It’s spring break, and it’s past my bedtime, but I had to write this. I think my blog posts are getting crazier by the second, but stick with me here. What could I do to make my poetry sound like it’s under water? If you think I’ve lost it, close your eyes and listen to La Cathédrale Engloutie also known as The Sunken Cathedral. I remember my chorus teacher playing this piece for us because she wanted us to have more intention behind our singing. She played this without telling us the name of it, but at then end she asked for our guesses. We all guessed things that were dark, foreboding, and (most importantly) having to do with water. I can feel my mind fill with water when I listen to this. It sounds like a church falling into the ocean and settling on the sandy floor. Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing, but I can see the stained glass and the steeple. I wonder how I could do this, but with poetry. I’m not interested in a watery church, but I think it would be so cool if I could make a reader feel like they were underwater while reading my poem.
Now the reason I thought of this is Billie Eilish related. I’ve already revealed myself as a huge fan of her music, so I’ve got nothing to lose by obsessing over her a little more! I was listening to Lovely and I felt like I was back in choir hearing The Sunken Cathedral! Close your eyes and listen to that song, it’s absolutely underwater. I can feel the push and pull of the current dragging the water back and forth. The high parts? Feel like sitting at the bottom of a pool and opening your eyes, looking upward into the blurry sun. It’s an oxymoron of a feeling because it’s heavy but also floating. There are a couple other songs of hers that give this feeling too. Ocean Eyes and Everything I Wanted are the examples I’m thinking of right now.
I think this concept could go even further because listen to Clair de Lune and tell me you don’t feel moonlight on your skin! Not a Debussy fan? More of a Beethoven fan? Moonlight Sonata will also make you feel like you’re sitting on the roof of your childhood home at 1am, gazing up at the moon. I want to do that! Ever wanted to feel like you were sitting by a lake watching swans in the sun? Swan Lake Suite, Op 20: Scene: Enchanted Lake has you covered, but how can I do that without any sound, just words on paper?
If anyone has examples of poems that make you feel like you’re experiencing something ridiculously specific (being underwater, the moonlight on your skin, swan lake) please link them to me. I have nothing better to do than to procrastinate my real work by reading poems, being jealous, and trying new things in my poetry! In return, I will link you a song that I think will inspire you. Even if you don’t have a poem for me to read, I’ll give you a song to inspire you because my atlas of awesome songs needs to be put to use somehow. I hope you are all having relaxing spring breaks and sleeping more than I am!
I write a lot more than ever gets shown to anyone. I think that’s how it should be, not everything needs to make it to a final draft, the act of writing itself is good to practice. However, I’ve noticed what my “poetic obsessions” are because I’ve been writing a lot lately. I’m wondering what I should do about it. Do I avoid “yellow walls” after writing ten poems with yellow walls in them? Or should I embrace the fact that I love alliteration with the letter “s” so much even when it’s obnoxious? I’m not sure how to approach this realization. I never set out to have an unnamed “he” be the villain of my poem or go on tangents about beautiful women, but I always end up there.
I’ve also been noticing obsessions in other poet’s work too. I’m currently reading Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa which has so many reoccurring things: foods/eating, the backs of knees, religion. Furthermore, we just met Erin Kae who told us about her poetic obsession with eggs. Both of those poets use their obsessions beautifully, and each time they mention a motif, the meaning just builds and builds. I’m starting to think I just have to write a collection just for myself!
What do you do with your poetic obsessions? What are your poetic obsessions? I’m interested!
Anyway, here are some of the obsessions that I’ve noticed I have so far.
– Yellow walls
– Unnamed “he” who is the villain
– Women that the poem’s speaker is in love with
– Colors especially red and pink
– Words that start with “s”
– Giving the reader instructions
– Sleep and sleeping
– The odd feeling of having been born in 1998 and not belonging to the millennial generation, but being distinctly different from people born 2000 and after
My very first class here at Geneseo in fall of 2016 was ENGL 203 Reader & Text: Adaptation & Discipline with Professor Harrison. The class was all about works of literature that are adapted over and over by other people. In this class we read Goodbye to Berlin which was adapted into the play I Am a Camera which was then adapted into the musical Cabaret. The class was really interesting because I loved learning about the impact of adaptation, and we also read Trilby and watched its adaptations. However, for this post I want to focus on I Am a Camera. Ever since I read that play, I have been obsessed with the idea of a writer/artist as a human camera. I mentioned it in class about Erin Kae’s Grasp This Salt. I think that the concept of documenting someone else’s story (even if it’s your own story i.e. separating the poet from the speaker of the poem) is a great way to think about a narrative or vignette-style poem.
