Walt Whitman on contradiction;

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself”

I’ll admit, I don’t know the context of Whitman’s quote nor do I remember the specifics of Nate Pritts’ lecture that led to this quote, because it simply says that quote in my notes. What I do remember, is thinking that people are inherently flexible beings. Our views might change from one moment to the next, and as we write a poem, we might discover that its original meaning, intent and narrative might not fit the poem we are attempting to forge.

The very tone of the Whitman quote is almost nonchalant, unwieldy, and non-academic for such an accomplished poet. He does not seem to be rooted in reservations about contradicting himself, rather simply accepting the fact that people will be flexible beings whose views change over time.

I found that while writing “미안해/I’m sorry” that its explorations of alienation from one’s birth culture, language or family aim to explore bigger themes such as the intersectionality of language.

Thinking back to Whitman’s quote, his statement on one contradicting him or herself also refers to how one should be flexible to embrace changing meanings of their art, which I thought was interesting.

Writers write what they know;

I found this semester that my best poems came from ideas or experiences rooted in the most emotions. As a third culture kid, I often found myself writing about being home, finding someplace to “rest my bones” (as much of a cliche that is), and themes such as those.

On an almost unrelated note, I found that these pieces, talking about how hard living abroad or feeling alienated in a place I no longer had roots to (New Delhi, as my friends no longer lived there and I had graduated high school) had an extremely narrow audience, or could only be understood with a brief lecture or by somebody who had an extensive knowledge of my very non-typical background.

By writing poems that narrowed down on universal emotions such as loss but with a specific enough narrative that drew from my experiences as a third culture kid (TCK), I found my writing became raw yet unique, something I was trying to achieve in the first place.

So yes, writers will write what they know. But keep in mind your audience and what Nate Pritts said during his visit, that people are “hardwired, narrative, chronological beings”. I believe that we all have a story to tell, something unique yet, (please forgive me for this next word), relatable.

Blog Post: Architecture of a stanza as a wave

One of the first lessons in this workshop we had was that the stanza is a room, in the sense that it is both self-contained but also communicates with other parts of the poem. Thinking about this at the end of the workshop, it made more and more sense.

I think then I also thought of the stanza as being waves constantly crashing against the shores of the overall poem. The form of each stanza seemed to beat against the content, the meaning of the poem that I was forming through the very visual aesthetic of the poem. The lines of the poem would be like the incoming tide, often predictable or the lines could be short, brusque or unexpectedly long, like a storm, setting the mood either way for the reader.

In the sense that the stanza is a room with aspects of it flowing from previous lines to and to the next but also acting as a self-contained unit, the “waves” that beat the narrative or meaning also flow from one to the other. In brainstorming metaphors, I think that’s a pretty good one for the stanza and I think it’s interesting that while looking through my notebook, I found this particular metaphor (of the wave) on the very first lesson while reflecting.

I always have, even though I’ve broken more out of the habit after using form more rigidly this semester, written more from whatever came naturally with the story I had in mind, letting the poem flow. I think the waves of the thoughts that go through our head fit this metaphor, as those thoughts flow onto the page to form the poem itself. Of course, those waves might not look as it did initially, or even the same or even contain any of the original words in its final, published form but that’s what revision is for. I think as far as first drafts go, seeing each stanza, the flow of idea to sheet of paper or keyboard is a good start.

Poetry for an audience

Something I’ve struggled since the beginning of this workshop course is the audience I write for, more specifically one who doesn’t know my background. I find myself writing very specific and abstract poems about certain situations in my life that aren’t backed up by concrete imagery, something pointed out in my latest critique by Professor Smith. With my latest pieces (most recently “As I watch the seagulls fly away;”), I have been trying to stay away from such specific stories.

This one was about drifting apart from a friend, a poem crafted not out of a real conversation but our stances on 1) our drifting apart and 2) my leaving at the end of this year. I think that’s where the vague stance of the “you” and “we” came out especially.

Something else is that the connotations I have in my mind aren’t what everybody else has. For example, the connotation of seagulls might bring up summer walks along Port Jeff or Robert Moses Park in Long Island for some people, or the Atlantic City boardwalk, or a rocky beach along the coast of Oregon for some. Personally for me, the line

“what calls these grey-streaked,

curved beaks with scratches

from lunch-hours spent

hunting bread-crumbs ”

was written from a few moments watching seagulls (or gulls, as Evan pointed out) just happily go from bread crumb to bread crumb at lunch in front of Southside Cafe one day during freshman year. With this in mind, I think research as well as just broader consideration of what certain images (such as seagulls) might have for others.

