In middle school and high school, my two self-proclaimed favorite bands were Guster and CAKE. I didn’t know why I appreciated these bands, exactly, but along with the “alternative” likes of Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens, and the Weepies, they did something to my adolescent mind. Something I liked, something that quickly released dopamine through my brain cells to create contentment and relaxation. Part of it was that these bands reminded me of my older sisters, who would play their music. But once I decided I liked the music for its own sake, there was a reason behind it.
David Herd’s Through is not only a well-written, cohesive collection of poems; it’s a story about how syntax, about “who leaves the language” (11), about appellants who are “rarely white” (12), who are “spirited away. Barely rendered present in the first place” (13). Through is a story about immigration rights in England, a rendering that causes anger and frustration, a desire for change.
Carlson-Wee places the poem “Steampipe” within section II (of V) of his collection RAIL. In reading RAIL, I immediately identified section II as a bounded network of poems connected deeply by violence. In “Steampipe,” Carlson-Wee explores the contrast created by form against empty space. His speaker describes, for example, the vapor created by methamphetamines as “perfectly odorless” and “colorless,” and yet, the occasion of the poem is a participation in getting high, which I would presume to be a detail-oriented, colorful experience. The character of a tadpole is introduced as the darker element of the poem: “I got one here, he says, seined us a toad. / He holds up a little black tadpole, / kicking its one black leg in the air.” Not only is the tadpole twice categorized as black (in opposition to the odorless, colorless drug), it is also the object of violence: “Put it in the bowl, the first man says, / and positions the lighter beneath / the pipe.” The moment continues; the man who captured the tadpole laughs as it’s “writhing now, / knocking its head against the glass.”
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.
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.
This summer I purchased and read the poetry collection Girl with Death Mask by author Jennifer Givhan. Givhan is a talented Mexican-American poet who often writes from her raw experiences about culture, identity, womanhood (and patriarchy), et al., and how these things have troubled and changed her speakers over time. I enjoy Givhan’s work and so I would like to look in depth at her poem “I am dark, I am forest” in order to examine its constituent parts as well as admire it as a whole.
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.
Of course I am aware that this blog is on a public domain, but more importantly, I know that the members of Lytton’s Spring 2018 poetry class read it. And I wanted to recognize the incredible work we all have done this semester which was reflected in our final portfolios. I am so proud of us for the hours and hours spent reading, writing, revising, recasting, and reconsidering ways to write poetry–stretching how we think about form in general and sound in particular. I can say that I’ve learned so much this semester, and I am grateful for the feedback you all have provided for me. Being a part of a community is so important, and my vision and hope for all of us as writers (and authors) is that we are part of not only a visual/word-oriented community but also one in which we care for each other as human beings who are inherently and incredibly valuable. This vision was reflected in earlier blog posts, in my portfolio, which was all about relationships, and in the way I live my life (I hope). I love people, and I love being a part of a community, and I am so grateful for all of you. TC Tolbert and Shara McCallum, while they were here, both impressed upon me the importance of community and helping others, and Lytton Smith did this every week we met together, every time he introduced a visiting poet, and really, every time I saw him.
To conclude this semester, I would like to leave you all personally with a final note, based on your portfolios and what I know about you all as writers. Don’t worry; again, I know this as a public domain, so I won’t be too personal. Email me if you want to get more personal and I will give you my mailing address to be a penpal/postcard buddy (shameless plug–I <3 snail mail).
I never thought of my poems as having “recurrent themes” because they seemed to go in all sorts of directions. But one day recently I was looking at different literary journals and I found one called Love Me, Love My Belly which is a publication of Porkbelly Press, out of Cincinnati, Ohio. I am super excited about this zine and hoping to purchase one of their issues soon. They requested that work submitted be in relation to the body. I started looking through my work, self-reflectively, and noticed that much of it deals with the theme of my conflicting relationship to my body, my questioning of my body, and sometimes, a bolstering of my confidence concerning my body. What’s interesting also is that I really like the word “body” and I use the word itself in many of my poems (I didn’t realize this before). It seems to signify, to me, the mechanism which houses a person’s spirit, the skin and muscles and bones that put a person together. And in a certain sense, it also represents, to me, the sexuality of a body, as the “b” stretches to the “dy” slowly, having to press its way slowly over the “o.”
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?