Cultivating Community Initiative

Yesterday I attended a poetry reading by Christopher Soto. Soto is a poet based in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of Sad Girl Poems (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016) and the editor of Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color (Nightboat Books, 2018). Soto read a few original poems and other poems produced by other poets as well. Throughout this experience, all of the poems shared a common theme. There was a shared theme of inclusivity within the poems. Each poem covered serious issues, such as mass imprisonment, sex slavery, and racism. One writing technique I gained from attending this poetry reading is call and response. Soto read a poem aloud and when he raised his hand, the audience replied with the same response. I found this to be effective in accomplishing the message of the poem. The poem was in regards to mass imprisonment. The poem also contained the technique of repetition. Repetition stands out to the reader in that it makes the piece memorable and quotable. Christopher Soto is an incredibly talented writer that touches upon economic, racial, and social issues throughout society.

i’m thinking out loud in this one (sorry)

Okay, I’ve done some extensive self-reflection, and I think the biggest problem I had with choosing a poem on Monday was that I was trying to veer away from a common “theme” or “technique” that I believe I’m known for in my poems/writing. I’ve noticed that when I am poetically trying to describe an innocent event with a romantic interest, it may come off as me making it sexual, even though that’s not at all what happened. I also noticed that I either skew the events that I’m describing so that they’re unrecognizable to everyone except the people involved or that my attempts to depict my very erratic thought process make it completely illegible.

To address the first point of me writing innocent things that come off as sexual, I think that this has been a result of my first poem, where I hinted at sexual violence. Not all of my poems incorporate that into them, and all of my poems are usually not written about a single person or event. So then I beg to ask the question, how do we string together a collection of poems that may or may not be connected to each other? Should we do what Sergio does, and string them together in a series of vignettes? What if they’re only meant to connect to each other faintly? I think the only way I can get over this is to section my poems off into collections, but maybe based on moods or themes. However, I think this may not serve well for having the element of inference still available for the reader, or having them figure out what the poem could mean to them. 

In terms of making a random thought process “readable” I suppose I could edit my poems so that the ideas behind them are more concise- cutting and moving details around to help create a more organized poem.

Maybe this is more of a selfish post, because everyone’s writing is different, but if it can be useful to you, then that’s great. If you disagree with anything I said, than please tell me why. This is not a finished product. 🙂

Titles Are Hard—But We Can Make Them Easier

Over the past few years, I’ve participated and had my work critiqued in countless writing workshops, each one varying in both content and usefulness. After all, there’s only so much that university students, most of them amateur or beginning writers, can comment on in half an hour. Yet, if there’s one thing that’s been constant in every workshop I’ve attended, it’s this: when the time comes to comment on the workshopped piece’s title, everyone goes silent. Or, if they do speak up, it’s just to give a non-specific “I liked the title” or “I didn’t like the title.”

No one knows how to write a good title, it seems. We know when a title is good, but not what makes it good, or how to take those qualities and use them in their own work. And this isn’t just a university problem; every writer struggles with this. Anyone here who’s published a story or poem or song or play can speak to this.

The past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about titles a lot. And although I don’t claim to be the best at titling stuff myself—hell, I struggled with the title to this blog—I think that I’ve come up with three key rules that the majority of good titles share.

In this blog, I’ll share those rules, and give a few examples of titles that I love that abide by them.

Continue reading “Titles Are Hard—But We Can Make Them Easier”

