18 and Getting Older

On the tail-end of my birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk about age not only in the literary community but in all of our communities.

Often, we say things like “Wow, she published her first poem at 17” or “He published three books by 16” as if either of these things is somehow more valuable, more impressive than if the person had been 27, 37, or heck 107.

What’s more worrying is that, as people age, we begin to normalize their achievement. Milestones are no longer treated as “surprising” or “special” so much as they’re treated as “normal” and “expected.” It’s wonderful that someone else has figured out their passions young, but that doesn’t mean we all have to. Or that all of us had the social and economic means to.

The rhetoric around age needs to change, not soon, but now. Let’s celebrate everyone equally — with warmth and enthusiasm.

#AccomplishedAtAnyAge

Kendrick, Pulitzer, & Responding to Dotun Adebayo, or A Thing Megan Is Not Qualified to Talk About Pt. 3

Last summer, in an attempt to be seen as “cool” by my mentees in Geneseo’s Access Opportunity Summer Scholar’s Program (AOP), I listened to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., a new album they all had been listening to and discussing.

And then I listened to it again.

And again.

I didn’t listen to DAMN. repeatedly because I was hooked; I listened to it for comprehension. I knew my Broadway-and-a-cappella-loving white ass wasn’t going to understand any of the nuances of this strange, loud music unless I kept listening (while simultaneously googling the lyrics, because Kendrick isn’t exactly the king of enunciation).  I thought that if I could at least say what DAMN. is about, I’d reach my young, in-the-know mentees on their musical level.

Well, now I’m obsessed with DAMN., even though most of my friends and now former mentees have moved on.  I’ve listened to DAMN. forwards.  I’ve listened to DAMN. backwards.  I’ve mixed the songs from DAMN. in with songs from good kid, m.A.A.d cityand To Pimp A Butterflyin a playlist that I think could be the soundtrack to a Broadway jukebox musical (a musical with non-original songs).  I’ve made my mom listen to DAMN.  I can rap most of “XXX” from DAMN. DAMN. is my go-to driving album, shower album, and running-to-class-because-I’m-late-as-fuck album.  DAMN. was not written for minimally cultured white women like me, but DAMN. I love it.

As you can predict, when DAMN. was awarded the 2018 music Pulitzer, I was ecstatic.

Now, let me introduce you to someone who is less ecstatic (unless you’re already familiar with this human, in which case, lmk).  Dotun Adebayo, a British radio presenter, writer, and publisher (thanks, Wikipedia), published an article this morning titled “If we valued black art, Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer would have been for literature.”  I bet my classmates can predict Adebayo’s points: rap should be considered poetry, rap should be taught as literature in schools along with Shakespeare, and Shakespeare is basically R-rated anyway, so, like, rap isn’t encouraging violence any more than Romeo and Julietis (they were all stabbing each other for half the play).

If you ask me if DAMN. is poetry, I’ll say, “Um, obviously.”  If you ask me if DAMN. should have received the poetry Pulitzer instead of the music one, I’ll say, “I don’t care if the album received a journalism Pulitzer, we still have a Black rapper receiving a Pulitzer!”  Now, the winner of the 2018 poetry Pulitzer was this work called Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, which I am not familiar with at all, so I’m not comfortable kicking it out of its place for Kendrick to get that poetry slot.  Really, I don’t think any of us can complain at the moment.

Regarding rap as poetry in schools, however, thatshould have been a thing back in the mid 2000s. It’s all Pearson’s fault, with its common core, College Board, white-as-fuck SAT questions, and lack of understanding that literature develops.  Fuck Pearson, fuck College Board, fuck Robert Frost and the woods he walked in (click the link), fuck the school-to-prison pipeline, fuck white privilege, fuck any non-Black person who raps the n-word while rapping along to Kendrick’s ”Element,” Childish Gambino’s “Bonfire,” and Jay-Z’s “Jigga is my N****.”

Not that that’s news to any of my classmates, though.

check this out!!! :-)!!!

Hey guys! I already posted this week but one more thing! There’s this really cool project going on and I thought I’d share it with you. It’s called “The Lost Poem” and it’s been put together by Saint Flashlight, a duo composed of Molly Gross and Drew Pisarra, and the O, Miami Poetry Festival. Basically, they’ve hung up “Lost Poem” flyers all around Miami that have a phone number on them —  1-(786) 373-6311‬ — that, when called, leads to an automated message that reads you poems. The goal of the project is “for every single person in Miami to encounter a poem during the month of April.” I obviously didn’t find out about this by stumbling upon a poster in Miami, though. I stumbled upon this project, instead, because I follow Saint Flashlight’s Instagram (which I’ll link below) and they’ve been posting about it. So yeah, either way — check out these poems! Such an interesting project, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

https://www.instagram.com/omiamifestival/

http://www.omiami.org

poetry in prison

I’ve always had a fascination with the prison system here in the United States, as it’s a pretty convoluted one. The implications of institutions like death row and solitary confinement are brutal to the psyche but maintain intact regardless, rendering the lives of inmates tremendously limited and ultimately unfulfilled. 

