I’m surprised that in such a savvy course such as this, we’ve somehow totally circumvented the subject of zines. Zines are small, largely individually produced “magazines” (though many, if not most, tend to be smaller than that) that can address any topic under the sun. In fact, that’s the large appeal of zines: because they are so easy to send out and to physically produce (the actual creation process is, of course, a different story), fans of particular niche subjects can purchase zines regarding them relatively easily. And there’s also something to be said about interacting with zines that have nothing to do with something you’re interested in! I have a small collection of them, and one of my favorites is a small booklet of poetry all about how much the author hates John Green, putting the author in all of these distressing situations to explore misogyny and contempt. I don’t think I’ve touched a John Green book since I was thirteen; I certainly don’t have enough in me to hate the guy. But that doesn’t take away from the craft of the zine about him I own!
They look a little like this, if you’re wondering:
Looking up how to make them, physically speaking, will yield thousands of results, so I’m not going to go on much about printing and such. But I do want to bring up the fact that many zines, while made by a single (or handful) of people, can often take submissions from writers around the world. It’s a really low pressure, easy way to see some of your work in print; often when I am facing a writing block, I look up zines in search of submissions (I usually look on this independent publisher’s site for those; looks like the pickings are a bit slim this week!) and write according to what they are looking for. It’s a lot easier to submit to one than an actual literary magazine, and frankly, is more fun too. Many of them are looking for poetry or text submissions, and it’s fun to go out and find them!
Slang as a concept is fascinating – little verbal workarounds and implied connotations to construe a concept. It is not always used for the best means – how many slang terms were created on sexist, racist, heteronormative grounds? – nor is it always sourced properly – how many slang terms are taken from AAVE and then profited off of from majority white entities? – but it is a cultural machine, nonetheless.
And yet, slang has largely two paths laid out before it. It’ll either get absorbed into the English language, thus becoming mainstream, or it falls out of use. Interestingly enough, either path tends to strip the slang of its original context (and frankly, so does the act of popularizing and using slang, such as staples of drag culture falling out of ballrooms and into the Twitter blogosphere). When you read lists of old slang, you’re often left wondering the wheres, whys, and hows. To get NSFW for a second, check out this Wikipedia list of sexual slang terms. Some are recent (himbo is one, which I find hilarious), some are mainstream, some are completely new (“Swaffelen”, anyone?). But a lot of them bend words and roots we may or may not be familiar with into a definable word – a fascinating act.
I feel as if it would be a fun exercise for you to take a list of slang words, select one or two, and write a poem centered around the concept, or taking imagery from it. Take “the bee’s knees”, which is occasionally used somewhat ironically but was in fact in full linguistic force first to describe something insignificant, and then changed meanings to be something cool – imagine a poem about bees swarming around and inside your knees, or other bones. “Don’t have a cow”? What would the process be for a women giving birth to a cow, anyway? Probably messy. There’s a lot to work with there.
There’s a potential source of inspiration that some of you might be interested in checking out. The Brooklyn Art Library serves a very specific function to its local and global community – it is the physical storehouse of thousands of sketchbooks. These sketchbooks are not taken from the estates of famed contemporaries, nor do they hold any historical value. They are specifically the notebooks of normal people. For twenty dollars (and a little extra if you’d like your book to be digitized), you can buy a sketchbook from the Brooklyn Art Library, do whatever you’d like to it – draw, doodle, write, paint, paste, etc. – send it back to them, and it will forever be a part of their archives. It’s called the Sketchbook Project. These sketchbooks can be rented out within the library and read, as well as accessed online by the larger world – all with the intention of giving voices to people who normally would not know where to submit their work to, if they ever even considered submitting their work. I’ve seen people give these sketchbooks to children, whose art is usually looked over.
There are first-time and not-so-first-time poets who write about their trauma (TW for abuse).
Those are just two categories I’ve noticed; I wouldn’t want to take away the experience of you exploring the digital library for yourself. But there’s a lot of poetry on there written by all sorts of people from all different walks of life; just searching “poetry” yields 692 results in multiple languages, skill levels, etc. And there’s a bunch of visual art that isn’t published anywhere other than within these digitized journals, either. It’s worth looking through!
In Tumblr’s high times before the adult content ban forced away most of its users (fun fact, I am quoted by name as a “furby enthusiast” in Vox Media’s article covering the debacle), there existed a form of “art” – one can argue about whether or not it actually was – on the site that I’ve never actually seen replicated anywhere else. Site users would create blogs dedicated to them getting over/coping with childhood trauma and would create what was called vent art. Vent art as a concept is not unique to Tumblr, but the form of vent art they would create was. It was simple: they would take a black-and-white coloring book page, or use MS Paint/other childhood paint computer programs, or somehow involve child media vector, and in big font over the image would write something related to how much pain they were in. Like so:
I can’t help but feel like – well, know like – there is an application for this in poetry. Like taking a children’s coloring book and writing poetry inside of the margins of the art. Or layering photography into your poetry. There’s something so raw and uncomfortable about this artwork because you know it’s genuine and real; someone is using it to come to terms with something horrible that happened to them as a child. And there is a poetry in it – changing the placement of words, the font that is used, the background that is set. What do you think?
