The Ramblings of an Elephant Critic

There was an experiment done in which art critics were tested in deducing whether a series of abstract paintings were made by experienced artists or by elephants with paint brushes. They were able to correctly guess which was which 100% of the time. Years and years of training in an expressive field can hone your instincts in distinguishing when a work was done with skill and intent or when it was hastily slapped together, but given the illusion of being sophisticated. I’m not at that level. I’m the guy that scoffs at the art museum, “All she did was draw a circle on a red canvas. What’s so special about it?”

I’m not a poet. I don’t mean that in a meta philosophical way, along the lines of, “how could anyone consider themselves a poet if poetry itself is so subjective?” No. I mean, for real, I don’t have the slightest idea what I’m doing. My exposure to poetry seems to never be enough, no matter how much of it I read. More often than not, on any given poem, I’ll concede that I simply don’t confidently grasp the meaning.

Continue reading “The Ramblings of an Elephant Critic”

Poetry’s Loyal Accomplices

We’ve begun to think about translation and poetry in some pretty unfavorable terms as of late. After reading the clean shirt of it and framing ourselves, as readers, as accomplices to the poet/their speaker, I’ve began to imagine the intimacy of poetry in a different light. Poetry, as I’ve seen it, revolves around making connections between and via metaphors, images, sonic devices like rhyme or alliteration, any kind of repetition, and speaker and reader– creating an intimacy between disparate worldviews, words, things, or people.

However, in my more current (and admittedly less thought out) thoughts, I’m seeing poetry as more of an act of loyalty (as I’m reluctant to call poetry an act of faith since I think that removes some of the agency from a crafting poet and a close reader). There seems to me to be a kind of implicit contract that goes into poetry, as in the truths held within the page will not leave the confines of a speaker’s word or the infinitely varied spectrum of reader interpretation. The relationship between speaker and reader changes with whoever reads it.

Since there is this connection, but perhaps one we forge out of survival rather than desire (hence loyalty), our own version of a poem, perhaps our own translations, become acts of secrecy or selfish crimes, ones we’re getting away with. I think Britto’s/Novey’s word of accomplice fits that idea very nicely. We’re driven to act or change, even in the tiniest ways by poetry and the implicit connection between reader and speaker. In well-written poetry, I’m beginning to feel, intimacy fostered on the page can loyally extend beyond it. Loyalty is intimacy moved to action.

Thanks for reading.

on Plath

I made it my mission to analyze all of Sylvia Plath’s poetry. So far, I’ve read her collections “Ariel” and “The Colossus.” As a whole, her poems had melancholy tones, including “Morning Star,” which was written for her daughter, Frieda. Her stanzas were relatively short and her poems rarely exceeded three pages. Plath tended to personify nature in her writing. “Whoever heard a sunset yowl like that,” “let the stars Plummet to their dark address” (Magi), “the moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary,” (Purdah), and  “by day, only the topsoil heaves” (The Colossus) are all great examples of this technique. 

Furthermore, I noticed that she used the following words/phrases in more than one poem:

  • Bald
  • Eye—
  • Hooks
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nike
  • Lozenges
  • Caked
  • Adam (Eve)
  • “At my feet”
  • Veil
  • Sheets
  • Cheesecloth

Looking at these words on the same list is puzzling. They do not seem to connect to each other in any way. And yet, they each find a place in her work. I was especially fascinated by “cheesecloth,” and figured it was a more common item in her life than in mine. Although we were both American women alive at relatively the same time, our vocabulary still differed from one another. I think it would be interesting to try and write my own “version” of her poems. Though we speak the same language, I expect that it will look somewhat different from hers. I plan on starting off this project by incorporating some of her quotes and words into my own work. In doing so, I hope that Plath’s work will teach me a little bit about my own writing style.

