A Temporary Farewell to the Poetry Workshop

As some of you know, I’m going to be taking the Writing and Production Workshop next semester, which is simultaneously exciting and terrifying.  My first two workshops have been in poetry, and I’m definitely going to miss the people I’ve worked with and the work I’ve done.  I know that the Gandy class will be fantastic, and I’m looking forward to working with everyone in the class to make the best Gandy Dancer issue ever, but I’ll definitely miss writing poetry and hearing from others about my poetry.  I’ve definitely grown as a poet in the past year, and the knowledge I’ve gained from other Geneseo poets has been invaluable.

If anyone ever needs to bounce ideas about poetry off of me, send me an e-mail and I’ll answer ASAP!  I want to stay active in the Geneseo poetry scene my senior year, and while I’m sad to leave poetry behind for a bit, I want to see what other work I can do in writing!

Word Obsessions

Looking back at the past two semester’s worth of poems, I realize that a few words keep popping up, over and over: gilt, press, skin, sloughing, etc.  I decided to run my last portfolio through a word counter, just for kicks, and I thought it was a really educational experience in regards to my poetry and the words I use most.  These are my repeated words, under a read more because the list is quite long:

Continue reading “Word Obsessions”

Found Poems and Copyright

As an English major, formerly a lit major, I sometimes wonder as to the morality of found poems and blackout/whiteout poems.  In scholarly work, we’re encouraged to cite the works we pull from, as well as credit the author as much as we possibly can to alleviate worries about plagiarism, etc.  I’ve been keeping myself from experimenting with found poems and blackout/whiteout poems because of the issue of plagiarism.  Do found poems count as plagiarised material because they take words directly from other writers, or does poetry exist in a different academic climate when compared to literature, history, etc.?  On one hand, I understand that there are only so many words to play with in so many combinations, and borrowing lines from other poets or writers makes it easier to create a poetic conversation.  However, I can’t speak for the writer’s wishes when they put a work out there, and I can’t be sure (without asking everyone I’ve taken content from) whether or not the original author is open to these kinds of representations of their work.  Does the creative spirit inherent in poetry override the issues of copyright and plagiarism, or should we as poets be more worried about the ways in which we borrow from other writers?

Nicole’s Nonsensical Revision Cycle

And here I go about revisions again.  I’ve been looking over this semester’s poetry, plus a few oldies, and I find myself going from radical revisions to writing completely new poems, based on the older poems I’m less than happy with.  Do these new poems, with the spirit of the old poem embedded, exist as altogether new poems and therefore not revisions, or are they revisions because they have their basis in an old poem?  I’ve always had a hard time with the revision process because I like to take the time to let my poems ferment before I come back to them, but as I revise, I tend to go for either something small and barely noticeable or some large change that makes the poem almost unrecognizable.  How have you all been able to find a happy medium, where your poem still includes the original poem but also manages to change something fundamental about it?

Tyehimba Jess’s “Mercy” and Politics in Poetry

I spent some time recently reading and re-reading a few poems by Tyehimba Jess, whose unbelievably precise yet playful mastery of sound really brings something to life in me.  If you want to feel simultaneously parched and full, read his poem “out.”  But I want to talk about his poem “Mercy,” and the ways we’ve discussed politics in poetry this semester.


Tyehimba Jess

the war speaks at night
with its lips of shredded children,
with its brow of plastique
and its fighter jet breath,
and then it speaks at daybreak
with the soft slur of money
unfolding leaf upon leaf.
it speaks between the news
programs in the music
of commercials, then sings
in the voices of a national anthem.
it has a dirty coin jingle in its step,
it has a hand of many lost hands,
a palm of missing fingers,
the stump of an arm that it lost
reaching up to heaven, a foot
that digs a trench for its dead.
the war staggers forward,
compelled, inexorable, ticking.
it looks to me
with its one eye of napalm
and one eye of ice,
with its hair of fire
and its nuclear heart,
and yes, it is so human
and so pitiful as it stands there,
waiting for my hand.
it wants to know my answer.
it wants to know how i intend
to show it out of its misery,
and i only want it
to teach me how to kill.

This poem uses its own formula to create a war man, both literally and figuratively present, who represents both the war machine and the human casualties.  The “lips of shredded children” and the hands made of “lost hands” represent the human loss that war creates, while “fighter jet breath” and “nuclear heart” remind us of the technology of war.  The poem is evocative of the mess a war creates, of destroyed homes and grisly human remains.  I think that this poem is obviously critical of the ways in which warfare destroys humanity in such a vicious manner, but some would argue that the “politics” of this poem aren’t necessary or relevant to the culture and history surrounding poetry.  We’ve had plenty of discussions in workshop about whether or not a poem should tackle such difficult issues, and I’m very squarely planted in pro-politics soil.  I think that we should use poetry as an outlet for human emotions, including the frustration we feel when our governments don’t represent us.  I’m curious to hear from other people, do you think that poetry has a place speaking about political issues, or should poetry stand apart from those issues?

Cool Places for Poets to Share!

As everyone knows, I’m a huge Mary Lambert fan.  Her music is poetry, but her poetry is so transcendent and beautiful I just want to bathe in a ceramic tub full of it.  She’s also a wonderful lady, and I want to share her poetry blog with you!  Every week, she does different themed days and shares poetry she receives in the form of submissions, and some of the poems I’ve found there have been amazing inspiration. For example, a poem from today’s post:


‘You know, if you hurl clay with the right velocity at a cement pavement, it sounds almost delicate.

