This past week, author Hilary Zaid performed a reading of a chapter from her novel Paper is White. I attended this reading knowing little about Zaid, but I’ve always enjoyed hearing authors read their own work. However, I was also lucky enough to have gotten lunch with Zaid and several other students the day after the reading. Reflecting on this, I discovered a well of regret.

As a brief digression, I’ve often felt like college is a job. I show up, I do what the job requires to my best ability, but then I go home and disconnect from that job. I’ve also struggled to identify with the basic idea of being a college student. Because of all of this, and my tendency to be reserved and occasionally awkward, I’ve only gotten to know a couple of writers outside of class. As a senior, most of my time to do this is already spent.

After this week, and getting to hear Zaid talk about her experiences as a writer, and some of my classmates’ experiences as well, I found myself regretting not having reached out to more of my fellow writers along my college path. I regret feeling like I couldn’t reach out to people because I wasn’t interesting enough, or that my own writing wasn’t interesting enough. Writing workshops are often filled with intimate, sensitive material that we share with each other, in earnest hope to improve our craft. This is an odd practice to me because I think we write what matters to us, hoping that it matters to other people too. We share that writing with others not only because we want to improve our writing, but because we hope what we’re writing is worthwhile. At least, that’s what I hope.

So, if you’re reading this and you feel like you want to talk about writing with someone else who wants to talk about writing, feel free to shoot me an email:

Review on Inside Out and Back Again

Inside out and Back Again is a beautifully written narrative of immigration. Thanhha Lai does not show concern about traditional word count but rather the presentation of the story in which her words can be framed and thought of over and over again.

The verse novel is about Hà, who escaped with her mother and brothers from Vietnam to the States as a result of the Vietnam War in the mid 1970s. The verse novel showcases her adjustment to American culture and how her brothers and Hà survived growing up in such a different environment. The form allowed for more moments of pause throughout the text than what is normally considered the typical format of novels. Instead of featuring a form in which words are jammed into each other in the pages’ expanded content, this novel’s form followed one of a lineated poem. Passages are broken up by stanzas, allowing white space to exist in which the reader could visually savor each word. Given the childlike narration, the narrator makes innocent yet insightful claims through her passage to America. Such as the line, “everyone must follow \ despite how we feel” (1) exists in white space, a solemn statement from a child which could have been easily overlooked by a reader if it was presented in a different form.

The story follows Hà for the course of a year from her home in Vietnam, to a starving ship, to a rural farmland where she is alienated for being Vietnamese. Thanhha Lai allows readers to learn in depth about the world surrounding the main character’s journey and show’s how much a setting can impact a child. Each setting showcases a different aspect of Hà’s life, and the potency of descriptions can make a reader become lost in the lines.

Inside out and Back Again is a great resource for fiction writers and poets alike and serves to inspire writers that sometimes a story must be told, but that doesn’t mean the story has to conform to the conventions of a novel or the brevity of more traditional poems. Through the youthful narrative of a young Vietnamese girl, this verse novel is a refreshing take on the epic.


Why I Write 11 Blogs A Week

I get paid to write. Thank God.

When trying to find a flexible, noble, cool, and paying job on campus — my pickings were slim. Last semester, I came into contact with a GREAT opportunity. It was to be an International Student Blogger. And now, I have held this position and worked for this office for over 6 months. I am responsible for writing 10 hours worth of blogs a week.

At first, I had trouble really finding things to write about. Essentially, my job is to give a well-rounded view of what Geneseo is, and what it offers. My blog posts are put on a database for prospective international students to read, and hopefully be enticed by. As time passed, I got better at finding things to write about — it didn’t even feel like work anymore. After going to a school event, or a new restaurant with my friends, I would simply snap a picture, and write about the logistics of the topic, then my opinion about it, and then a conclusion: easy-peasy. Basically, I was and am getting paid to live my life, and write about it. I love my job, and the people I work with are amazing. But with anything, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

I type A LOT throughout the week… my wrists ache constantly. Honestly, I am grateful that I do not a laptop from 4:30pm-7:50pm on Wednesday nights. But yes, typing for 10 hours a week about my life can certainly be painful and tiring. But I do it for a good cause, and it is beneficial for not only my finances and self-reflective thoughts, but also for incoming students trying to get a feel for Geneseo in its entirety.

