Epilogue: Personal Notes to My Fellow Poets

Of course I am aware that this blog is on a public domain, but more importantly, I know that the members of Lytton’s Spring 2018 poetry class read it. And I wanted to recognize the incredible work we all have done this semester which was reflected in our final portfolios. I am so proud of us for the hours and hours spent reading, writing, revising, recasting, and reconsidering ways to write poetry–stretching how we think about form in general and sound in particular. I can say that I’ve learned so much this semester, and I am grateful for the feedback you all have provided for me. Being a part of a community is so important, and my vision and hope for all of us as writers (and authors) is that we are part of not only a visual/word-oriented community but also one in which we care for each other as human beings who are inherently and incredibly valuable. This vision was reflected in earlier blog posts, in my portfolio, which was all about relationships, and in the way I live my life (I hope). I love people, and I love being a part of a community, and I am so grateful for all of you. TC Tolbert and Shara McCallum, while they were here, both impressed upon me the importance of community and helping others, and Lytton Smith did this every week we met together, every time he introduced a visiting poet, and really, every time I saw him.

To conclude this semester, I would like to leave you all personally with a final note, based on your portfolios and what I know about you all as writers. Don’t worry; again, I know this as a public domain, so I won’t be too personal. Email me if you want to get more personal and I will give you my mailing address to be a penpal/postcard buddy (shameless plug–I <3 snail mail).

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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.

Being Original

Be you. Be original. Blow their minds with your creative geniusness. Nowadays, authenticity and creativity are revered by artists, entrepreneurs, and scientists alike. As a self-proclaimed writer, some of my favorite pieces are ones that cannot be duplicated.

However, being in the age in which information is constantly at our fingertips and ideas bounce back and forth with the hit of a key, it’s hard to create work that can be safely considered original.

For instance, I recently drafted a poem in which the female protagonist found herself and her strength in nature. Although the sacred relationship between man and nature is not “new” I thought that the I had presented this idea in a fresh lens.

By simply flipping open literature provided to us in class I realized I was mistaken. Both an article from the Poetry Foundation and a poem by Richard Siken had already put forth this idea. For instance, the article from the Poetry Foundation stated that, “I should say at this point that, instinctively, I have little faith in the benignity of nature, that great good thing that gives us earthquakes and tsunamis as readily as it gives us daisies and nightingales. I don’t believe man is a bad blight on good nature: I believe he/she is part of nature and shares nature’s qualities. Between Versailles and the rainforest is a vast range of human interventions that move and delight me because I can identify with the instincts that created them.” On the same hand, Siken’s poem portrayed this nature-fueled, feminist heroism in his poem, ”Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out,” when he states, “You want a better story. Who wouldn’t? / A forest, then. Beautiful trees. And a lady singing. / Love on the water, love underwater, love, love and so on. / What a sweet lady. Sing lady, sing! Of course, she wakes the dragon. / Love always wakes the dragon and suddenly /  flames everywhere. /I can tell already you think I’m the dragon, / that would be so like me, but I’m not. I’m not the dragon. / I’m not the princess either.”

While I believe that these authors captured the idea that I was attempting to propose in my poem even better than I did, part of me was slightly disheartened. Do these pieces minimize my work? Has anyone else ever experienced a similar feeling?

Not Your Story (there’s a question for you to answer at the end)

I’m gonna keep this vague: a very sad-and-complicated(TM) thing happened to a friend of mine, and I started writing a poem about it.  I’m not trying to take on my friend’s perspective in the poem; I’m writing as the friend of someone who had the sad-and-complicated(TM) thing happen to them.

My careful, politically and socially conscious self says I shouldn’t be writing this poem, even if it’s not gonna be seen by anyone else (except Lytton, if it’s decent).  I have no experience in this realm, and my interpretation of the situation doesn’t matter in the long run.  Besides, my friend doesn’t even like poetry, so wouldn’t is be antithetical to her character to write a poem based on a thing from her life?

My “fuck PC culture” self (I hate to admit it exists) says “um, your feelings are valid and worth writing about, and it’s not like your friend is gonna write a poem about it anyway, so it will be in an art form that she doesn’t use, so you’re in the clear stop worrying just fucking write the thing.”

But, like, other poets have had the sad-and-complicated(TM) thing happen to them, and they’re not gonna appreciate my appropriation (even if they don’t know it’s happening).

