Geneseo Writing Community & the Poet-tree


Anybody see the Greek Tree today? It was covered with poems! I’ll call the poem-covered Greek Tree the “Poet-tree,” also it’s a fun play on words. Anyway, the tree was “painted” with poems by a group / collective of students called Guerrilla. They aim to foster a closer and more open writing community, and to publicize student art all around campus. Their mission made me curious to ask you guys: what would you like to see happen in Geneseo’s writing community that isn’t already happening? We have a lot going on–a popular slam scene, open mics, a strong writing program, but do you think we need more avenues for publish work and getting together to talk about it?

Help me, please

Okay, so first of all I apologize for being so solipsistic, but I am going to use this blog post as a way to directly ask for help on a poem that I’m completely stuck on when it comes to revisions. The poem is Post-Transplant, which I submitted for workshop a few weeks ago. I know you’ve already spent time with this poem and offered me a lot of awesome feedback, but I’m still stuck. I’m not happy with the poem the way it is, but I don’t know how to change it to make it work! There are a few things I’d really like to preserve: First, the original prompt was to write about something that was displaced or moved somewhere else with unexpected consequences. I’d really like that to come across in the poem. Second, I’m pretty set on the use of couplets here, particularly because I’m generally happy with the way the first couplet is functioning. But here’s where it gets tricky—the acrostic. The reason I’d like to try to make it work is that there’s something important to me about the word lymphoma being in the poem, without it really being in the poem. Right now, though, I feel like the acrostic just looks like a big hunk of words with forced line breaks in the middle of a bunch of couplets. Also, I’m worried the acrostic is too showy or tricky, like it might cheapen the poem. I honestly don’t know what to do with it. I’m thinking maybe I’ll allow the acrostic to be there, but break it into couplets and mess around a lot with the language and line breaks of that stanza (which will then become six couplets—another problem, what do I do with the last letter?!?!). If I do this, the acrostic will become basically unrecognizable to the reader, but something about its presence, even though unrecognizable, is comforting to me I guess… I think… I don’t know. I need help. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Modified Exercise I Should Have Posted A Month Ago

Hi friends!

So if you haven’t yet looked at the poems being workshopped tomorrow (or if you’re on your game, try to do this for the ones being workshopped next week), it might be fun to try this exercise. Try not to look at the poem, not even the format of it on the page, and read the poetic statement. As you read the poetic statement, jot down 3 or 4 things you are expecting of this poem, maybe it’s content related, a structure you think lends really well to what the poet is speaking of, or a question you expect to be answered by the poem. Then, read the poem and see how it aligns with your thinking. By doing this, we are completely eliminating the possibility of the poem itself swaying our views of what it should accomplish, and might even allow us to give more objective advice for revisions.

For an extra challenge, try and write a few lines of the type of poem you expect after reading the poetic statement and compare that to what the poet has actually written.

See you all in the morning! 🙂

Endless Revision

As the due date for the inevitable portfolio (which I’m sure we’ve all been avoiding thinking about all semester) approaches, I can’t help but question the revision process. Looking at the poems I’ve written throughout the semester and revising them until they’re “finished” is quite a daunting task. I mean, when will they ever really be finished? It’s intimidating enough to submit a piece for workshop, but at least then I know people are aware that the poem is a work in progress. Sure, I can take my classmates’ and professor’s advice and improve the poem, but I feel like there’s always more to be done. In fact, I bet we could spend one whole semester of this class each only writing one poem and revising it more and more each week. Even then, we still probably wouldn’t feel that the work is done! Maybe it’s just me, but I never get that “okay, NOW this poem is completely finished and perfect” feeling. I honestly don’t know how published poets do it, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that one of my poems is good/finished enough to submit for publishing–this class’ portfolio is intimidating enough! Does anyone else feel this way or am I just crazy?

