Reflection on my Creative Writing Major

Have you seen any progress in your work compared to your freshman year?

I’ve definitely seen a lot of progress in my own work since freshman year. I think back then I was really invested in seeming cool and seeming like my work was at its best. So I would usually submit poems that I thought were really good and didn’t need any work. Of course, they were really bad (in my opinion). I feel like part of becoming a good writer is tearing down the ego to make space for progress. My work then was mostly about voice—about creating an image and about educating my audience on a perspective I thought was most accurate. But what my work is now, is an admittance that I don’t know much, that I’m still learning the best way to communicate my message, and that my message may or may not be discarded by my readers—and that is their choice…whether they want to try and understand me or not…my work will continue to grow.

What are some things you still need to work on?

Well, there’s a lot of things I need to work on. There’s for one the ‘soft’ voice I seem to have in my poems which resembles the way I move about my life. I like to move about life softly—I almost wish I was invisible sometimes. But this softness doesn’t always resemble what I feel inside. And I think it’s important to do justice to the dark part of ourselves that goes continuously ignored. I try to do this often by incorporating philosophy and ideas about humanity, but they are still not resonating well enough because the ideas are overshadowed by syntax and other techniques. I think this focus on dark language is something I need to work on to be able to disturb my readers the way I hope to someday.

That, along with longer poems that tell a story—all the while developing a very casual kind of voice that is both indifferent, wise, and “cool” are some of my goals.

What are some things you have learned in workshops?

Workshops have instilled in me a lifelong tolerance of criticism. I am definitely a very sensitive person. But workshops created a safe space for me to understand where criticism comes from—a lot of the time it comes from a place of love rather than judgment. Whenever I criticize someone’s poem in workshop heavily, I feel it is only because I love the poem so much that I want it to grow into what it wants to be. My critiques demonstrate more investment. When I only give compliments, or don’t comment at all, it means I didn’t spend as much time thinking about a poem on real terms. Of course, workshops also taught me that some criticisms come from a place of discomfort as opposed to understanding—but that we have to learn to differentiate between the critiques that matter and those that don’t. No matter what is said in a workshop, the poet is the only one who has authority over their poem and only they know what they are trying to accomplish.

Are you different than when you came in to Geneseo?

I want to say that I am different. I came into Geneseo with many goals. And I have to say that I’ve accomplished most of those goals. The journey from then to now has been full of obstacles and lessons. I feel I can function on higher levels now, what seemed stressful to freshman me, is welcomed by senior me as hard work and a productive day. Staying in and doing nothing feels wrong—and I appreciate that Geneseo has created that feeling in me, because I trust now that when I go out into the world, I will be doing things every day and working towards a goal. I had a lot of independence and freedom as a Creative Writing major and it is because of that freedom that I know I will be alright in the ‘real’ world. I don’t feel intimidated by the future, because I know it will be as unpredictable as my college career has been. And I definitely feel ready to start life outside of college. I think we all reach a point where we just know that we’ve done everything we’re going to do in an undergraduate program.

What does writing look like for you in the future?

To me, writing looks no different than it does today. I will write when an idea comes to me, I will keep an archive of those writings, and I will send off poems and stories I love to be published. I will always continue to write—no matter where I am or what I’m doing, and it’s not necessarily to make an impact or to be read but just for myself and my own growth. I hope to publish a book of poems someday and I will always be involved in the writing community closest to me. Maybe I’ll pursue an MFA, maybe I won’t. Either way, writing will continue to open doors for me, as it has already, for the rest of my life. I owe the act of writing a lot of my success. I will always love to write, I don’t think that will change. And just as I have been a writer and a student at once, I will be a writer and (insert profession here). Hopefully a mentor of sorts and an advocate of the craft for everyone I meet as well.

A Calling, (could be a response to Emily and Noah below)

“I’m sometimes asked why I chose poetry, and not some other genre. This is a good question. Some poets feel that they do not choose poetry, it chooses them…Poetry, I would argue, is a calling. It is not a job, not a task, not even a career, though some have described it this way—it’s a calling.”

