Call Me By Any Name

The question of writerly labels recently surfaced in a Poetry Workshop: Do those of us who feel passionately enough about poetry feel that we can label ourselves as poets? 

The reactions were mostly negative. When asked what made us feel like poets, the responses were mixed, and filled with hopeful talk about what would make the label “poet” stick. I didn’t speak in class about what would make me feel like a poet, because I don’t feel as though anything will. I’m also not a fictionalist, although it’s the genre that I prefer. Nonfiction is a genre so far away from my interests, I consider it alien in nature. I hate being called an author, even though some of my work has been picked up by small magazines. That title is too hefty for me to bear. 

The one thing that I will allow people to call me is writer, because it’s what I do: I write. I tell stories. I fabricate lies, lives, worlds, scenarios, drama. “Writer” is an androgenous word that doesn’t put any pressure on me to produce one type of genre. The word is actually freeing. Being a writer means that I have the right to produce any work I wish, show it to whomever I want, and abandon a story or poem, to start on a new one. The word has no bounds, and that is what I love about it. Writing is something that can be done at any time of the day, at any place, no matter the outstanding circumstances. And therefore, the person who produces the writing also deserves a multi-purpose word. Writer is about the only label I’ve ever put on myself, and will continue to. 

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.

Grammar and Me

Throughout my life, I’ve noticed that my friends are often very surprised when they first meet my dad and hear his very thick Colombian accent and realize that this man is my father. My dad came to this country when he was 25 and had to learn English from scratch. While my dad did learn the language he was never concerned with perfecting it, he was satisfied just to understand and it comes out a lot in daily conversation.  My father pronounces his hellos like HAlo and in my house all spiders are girls. If you were to see a spider instead of saying let’s kill it, its let’s kill her because in Spanish words have gender. Stairs are pronounced estairs and if you want some fruit you could have some estrawberries. (in Spanish there is no “sss” sound just “es”) After dropping me off at school one day after receiving bad news he said very profoundly “When it pours it rains” It’s almost like his mind knows what the correct phrase is and then flips it just for fun.Yet this is the same voice that read to me Shel Silverstein growing up and without knowing that I would enjoy writing, gave me the nickname, Papelita (little paper) that he created because he liked how Danielle and Papel sounded together. He fed into my imagination and luckily I inherited his storyteller voice (without the accent) from years of listening to all of the stories he would tell me about his life in Colombia.

Due to my dad being such a big influence in my life, I immediately know what he is trying to say, even if it’s off. I remember over winter break, we were going somewhere and when we got out of the car my dad said: “Make sure you shut the window” at that moment I knew he meant car door even if he didn’t say it. So I shut the door without hesitation and we went on our way neither one of us acknowledging the correct term. My mind works quick to forge a connection, anything to grab onto so that we can be on the same page (so that we can both function as normal people). The only consequences are that when your brain prioritizes being on the same page, grammar gets thrown out the window. I don’t ever get tripped up by bad grammar and to me pretty much everything sounds right. Which is terrifying as an English major where intelligence is expressed through the sentence structure.

The other day my friends and I were joking about long distance relationships and I used the phrase “out of mind out of sight” to which my friend said, “what are you talking about Danielle?” It’s not the first time I’ve said something backward. My relationship with the English language is a very loose one, and I tend to disregard the rules as I go. It doesn’t help that growing up my dad would use the incorrect term for something that I thought was actually the word for it. For instance, I didn’t realize that a tablecloth could never be called a cover- even if its used to cover a table. When I write I fear my words are convoluted and what I say sounds stupid. My mom once read the first draft of  something I’ve written and said “this is why you check off the Latina box for applications” and whenever I missay phrases my first thought is “how could I make that mistake, I’m an idiot.”

Despite my grammatical errors, when it comes to creative writing I realized that I have an advantage in writing in the first person. If I write the way my character speaks I can convey a much stronger voice in the story than people who have trouble connecting to a character’s speaking tone. I think that over the years my struggle with grammar has humbled me, that I have to accept that I don’t have the same ability to write grammatically flawless work which can come effortlessly to others. It has been ingrained in my mind that to write is to rewrite and I can never afford to turn in something I wrote the day before. I’ve learned to endure the editing process (after I’m done staring in horror at all of the red and green lines across the word document) knowing that my work can be made better if I choose to work at it. Something that I may not have realized if my minimum effort allowed me to coast in my writing.

