When I began penning my first poem of the semester I began to feel nervous. I racked my brain for ideas, words, phrases that would offer me some inspiration or a starting point, but I had no such luck. I spent way too long staring at a blank page. I asked myself what if I had simply lost my ability to write a poem. What if my lack of writing over winter break had left my poetry rusty? Last semester, writing poems felt like muscle memory and suddenly, a month later, I had forgotten how to work my writing muscle.
Fast-forward to class where we had begun talking about sound. As a somewhat inexperienced poet, I tend to stray away from sound-focused poetry. Considering my newfound writer’s block, sound was not on my priority list- I needed something to write before I could contemplate how it sounds.
Fortunately, I eventually realized that nothing gets me more excited to write a poem than a challenge. I love difficult writing exercises and I quickly came to the conclusion that “sound” was just another challenging writing exercise. Rather than feeling frazzled by the inclusion of sound in my poems I am now eager to try my hand at it.
Though we are alway supposed to assume that what our fellow poets produce and share does not give us insight about them, most of us automatically jump to conclusions, myself included. The moment I begin reading workshop pieces, I assume that the speaker or the protagonist is the author, although I realize that this is a grand fallacy. I even catch myself stumbling over this in workshop, as I critique someone else’s work. I typically consider the speaker and the author the same person, even going so far as to make the author’s name and the speaker, “I,” interchangeable.
On a similar note, I believe that writing poetry and sharing it requires bravery. Many of us write about deeply personal topics regarding our family relationships, pasts, sexuality, and heritage. Needless to say, it can be nerve-wrecking to take such a vulnerable piece of yourself and let a classroom full of students critique it.
Even when I read published collections, I mesh the author and the speaker’s identities together.
I believe that I stop writing from other people’s perspectives because it feels fraudulent and sometimes politically incorrect. I know that other people have struggled with this, as well. If you do write a poem that does not revolve around oneself, how do you justify narrating someone else’s thoughts?
I was wondering how everyone else stops themselves from assuming that the speaker of the poem is in fact themselves. I also was wondering if anyone else gets nervous exposing themselves through their writing.
This is my shout-out to people who don’t consider themselves writers (although the majority of people reading this are absolutely writers.) My hope as a self-titled writer is that the rest of the population that shirks away from writing will find the beauty in writing sooner rather than later.
Personally, I believe that everyone is capable of writing poetry. Poetry is an art form, thus, there is no right or wrong way to mastermind a poem. I think that most people get trapped in the assumption that they are not “good enough” to write poetry. Perhaps they are scared of judgement from peers or themselves. The only way to overcome this fear is to pick up a pencil and start writing.
Even reading other people’s poetry is a step in the right direction. If you’re new to poetry, that’s the time to explore all the different styles and authors. By exploring many different styles, you have a better chance at finding poetry that really clicks with you. You might stumble upon a poem that is similar to one you are too scared to write down, which might give you the nerve you need to actually pick up the pen and paper.
Poetry has so many benefits: it helps us be more empathetic by placing ourselves in someone else’s shoes; it allows for self-expression; and it can be therapeutic.
All in all, I hope that more people will discover poetry, even if they are hesitant at first.
One of the reasons I love workshops is that it pushes me out of my creative comfort zone. Unfortunately, whenever I’m given the chance, I still find myself returning to its (my comfort zone’s) warm embrace.
Not only do I seek out my comfort zone in my own writing, but I look for it and commend it in my peers’ work, as well as published authors. For instance, I recently came across a collection by one of my favorite authors, Joy Harjo. I thoroughly enjoy her work; however, I know that I am not doing myself, nor her work, any favors by only highlighting the elements of her poems that I like. Workshops have taught me to look past the superficial aesthetics of the poems that I used to focus on (well, I still do, but I hope to a lesser extent) and shed light on the deeper, more meaningful aspects of the poem.