On Motivation

As the end of the semester draws near, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this class.  I remember when I signed up, I was so excited to have a reason to write poetry: finally, something to keep me accountable and twist my arm a little into making sure I kept up the practice.  In the past, I’ve found that my writing is one of the first things that gets swept under the rug once I no longer have something (like a class) to keep me on track. Simply put, I have motivation issues. I don’t exercise unless someone is counting on me to do it (hence my current involvement in the fitness challenge). I’m guilted into eating my vegetables because my housemates know I would otherwise forget to buy them. I want to keep writing poetry. I don’t want to lose this groove I’m in. At the same time, I’m well aware that the lazy side of me that says Netflix is easier than writing will probably win out. So I guess my question is this: how do you all stay motivated to keep writing when you are the only one to hold yourself accountable? Do you have any tricks for those periods in life where you know you should write because God, it’s been forever, but can’t seem to make it happen?

Poetic Statement in mind

Something I have always wanted to try is to write a poem with the poetic statement in mind. (I guess this means first I have to fully form the poetic statement that I have in mind.) I think that knowing where I’m coming from as a writer would give me some form of guidance that I’m not usually used to writing from. Often times when I write a poem, it is very haphazard—originating with a line that I hastily jot down somewhere and then continues rather lackadaisically from there on. However, if I were to sit down knowing my intent and with my usual stylistic choices in mind, that would bring a consciousness to the act of writing the poem, therefore providing a fresh sense of awareness.

Chapbook Review: Carey McHugh

As part of my directed study with Professor Smith, I’ve been reading and reviewing a few chapbooks. This is one that I would wholeheartedly recommend to everyone!

Original Instructions for the Perfect Preservation of Birds & c., Carey McHugh

Carey McHugh’s chapbook Original Instructions for the Perfect Preservation of Birds & c. was selected by Rae Armantrout for the 2007 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. As an introductory chapbook from an up-and-coming young poet, who has since gone on to further her poetic repertoire, McHugh’s collection is a syntactic and sonic masterpiece that explores acts of creation and decay in nature, relationships, and self. The persistent crackling of the sounds and movement in McHugh’s poems create a work that can be appreciated for not only its narrative, but for its incessant and welcomingly aggressive ability to pull the reader from one poem to the next.

McHugh’s effortless manipulation of sound is prevalent throughout the collection, a true feat in light of its underlying sense of quiet. In lines like “stacked rattles stammering/ loose in the tail’s slow/ taper, scales also” and “newly embarked to carry crockery,” McHugh demonstrates an ability to use brisk sounds like t and c to create images that are alive in their vividity and repetition. Her line breaks create space between the stimuli of sound that allow sentences to carry over multiple stanzas without becoming overwhelming. In accordance with the sound conveyed by words themselves, many of McHugh’s poems utilize rhythm in a similar sense to create a similar effect. A balance of quick lines like “Tympanum among the excess.” and “A sackcloth calm.” in addition with longer, fuller lines creates a jolting rhythm that focuses the reader’s attention on certain moments within each piece. The combination of sound and rhythm within these poems creates a taught experience within pieces that can sometimes be uncertain in terms of narrative.

McHugh’s poems excel at what one could call an “element of choice.” Though many of her images are exact, in other places she chooses to create a slew of options and images that is almost symptomatic of the uncertainty of nature conveyed throughout the collection, and the repeated address to a “you,” who (whether one or many) seems to occupy many positions all at once. “Patient, eventual, brittle, misshapen/ and one fault lower than fear: your childhood/ is prarie-evident, delicate, waiting to leave” is an exercise on the ability of impreciseness to become somehow more precise than a direct image could have been. The inclusion of the “you” and “we” is sporadic, and serves to inject a sense of longing and loss into the subtle violence of the poems. Verbs like “scissored,” “blade,” and “knot” conjure their own underlying danger within the often serene passing of seasons.