I think a really cool “camera” writing exercise would be to do some good old fashioned people watching! At home I like to sit in the mall and people watch, but that mall has had a string of violent crimes lately, so I’m starting to develop a fear of malls. Anyway! A great Geneseo substitute is the Union. I like to sit in Starbucks and eavesdrop on conversations. Being a camera is great because it gives you distance from the poem, and with the distance you have more room to lie or be fictitious in writing. I find it really difficult to lie in my writing when I’m too close to the piece. I recommend everyone try to people watch a little this weekend!
I will admit that I am writing this without any research, but I wanted to get this idea down before I forgot it. In class today we talked about language, and someone brought up that people think in words, and Professor Smith talked about writing poetry in a language that is yours and is not yours. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think in pictures and words. The way I’ve explained my brain in the past is that it’s like going to the TV section of Best Buy and there’s a different station on every single screen, but you can see all of them at once. There’s a screen that has all the words I’m hearing, there’s a screen that has my thoughts as words on it, there’s a screen that has whatever song lyrics that are stuck in my head on it, there’s a screen that has whatever I’m seeing, a screen with the picture representations of whatever I’m thinking of, and so on. It’s very crowded and chaotic. However, if people can think in pictures, could we write poetry in pictures? We write books in pictures (graphic novels).
I’m not talking about paintings or photographs because those are stationary in a way that poetry is not. I mean could poetry exist as a visual representation? I think that it could. Literacy is so much more than most people realize. It’s possible to be literate in more than just languages. Coding is a great example of something that isn’t a traditional language, but is something you can be literate in. Another example is graphic novels. Those take a completely different type of literacy to read. The most abstract example I will give in memes. Some people can look at a picture and find the humor behind it because they are “literate” in memes while someone else will just see a random picture.
Going off of these different types of literacy, I wonder what poetry would look like if it were all in pictures. Because people can understand graphic novels, it’s possible! I think that this idea might look like a comic you’d see in a newspaper, but vertical instead of horizontal and more abstract than cartoon. I’m not sure that any of this made sense, but if anyone knows of some completely visual poems, I would be so interested in reading them!
I mentioned this poem in a comment on a classmate’s post, but I want to write more about it! Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make” is within my top ten poems of all time. I highly recommend that every person listen to this poem (especially because every one has had at least one teacher in their life). Here is a link to the poem ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGKm201n-U4 ). I could talk about the content of this poem until my face goes blue, but that’s because I’m a future teacher, and teachers don’t go into teaching to become rich in money. What I want to talk about is the style that Taylor Mali uses in this poem.
I think it would be really interesting to write more “what I make” poems. I don’t think I could write my own version of “What Teachers Make” without plagiarizing, but writing from another community I belong to might be interesting. In class, we wrote about different, specific communities that we belong to, and it might be worth trying to write what we make as a member of that community. For example, one of my communities was “Women who have a dad, three brothers, and a nephew who are all hockey goalies.” I’ve never met anyone else who fits that description, but it might be interesting to dive further into what I do in that role that I fulfill. It might sound something like “I make brothers spend hours in the street catching slap-shots.” Although, I think that it would be much more interesting to see what other professions would look like in this style of poem. I’d love to read “What Professors Make” or “What Authors Make.”
Something else really interesting would be the opposite of “What Teachers Make.” I’m not thinking about what teachers lose but rather “What Makes Teachers.”
If anyone decides to make their own version of “What Blank Makes,” please share it with me! I would love to see how it turns out.
In all things I do, I’m and educator. It’s impossible for me to do anything without bringing education into it, so while I thought about what I could write this week, education came to my mind as it often does. I can (and probably will) write so many posts on poetry and education, but this week I want to air out a grievance I’ve had since student teaching last semester.
Being the “cool English teacher” that I am, I assigned poetry as a final project for my 10th graders who had just finished The House on Mango Street. I tasked them with taking one vignette from the novel and creating a found poem in the shape of an important symbol from the novel. I thought this was a pretty awesome final project. It was certainly one I would have loved to do in high school. However, my students hated it! My rowdy class actually started yelling at me when I assigned this. I want to know why so many students (and people in general) hate poetry.
