A Temporary Farewell to the Poetry Workshop

As some of you know, I’m going to be taking the Writing and Production Workshop next semester, which is simultaneously exciting and terrifying.  My first two workshops have been in poetry, and I’m definitely going to miss the people I’ve worked with and the work I’ve done.  I know that the Gandy class will be fantastic, and I’m looking forward to working with everyone in the class to make the best Gandy Dancer issue ever, but I’ll definitely miss writing poetry and hearing from others about my poetry.  I’ve definitely grown as a poet in the past year, and the knowledge I’ve gained from other Geneseo poets has been invaluable.

If anyone ever needs to bounce ideas about poetry off of me, send me an e-mail and I’ll answer ASAP!  I want to stay active in the Geneseo poetry scene my senior year, and while I’m sad to leave poetry behind for a bit, I want to see what other work I can do in writing!

Word Obsessions

Looking back at the past two semester’s worth of poems, I realize that a few words keep popping up, over and over: gilt, press, skin, sloughing, etc.  I decided to run my last portfolio through a word counter, just for kicks, and I thought it was a really educational experience in regards to my poetry and the words I use most.  These are my repeated words, under a read more because the list is quite long:

Continue reading “Word Obsessions”

Found Poems and Copyright

As an English major, formerly a lit major, I sometimes wonder as to the morality of found poems and blackout/whiteout poems.  In scholarly work, we’re encouraged to cite the works we pull from, as well as credit the author as much as we possibly can to alleviate worries about plagiarism, etc.  I’ve been keeping myself from experimenting with found poems and blackout/whiteout poems because of the issue of plagiarism.  Do found poems count as plagiarised material because they take words directly from other writers, or does poetry exist in a different academic climate when compared to literature, history, etc.?  On one hand, I understand that there are only so many words to play with in so many combinations, and borrowing lines from other poets or writers makes it easier to create a poetic conversation.  However, I can’t speak for the writer’s wishes when they put a work out there, and I can’t be sure (without asking everyone I’ve taken content from) whether or not the original author is open to these kinds of representations of their work.  Does the creative spirit inherent in poetry override the issues of copyright and plagiarism, or should we as poets be more worried about the ways in which we borrow from other writers?

Walt Whitman on contradiction;

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself”

I’ll admit, I don’t know the context of Whitman’s quote nor do I remember the specifics of Nate Pritts’ lecture that led to this quote, because it simply says that quote in my notes. What I do remember, is thinking that people are inherently flexible beings. Our views might change from one moment to the next, and as we write a poem, we might discover that its original meaning, intent and narrative might not fit the poem we are attempting to forge.

The very tone of the Whitman quote is almost nonchalant, unwieldy, and non-academic for such an accomplished poet. He does not seem to be rooted in reservations about contradicting himself, rather simply accepting the fact that people will be flexible beings whose views change over time.

I found that while writing “미안해/I’m sorry” that its explorations of alienation from one’s birth culture, language or family aim to explore bigger themes such as the intersectionality of language.

Thinking back to Whitman’s quote, his statement on one contradicting him or herself also refers to how one should be flexible to embrace changing meanings of their art, which I thought was interesting.

Writers write what they know;

I found this semester that my best poems came from ideas or experiences rooted in the most emotions. As a third culture kid, I often found myself writing about being home, finding someplace to “rest my bones” (as much of a cliche that is), and themes such as those.

On an almost unrelated note, I found that these pieces, talking about how hard living abroad or feeling alienated in a place I no longer had roots to (New Delhi, as my friends no longer lived there and I had graduated high school) had an extremely narrow audience, or could only be understood with a brief lecture or by somebody who had an extensive knowledge of my very non-typical background.

By writing poems that narrowed down on universal emotions such as loss but with a specific enough narrative that drew from my experiences as a third culture kid (TCK), I found my writing became raw yet unique, something I was trying to achieve in the first place.

So yes, writers will write what they know. But keep in mind your audience and what Nate Pritts said during his visit, that people are “hardwired, narrative, chronological beings”. I believe that we all have a story to tell, something unique yet, (please forgive me for this next word), relatable.

Revision Rituals

Hey! So with portfolio time coming up, I have to ask about revisions. Everyone’s got some way they prefer to revise, whether it is all semester or a frantic night before. For some unfortunate reason, I’m most productive between 2 and 4 in the morning, and that’s usually when I revise when not under a time crunch. Otherwise, I spend a few days revising while ignoring other work. I usually look at all my workshop comments and letters before uploading the document on my computer, then spread them around me in a circle so I can pick at them when I need specifics on certain points. I’ve taken to having the original in a window next to the new version, so I can see what has and hasn’t changed. I’m sure everyone does this, but until recently I just copied the original into a fresh document and went from there.

What about you guys?

Also, here is two revision exercises I’ve got over the year:

Print out a copy of your poem and literally cut it apart. Take out anything that isn’t working, rearrange, go nuts.

Cut your poem in half, and make it into two different poems- write a new end for the beginning, a new beginning for the end.

Blog Post: Architecture of a stanza as a wave

One of the first lessons in this workshop we had was that the stanza is a room, in the sense that it is both self-contained but also communicates with other parts of the poem. Thinking about this at the end of the workshop, it made more and more sense.

