When writing a poem for exercise 2, it was hard to fathom what direction I wanted to go in to discuss disruption. I feel like I started off wanting the form to mimic the disruption that the meaning should show as well but i began to feel lost. I just began writing with a vague sense of my confusion about my life in my head. I find it really hard to talk about vague topics because I always feel dissatisfied in the production and outcome. I like having specific images and/or events in my head because that makes it easier to know what words to use and what colors and descriptions I should be focusing on.When I try to start writing a poem by just focusing on an abstract feeling, I find myself lost and grasping at straws. It’s difficult to describe a feeling without thinking of specific moments or actions that I can associate it with. I am not the proudest of the poem that was elicited from this exercise but I am learning that not every piece will be perfect but it can still help generate new ideas.
I really enjoyed the exercise on writing a poem about “one”. It really confused me because I often write my poems have a lot more of a specific starting point. It felt really limiting at first because I was thinking of the prompt from the perspective of being connected and whole so I tried to avoid using the word “I” but it proved to be more difficult than I had imagined and it really limited my thoughts from making it to the paper so as time went by I tried to avoid using articles then I tired to only use we but my thoughts kept feeling like there was a disconnect. I decided to take a different approach and talk about myself as two different people in one. At first it was hard to articulate the ideas i had in my head but eventually it became easier to express the feeling of duality competing within myself.
I have an obsession. It’s something I’ve carried around in my head since my childhood and I carry it with me now. When I’m in class and my thoughts drift, when I’m doing chores around the house, or when I’m alone, bored, and the silence has grown old.
I memorize song lyrics and play them over and over in my mind. I did this before I ever wanted to, or tried to. Particularly though, I memorize hip-hop lyrics. I love hip-hop because it’s been hyper-focused on language for decades. Lyrical acrobatics has always been a fun way of thinking about the way words and ideas get phrased in hip-hop. I’ve always liked poetry because it’s seemed to be the closest thing that I’ve found in academia to writing hip-hop lyrics. However, I’ve witnessed several class discussions about rhyming in poetry workshops and it seems that for the most part, rhyming is somewhat frowned upon. I think this is fair, in a similar way to the semi-joke of the perfect iambic pentameter sentence: the same, the same, the same, the same, the same.
Rhyming can create certain expectations in a poem, which might make the poem begin to sound monotonous. I’ve found myself trying to write poems this semester and only being able to write lines that rhyme. Because I’ve listened to and stored away so many different hip-hop songs, I’ve found it difficult to not imagine the words needing to fit a rhyme scheme, or lead into each other to form new rhyme schemes. It’s a bit odd, and I didn’t really expect anything like this to be a part of my writing process, but I’ve been trying to consider the ways in which it might be beneficial to my poetry.
This is the third week of school, and for me it is my third week of being a Teaching Assistant for Caroline in English 201. It is going well… I think.
On the first day, we went through the syllabus–and that was fine. Caroline asked me to explain a few things from a student’s perspective, such as the fourth wall. So I explained that best I could, and all the students just stared at me with blank looks. I realized, they didn’t even know what the verb ‘workshop’ meant… well, this was awkward. So then I tried rambling about that and I confused them even MORE. They asked, “so I just sit here silently and everyone talks about what I wrote??”, I tell them yes and they looked TERRIFIED.
I remembered there was a time when I first heard this verb of ‘workshop’ too. And yes, even then it seemed daunting–and it still is terrifying. I told them that I get nervous too when my piece is workshopped, but it’s best to look down, bite your nails, and take notes. They still just looked confused. Then they asked, “well what should I write about?”, and I told them that they could write about anything. I gave them the very sound advice that I received as a young writer that you must distance yourself from your piece. Nothing is too close to you. I told them that often times, I write about my father and it feels numb to me now–in a good way. After hearing about my ‘dark’ writing and ability to write about my family and still having it workshopped, I saw some relief on their faces. I think that came from the fact that I am also a student, and if they saw I did it and am continuing to do it, then they can do it, too.
The next class Caroline actually was diagnosed with Strep … so class was cancelled, unfortunately.
