Are Poets Allowed to Hit the Like Button?

I have a bookmarked folder on my computer titled “Poetry.” It’s a sampling of different online literary journals and poems that I have acquired during my time at college.

What made me want to tag these for future inspiration?

I liked them.

While I would love to give an in-depth analysis of the technique and craft intrinsic to each work, I cannot, nor do I have the motivation to.

Are we, as self-proclaimed readers and writers, obligated to analyze and dissect each poem that we stumble across? Do we owe every poem/poet that piqued our interest a lengthy session mulling over meaning and meter?

The student in me says “Yes, why practice poetry if you’re not going to commit to it?”

The I-started-writing-poetry-before-I-even-knew-what-a-good-poem-looked-like poet naively says no, of course not, poetry is an art form meant to be enjoyed.

As you can see, I’m on the fence. I feel as if I am doing poems a disservice if I read them and slap on a gold star without giving an ounce of thought to poetic voice or alliteration. Perhaps, after spending a significant amount of time workshopping my peers’ pieces I have developed an intrinsic capability of analysis, as a result, during my reading of a new piece I do not have to actively think about technique in order to acknowledge the work’s merit. Unfortunately, I do not believe that this is the case. Some poems I simply like.

Does anyone else feel as if they cannot give a good ol’ thumbs up to a poem without providing some sort of academic reason?

Brevity

People are scared of brevity. It’s a limit: the amount of time we are allowed to walk on this Earth, kiss the people we love, watch the sunset. Everything centers around time. Length.

As a poet, I am scared of brevity. I am afraid that my poems will be lacking if they do not filtrate at least half the page. While I have written poems that are shorter, even upon completion, I felt as if they were missing complexity and depth in their truncated state.

This is not to say that I do not admire short poems; there is a tremendous amount of craft in poems that can create feeling and beauty in a smattering of lines. As poets we fall in love with individual lines in a poem before we profess our love for the entire poem. Yet, I still feel as if I must prove something in each poem- instill it with meaning- which often requires a substantial amount of space.

I find it difficult to forge a poem out of a few lines, a few words, though I know it is entirely possible. Look at haikus. People have been writing three-line poems for centuries. Haikus do not seem to be lacking; however, I am still unable to pinpoint what my personal poems seem to be missing when they are condensed.

Does anyone have other thoughts on short poems? Any experience writing short poems?

Enter the Epigraph

As artists we are always attempting to be original. To break the status quo. To write the next best, mind-blowing masterpiece. Sometimes, though, we sequester inspiration from our peers or our favorite writers.

Enter the epigraph.

I realize that the epigraph is slightly controversial in that it can be distracting from the primary work; however, I would like to try at least one or two poems that are composed from a pre-existing work or quote.

Using epigraphs does not detract from the author’s personal creativity or originality. Epigraphs can act as stepping stones for your own ideas.

Perhaps the reason I am eager to add an epigraph to my work is my love of quotes. While many quotes can be labeled as cliche, I find some to be very raw, honest, and eye-opening. All of these characteristics are things that I want my writing to be infused with. On the other hand, some epigraphs raise questions, which my work tends to lack. Incorporating such real life questions in my work will only strengthen me as a writer.

How does everyone else feel about epigraphs? Feel free to share experiences at previous attempts!

Muscle Memory

When I began penning my first poem of the semester I began to feel nervous. I racked my brain for ideas, words, phrases that would offer me some inspiration or a starting point, but I had no such luck. I spent way too long staring at a blank page. I asked myself what if I had simply lost my ability to write a poem. What if my lack of writing over winter break had left my poetry rusty? Last semester, writing poems felt like muscle memory and suddenly, a month later, I had forgotten how to work my writing muscle.

Fast-forward to class where we had begun talking about sound. As a somewhat inexperienced poet, I tend to stray away from sound-focused poetry. Considering my newfound writer’s block, sound was not on my priority list- I needed something to write before I could contemplate how it sounds.

