Starting Anew: Looking at “The Greats” for the first time

So, I’m going to confess something to you all, because this feels like a safe space and it’s something that I’m not really THAT ashamed of, I don’t think. I probably should be but. Whatever. Here it goes…

I hate the classics. I cannot stand To Kill a Mockingbird, I’ve skimmed East of Eden, and Great Expectations went right over my head. With that being said, I did a thing that might be hurting me in my poetic voice, but I don’t know? This is where I need your help.

Since I’ve tried really really hard to steer clear of “the greats” in fiction, you can probably guess that I’ve never had any real relationship with any of the poetry greats either. I’ve read some Emerson, some Thoreau, and ummm… some other things? This section makes me feel a little bad for ignoring some historic writers, but at least I’m admitting my wrongs!

This class has turned me into a poetry fiend. I want to write it, live it, and research it as much as I can. A trip to the Ithaca Book Sale (which everyone should try to get to before it ends on October 28th. They have a bag day where you can buy BAGS OF BOOKS for $1!!! It’s incredible) left me with arms full of poetry books that I never would have found in a Barnes and Noble or any other commercial bookstore. I grabbed some e.e. Cummings books, Maya Angelou, and Ezra Pound. I can’t wait to dive into these works and contrast the more contemporary stuff I’m in to. But I want more! Does anyone have some authors that I can get acquainted with, so I can become a well-rounded poet? I’m literally open to any suggestion at this point. Who am I missing? Who will help me re-imagine the line? Who will make me shiver with emotion while I read their books on the weekends?

Gimme all of the poets! And thanks for being here for this very important message (don’t worry, I’m judging myself just a teeeeeeny bit, too).

old world and new world; a history lesson

Over break, I made a point to grab some of the many books I’ve bought at Barnes and Noble over the years. I wanted to directly compare what we’ve been learning in class about “the line” with what had sparked my interest in more classic works. My favorite writer is 214 years old. It’s Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he was a huge part of the American Transcendentalism movement that arose when people were moving farther West. He, and many others wrote romantic pieces about the new, natural world they were seeing. What I notice about his writings, along with Walt Whitman, and John Keats’ work is that their interpretation of “the line” is much different than ours is today. They’re able to use different elements of prose and diction that seem “kitsch” today when imitated.

Continue reading “old world and new world; a history lesson”

Analysis in Music-Weird?

I am continuously pulled out of my own world full of work, school, and taxing trips to the grocery store (taxing being kind of a stretch. Wegmans for life) by music. When I was younger, I told everyone that I was going to be a rock star. I saw my first show at 13, and I’ve never stopped loving the intensity of emotion that music makes me feel.

A few years ago, I definitely thought of music as a way to say the things that I couldn’t say out loud. I listened to some heavier music as a teen (and now when I’m feeling angsty), and always wanted to scream the lyrics all over my hometown to get people to understand me. I still feel this way, honestly. But as I’ve indulged deeper and deeper into the literary world, I can’t help but find myself analyzing and trying to find the poetic elements in the music I listen to now, and the music I used to listen to.

One of my favorite bands, Twiddle, came out with a new album last spring, and I listened to it front to back, no stopping. Usually when I hear new music, I appreciate the lyrics, like the music, hate some shit, love some others. But this time, I found myself searching for theme, and reason behind every song. That was the first time this has every happened to me, and I now have no idea how to stop it. For the record, the album was embedded with food images, and songs about weather and change. Then there were also songs that had a lot to do with the current political climate, and feeling lost but finding a way to return to the person you once were. There were also hints of mental illness, and fantasy sections that could point to drug use. You guys probably don’t care about any of this, but I needed to vent that because no one else really cares about this shit in the jam scene! and I can’t help but do this now!

