ra/p/oetry

Mac Miller released “The Divine Feminine” exactly two years and four days ago. Two days ago his vigil was held, because thirteen days ago he overdosed.

This death is heartbreaking for a lot of reasons; Mac was only twenty-six years old and, by all accounts, was finally in a really good place after years of battling addiction.

From the first time I heard Mac’s music, I was invested in its poeticism. He always paid amazing attention to his lyrics and, in addition to writing really damn good songs, was writing some really damn good poems.

In the wake of this death, I’ve been revisiting some of his music and, in general, been thinking more about the relationship between poetry and rap. So, for today’s blog post, I’m going to leave a list of tracks which I think are just as much poems as they are songs. I hope you enjoy these, and if you have any contributions I’d love to hear them.

In no particular order, here they are:

  1. Billy Not Really by Death Grips
  2. Black Quarterback by Death Grips
  3. Voila by Death Grips
  4. No Love by Death Grips
  5. Hunger Games by Death Grips
  6. Guillotine by Death Grips
  7. TEETH by BROCKHAMPTON
  8. JUNKY by BROCKHAMPTON
  9. FIGHT by BROCKHAMPTON
  10. BREAKFAST by BROCKHAMPTON
  11. Popeye by Quelle Chris, I, Led, Mndsgn
  12. Gold Purple Orange by Jean Grae, Quelle Chris, Dane Orr
  13. Peacock by Jean Grae, Quelle Chris, Dane Orr
  14. Doing Better Than Ever by Jean Grae, Quelle Chris, Ashok “Dap” Kondabolu
  15. Good Friday by WHY?
  16. There Was Plenty Time Before Us by Deem Spencer
  17. Edenville by Deca
  18. Ain’t it Funny by Danny Brown
  19. Hurt Feelings by Mac Miller
  20. Jet Fuel by Mac Miller
  21. So It Goes by Mac Miller
  22. I’m Not Real by Mac Miller, Earl Sweatshirt
  23. Perfect Circle / God Speed by Mac Miller
  24. Take Advantage of the Naysayer by Milo
  25. Going No Place by Milo, Elucid
  26. Yomilo by Milo
  27. Objectifying Rabbits by Milo, Open Mike Eagle
  28. Almond Milk Paradise by Milo, Safari Al
  29. Freedom (Interlude) by Noname
  30. Self by Noname
  31. Window by Noname, Phoelix
  32. Blaxploitation by Noname
  33. With You by Noname

And here’s everything tossed into a public Spotify playlist:

 

 

 

for the stuck

For me, undoubtedly the hardest part of writing a poem is starting it. Unless I get direct external inspiration, it’s nearly impossible for me to just sit down and start writing anything; and, on that note, it’s sort of difficult for me to pull inspiration out of thin air.

Over the summer, though, I found a really cool spot near my hometown (http://www.melanienelsonbooks.com) which sells more used books then I’ve ever seen in one spot for really cheap — all hardcovers are 1 dollar, all paperbacks are 50 cents. I stocked up and, while doing so, came across a dictionary of word and phrase origins. I saw and thought it would be perfect for forcing some inspiration when I want to sit down and write, and I think it’s been pretty successful so far. The book that I have, in case your interested, is by William and Mary Morris, but I’m sure you can find similar things elsewhere or online. Regardless, I highly highly highly recommending something like this if you’re stuck and in need of a starting point for a piece.

I’m going to include a few excerpts from the book, the ones with the best words and phrases I’ve found so far, and maybe you’ll find some inspiration from them:

alligator pear. By a process known as “folk etymology” (which see), unfamiliar or hard-to-pronounce words take the form of similar but more familiar words. Thus, especially in rural areas of the country, jonquils become “Johnnyquils” and asparagus is called “sparrowgrass.” In this case, avocado was mispronounced “alligator” partly because avocado trees were thought to grow in swampy tropical areas infested by alligators. And the avocado fruit does somewhat resemble a pear.

