Don’t Despair!

As I’ve been going back through my poems from this semester, picking out which ones to use and revising the ones I choose, I find myself feeling disappointed with a lot of my earlier poems. I think that this is in a large part because I usually like to put more time in between when I finish crafting the first draft of a poem and when I revise it, and also in part because I feel that I am in a rapidly growing and changing period of flux in terms of my style as a poet. I also think that this feeling is related to the volume of beautiful poetry we have been reading in workshop, not only from each other but also from published authors.

Despairing about my poetry while gorging myself on poems from the Poetry Foundation website I came across an article that really helped alleviate this feeling. The author of the article (who’s name I have unfortunately forgotten) pointed out that we–young poets, the patrons and consumers of both contemporary and non-contemporary poetry–interact almost exclusively with final drafts (excluding workshop, obviously.) We don’t get to read Langston Hughes’ first draft of “Dust Bowl,” we don’t get to see how “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop came to be what it was, we (with a few exceptions such as posthumous publications) only read whole products that at one point a poet had looked at and said “this has been revised enough, this is good.” This idea kind of blew me away, I was amazed that I had never considered this before and it really helped me to feel better about my first and second and third drafts. I hope that this knowledge can help someone else feel better too if you are going through a similar process with your revisions!


The lines we like define the lines we write

Near the beginning of the semester, we were asked what drew us to picking or liking a certain poem. I think what draws us to poetry says more about our poetry than the poem we picked. I’ve noticed over the semester that certain people get drawn to certain lines and certain ideas. Meghan is drawn in by scientific poems and insects. Jay appreciates line with effective white space. Chloe tends to like lines that are delicate and beautiful. You can see these individualized interests expressed in Meghan’s, Jay’s, and Chloe’s poems.

My favorite phrase this entire semester came from a poem, whose title I can’t remember, that Christy wrote: “moon ooze.” I’m unsure of why I latched onto those words. I think it could be that the sound is amazing. The soft m, long o’s, and z make the phrase sound languid and thick-syrup gorgeous. It could be the look of the words together. The double, double oo’s look nice in on page. Everything is nice and rounded save the z, which adds some “spice” to the mix. It might be the image of a dripping moon that I love. I really have no idea. I just know that I’m obsessed with this line, and I was never expecting to get this obsessed with any phrase. I figured I’d just go on casually liking phrases, but never committing to a favorite. Regardless of why I like the phrase, I’ve noticed its influence on my poems as I’ve assembled my portfolio. I tend to gravitate toward longer sounds. I also tend to pair words that have more of a sonic connection than a visual one.

I think that its’ fair to say that, when evaluating yourself as a poet, you can look toward the things that you’ve liked in other people’s poetry as a guide to what you’re doing. I came into the course without liking any sort of poetry, because I had only read people like Williams Carlos Williams and Emily Dickenson. Obviously, their fantastic poets, but their poems (at least the more famous ones that I read) didn’t fit my poetry style at all. Now that I’ve found poets who I feel more connected to, I feel like I’ve started to figure out who I am as a poet.

Authorial Intent versus revisions

Alright, it’s 4:30 AM, I’m not sure why I’m awake, let’s do this.


So the question of authorial intent has been plaguing me all semester. I personally prescribe to the “death of the author” ideal—once you put something out there, your intentions really don’t matter. What you intend may be completely lost within the poem itself because you didn’t express yourself clearly enough or a few words had unintentional meanings. I know a few of my poems where no one picked up on what subtext I wanted conveyed. I’m okay with people not getting what I intended, but the question is, how do I move on from there with revisions?


In cases where authorial intent is so far off from what is actually written, is it better to try and make it more explicit in the poem, or go with the direction people got more of a message from? Is it a sign that I should write two different poems, one with the original intent, one with what people thought? Is it a sign I should take a breather and try some different material until something makes itself clearer?


Carey McHugh tackled the issue of authorial intent when she visited us. She said she really didn’t see people getting different views as a problem, as obviously not everyone is going to have the same experiences, and will approach material differently. This is the view I try to take with other people’s work, but can’t seem to apply to myself. Is it a case of sort of “letting go,” acknowledging that how your audience takes your poem is out of your control?

Writing Prompt: Music and Emotional Expression

Hey, everyone! I have a quick and simple prompt for you.  I’ve been spending lots of time on study playlists, using them as background noise while I work, and I think I speak for everyone when I say sometimes the songs without lyrics are the most expressive.  I want you to pick a new atmospheric/acoustic/etc. song with no lyrics, something you’ve never listened to before.  Give Spotify a go, and listen to the song once, all the way through.  Write down words which you attribute to the song: emotions, nouns, verbs.  If the song has arcs of sound which make you experience different feelings from the last, mark each section as a distinct word bank.

Now, try and create a narrative or an overall message from those words/feelings.  Keep listening to the song, and let the words you chose shape the poem along with the song.  As for an example, here’s my snippet inspired by “Rice Rain” by Cashmere Cat:

word inspiration: baby feet, toads, puddles, and tall grass


toddling father figures toppling

green stalks between pudgy mushroom feet

she sings along to the toad’s lazy burbling

the field mice tickle her

cheek with wispy peachfuzz whiskers

alongside sinews of cattails


no longer necessary attendees,

no need to spend money when

time and treesap serve her

intangible cakes with candle-stems embedded

muddy puddle-water becomes sherbet punch

gullible girls with fey hearts.