So, I would call myself a master of blogs by now… I write 10 for ISSS, and one for Lytton. All in all, 11 blogs a week isn’t too bad; because, at the end of the day, I get to do what I love.

Julia xoxo

What are My Organic Thoughts?

When the topic of what organic writing is came up, it confused me. I feel as though you can’t really decide whether someone’s writing is organic because how can you know someone’s intent unless they tell you and everyone’s organic thoughts can be interpreted differently. Someone can feel that my writing can be cliché because it’s often about different kinds of love which can seem overdone but whenever I write, it’s as organic and unique to me as possible.

When I first found my passion in writing, it was usually about my different relationships with family members. This was one of the few topics that I had concrete memories to add to my narratives. There were specific moments and faces that I could paint with my words. But even though as I get older and my relationships with these people are changing, giving me more to write about, I’ve switched my focus on what’s fun for me to write about.

Lately I’ve been very fascinated with writing about the body or more specifically physical relationships and the emotions that come with it. I find that ways to describe this topic come to my mind very organically. It’s so interesting to think of the different ways to describe something as simple as holding hands. I love that what comes naturally to someone’s mind could be the furthest thing from someone else’s mind.

Math is hard

Can we talk about numbers? Yeah, yeah, It’s nobodies favorite, but I think we can agree everything has value, mathematical or otherwise.

I can’t seem to jump the gap in how certain numerical stanzas can inform form, whether it’s in terms of stanzas, lines, meter, word count, etc. The numbers-as-form method just doesn’t come naturally when I write something out “organically.” I have to go in with, say, a quatrain in mind or it just won’t coagulate for me. I don’t hear meter when I mash keys.

The only conclusion I can even remotely grasp at is that getting a feel for the numbers and patterns just follows the fundamentals in the form of intuition. Hass says the patterns “come alive… intuitively and out of sight,” but I just can’t resolve how numbers and sound resolve one another for myself while I’m writing.

Maybe I’m just reading into things, but I can’t help feeling like the numbers have to come in after, in revision, to chip away at the content while it’s dry, not mold it while it’s still wet. It could be that’s just how my brain works.

But I could just have some assumptions I’ve never really questioned before regarding stricter forms revolving around numbered patterns and, to a lesser degree personally, stress. Is a tree root that grows along a sidewalk’s seem any less natural than a root that grows of its own volition. I don’t think so. But that begs an even more complicated question for me: Can a vine grow into the shape of a sidewalk naturally? I mean, theoretically it could if that pattern was advantageous somehow, but I can’t see how that would be if the sidewalk wasn’t there. Even then, the roots end up breaking the sidewalk anyway.

I don’t think my analogy is very strong, but it’s reflective of my thought process at least. The idea of concrete (haha) forms like numbered patterns just doesn’t compute in terms of organic form for me. I guess form should/will always take the most advantageous path to expressing its content (like everything else in this world does), but how can we, as poets, be so certain of its shape without an initial design or eventual hindsight? And what else is revision besides applied hindsight?

It’s frustrating because it feels like poetry is stretching me in two directions, one commanding me to do what feels right, the other telling me to fit a certain structure. Of course those two aren’t mutually exclusive, but they never seem to line up for me. I can only assume the overall goal is to write a poem with intricate structure that still feels organic. Again, that comes down to fundamentals as far as I can tell. Or it all could be trial-and-error and I’m twisting myself in knots over nothing. But if there’s anything I’m getting out of poetry at this point is to not ignore my emotions, and express them in the best way possible. If only I knew what form “the best” takes. At this point, I feel like I’m rambling and circling around an answer I’ll never reach and I hate it. The worst part is I don’t know how to reflect frustration via the number of lines in a stanza. I just don’t feel like an effective poet when I write without thinking about everything all at once.

