Abstract Reality

One of the most challenging thing for writers, in my opinion, is avoiding abstraction in your work, especially in a medium like poetry. I’ve fallen victim to the use of words like “fear,” “anger,” and ironically, “clarity.” The words seem powerful enough, but they can vastly differ from person to person. Reading poems from Gandy Dancer, Erin Kae’s Grasp This Salt, as well as Aracelis Girmay’s The Black Maria, I was greeted with vivid imagery like “Our roadmap folds into a fan and shoots into the puck//ered eye of a toll booth worker,” in Mitchell Angelo’s “Motion Sickness.”

I think some of it lies in the fact that when I get inspired or get an idea for a poem I feel compelled, like many, to write it down. But in the process of getting it down, I overlook the necessity of revising and editing my lines to include more specific details rather than just broad ideas. To me it feels like writing an outline for a short story, or maybe writing the entire thing in just exposition. To get the idea of what you want to say but it’s not as fulfilling as it could be.

I’ve been exploring the poetry resources online and found a few places where they list abstract words to avoid in writing. I think some of the most surprising I’ve found have been “envy,” and “sorrow.” They feel like strong words, but I can see how they lack the specificity required to break free of the “abstract” label.

Source Code

So, I’ve noticed that when writing poetry, my poems tend to turn out better when I’m doing a writing exercise rather than if I’m just sitting down writing from nothing. I think it gives credence to the idea that using constraints, as writers, can help kickstart our creative juices. It’s a trick I used often when writing fiction. It usually starts with a character and a quirk and then it turns into a short blurb, an outline, and eventually if it picks up enough steam, a story. Poetry works the same way for me. It reminds me of working a garden. It’s hard to grow a plant without having a seed first. These exercises work as a seed from which we can water with our own creativity and blossom a plant that will eventually become a beautiful flower. The exercise where we had to pick a book unrelated to the creative side of literature, I ended up choosing a finance book. The terms and sayings just hit me in a way where I felt a door unlock and the words came pouring out.

I think it’s interesting pondering the things that act as inspiration for us. I usually write about nature and the environment, so to have a book about finance inspire me to write poetry was really weird. Does anyone else have seemingly contradictory or odd sources of inspiration?

How I got here

To be honest I never found myself attracted to the idea of writing poetry. I never wrote poems growing up, nor did I find myself picking up poetry books in high school or in college. But I did eventually grow to appreciate the creative outlet that is poetry. One of my assignments in class included finding a poet and trying to imitate their style and form. My friend had given me a book titled “Love Poems” by Pablo Neruda. In it he writes these amazing poems about the time he vacationed on a tropical island with his lover. The intense focus on nature, and duality of love for his girl and love for the earth inspired me in my own work. Although, more in fiction than in poetry.

The main reason I’m in this class is to pick up some techniques that I could use to help me better my fiction. When I was in fiction workshops, poets were the ones who always brought the most unique and experimental fiction to class. While occasionally it fell flat, there was always something in their stories that I was envious of and wanted to try out in my own fiction. I think it’s the courage to try out something new, something game changing, that I really want to learn from this semester, even if I don’t pursue poetry in the future.

The Method in my Madness

For many years, my father would look at my creative process and gasp at how chaotic it becomes. Most of my notebooks are organized like that one movie scene from A Beautiful Mind starring Hollywood’s most underappreciated actors in Russell Crowe. I am mainly a fiction writer, and unfortunately when I am struck with inspiration it’s often dispersed in a myriad of notebooks. I have roughly 15 different mini-composition books, all filled cover to cover with characters, scenes, ideas, sketches, jokes, etc. He likes to say he “sees the madness in my method.”

The biggest reason for my massive collection of notebook is that when I do have the inkling to write I’m usually outdoors, walking through whichever park I feel like exploring that day. I find nature to be my biggest inspiration, which is weird considering that I despised being away from my television set as a child. I have a deep fascination of discovering and exploring places I’ve never been. Usually those untouched by the claws of civilization. When I’m exploring a park, I like to imagine how the place came to be, how it looked at the beginning of the millennia. I like to wonder who walked those paths before me, which animals may have passed or flown by. When I’m surrounded by trees I feel most natural, as if I am able to tap into my creative juices unhindered. Secluded areas often find their way into my stories. Last semester, for example I wrote a story where one scene takes place similar to that of Geneseo’s arboretum. The creek acted in my story as an allegory for life moving on after death.