Anyway, now that we’ve been focusing so much on the line, I am fascinated by where artists would put line breaks in their songs as if they were using them for poetic devices. I listen to the most nonsensical stuff, (Phish), and I still want to know where they would use emphasis in their breaking of lyrics and pauses to play certain riffs or solos. That’s a really interesting way of looking at music, too. There’s space for music, which is white space in poems on the page.

My once easy listening has turned into analysis, and I kind of love it? It’s hard to do during live shows, so I appreciate the reprieve I get when I see live music. But listening to music in this moment, I’m constantly finding the moments where the tone turns, or the music changes based on lyric. It’s exhausting, but so very cool. Does anyone else do this…?

Political context as a driving force?

As I drove the monotonous three-hour stretch of I-90 between Albany and Rochester on my way back to school this past Monday, my mind was swirling. I’d just had a whirlwind of a break at home during which I’d spent only a single night in my own bed, among visits to a friend’s college and another friend’s lake house. I’d departed home in the immediate aftermath of a long dialogue with my parents on our country’s current state of affairs, during which MSNBC  had served as our living room ambiance.

I think it’s nagging at everyone’s mind, at least to some extent. But I have to wonder, judging by the apparently widespread hesitance to discuss the current political climate, if we find ourselves in a period of abnormal divisiveness and uncertainty. Although my experience as an ‘informed’ adult on this earth is surely limited, I’m inclined to think we are. Anecdotally, competitive “us vs. them” are wildly prevalent, with opposing sides clashing on numerous battlegrounds– from twitter replies to city streets. On the grandest of political scales I see two sides who are each of the opinion that the other is long gone; beyond logic, grasping for straws, living in personally-constructed, ego-preserving alternative realities. Neither side can meet eye to eye, a fact which I believe directly contributes to the aforementioned hesitance to debate. Everyone has their ideas about the current climate, but it isn’t often I see people making them known. Almost always, some amount prying is required. (Note: with these points I am not referring to internet dialogues, which, due to their oft-anonymous nature, are now rampant with political diatribe.) We’ve worked our way here with no small amount of help from social and mainstream media, and in a time with stagnant wages, the smallest and meekest working class in decades, as well as a widespread disillusionment with the so-called elites. In the face of such adversities, why have we turned, across multiple fronts, to infighting, rather than unification?

I guess I don’t exactly know, but at least I’ve arrived at the poetry part. Should these thoughts command the poetry I write? Certainly, many pop music (read: rap) artists have grown increasingly political in their work since the 2016 election, no doubt as a reaction to the same anxiety which plagues me. However, I generally tend to avoid making my writing political in nature, partially for fear of alienating potential readers, partially because I disdain restating points which have already been made. Nowadays, part of me believes writers should have some sort of professional duty to address such societal issues. But then I doubt myself–haven’t most all points already been made? At what point does reiteration become a worthy cause? Who would read my (probably) recycled musings anyways? If they did, would it even change their minds?

I think I could write poems about the way my mother screams at our television set in despair, the way people leap at one another’s throats in online dialogues, the way my friends openly admit they think only for themselves and don’t trust the government. I think I could write about how I don’t blame them for it. I’d probably speak to how we’ve been raised in this world, how even rational minds can settle on the wrong solutions given the right circumstances. I could try to use my poetry to urge my fellow countrymen to step back and look at the bigger picture, but I’m not sure it would make a difference.

Maybe it’s more of a CNF thought.

To Cut or Not to Cut

After reading A Broken Thing, I have come to learn that we must fall in love with each line we write in a poem. Each line requires the same whole-hearted devotion that the entire work needs; not just puppy love, but lasting love. It must endure the decision to be cut, wadded up, and thrown into the wastebasket with a million other unfinished lines. By surviving draft after draft, each line proves to the poet that it is worthy of its spot on the page.

Unfortunately, our peers do not always show the same adoration for every single line in our pieces. During workshop, some lines are met with “knocks,” while others are tossed to the side. While the critiquers always have the poem’s best interests in mind, they have not developed the same relationship with the line as its creator. Thus, facing the decision to either cut or keep a beloved line can be rather difficult.

