next chapter

As you might’ve noticed, I bailed on Geneseo. I have grappled with feelings of depression every year I’ve been a college student, but after this past spring break I found myself lower than ever before more frequently than ever before, and thoughts of suicide were all too prevalent. So I got out. But before I did, those emotions defined much of my poetry. Poetry, for me, is all about the present, and is therefore dominated by my mental state. I’m seeking to convey the thoughts or feelings or scene of a current moment, by recreating them on paper. And the thoughts or feelings or scenes of my recent moments have been largely defined by disillusionment or depression. I self-medicated my way through a lot of it, living by the mantra that ‘beer n weed is all you need’ and that has also appeared plenty in my poetry. (yeah, I know it’s not doing me any good in the long-term)

For the past few years I have felt myself always waking up in the same, sober, forlorn mental space, having let another day slip by, and yearning for a release from the life I reckon I must live. Gotta go to classes I don’t care about to keep my grades up to stay in honors, gotta get a summer internship to put on my resume, gotta keep taking classes I don’t care about to get a degree, gotta take the GRE and look into grad schools if I want to make decent money–all integral parts of our world’s preordained path to success, yet none of which I am quite passionate about. There are classes or moments here or there where I feel purpose, and fulfillment, but I largely feel powerless, locked into this track that I don’t care for. But my fear of failure propels me to stick with it, and the substances subdue my depression enough for me to feel like I can keep going.

But recently weed has stopped doing what it used to for me, and I hate to nurture alcoholism before I can even legally drink. (once I’m 21 all bets are off) (jokes) I’m tapering off my once-horrific reliance on these substances as an emotional crutch, and as I do I am finding more pure sensations joy, but also much worse episodes of depression. At any rate I feel like I’m coming into myself as less of a one-sided emotional being, and I think it’ll prove a new chapter in my poetry, at least for the portfolio I’ll be submitting. Still ambivalent about getting any of my poems published, or continuing to work on them beyond this class. We’ll see though. At any rate, thanks for reading, it’s been a pleasure to share a workshop with all of you this semester.

Sleep/no sleep

I’ve written a lot of (my) good stuff around 3am. As I writer I’ve always savored absolute quiet, and since I’ve been living with a rowdy group of young lads for the past year and a half, 3am has been almost the only time to find such quiet. Oftentimes it’s much more of a draft-generation period than anything else, because at such a late hour my mind tends to fire creatively but not with much precision or attention to detail. Nonetheless, I’ve found the time invaluable in creating workshop pieces and completing various assignments, staying up until 3-4am often to complete writing something until I crash and burn.

This year, however, things have changed a bit. There’s about one night every three weeks where I don’t crash and burn past 3am, where I am effortlessly awake until 9am the next day, sometimes beyond. Last night was one such night. Such nights, however, are counter-productive. For some reason, losing the expectation of sleep yields utter apathy. Perhaps, in my mind, a complete disregard for the cardinal rule of bedtime reduces all other rules to nothing. I don’t know. At any rate, such all-nighters give me a completely new perspective.

When I sleep until 5pm and miss class, wake up to make myself a bagel and orange juice, I feel distinctly detached. Detached both from those around me, whose bodies are operating on wholly different schedules, and from time itself, which slides by evermore effortlessly with each all-nighter gone by. And I’m glad for this detachment. It’s reliable, calming, perhaps cathartic. It feels like I’m skating through reality as one might a dream, with almost entirely-internal thought processes. I’d like to think it makes for some halfway-decent writing. Maybe not.

Sound in poetry (???)

I’ll confess; in a prioritized list of all the things which swirl in my mind as I compose poetic lines, sonic qualities are typically near the bottom. It’s not that I believe there is no value to sound in poetry, which would undoubtedly be a form of blasphemy, it’s more just a product of the way my writing brain works and exists. Semantics are my focus. I tend to think chiefly in terms of conveying particular meanings, a concentration which keeps much of my thought processes entirely detached from the sonic nature of the words I choose. My recent transition to poetry workshops has certainly prompted a reevaluation of this method, yet its remnants still form an operational basis for most of the things I put on the page.

That isn’t to say I pay sounds no heed whatsoever, though, for I do tend to count syllables, or capitalize on alliterative opportunities in the poems I heavily revise. I’m a frequent user of thesaurus.com, and lately, I’ve been turning to it much more for the purposes of alliteration or assonance. Sometimes I just know a line could read better, it could have just a little more cohesion. I don’t right know how to pin down this tactic, but it takes me to another point: I have come to believe that a “default poetic state” lives within me, one which would endlessly write cheesy limericks were I not present to rein it in. For an example, I often find myself reading a poetic line at a very particular pace, while my mind races to fill syllabic gaps in order to better construct a rhyming couplet. However, it’s a habit I consciously suppress, for I always hate the way these lines read once they are completed; campy, overdone, and cheap. I can’t say how many times I’ve completely deleted a document’s contents due to this phenomena.

But perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to delete these documents. Why couldn’t I try for the opposite, to channel this cheesiness into a poem focused primarily on its sonic construction and rhyme scheme? It would definitely take me out of my comfort zone, yet I’d be very hesitant to let someone else read something which I myself hate… At any rate, even after a single week’s worth of readings I feel I am coming to realize the potential of sonic qualities to affect a poem’s semantics, a revelation which may prove to be paradigm-shifting for my habits. As a writer, I am always eager to attempt putting more precision and thought into my work, and sound looks to be as worthy a focus as any.