When I read this quote by Kurt Brown, in his essay “A Small, Quiet Voice,” I couldn’t help but feel like someone had read my mind. There have been conversations in class about how poetry serves us poets, or how us poets fit into the world. The quote above is a key to understanding both of those questions. I mean, isn’t it a calling of sorts? What kind of person decided they want to be a poet for life, unless they feel it is absolutely their duty to do so? It’s a trap of course, one goes into a poetry workshop as a “test trial” and then one never exits the workshop because they fall in love with the genre, or because they find a missing piece of themselves or of the world, within poetry. Maybe poets spend a significant amount of time cursing the day they decided to take that step towards a workshop. But, I don’t really. I think taking a workshop was mostly an intentional decision—like my mind and body were pulling me towards it even though I wasn’t conscious that it was exactly what I needed. I mean, the universe seemed to be saying “here’s a poem. Here’s another poem! Oh. Look. A poem! Is that a poem your writing? A (poetry?) reading?” but I didn’t really get those hints. I was just like I’m gonna write non-fiction! And everyone kept saying my non-fiction was too dreamy and flowery. If that wasn’t a hint, then I don’t know what was. Another hint was that I was and continue to be a highly-sensitive person, who enjoys using the senses as a way of moving about the world. I prefer sensing the world as opposed to understanding it.

But this idea that poetry is not a career is troublesome to me. It is again, diminishing the role of poetry in our society. Where emotions are dying, poetry is in demand. It is very much an important job to document the here and now of humanity—the direct internal thoughts that can be deciphered through analysis. The poetry of today captures the essence of the society we live in, and in a few decades, it will be of extreme importance for people who want to understand what the past was or how humans have evolved emotionally throughout time. The definition of calling is : “an inner urge or a strong impulse, especially one believed to be divinely inspired.” And while it is that, that seems too dreamy and too surreal—it reminds me of when people tell me “I know you’re into writing,” as opposed to “I know you are a writer,” because the first sounds like writing is a thing I do not take seriously, or I do as a hobby—and the second sounds like something serious, professional, and something I am passionate about. So as much as I feel I have been “called” to poetry, I feel that poetry is a job, and like any job, it is my duty to develop skills, hone them, apply them, and progress.

What do you guys think? Does poetry feel like a calling or a job to you?

Writing Exercise: Thread a colorful poem

Write one line describing a a vivid image. It can be vivid in terms of sound, color, touch, or smell. If it helps, think of something absurd, or something you once saw or experienced that has stayed with you throughout the years. It could be a painting, a person, a setting, etc.

Use this line as the title for your poem and write a poem that responds or interacts with the title in some way. It could be about the emotion the image in the title stirred in you, or an imagined narrative, etc.

Make sure to incorporate one word in another language that you think fits into the poem, if you don’t want to do that, alternate for one specific name of something, someplace, or someone.

What kind of poet are you?

There is a question we must all ask ourselves as poets, even though it might not be a question that begins outright more than it is one that develops as we move through the genre. That is, what kind of poets do we want to be?

When I ask this, I don’t mean in a moral sense, or in a competitive sense. I don’t think the kind of poet you want to be is determined by your level of skill, or on your morale as a person. You can have no sense of morale and write wonderful poems that relate to other human beings on the planet. And you can have beginner level skills, compared to other poets, but still be pretty good at the craft and still have your own voice and purpose in a poem.

To argue with myself, maybe we are asking all these things with the question, “what kind of poet do I want to be?” I don’t want to narrow the question to one sole answer, but when I ask this question, what I mean is, what reputation do I want my words to give me? Perhaps, it’s shallow to think of our image as poets as a reputation, but isn’t it somewhat inevitable because of the society we live in? Our reputation, whether we know it or not, has a great impact on how we are received by others. I could be a terrible person and write pure, beautiful poems, and this will be my reputation (not my character). We can re-create ourselves on the page and become someone entirely different from our real life self. In a strange way, it seems the writer has the gift of leading a double life—and of exploring the pros and cons of different characters.

