a Note About Different Poetry Views from the Past

Hi all!
I was just thinking about all the different views on poetry that I have been learning in Doggett’s Understanding Poetry class. While you might know some of these, I thought it would be nice to have a post dedicated to them.

Plato: Poets are the worst kind of people because they don’t contribute to society in any way. The imitate other people which isn’t productive, in fact, it’s just plain stupid. Poets are LIARS.

Aristotle: Poets are liars but they are the best kind of liars! They find truth through lying!

Sidney: Poetry is the best because it’s enticing; it delights!!! Philosophy is painful; no one wants to read that shit.


I think it’s really interesting to see how different poetry relates or writes against these different views. For example, Minnie Bruce Pratt specifically writes against canon writers. She even makes references to Plato’s essays in her work. She explains how Plato/Aristotle don’t include lesbian women’s work as poetry because it’s not written by white men that are high in society. Their exclusion of her actually drives her poetry.

Have you guys ever written anything against the canon writers? Or agreeing with them? I think it would be an interesting writing exercise.


What does it mean to be original and who cares

A friend of mine shared this video with me recently and it hit home for me. I am one of the people she is referring to when she speaks of those who are unable to act on creativity for fear that it won’t be accepted or that it has already been done before. I find myself with new ideas on a daily basis, or new to me anyhow. That’s all that matters says Gilbert. That the ideas are new to YOU. She’s right. I just never really thought about it that way. I’m sure earlier in the year we had a discussion about what original content is and “is anything really original if everything you ever learn is recycled?” Alas, I have received some release over this looming anxiety.  It isn’t original in the sense that it has never been said or learned or thought of before, but it is original in that your exact composition of recycled ideas is very different from someone else’s recycled ideas.  This means that every unoriginal thought or idea could be communicated in millions of different ways, ways that resonate with different audiences. SO, I guess this means everyone is capable of original and creative thought. Or that everything you recycle has potential to be your own. I suppose the success of a work could be waged against how many people it resonates with- this kind of success suggests that you understand people so well that you are able to communicate your ideas in such a way that mostly everyone understands them, except you are still keeping your own perspective and method/voice. Then, there is the success  in works that fail to resonate with anyone because they are so amazingly individualistic and subjective that no one else could possibly understand them because the way of communication is so brand new that nobody has figured out how to understand. I guess this could be used to explain why so many famous people are only famous in death :).

There was something else discussed in this video and it had to do with how to write a book or a work, and in summary, Gilbert just said that you have to get over how much you suck and you have to love writing so much that you don’t care how much torture it is, or you have to be willing to put up with torture for the rest of your life, which is the case for any passion you may take up. Only call it a passion if you are passionate about its ugly sides too not just about how many great things it does or will do for you.

Generally, I learned that I gotta take all my creative ideas and similar to a baseball player, bat all of them out into the field and hope I hit a home run. And if none of them are home runs, at least I played baseball my whole life because I loved it, and if I bat them all, then I won’t worry that some of them were  meant to be home runs. Or maybe I hit a home run, and magically, the whole world misses it, and then that’d be too bad, but I’ll know I hit it and I’ll die a champ in my eyes :). Watch this!

An Idea for Your Next Poem(s)!

Okay, so I got home about 20 minutes ago, and I thought I’d look through my old notes from Fiction Workshop I. After rummaging through a few piles of annotations and responses, I came across a treasure trove of a website that hopefully will inspire all of you in your future writing endeavors! A street photographer by the name of Vivian Maier has a few collections with myriads of photos taken of people and places in New York and Chicago in the 50s and 60s. Most are in black and white, but there are also two sections in color. My challenge to all of you is to find a photo that strikes you or in some way intrigues you, and write a poem. Perhaps your poem will respond to the picture or be informed by it. If you are able to concoct a piece of writing, this exercise can always be something you refer back to if you’re ever stuck because of writer’s block. But of course, in the future, don’t limit yourselves to just poetry! Photographs can inspire any type of writing, after all. Hope this satiates everyone’s creative hunger.  Cheers!

