I’ve been pretty happy with the weather change recently, I like the rainy, muddy, first weeks of Spring, where it feels as if Winter can be seen retreating. It’s no longer freezing and not yet sweltering, and walking through the fog is always a surreal and pleasant experience. I’ve been reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which seems to fit the atmosphere pretty well. I feel like my writing is getting a bit more lively as well, my winter poems are more based around recollection and longing, while I’d like to think that my spring works have more of an active feel to them.

Spring is enjoyable but also overwhelming in a sense. Observing, and avoiding stepping on, the masses of worms drawn out by the rain, always puts me in an odd mood. Watching life suddenly reclaim the world is wonderful but also puts words like “Teeming” in my head. I hope I can capture that ‘out of control life’ feeling in my poetry.

I’m also excited for a little later on into Spring, when the weather gets warmer and dryer, and I can start listening to the Violent Femmes’s self titled album on repeat and once again try, and most likely fail, to learn to skateboard. I’m all for winter hibernation mode, but re watching Harry Potter movies has started to get a little old. Hopefully Spring breaks a certain staleness I’ve been starting to feel and gives me some good ideas for writing.

Poetic Humor

One significant feature of poetry (and prose) readings that I’ve noticed is that readers can often get the audience to laugh. This is achieved by the use of subtle irony, by a cleverly placed joke, or by railing on an uncomfortable experience to which others may relate. This always astonishes me. Sometimes it takes me a few seconds longer to get the humor than it takes everyone else, and sometimes I don’t understand it at all. The few times I do understand right away, and laugh along with other listeners, I don’t quite know how the writer gets there. Any time I try to incorporate humor into my work (or life really) it’s met with awkward silences and titters. But very occasionally, when my manner is unaffected and I’m just being myself, people will laugh. What gives?

Continue reading “Poetic Humor”

On Fonts

One of the things I love most about poetry is the amount of detail that goes into the process, and that every aspect of the presentation, down to the font style can be used in some way. In our poetry class, I like to notice the variations of fonts we use for workshops and I always wonder if there’s a reason behind the selection. I have the tendency to use Cormorant Garamond a lot. For one, I like the aesthetic and two, I feel that the font presents words in a softer tone similar to a stream of thoughts which works with my writing style. In fiction, I wrote my first first-person narrative in this font for similar reasons. If I was to use a different font I feel as though the reading of my work could alter in some way.

As a fiction writer, there are normally two types of fonts we use for workshops; Times New Roman and when we are struggling with story length, Courier (I speak out of experience). It was only through multiple re-edits would I think about the font and if it could be changed to improve the story’s reading.

What I would like to know is if it’s a bad thing to utilize fonts to aid tone. I can see how a person could argue that we should focus more on establishing tone through words alone. It could force more practice on writers to not rely on a visual experience for a perceived tone which ultimately, can make us more precise in our syntax. However, if poetry is an art form then shouldn’t we take advantage of every tool at our disposal?

If anyone has an opinion I would love to hear thoughts on this! (also not going to lie, I was tempted to write this in comic sans)

Shape Poetry

I was inspired to try out shape poetry when our class turned in poems with unconventional formats- I had always used the done-to-death format of a flat wall of text . The idea that words should reflect what they mean isn’t new at all, but I’ve never tried it before and I’m still spit-balling ideas even after writing Eye of Time. I was looking for inspiration during drafting, and came across the shape poetry of E. E. Cummings. I’m sure you all are familiar with his work: it’s plastered all over the web. Here’s “A Leaf Falls on Loneliness.” 

Image result for falling e e cummings

Here, Cummings uses a vertical line to denote the falling of leaves to the ground- as the the leaves fall, the words fall with them. It’s a beautifully simple poem that is also a profound turn away from the timeless  format. 

There are a lot of ways you could take more than just circles or vertical lines. Imagine, poems in the shape of an infinity symbol. Poems in fractal shapes, or even poems made from word clouds- like those ones you see in graphic design- to reflect chaos, disorder. I’ve seen a few word clouds that use shapes to convey a person or object- and the words in the cloud give them supplementary meaning while the shape itself gives the poem context- much like a title traditionally word. I think calling word clouds poetry is a stretch, but the format would lend itself incredibly easily to the workshop. What does bother me, though, are the examples of shape poetry I found while researching this that didn’t try to use the format to say anything. Shape poetry that just constructed the outline of a cat, or a boot, or whatever. They looked nice, sure, but I felt like the authors could have done more to stretch that incredible idea further. 

found sound

This is pretty tangential to poetry, but I want to talk about it. Hope ya don’t mind!

