Sun Yung Shin is my new favorite poet

My sonic min-lesson really got me to start looking into Sun Yung Shin’s poem Empty Ring, Nest Fire. That poem made me think about sound, specifically the ways in which sound and word choice can come together to create a fantastical poem.  It’s no surprise that I like to incorporate fantasy and science fiction elements into my poems, but I think what drew me into Sun Yung Shin’s poem was the way she could create a fantastical landscape with so few, well-chosen words.  Her use of alliteration and assonance, braided and plaited together with rhyme created a feeling similar to a folktale, and I spent over an hour reading it aloud to myself to pin that tone down.  She didn’t need to point to any particular fairy-tale monster to help me see the tentacled beast, the way in moved and the sounds it made, and that was amazing to me as a reader and a writer.

I just love the way the poem is laid out on the page, in couplets with only the third and fifth stanzas dropping into an indented third line, which only contains one or two words.   The poem feels like it needs the spaces between the stanzas to breathe, as if including the following lines to create tercets would be simply too much, and I think the poem’s sense of pacing points to this choice of format.  The poem uses vivid imagery in quick flashes to create a coherent story, but also to switch the reader’s focus from one contrasting image to the next.  The poem switches quickly from the opposing light and dark children, “burnt bark” and “swan skinned” to the image of the serpent, then back to the children and on to a foreboding image of the “Devil’s black forked feet,” calling attention to the opposition of light and dark, even where they are children born of the same mother.  Sun Yung Shin’s sound is so rich and begs to be read slowly.

I plan on buying myself a few books of her poetry over the holidays to recuperate from the Christmastime madness. You can find Empty Ring, Nest Fire here:

Poetry as Community

As the semester has progressed, I’ve re-evaluated my definition of what a poem is again and again.  I wish I could say I knew definitively what a poem is, but I can’t. However, I’ve come up with one facet of what makes a poem in all that time, and I think that poems create a group.  Maybe it’s made up of the people who inspired that particular poem, the people in the poet’s life who have pushed them forward creatively.  Maybe that group is made up of their readers, people who found that poem inspiring or thought it expressed something they connect with.  As a poet, I’ve spent a lot of time making my poems accessible for readers.  I want my poetry to be read by more than one demographic and I want it to speak to a multiplicity of experience, but I know that I’m limited to my own set of experiences and the years I’ve spent on this earth so far.  I want to inspire some sort of positive feeling which calls people to action, to stand together, etc. but I know that my poetry can only speak for a white woman living in the United States.  It’s that feeling of limitation that frustrates me and pushes me to reinvent my use of language every time I pick up a pen.

I’ve also realized that shared experiences are what create understanding in poetry, and that while we all have had separate lives, we can connect with one another through shared feelings.  I think this is the silver lining I’ve been searching for.  Whenever I hear knocks on the table during a workshop to express love for a particular line or phrase, I know I’ve done my job.  I know that because my poems are products of my worldview, most lines won’t resonate with large groups of people, but if I can create one line per poem that does that, I’m satisfied.

On being a Poetry Writer vs. a Poet

So, while writing my Poetic Statement, I got to thinking about the differences between being a “poetry writer” and a “poet.” In my mind, there’s a distinction between the two. Being a poetry writer means you can write poetry (and damn well, probably), but you don’t see yourself as mainly a poetry writer. Maybe you also write fiction, or non-fiction.  Meanwhile, being a poet carries a certain connotation that poetry is your bread and butter. Being a poet means that’s your “thing.”


I find it interesting there isn’t really an equivalent to being a poet for fiction or non-fiction. I’m pretty sure Rachel Hall (or was it Kristen Gentry??) uses the term “fictioneers,” but judging by the red squiggle-line under it in my word document, that term isn’t widely-accepted. To get specific titles for those, you have to get more specific, like “novelist” or “biographer” and the likes. So, is it a question of genre? Someone who writes fiction would be called a fiction writer, no matter their specific sub-genre, but once you get into that, labels come out of everywhere. Why is “poet” a universal label for poet-writers who feel comfortable enough with the word? There’s tons of different types of poems, so shouldn’t writer labels correspond to that?

Writer’s Statement and Backstories Behind Poems

Hey guys! What are your thoughts on Writer’s Statements? I just finished mine, and I’m wondering what everyone did. Like, I mainly tried to connect parts of my poetry back to sound, but half the time I wanted to talk about how I’ve changed as a writer or the story behind a poem. Every poem has a story behind it, from “this was a defining point in my life” to “I don’t know, I thought it sounded cool and ran with it.” I tried to keep as much out of my writer’s statement as possible, but a bit did come out about a poem or two. So, this is an open invitation for anyone who just wants to tell the story behind their poem.


(I’m about to put up like three different posts because I have poor time management and I figure if I’m up front with my intentions, it’ll be less bad.)

So Maya was asking about inspiration today and I deftly dodged by giving my favorite word (which was also part of the discussion, but still), mainly because inspiration and motivation are difficult for me. Lately I’ve been “inspired” to write poetry about losing my mother, which I generally do not like to talk about. It’s so much easier to type things out than say them out loud.

In a more general sense, inspiration and motivation tend to shift a lot for me. Lately, it’s been the above reason, but before, my inspiration tended to be little images in my head, sort of like what Jay was talking about. As for motivation, I always think that I can work better under pressure, because that’s when I need stuff done. Motivation to do poetry and inspiration for poetry rarely line up right, though,which is always difficult. Thoughts?

Revision Idea

Hi everyone!

