Transitions in Source Material

I joked a few times last semester that all of my poems were about rape and sexual abuse, which even I got sick of by the end of the semester—so this idea of exploring the sources of our poetry is so important and exciting for me, and something I’ve been trying to work on this past winter. However, I can obviously acknowledge that poetry can be used as a way to process emotions, especially those felt by children who don’t have the proper language to express emotions, and who also lack adequate adult support to help guide them, resulting in these childhood feelings clinging to the individual throughout their lives until adequately processed… But this is me becoming too clinical and off topic. Writing. That’s what this is. Right.

I find that when I try to simply jump into a new source, the poem or whatever writing feels forced. For this reason, I’ve been trying to ease away from my older topics by turning away from myself and thinking of moments I’ve had with other people that stand out, not because they were heavy or traumatic in some way, but because they’re simply mundane in a way that is somehow interesting. I’m still writing about people, but not necessary my life or even the life of the other person, but trying to capture the individual in the moment, which makes transitioning from one source to another easier for me. I’ve also been reading more about and listening to more podcasts about history, and pulling out people/experiences that pop out to me. For example, I would like to do something this semester with the idea of Princess Alexandra of Bavaria who believed she swallowed a glass piano as a child, and believed she had the piano inside of her throughout life. I don’t know what exactly I would want to do with the idea, but no one can say it’s not interesting and weird and all of the things poetry should be.

2 Replies to “Transitions in Source Material”

  1. Hey Amanda,

    I don’t know why but your use of the word “mundane” reminded me of a poem in Paul Éluard’s “Capital of Pain.” The poem is called “Obsession,” but I would recommend the entire collection because it deals with things such as the mundane, but with a surrealist twist. One of the sentences that stands out in “Obsession” is:
    After years of behaving
    with the world as transparent as a needle
    is there anything but cooing?

    My second recommendation is “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel. When you wrote, ” I would like to do something this semester with the idea of Princess Alexandra of Bavaria who believed she swallowed a glass piano as a child, and believed she had the piano inside of her throughout life,” that instantly made me think of food and magical realism. Esquivel’s novel deals with a lot of themes such as femininity, masculinity, love and sex. It also includes recipes between each section, which I think is pretty cool. The images in the novel are incredible and the ending is such a fulfilling one.

    As for a podcast, I recommend Comedy Bang Bang. I believe that if you want to learn to write about people, it is better to look at improvisational comedy than at history. Comedy Bang Bang is seriously the funniest shit I have ever listened to and watched on TV. They rarely go into serious topics, but when they do you can bet that you will laugh about it. Why look at history anyway, since that person already existed? I recommend this podcast to you because maybe it would be better to create a person, instead of writing about someone who already existed. Also, a lot of the characters that they act as in the podcast are based on people in their lives, so it’s not really different than writing about other people.

  2. Amanda,

    I really like this idea of getting outside yourself by writing exclusively about other people, other moments. So my first recommendation is actually kind of an exercise more than a specific source. You could go to a site that showcases pictures of real people (I’m thinking Humans of New York, or along those lines). Reading the little anecdotes that accompany the photos can’t hurt, but don’t write them. Instead, poem the moment of the photo. Write a snapshot. Try to capture, with words, the moment the photo was taken. HONY takes some beautiful shots, but often there isn’t much going on in them except the person who is at the center of the portrait. So it’s really an exercise in making something out of the mundane (though, arguably, many of the people in the photos are anything but mundane). Still, I think this could be really useful to you! Flickr is also a great site to get inspired by portraits, by people you don’t know. This sort of anonymity allows you to write about people, but forces you to not write their life or your life. It’s not exactly what you explained in your post, but it’s a step further out from yourself, and I think could make for some really interesting source material.
    On the other hand, I think its okay to write about drama and trauma as well. They are pretty inescapable. So my second recommendation is a film. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a movie that centers on a somewhat non-traditional family in a small town. The idea of the mundane is central to the film, but it subverts it, and I think, comments on inevitable complexities of the mundane. No grocery store clerk is without a story full of small tragedies and traumas. That’s just life. I think you might find this film helpful to your writing! If not, it’s just a great movie to have in your library.
    As far as your interest in history, absurdity, and objects (I’m citing the glass piano here), I recommend Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form by Matthea Harvey. It is grounded by an imagistic theme of Victorian-era scene and object, and does a lot of work to express humans in relation to the objects that surround us. For example, the book asks us to understand the loneliness of old age through pieces of paper, a reflection on childhood love and experience through a bicycle, the feelings of anger and desperation of a man whose love is falling out of love with him miles out of his reach through a flimsy necklace made of stamps. I loved this book (though I had qualms with it), and I think you’ll really enjoy it and hopefully create some poems out of it, as well!

    I hope at least one of these recommendations proves to be fruitful!


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