banzai. The war cry “Banzai!” meant “May you live ten thousand years!” The Japanese, with a logic incomprehensible to Western minds, used to should it when launching a suicide attack.

c.q. In a death notice in a weekly paper, c.q. was printed in small letters after the name of the deceased. The c.q. in this use has a meaning, but its appearance in the paper was an error. The symbols originally represented the sounds (dah-dit-dah-dit-dah-dit-dah-dit) used by radio operators at the start of a transmission. This c.q. alerts other listening operators that a message is to follow. As used by proofreaders, however, it is a warning to typesetters that a spelling that seems unusual or even erroneous is to be followed because, despite its appearance, it is correct. For example, if a first name had the unusual spelling “Lilyan,” a copy editor might well follow it with a c.q. in parentheses or encircled as a signal to the typesetter to follow copy. The error, in this case, was that the c.q. itself was set into type.

This reminds us of the ancient proof room legend of the zealous and now lamented proofreader who is so devoted to his task that he followed copy — even when it blew out the window.

 

writing (re: ranting) about writing

I get that this is a blog about poetry, but I’m going to take today’s post to talk a little bit about non-fiction, and just writing in general.

This semester, I’m taking two workshops: this one and, you guessed it, creative non-fiction. I’m taking this workshop again because I love poetry; it’s tremendously important to me and has been a coping mechanism and creative outlet of mine since I was probably eight years old. I’m taking creative non-fiction because I want to grow or something.

In all seriousness, I am really excited about creative non-fiction; not because it will be easy, but because I will be challenged by it, and hopefully it can inform my poetry in some way. Fundamentally, though, my brain doesn’t work in a narrative way, and thus I’ve found myself struggling with writing non-fiction right off the bat (Because of this, I’m really interested by the lyrical essay, as I think it has the potential to both satisfy my needs as a poet and satisfy the non-fiction requirements of the class).

My other issue with non-fiction this semester is that the theme of the class is family. I’ve written about this on the blog before, and I probably will some more throughout the semester, but I have such a difficult time writing about family, whether that be in poetry, non-fiction, or elsewhere. It’s not that I have nothing to write about; it’s just that I’m terrified of publishing the work. Oftentimes, the things I write about my family aren’t exactly the things I want them to read. I also just don’t know how much ownership I have over shared stories, and I’m reminded of that daily in my non-fiction workshop. I’m always interested in other people’s thoughts on this, I’d love to hear what some of ya’ll think.

check this out!!! :-)!!!

Hey guys! I already posted this week but one more thing! There’s this really cool project going on and I thought I’d share it with you. It’s called “The Lost Poem” and it’s been put together by Saint Flashlight, a duo composed of Molly Gross and Drew Pisarra, and the O, Miami Poetry Festival. Basically, they’ve hung up “Lost Poem” flyers all around Miami that have a phone number on them —  1-(786) 373-6311‬ — that, when called, leads to an automated message that reads you poems. The goal of the project is “for every single person in Miami to encounter a poem during the month of April.” I obviously didn’t find out about this by stumbling upon a poster in Miami, though. I stumbled upon this project, instead, because I follow Saint Flashlight’s Instagram (which I’ll link below) and they’ve been posting about it. So yeah, either way — check out these poems! Such an interesting project, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

https://www.instagram.com/omiamifestival/

http://www.omiami.org

poetry in prison

I’ve always had a fascination with the prison system here in the United States, as it’s a pretty convoluted one. The implications of institutions like death row and solitary confinement are brutal to the psyche but maintain intact regardless, rendering the lives of inmates tremendously limited and ultimately unfulfilled. 

Recently, though, there have been small but impactful initiatives being implemented throughout the nation (mostly in the northern U.S.) which are dramatically improving the system on the individual level. One example, and the example with which I am most acquainted, is the Bard Prison Initiative, based out of Bard College, a school I’ve become fairly embedded within given it’s in my hometown. The Bard Prison Initiative, or BPI, enrolls upwards of 300 individuals currently incarcerated within New York State in full-time degree programs; 97.5% of BPI graduates leave prison and never come back. Among other things, my geographic proximity to this program has garnered my interest in working with inmates. Up until today I wasn’t entirely sure how I might go about combining this with my other passion, poetry. 