If I’m being honest, one of the reasons I chose Joy Harjo’s collection was the predominant equine imagery and the ambiguous female pronouns (sound familiar?) While I know that I am judging the book by its cover, so to speak, I am eager to unearth the grit in her poems, as well.
I want to use this so-called technique in my own work. In other words, I want to write a poem that is appealing on the surface level, but raises questions once the reader actually becomes engrossed in it.
Oftentimes, I get too caught up in the surface-level fluff, aka the pretty picture that the poet paints, rather than the true purpose of the poem. That surface level “fluff” is my comfort zone. While I still want to acknowledge my comfort zone, because that’s what originally drew me to poetry, I want to become a better poet. That means that I must step away from the man-made utopias that I usually associate with poems and look more at raw emotion and human imperfections (the things that I tend to stray away from in my writing.)
What do you all do to get out of your comfort zone in your writing?
Most, if not all, of us have experienced writer’s block at one point or another. I tend to experience writer’s block the most when I first sit down to begin a poem. That being said, I have come to be quite fond of prompts. I honestly believe that some of my best work has stemmed from a given prompt, as they usually force me outside my comfort zone and away from my natural train of thought. Thus, I always appreciate the prompts that Professor Lytton feeds us through our class handout. While, I usually have fun challenging myself to write a poem about a “One night stand with an astronaut,” or reproducing my favorite poem in negative images, I still struggle with writer’s block.
For instance, this week’s main prompt asked us to create a poem that felt like its lines were balancing both gravity and flight. As the wheels in my brain began turning, I could not think of anything “worthy” to write down. This feeling of being lost on the page eventually subsided and a poem began to emerge. It was literally about flight, as in the act of flying in a plane, not the war between weightlessness and mass in my lines. I felt as ifI had failed the prompt, even if it had done its job of giving me something to work towards.
Similarly, last week we were asked to choose ten outstanding lines from other poems, compile them all into one poem, and then build our own poem off of this foundation. I ended up using an image from the first line I chose and scrapped the rest. Again, not what the prompt was asking.
I understand that the prompt is meant to simply lead one down the path to a new poetic concept, yet I can’t shake the feeling that I owe the prompt something once I use it as a springboard (especially considering that none of my latest exercises look anything like the prompts that they originated from.) What are your thoughts on this or prompts in general? Any cool ideas for a prompt? Please feel free to share!
Class commenced the other day with the simple question, “How do you start your poems?” We were given three options: image, sound, or idea.
This question makes me think back to my last piece to have been workshopped, which was definitely forged from a distinct image. Imagery is such an important part of poetry, that it feels natural to paint a picture through the written word. Unfortunately, I have the tendency to digress in poems that are built on a specific image. Without an underlying message, my image-based poems tend to meander to and fro, not really lending the audience a solid theme to sink their teeth into. While I believe that poetry can stand as an art form alone and doesn’t always need to be characterized as anything other than “beautiful,” the lack of a definite meaning can be frustrating for both the author and the audience.
Personally, I overlook sound the most when it comes to poetry. Therefore, I find it interesting that people begin poems with a specific sound in mind. To anyone who does start their poetry based on a sound, I would love to know more about your process! Please feel free to share!
On the other hand, I think using an idea as a starting block for a poem will probably result in the smoothest construction. Beginning with an idea automatically gives the poem a structure that is not as easily developed with sound and image. Thus, one’s writing may flow more naturally, or logically, along its course, rather than jumping from one image or sound to the next. While, I initially answered the aforementioned question with “image,” I believe that I am also prone to writing poems when something is bothering me, which would fall into the category of “idea.”
Please let me know what your own writing process is! I am always curious to see how other people go about writing their own pieces.
I have always been in awe of my peers’ writing abilities. Poem after poem, I stumble on lines that I want to emulate or techniques that I want to try out in my own work. Despite my admiration of these poems, I have taken enough workshops that I am now engineered to add suggestions and cuts as I peruse the poems. Personally, when writing poems I never feel like I can carve out the final edition; I feel as if there is always room for improvement.
