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. 

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?

found sound

This is pretty tangential to poetry, but I want to talk about it. Hope ya don’t mind!

Anyways, as an assignment for another class I’m taking with Lytton I’ve been tasked with developing a piece of installation art for the campus. My installation is going to be sound-oriented, as it will consist of sound poetry playing from MP3 players in bathroom stalls; the title of the piece is Deep Shit. The sound poetry itself is a compilation of recordings I’ve gathered from peers on campus (perhaps I’ll post the final MP3 on here at some point). In gathering these raw sounds, I asked friends and classmates of mine to sit by themselves for at least one minute in the recording studio in the basement of Newton; during this time,  I asked them to make sounds (words or otherwise) into the microphone. I then took these sounds and began to compile them into, like I said, sound poetry — a process I’m not yet done with. 

The sounds I got out of people under these understandably uncomfortable circumstances were fascinating. There were recognizable patterns and trends regarding what people decided to talk about, varying from stress to school to creativity to family, all broken up by intermittent mutterings of “wow this is awkward” and “oh my god, what should I talk about?” 

Regardless, this process has definitely heightened my interest in the idea of found sounds/words in poetry. I suppose all words are “found” to some extent, but the idea of soliciting them from people in a controlled environment is really interesting to me. 

But yeah, keep an eye out for these installations! They’ll be up by April 2nd if not sooner, and there will definitely be one in both the women’s and men’s room in Welles. 

on the urge to explain

Truthfully, I debated whether or not I should submit the piece I handed out to you all last class up until the moment I physically handed off the stack to be circulated around the room. This isn’t because the poem, or I guess poems, were tremendously vulnerable with regard to their content, but rather because I decided to play around with form in such a way that is far more experimental than I am used to. Although I’m certainly proud of the piece, I’m still so reluctant to share it for fear that people just won’t “get it”, a fear I’m sure you’ve all confronted at some point or another in your writing. Generally, though, I’m more or less willing to accept some amount of misunderstanding when I release my poems into the world, because a lot of the time I don’t fully understand them myself, or they are more about their imagery or sound than they are about their meaning.

This poem was different, though. I wanted so badly to type up a little disclaimer at the top (which I’m trying my best to avoid doing in this blog post, given we haven’t workshopped the piece yet) but that doesn’t seem like a very poetic thing to do. I settled on providing a little key of sorts at the top of the page wherein I connect each of the fonts used in the body of the poem to a title: “for you”, “for us”, and “for me”. Do with that what you will.

Regardless, in submitting this piece I’m trying to get away from feeling the need to explain myself as a poet. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about learning to be more vulnerable in my work, and I think that this was a step (maybe a small one, but a step just the same) in the right direction. 

building bridges instead of walls

During last class’ writing exercises I generated “self-sufficiency” and “appearing strong both physically and emotionally” as some of my obsessions, and “being vulnerable or weak” as one of my fears. From there I came up with an idea for a writing prompt, which went as follows: imagine that I am always flexing (now realize that that’s what I do emotionally).

An aspect of my personality which I think is very distinctive is my refusal to show weakness, and therefore my constant bottling up of emotions. Poetry is essentially the only outlet I allow myself to indulge in, and even then, I set strict parameters for myself in doing so and continually try to maintain a toughness in my voice. 

I’m beginning to realize that, because of this, my poetry has a tendency to be rather guarded. I’m obsessed with being impenetrable, and that part of me carries over into my poems. With regard to both my well-being and the quality of my writing, though, I’d reckon this is likely unhealthy. As such, I’ve been making a more defined effort to open myself up to my poetry and learn to be vulnerable, at least with myself. Of course, this is never easy, especially for somebody who so deeply values fronting as strong. 

But yeah, I’m making a pact with myself to be more vulnerable in my work, even if that’s the work I never share. Feel free to let me know if you have any advice on how you all have learned to surrender yourselves more fully in your poems. 

Also, I’m going to link a really fascinating article relevant to poetry below, check it out if you get the chance! It’s an interesting consideration of truthfulness, both in life and in writing. 

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/teaching-william-zinsser-to-write-poetry

performative poetry

Let me preface this post with a quick advertisement:

Tomorrow from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM there’s going to be an open mic focused on female artistic expression at Cricket’s. Truthfully, I don’t know a whole lot about it but I’ll be performing around 9:00 PM. If you’re free, consider swinging by and supporting some talented women!

Alright, now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

My experience with performing my poetry is admittedly limited. I do have experience with public speaking more generally, but there’s something far more personal about reading your own writing. In anticipation of performing at the open mic, though, I’ve been taking a look at my poems through an unfamiliar lens, given I have to reconsider my poems with regard to their performability. 

Should I present poems which are focused on sound, given they are being read aloud? These is my inclination, but I’m sort of reluctant given my sound-centric poems tend to make far less “sense” than those that are more content-oriented, and I have a weird and (probably irrational) fear of presenting my audience with poems with inaccessible meanings. Perhaps this is more so the case given the setting of my performance; does a poem that seems like it’s about womanhood and sounds good belong in this open mic any less than a poem wherein sound is secondary to the fact that it’s about womanhood? Are some poems more fit for performance than others in general?