 

I’m probably gonna write the damn thing and keep it in a Word doc for the rest of my life, and my future kid(s) will stumble upon it and be like, “Wow, I can’t believe Mom committed appropriation in her poetry.”  Thankfully, I have some time to think of a decent explanation.

Do you guys get writing-blocked by the fear of appropriating?

Dream poetry

Does anyone else have a hard time trying to convert dreams to poetry? I’ve been having some vivid and particularly strange dreams lately, the sort that feel as if they should provide good fuel for writing, but whenever I try to shape them into stanzas they fall flat. I’ve been recalling my most surreal, poignant, and beautiful dreams and have realized that, though I may have tried, none of them made for very good poetry.

I’m starting to thing that poetry, at least for me, is better for catching the little grains of absurdity in day to day life rather than straddling the veritable sea of the stuff encountered when deep in REM sleep. It’s the same when trying to describe my dreams to friends, unless they’re especially saccharine ones, it’s hard to convey the huge amounts of emotion I feel over such seemingly nonsensical experiences.

A few months back I did experience a pleasing anomaly within a dream (I love those dreams that plunge even deeper into madness), I had a character recite a little bit of poetry within it. I think the dream took place at some ultra avant-garde sort of underground theater performance, and one of the actors got a little poetic all the sudden. I don’t remember the poem, except for the word “Giant” and the phrase “at the end of the block” being in it. I woke up from the dream sort of proud, thinking that dreaming poetry, good or not, really made me a poet in the waking world.

I’m curious to hear if any of you guys have managed to get some good writing out of your dreams, and if you have any tips for doing so. In the meantime I’m sure I’ll keep trying and failing to make good poems out of my dreams, and I’ll definitely keep jonesing for the next appearance of poetry in my dreams. Maybe I’ll have better luck getting published in dream land?

18 and Getting Older

On the tail-end of my birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk about age not only in the literary community but in all of our communities.

Often, we say things like “Wow, she published her first poem at 17” or “He published three books by 16” as if either of these things is somehow more valuable, more impressive than if the person had been 27, 37, or heck 107.

What’s more worrying is that, as people age, we begin to normalize their achievement. Milestones are no longer treated as “surprising” or “special” so much as they’re treated as “normal” and “expected.” It’s wonderful that someone else has figured out their passions young, but that doesn’t mean we all have to. Or that all of us had the social and economic means to.

The rhetoric around age needs to change, not soon, but now. Let’s celebrate everyone equally — with warmth and enthusiasm.

#AccomplishedAtAnyAge

Kendrick, Pulitzer, & Responding to Dotun Adebayo, or A Thing Megan Is Not Qualified to Talk About Pt. 3

Last summer, in an attempt to be seen as “cool” by my mentees in Geneseo’s Access Opportunity Summer Scholar’s Program (AOP), I listened to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., a new album they all had been listening to and discussing.

And then I listened to it again.

And again.

I didn’t listen to DAMN. repeatedly because I was hooked; I listened to it for comprehension. I knew my Broadway-and-a-cappella-loving white ass wasn’t going to understand any of the nuances of this strange, loud music unless I kept listening (while simultaneously googling the lyrics, because Kendrick isn’t exactly the king of enunciation).  I thought that if I could at least say what DAMN. is about, I’d reach my young, in-the-know mentees on their musical level.

Well, now I’m obsessed with DAMN., even though most of my friends and now former mentees have moved on.  I’ve listened to DAMN. forwards.  I’ve listened to DAMN. backwards.  I’ve mixed the songs from DAMN. in with songs from good kid, m.A.A.d cityand To Pimp A Butterflyin a playlist that I think could be the soundtrack to a Broadway jukebox musical (a musical with non-original songs).  I’ve made my mom listen to DAMN.  I can rap most of “XXX” from DAMN. DAMN. is my go-to driving album, shower album, and running-to-class-because-I’m-late-as-fuck album.  DAMN. was not written for minimally cultured white women like me, but DAMN. I love it.

As you can predict, when DAMN. was awarded the 2018 music Pulitzer, I was ecstatic.

Now, let me introduce you to someone who is less ecstatic (unless you’re already familiar with this human, in which case, lmk).  Dotun Adebayo, a British radio presenter, writer, and publisher (thanks, Wikipedia), published an article this morning titled “If we valued black art, Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer would have been for literature.”  I bet my classmates can predict Adebayo’s points: rap should be considered poetry, rap should be taught as literature in schools along with Shakespeare, and Shakespeare is basically R-rated anyway, so, like, rap isn’t encouraging violence any more than Romeo and Julietis (they were all stabbing each other for half the play).