When is it warranted to keep a line that others believe should be thrown away? Do you always go with “majority rules” and cut lines that are met with overwhelming disapproval? Do you start a new poem with the exiled line? Or do you edit it slightly, to keep the backbone of the line alive, rather than dismissing it completely?

feels & rusty stop signs.

In my hometown, there is a stop sign near a brick-clad elementary school that I pass every time I’m driving into town. The sign looks pretty standard until I approach the corroded base of it; underneath the bright white letters, barely noticeable, the word “war” is effortlessly scratched into the reflective red background. It strikes me every time, the stop sign overlooking a menacing chainlink fence that wraps around a quaint playground full of laughing young children. When I put my foot on the pedal to keep cruising down the bustling main road, I’m left with knots in my stomach and a quiet longing for peace.

To me, the old stop sign is reminiscent of what poetry can do. Poetry can both punch me in the gut and whisper sweetly and quietly, planting a small seed of emotion that burrows itself within the very lining of my mind, changing the chemistry of the ground it’s rooted in. The fact of the emotion lives on, wanted or not.

Good poetry does stuff to a person, and it does it without an over-eager tour guide or flashing arrows. I’ve read poetry oozing and dripping with intense musings in which I felt nothing, and I’ve read poetry that breaks my heart and stitches it to the paper after just three words.

When I write poetry, I try to think of how to craft the momentum of emotion in the reader, which I think comes down to the very frame of the poem, the line. I want to scratch (war) effortlessly under STOP so that in the three seconds one slackens their grip on the wheel, they are confronted with a quiet and potent image or message that will linger.

I want the emotion of my pieces to become less obvious and more genuine, which I think starts with the careful structuring of it all.

How do you evoke emotion in your poetry, specifically by use of the line and/or line breaks? How does structure inform the emotion of a piece? How do you avoid holding a reader’s hand and telling them how to feel?

Characters in Poetry

I was really interested by the poem in the reader for last week’s class by Alena Hairston. It doesn’t have the format I expect from poetry. At first, I thought it was more like a prose poem. But as I read, I realized that it was a dialogue between two characters, each with their own distinct way of speaking through the format of the words on the page. The first character used no spaces, separating sentences or ideas with /. It was a father, talking to his daughter, as specified in the very first line. The father also repeated phrases over and over again. For instance, he starts the poem with, “youaremydaughter/youhaveaduty/youwillnotdisgraceme”. Overall, the style gave the effect that the father is scolding his daughter, speaking quickly, and without stopping to listen to her or to consider what he is saying. The second character, the daughter, uses lots of space in the sentences, and uses short, disconnected phrases. This was especially important I thought because it seemed like the daughter was trying to interrupt her father, but was not succeeding. She said, “but poppa       we are   in love      but poppa     i love him   pop but please poppa.” It is like she was speaking over the father, trying to get him to listen to her. Through the format of the poem, the reader can get a sense of what the characters are like without the poem having to directly say it with words. Through what each character says and the format, the reader can figure out their own interpretation. I thought that was fascinating, that so much information on the characters could come through in poetry without the author having to write out what each character was thinking or doing.

Using Form As You Like It

My first literary love, I confess, was William Shakespeare. Although I smuggled the Harry Potter books out of my elementary school library, it was not until reading “Twelfth Night or As You Will” at the age of twelve that I fell for poetry. I swooned for syllables. Devoured the copy of the Completed Works of William Shakespeare my parents gave me on Christmas. Strangely, though, I only read the plays. I laughed at the banter of Beatrice and Benedick, and cried with Queen Margaret over the death of her son, but the sonnets in the back of the red leather book I sought not.

When we discussed Burnett’s “Refuge Wear” in class, Lytton mentioned that it was, in fact, a sonnet, and I was stunned. Even after spending a previous course entirely on poetic forms, I still thought only of Shakespeare at hearing “sonnet.” How did I forget to break form? We break the line all the time! Yet, I’m not sure Burnett is exactly breaking form, not in the sense that it feels broken. No, Burnett uses the rules of the form and ignoring them when it suits the needs of the poem.

