Hey all. Thanksgiving Break is coming to a close, and it’ll be time to get back to the final grind to end this semester. Our rounds of workshop revisions will also be over, but we all know there’s more to come when we finally sit down to complete that final portfolio. It took me forever just to get through the revision I handed in to class; so, of course, I always get nervous around this time. In fact, I find it much easier to write an entirely new poem than to revise an old one. How does everyone else work through the revision process? Do all of you tend to open a blank page and start anew, or do you just build off of the poem that’s in front of you? Seriously, though, I’d love some advice–perhaps if I utilize the same techniques as all of you, the revision process won’t be something that I’ll always dread. Cheers!
Okay, so I got home about 20 minutes ago, and I thought I’d look through my old notes from Fiction Workshop I. After rummaging through a few piles of annotations and responses, I came across a treasure trove of a website that hopefully will inspire all of you in your future writing endeavors! A street photographer by the name of Vivian Maier has a few collections with myriads of photos taken of people and places in New York and Chicago in the 50s and 60s. Most are in black and white, but there are also two sections in color. My challenge to all of you is to find a photo that strikes you or in some way intrigues you, and write a poem. Perhaps your poem will respond to the picture or be informed by it. If you are able to concoct a piece of writing, this exercise can always be something you refer back to if you’re ever stuck because of writer’s block. But of course, in the future, don’t limit yourselves to just poetry! Photographs can inspire any type of writing, after all. Hope this satiates everyone’s creative hunger. Cheers!
The poem that was chosen as the heading for the first “playlist” (since we’re focusing on sound,music, etc.) of poems in the collection, “To Whoever Set My Truck on Fire” caught my attention after the utterance of its first line: “But let us be friends awhile and understand our differences”. After reading the title, I had assumed that the poem would begin with a spiteful, hate-filled voice, but instead it begins with reason. Of course, that’s not to say that the poem doesn’t eventually spiral downward in a flurry of emotions in which the voice once filled with reason is left with sweltering anger. But it wasn’t the voice that urged me to keep reading the poem; it was the format. A poem of 8 quintains (hopefully I’m using that term correctly) with one period and 8 commas is not for the faint of heart. The quintains and the white space between them would normally force readers to slow down, but the lack of punctuation creates a burst in speed that not only lends to the poem but to the dynamism of the voice/narrator on display. There is narrative here, most evident in the voice’s sudden awakening to their burning vehicle but also in the exposition that follows right up until the very end. But the poem is also lyrical because of its great lack of punctuation–there is a loss of air because of its wordiness; because of the space that it takes up on the page. The poem has its fallacies, especially towards the end when the speaker’s violent musings come to the surface; the lyricism and complexity lessens. I suppose I mention this piece because long-lined poems scare me, and the fact that Scafidi can pull off the technique confidently without a reasonable amount of punctuation makes me jealous. And to go even further than that, at the end of the day, my jealousy is simply another form of great admiration.
So, as a few of you may know, I’ve been listening to an up-and-coming rapper named Kendrick Lamar. If you haven’t heard of him or listened to his music, I beg of you please check him out–he’s doing things that I’ve never seen done in the Hip Hop genre before (which is what I’m going to talk about in this post). Lamar hails from a pretty rough area in Compton, California and considers himself a person who has triumphed over the poverty in his neighborhood and the gang life that seems to pull in and kill many of the inhabitants of his community. His music is living proof that he has championed a life devoted to optimism and worship. However, what I’ve been meaning to tell you this whole time is that Kendrick has somehow made Hip Hop more poetic than it’s ever been. We’ve been talking about form can mirror context in poetry. For example, if one writes about Niagara Falls they may utilize form to create an image of cascading water. What Kendrick Lamar does is no different. In his two songs “Sing About Me/I’m Dying of Thirst” and “u,” Lamar uses background noises to mirror his lyrics. I’d explain more about it here, but I don’t want to give any spoilers. It’s definitely a much more profound experience when listened to without any specific introduction. So check these two songs out; I’ll post the lyrics here as well. Tell me what you think, and I hope all of you fall in love with his music as I have.
P.S. “u” may be a little difficult to like unless it is experienced with the entire album
So, while working on my portfolio, I came across this sudden feeling that the specific poem that I was working on needed to have a curse in it! That’s never happened to me before! In the past, I’ve always been worried about curses in my own writing and I’ve been skeptical of it in other peoples’ work. I guess it’s because we are trained to write poems that are “poetic;” poems that “sound and look beautiful.” Curses, I suppose, can detract from this sense of beauty and “poeticism.” I used to feel as if curses took the reader out of a poem–a curse is just so loud even without italics, or bold, or an exclamation point. So my question to all of you is: what do you feel about curses in poems? Have any of you ever used curse words (and if none of you are super shy about it, could you quote the line(s) with the curse(s) in it)?
Some of you know that poetry is relatively new to me. In fact, I began to write poetry consistently just before I applied to the Creative Writing track. In other words, I wasn’t even expecting to be accepted into this workshop. Yet, in the few weeks that I’ve had workshop with you beautiful people, I find myself discovering more about my own particular voice by analyzing everyone else’s. I specialize in Fiction, and for most of my life I’ve been developing my voice in my short story writing. I’ve come to a complete halt now, resting with the techniques of Raymond Carver, Ray Bradbury, and Cormac McCarthy. Yet, my voice in my poetry is completely different. I like to be wordy and abstract in my poetry. I like to play with margins and line-breaks (something I’ve never done before this class). Yet, for some reason poetry still confuses and scares me. I can’t wrap my head around poetic interpretation and understanding which has recently affected my urge to verbally participate in workshop. Is my interpretation of so-and-so’s piece valid? Will I look stupid? Are the suggestions of an amateur even worthy of recognition? In my years of reading and writing fiction I’ve noticed a pattern in a majority of works: A produces B, and in turn B produces C. This is the natural flow of prose writing if you think of “A” as the beginning, “B” as the middle, and “C” as the conclusion. Yet, poetry can completely break free from these rules. In poetry time and space don’t necessarily have to be defined. And this renunciation of the rules of short story writing that I’m all too accustomed with scares the shit out of me. A short story about a boy riding his bike to the corner store sounds simple, but with added parallelism and metaphors the story will become well defined; the interpretation can be made obvious. Yet one poem can mean a thousand things to a thousand people. Then again, I could be completely wrong about everything I’ve just said. In any case, I need everyone’s help! Help me to not be scared of poetry anymore!!!!!!
I came across the Indie-Rock Folk band Fleet Foxes not too long ago. In 2011 the band released, Helplessness Blues, a song that I fell deeply in love with the first time it blasted from my TV speakers. It received critical acclaim and was considered one of the best songs of the year. The meaning behind its lyrics are still debated to this day. Some people believe that the song is about the American person’s need to become something greater; to find self-worth in the work that they do. Some believe that the song is about a man growing up and realizing that he is not as special and significant, in the grand scheme of things, as he once thought. And others believe that the song is about Capitalism and the dominance of the government on the average person’s life.
Despite what many think, it is obvious that the song is at its strongest at the very end. The rhythm slows and the bass deepens followed by the band members consistently singing: “If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore.” I feel as if the orchard in this statement stands for many things. Like literature itself, interpretations are varied and numerous. I’d love to know what you lovely folks think of the song and its lyrics. What emotions are emitted in the sounds of the combined instruments? What do you see as you listen to the lyrics? What do you think “Orchard” means in the song? Or, better yet, what does it mean to you? Cheers.
The lyrics can be found here: http://rock.genius.com/Fleet-foxes-helplessness-blues-lyrics