This past class on Tuesday, we went over poetry and creative non-fiction. These kids were LIVELY (that is mostly because I told them that participation gets them a LOT of brownie points) so they were talking SO much and it was beautiful. They asked questions, talked with each other, and each had such an individual voice and personality. Truly it is an inspiring class, and I am honored to be a part of it.
I will keep you updated on my chronicles as a TA. Wish me luck!
For me, undoubtedly the hardest part of writing a poem is starting it. Unless I get direct external inspiration, it’s nearly impossible for me to just sit down and start writing anything; and, on that note, it’s sort of difficult for me to pull inspiration out of thin air.
Over the summer, though, I found a really cool spot near my hometown (http://www.melanienelsonbooks.com) which sells more used books then I’ve ever seen in one spot for really cheap — all hardcovers are 1 dollar, all paperbacks are 50 cents. I stocked up and, while doing so, came across a dictionary of word and phrase origins. I saw and thought it would be perfect for forcing some inspiration when I want to sit down and write, and I think it’s been pretty successful so far. The book that I have, in case your interested, is by William and Mary Morris, but I’m sure you can find similar things elsewhere or online. Regardless, I highly highly highly recommending something like this if you’re stuck and in need of a starting point for a piece.
I’m going to include a few excerpts from the book, the ones with the best words and phrases I’ve found so far, and maybe you’ll find some inspiration from them:
alligator pear. By a process known as “folk etymology” (which see), unfamiliar or hard-to-pronounce words take the form of similar but more familiar words. Thus, especially in rural areas of the country, jonquils become “Johnnyquils” and asparagus is called “sparrowgrass.” In this case, avocado was mispronounced “alligator” partly because avocado trees were thought to grow in swampy tropical areas infested by alligators. And the avocado fruit does somewhat resemble a pear.
banzai. The war cry “Banzai!” meant “May you live ten thousand years!” The Japanese, with a logic incomprehensible to Western minds, used to should it when launching a suicide attack.
c.q. In a death notice in a weekly paper, c.q. was printed in small letters after the name of the deceased. The c.q. in this use has a meaning, but its appearance in the paper was an error. The symbols originally represented the sounds (dah-dit-dah-dit-dah-dit-dah-dit) used by radio operators at the start of a transmission. This c.q. alerts other listening operators that a message is to follow. As used by proofreaders, however, it is a warning to typesetters that a spelling that seems unusual or even erroneous is to be followed because, despite its appearance, it is correct. For example, if a first name had the unusual spelling “Lilyan,” a copy editor might well follow it with a c.q. in parentheses or encircled as a signal to the typesetter to follow copy. The error, in this case, was that the c.q. itself was set into type.
This reminds us of the ancient proof room legend of the zealous and now lamented proofreader who is so devoted to his task that he followed copy — even when it blew out the window.
This summer I purchased and read the poetry collection Girl with Death Mask by author Jennifer Givhan. Givhan is a talented Mexican-American poet who often writes from her raw experiences about culture, identity, womanhood (and patriarchy), et al., and how these things have troubled and changed her speakers over time. I enjoy Givhan’s work and so I would like to look in depth at her poem “I am dark, I am forest” in order to examine its constituent parts as well as admire it as a whole.
Continue reading “Jennifer Givhan’s “I am dark, I am forest””
A little paragraph that stuck out to me in this week’s reading in A Little Book on Form (specifically the “How Free Verse Works” chapter) was when Hass recollects a conversation with Stanley Kunitz on formalized ways a “poem moves.”
I’ll just rip the band-aid off quickly—I like logic. I like things to have a natural progression to things. I may be out of bounds here, but I think poetry is probably the most liberal when it comes to how much “logic” is required. I don’t begrudge poetry for being as open ended as it is (in fact, I welcome the discomfort), but formal organization structures are a particularly tantalizing idea to me. So, I think it’ll be fun to try and come up with a few more examples than Kunitz or Hass give.
To refresh your memory, Kunitz introduces three movements: a straight line (A to B…), a circle (A to B to C… to A), and a braid (A to B to C… to A to B to C… to ABC) that twists around itself each thread lines up. Hass gives a few more suggestions: pointillism (A B C…) with its unstated connections, and a list (In Hass’ words, “A A A A A”). That brings the total to five, but I don’t think anyone but, maybe, Kunitz would care if we pushed passed that.