Emotional Frustration in Poetry

Sometimes, writing poetry frustrates me. I’ve mentioned (and probably made it clear in workshop at this point) that sound is oftentimes more important to me than actual content. I’ve always found that music expresses more emotion than words on a page ever can for me, and so I want to express myself in that way (musically) too. Problem is, even though I sing, I don’t play any instruments. Today I was reflecting on this, and considering writing some a cappella solo stuff and recording it, as a small start. My boyfriend and I sometimes talk about writing music together (he plays guitar, among other things) but it’s difficult to do because we’re long distance. We could be the next Postal Service but it’s much harder than it sounds. Besides, as much as I would like to, I don’t have time to be in a band. And I’ve never written music before.

When I’m staring at a blank page, I just want to bleed the sound in my headphones onto it until it forms the lines of the letters that would be right to make someone’s heart detach the way mine did. To open my emotions, figure out their pattern, and translate it to language. That’s a daunting task, and no science or technology can do it. It’s up to me. And sometimes I honestly just want to punch a hole in the wall because I can’t figure it out. Emotions are important to me, but I can’t seem to convey them through the cold monochromatic letters on a page.

I enjoy other ways of expressing myself besides music. I’ve danced since childhood, and I enjoy visual art a lot (though I know little about it, and am not good at it). I desire to use movement, lines, and color to express myself rather than simply the words on a page. I’m starting to think through ways that I could use multiple forms of media to express emotion rather than just poetry by itself. I want to branch out as I create rather than stick to one thing at a time. I think that different forms of art compliment and inform one another.

I apologize for the angsty nature of this post and I want to open it up for discussion: Do any of you feel a similar emotional frustration when writing poetry? What other modes do you prefer to express emotion? Have you created any multimedia works, or collaborations?

My Roommates Are Psych Majors

My roommates are psych majors. Not to demean this major in any way, but they often cannot comprehend what I do as an English major.

They sometimes ask to read my poetry, and almost always I say no because they won’t appreciate it, or understand the tools used and hard work put it–it is simply not worth showing them. They are proud in everything that I do, but they just don’t understand this ‘poetry thing’ that I do.

My most recent encounter with this was when I showed my friend my Marlboro Orange poem, because she asked to see it. And immediately, looking at the page, she laughed at the line “my enamel screams,” because it didn’t make sense and just sounded funny… this hurt my feelings because I was vulnerable enough to show her my hard work, and yet she couldn’t comprehend what it meant. As a poet, I seek approval, but from her, I didn’t receive that. I know she didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, she just couldn’t understand. That then questioned my motif of who I am writing for … and why?

In addition, after having my notebook open, she looked at my workshopped pieces and saw all of the scribbles and notes encompassing my poem that you all gave to me after class and she said “OMG, who did this to your poem?!”… she was shocked by the criticism and feedback, thinking it was ‘mean.’

Overall, I do seek approval, and it is hard to tell my friends I am poet, just as it hard to explain to them where I am every Monday night.

The definition of a poet.

The other day my friend approached me as I as doing some work and she asked what I was working on. I told her it was for one of my English classes and she said, “I always forget you’re the odd one out.” (meaning if not all but most of my friends are either science, business, communications, or education majors. Not a single one is English.) And then she proceeded to ask if I was a poet, and this is what got me wondering.

Am I poet? I guess I could say yes. I’m more of a poet than any of my other friends, and I do write poems quite frequently. So yes I am a poet. But then there’s the other half of me that says, no you’re not a poet, you wont even show your work to your friends and you’ve never even been published. I am constantly torn between being a poet and not. I believe that part of this struggle comes from a lack of confidence. I won’t get into that because I talk about confidence in a previous blog post. But, when I search in google “What is a poet” the answer is simple, a poet is someone who writes poems. So, by definition, I am a poet.

King on Inspiration

There’s a Stephen King quote: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” It’s a quote meant to quell the frustrations of writer’s block- that if you should simply sit down and do it, that you shouldn’t wait for inspiration. It’s a sentiment I agree with- there’s a trope of the writer with no material, who never actually writes. That “just get it done” attitude is needed for giving writers the agency needed to just get it done. But at the same time, I feel like inspiration won’t arrive just because you sat down to work. That doesn’t cure writer’s block, it doesn’t give you ideas, it won’t make a great work appear, suddenly, in front of you. For me, at least, I need to be thinking about a project a lot before I can just sit down to write. I think that’s an important distinction- you can’t wait for inspiration to find you, but at the same time, just sitting down to work isn’t the cure-all either. I need to be actively thinking about it and working on it for a while, then inspiration comes, eventually. It’s not guaranteed, then, either. King’s mantra isn’t a magical remedy, but he’s not wrong, either. 