I think then I also thought of the stanza as being waves constantly crashing against the shores of the overall poem. The form of each stanza seemed to beat against the content, the meaning of the poem that I was forming through the very visual aesthetic of the poem. The lines of the poem would be like the incoming tide, often predictable or the lines could be short, brusque or unexpectedly long, like a storm, setting the mood either way for the reader.

In the sense that the stanza is a room with aspects of it flowing from previous lines to and to the next but also acting as a self-contained unit, the “waves” that beat the narrative or meaning also flow from one to the other. In brainstorming metaphors, I think that’s a pretty good one for the stanza and I think it’s interesting that while looking through my notebook, I found this particular metaphor (of the wave) on the very first lesson while reflecting.

I always have, even though I’ve broken more out of the habit after using form more rigidly this semester, written more from whatever came naturally with the story I had in mind, letting the poem flow. I think the waves of the thoughts that go through our head fit this metaphor, as those thoughts flow onto the page to form the poem itself. Of course, those waves might not look as it did initially, or even the same or even contain any of the original words in its final, published form but that’s what revision is for. I think as far as first drafts go, seeing each stanza, the flow of idea to sheet of paper or keyboard is a good start.

Nicole’s Nonsensical Revision Cycle

And here I go about revisions again.  I’ve been looking over this semester’s poetry, plus a few oldies, and I find myself going from radical revisions to writing completely new poems, based on the older poems I’m less than happy with.  Do these new poems, with the spirit of the old poem embedded, exist as altogether new poems and therefore not revisions, or are they revisions because they have their basis in an old poem?  I’ve always had a hard time with the revision process because I like to take the time to let my poems ferment before I come back to them, but as I revise, I tend to go for either something small and barely noticeable or some large change that makes the poem almost unrecognizable.  How have you all been able to find a happy medium, where your poem still includes the original poem but also manages to change something fundamental about it?

Tyehimba Jess’s “Mercy” and Politics in Poetry

I spent some time recently reading and re-reading a few poems by Tyehimba Jess, whose unbelievably precise yet playful mastery of sound really brings something to life in me.  If you want to feel simultaneously parched and full, read his poem “out.”  But I want to talk about his poem “Mercy,” and the ways we’ve discussed politics in poetry this semester.


Tyehimba Jess

the war speaks at night
with its lips of shredded children,
with its brow of plastique
and its fighter jet breath,
and then it speaks at daybreak
with the soft slur of money
unfolding leaf upon leaf.
it speaks between the news
programs in the music
of commercials, then sings
in the voices of a national anthem.
it has a dirty coin jingle in its step,
it has a hand of many lost hands,
a palm of missing fingers,
the stump of an arm that it lost
reaching up to heaven, a foot
that digs a trench for its dead.
the war staggers forward,
compelled, inexorable, ticking.
it looks to me
with its one eye of napalm
and one eye of ice,
with its hair of fire
and its nuclear heart,
and yes, it is so human
and so pitiful as it stands there,
waiting for my hand.
it wants to know my answer.
it wants to know how i intend
to show it out of its misery,
and i only want it
to teach me how to kill.

This poem uses its own formula to create a war man, both literally and figuratively present, who represents both the war machine and the human casualties.  The “lips of shredded children” and the hands made of “lost hands” represent the human loss that war creates, while “fighter jet breath” and “nuclear heart” remind us of the technology of war.  The poem is evocative of the mess a war creates, of destroyed homes and grisly human remains.  I think that this poem is obviously critical of the ways in which warfare destroys humanity in such a vicious manner, but some would argue that the “politics” of this poem aren’t necessary or relevant to the culture and history surrounding poetry.  We’ve had plenty of discussions in workshop about whether or not a poem should tackle such difficult issues, and I’m very squarely planted in pro-politics soil.  I think that we should use poetry as an outlet for human emotions, including the frustration we feel when our governments don’t represent us.  I’m curious to hear from other people, do you think that poetry has a place speaking about political issues, or should poetry stand apart from those issues?

Poetry on the Internet

I imagine that the Internet has really changed the way that poetry is read. The Poetry Foundation and The Academy of American Poets websites, along with countless other pages for accessing poetry, provide readers vast quantities of poetry. We do not have to go to a library or bookstore, but can read an enormous number of poems from our homes as long as we are connected to the Internet. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the number of poets who I see represented on websites like those, unsure of where to turn. The Poetry Foundation will email you one poem each day if you simply sign up on an email list. I wonder if this fosters excitement about the breadth of the material that exists or dulls the value of each poem. Still, it is easier to find new poets when they pop up on the edge of the screen as you’re reading a poem written by one author, or if you can read the Wikepedia page of one poet to see which other poets inspired their work.

When poems are read online, they are often isolated, or within a list of poems categorized by author. In a collection however, even if you only want to read one poem, you still must flip through the pages where the others are printed. The meaning of poems is much different when they are oriented within a collection, and when that they stand alone. I wonder whether the new online poetry world has influenced the way that poets construct their collections, or if it has other impacts on the way that poetry is crafted.

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