Comment with your own writing based on the prompt, or let me know if this exercise helped you at all!

Space from autobiographical poems

Hey, so since it’s the end of the semester I should probably actually start posting. I’ve got a question for you guys: How do you handle poems about specific personal experiences? I’ve had a few ideas rattling around the back of my head for awhile now, and every time I try and put them down, it doesn’t feel like it does justice. I remember an old teacher telling me once that people should sit on their experiences before turning them into poems, since the writer will have more perspective and it isn’t quite as reactionary. There’s also the issue of poking old/still open wounds. How do people write about losing loved ones/bad break-ups/etc. without returning to emotional turmoil?

If this post piques your curiosity…?

As I was looking for a poem to use for my “How a Poem’s Sound Happens” presentation I stumbled upon this poem, also by Naomi Shihab Nye (the same poet that I did for my presentation.) I was so immediately drawn in by the structure of this poem: it’s incredible how Nye is able to construct meaning in the first part of this poem out of what is unwritten: the answers to the first six rhetorical questions. I also think that the slightly interrogative atmosphere, a feeling that is introduced softly: beginning with a ‘because’ rather than an ‘if,’ is very important to it’s subject matter – related to where war, religion, and fundamentalism intersect.

As a writing prompt, I would like to urge everyone to try to write a poem using rhetorical questions that, when put together, will re-envision and explain a complex situation in simpler terms.

  1. Think about something that you are very familiar with but that many other people aren’t familiar with (this can be a phenomenon, a lifestyle, a misunderstood individual, a place, etc…)
  2. Come up with questions that you think will help someone understand and relate to the thing that you came up with in the first step. Try not to use any words that make a direct reference to the thing that you chose in the first step, instead looking outside of this thing in order to explain in, or breaking it down into smaller parts.
  3. I want you to address your questions to a “you,” similarly to how Nye does this in her poem.
  4. I want you to try to begin each question differently. (ex/ “what if,” “if,” “how,” “when,” “why,” “is,” etc…)

If anyone decides to try this please let me know how it turns out and feel free to share what you came up with in a comment or post. Also feel free to add any extra steps or ideas that you might have. Hope that this is helpful to someone!

-Christy L. Agrawal

Writing Prompt- Snapshots

Inspired by Carrie’s line “cloudy snapshot,” I came up with a short little prompt that comes in two parts.

The First Part: Write a snapshot moment.
The goal is to capture a very minuscule moment, freeze everything in time, and then describe it in depth. Focus on feelings. On images. On the sights and atmosphere of the moment. Once you’re down with that move onto the next part of the prompt.

The Second Part: Look at your moment through a lens.
In life, memories can be tainted, tinted, or obscured by our feelings and/or surroundings. The idea is to pick some sort of lens to look at this snapshot through. It could be more of an emotional lens, such as a personal black rain cloud or  rose colored glasses. It could be natural lens afternoon sunlight or cloudy morning light. It could even be more of an actual type of lens like a microscope, a camera lens, or a sepia/black and white filter.

If you’re really low on ideas for lenses, I’d suggest using a gypsum wedge. It’s part of the petrographic microscope that we use in Mineralogy. A gypsum wedge is basically just a slice of gyspum (a slightly colored, but still translucent mineral) that slows down the light reflected off of the microscope slide, which results in a color shift. It looks something like this:


I hope this prompt was helpful, and happy writing! (or revising!)

(picture from here:

The influence behind your poems

I noticed a lot of people speaking about fictional poetry and how to create the characters within the poem by thinking about their history or likes/dislikes, etc. I was surprised that so many people in poetry used fiction as inspiration for their poems because I (mistakenly) thought that everyone wrote poetry based off of real life events. I guess it comes down to the genres we’re most comfortable in. For example: I love to write poetry, but if I wasn’t a poet, I would be a creative nonfiction writer. For some people, that differs, there are poets with a fiction preference, and some are just poets with all kinds of preferences. But it has been very interesting to learn about the purpose and goal behind everyone’s poetry. Each poet in this class aims to communicate something different, and I think that whatever the poets communicate says a lot about how they wish to maybe impact the world someday, or what they wish to explore more deeply.

For me, poetry has always been a way of transcribing every day life. I look at life like a book and everyone in my life including myself are just characters within that book. My philosophy professor was talking in class today about how he sometimes wondered if he was in a movie, and how sometimes he felt like he really was because there are moments in life that seem so scripted that it would be impossible for them not to be from a movie. He said “Real life just looks like fiction sometimes,” and it does. That’s why I take my inspiration from it everyday. My goal is to document in writing the moments that seem scripted, and I don’t really need to think about the details or the characters and their histories because they’re all right in front of me.

However, I think it’s really cool that some people make up these characters and these histories in their heads. My brain is much too lazy to think about unreal characters on such a deep level. I always wished that I could write fiction as well as other people, but it just doesn’t work for me, and it wouldn’t accomplish my goal with writing. What are your goals? Do you want to teach the world something new, explore your imagination,  salvage the beautiful moments in your everyday life for a time when they won’t exist any longer, or is your goal only to explore yourself and your emotions? I wonder, do these goals become muddled when we write poetry, and are we, in a way, aiming to accomplish a little bit of all of them.