Anyways, as an assignment for another class I’m taking with Lytton I’ve been tasked with developing a piece of installation art for the campus. My installation is going to be sound-oriented, as it will consist of sound poetry playing from MP3 players in bathroom stalls; the title of the piece is Deep Shit. The sound poetry itself is a compilation of recordings I’ve gathered from peers on campus (perhaps I’ll post the final MP3 on here at some point). In gathering these raw sounds, I asked friends and classmates of mine to sit by themselves for at least one minute in the recording studio in the basement of Newton; during this time,  I asked them to make sounds (words or otherwise) into the microphone. I then took these sounds and began to compile them into, like I said, sound poetry — a process I’m not yet done with. 

The sounds I got out of people under these understandably uncomfortable circumstances were fascinating. There were recognizable patterns and trends regarding what people decided to talk about, varying from stress to school to creativity to family, all broken up by intermittent mutterings of “wow this is awkward” and “oh my god, what should I talk about?” 

Regardless, this process has definitely heightened my interest in the idea of found sounds/words in poetry. I suppose all words are “found” to some extent, but the idea of soliciting them from people in a controlled environment is really interesting to me. 

But yeah, keep an eye out for these installations! They’ll be up by April 2nd if not sooner, and there will definitely be one in both the women’s and men’s room in Welles. 

“English is the BEST major,” Maria Lima screams in her Brazilian accent.

I recently came into a quarter-life crisis. All my years, I have been set on medical school, and expected to become a doctor. But, I simply cannot see myself as such. I do find surgery and health very fascinating, but that’s not where my skills lie. The key to finding the perfect job is matching your passion to your skills. My passions are reading, writing, counseling, and logic. My skills are just the same… in my opinion, these attributes carry more closely to the profession of a lawyer, editor, researcher, or something alike. 

I don’t think I am ‘naturally smart.’ I think that I work incredibly hard with a good basis for common sense and logical thinking. I can study and study and study for a biology test, and get a good grade on it. But the grade it not what’s important (even though it is certainly reflective). Instead, I am looking for the education, and skill base to gain. In biology classes I was taking for my major, I felt as though I wasn’t gaining anything from it–I was too focused on the grade and doing well, rather than actually developing as a student and person. After I took a test on a specific chapter, I automatically just forgot all of the things I just learned because the test was ‘over’. I didn’t like this about the structure of this major, and my relationship to it. There are kids who LOVE biology and it naturally comes to them. Those students are the doctors of the future, and I don’t think that’s me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that anyone can do and be and create anything they choose. But personally, I don’t think it is worth dedicating my time, money, and resources to something that I don’t think I am 100% invested in.

With this, I went to Maria: my crazy, lovely, beautiful adviser. For those who don’t know her, do so immediately. In my quarter-life crisis, she set me straight. “English is the best major, you know…” English creates a skill set, and abilities that many students (and adults) do not possess. The ability to read, write, research, create, think, logically explain and argue, communicate, and so many other attributes. This makes you a free agent. On a pre-medical track you WILL get into medical school with this major. On a pre-law track you WILL get into law school with this major. The student who is an English major doesn’t do it for the grade, they do it for the experience, and for the skills. 

One of my biggest pet peeves is when students go to college ‘for a job’. You are not paying to come here for a job, you are paying for an education, make it count. Don’t think that you need to be a fancy, prestigious major to accomplish big things. When students are forced down this cookie-cutter path and structure, they miss their chance to do anything worthwhile. As an English and Biology double major, I didn’t have time to do research, study abroad, nor TA/SI. Which were all things I was offered, and had to turn down because I didn’t have the time to dedicate. This was ridiculous to me, and sparked my choice to alter my plan. 

For students who think they need their major to define their future, I always tell them the story of my parents. Both first-generation Italians. They went to college–my mother was an English major, while my father was a History major. They invested themselves in these topics because they ENJOYED them. They paid for the education they wanted, not the one they thought they needed to succeed. They did it for the experience, the skills, and the enjoyment of themselves in their studies, they then both attended law school where they met and fell in love… very cute story if you’d ever care to hear it, let me know. Now, they built up their own ‘Merante and Merante Law Firm’. Your major doesn’t matter for the job, your major matters for the skills you will harness. You will then build with that what you choose…. whether it be a small business or an empire: do what you want, not what the system is forcing you into. 

Recently, in addition to Maria’s advice, I spoke to Dr. T, a Biology adviser and professor of mine. She asked me what my major was, and I said English. She said “Perfect, I hate Bio majors”. She then proceeded to talk about medical school, and how if you want to get in, don’t be a Biology major. Pre-med students often take the biology path because it makes the most sense, but in reality, everyone applying to medical school is going to be a smart, 4.0 biology kid… wouldn’t you want to be something different? After my research, the top majors to get into medical (and law) school is Anthropology, English, Math, and Physics. This is because these matriculates did it for the critical thinking, and the skills out of these majors. While applying to medical school, they killed it on their MCATs (which is all critical thinking, analyzing, and interpretation based science questions) and interviews (which requires the personable skill to communicate) since they studied for the knowledge, not for the GPA. 