“The Economy of the Line” by Rachel Zucker

I was interested in the anecdote told in “The Economy of the Line” by Rachel Zucker in A Broken Thing. The author explains how they were willing to pay for a different trim size to preserve how they formatted and broke the poem’s lines, describing,  “ In the end though, I paid. I paid because I felt that the length and integrity of my lines were inextricable from the content and language of the poems”(255). While on one hand I understand that the line is very important to the poem, on the other it’s difficult for me to fully understand, because whenever I edit a poem I change up the lineation drastically. I’m not sure I have any lineation in my poems that I know so certainly that it is vital to the poem. Furthermore, this idea was really fascinating to me because it showed that the line and choices about the line were not just important in how readers perceived the author’s work, but also important as a very immediate, practical concern, as impacting finances. So, this raised the question, are there any aspects of the poems I’ve written for class that I would absolutely not change? Or do all of my poems need a lot more work before I can be that certain in how I think they need to look or sound? At this point, I think I would need to think about the poems I’ve written in a lot more depth to figure it out, or feel so certain in my poetic choices. But there are definitely certain lines or line breaks in poems I wrote for class so far that I know I would be sad to cut and feel like deleting them would took away from the poem. Reading that story made me admire the author, for having written poems that they knew so well that they would go out of their way to ensure their poems were exactly as they wanted them, and the best poems they could be.

Did anyone else have any opinions on this? Do you have aspects of your poems that you change your plans and pay to have published in that way? Or do you think it would be better to edit your poem to work in another way?

Writing while doing things

Greetings blog, it’s been awhile. A couple weeks ago in a class discussion I’d remarked upon how I’m always writing poetic moments from memory, sitting alone at my desk in a quiet, usually dark room. Clearly this created a lot of wistful, if not depressed content. I’d said it was because all the things I loved doing were very active, such as skiing or golf, and didn’t allow for much, if any time to write. That holds true, but for this week’s submission, my final workshop, I wanted to give something new a try. I still wanted to work with the gloomier thoughts I’ve been writing on, that is, apprehension for the future and escapism as a means to cope with it, because they are prominent in my mind as of late, but I decided to try writing this poem in a different way, with a different process.

I forget exactly who it was, but I think it may have been William who mentioned walking around and speaking into a tape recorder as a means to generate content. As I’ve been doing a lot of driving back and forth between Albany and Geneseo this semester, my 3.5 hour I-90 pilgrimage appeared to be an opportune time to try this technique. With the voice recorder app hot-keyed into my phone’s swipe-up menu, I drove across the state recording whatever came to mind, and I must say I rather enjoyed it. I still sat down to write the poem in much the same manner as before, but being able to hear my own words spoken from a different context, a different mindset, manifested in a new kind of poem for me, and I am excited to see where this process takes me.

someone had to ask the question

It took me closer to 2 hours to pick my poem to distribute today. I had a plethora of poems to choose from. I had poems that had long and short lines, and even one that took up a whole page, including all of the margins. I wasn’t particularly proud of any one of them, except one that I wrote based on the prompt we received to take a line from 10 poems and squish them together. (This infuriated me, because I considered that poem to be one that I hadn’t actually written since I had only strung some lines together).

I know that this was my last workshop and I don’t get to pick another one to be workshopped, but I’m wondering how you guys get over this colossal waste of time. I’d really like to not endure that again. Do you go with a poem that you’re most proud of or one that you’d really like to have edited? Do you guys tend to lean toward shorter or longer lines? Is it a stylistic choice?

I bet it’s probably a personal choice, right? I know I’m going to have to make this decision for the rest of my creative career, but man, it’s a terrible question to ask when you have a collection of poems that mean about the same to you. Help!

Where We Write

Why do so many writers go to coffee houses to do their work? It’s become a bit of a trope, sitting there for a couple hours with a laptop, earbuds, and a long empty mug. I can easily answer my own question, because I am one of those writers. When I feel the urge to write, I pack up my laptop, trek over to the nearest shop, stake out a table, order a three dollar latte, and suddenly I can start.

Going home for the holiday reminded me just how much, as a writer, I rely on coffee shops. I cannot write at home. No matter which room I set up in, no matter what hot, cozy drink I warm my hands with, I can’t generate. Maybe it’s the white walls in our living room or the sad look on my dog’s face because I’m not playing with him. Usually, I end up at the town’s popular coffee spot. Only this time, it was so busy I couldn’t find a place to sit, let alone stand. Overwhelmed, I got my coffee to go and headed home, disappointed. Even with the caffeine, the only writing I could do was revision of a critical paper. It was clear: the atmosphere was more important than a caffeinated brain.