Recently, though, there have been small but impactful initiatives being implemented throughout the nation (mostly in the northern U.S.) which are dramatically improving the system on the individual level. One example, and the example with which I am most acquainted, is the Bard Prison Initiative, based out of Bard College, a school I’ve become fairly embedded within given it’s in my hometown. The Bard Prison Initiative, or BPI, enrolls upwards of 300 individuals currently incarcerated within New York State in full-time degree programs; 97.5% of BPI graduates leave prison and never come back. Among other things, my geographic proximity to this program has garnered my interest in working with inmates. Up until today I wasn’t entirely sure how I might go about combining this with my other passion, poetry. 

A few hours ago I did a fairly simple Google search that I admittedly should’ve thought to do quite awhile ago, but regardless — I looked up “poetry prison inmates” and “prison poetry” and a few such variations. Now I’m headed down a wormhole of work published in and around prisons. A lot of it’s fascinating and deeply, deeply emotional; for example, the handwritten lines “Jasmyn equals honey bears times peanut butter / She don’t remember me” or “THE CONCRETE WALLS OF MY HEART ARE 25 FEET / SO DON’T DANGLE ME HOPE” (both from https://betweenthebars.org/campaigns/prison-poetry-workshop/).

If you don’t feel terribly sympathetic towards inmates in this prison system, I genuinely think that reading a few of these poems could change that. So regardless of your interest in the prison system, or even in poetry, I highly recommend checking some of these out. They’re honestly some of the rawest poems I’ve read in awhile. 

A review of The Basketball Diaries

I recently picked up and read a copy of Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries. The book contains a series of journal entries Jim Carroll, a writer and musician involved in Andy Warhol’s factory scene, wrote from the ages of 13-16, describing his experiences as both a star basketball player and drug addict in 1960’s NYC. Watching Carroll’s writing style develop, becoming more poetic as the world surrounding him grows progressively madder, was truly a special experience.

Again and again I was taken aback by how young Carroll was as he reached each milestone of depravity, and how he managed to write and play basketball so brilliantly, despite the damage he was surely doing to his developing body and mind. Though he may stay on the ball (Pun intended) when it comes to sports and journal writing, other aspects of Carroll’s life spiral out of control. His parents become relatively out of the scene, many of his friends are thrown into jail or die, and he finds himself sinking to lower and lower means to get enough money together to maintain his heroin habit. However, Carroll is able to find things of beauty amidst his sordid world. In the early pages of the book a twelve year old Jim huffs glue with several teammates, even while doing something so detrimental to his health and just plain trashy, he imagines himself “paddling across a river with black water, only the canoe was going backwards instead of forwards…”, it seems unlikely that Carroll’s young drug buddies experience anything of a similarly profound nature. Carroll, however, does not romanticize his lifestyle, in fact extensive detail is put into displaying its horrors, it’s just that he also has an eye for spotting the rare moments of serenity or significance that sometimes occur within it.

A recurring theme in The Basketball Diaries is Jim’s search for purity. Throughout his writings Jim repeatedly mentions wanting to find something pure, what this is he never exactly states, it may be something lost or something that he never had. While on acid Jim scrawls out a short poem, “Little kids shoot marbles/where branches break the sun/into graceful shafts of light…/I just want to be pure.” On it’s own the poem might not seem the most spectacular, but in the greater context of the work it holds much more weight to it. Another instance of Jim wanting to recapture or maintain a certain purity occurs when he storms out of the apartment of a much older woman, who has been paying him for sex, after taking her money but not fulfilling his end of the deal, “‘What about my sixty dollars, you prick!’ she screamed. ‘What about my innocence,’ I said, going down”. This theme is later used to bring the diaries to something of a close, but without giving a full answer as to where Jim’s future will lead him.

Carroll’s writings are incredibly impressive, but I do however place some blame on them for spurring many young writer’s descent into drug use, under the false belief that creative inspiration is a sure fire byproduct of the druggy lifestyle. Along with writers like Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, and Irvine Welsh, Carroll could be said to have unwittingly sired a progeny of drug addled writers producing derivative writing. The sort of writers who rely more on shock value than skill, and think that listing off the names of narcotics can replace a proper narrative. Obviously I don’t fully blame writers like Carroll with corrupting susceptible youths, but I do think there is some sort of correlation that should be taken into account.

