Revision Idea

Hi everyone!

There is a revision idea that I’ve been tossing around in my head for the past few weeks (maybe someone had previously mentioned it in class?) that I’ve finally put into practice. My idea, which was to revise a poem taking out all of the pronouns, was somewhat inspired by feeling like I use too many “I’s” and “you’s” in my poetry, however when I tried it I realized that it made most of my poems entirely nonsensical. While I don’t think that I will be using this revision prompt too much, it did make me think about a method of revising as: deletion. I am now going through various poems and revising them according to a method of deleting one or two specific things, whether they be words or conjunctions or prepositional phrases and so forth. I find that this helps me reduce my poem to a kind of core or skeleton of what I want, eliminating or identifying things I really want in a poem. While this may not be an exceptionally inspiring or groundbreaking idea to anyone, I wanted to share it regardless.

Happy revising,


Don’t Despair!

As I’ve been going back through my poems from this semester, picking out which ones to use and revising the ones I choose, I find myself feeling disappointed with a lot of my earlier poems. I think that this is in a large part because I usually like to put more time in between when I finish crafting the first draft of a poem and when I revise it, and also in part because I feel that I am in a rapidly growing and changing period of flux in terms of my style as a poet. I also think that this feeling is related to the volume of beautiful poetry we have been reading in workshop, not only from each other but also from published authors.

Despairing about my poetry while gorging myself on poems from the Poetry Foundation website I came across an article that really helped alleviate this feeling. The author of the article (who’s name I have unfortunately forgotten) pointed out that we–young poets, the patrons and consumers of both contemporary and non-contemporary poetry–interact almost exclusively with final drafts (excluding workshop, obviously.) We don’t get to read Langston Hughes’ first draft of “Dust Bowl,” we don’t get to see how “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop came to be what it was, we (with a few exceptions such as posthumous publications) only read whole products that at one point a poet had looked at and said “this has been revised enough, this is good.” This idea kind of blew me away, I was amazed that I had never considered this before and it really helped me to feel better about my first and second and third drafts. I hope that this knowledge can help someone else feel better too if you are going through a similar process with your revisions!


If this post piques your curiosity…?

As I was looking for a poem to use for my “How a Poem’s Sound Happens” presentation I stumbled upon this poem, also by Naomi Shihab Nye (the same poet that I did for my presentation.) I was so immediately drawn in by the structure of this poem: it’s incredible how Nye is able to construct meaning in the first part of this poem out of what is unwritten: the answers to the first six rhetorical questions. I also think that the slightly interrogative atmosphere, a feeling that is introduced softly: beginning with a ‘because’ rather than an ‘if,’ is very important to it’s subject matter – related to where war, religion, and fundamentalism intersect.

As a writing prompt, I would like to urge everyone to try to write a poem using rhetorical questions that, when put together, will re-envision and explain a complex situation in simpler terms.

  1. Think about something that you are very familiar with but that many other people aren’t familiar with (this can be a phenomenon, a lifestyle, a misunderstood individual, a place, etc…)
  2. Come up with questions that you think will help someone understand and relate to the thing that you came up with in the first step. Try not to use any words that make a direct reference to the thing that you chose in the first step, instead looking outside of this thing in order to explain in, or breaking it down into smaller parts.
  3. I want you to address your questions to a “you,” similarly to how Nye does this in her poem.
  4. I want you to try to begin each question differently. (ex/ “what if,” “if,” “how,” “when,” “why,” “is,” etc…)

If anyone decides to try this please let me know how it turns out and feel free to share what you came up with in a comment or post. Also feel free to add any extra steps or ideas that you might have. Hope that this is helpful to someone!

-Christy L. Agrawal

The “I” in Poetry

I’ve come to realize over the course of this workshop that I almost always write people (often indicated by the use of pronouns) into my poetry, and of those people, I almost always include a central voice or point of view, whether it be an “I or a “you” or both or more. Is this “I” me? The author? I’m not really sure. My knee-jerk response to that question was initially “No!” in protectiveness of both the poem and myself as entities entirely separate from one another, however the more that I contemplate this the less I’m sure. There are definitely times when I use poetry as a way to express my individual, specific voice, to record or interpret events from my own life, and to communicate things that I am unable to otherwise speak.

Upon a quick google search of “the I in poetry” I found that people are very opinionated on the subject of the “I,” which is often related to the evidently highly contested terrain of confessional or autobiographic poetry. Despite the various sides to the argument on whether or not poetry can be autobiographical, most everyone seems to agree on one thing: that there is always a difference between the “I” in a poem and the “I” of the author. One page from [This Article] actually offered a “Short Quiz to Tell if You’re a Confessional Poet,” and without even reading the quiz, I bristled at the implication that I’m any, single ‘type’ of poet.

