Not Poetry….?

One thing that has me unhappy is that I have already taken two poetry workshops, and therefore need to take a workshop that isn’t poetry. Moving away from what makes me comfortable has always been something I try to do, but poetry is, and has always been, my solace. I know I can keep writing poetry while I’m taking the other course, whether it be fiction or CNF, but I am very nervous about submitting work to one of these factions, considering I don’t really know how or what to write about for them. 

I have written brief pieces of fiction in the past, usually genre fiction, so horror or sci-fi work. I recently tried to start a piece, but couldn’t extend the work past a few pages without getting angry with my work. I always write long poems, but apparently can only write short fiction. The most I have with a fiction piece is around 2 pages. I don’t know how to extend my work to 5-10. I wrote in third person omniscient, the only way I can think of to make it longer is to just keep adding weird little additives from obscure places like the point of view of crows and ants. But there’s a lot that I am unsure of when it comes to fiction. I love reading short stories, but I’m not entirely sure how to write one that fits into the genre of literary fiction. 

In terms of CNF, I am scared to really work on it. The only things that I can think to write on are deeply personal, traumatic events, including the near-death of my mother, time spent with a past abuser, and the suicide of a really close friend of mine in high school. I suppose there are a few ways to go about writing CNF, perhaps detailing in extreme detail past events, using archaeological evidence and historical documents to detail the purpose of those events, but wouldn’t that be considered historical fiction, and therefore not a viable way to write? If I write about my own personal life, I would feel as though I was dumping emotions onto the workshop, when really I should be sending those as letters to my therapist. There are a lot of questions I have and I don’t really know how to figure out what to do. 

I know that the skills I will learn from these workshops will be so helpful for me as a writer and for the future. It’s just difficult to switch gears when I have become so enthused by poetry, and so familiar within that form of creativity. It’ll be a change that I will most certainly need help with, though I definitely should have thought more about the application earlier in the semester, seeing as I now have about five days to pull 5-10 pages of an unfamiliar genre out of my ass. We’ll see how it goes, any advice is DEEPLY appreciated. 

Source from Written Works

I like to think that I have a fairly full and diverse bookshelf, both at college and at home. Some of these titles can easily reflect in my work, some of them can’t. Each has a certain aspect that can be viewed as a form of “source” for poetry, and each can provide an infinite number of ideas. Here are some titles.

  • The House of the Spirits, Isabelle Allende (historical fiction, magical realism)
    • For when you need to escape, and if you like ghosts
  • What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love?, Raymond Carver (literary fiction)
    • A subtle, yet real-world escape from common day pressures, an analysis of events
  • Where The Sidewalk Ends, Shell Silverstein (poetry)
    • Tell me you don’t love his work. We all have some inner child somewhere.
  • Brodeck, Philippe Claudel (historical fiction)
    • A look at Nazi occupation in France through an unreliable narrator. Deals with tragedy in a way that is poetic and well written. I wrote a huge essay on this one for IB English in high school.
  • Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton (fiction)
    • A study of a Massachusetts hillbilly according to 1911 standards. Pretty funny.
  • Handbook for William, Dhuoda (primary historical source)
    • A look at expectations for both men and women in the early middle ages. Was written by a common woman, so it is a very rare account of not only everyday life but also how common people were expected to act.
  • To Keep from Undressing, Aisha Shariff (poetry)
    • Met Shariff last year when she read at Geneseo. The collection deals in accepting race and religion, existing as a minority, and helping a battered sister. Beautiful poetry with innovative forms.
  • The Dobe Ju/’hoansi, Richard B. Lee (ethnography)
    • Takes a look at the lives of the Ju/’hoansi in Africa, and shows the differences between their culture and ours. Very thought provoking.

Contemplations on Submissions

I submitted pieces to The New Yorker and Catharsis, two VERY different publications, this evening. I was bored and decided to have a little fun. Here are some notes on that experience.

1: Writing a cover letter when you have NO experience and haven’t been published anywhere is difficult, but it’s also fun to try and brag about yourself and work to make yourself seem as publishable as possible. 

2: It’s hard to tell if my work will fit in there. It is very likely that it will not, considering all of my pieces have at least one gag-worth moment. I submitted two of my most tame poems from last semester. I honestly don’t know where my poetry will fit in the world if I’m completely honest. Not that I particularly care about fitting in, I just want to know where I would be able to publish my pieces that deal with dried cum on old jeans and maggots stuck in someone’s molars. 