A few hours ago I did a fairly simple Google search that I admittedly should’ve thought to do quite awhile ago, but regardless — I looked up “poetry prison inmates” and “prison poetry” and a few such variations. Now I’m headed down a wormhole of work published in and around prisons. A lot of it’s fascinating and deeply, deeply emotional; for example, the handwritten lines “Jasmyn equals honey bears times peanut butter / She don’t remember me” or “THE CONCRETE WALLS OF MY HEART ARE 25 FEET / SO DON’T DANGLE ME HOPE” (both from https://betweenthebars.org/campaigns/prison-poetry-workshop/).

If you don’t feel terribly sympathetic towards inmates in this prison system, I genuinely think that reading a few of these poems could change that. So regardless of your interest in the prison system, or even in poetry, I highly recommend checking some of these out. They’re honestly some of the rawest poems I’ve read in awhile. 

i’m going to write until i figure out why i haven’t been writing

I mean that literally; this blog post is going to be a stream-of-consciousness wherein I try to figure out why I haven’t been writing much lately. In other words, a therapy session wherein I am both the therapist and the patient. 

So, yeah, as you know by now, I haven’t been writing much lately.  And I’m not sure why that is. It seems I just haven’t been able to find inspiration on my own for some time now. Most of the poems I’ve written over the last few weeks stem directly from the writing exercises. This, of course, isn’t the worst thing — after all, I am still writing. It’s just that these writing exercises are acting as a crutch for me in a way that I’m not used to.

Again, though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The poems I’ve been writing for the exercises have been far longer and less restrained than my poems have been all semester, and it honestly feels really good. 

Maybe, then, this writer’s block isn’t so much of a block as it is a balancing act. I’m figuring out how to better harness creative energy, learning to have stamina in the act of writing, letting my poems get longer and looser. 

Or maybe I’m coming up with excuses for writing these long, nonsensical poems instead of the more concise, logical poems from earlier in the year. Or maybe I’m finding my style or my voice or something like that. 

Honestly, this blog post is pretty comparable to how my poems have been lately, for better or for worse; that is to say, unstructured and selfish.

Also, I’ve been painting a lot recently. And painting is a whole lot like poetry for me. So maybe I haven’t stopped writing. Maybe I’m just writing with watercolors instead of words for the time being. 

Therapy sessions are never truly conclusive, and as such I think it would be unfair of me to assume that this blog post would be any different. It seems our time for this week is up, would you like to schedule an appointment for next week?

found sound

This is pretty tangential to poetry, but I want to talk about it. Hope ya don’t mind!

Anyways, as an assignment for another class I’m taking with Lytton I’ve been tasked with developing a piece of installation art for the campus. My installation is going to be sound-oriented, as it will consist of sound poetry playing from MP3 players in bathroom stalls; the title of the piece is Deep Shit. The sound poetry itself is a compilation of recordings I’ve gathered from peers on campus (perhaps I’ll post the final MP3 on here at some point). In gathering these raw sounds, I asked friends and classmates of mine to sit by themselves for at least one minute in the recording studio in the basement of Newton; during this time,  I asked them to make sounds (words or otherwise) into the microphone. I then took these sounds and began to compile them into, like I said, sound poetry — a process I’m not yet done with. 

The sounds I got out of people under these understandably uncomfortable circumstances were fascinating. There were recognizable patterns and trends regarding what people decided to talk about, varying from stress to school to creativity to family, all broken up by intermittent mutterings of “wow this is awkward” and “oh my god, what should I talk about?” 

Regardless, this process has definitely heightened my interest in the idea of found sounds/words in poetry. I suppose all words are “found” to some extent, but the idea of soliciting them from people in a controlled environment is really interesting to me. 