Take for example, old school poets who wrote everything in complex metaphors. They could have been dialoguing their everyday lives but we would have never known, because their poems didn’t allow us to know. Many of their poems became a puzzle for readers to decipher, break down and analyze. And what this says to me is that they wanted to be the kind of poets that flaunted their skill through their words, while telling good stories and lessons, instead of documenting their lives in current time.

And then of course, there are poets who try to communicate emotion through seemingly incoherent wordplay, and there are poets who try through very complex, but decipherable wordplay. And then there are those who tell their stories in casual language in order to incite emotion in their reader.

So, what kind of poet are you? And what kind of reputation do you want? I’ve been thinking about this myself, and struggling with choosing. It might very well be that we do not have to choose—and that we can practice each method, move through our identity as poets as we move through our identity as humans—but there is the reality that choosing can sometimes be less stressful and much more gratifying than consistent change.

Tarfia Faizullah’s “The Poem You’ve Been Waiting For”

This past week I signed up for daily poems to be sent to my email on behalf of the poetry foundation. It pleases me to wake up with a poem every day because it helps me interact with the poem more closely—and my day begins on a pensive note. Today’s poem was called “The Poem You’ve Been Waiting For,” by  Tarfia Faizullah. The poem is beautiful and seems to be about a reflection—within or outside of oneself. The lines reflect one another, and move across moments seamlessly in a sentence. It’s feels like a train, passing destinations within seconds. Except Faizullah accomplishes this technique with a subtlety that feels like a whisper, and readers are left to dwell on what they just read, why it makes them feel nostalgic, and how it felt like a magical blur. For example:

to take me. I saw then the gnawing

sounds my faith has been making
and I saw too that the shape it sings

in is the color of cast-iron mountains
I drove so long to find I forgot I had

Notice how the speaker moves from one line to the next, without hesitance or ending. The lines move fluidly. Everything she speaks about such as “the shape” or the “the color” are vague and are only used to create an outline of an image as opposed to a real image. This allows the reader to fill in the outline with their own associations. This poem gave me goosebumps because of it’s ability to create universality. I can relate this poem to many aspects of my life. The “you” could be an older version of myself, or it could be a lover, or even a family member. The magic of this poem is that it applies to whoever reads it, and leaves a significant message. It encourages readers to think about their lives in a deeper way and to consider re-evaluating the moments that have led up to their current self. It is very much a poem that someone might have been waiting to hear, an extra push forward or a symbol of hope. There’s a lot more to be considered here that I will continue to think about. And I am intrigued by Faizullah’s skillful use of language.

I saw then the white-eyed man
leaning in to see if I was ready

yet to go where he has been waiting
to take me. I saw then the gnawing

sounds my faith has been making
and I saw too that the shape it sings

in is the color of cast-iron mountains
I drove so long to find I forgot I had

been looking for them, for the you
I once knew and the you that was born

waiting for me to find you. I have been
twisting and turning across these lifetimes

where forgetting me is what you do
so you don’t have to look at yourself. I saw

that I would drown in a creek carved out
of a field our incarnations forged the first path

through to those mountains. I invited you to stroll
with me there again for the first time, to pause

and sprawl in the grass while I read to you
the poem you hadn’t known you’d been waiting

to hear. I read until you finally slept
and all your jagged syntaxes softened into rest.

You’re always driving so far from me towards
the me I worry, without you, is eternity. I lay there,

awake, keeping watch while you snored.
I waited, as I always seem to, for you

to wake up and come back to me

Can poetry exist without language?

Since we’ve been discussing poetry as it relates to the physical image, I’ve been considering the existence of poetry without language. After all, it seems that art in itself is poetry, as is photography. A new kind of book has emerged in contemporary literature, where we have, in a way, returned to childhood—a book accompanied by a few lines or a caption and then an image, sometimes lacking direct relation to the words, but more often than not establishing some other kind of relation through mood, composition, etc.