My turn. Here are a few more suggestions:
- A poem without movement or as I like to call it “the Loner” (A), a single idea, image, or thought that stands on its own. Maybe all the movement’s in the words of a single line.
- A poem that starts somewhere other than the beginning that I call “the Wildcard,” messing with our sense of chronology and logic (Maybe it goes backwards, D to C to B to A, or some other order, C to A to B to D).
- A poem that doesn’t go anywhere, “the Joker” (A to A to A to A). It’s pretty similar to a list, but there may be movement in on itself unlike a list ,or it could just be repeating itself (that’s movement, I guess).
- A poem that intentionally skips steps in the movement, “the Executioner” perhaps (because it’s chopped up, A to C to E).
- A poem that… and I’m all out. I’m sure there’s an indefinite number of movements out there, but my brain is already in knots from coming up with these other four. Anyone want to try for some more?
That’s nine. Between the great minds of Hass, Kunitz, and myself, I’m pretty satisfied with that.
I have never seen myself as a poet. I write things, and poetry is typically written, so in that way I can see myself as a poet, but I don’t feel at home in poetry. We discussed form a lot in our last class and I’ve enjoyed learning more about form because it resists me. I don’t see my writing as visual art. I hear my writing. I always read what I’ve written out loud to myself to hear how it sounds on the page. I love how words sound and how tone and inflection can change what they mean. But the way it looks? I’ve never really cared.
Maybe that’s a little bit sacrilegious to write on a poetry blog. I’ll elaborate. I want to care, but I don’t have the natural instinct to place line breaks and broad spaces between words to craft a certain form. It’s very new to me, but I want to understand it better and play with different forms. I find free verse a bit daunting at times because it demands vision, which as a poet I haven’t quite yet found. I’ve always thought that writing is a way to explore what I don’t understand, but yet have ideas about. If “form is never more than an extension of the content” of a poem, I find that intimidating. It seems to suggest that a poem wants to fill a certain form, but yet I might not understand what the content demands.
Fears like these keep me writing. Perhaps some of you feel similarly about form, or about the content of your poems, but ultimately I’m excited to exist in a place where I don’t exactly know what to do with my words. There’s possibility living in that space.
This week our first Scansion was due. I sat there staring at my laptop for about 10 minutes, completely lost on what to write about. And not only did I not know what to write about I didn’t even know how to attempt to write whatever I was about to write. I googled different definitions of a scansion and how to write one until I said to myself, “you’re overthinking this, you’ve written a scansion multiple times without even realizing”. So I decided to just start writing. I wrote about 20 lines of decent poetry and after multiple rereads I deleted 12 lines and rearranged words/deleted words until I came to the decision to write my piece in iambic trimeter. Which is three feet per line but each foot is iambic. I really found myself struggling with my “first” scansion piece, but after some revision and reassurance that I could pull this off, I was able to produce something that I was happy with overall.
I get that this is a blog about poetry, but I’m going to take today’s post to talk a little bit about non-fiction, and just writing in general.
This semester, I’m taking two workshops: this one and, you guessed it, creative non-fiction. I’m taking this workshop again because I love poetry; it’s tremendously important to me and has been a coping mechanism and creative outlet of mine since I was probably eight years old. I’m taking creative non-fiction because I want to grow or something.
In all seriousness, I am really excited about creative non-fiction; not because it will be easy, but because I will be challenged by it, and hopefully it can inform my poetry in some way. Fundamentally, though, my brain doesn’t work in a narrative way, and thus I’ve found myself struggling with writing non-fiction right off the bat (Because of this, I’m really interested by the lyrical essay, as I think it has the potential to both satisfy my needs as a poet and satisfy the non-fiction requirements of the class).
My other issue with non-fiction this semester is that the theme of the class is family. I’ve written about this on the blog before, and I probably will some more throughout the semester, but I have such a difficult time writing about family, whether that be in poetry, non-fiction, or elsewhere. It’s not that I have nothing to write about; it’s just that I’m terrified of publishing the work. Oftentimes, the things I write about my family aren’t exactly the things I want them to read. I also just don’t know how much ownership I have over shared stories, and I’m reminded of that daily in my non-fiction workshop. I’m always interested in other people’s thoughts on this, I’d love to hear what some of ya’ll think.