The Plateaued Poet

Hello, me again, I want to talk about plateaus and my fear of them.

So over the course of this semester, I was (yet again) incredibly amazed by how much I was able to grow as a poet. I remember thinking the same thing upon reflection back when I completed the workshop the first time around. That doesn’t stop me, however, from being afraid that I may have reached a point where I’m not going to grow much more as a writer. Graduation is a very real and terrifying thing that’s going to be inflicted upon me pretty soon, and my continued education in an official setting is very uncertain. As such, I’m wondering what this will mean for my writing.

I think the best solution to my own question is to just keep on producing poetry and looking for communities for support and feedback. I’m still worried, though, that I’ve reached a certain point where I’m unlikely to get much better. Do any of you ever get struck with that fear in your creative endeavors? Maybe it’s natural to go through stages of high amounts of productivity and stretches of time that feel like writing plateaus. It probably is, but maybe you have a suggestion that I may not have considered on how to go about continuing to grow as a writer outside of workshop class?

Just a Thought

So I began writing this way back in September and never posted it. Now seems like a good time to finish the thought…

We addressed the question last class (or more like, twelve classes ago) about the importance of bringing the poet into the poetry, and thereby be influenced in our reading  of the poem by the poet’s life and background. I know it’s an age-old question about whether who the artist is and what their history is should or should not be accounted for in the art itself, but I want to ask how this can be applied to us, specifically. When I began writing this post a few months ago, I had in mind that despite Ezra Pound’s fascism, his work is still highly respected and studied, but on the other hand, we called into question his authority on poetry based on his political beliefs.

For me, context is key to understanding the background of a poem, where it came from, and how it fits in to the wider narrative consciously or unconsciously created by the poet. However, if anyone were to make some stupid “roses are red, violets are blue” pun for the billionth time, it shouldn’t matter if that person is Shakespeare risen from the grave, the cliched bad poetry should probably be taken for what it is (read: trash).

Anyway, I think the takeaway from this post, or tl;dr is this: sometimes poets or other artists say things in other contexts that get us angry and upset. Sometimes, if we read into the poetry, we can find hints of these lines of thinking. So what about you? Do you try to shape your poetry into something unbiased, something free of opinions that might make others angry? Do you/might you ever embrace writing in such a way so as to make people angry (hopefully not for supporting fascist dictators, though)?

Writing Exercise: Mix & Match

For this exercise, the idea is to choose two prompts/exercises, one from the first group, one from the second group in a sort of mix & match. From there, blend the two together and see what comes out.

Pick one:
1. Write about what the earth would say if it could speak, and include in your poem the time you felt the most big and the time you felt the most small
2. Write about a time you were terrified, and connect your writing to the place where you find is easiest to fall asleep in.
3. Rename yourself five or more different times according to the different perspectives through which you are viewed. Make sure to be specific!
Now pick another:
1. Turn your paper on its side so that its at landscape now instead of portrait. See where the longer lines take you in your writing.
2. Create a word bank of about 30 words inspired by everything that a skyscraper represents to you. Now stick a few pairs of these words together. Now use most of these words in your new word bank (both single and compound words) to create a poem
3. Write in third person plural (we) or in second person (you). Be mindful of the dynamic created between the speaker and those referred to with the pronouns.

Never Really “Done”

A friend of mine always used to say that a poem is never really finished. From what I’ve learned from workshop, it seems apparent that there’s no way to please everyone with every word choice and punctuation mark, but that doesn’t stop me from trying in the revision process. So what about you? When do you know you have a satisfying enough product that you cease working on it?

There are different layers to this question, I think, because I think there’s a certain level of “done” that I get to before I show a poem to anyone else. Then once I get feedback, however, I often get stuck. It’s honestly usually more helpful to get feedback from only one or three people, since the heavy influx of advice we get in workshop always has me wanting to split a single poem in about a dozen different directions.

I feel like this post is getting a little scattered, so my main concern is this: I’m looking to submit my poetry to some different lit mags pretty soon, but I need to figure out when my poems will feel accomplished enough to take that step. Maybe they’ll never feel like they’re completely done, exactly, but maybe I’ll be able to get them to a place where I’m satisfied with where I’ve gotten them. Does anyone know what it takes to bring a poem to a satisfactory level of completeness?

Where Do You Get Your Inspiration From?

Hey friends,

I’ve been considering lately the different places from which we, as artists, draw our inspiration from, mainly for the purpose of borrowing ideas for potential muses from other artists. So what inspires or informs upon your writing or other creative endeavors? For me, I love writing when I’m out in nature, although I haven’t gone out in a long time. The writing itself, however, is often prompted from snippets of conversation I hear or some interesting word or phrase I read. I usually can’t write with music on, but I love looking up lyrics or listening to other poets and mimicking their styles.

So, I’ll admit, I have an ulterior motive for making this blog post. I’m also writing another blog post for another class (Editing & Production/Gandy Dancer) and I need your help! If you’re willing for your response to be reproduced on the Gandy Dancer site, please indicate so somewhere in your reply so that we can spread the inspiration! If not, then no worries, I’m still curious for my own personal sake.


Making it New

Ezra Pound’s emphasis on the “Image” in poetry seems to border on idolatry. Much of my own poetry in the past has spent a great deal of time on abstractions, which I think is one of its shortcomings. Concrete imagery, as well as writing only what one means and connecting every word one writes into the poem are what make a poem noteworthy. Pound writes that “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” As poets, we strive to leave with our readers an impression of emotion, because they’re never going to remember individual words or an expertly placed line break. The music of the poem aids in the reverberation of the images we present, but I think Pound holds the “Image” in such high regard because it is what bridges the emotion of the piece from poet to reader.

