taking critiques into consideration

Upon recently workshopping my poem “Unheard: An Introvert’s Inner Monologue” (still working on the title), I realized how much I’ve changed not only as a person, but as a writer. First as a person, I noticed I no longer feel the way I felt when writing that poem in high school. I (usually) don’t fear what reactions my “well-crafted thoughts” might evoke, and I’ve learned not to give a damn about what other people think. 

As a writer, I’ve noticed how much I used to allow workshops and critiques to dictate my pieces. Looking back on my first draft, there are quite a few phrases and images that I eliminated simply because a classmate suggested I do so. Other elements of the poem (that I’ve grown to hate) were added for the same reason. In fact, the title as it stands was specifically proposed by a professor. The current state of this poem has undergone many revisions, each based solely on what my peers and professor wanted. I didn’t think I had the power to disagree.  It wasn’t until my CNF workshop that I learned the power and choices were up to the writer alone. My professor always reminded us that critiques and workshop discussions were simply suggestions aimed at inspiring the writer to revise their piece in a way that feels right to them. As I return to this poem yet again, I will revisit the very first draft and rescue any darlings I’ve killed that belong in the upcoming rendition. I’ll take critiques and suggestions into consideration, but will make sure to preserve the integrity and personal meaning of my poem. I’ll make sure that it remains my own. 

Translating a language I don’t speak

A few years ago, I helped a friend with a poetry project for her Spanish literature class. She spoke fluent Spanish, whereas I could barely count to ten in the language. Still, I agreed to help her out, 1) because I was up for the creative challenge, and 2) because she was my ride home for winter break. The assignment was to write a poem (in spanish) inspired by Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. We decided that I’d do all the research and writing, and my friend would translate my work from english to spanish.

My research was limited to the english language and whatever translations of Darío’s work that I could find. What I found out was that he was a modernist poet who tended to write about social and political issues, naturalism, and eroticism, and many of his poems didn’t focus on a single theme. His writing was nonconforming to traditionaly literary styles, which was evident in his free verse and lack of rhyme scheme. So lucky for me, I didn’t have to worry about rhyming, which wouldn’t have effectively translated into spanish. Darío also wrote about mythical creatures, war, greek mythology and biblical references, and even broke the fourth wall by referring to the poem itself. He liked using big words and sometimes used exclamation points. Of course, I got most of this information from translations of his poems, and I’m not even sure if they accurately depicted his stylistic choices. Using these notes, I wrote a 12-verse poem in what I believe to be an adaptation of Darío’ style. I’ve included two verses, as well as my friend’s translation of them, below. 

Verse 3: Seas of green roll out as if to prepare the field.

The blood of the nymphs will soon stain nature’s carpet 

Poisoning the Earth, making Mother Nature wince.

Verso 3: el océano de verde se enrolla por la batalla

         La sangre de las ninfas se mancharán la alfombra de la naturaleza

         Envenenando la tierra, haciendo se estremece la Madre Naturaleza

Verse 6: In the distance, mountains shudder and quake

Quiver and shake

The sight of brothers killing one another

Brings them eternal sadness, they’d crumble into dirt if nature allowed it.

Verso 6: En la distancia, las montañas se estremecen y tiemblan

 El temblor y agita

 Las vistas de los hermanos se matando el uno con el otro

 Les da tristeza eternal, se desmoronarían en la suciedad si la naturaleza se permite

Still unable to speak Spanish, I’m not sure if her translation does my work justice, nor am I sure if my work did Darío’s justice. What I do know is that this was a rewarding, yet extremely frustrating, experience that I would be willing to try again. Next time, I hope to know a least a little bit of the language I’m translating.

on Plath

I made it my mission to analyze all of Sylvia Plath’s poetry. So far, I’ve read her collections “Ariel” and “The Colossus.” As a whole, her poems had melancholy tones, including “Morning Star,” which was written for her daughter, Frieda. Her stanzas were relatively short and her poems rarely exceeded three pages. Plath tended to personify nature in her writing. “Whoever heard a sunset yowl like that,” “let the stars Plummet to their dark address” (Magi), “the moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary,” (Purdah), and  “by day, only the topsoil heaves” (The Colossus) are all great examples of this technique. 

Furthermore, I noticed that she used the following words/phrases in more than one poem:

  • Bald
  • Eye—
  • Hooks
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nike
  • Lozenges
  • Caked
  • Adam (Eve)
  • “At my feet”
  • Veil
  • Sheets
  • Cheesecloth

Looking at these words on the same list is puzzling. They do not seem to connect to each other in any way. And yet, they each find a place in her work. I was especially fascinated by “cheesecloth,” and figured it was a more common item in her life than in mine. Although we were both American women alive at relatively the same time, our vocabulary still differed from one another. I think it would be interesting to try and write my own “version” of her poems. Though we speak the same language, I expect that it will look somewhat different from hers. I plan on starting off this project by incorporating some of her quotes and words into my own work. In doing so, I hope that Plath’s work will teach me a little bit about my own writing style.

transformation of poetry

My vision of poetry has changed drastically throughout the years. As a young girl, I wrote blocks of texts full of description. They were hybrids of prose poems and fiction pieces. I scrawled my words on every inch of printer paper I could find. With a staple in the top-left corner, I proudly shared my pieces with my family. My mom and Dad pretended my work was marvelous, but my older sister said I used too much description. Too many words. She told me to get to the point.

From then on, I kept my poems short. Lines couldn’t stray too far from the center of the page. My stanzas were tall and thin. My words were minimal.

Up until the end of high school, I believed that good poetry must not only be short, but it also must rhyme and its stanzas must mirror one another. I relied heavily on rhyme generators to tie all my lines together. It wasn’t until I attended a writer’s retreat at Adelphi University that I realized sophisticated poetry doesn’t require rhyme.

Earlier in my college career, I wrote poetry with little to no rhymes. Internal rhymes were risky, and I was afraid my poetry would come off as corny if I utilized them. Yet again, I limited my writing based on rules that did not exist.

Upon taking an ekphrasis class, I discovered the beauty of slam poetry. Poets spoke with passion; they shouted, they whispered, they cried, they flailed their arms around. Sometimes, music accompanied their poetry. Their poems were riddled with long and short lines as well as rhyming. There wasn’t necessarily a pattern of any sort in their poetry. And yet, their words were just as powerful.

As I enter the latter half of my college career and I take this poetry workshop, I continue to learn that poetry has no limits. There are no rules to this craft. Only the poet can decide what works best for their work. Accepting this as fact is quite liberating.