Though the majority of McHugh’s poems occupy their own niche within the collection, missteps in structure and narrative in “Angling, A Catalogue” and “The Final Report on Birds That Pose a Threat to Flight” serve only to tug at the fabric of what is otherwise an impressively woven collection of fear, danger, and reckoning in the quiet and solitary spaces created within the collection. Although “Angling, A Catalogue” serves as structural variety for the collection, the execution of the numerical list format was such that the poem itself seemed nearly unaware of its own structure. The flow of lines over numerical boundaries did not serve to inform each section, but rather made the numbers unessential to the operation of the poem. Similarly, “The Final Report on Birds That Pose a Threat to Flight”, the final poem in the collection, worked against the rest of the collection by introducing new and seemingly unrelated images that would have been better served in the middle of the collection, or pared down to maintain the original intent of the collection. The rhythm that McHugh creates in the rest of the poems is somewhat buried in “The Final Report on Birds That Pose a Threat to Flight”, as the gravity of the administrative tone and imagery, coupled with the overly-instructive structure of many of the sentences weighs down images like “humming limit/ of bees” and “individual lilacs” that would have served as a better end to the collection, as opposed to the opening of what could be a whole other set of ideas. Overall, Original Instructions for the Perfect Preservation of Birds & c. is a collection bursting with sonic ingenuity and the subtle violence of relationships, routine, and nature.

Someday My Prince Will Come And Rub Ointment On My Gills Because I’m Itchy

Dear Friends,

I’ve been listening to Bill Evan’s “Someday My Prince Will Come.” The overall feel and mood of the song makes me want to write something. I’ve been jotting a few things down and so far the only line that makes sense is, “someday my prince will come and rub ointment on my gills because I’m itchy.”

I usually am inspired by music. Sometimes, I’m inspired by the things that I see outside. Most of the time, I’m inspired by something I have read or have heard. I’ve never been inspired by a painting. I don’t think I’ve been inspired by a dance.

What inspires you to write poetry? Or what has inspired you to write a poem? A song? A family member? A planet? Tell me. I’m bored. It’s 4AM on 4/20/2015 and I have no idea why I’m still up.


db pena

“All poetry is thievery”

Hi everyone,

I’ve been thinking that I might have a cool idea for a poetry exercise.  Obviously a lot of our class time has revolved around looking at each other’s work, and regardless of the extent to which it is finished, I am continuously inspired by all of your poetry in workshop.  I often will come across pieces I really love in workshop that I sink my teeth into, start changing things around, leave ideas for ways to expand images, etc.  So I was thinking… what if we actually did this to each other’s work?  My idea is to exchange drafts with a partner, and with the draft you receive, revise it into a poem totally your own.  Change line breaks, punctuation, stanza formatting; add/remove images as much as your heart desires.  And then go back, comparing your peer’s poem with the one you reinvented.  I’m not sure if any of you guys think this would be interesting, but I’d definitely be down to try it.  We all have such different voices as poets that it might be really cool to see what happens when we take a poem written in our own voice and pass it to someone who will give it a completely different voice, and vice versa.  Let me know what you think!


The Feminist in Me Says The Personal is Political

I was thinking about how we were talking about politics and poetry the other day, how we sometimes get carried away in the social justice issues that rise out of poems in workshop. I’ve realized that this is what keeps poetry alive, if a poem doesn’t raise any issues that readers are passionate about or that are pertinent to their lives, they wouldn’t continue to be read. Every poem is political.

In my Leslie Marmon Silko class, we often chuckle about Silko’s intentions when writing a book. After finishing her nearly 800 page epic in 1999 that took her 10 years to write, Silko said she wanted to write a leisurely story about a girl and gardens, no politics involved. This however, turned into a nearly 500 page book centered around the hybridization and commodification of flowers. Silko realized that gardens were very political. One can just look around this campus and see how everything is planted for a (capitalist) purpose. The paths on this campus aren’t the quickest, straightest shot ways to get places, and you can often see footpaths students make over grass, mulch, and even flowers.

Anyhow, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the personal is always going to be political. And if the writer can’t find the politics in it, some reader out there is going to. Poetry does not exist in a vessel, we’re always going to treat poetry as both social commentary and a historical piece of the time it was written. Putting poetry into context, especially when so many poems have a myriad of interpretations, is going to end up with readers seeing the politics in them, regardless of if that was intended by the writer or not.