There is a revision idea that I’ve been tossing around in my head for the past few weeks (maybe someone had previously mentioned it in class?) that I’ve finally put into practice. My idea, which was to revise a poem taking out all of the pronouns, was somewhat inspired by feeling like I use too many “I’s” and “you’s” in my poetry, however when I tried it I realized that it made most of my poems entirely nonsensical. While I don’t think that I will be using this revision prompt too much, it did make me think about a method of revising as: deletion. I am now going through various poems and revising them according to a method of deleting one or two specific things, whether they be words or conjunctions or prepositional phrases and so forth. I find that this helps me reduce my poem to a kind of core or skeleton of what I want, eliminating or identifying things I really want in a poem. While this may not be an exceptionally inspiring or groundbreaking idea to anyone, I wanted to share it regardless.

Happy revising,


On Language, Specifically Rat Language

You can blame my girls Juniper and Bergamot for this, but I’ve been looking at the writing exercises and thinking about language and translation in slightly broader terms.  Since becoming a rat mama, I’ve had to learn so much from my girls on how to interact with them, care for them, and respect them.  It is now my sole mission to somehow fit a poem about rat language into my portfolio, even if it takes hours to do so.  As for rat language, here are a few important behavioral markers I’ve picked up over the past few weeks:

  1. bruxing: when rats are happy or content with their surroundings, they do this thing where they grind their front teeth together (which are forever growing, btw) to produce a kind of chattering noise.  It’s hard to hear unless they’re hanging out on my shoulders, but it’s become a calming noise for me.  It lets me know they’re nearby, and also helps me pick up on what things they like.
  2. play-fighting: because they’re still wee babes and spend a lot of time in their cage-mansion, they like to mess around with each other.  Often this includes a lot of squeaking and chirping that surprised me at first, but actually just means they’re having a good time and hamming it up.
  3. nibbling: much like human babies, rat babies chew on everything to figure out if it’s safe to eat/edible.  Apparently, the girls don’t know my hands and fingers aren’t on the menu quite yet.

As for how this relates to poetry, I think that it’s important to remember that poetry can sometimes be non-verbal.  While we often assume words are necessary to poetic expression, I’d like to think that poetry can stand in for what language itself cannot express, and that is why sometimes finding the correct combination of words to stand in for one word or feeling is so important to the way poetry is formed.  Long story short, I might be including the following lines in a writing exercise:

elongated yellow teeth tip-tapping, grappling with one another

pink clawed hands help mouths feel for food in whorls

shcruffshcruffshcruff mumbles below my earlobe

throw emotions into sharp relief

On Finding a Title

Since Carey McHugh’s visit, I have been thinking about how she titles her poems. This entire semester, I have had difficulty titling my own poems. I like that Carey included where she got her poem titles in the back of American Gramophone.

Earlier, I posted about phrases I like in other languages, but I think English phrases are equally inspiring. I see English phrases as potential titles or first lines for poems, and have found a nice master list of phrases on Wikipedia. I hope I can use more of these phrases in the future for a title or a jumping off point!

Opposite to Carey, however, I usually write the poem first and then find a title for it. This seems backward, but I think it works for me. If I start with a title and then write, the poem rarely relates to the title by the time I am finished.

Where to you get your titles from? Do you choose a title or write first?

Writing Exercise When You Need a Study Break!

Hey all!
So I’ve been cramming like crazy–as I’m sure most of you are. I was just thinking how I would love to have a little writing exercise to de-stress but that also relates somewhat to material I’m studying. Maybe this can even help you with your studies! (I said maybe, sorry if it doesn’t)

So, the title of your poem will be the class you are studying for. For example, my title will be ENGL 115, as that is what I’m currently working on.

Now randomly select a term on one of your study sheets or assignments–any term!I landed on Wendy Cope’s Poem–From Strugnell’s Sonnets (which is about a male poet who likes getting drunk, and getting women drunk to have sex with him) ((does this count as studying???).

Now you’ve got a title and a first line!

ENGL 115

In Strugnell’s Sonnets I find:

Now list things you would find in whatever term you have chosen!

ENGL 115

In Strugnell’s Sonnets I find:
drunken whispers over rivers,
the rush of blood in cheeks of
ladies who no longer know what they
speak. cheap liquor leaving table
rings, proposals to marriage

While this is pretty shitty, I still had fun writing it and I’m pretty sure I won’t forget what’s happening in Wendy Cope’s poem!!!

Happy Studying!!
(((Lilo loves you all)))

The inevitable revision blog post….

So I started really trying to put my portfolio together this week… meaning REVISIONS, REVISIONS, REVISIONS. I know we have talked a lot about revisions both in class and on the blog, but I can’t help making a post about the process, as its been on my mind a lot this week.

I don’t really have a “process.” I just kind of dive in and start changing stuff up. I re-read a poem (usually end up thinking, eww did I actually write this?) and start messing with word order, images, searching through google for new words and sources of inspiration, destroying line breaks, the whole shebang. But there are a few things I noticed myself doing differently this semester.

Last semester, putting my portfolio together felt like creating some sort of visual, hands-on art. I worked on it little by little, everyday adding something, changing something. The process wasn’t easy, but for the most part, it was neat, even organized. This semester, it feels so messy. Like I’m sculpting with meat and finger painting the final product. There are a few reasons for this. First, I have A LOT more poems to go through this semester. Last semester, I mostly only had the poems I had been writing for the weekly exercises. This semester, I have the weekly exercise poems, plus all the little projects I started in between weekly exercises– poems I had jotted down in notebooks in class, lines I heard around me and love and typed up into miscellaneous word docs and tossed into the “poetry” folder on my computer. Sifting is a difficult thing, and proves to be a messy one, too. Not only do I have a lot more poems to go through, I also feel like I’m having more trouble getting these poems to a point where I can say I’m satisfied with them.

Anyone else having the last-minute revision blues?