Love Poem by Susan Wheeler

I wanted to share this haunting poem by Susan Wheeler. It reminded me of the negative capability we talked about in class – listening to the unspoken parts of the poem. The broken, haunting past of the narrator and the joy s/he experiences in the present is put together like two puzzle pieces, showing us a larger and much deeper picture that does not only link the two together, but transform our perception of both pieces. For me, this is a poem about redemption of the past by the present.

Love Poem

My mother wouldn’t stand up
to wave. My father made certain
the door locked behind me.

But when I went for your door
you came too. Your mouth
made a flute of my arm,

its music a glass on the past.
My love, my love, went its song.
Now there is no need to leave.

Hiding Behind a Private Language

I’ve found out that when I write or sing in a language that I know other people cannot understand, I feel more secure. It comforts me to know that I am the only one who has access to the words, at least in most situations in Geneseo. There is no room for judgment, and it is a reminder to others that I have a whole other world they will never understand.

I think this reflects a flaw of mine: sometimes I would rather people not understand me than for people to judge me. I would rather they acknowledge the fact that they cannot put themselves in my shoes than to let them put themselves in my own shoes and let myself be vulnerable to whatever interpretations they may make of that experience. To be a successful writer (or to be successful in general), one cannot be afraid of failure and rejection. It is so hard with creative things because one’s creation is usually so tied with the creator. When one’s creation is attacked, the creator feels personally attacked. And so sometimes to protect my creation (or myself) from attacks, I would rather create something others obviously cannot understand enough to judge.

However, connection is the very thing that makes writing, or any form of communication, alive. Not trying to get too philosophical here, but I believe it is what makes the human alive too. We were made for connection, for deep, intimate connection. Our greatest desire is to be known and to be loved; our greatest fears are either to be unknown or to be known but rejected/unloved. Instead of using a second language as a barrier of communication that serves to protect my weak self-esteem and ego, I want to use it to communicate something that the reader’s native language would not be able to communicate. This is a reminder to myself that the purpose of writing in a language the reader does not understand must be meaningful even to the reader, that I cannot just use it as an escape mechanism.

Writing Exercise: Paradoxes

Ugly Perfection vs. Beautiful Ugliness: Think of an image or incident where there is artificial/empty/superficial beauty, and think of an image or incident where there is a raw beauty that comes from something ugly or bad, or at least is ugly/bad on the surface. Write about both things, either one stanza for each image/incident, or having the two things intertwine and interact with each other – both of these structural techniques can be used to highlight their differences.

Being Close to the Far vs. Being Far from the Close: Think of something or someone you are apathetic towards, but encounter almost every day. Write about this thing or person in a familiar yet detached way. Think of something or someone you hold dear to your heart that is far away from you (geographically, or maybe because of death…). Write about this thing or person either with the narrator being aware of the distance between him/herself and the thing/person, or with the narrator forgetting the distance.


In Response to Carolina and Amanda

I love Carolina’s question: what kind of poet do we want do be? For me, another way to word it would be “what do we want out poems to do, and what kind of relationship do we want to have with our poems?” Personally, anything I do must be honest and sincere. That is an expectation I hold for myself, because I have found that whenever I am not honest or produce something not out of honesty, it results in either guilt or disconnect between me and the product. Sometimes I don’t intend to be dishonest in my writing, but sometimes my writing is not skilled enough to or crafted in a way that represents my honest emotions and thoughts in their true meaning and depth.

Just as I finished typing that paragraph and checked my Facebook messages, I see this photo of a poem by Rupi Kaur that a close friend sent me:


How interesting….and timely…

And as I clicked onto the homepage of Facebook, I see this post from my dear friend Louis Marzella (Geneseo alumni) whom some of you might know:

*warning: midnight linguistic relativist rant ahead*

I truly believe that writing is an almost magical process and one of the most powerful things a person can do. When you are able to apply language to subconscious thoughts, feelings, and instincts, you not only come to more thoroughly understand those abstractions – you also arrive at totally new insights that conceptually may never have existed without language. I so often zip through life on autopilot without taking the time to reflect on my state of affairs, but I find that the times that I engage in deliberate verbal reflection – beyond passive, vague mental reflection – are the times I most consciously, clearly, and intimately know my self. If it’s your thing, I would encourage everyone to keep a journal or at least talk to yourself in the shower or the car. I really believe it can empower you in a concrete way and help you to see things differently.