It isn’t surprising that location and vibe play a large role in writing. Many  find inspiration amidst travel, when they encounter things that are new and interesting to them. Other writers can only work in the morning, some at night. Some can only work at their desktop while loud music plays over the speakers to drown out the white noise. My perfect writing location is a café with faint acoustic or jazz in the background, an excess of natural light, and warm coffee. Ideally, a crackling fireplace.

What about you? Do you have a specific atmosphere that you need to be in to write?

Shout-out to self-proclaimed “nonwriters”

This is my shout-out to people who don’t consider themselves writers (although the majority of people reading this are absolutely writers.) My hope as a self-titled writer is that the rest of the population that shirks away from writing will find the beauty in writing sooner rather than later.

Personally, I believe that everyone is capable of writing poetry. Poetry is an art form, thus, there is no right or wrong way to mastermind a poem. I think that most people get trapped in the assumption that they are not “good enough” to write poetry. Perhaps they are scared of judgement from peers or themselves. The only way to overcome this fear is to pick up a pencil and start writing.

Even reading other people’s poetry is a step in the right direction. If you’re new to poetry, that’s the time to explore all the different styles and authors. By exploring many different styles, you have a better chance at finding poetry that really clicks with you. You might stumble upon a poem that is similar to one you are too scared to write down, which might give you the nerve you need to actually pick up the pen and paper.

Poetry has so many benefits: it helps us be more empathetic by placing ourselves in someone else’s shoes; it allows for self-expression; and it can be therapeutic.  

All in all, I hope that more people will discover poetry, even if they are hesitant at first.

math w/ a feeling

There is a math to poetry: a counting of lines, a REcounting of memories, an arithmetic of the heart (no pun intended).

I despise math.

Whenever we learn about and discuss iambs and stresses and syllables, it feels like I’m playing around with a currency that is foreign to me. I focus on the visceral, the obvious, the sound of a piece…and content…but when it comes to lines, I still have a really hard time with parsing them out and making some sort of numerical sense to it.

I’ve been toying with numbers of lines in a stanza, line length, line placement…but usually I go by how I FEEL rather than what makes sense (not surprising, this is how I go about nearly everything in life). If one stanza FEELS like it needs 5 lines and the next needs only 4, should I craft another line for the sake of mathematical sense and consistency or should I throw caution to the wind when it comes to form?

I tend to go with the latter. How do you know what kind of form your poem should take? Do you tend toward logic or feeling in this regard?

(Also, I’ve been on a family-stress-induced Thanksgiving bender for a solid 3 days so don’t mind my incoherence).


The hyper extension of messiness – a response to Greenberg

I love the idea of a hyperextended line. From the Greenberg reading in A Broken Thing, I gathered that the hyperextended line exists in a place of building: being that a line’s train of thought will continue over two or more lines either to add meaning or build upon what was previously said; a collection of thought separated into lines that break (more or less). The inclusion of a few different examples helped my understanding in this, but I’m worried that the hyperextended line, though creative and insightful, offers a thread of messiness that might deter some readers.

No one will admit it, but it’s refreshing to read “easy” poetry at times (easy is, of course, a temperamental term that renders multiple meanings, but essentially, everyone wants a poem that they can read without too much effort). It follows a narrative thread, or lines are broken with the flow of speaking; at the very least, the reader is able to feel a sense of accomplishment by having finished reading a poem. The hyperextended  line is a direct defiance of this, asking the reader to break the flow of speech for emphasis or duality within the reading. It makes the reader pause and re-read, and maybe re-read again.

I’m all about it. Give me multiple meanings, give me enjambment. But while reading these examples of the hyperextended line in the Greenberg reading, I have to admit, I can see how the average poetry reader might get tired of reading the same method of writing over and over again. They might hate having to reread the same line 9 times to get an idea of authorial intent.

What do you think? In the realm of popularized poetry that’s built to sell and remain accessible to a vast group of people, do you think certain styles do better than others? I’m worried we’ve began to forsake creativity for the preference of accessibility.


***It’s funny. I just finished reading the following reading for this week, the Zucker essay, and she brings in the troubles of money and poetry. Definitely give that one a read even though it gives me little to hope for as a poet!