Now, of course everything I say is my opinion, and I’m sure there are some great arguments against my stance. But this is firmly what I believe, and because of that–I must practice what I preach:

Julia Merante, Major in English with a Creative Writing concentration, double minor in Human Development and Biology. Plans: Law School, MFA, Research.

This major and these minors hold classes I actually WANT to take. And I am so excited to start.

This is subject to change, nothing is set in stone, but I believe that being a lawyer is where my skills and passions most closely align with. I think I would enjoy this job, and be pretty damn good at it. 



Talented Form

According to The Poetry Archive, “Form, in poetry, can be understood as the physical structure of the poem: the length of the lines, their rhythms, their system of rhymes and repetition. In this sense, it is normally reserved for the type of poem where these features have been shaped into a pattern, especially a familiar pattern.”

I believe at this point in our writing careers, it is safe to assume that we all know what “Form” is. We often subconsciously write in specific forms and sometimes we consciously write in specific forms. I often find myself writing in very similar forms, usually poems with short line stanzas consisting no more of 4 or 5 lines. 

In the book, Gephyromania by TC. Tolbert, it contains various poems that play with form. He often plays with blank space as well as repetition. One poem that stood out to me was the piece on page 10. In this piece there is an excessive amount of blank space. In the middle of the page you see a giant “NO” bold and in caps surrounded by the words “e” and “ugh” essentially spelling the word “enough”. The “no” has a powerful impact in this piece because it distracts the reader from noticing any other word on the page. There are also words on the page that fall vertically also adding another factor to its form. Not only is this piece a reflection on the abundant white space and challenging form, the entire book demonstrates  the skill TC. Tolbert contains as a writer. 


After reading TC Tolbert’s “Gephyromania,” I have to say that I feel completely liberated. Not only did Tolbert test convention reading format, he continually redefined the meaning of words, even the title. Breaking through the conventional walls was extremely exciting to see, not only as a reader, but as a writer. I loved seeing a brave poet, who was also clearly technically precise, redefining the space of poetry, the definition of words, and what a collection of poems could be. 

TC Tolbert’s collection made me question what I was comfortable with in poetry. I’m drawn to uncoventional poems, which is interesting considering that I’m more used to fiction, a style of writing that doesn’t have any room at all to play with formatting, and other technical devices. I know that there are those who feel very strongly about traditional formatting, and I understand the need for those forms to be preserved. But I’d like to stress that poetry can test boundaries in a way that no other genre really can. That’s what makes poetry so deceivingly simple: the words may be less on the page, but everything counts, even the small formatting choices. Poems comes in literally all shapes and sizes, and can be shadowed through contextual details. Poetry is an art form that is unconventional compared to other writing styles, and can also be “unconventional” in its own genre. For these reasons, I am drawn to poetry. 

In Defense of Caring Less

America’s first gold in Pyeongchang wasn’t won by the Shibutani’s or Olympic veterans Lindsey Jacobellis and Lindsey Vonn. Instead, it went to someone so unexpected that even he was not expecting it: 17-year-old Red Gerard of Colorado

Said Gerard post-win, “I just didn’t really know what the Olympics is [sic]. I grew up watching the X-Games and Dew Tour so I didn’t realize how big the Olympics were.” 

All of this came in marked contrast to the experience of teammate Nathan Chen. 

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Nathan Chen began his skating career at 3. By 10, he’d become the youngest skater to ever win the novice category of the U.S. Championships.

Though both Chen and Gerard have competed in their respective sports for the better part of their lives, their trajectories couldn’t have been any more different. For Chen, the stakes have always been high and higher now — raised by the ample press coverage devoted to America’s newest Olympic darling. However, the pressures extend far beyond lavish media exposure, taking root in something more permanent: history. 

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The ice skater’s mentality is often described as a kind of neuroses. Legends like Kim Yuna and Yuzuru Hanyu have always been lauded for exceptional technique and a near-obsessive attention to detail.

In many ways, ice skating is like ballet in its unwavering devotion to high artistry and aesthetic. Like the ballerina, skaters are expected to maintain lithe, flexible bodies.

