On Finding a Distinct Writing Style

When Professor Lytton discussed out first class workshop, I found it really interesting that we were submitting our work anonymously. Although the point of this was to focus on the poem and not the writer, I wondered if the people who’ve read my past poems would be able to recognize my style.

Recently I’ve noticed that my writing has been moving further away from what I’ve written in the past and the poem I chose to submit read very differently than my other poems. Part of me is very nervous about how this poem will do in class and if it will be received as well as my past work. There’s also a part of me that fears I’m moving backward in my writing. Does anyone else feel like it’s hard to grasp onto a writing style?

This semester I want to challenge myself to find what works in my writing and what poems best represent my voice. I don’t want to stress about the creative process too much, but it would be nice this semester to identify what exactly makes my poems mine. On the bright side; it feels refreshing to create something new.

If anyone has any writing exercises that help develop a personal style I would love to know!

A Review of Brian Teare’s Companion Grasses; In particular, “This book can’t be sung”

Reading through Brian Teare’s Companion Grasses reminds me of the fond times I’ve spent at art museums with my boyfriend. This fondness has a hard edge, however, because this activity always feels to me like it will end in some dangerous discovery; thus it is at the same time coldly arduous and warmly aromatic, like the mouthfeel and digestion of a liquor poured neat. I think that Companion Grasses feels like a walk through a museum because of the way its stanzas so often snap the eyes quickly from the end of one line to the start of another (as eyes from one painting to the next), and groupings of words stand like separate pieces in each others’ midsts. In one section, Teare quotes and interprets texts from authors Dickinson, Emerson, Fuller, Thoreau, et al. (a grouping largely of transcendentalists). These antiquated philosophies, which at the time, rejected traditional ethics and reason, and the brink of discovery which characterizes Teare’s now contemporary poetry feels liberating yet traditional — standardly essentialist, yet enticingly muted, like the stirring of the “coastal prarie” (37) that he recreates in the biology and place of his work.

Continue reading “A Review of Brian Teare’s Companion Grasses; In particular, “This book can’t be sung””

To new beginnings

I’m going to do something a little selfish with my first blog post and just ramble a bit about how I currently feel about poetry. Hopefully, this will serve as a baseline for myself, a point of reflection for my future self, and maybe I’ll have a good laugh about how naive I am come the end of the semester.

To be the teeniest bit more precise, I’d like to take this time to riff and philosophize a little on what I’m fairly certain will be a common thread for all our poetry discussions: “Form is never more than an extension of content.”

Let’s take a logical approach because why not? There are two terms here that we have to piece together definitions for: form and content. Form, to the best of my knowledge, is the shape of something. How something looks, in other words.  Although visual appeal on paper is extremely important (after all, you can’t read something without physically looking at it), I tend to fall in a more metaphysical space with how I feel about form. When I hear the word, I picture a blob, amorphous and malleable, in my head. It’s like an imagined collective physicality I apply to the words on the page. Form is the shape of an idea in my mind. Writer’s carve out sections with diction or syntax or grammar, splash color on it with color-laced words like lobster or lily pads, bruise it with punches and lashes of punctuation or line breaks, and, lastly, mold and hold together with the fine hand of craft. I like to see form when I write. I like to make people see form when they read my work.

I was hoping to add a lick of conflict to whatever this is by disagreeing even if just for the sake of making this post more interesting, but I can’t really. Content is just the substance that makes up that blob. If your content’s clay, the form better be sculpted. If your content’s stone or ice, the form better be chiseled or cracked. If your content’s your own body, punch yourself square in the jaw and put you back together with your poetry. Or subvert my expectations! Take control of your content, make your form submit, and force readers to see your content in the form you want them to see.

Now, I just have to wait twelve weeks to see how my thoughts develop. But this post is a nice, little seed, I think.

What to workshop: the dead-end poem

Being in the first round of workshops, I’ve spent the week picking through this summer’s sparse drafts, trying to decide if it is disingenuous to try and spruce one up just a few days in advance.

I have found it helpful to resist the urge to bring my ‘best’ or favorite poem of the moment for critique. You don’t need to impress anyone, especially if trying to do so is going to limit your growth. It can be helpful, of course, to workshop a ‘favorite’ – if you’re too close to something you don’t see its flaws, and a good workshop-and-revision can push a good poem into ‘great’ territory.

For me, it’s a matter of being realistic. Am I going to take criticism well? If not, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. This is less a case of me being super defensive about certain poems as it the fact that there are certain subjects that I treat rather preciously, and while they may need (major) refining, I have to make a call on whether or not I’m going to do that through a workshop, or on my own time. I’ve come to think that, while all poems can benefit from a workshop eventually, some are too early in their lifespan. I’d rather let them develop a little more first.

Then there are the times you bring something you know you need help with; the trouble poems. Maybe you’re frustrated and you’re looking forward to seeing it dissected for all its flaws – that can be fun. Or maybe you’ve got a poem that you’re nearly ready to give up on, and are banking on the possibility of someone else being able to tell you what to do with it.

All of these are equally legitimate candidates for workshop, in my opinion. However, I am here to speak as a proponent of that strange and specific kind of poem that has surprised me again and again by coming into its own through workshop:


The dead-end poem.