So, it is very clear that poetry CAN exist without language, that is when we are speaking about the very broad definition of it, where almost all things complex with some sort of sense become a poem. The song, the photograph, the drawing, the tradition, the life of a person, science, etc. But then, what about us poets of language? Do we become useless? Since the whole world can practice something that we hold as dearly as we do with just as much precision through a different form, does that require us to step OUTSIDE of language and, as students of the poem, take up multiple forms, so that we may truly master the ‘poem’?

I’m not sure. Maybe, we can consider the traditional form of the poem. How it began, how it evolved. It’s almost like my desire to invent the typewriter because it facilitated the storage of knowledge, the creation of the computer, and thus other complex methods that exist because of our ability to work at a faster pace than before. The traditional form of the poem informs the other forms of poetry that exist outside of language. And art informs the poem, photography informs both, and so each form becomes the other. This confuses me. Is the word poem then supposed to be more narrow than we are considering it to be? The word poem is used to explain the creative use of language to create a specific form on the page or when spoken, and the word art is used to describe the creative use of drawing or other methods to bring about an image or form on a canvas, etc. With these words, poetry, art and photography, are we describing the same thing in different forms? In other words, are these words a substitute for something larger, intangible and then presented through different forms?  I don’t know, what do you think? As you can see, this question is driving me a little nuts.

Transcending and learning patience

I am now in a place where I am wondering how I could explore my identity through poetry while at the same time make sure that readers are able to determine the underlying message about the bigger issues happening in the world in regards to human expression and current events. This brings me to the question, how can I weave my exploration of self, philosophy, and the things I learn from observing the world around me, without losing my reader in musings about my personal life and abstractions?

This past year I have felt a mental block whenever I write. When I was younger, I would put my pen to paper and the words would flow right out. But now, I am understanding that what I previously thought was a mental block is actually an awareness that my poetry is no longer just for me, and because of that I am more aware and more careful about what I write on the page. That means that my poems require more time, more research and more introspection on my behalf.

What I am struggling with right now, and I am hoping is not a decision I have to make any time soon is choosing a subject to dedicate my poems to outside of myself. The work I have to do is implement both my personal perspective, while informing the reader about the world around them in order to inspire, reveal, or bring about change. While my personal emotions and recollections can be inspiring to some by themselves, I am beginning to think that it isn’t exactly fair to just have someone read a poem for the sake of feeling like my personal thoughts are important enough to read about. While I thought once upon a time that this kind of poetry was about connectedness and bringing someone into my own world or creating empathy, the question I am currently struggling with is, what makes my world worth stepping into?

Throughout my time as a poet, I have lacked a sort of focus. I have always tried to squeeze all my ideas onto a single poem and I have tried to rush the process. What time has taught me is that anything good takes patience, it cannot be done impatiently. There is nothing really more important waiting for you than the product that will come out of taking your time with something.

Learning About Yourself Through the Image

After class on Tuesday I began thinking about the comment one of our classmates made about my poem. Specifically the line “hands folded over bellyfolds.” She said that she interpreted it as a representation of self-consciousness, and that’s what I intended for it to be at the time I wrote the poem. It surprised me how such a direct image was interpreted as something more abstract by most of my classmates, when in fact I intended it to be exactly what it said. A girl with her hands folded over her stomach. Usually this position is taken in instances of discomfort or impatience, and I wonder if as poets we tend to think about a phrase so thoroughly that we forget its simpler meaning.

But what this comment sparked most of all were thoughts about how an image can teach me about myself. Because, yes I intended the image to be a representation of self-consciousness, but I had not thought about my intentions until my poem was being workshopped. And I would not have been able to put my intentions into the exact words our classmate did. Which means that even though subconsciously I was aware that the image represented self-consciousness, I was not consciously aware until someone pointed it out to me.