The blue mosaic pot that you made during the summer you said I need to keep busy.
You’d said, I’m recreating the ocean, in concentration your tongue curling like a wave over your lip.
Cyan and azure and aquamarine and deep, black-blue.
Palms scratched and running red rivers.

The red sea parting.

Hands soaked.

I had always been a horrible swimmer.

Après moi, le déluge.'”

She also shares some of her own poems, which are heartbreaking but always poignant.  If you’re ever in need of inspiration, give her blog a looksie!


Service Job Poetics

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the issues that exist within the service industry, particularly the ways in which class and race intersect in workplaces where the employees make minimum wage, or close to it.  I’ve been writing poems about the oppressive atmosphere of the service job, and how working with other people creates a hierarchy of value between humans.  To me, the ways we treat other people when we’re the privileged party really highlights the underlying hierarchies we have in place in corporate  America.  I really want to include poems like “crazy uncle floyd” in a larger group of critical American poetry, but I’m wondering if maybe these two subjects exist as separate themes?  I mean, a demeaning service economy isn’t only a part of daily life in the USA, it exists as a larger part of the capitalist machine.  At the risk of sounding preachy, I do want to broach this topic in my poetry, and I’m wondering if poems like “crazy uncle floyd” belong in that group, maybe as a beginning or an end?  Is it easy to draw from “crazy uncle floyd” ideas about the widening gap between rich and poor, the American working class, etc? Does the poem stand alone well enough that companion pieces drawing on similar topics seem superfluous?

Can Multilingual Poetry be Based on Sound?

I’ve been listening to a lot of music in languages I’m not fluent in lately, and I’ve been spending time wondering about poetry that uses language the author isn’t fluent in.  Is it enough to value the language sonically, or does the poet have to know the meaning behind the words they are using? Is it enough for a poet to want to play with language and sound, or does writing in another language involve a certain amount of responsibility on the part of the author to familiarize them self with those words? On one hand, I want to say that poetry for the sake of sound should be just as reverent as poetry with the word itself and its meaning in mind, but I also know that what I value as a poet isn’t necessarily what other people value.

For example, I’ve been spending a lot of time with French music, simply because the sound of the syllables is so foreign to the way we speak English, and the speaking itself seems less precise and more intuitive.  I really appreciate the way that letters on the page in French don’t necessarily translate to sounds we make with our mouths, and the ways that sounds can change, even with languages that use the same alphabet.  If I were to incorporate some French words I’ve had floating around in my head, words I’ve heard in songs and that I love the sound of, would it be wrong for me as a poet to include those words because I’m not aware of their meaning?  Or is the sound of a word enough of an explanation for its inclusion?  This has been a question I’ve puzzled over for a long time, and I’d really like to hear from other poets (and non-poets) on this issue!

Poetry Prompt: Define Your Own Word

Hey everybody, I thought I’d share a writing prompt for those of us that are looking for creative ways to fill up our portfolios!  I, personally, have a lot of made-up words unique to me that float around in my vocabulary and confuse friends and family members.  I thought it would be cool to write a poem that attempts to define those made-up words.  Here’s mine:

A “bubbin” is a tiny critter, soft

who scampers from shoulder to shoulder.

She is shared, co-parents for those silly feets

gnarled, delicate pink toes and scaly tail

but when she boggles, bruxes, buries herself in my shirts

buries herself in my shirts

Her name is a shortened version of the warmth

I keep secure in my chest,



I hope everyone has fun with this silly prompt, I know I did!

“Occult” by Joyce Carol Oates

Hey everyone, I’ve been on a Joyce Carol Oates kick, and I recently happened upon her poem “Occult,” but I’m wondering what everyone else’s readings of this poem are? It’s kind of blurry, but I really want to see what other people are reading from this poem. (the /s are my addition, the post won’t put the stanza breaks in correctly).

the blood-smear across the knuckles:
painless, inexplicable.
once you discover it pain will begin,
in miniature.
never will you learn what caused it.
you forget it. /
the telephone answered on the twelfth ring:
silence without breath, cunning, stark.
and then he hangs up.
and you stand there, alone.
then you forget. /
and your father’s inexplicable visit:
two days’ notice, a ten-hour reckless drive.
rains, 80 mph winds, bad luck all the way,
traffic backed up, a broken windshield wiper,
and no stopping him. /
clumsy handshakes.
How are—?
You seem—!
How good to —!
How long will—?
he must leave in the morning,
must get back.
a gas station two blocks away repairs the wiper. /
did he sense death,
and so he raced to us?
did he already guess at his death
behind those nervous fond smiles,
the tumult of memories he had to bear? /
nothing we know can explain his visit,
or the new, strange way he moved among us—
touching us, squeezing our arms, smiling.
the visit was an excuse.
the words that surrounded our touching were an excuse.
inexplicable, that the language we invent may be a means
to get us closer, to allow us to touch one another,
and then to back away. /
I feel like this poem is about a son or daughter who gets an “inexplicable visit” from a father, who was either sick or dying and was acting more affectionate during this visit, as a way of saying goodbye.  I wonder why the title is “Occult” if the poem’s subject matter is so familial, but I’m also aware that I could be completely wrong in my reading.  If anyone has any other readings, I’d love to hear them!