Blackouts, Cabbages & Kings

My uncle works for a printing company in Rochester and contacted me one day, asking if I’d like some copies of literary and art magazines from Monroe Community College. I gladly accepted, curious as to what nearby colleges are up to with their poetry.

Cabbages & Kings displays a collection of visual art, interviews and poems, but they also included blackout poetry in the 2012 issue. However, in the 2013 and 2014 issues I have, no blackout poetry had been published. I wanted to know what you guys, poetry blog perusers, thought about blackout poetry as a craft, as a challenging prompt, as a useful tool, or just in general.

Is destruction just another form of creation—Would Donnie Darko support blackout poetry? Or is it not usually done well enough to be worth the time and effort of scribbling out a page in a book? Maybe this is to say something about black space as opposed to white space. Perhaps we can try it ourselves. For now, let’s take a look at some of Cabbages & Kings‘s stuff:

There is no title here, but I think the burned edges of the page add an exciting visual element. There are very minimal words but the poem has a fantasy-feel, especially since it ends in dialogue.


Again, no title here. This seems like a pattern in blackout poetry. What do we think of the words connected in pen? Sometimes, blackout poetry allows us to connect words in any order we may read them, but this one’s different in that respect.

If I Had An Orchard

I came across the Indie-Rock Folk band Fleet Foxes not too long ago. In 2011 the band released, Helplessness Blues, a song that I fell deeply in love with the first time it blasted from my TV speakers. It received critical acclaim and was considered one of the best songs of the year. The meaning behind its lyrics are still debated to this day. Some people believe that the song is about the American person’s need to become something greater; to find self-worth in the work that they do. Some believe that the song is about a man growing up and realizing that he is not as special and significant, in the grand scheme of things, as he once thought. And others believe that the song is about Capitalism and the dominance of the government on the average person’s life.

Despite what many think, it is obvious that the song is at its strongest at the very end. The rhythm slows and the bass deepens followed by the band members consistently singing: “If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore.” I feel as if the orchard in this statement stands for many things. Like literature itself, interpretations are varied and numerous. I’d love to know what you lovely folks think of the song and its lyrics. What emotions are emitted in the sounds of the combined instruments? What do you see as you listen to the lyrics? What do you think “Orchard” means in the song? Or, better yet, what does it mean to you? Cheers.

The lyrics can be found here:

Punctuation or the Addition of Sneaky Expletives

This week’s poetry exercise pushed us to take someone else’s poem, and keep ONLY the punctuation as we tried to fashion an original poem. Initially, I found this task to be a little off-putting. As I flipped through the course reader to find a poem with enough skeletal-punctuation to flesh my own poem onto, I became frustrated by the apparent lack of punctuation in all of the poems we’ve read so far. Some poems used only periods, and others had more commas than I could ever find a use for. After deciding that this exercise was probably not designed to be a form of torture, I chose a poem I thought would challenge me the most, in a sort of comfortable way. Andrew Zawacki’s “Credo” used enough punctuation to satisfy my poetic style, yet used all the types of punctuation that I find lackluster and hard to work around. I’ll admit to choosing Credo because it had a plethora of ampersands–a punctuation I realized I am a little too reliant on. As I struggled to squeeze my poem into the close commas and short lines presented by Credo, I realized that one of my poetic ticks is a reliance on punctuation as suggestion. In the same way that we might cluster punctuation as expletives in cartoons, I’ve been using punctuation to glaze over places where I felt stuck or underwhelmed within my own poems. I cover up thoughts and hints of much better ideas with m-dashes and colons. This exercise forced me to think about where I should use punctuation, and where I’ve been using it to suggest the things I should really just say. From this exercise, I think I’ll attempt to pull out what’s actually underneath my punctuation (and hopefully it’s not just curse-words).

Slam Poetry

As I stood on the patio eating my ice cream the only thought that kept racing through my head was, “Dammit! Why can’t I do that?” Watching the Geneseo’s Slam Poets perform live captivated me so much that I unknowingly didn’t even recognize my roommate pass me by. I was simply astounded by what they could accomplish. The guy next to me at one point (who reminded me of a mix between a hockey player and someone who liked to steal my goldfish crackers as a kid) turned to me and said, “Whoa. Like. What is this? This is just too cool dude.”

Despite his lack of eloquence, he was 100% right. Slam poetry, to me, is almost a different type of art form all together. It’s an interesting blend of rap and poetry. While the poems we create are usually written down (and hopefully said aloud at one point in our careers from our award winning books), slam poetry is always meant to be heard from the get go. The words might never meet paper for the masses to read. It is written with the intent of what vowels, consonants, and rhyme schemes will flow together when spoken. Also, what vowels, consonants, and rhyme schemes (etc.) can be said quickly. I’ve noticed that when slam poets recite their work they barely breathe! They go through it so rapidly, so beautifully, that my mind almost struggles to keep up. This swiftness makes it even more fun though. Just the idea that these people can memorize and say their poems at such speed astounds me.

The first time I ever really heard slam poetry was when this video below went viral.


I remember sitting on my tiny twin sized bed and watching this over and over again on my laptop. The infliction, the imagery, and just the way the emotion poured out of every line made me want to see and hear more.

Another great one is Patrick Roche’s 21. This is a very haunting poem that made me cry on my roommate’s shoulder longer than I care to admit.

Can we do this with our poetry as well? Absolutely. Yet, not all poems can be turned into a slam poem. I think that one has to cater a poem to fit this type of style (which definitely isn’t an easy thing to do). Watching these videos, and listening to our campus’ slam poets, makes me so eager to at least try to create something just beautiful.