Confessions about the Confessional

The Art of Losing

Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

So many things seem filled with the intent

To be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent,

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! My last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went,

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Continue reading “Confessions about the Confessional”

My Own Poetry

I’ve been thinking about my own poetry a lot recently thanks to this class, and I feel a bit disillusioned. From a young age, I’ve been told I’m good at poetry (this poem I wrote in first or second grade that I don’t really remember being frequently cited by my parents as proof), but I’m not sure how true that is. In fourth grade, I was told my writing (it was prose) was very “poetic.” I like to think that’s true sometimes, but even accepting that statement as true, does that I’m good at writing poetry? I’m a huge fan of metaphors, so I probably throw those around in a lot of my work, but besides that, I’m not sure if there is any poetic artistry involved in my actual poetry. Line breaks? Effectively my poetry’s comma. Rhyming? Just no (although I think the great realization that poetry does not have to rhyme was a huge step forward). Meter? What’s that? That was a joke. I promise I know what it is. Writing with it in mind is another story though. I suppose I am unsatisfied with my current poetry. I think some lines come out nice, but its far from masterful.

Even more bothersome is the incapability I feel about writing happy poems or really any feeling that isn’t pain or unease. I feel like I lack the words to describe feelings that aren’t hopeless. I jokingly refer to myself as the unpleasant poet. Just yesterday, I joked to my sister that my latest workshop poem would cement me as the kid who just writes unsettling stuff. But I don’t really want to be that person. By all means, successfully unsettling the reader does make me, dare I say, proud, but I don’t want it to be my only talent (assuming it is a talent I possess in the first place).

Ultimately, I don’t want this to be a pathetic praise/pity grab, but a reflection to lead to improvement. I was thinking that I should challenge myself to write poems I don’t usually write for the rest of the workshops. This is the best setting to learn after all.

Right now, my goals consist of 1 happy poem (that’s pretty vague, isn’t it?) and 1 narrative poem. The last narrative poem I wrote was written in 6th grade and probably overflowing with more cheese than an overstuffed quesadilla (although I still look back on it fondly). I’ve also been thinking about epic poems recently (like the Odyssey), but that might be just a bit too much. Just a bit. I still need a few more ideas to fill out this semester, but I think this is a good start.

Music as Poetry

I find a lot of solace in the sounds that come out of my headphones. Coming back to Geneseo has been something I long awaited during the summer, and the moment I arrive back, things start to go downhill. Not due to any forces that I can control, things just happen sometimes. And when those things happen, music is something that always soothes the mind, induces tears, and brings me the strength to show up to class.

Music is, in a sense, poetry. Especially to some artists who really work to create lyrics that mean something. For example, lets take a look at Elliott Smith.

Smith was a deeply troubled individual, and of course his lyrics reflect that. Songs like “Between The Bars” that discuss heavy alcoholism, “Say Yes” with regret upon past relationships, and even the poppy “Baby Britain” carries heavy, dark overtones. Some lines can be blatant, outright, such as “situations get f*cked up, but turn around sooner or later” from “Say Yes”, but there are some lines that hit harder, and are very poetic. Like this verse from his song “Rose Parade”

Tripped over a dog in a choke-chain collar, people were shouting and pushing and saying they’d “traded a smoke for a food stamp dollar” as a ridiculous marching band started playing”

While it paints an incredibly intense picture, it also shows an underlying confusion of the speaker, and the hilarity that is occurring around the speaker as they try to make sense of everything. While it’s not the most happy lyric, it does a lot of work in terms of setting a scene, characterized the speaker, and creating an event that can carry on through the rest of the song.

I find Smith to be incredible not just because of his instrumentalism, but I am always impressed by the complexity of his lyrics. He studied philosophy and political science at Hampshire College, which perhaps help to explain just how he is able to take grand ideas and put them into lyrical form that not only tells a story, but makes a point. His troubled beginnings also add to this, as Smith was abused as a child and was an addict for most of his adult life. He suffered depression and committed suicide by stabbing himself in the chest (although this fact as been disputed with an argument towards him being murdered by his girlfriend at the time). These factors come together to help him create songs that hit hard, especially for one such as myself who has suffered from depression for most of my young life, thankfully not so much anymore. But even if you’ve never experienced depression, you can still connect to his music; thats how talented Smith is.

While there are many other artists who show this type of lyrical genius (KT Tunstall, David Bowie, Kendrick Lamar, Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys off of the top of my head), Smith serves as a great example for the combination of poetic verse and music, as any one of his songs can be separated from the musical component and stand on their own as great pieces of poetry. It is an interesting exercise for poets to work with.

