book swap ?

This isn’t exactly a blog post, but more of a solicitation:

Would anyone be interested in a poetry book swap? I have a multitude of contemporary and modern poetry books that have literally (yes, literally) changed my writing forever. I’d love to share them and also acquire some new inspiration from you all.

in which a silent room of slim shady’s wait for the real one to stand up first

“Okay, thank you. Goodbye,” I said nervously upon hanging up the phone after speaking with a professor I know. Satisfied with my pseudo-professionalism, I looked over at my friend and realized she was silently giggling at me.

“What?” I asked, setting my phone down on the dining room table.

“It’s just funny. I mean, your voice gets so much higher and sweeter when you’re talking to real adults. It’s like you’re switching personalities,” she responded, proceeding to return to her homework.

She was so right. Lately, I’ve been considering “voice” and what that actually means in the world of poetics. After spending nearly a year pinpointing precisely what a “Grace poem” is, I’ve been a bit afraid that I will never be able to successfully deviate from it. To combat this, I made a list of the different voices I have around different people in real life: the voice only my friends and family know (and hate), the quiet and serious voice, the voice I use when Johnny bites Kenny in my second grade classroom, the voice I use when speaking with my dear Great Aunt Bonnie, the voice I use in every dreaded class presentation, the voice I use when someone knocks on the public bathroom door and I, for a moment, forget how to speak humanly.

After writing said list, I started to generate poems from different voices, and ended up narrowing in on the sarcastic and witty asshole that lounges in the La-Z-Boy between my brain hemispheres, always making delicious puns in the wrong context or getting nine-year-old Grace out of trouble by making Mom laugh. Writing with wit was an exercise in restraint, especially in the excitement of Taylor Swift-ing the shit out of someone whom I can only hope will someday stumble across a published version of my most recent poem and feel, like, real human emotions or something. Anyway, it was refreshing to get something out there that didn’t follow my own footsteps.

I think biting humor is a great place to start, but I’m excited to keep attempting to access different voices and come at poems from varied angles. For all of you lovely poets out there, what are ways in which you defy your own normal and “try new things?” I could always use more inspiration.

Oh, and if my ex-boyfriend ever Google searches me…since this is a public blog and all…I’m doing pretty damn well and you should think twice before wronging a poet next time.

See y’all in class! 🙂

indeed the tulips change tense too quickly

“Indeed the tulips \ change tense \ too quickly. \ They open and fly off. \ And, holding absolutes \ at bay, the buds \ tear through the fruit trees, \ steeples into sky,” –Jorie Graham’s “Strangers”

I purchased Jorie Graham’s “Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts” after drooling over it in a bookstore in Saratoga for an inappropriately long time. I felt that if I had already taken out my notebook and penned countless lines that gave me poetic aneurysms (whilst dog-earing nearly every page), the book deserved to be given some consistent shelter and love. Jorie’s poetry has continued to reach into the furthest corners of my mind through lofty and complex ideas that I still have yet to fully process. What I admire most, however, is her sometimes subtle and sometimes abrasive use of sound to carry these complexities to term.

I typically consider sound to be a means of transport, a way of emphasizing and extending meaning by carrying certain sounds throughout a piece (think the importance of s in Keats’ ‘”To Autumn.”) When done correctly, sonic elements in a poem can carry a heavier weight than the actual “content” or argument of the piece (though I would argue that, at times, sound itself is the provided argument). The reappearing in “Strangers” makes the first three lines echoes of themselves, carrying us with it until we reach “steeples,” where the t‘s have suddenly formed into a place of worship. Due to the repetition, however, we don’t blindly walk into the glass door of the steeple; we have seen it on the horizon since we were given the map.

There is a linkage of ideas, no matter the distance, when sound is utilized. We can connect “bay” to “buds,” but we can also connect “tulips” to “through” to “fruit.”

With sound serving to transport and manipulate meaning, we are offered a beautiful platter of impossibilities: tulips rearrange themselves into a steeple and “quickly” becomes the sky behind it.

math w/ a feeling

There is a math to poetry: a counting of lines, a REcounting of memories, an arithmetic of the heart (no pun intended).

I despise math.

Whenever we learn about and discuss iambs and stresses and syllables, it feels like I’m playing around with a currency that is foreign to me. I focus on the visceral, the obvious, the sound of a piece…and content…but when it comes to lines, I still have a really hard time with parsing them out and making some sort of numerical sense to it.

I’ve been toying with numbers of lines in a stanza, line length, line placement…but usually I go by how I FEEL rather than what makes sense (not surprising, this is how I go about nearly everything in life). If one stanza FEELS like it needs 5 lines and the next needs only 4, should I craft another line for the sake of mathematical sense and consistency or should I throw caution to the wind when it comes to form?