Local Literary Loving

So this past Saturday I was able to go the VSW Pub Fair in Rochester and, as it tends to happen at events like this, my affection and need for literary communities was reinvigorated (even despite the pointed lack of poutine). First of all, for once I crossed over to The Other Side, behind the foldable tables, pushing journals on unsuspecting literature art lovers. Many people were genuinely curious about our journal (BTW, y’all should stop reading and submit to it right now) and it was awesome explaining what Gandy is all about to someone other than my mom (who still doesn’t quite “get it”).

Continue reading “Local Literary Loving”

Poetry & Thoreau

When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence,–that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime.
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I’ve been thinking recently about what it means to be a poet – that is, to see things as a poet would, and derive some kind of meaning from those things. I’m being purposefully broad here, because since I’ve just recently started the writing program and just recently begun seriously considering what it would mean to take writing as a career choice, I’m trying to figure out what I think about all this.

Still don’t know. But by some magic of scheduling, my classes have all been intersecting and shedding light on each other in fascinating ways. I’m taking a class on Thoreau (complete with cabin building) where we’re reading Walden, and some parts of Thoreau’s philosophy jump out to me as pertaining particularly well to our class, and to a view of the world that promotes thinking poetically and noticing the fine details that make up a poem. “Thinking like a poet” might sound cliché or pretentious, but I do think it takes a particular kind of thinking about certain things in order to make them into a poem – a particular kind of eye.

One of the bigger ideas in Walden is the necessity for us to simplify our lives – to stop wasting life on menial labors (like paying rent, reading every bit of news) and start living a richer life, with more attention to the details (insert Thoreau’s lyrical descriptions of the air in the morning, the virtues of cutting down a tree). Essentially, to stop rushing – to take the time to have time to be. When this happens, he says, we can appreciate true reality, in all its meanness and its beauty. We perceive reality, instead of all the frivolous luxuries surrounding reality.

So what does this have to do with poetry? Thoreau’s ideas remind me that sometimes work isn’t all there is to life – that elements that sometimes end up in a poem starts with taking the time to slow down and pay attention. I think this is something we all do naturally as writers, paying attention to the way a person’s hair falls on the bed, or the paying attention to the feeling a certain word or a line break can involve, but Thoreau puts it in a wider view: what we do in our poetry we can do in our lives. To me that’s pretty liberating – slowing down and taking time to notice will help me have the poet’s eye that I’m craving, and writing poetry can also help me slow down – like a kind of meditation.

Why More People Should Study Poetry

Over the summer at a BBQ, a family friend asked what classes I was going to be taking in the fall. As I began to list them off, he suddenly stopped me and said, “Poetry? Are you just taking that just for fun?”

Shrugging, I replied with, “Well, I’m really excited for it but it’s also for my major.”

“Oh right I forgot your dad said you were studying English.”

I get that type of response more often than I would like to care to admit. But what has been bothering me even more lately is the answer I get when people hear I’m studying poetry in particular. “Really?” They ask, before shaking their head. That irks me for a plethora of reasons (obviously). Here is my list why more people should seriously study poetry.

1. This is a simple one, but still valuable. Who doesn’t love music? If anyone says a flat out no I’m not sure if I can trust them. But what’s another name for song lyrics? Poetry. How great would it be to be able to comprehend those songs you like so much? Knowing the imagery, metaphors, motifs, and similes that are in your favorite song only heightens your enjoyment.

2. Many of us have heard the idea that the brain is like a muscle. Well ladies and gentleman, it is! Older people are actually encouraged to read and analyze poetry in order to keep their minds sharp.

3. For the younger crowd reading this, it can help you as well. It will open up your mind to the prospect of new ideas and words and even teach you how to think analytically. This is part of critical thinking, which is one of the most important components of education.

4. We also study poetry so that we might learn something new about who we are as people. Every time you read a poem, something new is revealed to you. Perhaps it’s a new idea, image, political party, way to look at your dog, or so forth! The point is, something exciting and different is being exposed to you, allowing you to make up your own mind on the subject.

5. Finally, we also study poetry because we are humans. We have the amazing ability to create works of art from nothing. By putting words on a page we can evoke images of beauty, destruction, love, death, despair and so many more it would be impossible to list them all. What’s the point of honestly being alive, of living and breathing, if we don’t have a creative outlet to pour out heart into? Poetry is so unique because, in a sense, there are no rules. You can follow a rhyming scheme , or not. You can have the same amount of syllables in each line, or not. It doesn’t matter. You can place words like an abstract painting and just toss them in the air and see where they fall! No other type of writing would ever dare to allow this to happen. It’s the most free way to write, and there is no topic that is too taboo to dabble in.

I know there must be a lot more reasons out there to study poetry. But I think it makes you a better person, a smarter person, more well rounded, and honestly just way more cool. What are your reasons to study it?







Poetry Inspiration

I don’t have much experience writing poetry (or any, really), so when I signed up for this class one of my biggest questions was, well, what am I going to write about? A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a wikipedia article about Turritopsis Dohrnii, a jellyfish that has the ability to revert itself back to sexual immaturity after it progresses in age–basically, the freaking thing is immortal. I wrote a really rough draft of a poem about this jellyfish for our second poetry exercise, and that’s when I realized: weird, random facts can be a good source of inspiration for poetry. Continue reading “Poetry Inspiration”