Fiction vs. Poetry

So my first workshop in Geneseo was Fiction with Gentry in the spring semester of last year. This only being my second workshop and a diversion from the structure and content of my first one, I can’t help but feel like a fish out of water, especially when I see the poetry coming out of more experienced poets in the class.

But I can’t help but notice that fiction is trailing into every piece of poetry I write. I recognize that poetry is more of a fluid subject between fiction and cnf, kind of a meeting point between the two and I appreciate that. But the fiction characters I write, especially in my last semester, have been worming their way into my poems lately. I guess this can be seen as a natural thing, but I feel like I may be stuck in the fiction mind-set versus the poetry one.

I guess my question is this: How do you create characters in your poem when you’re writing about experiences that haven’t happened to you? Do you focus more on content and shape your speakers around that, or do you have a set character in mind? One with experiences you’ve invented and can build off of? Or is it okay to simply say, hey you can do both?


So I want to talk about punctuation – and how we use it in poetry. Can something as small as a dot – and its placement, or the lack of it – shape our poem? How?

For example, end-stopped versus enjambment. Shakespeare uses end-stopped sonnets all the time; it heightens our understanding of the rhyme scheme; it establishes the meter in our minds. Enjambment can create variety in structure, call attention to words that might not necessarily fall at the end of the line, and can create interest in continuing on to the next line.

So following are my (untutored) thoughts on some kinds of punctuation. I’d really love others’ opinions and experiences as well.

. – The period totally stops us. It can disconnect two lines from one another, or halt us in the middle. It can jarr us awake and out of a poem entirely. For such a tiny dot, periods do a lot of work.

– gives us some time to think, but doesn’t remove us at all from the line. It pauses us, but not in the same way as a blank space, which fills us with empty silence. The dash still makes visual noise on the page.

: v. ; One gives us the same feeling as a period: a full throttle stop before we continue reading. It compares the thing before to the things after, sometimes offering a definition. To me, the semicolon rolls us a long a bit more; it’s when you want a period, but without necessarily completely strangling the end of your line sentence. It also works to give more connection to the two lines connected with the semicolon; the comma at the bottom seems to lessen the harshness, and draw the ideas closer together.

() – whispers to us; gives the things inside the () more connection to one another whilst lessening the connection to things outside the (). It’s as though the () lives outside the reality of the poem. Of course, I’m actually not sure this is always true – sometimes () can give us information about things within the poem (almost as though these things contradict the reality the rest of the poem presents?).

, – slow down, pause. Take a breath here. The lack of these can build speed, as if therewerenospaces when we know we’re supposed to breathe. Finding them where they are unnecessary slows   us    down, without bringing us to the full halt of a period.

! – excitement, or surprise. Gives emphasis to whatever came before – generally, I think, happy emphasis or sarcastic emphasis. ! look to happy to be anything but.

& vs + – the ampersand is so much more pretentious than the + sign. While both of them speed us through the ‘and’ and bring the two things on either side into more immediate connection, the + sign is casual in a way the ampersand is not. & is more formal than +, but I actually think it’s also softer – the curves beat out the straight lines of the + sign, so that a + probably can’t be used in a soft, sweet, and gentle poem. It’s harsh like a ‘k’ or a ‘t’ can be, while the & is more of an ‘m’ or ‘s’. (I feel like I totally overanalyzed that one. Woah)

? – questions in poems always seem melancholy to me; maybe it’s in the curve of the hook.

What are your thoughts on the above and more?

Writing Prompt

Part of what interests me about foreign languages is that there are some foreign words that exist that have no English equivalent. However hard we try to define these words, we will never be able to explain their meaning with a single word. This prompt is in part a response to our writing exercise on translation. Here are some word examples, the language of origin is in parentheses:

mokita (Kilivila): truth we all know but agree not to talk about; the elephant in the room.

mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan): a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will offer something that they both desire but are unwilling to suggest or offer themselves.

komorebi (Japanese): the interplay between light and leaves when sunlight shines through trees.

culaccino (Italian): the stain left on a table from a cold glass of water.

pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks too many questions.

yuputka (Ulwa): the phantom sensation of something crawling on your skin.

If you are stuck writing a poem, consider one of these words as a jumping off point! How might your poem convey the feelings behind one of the words? Are there any possibilities for narrative? Have you experienced any of these words but never found a way to describe them?

