the art of “suck”: a poet’s eternal question

Whether it’s on a word processor, a napkin, tattooed on my body, a piece of lined paper…the same question always seems to get asked when a piece of my craft is finished:

Does this suck?

I know that every poet has a voice. I know that art is beyond subjective. I know that poetry is never truly finished until the poet is dead (and that’s debatable). I know revision doesn’t die. I know, I know, I know. Even so, it still seems as if I can never gage what is good and what isn’t. It reminds me of looking at a newborn baby…you know it’s supposed to be cute, because it’s a baaaaaaby, but it’s just so darn ugly and wrinkly and it looks like a Christmas ham or an alien or something. Even so, the parents are so damn proud of their bundle of joy, a piece of themselves, that is now in their arms.

I don’t want to be cynical and call my own baby ugly, but I don’t want to be overly proud of something that isn’t very good. I find that I can’t tell whether I’m too proud or too insecure about my work: am I an egoist? Am I my own worst critic? Am I even a poet? Why am I doing this? What am I doing this for?

All by looking at a series of words, lines, white space…who gets to decide what is good? I think that the beauty of craft is that we’re all just at the mercy of our own poems. Sometimes I write something and it feels like it wrote itself. How did this even happen? How did one thing turn into something else? It reminds me of the Spicer interview when he talked about poetry being a sort of parasite. I think the parasitic nature of poetry (if you’re willing to subscribe to that) makes for a loss of control that maybe leads to a loss of knowing the goodness and validity of a poem.

Just conjecture. I’m sorry this post is all over the place. Does this suck?

It’s never ending.

Sometimes to be Great at Writing You Have to Suck at it Too

Today I was watching one of my favorite YouTube series, The What’s Underneath Project, which is a mother daughter project that interviews many people, usually women and usually artists, about what makes them themselves. During the interview the guests take off their clothes, an article per question. The interviews begin with questions about style and what the subject thinks other people think of them based on their style and then ends with the same question, “why is your body a good place to be?” The project is aimed at body positivity and does its best to include people of all body shapes and ethnicity, though sometimes I feel that they get more interviews from people who are more “in shape” just because of the nature of the interviews. Well the interview I watched today was not from one of my favorite artists, she stars on HBOs Girls which is a very white and middle to upper class show. Though I watch the damn show I know that it is not representative of many people and that bothers me. Anyway, so Jemima Kirke was interviewed and I found something she said to be very inspiring, though I don’t think it was meant to be.

Of her own art and her struggles with artistic self-pressure she said, “It’s resistance and ego, which are the same thing, like everything I make is gonna be great or has to be great, like who are you that you are so special and great that you don’t have to do shitty work and practice and get on the floor and make things that no one cares about and throw them out.”

I know this sounds pretty negative and not really helpful, but I found this to be incredibly helpful because I often have such a hard FUCKING time getting my pen onto paper. Like I’m sorry but I want to be a writer with all my might, except sometimes the might it takes me to think of something to write. People close to me know that I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to succeed as a writer and what they probably don’t know is that some of the times this is coming from beating myself up and from seeing myself as great, as special and trying to absolutely fit this persona. And so, I’m a slow writer. I know, logically, that I’m allowed to write things that are not great and I would definitely remind any of you that you don’t need to be great now or this morning before breakfast or tonight before bed or in a field or listening to ambient music. You need to be practicing. And I think that I come back to this realization time and time again, this time through the words of a successful actress and artist. I’ve actually had professors who have their class read an essay about the “shitty first draft” and remind their students that good writing comes from practice, but today I just kind of needed this reminder and wondered if any of you also needed it.

So long story short, this semester I’m daring myself, yet again, to suck at writing so I can get better and I’m letting my ego deal with it.

PLEASE: If anyone does respond to this post I think it would be most constructive to write a love note about your writing or creative insight. You should think about the times you felt you sucked and also think to yourself that it’s okay and you were just practicing and every time you write you are getting closer and closer to yourself and honing your craft. But don’t write that part down, that’s for you! Cherish it! Unless you feel super comfortable. I want this to really come from a place of self-love because you are all great! <3

Here is the vid.

