Being Original

Be you. Be original. Blow their minds with your creative geniusness. Nowadays, authenticity and creativity are revered by artists, entrepreneurs, and scientists alike. As a self-proclaimed writer, some of my favorite pieces are ones that cannot be duplicated.

However, being in the age in which information is constantly at our fingertips and ideas bounce back and forth with the hit of a key, it’s hard to create work that can be safely considered original.

For instance, I recently drafted a poem in which the female protagonist found herself and her strength in nature. Although the sacred relationship between man and nature is not “new” I thought that the I had presented this idea in a fresh lens.

By simply flipping open literature provided to us in class I realized I was mistaken. Both an article from the Poetry Foundation and a poem by Richard Siken had already put forth this idea. For instance, the article from the Poetry Foundation stated that, “I should say at this point that, instinctively, I have little faith in the benignity of nature, that great good thing that gives us earthquakes and tsunamis as readily as it gives us daisies and nightingales. I don’t believe man is a bad blight on good nature: I believe he/she is part of nature and shares nature’s qualities. Between Versailles and the rainforest is a vast range of human interventions that move and delight me because I can identify with the instincts that created them.” On the same hand, Siken’s poem portrayed this nature-fueled, feminist heroism in his poem, ”Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out,” when he states, “You want a better story. Who wouldn’t? / A forest, then. Beautiful trees. And a lady singing. / Love on the water, love underwater, love, love and so on. / What a sweet lady. Sing lady, sing! Of course, she wakes the dragon. / Love always wakes the dragon and suddenly /  flames everywhere. /I can tell already you think I’m the dragon, / that would be so like me, but I’m not. I’m not the dragon. / I’m not the princess either.”

While I believe that these authors captured the idea that I was attempting to propose in my poem even better than I did, part of me was slightly disheartened. Do these pieces minimize my work? Has anyone else ever experienced a similar feeling?

Collaborative Poetry

Poetry is often thought of as a solitary act; an art form we do alone. I understand this, as most of our poetry is rather personal and reflective. At the same time, workshop is a collaborative effort, in which we gather the thoughts and opinions of other people on our work.

Recently, I have been wondering what would happen if we made poetry even more collaborative. Some works of fiction have co-authors, but is this possible in poetry?

Yes, according to Wikipedia, (I apologize I know referencing Wikipedia is not ideal in an academic setting) there is such a thing as collaborative poetry. Japanese poetry is influenced by collaboration, as are some famous French Surrealist poets. Similarly, Charles Henri Ford created the “chain poem” in which each author writes a line and then sends it to the next author. This type of poetry was also relevant in feminist poetry. These are just a few of the sources of collaborative poetry; however, it is enough to pique my interest.

I think it would be very interesting to write poetry collectively, especially with my talented peers here at Geneseo. All the workshops I have attended offer such great feedback and produce such amazing results, I can’t imagine what madness we could create altogether.

Next writing exercise? Collaborative poetry?

Do We Limit Ourselves with Labels?

We’ve talked about poets each having a signature style, such that their work is recognizable. I would love to know what my poetic signature is, that is what makes my work distinct. At the same time, I do not consider my writing to be fully developed. Upon entering college, my poetry has changed drastically. This change is even apparent from semester to semester. Therefore, this poetic signature that I am longing for might not even be established yet.

Do established poets feel the need to keep writing a certain style to appease their fans? Similarly, when music artists transition from one genre to another, they often receive quite cynical feedback, is the same true with poets? Do poets have an obligation to stick to one style? Are poets allowed to jump from one style to another and have both types be considered good?

On the other hand, when does this much-coveted poetic signature indicate stagnance. In other words, can one overdo a particular theme or tone? How can a poet keep pushing outside their comfort zone while maintaining a unique quality?

I would love to know what other people think about this topic. I know some of my peers have distinguishable poems and was wondering if they feel pressure to continue writing these namesake poems or if they desire to branch away. Does venturing away from your style prove to be nerve-wrecking?

Learning Curve

My undergraduate writing career began in my INTD: The Woman Writer. From my high school experience, I knew that I enjoyed reading and writing; however, I pushed my love for creative writing and reading to the back burners when I entered college.

Thankfully, my INTD class reawakened or perhaps reminded me of my love for the English language as an art form. After much debate, I decided to pursue an English minor my sophomore year.