Fortunately, I eventually realized that nothing gets me more excited to write a poem than a challenge. I love difficult writing exercises and I quickly came to the conclusion that “sound” was just another challenging writing exercise. Rather than feeling frazzled by the inclusion of sound in my poems I am now eager to try my hand at it.

Dear Diary…

Though we are alway supposed to assume that what our fellow poets produce and share does not give us insight about them, most of us automatically jump to conclusions, myself included. The moment I begin reading workshop pieces, I assume that the speaker or the protagonist is the author, although I realize that this is a grand fallacy. I even catch myself stumbling over this in workshop, as I critique someone else’s work. I typically consider the speaker and the author the same person, even going so far as to make the author’s name and the speaker, “I,” interchangeable.

On a similar note, I believe that writing poetry and sharing it requires bravery. Many of us write about deeply personal topics regarding our family relationships, pasts, sexuality, and heritage. Needless to say, it can be nerve-wrecking to take such a vulnerable piece of yourself and let a classroom full of students critique it.

Even when I read published collections, I mesh the author and the speaker’s identities together.

I believe that I stop writing from other people’s perspectives because it feels fraudulent and sometimes politically incorrect. I know that other people have struggled with this, as well.  If you do write a poem that does not revolve around oneself, how do you justify narrating someone else’s thoughts?

I was wondering how everyone else stops themselves from assuming that the speaker of the poem is in fact themselves. I also was wondering if anyone else gets nervous exposing themselves through their writing.

Shout-out to self-proclaimed “nonwriters”

This is my shout-out to people who don’t consider themselves writers (although the majority of people reading this are absolutely writers.) My hope as a self-titled writer is that the rest of the population that shirks away from writing will find the beauty in writing sooner rather than later.

Personally, I believe that everyone is capable of writing poetry. Poetry is an art form, thus, there is no right or wrong way to mastermind a poem. I think that most people get trapped in the assumption that they are not “good enough” to write poetry. Perhaps they are scared of judgement from peers or themselves. The only way to overcome this fear is to pick up a pencil and start writing.

Even reading other people’s poetry is a step in the right direction. If you’re new to poetry, that’s the time to explore all the different styles and authors. By exploring many different styles, you have a better chance at finding poetry that really clicks with you. You might stumble upon a poem that is similar to one you are too scared to write down, which might give you the nerve you need to actually pick up the pen and paper.

Poetry has so many benefits: it helps us be more empathetic by placing ourselves in someone else’s shoes; it allows for self-expression; and it can be therapeutic.  

All in all, I hope that more people will discover poetry, even if they are hesitant at first.

Comfort Zones

 

One of the reasons I love workshops is that it pushes me out of my creative comfort zone. Unfortunately, whenever I’m given the chance, I still find myself returning to its (my comfort zone’s) warm embrace.

Not only do I seek out my comfort zone in my own writing, but I look for it and commend it in my peers’ work, as well as published authors. For instance, I recently came across a collection by one of my favorite authors, Joy Harjo. I thoroughly enjoy her work; however, I know that I am not doing myself, nor her work, any favors by only highlighting the elements of her poems that I like. Workshops have taught me to look past the superficial aesthetics of the poems that I used to focus on (well, I still do, but I hope to a lesser extent) and shed light on the deeper, more meaningful aspects of the poem.

If I’m being honest, one of the reasons I chose Joy Harjo’s collection was the predominant equine imagery and the ambiguous female pronouns (sound familiar?) While I know that I am judging the book by its cover, so to speak, I am eager to unearth the grit in her poems, as well.

I want to use this so-called technique in my own work. In other words, I want to write a poem that is appealing on the surface level, but raises questions once the reader actually becomes engrossed in it.

Oftentimes, I get too caught up in the surface-level fluff, aka the pretty picture that the poet paints, rather than the true purpose of the poem. That surface level “fluff” is my comfort zone. While I still want to acknowledge my comfort zone, because that’s what originally drew me to poetry, I want to become a better poet. That means that I must step away from the man-made utopias that I usually associate with poems and look more at raw emotion and human imperfections (the things that I tend to stray away from in my writing.)