3: It’s hard to decide what pieces I am comfortable with the whole world seeing. I submitted a poem I wrote about an ex-boyfriend. I am fine with people in my workshops hearing very personal details of my life, as we are poets and we are inherently understanding of each other, and workshop fosters a huge sense of community and safety, but do I want the whole world knowing the little details about my life? About his life? Luckily this piece didn’t have too many intense details, just the color of his glasses, but still, if he read it, would he know it was about him? And would he be angry? 

I love being a poet, and I love reading poetry. Just finding where to put my work is troublesome. I write niche. I hope to find my niche eventually, but for now I will work with what I can and tailor my work a bit for each place I try to submit to. 

Why Do I Do This?

I have said it once, and I’ll say it again, I have a vengeance against Sylvia Plath. Make me read her, and I will vomit on the pages, leak black from my goddamn pores. But, I do have to thank her for starting the process of learning to write, and the journey of learning to write well. In high school I had to do a project where I wrote pastiches of her pieces “Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper”, “Tulips”, “The Colossus”, “The Munich Mannequins”, and “Edge”. Oh god how I hated them, but I really liked the poems that I had written. The following school year I started writing my own pieces, all of them so edgy and depressing that several teachers wanted me to go into counselling (little did they know my therapist loved my work). I deeply, and truly, hate Sylvia Plath, but I do have her to thank for working.

In an odd way as well, I suppose I do have to thank my brain chemistry for making life so difficult for me. I have always turned to expression as a way to cope with the crap that life throws at you, whether that be a panic attack at the worst possible moment, falling for the one guy you KNOW will hurt you badly, dealing with depression and suicidal ideation, the list goes on and on. And having friends dealing with all the same things also gives way for inspiration. I have pieces from high school dedicated to friends who were a breath away from overdosing, a piece of art that I wrote an ekphrastic poem on that was created using the blood from a self-inflicted wound (he almost died that night). While its not fun to experience, it makes for great inspiration. Maybe that’s why all my pieces are dark and gross: it helps me reconcile the things that have happened to me, or continually happen to me, that make me feel gross. Poetry is, in a way, a form of therapy. For me at least. I am jealous of the person who can write fictitious, or even non-autobiographical poetry. That’s something I’ll have to try soon, we’ll see how it goes.

Annotated Bibliography of Poetic Sources

“It’s Such a Beautiful Day”, dir Hertzfeldt, Don, produc. Bitter Films, distr. Cinemad Presents. USA, 2012. Film.

  • A man named Bill struggles with his health and failing brain as his memories slip out of his head. Used as a way to show fear of losing, fear of failure, and fear of not making a difference on this shitty little rock. 

“Hospice”, Antlers, The, dist Frenchkiss productions, Watcher’s Woods, Brooklyn, USA, 2009. Album.

  • A man struggles with caring for his girlfriend as she dies from cancer, while simultaneously coming to terms with the abuses which she has delivered him. Used to show struggle, pain, inevitable tragedy, tiny victories and major losses, as well as great structure and instrumentation.

“Låt Den Rätte Komma In” or “Let The Right One In”, dir Alfredson, Tomas, produc EFTI, Filmpool Nord, and Sveriges Television, distr. Sandrew Metronome. Sweden, 2008. Film. 

  • A young boy befriends a vampire girl, allowing him to overcome the struggles he faces with his bullies. Used to display an interest in language, purity, beauty in white snow, the joys in youth, young love, happiness in others, hatred, anger, hope, and ambiguity in endings. 

Inspiration, or Lack Thereof

Sometimes an idea comes from a dream. Sometimes it comes from a glance at something new and exciting. Sometimes it doesn’t come at all. Those can be the scariest and most anxiety inducing moments, but not to worry, as long as the pen touches paper it can’t be too much of a waste of time. Even if you think it is.

My issue is of a different caliber; I have plenty of ideas, plenty of topics which can spring into life, forming verse on a sheet of paper. But those ideas are painful. They hurt to utter, to dream of, or to think of in line at the Starbucks in the union. Thoughts of lost loves, anxiety in the shapes of lightning bolts, empty glasses that should be full. The physical act of writing used to be cathartic; now it’s more of a trip into the sides that I don’t want to cross. In a way this whole experience could be used as a way to experiment with different types of writing, maybe trying to work on landscape pieces or piece of fiction, as most of my writing focuses on my own self, as narcissistic as that is. It’s fun to try an avoid something in writing; really digging in my heels and not even placing a “you” in a piece, and barely focusing on the “I”. It could be better, it could be worse. I hope this proves fruitful, and that I can dig myself out of a hole if I end up burying myself.