In Which the Revelatory “THIS Is What I’ll Do With My English Degree” Strikes Again

English majors grapple with the “where will this take me?” question on a daily basis. It looms over us when we’re six hours into a critical essay, when we’re holed up in our rooms instead of outside with our friends because we have a poem in our heads that just has to be written, or when we’re making small talk with nosy distant relatives at family reunions. I find that the “problem” (and I use that term loosely, the reason for which I will get to in a second) is just how many places an English degree can take us. How do we decide which path to take? What if we want to follow more than one? Of course, the number of directions we can go with our degrees can also be seen as a blessing, because we have the freedom to choose from so many unique fields knowing that we’re prepared for practically anything our careers will throw at us. I think the French phrase “avoir l’embarras du choix”–to be spoiled by how many choices one has–perfectly captures how I feel when I consider my future after Geneseo.

Anyway, the point of this post was to talk about how much my future plans have changed (because of feeling I have so many options), but also how I’ve now come back to a field I had previously considered–publishing. I originally considered getting into editing/publishing because I (wrongly) believed it was just correcting spelling and grammar in things people write, something that I think has always come naturally to me. Now I know that’s what copyediting is, and that editors do something much different. I learned a lot about editing and publishing as part of the Gandy Dancer class this past spring, and even more just last night at the publishing Q&A Rachel Hall organized with an author and her editor. Although by the end of last semester I wasn’t sure I have what it takes to work in publishing, I’ve been reconsidering it the past few days. The problem was that before, I didn’t really have a reason for wanting to work in publishing besides that I didn’t know what else to do with an English degree, since I don’t want to teach (unless it’s at the college level, but that’s another dream I’m not so confident about). But recently I realized one of the things I love the most about being an English major–reading my peers’ creative work. I LOVE workshopping peers’ poetry, whether written by all of you 🙂 , written by people in my Foundations class last fall, or submitted to Gandy Dancer last semester. I almost enjoy reading stuff my fellow undergrads write more than reading an established poet’s published collection… Now, this realization is making me lean towards editing perhaps for a college literary journal or a small press, which is great because it means I don’t necessarily have to “make it” in a big competitive publishing house in a big city–good news since I have yet to find my inner Carrie Bradshaw. I would be much more comfortable somewhere smaller. I just really enjoy reading young writers’ work; there’s something so inspiring about poets still finding their voices, writing stuff that blows me away while I know they’ll only get better from here because they’re still young and so full of potential.

So, there’s my recurring English major rant. Tune in next week for “I’ve Decided to Join the Circus After All” (let’s hope not).

Linguistics as a Poetic Device

I thought it would be interesting to look more into language and linguistics in this blog post, since the last poem I wrote played around with those sorts of things. (But mostly because I’m a geek for linguistic).

I’ll start off with some terms that we probably all know:

Homophone- these are words with different meanings and spellings that sound the same, such as there/their/they’re and you’re/your.

Homograph- these are words that are spelt the same, but pronounced differently, such as read/read or lead/lead.

Auto-antonym- I actually call these “Janus words,” because that’s the name I originally learned them. There’s a bunch of different words for this term, though. [Fun background information: Janus is the (minor) Roman god of beginnings., transitions, and gates. He has two faces, one looking backward and the other forward to look at the past and the future. In my high school Latin classroom, there was a painting of him by the door.) These types of words have two contrasting definitions. A common example is fast, which can mean to move quickly (running fast) or to be unmoving (holding fast).

Portmanteua- when two or more words are combined to make one word, such as slang (coming from a fusion of shortened and language) or smog (from smoke and fog).

Mondegreen- these are words that come into being from the mispronunciation of other words. Personally, I think that this term is particularly difficult to understand until you see it in action. If you’ve ever placed the game Mad Gab (I used to play it in a high school English class, and I was particularly terrible at it), then you’ve seen examples of mondegree words and phrases. An example, from a Mad Gab card, you have the phrase “Thumb Other Oven Fin Chin.” Read it out loud. Let the words bland together. You may (or may not) have figured out that “Thumb Other Oven Fin Chin” sounds like “The mother of invention.” [If you didn’t get it try breaking the original phrase down like this “Thu mbother Ov enfinchin.]


Why is any of this important?