It’s an inevitability that you encounter poet Phillip Larkin’s piece “This Be the Verse” at some point within your poetry career. Sometimes it’s an embittered eleventh English teacher who shows it to you partly because its use of the word “fuck” will catch your class’ attention long enough that they stop texting under the desks, partly because they have their own shit going on. It’s a short enough poem that it makes the rounds on platforms like Facebook, lends itself to Pinterest typography, can be photographed from poetry collections using Snapchat filters and sepia for Tumblr. “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. /They may not mean to, but they do.” Well-constructed as the rest of the poem might be, there’s little need to read the rest of it. Those two lines bleed universality. It doesn’t matter how idyllic your childhood was; no parent/guardian is perfect, and they dropped the ball at some point. If they were even holding one to begin with.
How, then, do you integrate universality into poetry? If a poem is interpreted to be a snapshot stuck somewhere between the author and the outside world – depending on where you believe the source is – how do you write a line that can be so applicable to most of the population without being so vague as to devalue the poem as a whole? There are very few universal experiences to begin with – being raised by something or some entity, no matter how removed or of what quality, is one of them – and what does that leave us with?
What’s the reasoning behind my impulse to write poetry; who is the little man behind the green curtain? It’s probably the same inclination that made me gay; or it could be the flu shot. That time my baby-fat ankle got stuck in a banister at summer camp and three grown adults had to hoist me out while I first learned the consequences of my body, or the Tamagotchi that Zannia Zie took from me on the bus and completely fucking reset to the egg stage even though I had just raised the thing to adulthood which, for the record, is incredibly difficult, especially when you have thirteen of them on one lanyard and are constantly begging your mom to go to CVS for watch batteries before you lose all of your progress. It’s the spontaneity at which I slip paint sample cards into my pockets at Wal-Mart, or how I handle my desk garden of cacti with my bare hands because finding the worksafe gloves is too hard, twenty dollars I spent on them be damned. It’s all the daddy longlegs I pull from out from under my bed between my fingertips and name Samuel before tossing them out into the cold to die. An improvisation of authority and organization. That time my stupid bitch of a Spanish teacher made me cry because I couldn’t pronounce “isosceles” in Spanish, no less make one on my pegboard. All of the times I say “stupid bitch” despite having a Women and Gender Studies minor. The steak knife I think I’ve still forgotten to remove from under my childhood dresser, which I stowed there first to fix the broken 3DS my mother snapped in half out of anger and second to take slices out of my arm in case I needed to make someone worry. The time that I didn’t actually do that because blood would have made me cry. Stupid bitch. All fifty of the furbies I have scattered around; I used to name them all and now it’s getting hard to remember all that. It probably comes from somewhere; exists unwritten inside of me, or something. I prefer to think of it as something I have to win over in order for it to exist with gifts and kisses and sweet nothings.
I am what may be gently referred to as a “packrat”. Any harsher than that and I’ll get too defensive for you to convince me to edge the Vogue Magazine back issues I’ve been hoarding under my bed for some time now into the recycling bin. Paper tends to be my weakness for its flexibility – I decorated my walls last year exclusively with the legs of X-Acto-wrested models, now it’s several images from the American Got Milk? campaign. Just over a month ago I insisted on taking my girlfriend on a tour of Sturges, convinced that the building was on its last legs given the recent mass exodus of the health staff, clubs, and history professors, solely for the purpose of taking what they had all left behind – paper. Doodles, advertisements, misdated posters, flyers for STD prevention – I shoved it all into a cardboard box and took it back to my house for a gleeful day of cutting, snipping, and otherwise repurposing. Several totes and, most recently, one particularly large accordion file in my room are dedicated to holding these paper cutouts. Catalogues and fliers are dissected by me for their crispest images, most catching typography, and whatever else I’m convinced that I can make use of (hint, there’s a wide berth). Advertisements in particular fascinate me: remove the product and logo, and many an ad instantly becomes some form of basic-level poetry; or at least highly motivational, at worst.
Wresting the means of art from companies and salvaging it from trash-bins is where my inspiration comes from – dipping my hand into my store and being able to draw out bits of a child’s hand-written homework, a Gucchi model whose eyes I accidentally removed with a poor scissor cut, and a double entendre from a Sun Chips advert sans the chips is the ultimate literary grab-bag; your mind can’t help but working it all over to make a cohesive narrative, just like what happens when we dream.