The poems contained in this children’s poetry portfolio are not made for children.

Lemony Snicket properly starts the introduction to his poetry portfolio All Good Slides are Slippery with what I consider to be the golden rule of good children’s literature, and the reason I hesitated to agree with the quotation Lytton put on the board last class (someone help me out with the details of it, please).

Here’s the portfolio as it appeared in Poetry magazine (with awesome illustrations from Chris Raschka):

The “plain poetry” that was suggested as a tool to teach American children the meaning of the sentence would probably have the unfortunate tone that Lemony Snicket describes as “the high pitched voice of an irritating simpleton.” While it might be effective in teaching children about the sentence it certainly wouldn’t be fun, and would probably estrange children to poetry even more than what most schools achieve today.

I’ve greatly enjoyed these sort of collections(another example being Harold Bloom’s wonderful, but stupidly named, collection Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages), and remember being annoyed by Y.A. stuff in middle school, so I’m beginning to think that children’s literature is at its best when it’s enfranchised through a collector like Snicket or Bloom rather than through the intent of the author. So why would we teach our children with plain poetry? and why would we bore them with middling Y.A. stuff?


Poetry Games/Voices in our Heads

I can’t think of the exact name of the game, but I recall in a few introductory creative writing classes/creative writing clubs doing this exercise where one person writes one line of a poem/story/etc. and then each subsequent person writes one line until it goes all the way around and the page is filled with an often offensive, chaotic, and hilarious jumble.

The game rarely produces works of merit, but I always found it fun, mostly because I was usually the first jackass to break continuity, introduce a random character, event, or object, or  bring forth any number of complications. I loved how it brought out the mischief in everyone.

But the game is important in another way, too, in that it suggests how a poem (in this case) can abruptly or subtly shift in the small space of line or even within the line. A poem of several authors rather than one will most likely come out messy, nonsensical, and inconsistent in the realm of this game, but the product is illuminating nonetheless. From these scrambled poems we can ponder the multiple screaming voices within our own heads that compete for space on the page. Will one voice calmly scribe the poem, or will our rampant mental contradictions battle on the page? The results will differ greatly.

Poetry Prompts

One of my favorite parts of our workshop this semester has been the weekly writing exercises.  I know that sometimes people had trouble making the time for writing each week, and back at the beginning of the semester when I saw there was a prompt every week I remember feeling really downtrodden by the idea.  Before this semester I always met writing prompts with chagrin–I could never seem to produce anything substantial out of a direct prompt.  In class exercises were especially difficult for me and I dreaded on life and limb that inevitable moment when I’d have to share my dumb brain musings.

I don’t know if it’s the style of exercises that Lytton’s chosen to go with–designing the prompts as different approaches to the line, or whether I’ve just accepted my writing prompt fate, but I’ve honestly felt that the weekly exercises have helped me create better, more pointed poems.  I know this is a pretty general blog post, but it’s something we don’t talk about much and we’ve all had to struggle through together.  We’ve mentioned the exercises in class a little, but with workshop it usually gets forgotten.  I’ve had mostly really great experiences with the exercises, and I hop everyone else has had some success too!

Gabrielle Calvocoressi Poetry Reading

Ever since we heard Cate Marvin read her poetry aloud I have obsessively been looking up videos of poets I love to hear/see them read their poetry as well. I recently found a cool series of videos of Gabrielle Calvocoressi reading some of her work, so I figured I would share it with the class!

I know I have already written a whole blog post about hearing poetry spoken but I still think it’s so amazing to actually get to hear the words jump off the page. Hope you enjoy the video!


Rhyme Time

I was recently working on a terza rima for one of the exercises when I came to a realization: rhyming is really damn hard. I am terrible at trying to find rhymes for words without making it sound like Dr. Seuss decided to come for a visit. I thought picking a form that involves rhyme would challenge me, and I was right. Most of my anger was directed towards the word “off” which, though it doesn’t seem it, is incredibly hard to rhyme with other words. So, naturally, I turned to the internet for help. This is what it gave me, and I didn’t like any of the words. Eventually, I ended up scrapping the idea of using the word “off” entirely and I gravitated towards another line instead. I’m sort of upset that I didn’t use the line that I wanted, and I can’t help but feeling guilty for giving up on that word. It’s probably just me being bad at rhymes, but can anyone give me any pointers on how to rhyme without either making it sound like a Sesame Street song or a late eighties Will Smith rap? Not that anything is wrong with Will Smith songs, it’s just not what I’m looking for in poetry.