Thanks for reading.

Brevity, pt. II

Last week in my blog post, I made a statement that I feel I should clarify rather than leaving it decontextualized on the page:

“There is nothing stopping every single poet in the world from simultaneously summarizing their future work into much smaller segments, except perhaps for the fact that detail is required in most cases to make the work as nuanced as it needs to be.”

With this post, I attempted to make a point: Brevity does something interesting and very compelling; however, the context needs to be appropriate for it to work effectively. My previous statement, in its condensed form, has a specific meaning: Every writer could choose to condense their work into much shorter segments by being overly summarizing, but this could (and probably would) result in a loss of detail and nuance that would make the piece entirely different. However, because I failed to incorporate detail into this very brief statement (only one sentence, in fact) it lacks nuance and clarity and thereby can be confusing to readers with little context. (It proves its own point). It has not been unpacked; the sum is not the constituent whole of its parts. A detailed piece becomes much more than the summary of the same piece could be.

Continue reading “Brevity, pt. II”

Organic Form

This week and last week, we were asked to think about the word “organic” and what it meant to us as a writer. I thought about other words such as “natural” and “flow-y” and things along that realm.

When it came to writing our fourth writing assignment this week, I decided to try something different. I took all the words I have been recently thinking about within the past month and wrote them on a piece of paper. I then took the words that did not go together and removed them. I was stuck with an array of words that some what went together and I then added other similar words that had the same meaning. I rearranged these words into what is now our fourth writing assignment. Doing this technique felt organic to me because all of the words I used were in some way or another related to one another OR I was thinking about that word earlier in the week.

This process was unique and thought provoking because it does feel like a giant mishosh of words, yet still has a common theme. I think everyone should try this technique at least once. Its incredibly thought provoking, and even makes you question why you were thinking about those words.

eeeeeeeek. talking abt rupi kaur (again)

I think at least once a semester I have to vent about Rupi Kaur for the sake of my mental health. So, here you go.

This video was suggested to me on YouTube and, out of curiosity, I watched it. I’m familiar with Rupi Kaur’s work, and I have a lot of respect for her given the poetic success she’s had at such a young age as a woman of color. Generally speaking, poetry does not exist at the forefront of culture, and yet she’s figured out how to make a healthy living off of it. This is evidenced alone by the fact that she’s reading a poem on The Tonight Show.

The thing is, when I hear/read her poems, I just kind of get mad. They’re clearly formulated for the sake of being posted and reposted on social media, and generally just for easy consumption. I like poems that make you work at least a little bit, but Kaur’s poems are digestible and effortless. They’re easy.

Although I guess it’s nice to see the public reading poetry in any capacity, I find this particularly frustrating as I have a difficult time even recognizing Kaur’s work as poetry. To me, it feels more like a sort of modernized inspirational office poster than it does poetry.

I won’t get into this too much, because this is beginning to stray away from Kaur’s poetics, but I also fundamentally disagree with some of the things she says in her work. For example, these three poems:

  1. how you love yourself is / how you teach others / to love you
  2. you must enter a relationship / with yourself / before anyone else
  3. you must / want to spend / the rest of your life / with yourself / first

First of all, these three poems are all the same poem. Second of all, this is kind of a damaging, albeit good-intentioned, ideal; if you do not love yourself, you are undeserving of love from another. But the themes of self-love and female empowerment/independence are trendy right now, hence why this poem was written. I think Kaur wrote this because she knew it would sell, and not necessarily because she genuinely subscribes to this ideal.

I’m curious as to what other people’s thoughts are on this, especially if those thoughts are pro-Kaur. Are there any poets who like Kaur’s poetry, or is it just poetry for the non-poet?