If you use this prompt, let me know if it worked for you and got you writing! I would love to read the final product!


Post Poetry Class Blues

Hi all!
My post today has some mixed poetry-related questions.

I’m already starting to feel sad that the semester is coming to an end. I’m currently in workshop and Doggett’s Understanding Poetry class. I’m going from two poetry classes to none next semester–a lit and fiction workshop. While I’m excited for my new classes, I’m really worried I’ll be crying over the lack of poetry in my life. Do you guys have any suggestions for keeping up with poetry even if you’re not taking any poetry classes? I’d love to stay involved in the poetry world–but I’m so busy it’s hard to keep up even now. I try to go to Poet’s Society but lately I’ve been too busy studying to attend. My friend and I are starting to collaborate on slam poems–which I’m really excited about.

What do you guys do to stay involved in poetry?

I’m also wondering if you all have any advice for someone going from strictly poetry classes to strictly literature and fiction. My brain has been so poetry focused I’m worried that my classes next semester are going to throw off my writing groove.

My last question is have any of you guys performed at Mics and Mochas? I’m thinking about doing some poetry one night but I’ve heard it’s a tough crowd for poetry.

Thanks for your help!

Seemingly ordinary things

Sometimes, whilst participating in casual conversation, a friend will unthinkingly utter some beautiful words. Sometimes I miss the words, too caught up in my own thoughts and my future input to appreciate the unrecognized wisdom, but other times, I am able to recognize them and be amazed by them. They are probably not as beautiful out of context, but I use the lines I find in casual conversation as inspiration for my poetry often. I place them as titles, hoping that my poem will mimic the moment and the idea that was being discussed.

A friend of mine told me that cliches are  cliches because they’re probably true, and that the wisdom behind cliches is not often acknowledged, rather it is ignored, tossed to the side because of how casually and thoughtlessly cliches are used.  He implied that the only reason a cliche survives is because it pairs relativity and truth seamlessly. He changed my perspective on cliches. In the past, I’d never think to dissect them. I’d think that they were only what they appeared on the surface, the words were direct and didn’t need to be explained.

I’m not sure what this post is about. For some reason, my mind is telling me that these two specific thoughts have some correlation. Maybe, it has to do with the latest poem I submitted to workshop. But I think mostly, it has to do with how we look at life and poetry…Are we taking the time to look past the surface? Are we, can we, appreciate the wisdom and beauty that surrounds us every minute? I mean, if we aren’t, and we’re poets, then who is? But anyway, the more I get to know cliches the more I learn to love them, and I’m finding more and more titles in casual conversation. Tonight’s title was: “Let’s talk about the weather.”

The “I” in Poetry

I’ve come to realize over the course of this workshop that I almost always write people (often indicated by the use of pronouns) into my poetry, and of those people, I almost always include a central voice or point of view, whether it be an “I or a “you” or both or more. Is this “I” me? The author? I’m not really sure. My knee-jerk response to that question was initially “No!” in protectiveness of both the poem and myself as entities entirely separate from one another, however the more that I contemplate this the less I’m sure. There are definitely times when I use poetry as a way to express my individual, specific voice, to record or interpret events from my own life, and to communicate things that I am unable to otherwise speak.

Upon a quick google search of “the I in poetry” I found that people are very opinionated on the subject of the “I,” which is often related to the evidently highly contested terrain of confessional or autobiographic poetry. Despite the various sides to the argument on whether or not poetry can be autobiographical, most everyone seems to agree on one thing: that there is always a difference between the “I” in a poem and the “I” of the author. One page from [This Article] actually offered a “Short Quiz to Tell if You’re a Confessional Poet,” and without even reading the quiz, I bristled at the implication that I’m any, single ‘type’ of poet.

Lately I’ve been finding myself leaving every workshop for which I’ve submitted a poem including an “I” (which, in retrospect, may have been every single workshop) wanting to move away from the “I”/”you” central voice in my writing, which leads me to believe that the “I” in my poetry is actually confounding some of what I am hoping to communicate. I think that one reason for this is that including an “I” encourages me to also include more characters in an attempt to create a full picture of what is surrounding the “I,” but without making the poem unfocused and clunky with a convoluted web of specific names and signifiers, the poem can become muddled and unclear when there are so many different characters and only two pronouns being used. Secondly, I think that the presence of this central ‘first-person-esque’ voice turns the focus around onto the “I” for both me as the writer and subsequently the reader, thusly overpowering the other ideas and images in the poem and bringing myself as author into question.