I think the bottom-line is that it’s hard to juggle the line between concrete imagery that might have the wrong connotations to what I am trying to portray/the story I am trying to tell and abstractions that tell, rather than show, what I am trying to accomplish.

The former, with the wrong imagery, would be a poem with the wrong story and the latter would be a badly written poem that tells rather than shows its story. I hope by the end of this semester I can juggle this line better.

Linguistic Differences & Connotations

For my latest writing exercise on the pantoum / villanelle, I wrote a piece called “I’m sorry”, around the recent passing of my grandfather and how over the course of the last few days (since the 11th), certain phrases in different languages are not only not interchangeable, but impossible to use across the same context.

In English or I suppose Western societies, saying “I’m sorry” conveys empathy and sympathy. At a funeral, or in the context of loss, you are saying that you are there for company, consolation. When my grandfather passed away, I was at a loss for words – not because I was not sure what to say, but when I automatically went to say “I’m sorry” to my parents, it made no sense in Korean. I could instantly hear their reply in Korean, in genuine confusion as they would ask me what I am sorry for or why I am apologising. Instead, I asked how their flight was and attempted to distract my mother from the loss of her father.

I think this shows the priorities in a culture/language, that in English we instantly attempt to show empathy whereas in Korean or other languages, we focus on the present and future, consoling and attempting to live for those still present.

Here is my poem;

“I’m sorry”


I woke up to a text,

last Wednesday.

It was 4 am,

and the one before said

“Grandpa is sick”, – Sis


the one that woke me,

was at 5 –

“He didn’t make to the hospital” – Sis


I woke up to a text,

last Wednesday.


how do you comfort?

console the ones who raised you,

about the loss of their parent?


“I’m sorry”

doesn’t carry the same weight

in Korean,


I woke up to a text,

last Wednesday.


what words could there possibly be?

to a grandmother you talk to once a year

and see even less,


to your parents thousands of miles away,

as I stutter away in awkward Korean,

wishing “I’m sorry”

carried the same weight in Korean,

as it did in English.


I woke up to a text,

last Wednesday.

Blog Post #2: Taking apart post

Something that was said in class was that a stanza is always in movement, that it is like the coast of a sea, coming back to the same point with one constant message. I think we discussed on the 27th of January about this phenomenon, specifically how Chaucer kept coming back to a single message in his writing.

I think this is particularly true of my writing, because I often pose a question in the beginning of my writing (as I will with my first workshop piece, “Memorials in March”) and work to answer, denounce or prove that question.

I think the seeds or genesis of a poem is in a question we pose to ourselves or even to the world, because as writers or in a broader spectrum as people, we are curious beings that seek to find out more and more each day. Scientists do this through the scientific method, mathematicians do this through equations and artists do this by creating art and writers do this specifically by posing a question. A question in a poem need not come through the use of a question mark, but a situation that is not ordinary that creates questions in the reader’s mind.

When writing this post, I thought of John Donne’s The Sun Rising, where the speaker poses a question to the Sun why it disturbs and interrupts two lovers.

Whatever the message is in a poem, I think it is particularly true that as a writer, we seek to come back to a certain message that we pose, most often as a question.

Reaction to Szirtes reading

I think – or I like to think, that I am a visual and highly conceptual person. In this sense, form matters in my writing because it provides a way to block up and organize my ideas, whether it’s a progression of emotions or a story. Personally, I have found traditional forms such as haikus or meters a bit stifling, possibly because I do not have much practice with them but I can appreciate the form and structure they bring to poems as literary devices. As Szirtes says, “verse is not decoration, it is structural”. In his piece “Formal Wear: Notes on Rhyme, Meter, Stanza & Pattern”, he says several things that caught my attention.

The first of these was that ‘language is a very thin integument or skin stretched over a mass of inchoate impressions, desires and anxieties’ which connected with something else states in the piece, ‘poetry is the triumph of meaning and structure of chaos and meaningless’. In a world where there are a myriad of coincidences but also such a vastness that at times, nothing seems to make sense, the idea that poetry can bring order to the chaos of it all, seemed like a novel idea. Szirtes connects all sonnets and by extension all poetry on a higher plane by saying that ‘all sonnets share communion with other sonnets littering the landscape’, extending his idea of all art sharing a single space. I think it’s a widely held belief that art is in a separate world of its own from the rest of the world and what Szirtes says connects everything, which I found very interesting.