I spent most of last week writing a long poem about a lot of things but mainly grapefruits and my friend Aeryn. She wanted me to write it, and I wanted to write it, and when I was done writing it, she asked if she could post it to Instagram and I made a noise like ‘hnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngnnnnnnnn’. I’m a very private person, which juxtaposes in the worst possible way with being a poet— sometimes I make poems vaguer before submitting them to workshop, sometimes I have to do the writing exercise of the week over again before I feel comfortable sharing it, sometimes I write poems about things and reread them, realizing that even in my head I can only talk about them by talking around them, never allowing things to come into focus. You get it.
Is it ever really the role of the readers to know what a poem is about? Is that ever your business? I think not. I know that feels rude, and I do think it’s wonderful when poems are open about their meaning, freely accessible and available for others with similar experiences to relate to. I just prefer poems that are hyper-specific, with proper nouns and weird references. I want to write poems and have strangers read them and think that they are beautiful and weird and sad, and then I want my friends to read those poems and laugh and know who and what they are about.
The expectations of openness are different for poetry than anything else (except creative non-fiction which is maybe almost worse). If I were a Physics major, I could simply share my physics homework and never worry about whether or not my classmate saw through it and into me, suddenly burdened with profound knowledge about what shapes me into a human. They would only know that I was terrible at math and probably should not be a physics major. There’s too much of myself in poetry, just right there in the open for anyone to see. Sometimes I get anxiety sweats the night before workshop, imagining someone asking me what the poem means, exactly.
I let Aeryn post the poem, eventually, because I felt bad for denying her the opportunity to share it. Once I let her into the poem, it wasn’t really just mine anymore, and, to be fair, nothing bad happened. My mother did not erupt from the earth and shame me for bringing open emotions to our stoic Irish ancestors, no one informed me that my acceptance into the creative writing track was an elaborate prank, there were no locusts or rivers of blood. There was only me and Aeryn and a few hundred readers, suddenly burdened by intimate knowledge. Or maybe not.
I’ve spent so long trying to capture and express my thoughts on poetry over the past week that my laptop charged completely before I wrote this sentence. Poetry flows in a constant undercurrent below my conscious thoughts, and it’s harder to shine my attention onto it than I thought it would be. I’ve been thinking about ‘found’ poetry a lot, I guess, in as much as one can think about something and only realize what they were thinking about in retrospect. This week I read “Day-Old Baby Rats” by Julie Hayden and I can’t stop quietly reflecting upon how she uses italics. It’s like she has a little poem-yolk enclosed within the short story.
I’ve been taking note of the seemingly unintentionally poetic things I hear in my classes, but so far nothing’s really come from that. On Monday, (as a joke) my friend Grant asked me to write a poem about Han Solo. On Tuesday, I pushed through a morose hangover by writing a terrible poem about Han Solo and I will never show it to anyone. I miss my mom a lot this week, so she’s been haunting everything I write— even more so than usual. I feel like that makes it sound like she’s dead, but she isn’t. She’s just very ghost-like.
The best poem I read this week was “Death and Tacos”, by Nathaniel Whittmore. I like poems with kids in them, and I like the casual and authentic conversation captured within it. I keep reading / learning / talking about cancer this week, so that might have been part of the poems’ appeal. On Saturday I caught fire. When the flames were climbing my bangs my first thought was “wow I think I’ll write a poem about this”, and then I didn’t. I think I will eventually, but I just don’t know how the fire connects to the rest of my life right now. I’ve been keeping books of poetry in my bag for some reason unknown to me. I guess it just feels right. In the event of a hostage situation, I’ll have something to do, at least. That’s all.
I ended up writing poetry in a way that felt natural but accidental: more a tumble than a growth. When I really reflect upon it, I think I honestly owe it to an inherent and intense hatred of math. I fell in love with language in the first grade, as my teacher always gave us the choice between free-reading or writing continually higher and higher numbers on a scroll. I invariably chose to free-read, and I proceeded to get super into books for the rest of my life. The earliest poem I remember writing was in third grade, about an imaginary mix between a cat and a bunny— very creatively entitled ‘Catabunny”. Following that, I remember writing some (horrible, horrible) poetry in middle school, but it was never out of some instinctive draw to the art form. I guess I took vague inspiration from poets on Tumblr, as much as it pains me to admit it, but I wasn’t thinking about it as poetry, just as a form of journaling. I was a very sad middle schooler 🙁 . In high school, I was part of the literary magazine, and I think that played a very large role in my getting into poetry. At some point in reading my peers’ poems, I was like “man, I could do a better job than that”, and so my poetry path was born! I had the fortune of having really incredible English teachers throughout high school, and they were vital in my development as a writer. From the moment I decided I wanted to be an English major, (a moment I genuinely cannot remember) I knew I wanted to do poetry. It feels very natural to me, and I find that poetry is often simply my way of interacting and understanding the world around me. Once I write a poem about something, I can stop thinking about it constantly. I guess I’ll keep writing poetry until I either die or that stops happening, whichever comes first.
For me, this past summer was filled with margaritas and disposable days. I felt greedy, hoarding these hours with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It’s nice to be back to a more scheduled life, to return to a classroom setting where I’m pushing myself to create poems rather than waiting for them to come to me.
When I’m writing organically, my poem ideas usually start as one-word concepts: glacial, locusts, larvae. So in class, it was an easy transition for me to shift from attempting to capture the image words invoke into defining what they mean to me. I had forgotten how nice it was to be surrounded by writers, a community of people looking to write and explore poetry and translation together.
I’m excited to see where this next semester takes me and my writing! I’ve always viewed poetry as my way of continually interacting with the mutable world around me, so the constantly changing nature of translation really intrigues me. The truest and most beautiful thing that pushes me into creating is the way that nothing lasts. Everything changes and passes. The creative process is just that. Not a means to an end, but a way to engage with being alive. I hope to improve my skills and continue to learn techniques that will bring my writing to a more advanced level.