T. Trosey–The Man, The Legend/How I Fell in Love with Poetry

Every high school has one of those mythological teachers–the one who is a life-changer, a challenger, and possibly immortal. I had that teacher during my senior year of high school, Mr. Trosey, and it was in his AP Lit classroom where I first really fell in love with crafting poetry. It’s hard to explain him in one blog post so I will try to give some key details about him: he worked at my high school for 30+ years and had students and their children, he looked like hadn’t aged a day, he wore tailored suits (light linen ones in hot weather), he spoke barely above a whisper, he had us analyze Emily Dickinson’s “The last night that she lived” for 7 months (line by line, punctuation mark by punctuation mark–perhaps that’s why I love m-dashes), and he was a notoriously hard grader. I heard from previous students that he was mysterious and probably a vampire. What was he hiding in those classroom closets? (Pillows.) You, gasp, sat in a circle for discussion and there were pillows and blankets in the middle of the circle if you wanted to sit in the “cave.” I could write pages and pages about this teacher but he was one of the first teachers who really encouraged me to enter English and creative writing. And although many students hated his poetry assignments, he was my first exposure to writing a mini-collection of ekphrastic poetry. Continue reading “T. Trosey–The Man, The Legend/How I Fell in Love with Poetry”

Reading V.S. Hearing Poetry

We’ve kind of dabbled with this topic in class, but now it has truly hit me how different poetry is when one reads it, versus when one hears it aloud. I was awestruck listening to Cate Marvin today. Each and every poem of hers sent goosebumps up and down my skin. I loved the way her inflection would change with each individual word, and how one could immediately tell what the tone of the poem was. It was so amazing to hear her voice speed up, slow do, and pause. Listening, I could close my eyes and watch the scenes and images she was describing float so perfectly and effortlessly in my mind.

Later in the day, still obsessed with her and her poems, I was Googling around when I found this. Two of her poems were on this website. Even though I already heard them each aloud, I quickly wanted to read them again.

The one that really struck me is the one below.

Continue reading “Reading V.S. Hearing Poetry”

Process Behind Writing “Old School”

If you haven’t heard me blabbing about it at some point or another, I’m currently working on a Directed Study with Chris Perri. In the CNF workshop I took with him last semester, we had to incorporate some sort of research into our second assignment. As I tried to come up with possible topics, I remembered my mom mentioning something about a village specifically for people with epilepsy when we were driving up to Geneseo, and since my dad has epilepsy—and I had it, growing up—I decided to research that. Since then, it’s spiraled into a year-long research project. Continue reading “Process Behind Writing “Old School””

When Journalism Meets Poetry

I am most interested in three seemingly separate writing disciplines: the creative non fiction genre, the investigation and research put into journalism, and the unique form in poetry. So, when I read Erika Meitner’s creation of these things in “All that Blue Fire” and watched Katie get inspired as a result of it, I wanted to try it out myself. I plan on having this poem workshopped, so I won’t focus so much on how I wrote it and get you sick of the poem just yet. Instead, I’ll talk about how I gathered my information.

I am conducting a field study for my anthropology class, investigating the language of healing. The class discusses how language used in culture and context can assist a “sick person” in getting well again. For example, how does your doctor talk to you during checkups and how does this communication influence your healing process? Of course, western medicine is not the only nor necessarily the best way to “get well again”. There are many kinds of healing practices across different cultures, as there are many kinds of ways to be “sick”. I have chosen to focus on the practice of yoga and meditation, specifically at a studio here in Geneseo, NY.

So, for my research, I conducted an interview a few weeks back talking to one of the head instructors of the studio. I asked her a variety of questions, but there was a specific response I took a lot of interest in. I asked her how she first got into teaching yoga, and she told me that she started off by working with her professor in college, teaching meditation at a maximum security prison in the 1970s. She went on about her experiences and the reactions that the inmates had to meditation class. It was so cool to listen to!

That story stuck in my head for a while, and when the idea of a journalistic-style poem was introduced to me, I automatically knew I should make a poem out of it. As I was listening to the interview recording, I noticed Angela (the instructor) mentioned “the riots of the early seventies”, and I wasn’t sure what she was specifically referring to. At the time, I shrugged it off as a reference to the counterculture, but now that I wanted to write a poem about it, I figured I’d be more specific. So I looked up Attica Correctional Facility, and read all about the Attica Prison Riot in 1971. Half of the prisoners, about a thousand people, upset with the mistreatment that went on in the prison, overthrew forty two members of the staff, and rather successfully. I knew so little about this historical event and was blown away by all of what Wikipedia had to tell me about it, I knew I had to write a second poem in the footnotes. Granted, a lot of the more detailed information doesn’t have citations, probably because the U.S. government wanted to protect themselves and didn’t release much information about the brutal retaliations by the guards. I encourage you to read up about it, and I hope you enjoy my poem I’ll be distributing on Thursday!