I think Louis makes a great point. Writing is an act of self-discovery as is reflecting, except that it’s a concrete way of reflecting – there’s something about being able to see your thoughts visually and not just hearing them in your head. You realize things about yourself you wouldn’t have known if you didn’t write them down. You are able to step further away from yourself and look at yourself in a new light. Why we must know ourselves truthfully is another packed question, basically alluding to “is there an unchangeable truth ” and “what is the meaning of life”… Personally I don’t think any writing (or anything, actually) matters if there is no constant truth we can hold on to, if anything we do is permissible and if all boundaries are empty, meaningless or even harmful social constructs. But I digress.

If those are the two things that are most valuable about writing – the healing and the self-discovery – then I would say Kaur is right in his poem (although as Carolina has suggested, we cannot be sure whether those are Kaur’s true thoughts). Personally I think that is the kind of relationship I want with my writing – my writing serves as a mirror, sometimes a painting (this involves more manipulation and intention than the mirror), as therapy, and if none of those apply to me, that they would be those things to the reader. I’m fine with people relating to writing that I may not relate to or agree with anymore, but that piece of writing will probably lose value in my own eyes (unless the difference between what I write and who I am or think I am is so notable and telling of how I’ve changed).

So to summarize, what matters most in your writing (Amanda’s question) depends on what kind of poet you want to be (Carolina’s question). I value honesty in my writing since I have found that honest writing brings me the most healing, freedom from hurt/narrow-mindedness/shame/apathy, and joy, and so I want to be the kind of poet that either heals/frees/brings joy to me or the reader.

Truth and Emotion

Something about what philosophers in our readings have been saying is bothering me – they seem to think reason and emotion are two opposites, that the truth is independent of emotions, that having your emotions affect your actions is a sign of weakness. But to me that is simply not true.

The truth cannot be apart from emotion. We experience satisfaction when we do a good deed, and it is part of what drives us to keep carrying out good deeds. Emotions convey truth, and to me they are proof that a truth exists (the fact that different people can relate to a certain thing together but in individually unique ways too is a miracle; it’s like we are parts of a whole). For example, when I feel the joy my mother’s banana bread gives me, to me the emotion stems from the knowledge that I am loved by her (and also from the knowledge that she makes really good banana bread). When I learn something from new from class and get excited about it, it is from knowing that I have learned a new truth, and that I love learning about truth. When I feel empty despite all the work I’ve done to be a good person/student/friend, it is pointing at the truth that I need something other than myself to fill me up and fuel me. Without emotions, how would we know from right and wrong? Righteousness would then become mere rules and legislation, and there would be no joy in learning what is true.

So often people see truth as a boring, inflexible thing, something that puts people in boxes and limits them. I have a friend who refuses to commit to one truth because she thinks it will limit her ability to relate to people and appreciate art. But I think truth involves action, and that is the action of loving others, which of course involves and is often aided by emotion. We may have differing views on what truth is, but I think most people can agree that things like being kind, being generous, being encouraging, being patient, and so on, are good things i.e. things that align with our truth/our view of what is good. And all those good qualities come from a love for others.

Professor Ashley Pankratz (who, sadly, is not in Geneseo anymore) once shared a quote that talked about writing as an act of love. It is the writer’s attempt to make the world a better place. If so, writing that conveys strong emotion and reveals the weaknesses and struggles of the writer must not be seen as fallacy so much as an act of love and of truth.

Does the Poet or Reader Make the Poem?

The first thing that pops up when I google “how to write a poem” is Poetry Writing: 10 Tips on How to Write a Poem. Here is an excerpt from the website:

If you are writing a poem because you want to capture a feeling that you experienced, then you don’t need these tips. Just write whatever feels right. Only you experienced the feeling that you want to express, so only you will know whether your poem succeeds.

If, however, your goal is to communicate with a reader — drawing on the established conventions of a literary genre (conventions that will be familiar to the experienced reader) to generate an emotional response in your reader — then simply writing what feels right to you won’t be enough.

These tips will help you make an important transition:

  • away from writing poetry to celebrate, commemorate, or capture your own feelings (in which case you, the poet, are the center of the poem’s universe)
  • towards writing poetry in order to generate feelings in your reader (in which case the poem exists entirely to serve the reader).