Influencing uninspired writing or not, Carroll’s entries are anything but. Each entry holds something new, a new low, a new drug, a new dream, a new chance, all of which come together to offer the unique experience of looking through a window into a turbulent psyche and time. Carroll is constantly finding flaws in the opulent, upper-crust society that has rejected him, and spotting bits of beauty in the world of turpitude he inhabits, making for a perspective worth “hitchhiking” along with.

Tiredness and Writing

***This post does not contain spoilers for the movie Coraline but watch it anyways!

This past weekend I made the mistake of watching Coraline while being tired verging on sleep drunkenness (being so tired you start to act super loopy even if you’re sober). Suddenly, a movie I have watched multiple times before became a lot more terror-filled than my mind could comprehend. Scenes and dramatic plot shifts that before were a little creepy caused my body to curl as I continued to watch the movie. This made me wonder how much tiredness affects our physical bodies and how that in turn is transferred into our mental state. I felt that being mentally tired, I had less  resistance to fears that I could previously rationalize as just being part of a movie. Without the cognitive strength I possess when fully aware I became provoked to the very fears I already experienced and technically speaking “conquered”.

This moves me to my next point: a lot of writers tend to write at night, which makes sense given our daily academic tasks. I wonder if our minds process things different at night than when our minds are more generally aware. A lot of my deep and emotional writing tends to be written at night when my mind is less preoccupied with daily survival and has time and the lack of mental restraint to dwell in my past. This mental shift could be considered a good thing creatively speaking, it causes me to think about things I may have not during the day, however, if writing in the day versus night produces different types of works then it might make writers avoid writing at certain times if they desire more control of the mindset they write in.

In the future, I want to challenge myself to generate writing solely at night for a week and then write solely during the day and compare what I’ve written, but that will be way after finals week!

I would love to hear what people have to say about this since we all have different writing schedules.

Julia’s Favorite Things…

I write about a lot of the same things because its all I know:

Addiction, Alcoholism, Heartbreak, English, and Law. That’s all I got. Sorry. 

For this last blog post, I wanted to write about the books I suggest for summer. And OF COURSE that all ties back to drinking or a boy or something… again–sorry. BUT–last summer, when I recently became single, these five books that I read after my breakup were life changing. They were my own therapy. I wrote a blog for Gandy Dancer encompassing this idea, and wanted to share that with you all. So–here is my Gandy blog post, and here are my book suggestions for this summer:

 

We’ve all been there. Whether you are suffering after a divorce, first love lost, or the defeat of your favorite team, heartbreak is tough. Here are five books to read that will help you cope in this trying and difficult time.

  1. First step of the process is to grab some Rocky Road, a comfy blanket and a lot of tissues. All settled? Now, dive into New Bern, North Carolina—the hometown of Nicholas Sparks. Let’s wallow. My personal Sparks favorites are The Notebook and The Last Song. This step is the most important to give the appropriate grievance to your loss. The Notebook reveals a tender and beautiful story about the aching and persisting power of a strong love. Within this love, there are obstacles and longing memories revolving around the most steadfast emotional bond within human nature. There are high stakes and crucial changes between these characters that make the book a suspenseful read and definitely, a tearjerker. The Last Song is yet another powerful Sparks novel unfolding around the same idea of love and its various forms. This story understands the incredible relationships, along with their downfalls, between lovers, family and friends. This demonstration of a deep and unforgettable love will break your heart, then heal it just the same. So once you’ve cried your eyes out, on to book number two.
  2. The next part of the process is distraction. The prolonging feeling of thinking and overthinking needs to be interrupted. So, let’s move on to an interesting and amusing novel as we enter the stories of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of intense, curious and mind-blowing crimes and detection. While reading this, you will enter London and the brilliant, charming dynamic duo of Holmes and Watson. This world will distract you from your lingering thoughts, and let you live a different life for a while as a cool, crime-solving detective. You will be able to experience a fast, unpredictable environment and escape reality for a bit in this thrilling novel. Arthur Conan Doyle will challenge your mind in a multitude of installations and make you think twice about the impressions you give off to others. This break from reality will help to heal by experiencing a refreshing breather from the wallowing, and instead enjoy curious thought and surprising plot twists.
  3. Now, it’s time to put some things into perspective. The world is HUGE and there is so much going within it. Your misery looks smaller compared to the universe, and knowing that others are hurting just the same will help you to feel less alone. This company and support will help because you will know that others are sad too, you are not going through this pain unaccompanied. So now, dive into the cold world of Russia with Tolstoy. Anna Karenina will show you complexity, heart ache, and complicated familial issues. This book revolves around star-crossed love, seclusion, and engulfing drama and reveals to the reader that you are not alone in your problems. Others have been there.
  4. The next step is to gain some self-awareness and remember who YOU are as a person and who you want to become. A powerful book regarding cleansing and self-discovery is Walden by Thoreau. Follow Thoreau into the woods as he unclutters his life and finds true meaning by dissecting the difference between man and animal. It is an intricate read that will leave you thinking about how you should go on trying to find yourself. While in a relationship, it is easy to morph yourself into a duo. But go into the woods, and discover who you were meant to be. This book will intensely challenge the necessity of things and provoke an inspiration for minimalism. Thoreau proves that all you need is yourself and your thoughts.
  5. The final step is to forgive someone who likely never even said, “I’m sorry.” You’ll be happier when you realize how much more you are worth, and how this person doesn’t deserve your forgiveness. But, you forgive them anyway. For yourself. The final book is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. This book will show you the strength you never knew you had. It will send you off back into the world inspired and ready to rise above anything. Jeannette Walls shows a story of triumph. She was able to create a successful life on her own terms. The flawed love that was generated by her unconventional family gave her the determination to discover who she wanted to be and what life she wanted to build for herself. This story is one that develops the idea of tenderness, inspiration and persistence—the perfect memoir to end your journey.