If you ask me if DAMN. is poetry, I’ll say, “Um, obviously.”  If you ask me if DAMN. should have received the poetry Pulitzer instead of the music one, I’ll say, “I don’t care if the album received a journalism Pulitzer, we still have a Black rapper receiving a Pulitzer!”  Now, the winner of the 2018 poetry Pulitzer was this work called Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, which I am not familiar with at all, so I’m not comfortable kicking it out of its place for Kendrick to get that poetry slot.  Really, I don’t think any of us can complain at the moment.

Regarding rap as poetry in schools, however, thatshould have been a thing back in the mid 2000s. It’s all Pearson’s fault, with its common core, College Board, white-as-fuck SAT questions, and lack of understanding that literature develops.  Fuck Pearson, fuck College Board, fuck Robert Frost and the woods he walked in (click the link), fuck the school-to-prison pipeline, fuck white privilege, fuck any non-Black person who raps the n-word while rapping along to Kendrick’s ”Element,” Childish Gambino’s “Bonfire,” and Jay-Z’s “Jigga is my N****.”

Not that that’s news to any of my classmates, though.

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. 

A review of The Basketball Diaries

I recently picked up and read a copy of Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries. The book contains a series of journal entries Jim Carroll, a writer and musician involved in Andy Warhol’s factory scene, wrote from the ages of 13-16, describing his experiences as both a star basketball player and drug addict in 1960’s NYC. Watching Carroll’s writing style develop, becoming more poetic as the world surrounding him grows progressively madder, was truly a special experience.

Again and again I was taken aback by how young Carroll was as he reached each milestone of depravity, and how he managed to write and play basketball so brilliantly, despite the damage he was surely doing to his developing body and mind. Though he may stay on the ball (Pun intended) when it comes to sports and journal writing, other aspects of Carroll’s life spiral out of control. His parents become relatively out of the scene, many of his friends are thrown into jail or die, and he finds himself sinking to lower and lower means to get enough money together to maintain his heroin habit. However, Carroll is able to find things of beauty amidst his sordid world. In the early pages of the book a twelve year old Jim huffs glue with several teammates, even while doing something so detrimental to his health and just plain trashy, he imagines himself “paddling across a river with black water, only the canoe was going backwards instead of forwards…”, it seems unlikely that Carroll’s young drug buddies experience anything of a similarly profound nature. Carroll, however, does not romanticize his lifestyle, in fact extensive detail is put into displaying its horrors, it’s just that he also has an eye for spotting the rare moments of serenity or significance that sometimes occur within it.

A recurring theme in The Basketball Diaries is Jim’s search for purity. Throughout his writings Jim repeatedly mentions wanting to find something pure, what this is he never exactly states, it may be something lost or something that he never had. While on acid Jim scrawls out a short poem, “Little kids shoot marbles/where branches break the sun/into graceful shafts of light…/I just want to be pure.” On it’s own the poem might not seem the most spectacular, but in the greater context of the work it holds much more weight to it. Another instance of Jim wanting to recapture or maintain a certain purity occurs when he storms out of the apartment of a much older woman, who has been paying him for sex, after taking her money but not fulfilling his end of the deal, “‘What about my sixty dollars, you prick!’ she screamed. ‘What about my innocence,’ I said, going down”. This theme is later used to bring the diaries to something of a close, but without giving a full answer as to where Jim’s future will lead him.

Carroll’s writings are incredibly impressive, but I do however place some blame on them for spurring many young writer’s descent into drug use, under the false belief that creative inspiration is a sure fire byproduct of the druggy lifestyle. Along with writers like Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, and Irvine Welsh, Carroll could be said to have unwittingly sired a progeny of drug addled writers producing derivative writing. The sort of writers who rely more on shock value than skill, and think that listing off the names of narcotics can replace a proper narrative. Obviously I don’t fully blame writers like Carroll with corrupting susceptible youths, but I do think there is some sort of correlation that should be taken into account.

Influencing uninspired writing or not, Carroll’s entries are anything but. Each entry holds something new, a new low, a new drug, a new dream, a new chance, all of which come together to offer the unique experience of looking through a window into a turbulent psyche and time. Carroll is constantly finding flaws in the opulent, upper-crust society that has rejected him, and spotting bits of beauty in the world of turpitude he inhabits, making for a perspective worth “hitchhiking” along with.