I tend to go with the latter. How do you know what kind of form your poem should take? Do you tend toward logic or feeling in this regard?

(Also, I’ve been on a family-stress-induced Thanksgiving bender for a solid 3 days so don’t mind my incoherence).


line break (up)

As I sit here in Panera Bread, wearing noise-cancelling headphones that don’t quite work (think: The Shins with a glorious orchestra of crying babies and clanking silverware), I’m thinking of some serious poetry questions.

Ah, the break-up poem. The glorious, multidimensional, cathartic break-up poem. After quite a tumultuous end to a tumultuous relationship, I find myself writing pages of break-up poems and angsty love poems…even when I don’t want to write about this topic because I’m sick of reading about it in my own work.

I guess this post is more of a question for all of you: how do you stray away from your immediate circumstances and write about other things? How do you write about other topics than just the one you gravitate towards? How can you use the poetic line to do this (getting away from the form and lineation that is most conducive for the topic)? How do you break-up with break-up poems, at least for a little while?

I want to write about cleaning products or farcical political things or the meat industry…not because these represent my passion, but because I want to try writing about ANYTHING that isn’t dripping with unrequited love and ice cream (most likely).

For now, I’ll eat my free apple (I wish I had chosen the baguette as a side) and brood some more.

my old poems belong on MySpace (& other musings)

Picture it: you submit a poem to a literary journal of any sort, knowing full well the risk of rejection. Months go by, seasons pass, and you slowly forget that you sent anything at all, imagining your submission in a yellowing pile of slush on the top left corner of some big shot editor’s desk. Then, you receive an email that begins with “Congratulations!” and you nearly spit up your soy latte.

The poem, however, once you revisit it, doesn’t seem very…well…good anymore. You wrote it almost a year ago, and there are so many things you’d change now as a more “sophisticated” and “learned” writer. The present (and possibly unrightfully pretentious) you scoffs at faulty line breaks and turns up their nose at questionable word choices, yearning to violently stab a red pen through the computer screen and go nuts before this thing ends up in the hands of unsuspecting strangers. It feels like the poetic equivalent of sending out a link to your seventh grade MySpace page to everyone you know.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate (as all poets do), but really…just this week, I faced this exact situation. Elated as I am to share my work, I suddenly feel like it’s not even mine anymore after months separated from this specific piece.

After our discussion in class about publication and readership, and after receiving the “Congratulations!” email later that night, I was faced with the burning question: as we grow in our craft and in our lives in general, how does that change the way we look at things written in the past? I especially wonder about poets who publish whole collections and look back on them months or even years later…do they still find immense value in their past work? Can they appreciate something they’d written at 20 years old when they are old and gray? Do they laugh at themselves? Do they cut themselves some slack?

At least for me, I know I have an odd relationship with past work and I wonder if this is a universal feeling or if I’m just being pretentious. Let me know your thoughts on this!

feels & rusty stop signs.

In my hometown, there is a stop sign near a brick-clad elementary school that I pass every time I’m driving into town. The sign looks pretty standard until I approach the corroded base of it; underneath the bright white letters, barely noticeable, the word “war” is effortlessly scratched into the reflective red background. It strikes me every time, the stop sign overlooking a menacing chainlink fence that wraps around a quaint playground full of laughing young children. When I put my foot on the pedal to keep cruising down the bustling main road, I’m left with knots in my stomach and a quiet longing for peace.

To me, the old stop sign is reminiscent of what poetry can do. Poetry can both punch me in the gut and whisper sweetly and quietly, planting a small seed of emotion that burrows itself within the very lining of my mind, changing the chemistry of the ground it’s rooted in. The fact of the emotion lives on, wanted or not.

Good poetry does stuff to a person, and it does it without an over-eager tour guide or flashing arrows. I’ve read poetry oozing and dripping with intense musings in which I felt nothing, and I’ve read poetry that breaks my heart and stitches it to the paper after just three words.

When I write poetry, I try to think of how to craft the momentum of emotion in the reader, which I think comes down to the very frame of the poem, the line. I want to scratch (war) effortlessly under STOP so that in the three seconds one slackens their grip on the wheel, they are confronted with a quiet and potent image or message that will linger.

I want the emotion of my pieces to become less obvious and more genuine, which I think starts with the careful structuring of it all.

How do you evoke emotion in your poetry, specifically by use of the line and/or line breaks? How does structure inform the emotion of a piece? How do you avoid holding a reader’s hand and telling them how to feel?

calling all right brains !

My brain thinks in pictures.

Mostly big ones.

This makes poetry hard when we’re dealing with small units like the line, punctuation, a space, a breath.