Taking on the task of representing grand abstractions is, I think, better left for pop song writers. I’ve tried in the past to write about time and love and beauty and colonization, but instead of presenting these concepts through images like Pound might have me do, I have attempted to make them universal by allowing them to remain abstract. However, individual experiences and specific events, as I am coming to understand more and more, are themselves universal and relatable.

Pound is also often quoted for his piece of advice: “make it new.” Emotions and discoveries have been felt and found before, so when we recycle our images into poetry, we might strive to aim for a freshly specific spin on our (collective) experience.

Creative Intersections

Hey fellow poets!

So as the semester ends and we have time again to pursue our interests, I’ve been wondering what we’re all going to be up to. We’re all poets, but our creative talents and skills are not limited to poetry. There’s a world of writing, music, art, and other such things that we’re involved in, and I want to hear about what other kinds of creative endeavors you all are into, and how one creative outlet may influence the other(s).

For me, I like to make art on the side when I have a free minute, and I’m also into slam poetry. I like to tell stories, so I think this is evident in my artwork. Often I’ll make a drawing and will have an entire story of what significance every little detail has and how they all come together to tell a story. Every once in a while, I’ll also try my hand at fiction writing, but I feel as though I get so caught up in the language and imagery of the writing that I have difficulty ever completing my stories.

What about you? I know many of you like to draw or take pictures, or are involved in music and other fields of writing entirely, so let me know!

In the meantime, I hope your summers are all filled with creative things and beaches and mangoes and fantasy novels and hammocks and happiness.


Poetry Overload

Hey Poetry friends!

With the onset of National Poetry Month, and given the fact that I just came back from CUPSI in Virginia Saturday night, I’m feeling completely immersed in poetry. Now this is not a letter of complaint by any means, but more a format for me to share my feelings in this particular entry, as well as a way to search for some kindred spirits in the hopes that we might band together and share tips on doing some epic soul-growing.

So CUPSI stands for College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. For four straight days, slam poets from across the nation hung out around Richmond and poured their souls out to strangers. We laughed, we cried, and we had some unforgettable experiences. I’m still reeling from my time at Virginia Commonwealth University even as I type, and I think I will be for some time yet. To make a long story short and skip over basically everything: while I was there in VCU, the poets had a few choice phrases they would shout out to any given poet as they walked up to the mic. Things like, “You got this!”, “Don’t be nice!”, and “Remember why you wrote it!” I want to focus on that last one, as it connects to the point I’m trying to make at feeling a little overwhelmed from all the poetry (see title). You see, for me, I’ve been coming to realize that writing all this poetry has helped me discover and define myself, and has helped to show me who I want to be. When asked to “remember why I wrote it,” the answer is complex and fickle, just how my poetry feels like it has been lately. There are so very many lessons and interpretations and suggestions in poems of any kind, and I find myself wanting to become the person I try to be in my poetry (when I write about being a happy, optimistic individual, that is). Perhaps understandably, I’m feeling overwhelmed because there has been a sudden massive influx of incredible words that I’m trying to not let slip away. You all ever have profound, life-changing experiences with poetry? Or the a littler kind of thing where you changed up your routine because of something pretty cool you heard or read? Has it ever happened a lot in a short period of time?

I’m interested to hear your voices if any of you are up to sharing. I know I could talk for hours on the topic of poetry and the effect it has had on my life, so I hope the above is comprehensive. If not, I’d totally be up to talk for hours.

Body of Words

Why do people get tattoos? Do they get words permanently etched into their bodies to represent their life’s experiences, or experiences they would like to have? Maybe you have one/more than one and could incorporate it/them into this prompt.

Prompt: What words would make up which body parts/organs/bones if you were made of ink? You might consider what words you would want to display proudly, and which ones you would want to cover up. Would there be any words that would demand attention over others?

So maybe you want to jot down a personal response to this writing exercise in your journal or wherever you keep your other words. Maybe you’ll then be able to go off of that response and then something so amazing will come of this prompt that it will take on a whole life its own and will be reborn an island unto itself. If you achieve that level of awesomeness, praise be and keep doing you. If you achieve another, lesser level of awesomeness that us mere mortals might possibly be able to handle, share it in a comment! 🙂

The Great Poet

What makes a poet great?

It’s 10:30am on a Tuesday and class is about to begin. Two poets are just taking their seats while three others near the door chat about the weather. On each desk is a copy of the same three poems, scribbled on in varying hues of ink and shapes of handwriting. Workshop is open to the poets.

So we’ve all produced some amazing poetry, despite the fact that we spend what sometimes feels like forever critiquing every detail of each poem. There are some basic guidelines to poetry that we have learned to stick to in order that we might keep from writing anything less than stellar–avoid cliches, keep the adverb count down, etc.–but what’s the secret formula? It seems easy enough to point to a poem and label it, “needs work” (cough–bad–cough), but how do we distinguish the good from the great? A friend of mine recently read aloud a poem to me, and he writes poetry himself, so I had assumed this poem was his own work. When he finished, I was all ready to critique the poem and suggest some specific edits. Turns out, the poem was written by some famous Such and Such, and who was I to judge this famous Such and Such poet when I am merely a lowly college student? Certainly we could send our work to every publication out there and get a few uplifting replies, but who’s to say today’s poems we’re workshopping can’t be the next “The Road Not Taken”?