I have a different mindset when reading published poems. I think that simply being published adds a sense of inaccessibility to the poems. No one is willing to take a red pen to Robert Frost or Walt Whitman. I think it would be interesting to workshop poems that are already considered untouchable because of their longevity in the canon.
I think that workshopping some of the classics would help us polish our own editing process. I think that reading some of these poets whether they are similar to our own writing style or very different and then trying to workshop them would be very beneficial.
Overall, I think that workshopping or taking a red pen to already published works would make them more accessible and let us appreciate them even more.
After reading A Broken Thing, I have come to learn that we must fall in love with each line we write in a poem. Each line requires the same whole-hearted devotion that the entire work needs; not just puppy love, but lasting love. It must endure the decision to be cut, wadded up, and thrown into the wastebasket with a million other unfinished lines. By surviving draft after draft, each line proves to the poet that it is worthy of its spot on the page.
Unfortunately, our peers do not always show the same adoration for every single line in our pieces. During workshop, some lines are met with “knocks,” while others are tossed to the side. While the critiquers always have the poem’s best interests in mind, they have not developed the same relationship with the line as its creator. Thus, facing the decision to either cut or keep a beloved line can be rather difficult.
When is it warranted to keep a line that others believe should be thrown away? Do you always go with “majority rules” and cut lines that are met with overwhelming disapproval? Do you start a new poem with the exiled line? Or do you edit it slightly, to keep the backbone of the line alive, rather than dismissing it completely?
I have a systematic approach when it comes to beginning any assignment.
Step 1.) Open Word or Google Docs, ect.
Step 2.) Write my name on the top left corner.
Step 3.) Write the date.
Step 4.) Title the assignment.
Step 5. ) Begin writing.
Needless to say, there is little room for creativity. Everything is perfectly aligned, with no room for breathing space. I always assumed that the creativity was limited to the body of the work, with some exceptions for the title. The author’s name, the table of contents, everything else is standardized and rigid. My name acts as the gatekeeper to my work. Being a proper noun, it introduces my work in all its capitalized glory.
Therefore, I was rather surprised when I was presented with poems that had the author’s name coursing across the page in lowercase. I felt that surely this detracted from their authority as a writer; it must signal a lack of pride or confidence in their work. Now; however, I don’t believe this is the case– the poets are simply giving their name its own style and technique. In essence, their name becomes its own line.
Some poets represent themselves with their initials, just their first name, or a pen name. Once again, this is a stylistic choice. They are using the vessel of identity, something thought to be unchangeable, to either reinforce their identity or change it completely. The line consisting of the author’s name can shield the writer or expose them to the world. Thus, the stylistic choice of the author’s “signature” is a craft in itself.
“Focus on what you normally don’t focus on,” Professor Lytton advised as we began class. He told us to devote a minute to writing down techniques that we generally overlook- this written statement would serve as a visual reminder to step out of our comfort zones.
I made a note to spend more time looking at the syllables that compose each line. While I will sometimes pay attention to the rhythm forged by line structure, line breaks, and syntax, I tend to disregard the vital role that syllables play in a poem’s rhythm and sound. As a result, both my critiques and my own writing suffers.
My tendency to ignore syllables within a poem became even more apparent as I read Finch’s essay in A Broken Thing. Finch dove headfirst into the world of syllables; spewing words such as meter, iambic pentameter, and dactylic verse. The only time that I could breathe a sigh of relief was when she referenced free verse. Free verse is my comfort zone– like me, it ignores the conventions surrounding meter and syllables.
After attending class in which we made a conscious effort to look at our technical shortcomings and reading an essay regarding my own weakness, I have realized that I am doing myself and more importantly, my poetry and my peers, a disservice. This realization has inspired me to take on the challenge and work syllables and different forms into my writing.