This made me wonder which type of poetry we are leaning towards. I’m guessing we’re leaning towards the latter type, where the objective is to “generate feelings in your reader.” It doesn’t say “make your reader feel your own feelings,” but instead it just leaves it at “generate feelings.” This then makes me think that perhaps a poem could still be successful even if the reader does not understand the poet’s original motives or reasoning behind the poem, just as long as the poem moves the reader in a way that is meaningful to the reader him/herself.

How many readers does the poem need to move in order to be counted as successful? What if the poet is completely emotionally detached from the poem but is still able to move the reader deeply? Does the poet put the soul into the poem or does the reader?

The poet is the one who creates the poem and causes its existence, but the reader is the one who fulfills the purpose of the poem (if we are talking about the sort of poem that is written to communicate to an audience other than the poet him/herself). A creation without purpose can still exist, but purpose is what makes the creation alive. By alive, I mean the creation has a real impact on other people’s thoughts, feelings, values, and actions – it has a living effect on the world.

It’s funny how our sense of purpose relies so much on how others receive us. I think many people in American culture (I don’t want to generalize, but it is a trend I’ve noticed when I compare the American culture to other cultures) are often taught to promote self above all else – just “do you,” as long as it makes you happy. But there seems to be more to purpose than just doing what makes you “happy” – somehow our joy isn’t complete until we share it. We need others to help us find our purpose, because if there were no other people, there would be no one who needs us.

I don’t know how to explain how I ended up here..I tend to link everything to large philosophies and my personal knowledge of truth…it’s how I make sense of life, I think.


Bridge to Poetry

This post is me trying to figure out where the disconnect between me and poetry is. Or where the connection is, because there must be one…right?

I appreciate how creative and aesthetic poetry can be, but so far not much poetry has fed my soul. I like reading things I gain a deep understanding of, whether the understanding is more on an intellectual, emotional or spiritual level. Just as long as I feel changed or feel like I gained something after reading, I am usually satisfied. However, poetry to me often feels like it’s hiding something rather than revealing something. Perhaps the action of hiding itself reveals something, but so much seems hidden from me that it frustrates me.

The art of revealing more through less – now that I think about it, that is actually something truly admirable. Too often, perhaps, I scramble to find as many words as I can to accurately describe the exact message I want to convey. When I write a poem, I often feel as if I need to deliberately hide something I want to express, or express it in a less complete way. However, I know that good poetry expresses an image/images, and part of the beauty is how different people could interpret these images in so many unique ways, or even get different images from the same poem – if a picture is worth a thousand words, than a good poem could possibly be worth a million words. Instead of thinking of a message I want to convey before I sit down to write a poem, perhaps I should just start visualizing images and writing them down, and then discover the meaning behind the images and connect them in a way that makes sense to me.

Okay. I think I feel a bit less intimidated by having to write poems after breaking down a possible process of writing it – see the images, write down the images, connect the images.

Poetry – a Foreign Language

Let the beginning of the next line catch the rise of the rhythm wave, unless you want a definite longish pause.

Naturally, your rhythmic structure should not destroy the shape of your words, or their natural sound, or their meaning…

The Musician can rely on pitch and the volume of the orchestra. You can not. The term harmony is misapplied in poetry; it refers to simultaneous sounds of different pitch…

I was surprised to see Pound make so many parallels between different aspects of music and poetry, and the more I read, the more I realized that a major reason why poetry seems to foreign to me is that I can’t say I get poetic rhythm. I am familiar with musical rhythm, what I like and don’t like when it comes to music, but with poetry, it’s hard for me to decide what I like and don’t like. I don’t know what Pound means when he says “catch the rise of the rhythm wave,” or how rhythmic structure can “destroy the shape of your words” (does this simply mean putting words together that don’t sound good together?). I don’t where the line between “good abstract” and “bad abstract” is (I get the idea that being specific is always best, but my impression of a lot of poetry is that they are still abstract even if they use specific imageries, because the specific imageries are linked together in a very abstract way, and I often still end up feeling lost).  I like to read things I understand – most of the time I feel as if there is at least 70% of the poem I don’t understand. Images are important to ground me in a poem and to make a poem more relatable; images also tend to tell more stories than words. I have to say, I blame mostly myself for it, because I read very little poetry. That is probably why I do not speak the language.