Lately I’ve been finding myself leaving every workshop for which I’ve submitted a poem including an “I” (which, in retrospect, may have been every single workshop) wanting to move away from the “I”/”you” central voice in my writing, which leads me to believe that the “I” in my poetry is actually confounding some of what I am hoping to communicate. I think that one reason for this is that including an “I” encourages me to also include more characters in an attempt to create a full picture of what is surrounding the “I,” but without making the poem unfocused and clunky with a convoluted web of specific names and signifiers, the poem can become muddled and unclear when there are so many different characters and only two pronouns being used. Secondly, I think that the presence of this central ‘first-person-esque’ voice turns the focus around onto the “I” for both me as the writer and subsequently the reader, thusly overpowering the other ideas and images in the poem and bringing myself as author into question.

I think that part of the problems that we have been encountering with the “I” in poetry come from an attempt to understand poetry in terms of the “fiction” vs “non-fiction” binary. When I tried to come up with a good way to explain my feelings on where poetry fits into this system of classification, I couldn’t! Poetry to me does more than meld, it actually transcends fiction and non-fiction, and would be ill-served by either classification, one that implies a separation between reality (often determined in terms of tangibility and what is external) and possibility (thusly linked to the internal and intangible.) What do you guys think about the “I” in poetry and, in relation, where poetry sits on the “fiction” vs “non-fiction” scale?

-Christy Leigh Agrawal

On Culture and Diversity

I have been thinking a lot lately about our conversation on what we have permission to write/writing in another’s perspective. I’ve really enjoyed hearing what everyone had to say and have a few ideas of my own to add.

On writing diversity in:

There seems to me to be big problems with the idea that a majority culture/gender/race etc… can ‘write’ in underrepresented people. People of minorities are not accessories that can be inserted into a piece of writing or artwork in order to expand or contract its level of diversity, and more importantly when we add characters who’s experiences we can’t relate to for the purpose of ‘adding diversity’ we can easily misunderstand or misrepresent them and, as Megan said in class, risk outweighing or even silencing their actual voices with ours, which inherently have greater access to a platform. What’s more important, as a majority culture, than sprinkling our writing with minority characters or cultural taglines, is to make sure we are actively listening to, maximizing, and providing safe forum for the actual voices of minorities.

It is important to keep in mind that the oftentimes uncomfortable and difficult scrutiny of motives, consequences, and unfairness is a direct result of the inequities that exist in society.

On the blurring of cultural lines:

I’m sure that you have all heard about the ‘yellowface’ scandal that rocked the literary community recently. In short, a white male author used a female, Chinese pseudonym when submitting a poem for publication, for the explicit purpose of benefiting from the position of a marginalized Asian woman. In a way that is very similar to cultural appropriation, this author (his actual name being Michael Derrick Hudson) benefitted from hitching himself onto an underrepresented gender and culture (to which he does not belong or suffer any of the other consequences of belonging to) that would, in the life of the person who actually belonged to that culture, be used to hinder them. Hudson claimed an identity that was not his, identity being inseparable from personal experience and culture and voice, all things that contribute to our poetry and other’s readings of it.

Hudson’s actions are ultimately unacceptable in my opinion, and lead me to think of how easy it can be to simply use or hitch on to a culture for the weight or associations or trappings that come with it. There have been arguments made for Hudson’s case, referencing a long tradition of doing the same thing but in reverse (i.e. women taking on a male pseudonym), however in trying (unsuccessfully) to compare these two situations, these arguments completely undermine the inequity and unfairness that has led to this entire conversation.

Lastly I would like to emphasize the importance of accepting that different people have different experiences, especially from within minorities as I feel individuals belonging to a minority often get lumped together into a single experience or worldview where as the majority (thought of as the ‘norm’) has the luxury of being a society composed of individuals with unique opinions and experiences. As an example, let’s say that an American author just watched Slumdog Millionire, became super inspired, and decided to write a poem from the perspective of an Indian character. To be safe, the writer shows this poem to her Indian friend who says that she approves of and loves the poem. This does not mean that every other individual who identifies with the Indian culture and race is going to like this poem, and that is okay, as long as the writer respects the validity of other’s differing experiences, feelings, and opinions.

I had a some degree of a difficult time articulating all of this, so please let me know what your thoughts are, places where you agree or disagree, and so forth.

-Christy L. Agrawal

On Ilya Kaminsky’s “We Lived Happily During the War”

While reading through the assigned poems I accidentally flipped back a page and was immediately intrigued by the line “and when they bombed other people’s houses, we.” The lower case “and” beginning gave the impression of an ongoing dialogue conveying the feeling of being stuck in shock or inner turmoil, almost as if the reader had entered into the middle of a perpetual confession. I didn’t read the title until after reading the first line, and although it wasn’t a difficult leap to make I enjoyed the complexity brought by the concepts of “living” and “happiness” mingling with “war.” As I kept on reading I found myself appreciating the line breaks

“but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was”

that left me with a sense of combined hesitance and breathlessness. I related this combination to the difficulty of acknowledging the moments in which we don’t do enough, or neglect to assume responsibility for the fact that we all exist in ecological communities. The last thing that caught my attention about this poem was the use of parentheses in the second to last line. I think that the parentheses afford the statement “we (forgive us)” a murkiness that is really important here, as it is left to the reader to decide if the speaker is requesting forgiveness from the reader/victims of war or stating the fact that the “we” (a pronoun which likely includes many American readers) have already forgiven one another.

-Christy L. Agrawal