What do you all do to get out of your comfort zone in your writing?

What do we owe our writing prompts?

Most, if not all, of us have experienced writer’s block at one point or another. I tend to experience writer’s block the most when I first sit down to begin a poem. That being said, I have come to be quite fond of prompts. I honestly believe that some of my best work has stemmed from a given prompt, as they usually force me outside my comfort zone and away from my natural train of thought. Thus, I always appreciate the prompts that Professor Lytton feeds us through our class handout. While, I usually have fun challenging myself to write a poem about a “One night stand with an astronaut,” or reproducing my favorite poem in negative images, I still struggle with writer’s block.

For instance, this week’s main prompt asked us to create a poem that felt like its lines were balancing both gravity and flight. As the wheels in my brain began turning, I could not think of anything “worthy” to write down. This feeling of being lost on the page eventually subsided and a poem began to emerge. It was literally about flight, as in the act of flying in a plane, not the war between weightlessness and mass in my lines. I felt as ifI had failed the prompt, even if it had done its job of giving me something to work towards.

Similarly, last week we were asked to choose ten outstanding lines from other poems, compile them all into one poem, and then build our own poem off of this foundation. I ended up using an image from the first line I chose and scrapped the rest. Again, not what the prompt was asking.

I understand that the prompt is meant to simply lead one down the path to a new poetic concept, yet I can’t shake the feeling that I owe the prompt something once I use it as a springboard (especially considering that none of my latest exercises look anything like the prompts that they originated from.) What are your thoughts on this or prompts in general? Any cool ideas for a prompt? Please feel free to share!

Where to begin?

Class commenced the other day with the simple question, “How do you start your poems?” We were given three options: image, sound, or idea.

This question makes me think back to my last piece to have been workshopped, which was definitely forged from a distinct image. Imagery is such an important part of poetry, that it feels natural to paint a picture through the written word. Unfortunately, I have the tendency to digress in poems that are built on a specific image. Without an underlying message, my image-based poems tend to meander to and fro, not really lending the audience a solid theme to sink their teeth into. While I believe that poetry can stand as an art form alone and doesn’t always need to be characterized as anything other than “beautiful,” the lack of a definite meaning can be frustrating for both the author and the audience.

Personally, I overlook sound the most when it comes to poetry. Therefore, I find it interesting that people begin poems with a specific sound in mind. To anyone who does start their poetry based on a sound, I would love to know more about your process! Please feel free to share!  

On the other hand, I think using an idea as a starting block for a poem will probably result in the smoothest construction. Beginning with an idea automatically gives the poem a structure that is not as easily developed with sound and image. Thus, one’s writing may flow more naturally, or logically, along its course, rather than jumping from one image or sound to the next. While, I initially answered the aforementioned question with “image,” I believe that I am also prone to writing poems when something is bothering me, which would fall into the category of “idea.”

Please let me know what your own writing process is! I am always curious to see how other people go about writing their own pieces.

Publishing’s Effect on the Reader’s Review

I have always been in awe of my peers’ writing abilities. Poem after poem, I stumble on lines that I want to emulate or techniques that I want to try out in my own work. Despite my admiration of these poems, I have taken enough workshops that I am now engineered to add suggestions and cuts as I peruse the poems. Personally, when writing poems I never feel like I can carve out the final edition; I feel as if there is always room for improvement.

I have a different mindset when reading published poems. I think that simply being published adds a sense of inaccessibility to the poems. No one is willing to take a red pen to Robert Frost or Walt Whitman. I think it would be interesting to workshop poems that are already considered untouchable because of their longevity in the canon.

I think that workshopping some of the classics would help us polish our own editing process. I think that reading some of these poets whether they are similar to our own writing style or very different and then trying to workshop them would be very beneficial.

Overall, I think that workshopping or taking a red pen to already published works would make them more accessible and let us appreciate them even more.