Overall, these five steps and five books will give you the keys to success that you need to get through this trying time in your life. And when you want a break from reality you can escape—all readily available on your own bookshelf. These pages will be there for you whenever you need the support. As much as people may betray or hurt us, books never will.

 

I hope you all enjoyed, keep reading.

 

 

xox Jules

Workshop Experience

As I first entered this class, I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous of course, and I knew it was going to consist of workshop, but I have never partook in a workshop this intense before. It was for sure stressful and nerve racking at first, but as the semester is coming to a close, workshop has become something I really enjoy.

Critiquing other peoples work has really enhanced my writing skill. It helps me realize and understand the type of work I want to produce. Work shopping my peers work gives me ideas of what to possibly write about while helping me avoid techniques and or vices that I do not wish to write about.  

Sometimes I find myself unsure of what to comment on my peers work. No piece of writing is truly perfect but it may be hard to find the right thing to comment. I always try to give my peers comments to the best of my ability. It is always disheartening when you receive your poem back and there are little to no comments on it, does it mean I am doing something right or does my reader not care? Showing some effort truly goes a long way. 

Collaborative Poetry

Poetry is often thought of as a solitary act; an art form we do alone. I understand this, as most of our poetry is rather personal and reflective. At the same time, workshop is a collaborative effort, in which we gather the thoughts and opinions of other people on our work.

Recently, I have been wondering what would happen if we made poetry even more collaborative. Some works of fiction have co-authors, but is this possible in poetry?

Yes, according to Wikipedia, (I apologize I know referencing Wikipedia is not ideal in an academic setting) there is such a thing as collaborative poetry. Japanese poetry is influenced by collaboration, as are some famous French Surrealist poets. Similarly, Charles Henri Ford created the “chain poem” in which each author writes a line and then sends it to the next author. This type of poetry was also relevant in feminist poetry. These are just a few of the sources of collaborative poetry; however, it is enough to pique my interest.

I think it would be very interesting to write poetry collectively, especially with my talented peers here at Geneseo. All the workshops I have attended offer such great feedback and produce such amazing results, I can’t imagine what madness we could create altogether.

Next writing exercise? Collaborative poetry?

i’m going to write until i figure out why i haven’t been writing

I mean that literally; this blog post is going to be a stream-of-consciousness wherein I try to figure out why I haven’t been writing much lately. In other words, a therapy session wherein I am both the therapist and the patient. 

So, yeah, as you know by now, I haven’t been writing much lately.  And I’m not sure why that is. It seems I just haven’t been able to find inspiration on my own for some time now. Most of the poems I’ve written over the last few weeks stem directly from the writing exercises. This, of course, isn’t the worst thing — after all, I am still writing. It’s just that these writing exercises are acting as a crutch for me in a way that I’m not used to.

Again, though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The poems I’ve been writing for the exercises have been far longer and less restrained than my poems have been all semester, and it honestly feels really good. 

Maybe, then, this writer’s block isn’t so much of a block as it is a balancing act. I’m figuring out how to better harness creative energy, learning to have stamina in the act of writing, letting my poems get longer and looser. 

Or maybe I’m coming up with excuses for writing these long, nonsensical poems instead of the more concise, logical poems from earlier in the year. Or maybe I’m finding my style or my voice or something like that. 

Honestly, this blog post is pretty comparable to how my poems have been lately, for better or for worse; that is to say, unstructured and selfish.

Also, I’ve been painting a lot recently. And painting is a whole lot like poetry for me. So maybe I haven’t stopped writing. Maybe I’m just writing with watercolors instead of words for the time being. 

Therapy sessions are never truly conclusive, and as such I think it would be unfair of me to assume that this blog post would be any different. It seems our time for this week is up, would you like to schedule an appointment for next week?