The Rewriting Process

I am currently in the process of rewriting a poem that someone else wrote, something that is jarring and unsettling in a lot of ways. Even more importantly, this is a poem that I looked at and didn’t see any clichés that needed to be cut out, any formatting that needed to be fixed,  or any other egregious issues upon the first reading, the fourth reading, or the forty-second. My task however, is to rewrite it, whether in my opinion this poem needs big fixes or minor tweaks.

The first worry I have is whether I come from this high-and-mighty editor’s chair and totally misinterpret the vision that the poet had. Throughout my academic career, I have learned about literature through the three-headed demon of themes, motifs, and the main idea. Each of these categories imply a limited range of choices, and I have always felt satisfied when I discovered one of those choices. Sometimes I can make as many revisions as I want, but my question is whether any of those revisions are justified in the grand literary vision of the poet. I think everyone would like to think that their point of view on anything, from dining halls to politics to moral frameworks, is valid, otherwise we’re just shouting into the void of an unfamiliar and detached universe. Of course this writing assignment is a blip in the grande scheme of the universe, but I’d still like to think my viewpoint is valid all the same.

I am used to giving annotations and other suggestions for poets, and that part doesn’t faze me. They exist outside the realm of potential text, and exist outside the realm of criticism that later readers might write in the margins.  That is, if the poet integrates my re-write into a later draft. This would be beyond flattering, but what if other readers don’t find this rewrite justified? What if my work is subject to the same red pen annotations that I used when critiquing other poet’s work?

If the poet doesn’t integrate my re-write into a later draft, I don’t know that the outcome would be any better either. My writing and my art in general come with a heavy amount of personal investment, no matter how many times I say that I am experimenting or otherwise intellectually curious or detached. That doesn’t mean that I am a sensitive snowflake who can’t take constructive criticism, but having my ideas dismissed without an opportunity to discuss them is something that makes me feel hurt. Of course, the real world doesn’t always work this way, but the writing workshop often creates this environment that makes me believe all of my ideas are heard and understood through discussion and frequent feedback.

These are probably my three biggest anxieties about rewriting, and I only hope my revisions do the poem justice. Let me know in the comments if there’s anything that I need to clarify further, as I do have a tendency to be long-winded in these blog posts!

On creating Texture in Poetry

In one of our classes, Lytton discussed how poetry should create resistance through a poem’s lines. This idea really intrigued me. Party, because my ideas for writing often comes without much friction, and I don’t look to create this effect either. To explain, a lot of times when I do writing exercises, what I put down first on a page is usually from a stream of thought that I later revise and re-edit into a poem. Even when I write fiction, the most promising drafts are ones that flow in my mind and out onto the page. While these writings go through many revisions I still don’t look at words on a sentence level and think about how I can take things that don’t go normally go together and incorporate them to create something unique.

While what Lytton said wasn’t something I thought much about, I really liked what was said in class; it makes sense that readers like conflict within poetry whether that’s done socially, through form, or through narration and it can be used to make the poem a lot more interesting to read. When I write poems, I mainly think about what thoughts or things go together and not so much about tension. In fact a lot of times I am only made aware of the tension that exists in my poetry through workshops. I want to be much more conscious in the creating the first draft process. Moving forward, I can’t wait to challenge myself to try to split apart my past work and try to create this type of tension. I envision it as taking a strand of hair and teasing it so that it gets textured. (if you don’t know what teasing is, it’s kind of like making your hair big as they did in the 80s but not as extreme).

On a separate note, I think it’s really cool to be able to learn things that you’ve never paid much thought about before, especially if it is something that can change your perception on writing. If you ever need convincing about how you’ve grown as a writer look back at your past work. When I see the how many ways I can improve something based on what I know now, it makes me feel accomplished. The phrase “the more you know, the more you how much you don’t know” is slowly creeping its way to my favorite saying.