Inspiration

I am trying harder to find time to write for fun but it’s so hard. Whenever I have the time to write, it feels like all motivation is lost. I get stage fright when the pen is in my hand and can’t find words that deserve to be on the page. I am trying to practice writing despite a lack of motivation because then maybe I’ll have more practice with how I like to format my writing and maybe find more inspiration from my attempts at writing. Learning how to push past my what I feel like I am lacking and my need for perfection on the first try feels impossible but I am getting there.

Love for Poetry

I’ve been writing poetry since I was in middle school which is why I am English Creative Writing major. I have loved writing poetry to express whatever I am feeling in the moment. Writing is a big part of my life and I hope to one day write a poetry book. I am still trying to perfect my skills as a writer and learn to share my work more but it is difficult. I’m not entirely sure how to start that process because becoming inspired doesn’t happen often enough. I am interested in learning how to publish a book and how to get my thoughts together to create a theme for a poetry book.

transformation of poetry

My vision of poetry has changed drastically throughout the years. As a young girl, I wrote blocks of texts full of description. They were hybrids of prose poems and fiction pieces. I scrawled my words on every inch of printer paper I could find. With a staple in the top-left corner, I proudly shared my pieces with my family. My mom and Dad pretended my work was marvelous, but my older sister said I used too much description. Too many words. She told me to get to the point.

From then on, I kept my poems short. Lines couldn’t stray too far from the center of the page. My stanzas were tall and thin. My words were minimal.

Up until the end of high school, I believed that good poetry must not only be short, but it also must rhyme and its stanzas must mirror one another. I relied heavily on rhyme generators to tie all my lines together. It wasn’t until I attended a writer’s retreat at Adelphi University that I realized sophisticated poetry doesn’t require rhyme.

Earlier in my college career, I wrote poetry with little to no rhymes. Internal rhymes were risky, and I was afraid my poetry would come off as corny if I utilized them. Yet again, I limited my writing based on rules that did not exist.

Upon taking an ekphrasis class, I discovered the beauty of slam poetry. Poets spoke with passion; they shouted, they whispered, they cried, they flailed their arms around. Sometimes, music accompanied their poetry. Their poems were riddled with long and short lines as well as rhyming. There wasn’t necessarily a pattern of any sort in their poetry. And yet, their words were just as powerful.

As I enter the latter half of my college career and I take this poetry workshop, I continue to learn that poetry has no limits. There are no rules to this craft. Only the poet can decide what works best for their work. Accepting this as fact is quite liberating.

Translation through Poetic Landscapes

I think I’ve been taken by the idea that a “translation” can be thought of as a movement of some idea to another location. I find the blend of conceptual and physical metaphor really appealing; an idea is not only an object than can be moved through space, but almost must be moved through (probably strenuous) effort. Maybe I’m the only one, but the image of a little mailman hunched over using every bit of their strength to carry a big, bulky crate sticks in my mind. When I think about it a little harder, though, I find translation is just a way of looking at language I’ve never thought of before. That’s exciting to me. Language sometimes gets stuck in either transactional or utilitarian ruts and my perception gets stuck with it, which isn’t necessarily wrong but it leaves out the immensity of language that underpins a translational view.

So many human interactions do rely on the little mailman being able to deliver some vague desires, ideas, thoughts to other peoples head. To think we’ve gotten to the point of being able to create complex poetry is astonishing to me. To think we’ve overcome the language and cultural barriers in that poetry, prose, whatever is even more astonishing. And to think we can deliver big ol’ idea packages with simple passing glances and other non-verbal cues, even though most basic, knocks me out of my chair. The fact that real, weighty concepts can jump through space, time, and people seemingly with such ease boggles my mind. I can only wish I could write poetry with the brevity and meaning of a smile.

Maybe this is all to say that it may be best to see language and all its translation as existing on more of a landscape than how we usually see it on a flat piece of paper. Poetry can then be viewed as a path (maybe the quickest, maybe the most scenic) to get a idea or emotion from point A to point B, from one human to another. And, like any other map, poetry will always fall a little short of actually standing in those mental woods and walking, but all we can do is try to create the best map so that others may be able to walk some similar path for themselves.

Thanks for reading.