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!

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.


“White Days” by Priscilla Becker

The poem “White Days” by Priscilla Becker in the reader was fascinating to me. This is because while reading it, I found myself drawn to the sounds of the words, specifically the “s” sound. Reading through the first time, I paid so much attention to the sounds of the words that I didn’t even take in their meaning and had no idea what I had read! “S” is a common letter in words, but still how it was repeated so often in the poem really added to the sound of the poetry, I thought. The lines, “suffocate lowers like snowy exhaust”, (6-7) “the walls sequestered” (19), and “smell parsnip and staple” (27-28) show the use of sound in the poem. In each the “s” sounds appear at different parts of the line and in different parts of the individual words. It almost made it a the repetition of the “s” sound a surprise. There was also repetition of other sounds, such as “indisputable, unarguable” (2-3) and “pin heads, shivering paper ridges”(30-31). Really, overall in this poem I was so engrossed with the word choice and sounds that the meaning didn’t even seem important. Did anyone else have an opinion of this poem?


So how do we feel about writing poems about the holidays? I tried writing a Christmas poem a couple years back because I was just so taken by the Christmas spirit, and it wasn’t too bad, but reading it after the holidays, I realized it seemed cliche and contrived. I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while and I feel like the blog, where a bunch of writers both in Geneseo and out, can add their input. Do we like holiday poems? Should I just stick to seasons and thunderstorms like a true poet?

I’ve read a couple poems centering around the holidays, but it seems like they always deal with a larger theme, with like, the holiday in the background. Is that the key?

Or should I just embrace the fact that I want to become the Michael Buble of Christmas poems?

Starting Anew: Looking at “The Greats” for the first time

So, I’m going to confess something to you all, because this feels like a safe space and it’s something that I’m not really THAT ashamed of, I don’t think. I probably should be but. Whatever. Here it goes…

I hate the classics. I cannot stand To Kill a Mockingbird, I’ve skimmed East of Eden, and Great Expectations went right over my head. With that being said, I did a thing that might be hurting me in my poetic voice, but I don’t know? This is where I need your help.

Since I’ve tried really really hard to steer clear of “the greats” in fiction, you can probably guess that I’ve never had any real relationship with any of the poetry greats either. I’ve read some Emerson, some Thoreau, and ummm… some other things? This section makes me feel a little bad for ignoring some historic writers, but at least I’m admitting my wrongs!

This class has turned me into a poetry fiend. I want to write it, live it, and research it as much as I can. A trip to the Ithaca Book Sale (which everyone should try to get to before it ends on October 28th. They have a bag day where you can buy BAGS OF BOOKS for $1!!! It’s incredible) left me with arms full of poetry books that I never would have found in a Barnes and Noble or any other commercial bookstore. I grabbed some e.e. Cummings books, Maya Angelou, and Ezra Pound. I can’t wait to dive into these works and contrast the more contemporary stuff I’m in to. But I want more! Does anyone have some authors that I can get acquainted with, so I can become a well-rounded poet? I’m literally open to any suggestion at this point. Who am I missing? Who will help me re-imagine the line? Who will make me shiver with emotion while I read their books on the weekends?

Gimme all of the poets! And thanks for being here for this very important message (don’t worry, I’m judging myself just a teeeeeeny bit, too).

old world and new world; a history lesson

Over break, I made a point to grab some of the many books I’ve bought at Barnes and Noble over the years. I wanted to directly compare what we’ve been learning in class about “the line” with what had sparked my interest in more classic works. My favorite writer is 214 years old. It’s Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he was a huge part of the American Transcendentalism movement that arose when people were moving farther West. He, and many others wrote romantic pieces about the new, natural world they were seeing. What I notice about his writings, along with Walt Whitman, and John Keats’ work is that their interpretation of “the line” is much different than ours is today. They’re able to use different elements of prose and diction that seem “kitsch” today when imitated.

Continue reading “old world and new world; a history lesson”

Analysis in Music-Weird?

I am continuously pulled out of my own world full of work, school, and taxing trips to the grocery store (taxing being kind of a stretch. Wegmans for life) by music. When I was younger, I told everyone that I was going to be a rock star. I saw my first show at 13, and I’ve never stopped loving the intensity of emotion that music makes me feel.

A few years ago, I definitely thought of music as a way to say the things that I couldn’t say out loud. I listened to some heavier music as a teen (and now when I’m feeling angsty), and always wanted to scream the lyrics all over my hometown to get people to understand me. I still feel this way, honestly. But as I’ve indulged deeper and deeper into the literary world, I can’t help but find myself analyzing and trying to find the poetic elements in the music I listen to now, and the music I used to listen to.

One of my favorite bands, Twiddle, came out with a new album last spring, and I listened to it front to back, no stopping. Usually when I hear new music, I appreciate the lyrics, like the music, hate some shit, love some others. But this time, I found myself searching for theme, and reason behind every song. That was the first time this has every happened to me, and I now have no idea how to stop it. For the record, the album was embedded with food images, and songs about weather and change. Then there were also songs that had a lot to do with the current political climate, and feeling lost but finding a way to return to the person you once were. There were also hints of mental illness, and fantasy sections that could point to drug use. You guys probably don’t care about any of this, but I needed to vent that because no one else really cares about this shit in the jam scene! and I can’t help but do this now!

Anyway, now that we’ve been focusing so much on the line, I am fascinated by where artists would put line breaks in their songs as if they were using them for poetic devices. I listen to the most nonsensical stuff, (Phish), and I still want to know where they would use emphasis in their breaking of lyrics and pauses to play certain riffs or solos. That’s a really interesting way of looking at music, too. There’s space for music, which is white space in poems on the page.

My once easy listening has turned into analysis, and I kind of love it? It’s hard to do during live shows, so I appreciate the reprieve I get when I see live music. But listening to music in this moment, I’m constantly finding the moments where the tone turns, or the music changes based on lyric. It’s exhausting, but so very cool. Does anyone else do this…?

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.

To Cut or Not to Cut

After reading A Broken Thing, I have come to learn that we must fall in love with each line we write in a poem. Each line requires the same whole-hearted devotion that the entire work needs; not just puppy love, but lasting love. It must endure the decision to be cut, wadded up, and thrown into the wastebasket with a million other unfinished lines. By surviving draft after draft, each line proves to the poet that it is worthy of its spot on the page.

Unfortunately, our peers do not always show the same adoration for every single line in our pieces. During workshop, some lines are met with “knocks,” while others are tossed to the side. While the critiquers always have the poem’s best interests in mind, they have not developed the same relationship with the line as its creator. Thus, facing the decision to either cut or keep a beloved line can be rather difficult.

When is it warranted to keep a line that others believe should be thrown away? Do you always go with “majority rules” and cut lines that are met with overwhelming disapproval? Do you start a new poem with the exiled line? Or do you edit it slightly, to keep the backbone of the line alive, rather than dismissing it completely?

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?