Review of Home Places: Contemporary Native American Writing from Sun Tracks


Home Places  Contemporary Native American Writing from Sun Tracks edited by Larry Evers & Ofelia Zepeda


Last year, I was introduced to Joy Harjo’s She Had Some Horses from her collection of the same title. I was intrigued by her depiction of her culture and its connection to the earth. While hunting for a new collection to review, I used her books as a stepping stone, certain they would steer me in the right direction. This is how I stumbled upon Home Places,  a collection of contemporary Native American writing.

One of the first things I noticed about Home Places was its incorporation of different Native American languages, which were typically followed by the English translation. This translation served a dual purpose; of course, the work felt more authentic with the addition of language; however, it also quietly implies that the audience (assuming they are unable to translate the pieces) is an outsider.

Some pieces, such as Ta by Nora Naranjo-Morse,  forgoes the format of the previous works, instead of dividing her work into two beings, the original work and the translation, she melds the two together. The speaker of the poem confesses that they are “struggling in/ two worlds, / between Pueblo tradition/ and modern values.” This balance is visually manifested in the poem’s format as each line seems to be precariously stacked on top of the one beneath it.  

This sense of balance is highlighted throughout the collection, even the “fool crow” in Joy Harjo’s poem “perches on the blue bowl of the sky, and laughs.”  Wendy Rose’s poem,The Endangered Roots of a Person, claims that people should embrace their sense of self, like Harjo’s fool crow by “becoming strong on this earth […] in becoming an animal shape against the sky.”  

As noted in Harjo and Rose’s poems, the collection is rich with natural imagery. The speakers seem to ground themselves in the natural world, as Elizabeth Woody says in In Memory of Crossing the Columbia, “my breastplate, the sturdy/ belly of mountainside” and  “She is the mountain of women / who have lain as volcanoes / before men.” There is something intensely bittersweet about the gifts that the natural world offers the speakers of the poems, as Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez exclaims that “there was no denying/ the singing that took place/ when my mother and father knelt/ to pat the earth/ beneath the bare peach tree,” despite  describing their “home/ to Indian land/ Reservation   rocks broken bottle glass.”

Thus, this collection offers a bittersweet balance between tradition and current times, which is reflected in the metamorphosis of the land, as stated in Ralph Cameron’s, My Land, My Water, My Mountains,  in which “The land I was born on was clean” which is followed by “Now it is not like that.” All in all, this collection intertwines culture, self, and earth beautifully.  

Seamus Heaney’s Poetry

Seamus Heaney’s Selected Poems 1988-2013 commits itself to finding ornate detail in things commonly considered simple. While lots of poems translate something complicated into more easily digestible terms, Heaney’s collection turns the everyday into the ineffable. Objects like pitchforks, something that would elicit little poetic thought in most, are examined under an interesting lens and made to seem an incredibly special thing. Heaney writes of the pitchfork, “Of all implements, the pitchfork was the one/That came near to an imagined perfection” (12). I’ve never compared a pitchfork to perfection in my head, but it’s a thought provoking line, and also a sonically appealing one.

A poem later on speaks of lightning, deeming it a “Phenomenal instant when the spirit flares/With pure exhilaration before death” (35). Lightning may be a more likely candidate for poetry than a pitchfork, but all the same I found this description especially striking (Pun intended). Throughout this collection, Heaney’s language continually shines. Usually I’m desperate to find some sort of meaning in a poem but I was willing to put that hunt aside for Heaney’s work. I would often find myself caught up in the sounds, drifting pleasantly along without questioning very deeply. Phrases like “Hazel stealth” (36) didn’t necessarily make sense to me, but that didn’t stop them from sounding good.

Occasionally I did feel that Heaney’s work got a little too cryptic, but perhaps this is just my fault as a reader? I also felt that at points Heaney relies too heavily on quoting other poets such as Yeats. Sometimes he’d throw in such a good line by Yeats that I’d find myself thinking more of that singular line than the poetry of Heaney which surrounded it. However, these are both minor issues and didn’t detract from my appreciation of the overall work.

Heaney, in some sense, re-wired the way I read poetry. I took a trust fall into sheer sonic enjoyment as opposed to seeking out a solid narrative. It seems that every word is put in its proper place with great consideration. Though it’s easy to read, Heaney’s poetry doesn’t seem as if it was at all easy to write. I found this collection incredibly well written and greatly enjoyed it.


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!