As poets, I think that we should be aware of the linguistic nature of words, and how those natures can add meaning to a poem in an extremely subtle way. Silent letters can connote shyness. Homophones can portray confused feelings. Portmanteau words can be used to show a blending of feelings or emotions in a poem. Looking at the linguistics of a poem can add an entirely new set of interpretations and meanings. Linguistic devices also connect very closely to sound (homophones and mondegreen words), to image (homographs and portmanteau), and tp meaning (Janus words), which are all aspects of poetry that we’re focused on anyway.

Plus, we’re writers. If we don’t geek out over words and everything they bring to the table, who will?

The Editing Itch and Other Ideas

I think that the most challenging part of the workshop for me, thus far, is attempting to keep the poetry train rolling when I have so much love for one poem at a time.  I don’t know if anyone else experiences their poetry in this way, but I always want to edit a poem to perfection before I start on a new one.  I feel as if I’ve left that particular poem in the dust if I start something new, and my brain just doesn’t want to move forward to new content.  If it’s a poem I’m proud of, I want to spend forever fixing minor issues with tenses, syntax, etc.  However, I’ve noticed more and more that I can accept a poem that isn’t perfect.

While it’s human nature to move toward perfection, I’m more comfortable now leaving a poem to fend for itself and grow into something new over time.  I can flit from idea to idea and not feel as if my poems are suffering for it.  I can come back to a poem with a new perspective and still respect it for the ideas I was wrestling with at the time it was written.  I don’t necessarily believe that poetry can be perfect, though many great poems come close.  That, for me, is the power of words and the ways in which they mean different things for people over time.  A once innocuous word can gain special significance through one singular event, and that essence can be unique to just that person.  The poem is like a journey toward that word that attempts to acquaint the reader with the particular feelings and events the speaker associates with that word.

For example, plenty of people associate fall with apple cider and the smell of baking pies.  However, a small group of people may associate fall with the day they first experienced fear at the top of a jungle gym, or the crunching of leaves under loud boots as they come toward you from behind.  Those associations don’t really hold true for everyone, but I think that the job of poetry is to lead the reader to that association through words.  If a poem is a good one, it can bring the speaker and the reader to the same feelings about a word or a time or a place.

That’s what I try to do with my poems, and hearing back from other poets in workshop helps me figure out if my poetry is leading my readers to that same conclusion.  Even if the general “feeling” someone gets from one of my poems is in line with my goal, I consider it a success, but I will always want to make sure every reader can come out of my poems associating say, skin with both the sensual and the savage.  It is a struggle to bring words to the table which mean the same thing for a lot of people while also allowing the words to gain complexity.


Workshops for Next Semester Already?!?!?!?!?!?!

Hi all!
This is my “OH MY GOD I HAVE TO DECIDE WHICH WORKSHOP TO DO NEXT SEMESTER” post. That being said, I believe I’m going to try for fiction next semester. This is my second poetry workshop and while I’d love to take poetry workshops forever, I do think it’s time for a change of pace. I know some of you guys have taken fiction workshops before, I’m just wondering what you thought of them.
My next concern is literary fiction–as you may be aware, I am a romance kind of writer. I’m trying to work romance-y bits into my pieces without having to overtly call them “romance”. How do you guys avoid genre fiction? Are there certain things I should stay away from while writing literary fiction pieces? I would really appreciate any help you guys can give!
Also, I haven’t written fiction in so long. I used to be more of a fiction writer in high school, but college somehow turned me into a poetry person. Any thoughts on this?
I really want to work to be comfortable writing both but right now I’m so poetry focused I don’t want it to hinder my fiction writing.
Thanks guys!

More Comfortable Writing Poetry than Prose???

Something I’ve been thinking about lately, now in my second consecutive semester of taking a poetry workshop (in other words thinking actively and often about poetry), is when one crosses the bridge from being uncomfortable with poetry to being comfortable with it. In a lot of my other English and Creative Writing classes, the majority of students willingly admit that poetry makes them incredibly uncomfortable—they don’t like reading it, and they don’t like discussing it.

I don’t know that I am wholly comfortable with poetry, either, but I do know that I enjoy discussing it, and even feel rather at home within the space of the poem. So, what happens when this level of comfort goes even one step further—when one becomes more comfortable with poetry than he/she is with prose? We learn prose first. We are taught to express ourselves via strategically constructed sentences which rely on the conventional use of syntax and semantics. Some of us become so comfortable with prose that we are able to manipulate it into art (which begs the question—is poetry just manipulated prose?). So at what point does one feel the need to abandon prose to write in verse—and feel more comfortable doing so?

