interested in the discussions we’ve been having lately about what we do and don’t have permission to write about. It’s a question that I’ve read about a fair amount on various websites and discussed with friends both online and in person. The question of “What should we be permitted to write?” is such a multi-faceted question that it’s almost too intimidating to answer. I’m just going to look at two different ways to approach this question. I realize that it isn’t enough to answer a question as complex as it, but it’s the best way I have, currently, at approaching it.

Continue reading “What are we allowed to write?”