Music as Poetry

I find a lot of solace in the sounds that come out of my headphones. Coming back to Geneseo has been something I long awaited during the summer, and the moment I arrive back, things start to go downhill. Not due to any forces that I can control, things just happen sometimes. And when those things happen, music is something that always soothes the mind, induces tears, and brings me the strength to show up to class.

Music is, in a sense, poetry. Especially to some artists who really work to create lyrics that mean something. For example, lets take a look at Elliott Smith.

Smith was a deeply troubled individual, and of course his lyrics reflect that. Songs like “Between The Bars” that discuss heavy alcoholism, “Say Yes” with regret upon past relationships, and even the poppy “Baby Britain” carries heavy, dark overtones. Some lines can be blatant, outright, such as “situations get f*cked up, but turn around sooner or later” from “Say Yes”, but there are some lines that hit harder, and are very poetic. Like this verse from his song “Rose Parade”

Tripped over a dog in a choke-chain collar, people were shouting and pushing and saying they’d “traded a smoke for a food stamp dollar” as a ridiculous marching band started playing”

While it paints an incredibly intense picture, it also shows an underlying confusion of the speaker, and the hilarity that is occurring around the speaker as they try to make sense of everything. While it’s not the most happy lyric, it does a lot of work in terms of setting a scene, characterized the speaker, and creating an event that can carry on through the rest of the song.

I find Smith to be incredible not just because of his instrumentalism, but I am always impressed by the complexity of his lyrics. He studied philosophy and political science at Hampshire College, which perhaps help to explain just how he is able to take grand ideas and put them into lyrical form that not only tells a story, but makes a point. His troubled beginnings also add to this, as Smith was abused as a child and was an addict for most of his adult life. He suffered depression and committed suicide by stabbing himself in the chest (although this fact as been disputed with an argument towards him being murdered by his girlfriend at the time). These factors come together to help him create songs that hit hard, especially for one such as myself who has suffered from depression for most of my young life, thankfully not so much anymore. But even if you’ve never experienced depression, you can still connect to his music; thats how talented Smith is.

While there are many other artists who show this type of lyrical genius (KT Tunstall, David Bowie, Kendrick Lamar, Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys off of the top of my head), Smith serves as a great example for the combination of poetic verse and music, as any one of his songs can be separated from the musical component and stand on their own as great pieces of poetry. It is an interesting exercise for poets to work with.

Invasive: tending to intrude on a person’s thoughts or privacy

Much of my writing is based around an intrusive thought. There are always moments in my day where I see something that will remind me of someone or something that I want to push far back into my consciousness; something that I desperately do not want to remember. It could be brown and curly hair, a song on the radio, the smell of a burning cigarette; anything can send a grenade into the psyche that explodes into an intense memory that I have tried my best to erase. These little invasions lead to some great poetry, as, at least for me, it’s easier to write about trauma and the things in life that are less than happy than things that make my heart sing. Yes, some of these memories are positive, like the sounds that my ex-boyfriend made while he slept beside me, but they are always tinged with some form of sadness, or perhaps regret. They are no longer, they are but moments in the past that come back to haunt the present. Even if I am in a better state of mind when I was when the memory took place, part of me is always sentimental about the past, always wishing to go back. But, as I am here, in Geneseo, the only place to go is forward, into the future.

The invasion of thoughts stands as a foundation to a work. My process most often starts with a thought popping into my head, most of the time completely out of the blue. I have found myself on line at the grocery store, at a bank, driving a car, when out of nowhere I will need to stop whatever I am doing to write down an idea before it slips away, never to return. These thoughts are fleeting, however they are strong in nature, and require immediate attention, and then more and more attention until I feel satisfied enough to post them to a blog or put them in my google drive folder of poetry, to forget about it until I find it at a later date, and have to start revising again.

Basing poetry off of a memory has always been an interesting idea to me. Not only are you able to vividly describe a scene, but there is room to put the conclusions of the event, as well as the implications of what has occurred, and how it will effect the speaker. The speaker of each piece is given the opportunity to not only share something that has occurred, but to give it meaning beyond what is actually being said.

Invasions of the mind are inescapable. It is not only difficult to truly push these memories out, but it appears to be impossible as humans don’t even know the entire capabilities of our own brains. So, if you ask me, the best thing to do with these thoughts is to write them down, and see if they provide any clarity to the present day that could be useful in everyday life. Embrace the little invaders, and remember that no matter how unpleasant the memory, it is still your life, and is, in the end, under your own control, and no one else’s.