Let me tell you, adopting an English minor made its way to my “Top Three Best Decisions in College.” I needed a creative outlet and my English classes served this purpose. After taking the select number of required classes I joyfully enrolled in some upper-level electives.

That’s when I realized that I was in over my head. Although I had taken the required classes, I still felt like I was under-experienced relative to my peers. I generally would sit back and absorb their comments in an attempt to distinguish the “good” from the “this could be better.”

Needless to say, it has taken several classes, workshops, and writing exercises to be able to critique a poem and form opinions about it, without feeling like I was stabbing in the dark. As I have gathered experience and confidence in my capabilities I have less of a problem voicing my opinions and supporting them.

I hope that any student struggling with imposter syndrome in their classes has an “aha moment” and finds their confidence and sense of belonging. It’s worth to note that my “aha” moment took a solid year or two.

Has anyone else misinterpreted their lack of experience/confidence with a lack of capability/skill?

Not Doing it Justice

As poets, we confront our fears quite often. Poetry can be a very vulnerable art form.

Lately, however, I have been struggling with a more superficial fear. There are certain subjects that I have been putting off because I feel as if I will not do them justice. At this point in my creative writing journey, I can tell from the moment I pick up the pen, whether or not a poem will elicit the “literary rush” that Henry has blogged about or if it will fall flat on its face and be deemed mediocre. It is this second outcome that scares me.

I love poetry because it can capture seemingly indescribable feelings and put them into words; however, I fear that I will be unable to capture these indescribable feelings. For example, I am an avid equestrian. Needless to say I love poetry with horse-related imagery and themes; however, I have yet to write a poem in college that references horses. I am nervous that I will not do the sport nor the animal justice. Similarly, I would love to dedicate more poems to my grandfather, yet I am afraid that I will not be able to find words that suffice.

Of course, I want to write these poems, I just do not know how. I have written more than my fair share of mediocre poems, but writing a mediocre poem about topics other than myself or an ambiguous figure makes me uneasy. What if I am not doing this external subject justice?

Does anyone else ever feel this way? What are you afraid of writing about?



While on vacation I enjoyed reading The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin. Although the book is considered fiction, there were moments that I was tempted to grab a pen and underline a few lines that I think would have been great lines of poetry. A few of these very lyrical moments made me think of some other fiction authors whose work I admire, such as Jodi Picoult and Barbara Kingsolver. When asked why I like these authors I always state that their characters are incredibly realistic and their style is very lyrical. Perhaps, I am drawn to their writing because of this lyrical quality and my poetic history. I eventually realized that some of my favorite fiction authors can almost be considered poets; in order to stay interested in a novel, I have to find beauty in the lines/sentences, rather than just the characters and plots.

Eventually, I realized that there is a rift between the different genres.We are always driven to proclaim which category we fall under and which we despise. Scan through the class listings for upper level creative writing classes and you’ll catch fiction, nonfiction and poetry workshops. Imagine if there was not as large a divide as we originally imagined. Although, there are exceptions, such as prose poetry, I still would like to see fiction and nonfiction writers acknowledging poetic techniques and elements. I love when certain sentences stand out, just as lines do.

Does anyone else have any other fiction or nonfiction authors who seem to weave poetry into their work?

Review of Home Places: Contemporary Native American Writing from Sun Tracks


Home Places  Contemporary Native American Writing from Sun Tracks edited by Larry Evers & Ofelia Zepeda


Last year, I was introduced to Joy Harjo’s She Had Some Horses from her collection of the same title. I was intrigued by her depiction of her culture and its connection to the earth. While hunting for a new collection to review, I used her books as a stepping stone, certain they would steer me in the right direction. This is how I stumbled upon Home Places,  a collection of contemporary Native American writing.

One of the first things I noticed about Home Places was its incorporation of different Native American languages, which were typically followed by the English translation. This translation served a dual purpose; of course, the work felt more authentic with the addition of language; however, it also quietly implies that the audience (assuming they are unable to translate the pieces) is an outsider.

Some pieces, such as Ta by Nora Naranjo-Morse,  forgoes the format of the previous works, instead of dividing her work into two beings, the original work and the translation, she melds the two together. The speaker of the poem confesses that they are “struggling in/ two worlds, / between Pueblo tradition/ and modern values.” This balance is visually manifested in the poem’s format as each line seems to be precariously stacked on top of the one beneath it.  