I consider myself a CNF writer. I love the way that CNF can be both lyrical and prosaic. In fact, just a few years ago, the idea of writing poetry, and worse, having lengthy discussions which explore poetry, terrified me. Lineation was just a way to shatter my home of the sentence. Of course, a lot has changed since then—I learned to reconcile the sentence and the line. But recently, I had an experience which kind of terrified me. A few weeks ago, I had to write a blog post about John Gallaher’s reading for a class. It proved extremely difficult, trying to sum up that experience in a blog post of 300-600 words. While I was writing, I found myself thinking: Wouldn’t this be so much easier if I could just write a poem? Ignore grammatical conventions and just write about this experience as images? As soon as I thought it, I was horrified with myself. Did I just admit that it would be easier to express something via poem? So my question is: Why is this thought so terrifying? And have any of you experienced something similar?

Poetry and Life

I visited my parents over the weekend. They are the conservative kind of parents who have let me roam in hopes that I will see the light and return to their way of life. I doubt that’ll ever happen though. I feel as though I have roamed far enough to know I prefer a happy middle between modern and traditional ideals.  Whenever I go home my visits with my mother go somewhat like this: “How’s school?” “Great, you know just classes and work and stuff.” “Still an English major?” “Yup.” “Well, that can change you know, you can always pursue business or politics in the future.” “Please respect me and my decisions, thank you.” “I understand, sorry.”

I encountered a distant relative at my father’s house and he had no idea what my studies were. When I told him I study Creative Writing he said, “What, are you going to write letters and make money? Hahahaha.” He was very condescending about the whole thing. I kind of smiled and laughed and twiddled my thumbs so as not to seem rude. I was trying to see the world from his perspective and trying to be understanding of how much he does not understand my choices.

I didn’t want to tell him that I feel more ready for the world than I’d ever be if I was any other major, and I wanted to tell him that I didn’t care about the money because I wouldn’t trade the knowledge and experience I’ve gained for the world. I feel sometimes that being a poet allows me to know the secrets of the world, those that no one else but poets have access to. And sometimes I feel that we are all part of some huge cult because we can see the world in the same, but different way. I think other artists have this same feeling towards one another, but I think I like that my art is poetry and that though people claim that it is dying, this has always been the case; I want to think the opposite though, I want to think that poetry is surviving and spreading. Whether people know it or not, doesn’t matter to me much, but I can see it in the way so many people want to be “artsy” and don’t know how.

All in all, I just wanted to tell all of you who get this bullshit from your relatives that it’s okay, it happens to me too. But I know that they’re wrong because they know nothing more than I do about how to live a happy life, I think we are all just learning as we go and I think that poetry teaches us how to learn forever without teachers.

Are Definitions Necessary?

This past weekend, I attended a reading in Hudson, NY for the poet George Quasha. He read from his book Glossodelia Attracts: Preverbs. Before you look it up, the words “glossodelia” and “preverbs” are not words found in the dictionary. “It’s something I made up,” Quasha said before he began reading. This would be a common aside throughout the reading. I became frustrated with these interjections. The definitions themselves didn’t seem to add anything to my overall understanding of these poems. I wished that he would let the words speak for themselves.

This theme of defining words for readers has arisen a few times during our workshop. I believe that definitions aren’t necessary. They speak to a lack of trust and confidence in writers to let the readers form their own understanding of the poems. Therefore, once the poem is on the page and shared with the world, I believe it is fair game for interpretations.

Word definitions can be constricting. I hate that a word or group of words should possess only one meaning. Words are meant to be versatile! A few classmates and I agreed that when presented with an unknown word, we understood its meaning based on its sound or the way it was spelled before we looked up the meaning in the dictionary.

Quasha’s definitions for his words confined me to a strict (and quite frankly, boring) interpretation of his work. I found myself dissatisfied with his preset prescription of his poems’ meanings. I have spoken to a few readers who have asked, “Is this what the poet intends? Is my reading how it is supposed to be read?” To which I say, there is no right or wrong way to read a text. There are infinite readings of any poem, and ultimately, I disregarded Quasha’s own definitions of “preverbs” and “glossodelia” in place of my own.