They’re the ones I don’t expect to go anywhere; the ones that get thrown down as a warm-up or forgotten about for months. My least favorite children, if you will. I don’t know what it is about them, but again and again the best and most satisfying revisions have come from those underdogs. The accidental successes. Maybe it’s because I’m not so caught up in what I’m trying to do, or that I’m more open to making changes based on critique. I’ve also theorized that, for me at least, it feels more authentic when I stumble into meaning. In any case, the ‘dead ends’ are very often not dead ends at all.

I’m always interested to see what people bring into workshop. I think it says something about what you want for your writing, what you want to gain.

What do you guys think – do you like to bring in the sensitive stuff, what you’ve agonized over? Or do you bring the poems you hate just to have the satisfaction of other people agreeing with you in the hopes that you’ll glean some ideas on how to fix them?

What do you bring to workshop?


This week I wrote a poem based off the chapter “One” in the book A Little Book On Form. After reading this chapter, I wrote down a collection of words that first popped into my head. One word that stood out to me was the word “alone”. I’m not completely sure why or how this word popped into my head but I think it’s because a; the word alone HAS the word “one” in it, and b; being alone is you by yourself therefore you are one person in that moment etc. I took that concept of being alone and based the poem we had to write off of this idea of loneliness. I played with different forms until I decided to write my piece in prose. This specific writing task this week was rather interesting because I decided to write it in second person, and to describe what I was experiencing in that moment. Ultimately in the end of writing that piece I was…alone.

The Creative Process: It’s All Greek to Me

Immediately after my final exams were over, and I turned in my portfolio for ENGL 201, I had to pack for a HUMN 220 trip to Greece. This trip was definitely a bucket list trip for me, ever since I picked up D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths and read it until the spine almost came apart. As I packed, I wondered about Greece’s imprint in Western Civilization, and how I would walk the same streets as Plato, Saint Paul, and so many great thinkers. It blew my mind. Still does.

However, when I was there, I was overwhelmed by what little came out of my pen. Here I was, in Greece, spending some days in an Athenian apartment with ten girls, one working bathroom, and no air conditioning, and other days in Santorini, where the waters are the most beautiful royal blue I’ve ever seen. I read Dante’s Inferno and St. Augustine’s Confessions and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, some of the major works in the literary canon. Two of my favorite moments in the Inferno were Francesa’s retelling of her love affair with Paolo and Dante’s tutor’s moving response to Dante’s queries.  I enjoyed the Greek nightlife with my friends, and got wasted soon after drinking ouzo. I also experienced several moments of profound spirituality, such as when I visited the Mount Parnassus and the Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle of Delphi resided. The view of the eroding temple, contrasted against stark dark mountains and a green valley, is a view I will remember forever, and that place contained a mystical energy that kept me silent and reflective on the bus ride back. In Corinth, I stood on a platform where Saint Paul preached, right in the center of the agora. On that platform, there was a plaque with a quote from 2 Corinthians: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal height of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians, 1:17) That same energy that struck me at Mount Parnassus was there as well.

However, all I came up with writing-wise was drivel. All my poems were about the same. Each poem had three stanzas, a female speaker, and a plot about a relationship with an emotionally unavailable man.  I should have been creatively flourishing in a new environment, in a place many people (including myself) dream of going.  On the repeated bus trips, I would stare at my writer’s notebook in disbelief, either losing my train of thought or furious that the poem that I thought was original turned out to have the same pattern.

I spent the rest of that summer in a creative drought, instead occupying my summer with work in a teaching assistant position, visiting friends and relatives, and preparing for my sophomore year of college. I am so excited for this poetry workshop because it will put me into a creative routine, something that I’ve been missing ever since Greece. I became very close with my ENGL 201 class last semester, and I felt affirmed by both their praise and critiques of my work and each other’s work. My work was better than it had ever been before, and I’m so excited to spend the semester in the company of my fellow poets, writing regularly so that it fills the blank page.

taking steps toward my writing career. finally.

For those of you who know, I recently changed paths in my life, and future life–very drastically, I might add. I have been on the pre-med track my entire childhood, to my teens. Recently, this has changed as I choose to do what I WANT, not what I feel like I NEED to do. This means, getting more professionally involved in writing.

Since this is a new change for me and life path, I FREAKED out over the summer, feeling unprepared and uneducated in how to further myself in this area of study. When I was primarily pre-med, I knew to volunteer at hospitals and get internships wherever I could medically. Now, I was in a whole new ballpark, and frankly I was terrified. I figured the next step was to find literary magazines and to submit–I knew I needed to be published, and I wanted to be published. With this, I submitted EVERYWHERE.

I sent in over 20 poems to over 30 magazines. It was the most insane thing I’ve ever witnessed and done because it was so new to me, and so different, but I loved it. After receiving many rejections, and ‘almost, but no’ emails, I finally was published. Four times. Those four acceptances outweighed the 30+ rejections, and I was so proud of myself. I now feel like an actual, verified writer, and I am ecstatic to put these publications on my resume. Now, this is nothing to be cocky about, I know–but that those four glimmers of hope telling me ‘hey, you can write,’ is all I need to keep going, keep submitting, keep getting rejected, and keep getting accepted.

In case you would like to take a look:

Red Queen Literary Magazine Issue IV: can I induce apoptosis?

Minute Magazine Issue 4: I Started When It Was Cool

Minute Magazine Issue 4: Things I Think About While Hiding In The Closet

The Mantle Issue 5: Alcohol Addiction Is 50% Genetics & 50% Poor Coping Skills



Julia Merante