I was having a phone conversation about music yesterday in which the person I was talking to referred to albums as a “collection,” which I’ve heard many times before, but it hit me right then that a poem, too, resembles an album: a poem is a collection of lines. Just as each song in an album is it’s own entity, singing its own melodies and showcasing it’s own rhythm, tone, and meaning, each line in a poem has its own agency and independence within a poem. It gets interesting to think of many different independent lines or songs working together as a collective whole.

I admit that I generally think more often about the collective whole: the meaning of a poem or the narrative flow of a poem and how to convey certain things to a reader either directly or indirectly. Only recently have I discovered the independence that lies within a poem and how lines can be listened to over and over again on their own, shuffled with other lines, or even stolen and put in a “playlist” with other lines by other poets. What I once thought was only pure interdependence actually turned out to be a network of independent things linked together, or broken in a way that they may fit together.

This is not new information to many of us, but by putting an analogy with what we are learning about lines, I became a bit more flexible in how I think about poetry and the line.

For any of the rest of you right-brained “big picture” type folks, what has helped you understand the line in poetry specifically? What has helped you to focus on the unit rather than the whole in our discussions of the weight each line holds?

the option to linger

I value poems with a story and a general narrative flow from A to Z. As a writer, I tend toward creative non-fiction, and thereby adopt many of it’s inherent principles even while writing other genres. When I write poems, many of my lines are vehicles used to get to the next line, the next great revelation of plot or another link in a sequence of narratives. I establish setting, mood, conflict in the beginning and work it out throughout the piece…voila, a creative non-fiction poem has been born!

When I read something like Ríos’ declaration that, “a line is a moment, and moment is intrinsically non-narrative. That is, a moment does not move forward, not readily, not right away. A moment stops, and stopping is the friendly nemesis of narrative. A line is a moment that has value right then, and which deserves some of our time,” (207), I freeze up a little. I’m inclined to move forward and propel the piece towards itself, but there is value in asserting that the line is indeed a moment.

I think of picture frames, the amount of times I’ve spent staring at a photo and dwelling in whatever small moment was captured and caged. If a poem is a collection of moments, then it is like a wall of picture frames, with the reader gently stopping at each successive photograph and reveling in whatever images or truths are present. Only when the reader is done lingering do they stroll over to the next picture; suddenly a gallery of moments has been strung together in some sort of magical oneness, though each moment is distinctive and salient on its own.

I have difficulty crafting potent lines that offer the option to linger. My lines at times aren’t anchored, I’ve broken them in a way that they depend on each other. A goal of mine is to turn each line into a self-sustaining entity that in turn lends itself well to the poem as a whole; hopefully this semester will be for new growth in this area.




Tides & Curly Fries

This summer I ate curly fries almost every single day.

I smelled like kid sweat and mod podge.

I also had barely any time to be alone and write extensively…mostly anything I was able to write was written on a dirty napkin or a band-aid wrapper or my hand. I blame it on the kiddos that I spent the summer with, but honestly I think summer was generally quite low-tide creatively.

One sticky day in July, while I was walking the trails at my summer camp after dinner, I realized how damn tired I was of consuming curly fries. Now, I love curly fries, and if I were on my deathbed I’d probably request to be hooked up to an IV filled with Arby’s special sauce. However, there was not a single meal that didn’t involve them…the entire summer.

I don’t necessarily believe that the creativity within us dies, yet I do think it submerges and then resurfaces in different seasons. Maybe we need a respite from the hard work of creating in order to reevaluate why we create in the first place. After a few months away from frantically scribbling in my notebook and generating material any time my hands were empty, I had some time to think about the purpose in what I do.

When I write to keep busy or for the sole purpose of submission, my finished product tends to fall short. It may not be bad, per say, but I always felt that any piece I wrote without the “right” motives just didn’t seem genuine. Rather, it became alien to me, warranting the “Did I really write that?” response.  Over the summer, I spent some time reflecting on the purpose in crafting something. I don’t want to produce things cheaply for the sake of creating something tepid or pretty, I want it to be dynamic and alive with meaning and real. In order to do this, I need time and inspiration.

Even if writing was replaced by the consumption of fifteen pounds of curly fries this summer, I think I’ve learned to be okay with the slower months. They allow me to regain the stability I need to truly understand the purpose in what I do and why. In low tides, I’ve learned to be reflective instead of discouraged.

I know I’ll always come back to writing, rather, it’ll always come back to me–and the same may (unfortunately) go for curly fries.

My question for you: how do you recharge when you become frustrated or burned out by the process of writing? How do you find purpose in what you do?

I’m excited to learn from all of you this semester! 🙂