These pressures coupled with the intensity of athletic training require a kind of discipline which often doubles as a straightjacket — there’s an ever-present sense that this is work

“Failure is inevitable — and it’s the people that keep trying who become successful.” — Mirai Nagasu

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The understanding of sport, of skating as work often cripples athletes, including the successful ones. Following her gold medal performance in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Kim Yuna famously struggled emotionally, trying to decide whether or not she should return to skating. Eventually, she decided she would, re-framing her pursuit of the sport as a kind of happy compulsion — the act of doing something out of love. This adjustment in approach was one which propelled Kim forward to a silver at the scandal-riddled Sochi Olympics. 

Many athletes struggle like Kim, often succumbing to the pressures of performance anxiety. Indeed, the dreams of a nation are a difficult burden to bear. Even Simone Biles, undoubtedly one of the best modern-day gymnasts, worked as hard to overcome this mental obstacle as she did the physical ones.

Athletics aside, things like music are no different. Often, what separates a good musician from a great one is stage fright. Indeed, the kind of anxiety that comes from perceiving everything as high-stakes can be debilitating.

From the beginning, what all too many talented, young individuals fear isn’t failure, but rather success. They know from experience that doing well creates the risk of disappointment. They allow the institution, its metrics of medals and certificates to consume them. And when they win, they too, like Kim often can’t help but feel hollow — as if they’ve lost a kind of love. 

For anyone who is young and aspirational, this triple threat of mechanization by method, ceaseless ambition, and anxiety has the power to cripple. 

It is no wonder then that Nathan Chen was lackluster in his Olympic Debut — stumbling at times and even falling.

                                                                  • • • • • • • • • • •        

Snowboarding, a newer sport, doesn’t find its origins in the 13th, 14th or even the 19th century.

The snowboard has only been around since 1964. By 1985, only 7% of ski resorts even permitted its use. Adapted by innovative young father and avid surfer Sherman Poppen from two skis, the snowboard was, from the very beginning, a symbol of subversion and ingenuity. It was first marketed as an object of commercial pleasure and, unquestionably, the nature of the sport is closely linked to the nature of its origins. 

Eventually, the competitivity followed as young boarders attempted to one-up each other. However, unlike ice skating which valued lyricism and musicality, snowboarding has always prioritized one thing: fun.

Because of this, the field evolves at a remarkable pace, the kind that comes when athletes are both relaxed enough and encouraged to experiment. Not for an award, but for the sake of the sport — for fulfilment, for joy. 

                                                          • • • • • • • • • • •   

This is something we can all learn from boarders like Red Gerard.

Our best performances come when we don’t care too much about being the best. Instead, as athletes, as writers, we ought to reframe our work as something that isn’t work at all, rather a labor of love we take up voluntarily.  

The time and emotional energy we spend worrying about the excess — the judgement of our peers, publication histories, the length of a resume — is more than counterproductive, it’s destructive.                                            

                                                      • • • • • • • • • • •   

It is also no wonder then, that Red Gerard won the Olympics — one of the most world’s most serious sporting events — by not taking it seriously at all.

And the attitude shows. Watching Pyeongchang’s opening ceremony, it’s difficult not to draw an emotional contrast between the effusive excitement of snowboarders and the grave worry of pretty much everyone else. As one commentator put it, “They always look as if they’d already won.” 

In many ways, they have. 


Y’all Should Read McCormack and Morrison

McCormack’s The Road and Morrison’s A Mercy are great inspiration for poetry, as well as great examples of affective prose that force the reader to take the same state of mind as the narrator. They’re novels, not poetry, but both have such vivid prose, that they evoke the same emotions.  The Road, especially, isn’t very interesting plot-wise. However, his fluid, dream McCormack does this be describing character action without punctuation, in blunt, dry, run-on sentences. But, he intersperses this with enough adverbs to make it feel colorful and vivid, and suck you into the narrator’s mind. The text itself isn’t a model for poetry- it’s much more blunt and dry than the poetry we read in class. But it is a great lesson in getting your readers immediately immersed through nothing but words. 

Morrison, too, utilizes the same method to enrapture her readers. However, her prose is much more vivid while utilizing the same affective techniques- while still from  a third person perspective, we get a direct look into the character’s head and are thus immersed. What’s interesting about Morrison’s prose is that she easily code-switches based off the character’s state of mind. Morrison’s prose devolves into run on, nonsensical sentences as the characters Rebekka loses her grip on reality. Morrison’s entire syntax changes, too, as she switched from character to character. Each narrator has a distinctive voice, you can tell from the syntax alone. There’s an illiterate woman, Florens, who has a narrative nothing like I’ve seen in conventional liturature. It’s incredibly compelling. 

Anyway, these are very inspiring works. Great for getting me think about narrative voice, code-swiching, and engaging the reader, which are all vital to poetry. Hope these help.