This sense of balance is highlighted throughout the collection, even the “fool crow” in Joy Harjo’s poem “perches on the blue bowl of the sky, and laughs.”  Wendy Rose’s poem,The Endangered Roots of a Person, claims that people should embrace their sense of self, like Harjo’s fool crow by “becoming strong on this earth […] in becoming an animal shape against the sky.”  

As noted in Harjo and Rose’s poems, the collection is rich with natural imagery. The speakers seem to ground themselves in the natural world, as Elizabeth Woody says in In Memory of Crossing the Columbia, “my breastplate, the sturdy/ belly of mountainside” and  “She is the mountain of women / who have lain as volcanoes / before men.” There is something intensely bittersweet about the gifts that the natural world offers the speakers of the poems, as Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez exclaims that “there was no denying/ the singing that took place/ when my mother and father knelt/ to pat the earth/ beneath the bare peach tree,” despite  describing their “home/ to Indian land/ Reservation   rocks broken bottle glass.”

Thus, this collection offers a bittersweet balance between tradition and current times, which is reflected in the metamorphosis of the land, as stated in Ralph Cameron’s, My Land, My Water, My Mountains,  in which “The land I was born on was clean” which is followed by “Now it is not like that.” All in all, this collection intertwines culture, self, and earth beautifully.  

Are Poets Allowed to Hit the Like Button?

I have a bookmarked folder on my computer titled “Poetry.” It’s a sampling of different online literary journals and poems that I have acquired during my time at college.

What made me want to tag these for future inspiration?

I liked them.

While I would love to give an in-depth analysis of the technique and craft intrinsic to each work, I cannot, nor do I have the motivation to.

Are we, as self-proclaimed readers and writers, obligated to analyze and dissect each poem that we stumble across? Do we owe every poem/poet that piqued our interest a lengthy session mulling over meaning and meter?

The student in me says “Yes, why practice poetry if you’re not going to commit to it?”

The I-started-writing-poetry-before-I-even-knew-what-a-good-poem-looked-like poet naively says no, of course not, poetry is an art form meant to be enjoyed.

As you can see, I’m on the fence. I feel as if I am doing poems a disservice if I read them and slap on a gold star without giving an ounce of thought to poetic voice or alliteration. Perhaps, after spending a significant amount of time workshopping my peers’ pieces I have developed an intrinsic capability of analysis, as a result, during my reading of a new piece I do not have to actively think about technique in order to acknowledge the work’s merit. Unfortunately, I do not believe that this is the case. Some poems I simply like.

Does anyone else feel as if they cannot give a good ol’ thumbs up to a poem without providing some sort of academic reason?


People are scared of brevity. It’s a limit: the amount of time we are allowed to walk on this Earth, kiss the people we love, watch the sunset. Everything centers around time. Length.

As a poet, I am scared of brevity. I am afraid that my poems will be lacking if they do not filtrate at least half the page. While I have written poems that are shorter, even upon completion, I felt as if they were missing complexity and depth in their truncated state.

This is not to say that I do not admire short poems; there is a tremendous amount of craft in poems that can create feeling and beauty in a smattering of lines. As poets we fall in love with individual lines in a poem before we profess our love for the entire poem. Yet, I still feel as if I must prove something in each poem- instill it with meaning- which often requires a substantial amount of space.

I find it difficult to forge a poem out of a few lines, a few words, though I know it is entirely possible. Look at haikus. People have been writing three-line poems for centuries. Haikus do not seem to be lacking; however, I am still unable to pinpoint what my personal poems seem to be missing when they are condensed.

Does anyone have other thoughts on short poems? Any experience writing short poems?

Enter the Epigraph

As artists we are always attempting to be original. To break the status quo. To write the next best, mind-blowing masterpiece. Sometimes, though, we sequester inspiration from our peers or our favorite writers.

Enter the epigraph.

I realize that the epigraph is slightly controversial in that it can be distracting from the primary work; however, I would like to try at least one or two poems that are composed from a pre-existing work or quote.

Using epigraphs does not detract from the author’s personal creativity or originality. Epigraphs can act as stepping stones for your own ideas.

Perhaps the reason I am eager to add an epigraph to my work is my love of quotes. While many quotes can be labeled as cliche, I find some to be very raw, honest, and eye-opening. All of these characteristics are things that I want my writing to be infused with. On the other hand, some epigraphs raise questions, which my work tends to lack. Incorporating such real life questions in my work will only strengthen me as a writer.

How does everyone else feel about epigraphs? Feel free to share experiences at previous attempts!