Which brings me to my main point about how the images we write in our poems, transcribed through a personal lens, are representative of ourselves. Why have I seen this image in this specific way? Why am I describing it with these words? What does this say about me, my mental/emotional state, my past, my present, and the life I have led? And finally, why is this image wanting to come out in my poem? What does my writing want to tell me about myself and the way I see the world? Our writing in general, knows us better than we know ourselves. Through it we are able to see ourselves and evaluate those things which we seem to deny or be blind to.

So this girl, with hands folded over belly folds is important because she reveals to me a part of myself I deny, that is a girl who is self-conscious and who feels the need to fight against that. And that’s part of why I love writing because through it I learn about myself and heal.

Pound’s Essay

Pounds essay was thought provoking. Since I’ve come to understand poetry as more than therapy, I agree with most of his points. I was excited when reading his thoughts about what an image presents: “liberation” and “sudden growth,” because it’s strange to think about either of those treasures as immediate, when so often it seems people search for both their entire life. My intrigue with the essay continued, but there were some points I thought could be argued. There is the issue of his statement “No man ever writes very much poetry that ‘matters’,” which was followed by a deeper, yet vague explanation. It seems that Pound has forgotten about the various forms of poetry that take place around the world, and because of that I have to disagree with him. In the music industry there is much poetry that matters and is changing the world as we speak. And in our history there have been men who produced poetry that created revolutions, even Gods.  Either Pound’s standards are too high, too low, or I’m interpreting his statement incorrectly.

However, I agree with Pound’s mentioned principles for writing poems. Specifically, number two: To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation. I share his belief that to create a successful image in a poem, one must make sure to be concise and to exclude words which are products of overthinking, grammar precision and specific description.  And instead let the poem and the poet’s emotions dictate the words that need to be used.

It is important to create an image specific to the poet’s intent; watching word usage is one of the contributors to the success of an image. Images are important in poetry. They allow individuals to share a very unique perspective with one another and to perhaps influence their audience or fellow poets with that perspective/image. It is one of the most intimate ways to communicate.


The influence behind your poems

I noticed a lot of people speaking about fictional poetry and how to create the characters within the poem by thinking about their history or likes/dislikes, etc. I was surprised that so many people in poetry used fiction as inspiration for their poems because I (mistakenly) thought that everyone wrote poetry based off of real life events. I guess it comes down to the genres we’re most comfortable in. For example: I love to write poetry, but if I wasn’t a poet, I would be a creative nonfiction writer. For some people, that differs, there are poets with a fiction preference, and some are just poets with all kinds of preferences. But it has been very interesting to learn about the purpose and goal behind everyone’s poetry. Each poet in this class aims to communicate something different, and I think that whatever the poets communicate says a lot about how they wish to maybe impact the world someday, or what they wish to explore more deeply.

For me, poetry has always been a way of transcribing every day life. I look at life like a book and everyone in my life including myself are just characters within that book. My philosophy professor was talking in class today about how he sometimes wondered if he was in a movie, and how sometimes he felt like he really was because there are moments in life that seem so scripted that it would be impossible for them not to be from a movie. He said “Real life just looks like fiction sometimes,” and it does. That’s why I take my inspiration from it everyday. My goal is to document in writing the moments that seem scripted, and I don’t really need to think about the details or the characters and their histories because they’re all right in front of me.

However, I think it’s really cool that some people make up these characters and these histories in their heads. My brain is much too lazy to think about unreal characters on such a deep level. I always wished that I could write fiction as well as other people, but it just doesn’t work for me, and it wouldn’t accomplish my goal with writing. What are your goals? Do you want to teach the world something new, explore your imagination,  salvage the beautiful moments in your everyday life for a time when they won’t exist any longer, or is your goal only to explore yourself and your emotions? I wonder, do these goals become muddled when we write poetry, and are we, in a way, aiming to accomplish a little bit of all of them.