I think that it has a lot to do with teachers. English teachers either don’t teach poetry or they teach it in such a way that makes students resent it. So many English teachers refuse to introduce new poetry into the classroom. I truly believe that if it weren’t for teachers beating “The Road Not Taken” to death and then not touching any other poetry, students might enjoy poetry more. That’s not to say Robert Frost isn’t great, I just don’t think he’s the best introduction to poetry. First of all, students like to see themselves represented, and teacher’s who only teach white, male poets are doing a disservice to their students. I remember having to research a poet in tenth grade. I had to pick from a long list of white, male poets who were all long dead. There were only three women on that list, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton, and there was only one poet of color, Langston Hughes. I picked Sexton purely because she was a woman I had never heard of. So many students were not able to see themselves in the poets on that list. Nevertheless, that list is the standard for English teachers if they want to teach poetry at all.
Schools and teachers need to be more open to teaching modern poetry. I hate to hear “but that won’t be on the Regents.” Not everything students need to learn will be on the Regents! Teachers should include more modern and diverse poets (this is not to say we shouldn’t still teach Robert Frost, there just needs to be a better mix of poets) when teaching poetry. That way more students might even enjoy their poetry assignments. This is a side note, but teaching creative writing is a whole separate post.
There is a happy ending to my students who hated their assignment at first. They ended up writing some fantastic poetry! A lot of the students actually liked the assignment way more than they thought they would. In fact, the student who protested the assignment the most, wrote one of the best poems, and enjoyed the assignment the most. He actually gave me an extra copy of his poem because he wanted me to be able to read it and “remember my favorite student” as he put it. If anyone wants to read it, I still have it!
A surprise to no one, my introduction to poetry was music. My eighth grade English teacher was the first teacher I had who taught poetry in his class. He explained poetry to us as music. Mr Mo was awesome, and he let us listen to our iPods while we wrote poetry because he said the music would inspire us. I was so happy to be allowed to have my iPod in class, that I took these poetry assignments seriously. This introduction to poetry made me have a huge focus on sound in my poems. I am admittedly nervous for the class to read my poem out loud because it won’t sound like it does in my head. That’s a good thing, it’ll let me learn how it sounds to other people at least.
Because I took the poetry assignments seriously, Mr Mo decided to invite me to perform in the high school poetry slam. That was a huge deal to me as a lowly eighth grader. I didn’t win, but I got to hang out with a bunch of high school poets. Basically I thought I was the coolest kid alive. I threw myself into poetry after that. I was a Button Poetry and Brave New Voices addict. It wasn’t until tenth grade that I really encountered classic poetry and forms other than free-verse and slam poetry.
I stopped writing poetry almost entirely when I got to college. Nearly four years later, I’m in two poetry writing classes. I’ve learned that my introduction to poetry back in middle school has definitely stuck with me. I still write all my poems while listening to music. I also tend to read my poem out loud as I write it to see how each syllable and phoneme sounds exactly how I want it to. The difference between now and then is that I am slowly starting to care about how the poem looks on the page. The first poem I submitted for workshop has the beginning of every line capitalized and little to no punctuation. That wasn’t on purpose. It didn’t occur to me to care about how it looks. The look of a poem is something that doesn’t matter in slam poetry. I never thought that anyone would read my poems. In the past, people have only ever heard me read my own poems in slams. It’s interesting to think back to eighth grade with Mr Mo, my beat up composition notebook, and my iPod Shuffle. It makes me feel really nostalgic.
The biggest complaint my past roommates have had about me is that I listen to music from the moment I open my eyes in the morning to the second I close them at night. For me, music is inseparable from my emotions and memories. I turn to music when I’m writing because music is my scrapbook. My memories and feelings are documented in the music I was listening to when I felt a certain way or something important happened. Because I listen to so much music, it’s difficult to name specific songs that have resulted in poems without going far beyond 300 words. However, I will name a couple that contributed to the last poem I wrote. That poem, “Museum,” was inspired by nostalgia, so these songs are all ones I listened to when I was younger. “Up Up and Away” by Romance on a Rocketship, “The Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid CuDi, “Say My Name” by ODESZA and Zyra, “Hello, Brooklyn” by All Time Low, “Fall for You” by Secondhand Serenade, and “I Miss You” by Blink-182 are a few of the songs that make me feel the emotion I’m trying to convey in “Museum.” Music doesn’t just inspire the content of my poems either. I care more about the sound of my poems than their appearance. The sound my poetry makes is also inspired by music. Recently I’ve been interested in awkward cadences. Two songs that show this are “Daphne Blue” by The Band CAMINO and “Nicknames” by Dayglow. These songs create tension in the way that singer pauses in the middle of sentences, and that tension is resolved in the chorus. This particular sound is something I’d like to explore in poetry.