Collaborating With Other Artists: My Struggles and Thought

So I’ve been dating a person, as it happens, and since we’re like besties we often just sit and work on our art together. Them being more of a visual and musical artist and I’m just words, we’ve been thinking about collaborating a lot together. I guess I just wonder what you guys think about collaborating? I’ve always felt it’s so important and that I can’t imagine a world where people just keep their work to themselves, but I’m starting to see the difficulties. For instance, I feel like collaborating is a skill and that without practicing it you can end up with some pretty shallow Banksy kind of art work that you’re just grateful you got an end product. But at the same time I’ve seen really great pieces. I think what’s hardest for me is that being the kind of writer I am, it takes a lot of trust and revising for me to be able to feel okay presenting my work to anyone, even my boy. BUT I do really want to collaborate with everyone all the time.

So I guess I wonder if any of you would ever want to collaborate? If so with other writers? Or with other kinds of artists? What is your dream collaboration? If you do collaborations what are the biggest challenges?

I know one of my challenges is getting across what I want. I’m usually pretty good at deciphering but I have trouble telling someone the apple goes on top of the orange for this and this reason.

I think the reason I wanted to share this with you guys and see your thoughts is because my end goal for all my writing has always been to consider that everyone’s experience is important and different. I know this is probably communicated just by getting my perspective out in a world filled with perspectives, but I’ve always wanted to create collages of different perspectives, maybe even a whole book of poetry which uses the same words but arranged differently to portray different viewpoints, but this is getting off topic.

Tell me your collaboration dreams, your horror stories, and your challenges!

My Sources

It’s so funny because I’ve been thinking a lot about my own poetry and where it comes from a lot lately in light of losing ideas stored on not one, but two laptops. I feel like I’ve been really searching for the reasons I want to write and the places I feel I really write from. Lately I’d say I’m trying environmental poetry and not the Raph Waldo kind, I think, but also I think I’m starting to uncover many places within myself where my poetry comes from.

#1. Misunderstandings, misconceptions, mistakes. I oftentimes find myself dwelling on these kinds of thoughts, the mis’s, a prefix which can mean anything from badly, wrongly, unfavorably, in a suspicious manner, opposite or lack of, or just not. I think there are many instances in life where I find a situation, a word, or space has taken on one or more of these characteristics whether I have started to stare at the grocery store ceiling long enough to become chilled by its warehouse attributes or someone I have admired for a long time has just said something I do not know why I cannot agree with. (wowwww I sound pretentious)

  1. My funny bone/ego. I think that I often write to make people laugh and maybe to seem like a comic who has something to say about the world. I often just like the boost. It’s nice to feel funny. I get much of my imagery from alternative comedy which often becomes uncomfortable for the sake of being uncomfortable and I think that says something in itself.
  2. Words. Last spring semester I fell in love with Sleeping With the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen and her word style, how the words stole sounds from each other how they played with each other with rhyme and rhythm with long and short with funny and grave. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when I decided to finally work up the courage to apply for a poetry workshop I was reading and rereading a poem by Charles Olsen and I found that his words were also striking, but in a much different way. His words seemed to come from nowhere but with purpose and every time I read I felt like I had discovered a new language. To summarize, I think collecting styles empowers me to explore my own style and what that means to me.
  3. A hairy past and present and ???. I do believe that everyone has their own struggles and I do believe that adversity motivates a need to understand and connect. This is where much writing comes from, especially for me.
  4. The human body is just so weird and I love to think of where I can put it, how I can contort it, where does it go?
  5. People watching.
  6. Women, because women are so cool and there needs to be more and more writing on them. I also feel as a woman I have struggled with my sexuality and how that is critiqued because I am a woman.
  7. My own struggles with gender, the stereotypes, the binary.
  8. I wasn’t going to add this, but probably from the copious amounts of television I watch, political, comedic, dramatic, etc.

<3 Sorry I am so late to the game <3

Weaving in Womanhood

I’ve seen themes of my poetry dwell in the familial realm for many years. When I was younger, I would write poetry about my younger sister and how proud (or angry) I was that she was born. I would write about my Mother being the comfiest pillow ever. I would write, write, write about how much I loved being in a “girls only” household with my mom and two sisters. I would muse about the woes of being the middle child.

I think my poetry finds root in the über girl-ness of my girlhood. Growing up with all women was a beautiful blessing, empowering to say the least, but also difficult to reconcile with loss. My little family has grown to embrace womanhood and all that it should stand for, the beauty and strength it entails, the problems it produces. When writing poetry, I often think of womanhood (however one would wish to define it) because that is what I knew to observe, celebrate, and protect growing up. I think a major source of my poetry is the three women I grew up alongside. They weave themselves into every poem somehow, some way. I tend to focus on a woman’s interactions with everyday life because it has always been concerning to me that, “Hey, you’ve got no rhythm section in that family of yours!” and “Now you just need a brother to complete the family!” were acceptable and even charming things to say.