But yeah, keep an eye out for these installations! They’ll be up by April 2nd if not sooner, and there will definitely be one in both the women’s and men’s room in Welles. 

on the urge to explain

Truthfully, I debated whether or not I should submit the piece I handed out to you all last class up until the moment I physically handed off the stack to be circulated around the room. This isn’t because the poem, or I guess poems, were tremendously vulnerable with regard to their content, but rather because I decided to play around with form in such a way that is far more experimental than I am used to. Although I’m certainly proud of the piece, I’m still so reluctant to share it for fear that people just won’t “get it”, a fear I’m sure you’ve all confronted at some point or another in your writing. Generally, though, I’m more or less willing to accept some amount of misunderstanding when I release my poems into the world, because a lot of the time I don’t fully understand them myself, or they are more about their imagery or sound than they are about their meaning.

This poem was different, though. I wanted so badly to type up a little disclaimer at the top (which I’m trying my best to avoid doing in this blog post, given we haven’t workshopped the piece yet) but that doesn’t seem like a very poetic thing to do. I settled on providing a little key of sorts at the top of the page wherein I connect each of the fonts used in the body of the poem to a title: “for you”, “for us”, and “for me”. Do with that what you will.

Regardless, in submitting this piece I’m trying to get away from feeling the need to explain myself as a poet. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about learning to be more vulnerable in my work, and I think that this was a step (maybe a small one, but a step just the same) in the right direction. 

building bridges instead of walls

During last class’ writing exercises I generated “self-sufficiency” and “appearing strong both physically and emotionally” as some of my obsessions, and “being vulnerable or weak” as one of my fears. From there I came up with an idea for a writing prompt, which went as follows: imagine that I am always flexing (now realize that that’s what I do emotionally).

An aspect of my personality which I think is very distinctive is my refusal to show weakness, and therefore my constant bottling up of emotions. Poetry is essentially the only outlet I allow myself to indulge in, and even then, I set strict parameters for myself in doing so and continually try to maintain a toughness in my voice. 

I’m beginning to realize that, because of this, my poetry has a tendency to be rather guarded. I’m obsessed with being impenetrable, and that part of me carries over into my poems. With regard to both my well-being and the quality of my writing, though, I’d reckon this is likely unhealthy. As such, I’ve been making a more defined effort to open myself up to my poetry and learn to be vulnerable, at least with myself. Of course, this is never easy, especially for somebody who so deeply values fronting as strong. 

But yeah, I’m making a pact with myself to be more vulnerable in my work, even if that’s the work I never share. Feel free to let me know if you have any advice on how you all have learned to surrender yourselves more fully in your poems. 

Also, I’m going to link a really fascinating article relevant to poetry below, check it out if you get the chance! It’s an interesting consideration of truthfulness, both in life and in writing. 

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/teaching-william-zinsser-to-write-poetry

performative poetry

Let me preface this post with a quick advertisement:

Tomorrow from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM there’s going to be an open mic focused on female artistic expression at Cricket’s. Truthfully, I don’t know a whole lot about it but I’ll be performing around 9:00 PM. If you’re free, consider swinging by and supporting some talented women!

Alright, now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

My experience with performing my poetry is admittedly limited. I do have experience with public speaking more generally, but there’s something far more personal about reading your own writing. In anticipation of performing at the open mic, though, I’ve been taking a look at my poems through an unfamiliar lens, given I have to reconsider my poems with regard to their performability. 

Should I present poems which are focused on sound, given they are being read aloud? These is my inclination, but I’m sort of reluctant given my sound-centric poems tend to make far less “sense” than those that are more content-oriented, and I have a weird and (probably irrational) fear of presenting my audience with poems with inaccessible meanings. Perhaps this is more so the case given the setting of my performance; does a poem that seems like it’s about womanhood and sounds good belong in this open mic any less than a poem wherein sound is secondary to the fact that it’s about womanhood? Are some poems more fit for performance than others in general?

I don’t have a conclusive answer to any of these questions, but hopefully I will by tomorrow night. I guess stop by Cricket’s if you have any interest in finding out!