I think that part of the problems that we have been encountering with the “I” in poetry come from an attempt to understand poetry in terms of the “fiction” vs “non-fiction” binary. When I tried to come up with a good way to explain my feelings on where poetry fits into this system of classification, I couldn’t! Poetry to me does more than meld, it actually transcends fiction and non-fiction, and would be ill-served by either classification, one that implies a separation between reality (often determined in terms of tangibility and what is external) and possibility (thusly linked to the internal and intangible.) What do you guys think about the “I” in poetry and, in relation, where poetry sits on the “fiction” vs “non-fiction” scale?

-Christy Leigh Agrawal


Hey guys,


So I’m freaking out a little. I’m really ahead as a creative writing major and it was recommended that I get a minor. But the problem is, all I really care about is creative writing. Sure, I can pick whatever I want because anything really complements English, but I have no idea what I would want to do. Outside major electives are needed anyway, so I might as well get a minor but I’m just terrified I’m not going to be good or interested at anything but English.


Are any of you double majors or minors? How do you juggle your love of English and writing with other things? I’ve been thinking about communications, but I’m terrible at journalism. I’m just worried that my way of viewing English is going to be a completely different mindset from my minor and it’ll take away from my true love: writing. How do you handle the mental shifts between subjects that you’re putting a lot of effort into?






Poems that Fit Together

In thinking about my portfolio due (thankfully!) the 14th of December, I was considering how poems ‘fit together’. Dr. Smith asked us to consider how one poem leads to another, the order we place the poems in.

This makes me nervous. No matter what poems I choose to pick (be it a specific set of science poems that “go” together, like a put-together outfit), I can’t imagine deciding how I’ll arrange them. Does each poem leave a lingering aftertaste, that affects the poem after it? How does it affect it? How do you decide, then, how to move from one poem to the next? Is it based on sound, emotion, content, narrative, narrator? What elements, what combination, do you use to connect your poems together?

Or is it more about the poet (not just in this case, but all cases) – showing how we’ve grown, through the process of these works? Do we save what we are most proud of for the end, to pack a punch, or put it at the beginning, to draw people into reading the rest? Do funny, sarcastic, cheeky etc poems work better for beginnings, so that people don’t leave our works behind as too sad?

In some respects, I see cases where – very clearly – I will want to put certain poems first. If I ever due a chapbook, where the vocabulary builds, the less vocab-dense poems will be at the beginning and the more dense at the end. Is this the same with content, however? Are all arrangements supposed to be building toward a final point, a message, a moral?

It is especially intriguing because, this semester, I’ve begun to branch out a little – write more specific scientific poetry and less word-nostalgia poetry, but poetry with narrative to it beyond the sounds of the words. In a showcase of several works, do I want there to be a cohesive thread so that one doesn’t jump from poem to poem with a spinning head (I did not mean for that to rhyme)?

How are you all thinking of arranging poems, and choosing poems to include?

Writing Prompt: Drawing Inspiration from Art

I am working off of Jay’s post from last week. Photographs are also a huge inspiration for me, and I love that Jay shared the link with us, it will definitely help me in the future.

One of my favorite places to write poetry is in art museums. Whenever I get the chance to visit the Met in NYC, I bring a notebook with me, find a bench, and sit for a while.

As an alternative to writing about a photograph, find a painting that you like or you find compelling and write about it. Below is my favorite painting, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich. I find there are a number of stories waiting to be told in this single painting.

Since painting as a medium is so broad, I find searching by art period is easier and less overwhelming. What kind of poem would you produce after looking at Dada? How about Realism? You get the idea.

On Attempted Translation

Last week’s writing exercise, a translation, left me with a poem that was far from a translation. Did anyone else have this experience? I attempted to translate “La langue de ma mère,” a French poem. I have a decent grasp of the French language, but I knew translating poetry would be different than reading news articles in French. It was challenging, but not impossible. However, as I started translating, I began to like the idea of using English words that sonically mimicked the French words, not necessarily the words that they translated to. So I started mixing– translating a phrase, then using English words similar in sound. Eventually, I started taking just bits and pieces from the translation that I liked, and the poem became an entirely different one that was a lot more me than the original poem. Sure, I copped out of doing a true translation. But, I think it was pretty fruitful. It’s a whole new kind of “stealing” that I’d never thought to try.