If I look at my current writings, I only see free verse, free-form poems. I tend to let lines write themselves. I’m just the pencil. After class, though, I set a challenge for myself: write a sonnet. A contemporary sonnet. I find that traditional poetic forms are off-putting. Maybe because of the rules: the rhymes, the syllables, the line count. Maybe because, to me, they can sometimes feel stiff. It becomes easy to say I’m not going to follow someone else’s rules. I’m going to make my own. It’s kind of exciting to feel like a rebel. But, right now, I’m wondering if I have a cause. Why shouldn’t I make use of established forms?

Maybe I need to reexamine Shakespeare’s sonnets, after all. I may want to challenge the stricture of form, but to effectively do so, I need to know the rules I’m breaking.

Do you, conversely, prefer to write in form?

And for those who, like me, tend to avoid formal rules: I extend my challenge to you. Write a sonnet, or a pantoum, or a villanelle. Conform to the form, break the form, whichever you choose, but engage.

The Name as a Line

I have a systematic approach when it comes to beginning any assignment.

Step 1.) Open Word or Google Docs, ect.  

Step 2.) Write my name on the top left corner.

Step 3.)  Write the date.

Step 4.) Title the assignment.

Step 5. ) Begin writing.

Needless to say, there is little room for creativity. Everything is perfectly aligned, with no room for breathing space. I always assumed that the creativity was limited to the body of the work, with some exceptions for the title. The author’s name, the table of contents, everything else is standardized and rigid. My name acts as the gatekeeper to my work. Being a proper noun, it introduces my work in all its capitalized glory.

Therefore, I was rather surprised when I was presented with poems that had the author’s name coursing across the page in lowercase. I felt that surely this detracted from their authority as a writer; it must signal a lack of pride or confidence in their work. Now; however, I don’t believe this is the case– the poets are simply giving their name its own style and technique. In essence, their name becomes its own line.

Some poets represent themselves with their initials, just their first name, or a pen name. Once again, this is a stylistic choice. They are using the vessel of identity, something thought to be unchangeable, to either reinforce their identity or change it completely. The line consisting of the author’s name can shield the writer or expose them to the world. Thus, the stylistic choice of the author’s “signature” is a craft in itself.


Poetry as Fiction?

What I found the most interesting about Martha Rhodes visiting Geneseo, was her emphasis on the fact that she didn’t really know where her characters, or her subjects for her poems were coming from. She said something along the lines of “I was shocked by the words coming out on the page” and “I didn’t know the characters, or why they were being created until after I dug deep and figured out the correlation between my life, and the characters personally.” (This is obviously paraphrased, i don’t remember word for word, unfortunately).

I have never really thought like that? I’ve always had a person, or a particular scene in my mind whenever I start writing my poems. Even if the scenes, or the conversations are somewhat made up, I continue to delve into my own personal memory for subject matter. I think this stems from my background in CNF, which sometimes makes me feel like I have very little imagination. Like, I can only retrieve content from my own personal memories and events, and not from the more creative or story telling parts of my brain.

This might just be me being lazy, and if that’s the case, I really need to up my game. I’d like to start treating poetry as somewhat a genre of fiction for myself in the next few weeks; see what I can come up with that doesn’t have to do with a memory I had in high school, or something my mom said to me when I was growing up (although, that does stimulate some really interesting imagery for a poem as I’m typing this…) I want to create new scenes, introduce new characters, and discover a whole new world of poetry that I’ve never indulged in before. Maybe it’ll take me somewhere, maybe it won’t…

What are your thoughts on this? Do you have a creative way of getting outside of your own memory and finding something new? If so, Pllleeaaassseee share, I’m already at a loss and I haven’t even started yet!