I don’t have a conclusive answer to any of these questions, but hopefully I will by tomorrow night. I guess stop by Cricket’s if you have any interest in finding out!

illustrated poetry (no, not like rupi kaur’s)

Since/because of our last class, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that makes a poem good, but also fundamentally what it is that makes a poem a poem. In my mind, the visual arts and poetry exist in the same spaces, and are therefore sometimes indistinguishable in my work. In the past, this has manifested primarily as either:

  1. Traditional illustrations wherein the poem and the art exist independently from one another on the page but are, in their content, related.
  2. Small illustrations which take the place of the title of the poem.

In both instances, the poem and the art coexist, but the former always takes up at least the same amount of space as the latter, usually more; in other words, the poem has always been the focus of my work, and the art is complimentary.

Recently, though, my work has been a little more art-heavy. I’ve attached two (low quality) images of my most recent pieces to give you a better idea of what I mean. For me, these are poems. My process in making them is nearly identical to the process I go through when writing a poem of just words, and these are concentrated and concise and imagery-dependent in the same way my poems are.

I’ve been having difficulty finding work like this, work wherein the art and the poem blend together in the extreme. As such, this post is just as much a publication of my information as it is an invitation for you to share yours with me. If you are familiar with any visual artists who incorporate poetry in their work, or any poets who incorporate visual art in their work, I’d love to hear about them. I’d very much appreciate some guidance and inspiration in reconciling these two passions of mine.

memory©

There’s a lot of scary things that happen when you want to become a writer, for example:

People ask “what do you hope to do with your degree?” and you say “write” and they say “okay, but how will you make a living?” and thus you are propelled into a brief existential crisis wherein your heart yells “WRITE!” and your brain momentarily devolves into a static of golden arches and cash register cha-ching noises and Big Macs and concludes “probably McDonald’s.”

After that conversation, you recall that the last McDonald’s you were at had no more than three employees working, as the cashiers had been replaced with big touch-screens, and you wonder if maybe another fast food chain, a Burger King or Wendy’s (or if you’re really desperate, a Taco Bell) will hold off on replacing all human intelligence with robots in time for you to secure a job post-graduation.

But you push all of that to the back of your head, right? And you just keep writing, you keep writing until you have something, something worth sharing. And you take that thing worth sharing and you try to share it, you copy and paste it into a Google Doc and download the Google Doc as a .pdf or .txt file so that it’s in one of the accepted submission file types and you look over the piece one more time when you realize you can’t. It’s about somebody. The poem is about somebody, the type of somebody who will make sure that they see the poem.

Yeah, the looming prospect of unemployment is certainly scary, as is the inevitable take-over of artificial intelligence. The scariest part of writing, though, for me at least, is trying to figure out how to reckon with writing what you want to write about (or, rather, who you want to write about) responsibly. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, perhaps because the poems which I feel most strongly about are the poems which tackle the things that are closest to me, and oftentimes those things are people. I find myself most proud of the poems which are confined to a private existance for one reason or another.

I’ll leave you with a quote that’s been bouncing around my head for a good couple of days now. Moshe Kasher, while reflecting on the time he was sued over a line in his memoir, said on Episode #943 of the Joe Rogan Experience, “You can’t just grab memories thinking that all of your memories belong to you because other people are in them, ya know?”

sounds of slam and song

My relationship with sound in my poems is very much reflective of my relationship with sound in my daily life; in both instances, I rely upon sound to fill up empty spaces. Interestingly, though, the former seems to be done in an act of repression, almost, given I feel the urge to fill spaces of silence as to ensure that I don’t think too much about any one given thing. Silence, for me at least, amplifies whatever is going on in my head and if my thoughts in those moments are, for whatever reason, anxious, the results can be disastrous. In poetry, on the other hand, I fill up space with sound in a distinctive effort to confront and cope with the things that I am anxious or otherwise upset about. Filling up the silence of a blank page is not about running from my problems in the same way that filling up the silence of my daily life is; poetry, as such, becomes an act of offense, not defense.

To touch on the specifics of writing poetry, I think that sound is probably a lot more important to me than I ever realized, as is evidenced simply in that I often read my works-in-progress aloud to myself, and if sharing a completed poem with somebody, I prefer to read it aloud to them rather than letting them read it silently to themselves. Perhaps some of this behavior is rooted in fear; I am afraid that my poem will be misunderstood, and as such I feel the need to control all of the facets of sound which have the capacity to shape meaning; which words do and don’t receive emphasis, volume and tone of voice, etcetera. I also, on occasion, venture into the realm of slam poetry, which exists as performative sound, oftentimes on-stage. For me, the primary difference between writing poetry for the page and poetry to be performed is, when doing the latter, I am much more concerned with the speed with which the poem will be spoken, something which I suppose is more difficult to control when writing traditional poetry.

All in all, though, I think that my relationship with sound is evolving; it’s not an aspect of poetry which I have previously given much thought, and I think that simply by considering it as I am right now, I will be more aware of it in my writing henceforth. Additionally, I have interests in the performative aspects of poetry, both as a slam poet and as a musician (albeit, a pretty bad one).

I, as a written poet, a slam poet, and a musician, will continue to reckon with the relationship between words and sound, perhaps now more consciously, in the creation of my work.