I take interest in society and the woman in my poetry, and I wonder how my poetic voice would be different if I had been raised a different way?

To cap this off, I’ll share a snippet of Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou, a poem my mother has always enjoyed.

Phenomenal Woman
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Dystopian Genre, Soon to be Historical Non-fiction?

Last week’s in-class activity threw the familiar word “handmaiden” at me. Kizer’s “A Muse of Water” began, “We who must act as handmaidens.” Kizer was writing about necessary Narcissism and the power of worshipping the goddess within oneself. Margaret Atwood wrote of handmaids in a much more suppliant sense.

A few years back in high school I found a Goodreads suggested book list, titled something like, “Books Every Woman Needs to Read Before She Dies.” With that list in mind, along with a Barnes and Noble gift card that I received for Christmas, I purchased The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. As of today, it is still my favorite book. The handmaid’s tale is haunting and eerily comparable to past and present governmental rule over women. Other than being a gripping, emotional story, the novel assumes a faux historical fiction narrative to further serve as a warning to those men and institutions that seek to suppress individual freedoms.

The novel’s chapters are separated into descriptions of Offred’s (literally “Of-Fred,” as in, “belonging to Fred”) daily tasks, such as “Nap” “Shopping,” or “Household.” “Night” and “Nap” occur repeatedly. Offred’s dystopian world is the result of a totalitarian theocracy takeover. Offred struggles to escape her role as a handmaid in which she is imprisoned in a Commander’s home, with the sole purpose of producing his child. By the end, Offred has an opportunity to escape, and I will not spoil her outcome for you. The novel concludes with an epilogue, in which it is 300 years after Offred’s experience. Atwood adjusts the narrative into an interview with alternating dialogue: A college is holding a lecture in which historians are analyzing the diaries and audiotapes kept by handmaids of the now-overthrown theocracy. The scholars and students chuckle at the misogynistic barbarianism of Offred’s prison, as if it is something that appears so unreal and unlikely. Considering Offred was an American and Atwood is Canadian, I think Atwood’s censure of religiously-saturated American politics is clear. And I FEEL it.

There is a film adaptation of the novel, I believe. I haven’t seen it. Hulu is creating a series based on it, coming out this year. Here is a link to a trailer. Samira Wiley is in it (!!). The Handmaid’s Tale is definitely a book that knocks you out for a few days, and once you finish it, you feel kind of numb inside. I hope you read it, and share your thoughts with me.

“College-style” Workshop at the High School Level

Hi everyone!

Over the winter break I needed to complete a 20 practicum for my Adolescent Ed major.  This meant I needed to observe/participate in/lead a high school English classroom for the required time.  While I didn’t plan to spend more than 20 hours working with my favorite English teacher, I ended up completing 29 hours! Continue reading ““College-style” Workshop at the High School Level”

Inspiration from Hell

I’m currently taking a class solely concentrated on Dante’s Divine Comedy (right now we’re journeying through the Inferno). Normally, I wouldn’t be exactly psyched about this, but I think the class has proven to be more creative inspiration than I had originally thought.

The first “surprise” response came to me when the professor made it clear that Dante was NOT a novelist, an author, a narrator… he was a poet. This I knew, but I think calling Dante Alighieri and Grace Gilbert by the same title felt uneasy. Nonetheless, thinking of classic literature as inspiration seemed pretentious and overused until the moment I realized that Dante was, indeed, the poet of poets. I thought about the conversations I would have with him concerning his thoughts on contemporary trends in poetry and “tumblr poetry” and of course, clarifications I would appreciate after reading and studying his work.

While reading his work, which has a really intriguing and vivid storytelling capacity, I noticed ways that I related to his writing style. Though I don’t have the patience or intellectual capability of writing in perfect Italian rhyme consistently throughout 100 Cantos, I think my poetry tends to take on a sequential or narrative style that can border on prose. My biggest concern with my poetry is that I think my narrative voice strangles my budding poetic voice to the point where I have trouble defining poetry in general. What makes it a poem versus a snippet of prose? Is a poem only one page and no more? is there some scale reminiscent of the one used in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to judge prose from poetry as they judge bad eggs from good eggs? These are questions I’ve continually asked myself as my poems often don’t seem to fit the binary.

Regardless, I admire Dante’s ability to intermingle extremely captivating storytelling with beautiful, breathtaking poetry…and hope I can do the same (not by way of becoming an epic poet, I think our similarities are drawn quite thin).