Writing while doing things

Greetings blog, it’s been awhile. A couple weeks ago in a class discussion I’d remarked upon how I’m always writing poetic moments from memory, sitting alone at my desk in a quiet, usually dark room. Clearly this created a lot of wistful, if not depressed content. I’d said it was because all the things I loved doing were very active, such as skiing or golf, and didn’t allow for much, if any time to write. That holds true, but for this week’s submission, my final workshop, I wanted to give something new a try. I still wanted to work with the gloomier thoughts I’ve been writing on, that is, apprehension for the future and escapism as a means to cope with it, because they are prominent in my mind as of late, but I decided to try writing this poem in a different way, with a different process.

I forget exactly who it was, but I think it may have been William who mentioned walking around and speaking into a tape recorder as a means to generate content. As I’ve been doing a lot of driving back and forth between Albany and Geneseo this semester, my 3.5 hour I-90 pilgrimage appeared to be an opportune time to try this technique. With the voice recorder app hot-keyed into my phone’s swipe-up menu, I drove across the state recording whatever came to mind, and I must say I rather enjoyed it. I still sat down to write the poem in much the same manner as before, but being able to hear my own words spoken from a different context, a different mindset, manifested in a new kind of poem for me, and I am excited to see where this process takes me.

Political context as a driving force?

As I drove the monotonous three-hour stretch of I-90 between Albany and Rochester on my way back to school this past Monday, my mind was swirling. I’d just had a whirlwind of a break at home during which I’d spent only a single night in my own bed, among visits to a friend’s college and another friend’s lake house. I’d departed home in the immediate aftermath of a long dialogue with my parents on our country’s current state of affairs, during which MSNBC  had served as our living room ambiance.

I think it’s nagging at everyone’s mind, at least to some extent. But I have to wonder, judging by the apparently widespread hesitance to discuss the current political climate, if we find ourselves in a period of abnormal divisiveness and uncertainty. Although my experience as an ‘informed’ adult on this earth is surely limited, I’m inclined to think we are. Anecdotally, competitive “us vs. them” are wildly prevalent, with opposing sides clashing on numerous battlegrounds– from twitter replies to city streets. On the grandest of political scales I see two sides who are each of the opinion that the other is long gone; beyond logic, grasping for straws, living in personally-constructed, ego-preserving alternative realities. Neither side can meet eye to eye, a fact which I believe directly contributes to the aforementioned hesitance to debate. Everyone has their ideas about the current climate, but it isn’t often I see people making them known. Almost always, some amount prying is required. (Note: with these points I am not referring to internet dialogues, which, due to their oft-anonymous nature, are now rampant with political diatribe.) We’ve worked our way here with no small amount of help from social and mainstream media, and in a time with stagnant wages, the smallest and meekest working class in decades, as well as a widespread disillusionment with the so-called elites. In the face of such adversities, why have we turned, across multiple fronts, to infighting, rather than unification?

I guess I don’t exactly know, but at least I’ve arrived at the poetry part. Should these thoughts command the poetry I write? Certainly, many pop music (read: rap) artists have grown increasingly political in their work since the 2016 election, no doubt as a reaction to the same anxiety which plagues me. However, I generally tend to avoid making my writing political in nature, partially for fear of alienating potential readers, partially because I disdain restating points which have already been made. Nowadays, part of me believes writers should have some sort of professional duty to address such societal issues. But then I doubt myself–haven’t most all points already been made? At what point does reiteration become a worthy cause? Who would read my (probably) recycled musings anyways? If they did, would it even change their minds?

I think I could write poems about the way my mother screams at our television set in despair, the way people leap at one another’s throats in online dialogues, the way my friends openly admit they think only for themselves and don’t trust the government. I think I could write about how I don’t blame them for it. I’d probably speak to how we’ve been raised in this world, how even rational minds can settle on the wrong solutions given the right circumstances. I could try to use my poetry to urge my fellow countrymen to step back and look at the bigger picture, but I’m not sure it would make a difference.

Maybe it’s more of a CNF thought.

Ríos and the poetic line

Alberto Ríos’ piece from “A Broken Thing” brought home its most important point to me with its fifth section, which discusses complete written lines as useful measurements of one’s “intellectual unit” or, simply put, “pace”. Recently, the poems I find myself writing tend to have both visible and audible uniformities, such as similar syllable counts between lines, similar line length, and an even number of regular, rectangular stanzas. I often write myself into such formats and then cannot escape them, each subsequent line falling into the overall uniformity with no apparent alternatives.

This is where I feel reading Ríos (specifically “5.”) brought tangible benefits to my writing process. After reading that one paragraph over some three to five times, I’m now comfortable in saying I have the ability to remove myself from my work to examine and tweak the element of pace, an option which had previously only existed in my subconscious, limiting me. Additionally, and on a similar note, I thought Ríos’ musings on the use of “half-steps” and/or longer lines to carry readers differently along were both greatly interesting as well as quite pertinent to my newly-acquired understanding of pace in poetry. I will certainly be experimenting with chopping my lines up further or combining them into single, extended moments whenever possible. Now, in introducing one final thought, I’d like to note that I haven’t spent much time with poetry in my short tenure as a writer, though I am having an excellent time dissecting it. And in finality, Ríos’ piece left me with one impeccable contribution to the dissection process in it’s final lines which I’d like to share now, “Poems are not stories, after all. Poems are the fire that stories explain.”