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
I began writing when I was eight years old, composing lyrics to songs with no music behind them. I thought music was the only thing worth writing in a world concerned with fame and money. But I thought it always had to be about love or pain to be popular. So I wrote about my nonexistent romantic encounters and faults. I never approached topics that meant anything to me. I grew tired of hearing no instrumentals to the words I wrote so I stopped writing for a long time (almost 6 years). In ninth grade, I started writing short stories about the people I saw walking into train cars. I wrote stories inspired by Criminal Minds episodes and my amazement at peoples judgmental attitudes towards the arts. Amidst transcribing a rant about politics and conformity, my friends looked up the qualities that pertained to my astrological sign. And since was birthed my first official poem, “Ode to a Gemini.” That’s when I realized words could explain more things than just love or pain. They can dig out all the hate, disgust, lust and trust in you and bring them to the surface, without any music in the background.
I ended up writing poetry in a way that felt natural but accidental: more a tumble than a growth. When I really reflect upon it, I think I honestly owe it to an inherent and intense hatred of math. I fell in love with language in the first grade, as my teacher always gave us the choice between free-reading or writing continually higher and higher numbers on a scroll. I invariably chose to free-read, and I proceeded to get super into books for the rest of my life. The earliest poem I remember writing was in third grade, about an imaginary mix between a cat and a bunny— very creatively entitled ‘Catabunny”. Following that, I remember writing some (horrible, horrible) poetry in middle school, but it was never out of some instinctive draw to the art form. I guess I took vague inspiration from poets on Tumblr, as much as it pains me to admit it, but I wasn’t thinking about it as poetry, just as a form of journaling. I was a very sad middle schooler 🙁 . In high school, I was part of the literary magazine, and I think that played a very large role in my getting into poetry. At some point in reading my peers’ poems, I was like “man, I could do a better job than that”, and so my poetry path was born! I had the fortune of having really incredible English teachers throughout high school, and they were vital in my development as a writer. From the moment I decided I wanted to be an English major, (a moment I genuinely cannot remember) I knew I wanted to do poetry. It feels very natural to me, and I find that poetry is often simply my way of interacting and understanding the world around me. Once I write a poem about something, I can stop thinking about it constantly. I guess I’ll keep writing poetry until I either die or that stops happening, whichever comes first.
In middle school, I found time to read a book every two days over the summers. I started writing poetry around that time, inspired by the unrealistic but nevertheless adorable love stories by Sarah Dessen in particular. In high school, I became close friends with the librarian, and we would routinely organize poetry readings in a local record shop. The back room was used specifically for open mic nights with couches that were sunken in from years of use and posters from every band you can think of. At the time, I wrote mainly for a boy that I thought I was in love with, but in truth, I just idealized him. Just typing all this feels so cliché. The record shop closed within a couple of years, though, and so did our poetry readings. I stopped writing as frequently because I didn’t really have any incentive, and once I moved to Pittsford, I rarely wrote because all my poet friends were in Redlands.
My freshman year of college I was randomly assigned to Professor Caroline Beltz-Hosek’s Poetry of Place class, and I absolutely loved it. It was where I was introduced to Ilya Kaminsky, and my love for him has blossomed since then. Professor Beltz-Hosek also made us keep a writer’s notebook. This has become one of my main sources of inspiration, so I loved having to do it again when I took the introduction class to creative writing with her a year ago. I have continued to work on this notebook. I have probably a hundred magazines back home that have been cut up to use as material for my notebook. I have decided to attach one of my pages to show my work because I doubt I can explain it enough, but essentially I cut up magazines and glue the cutouts into pages. These pages have a lot of themes, and some pages are definitely darker than others. However, because a lot of my poetry is fiction, my notebook is a great way to outline my poems.
I have said it once, and I’ll say it again, I have a vengeance against Sylvia Plath. Make me read her, and I will vomit on the pages, leak black from my goddamn pores. But, I do have to thank her for starting the process of learning to write, and the journey of learning to write well. In high school I had to do a project where I wrote pastiches of her pieces “Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper”, “Tulips”, “The Colossus”, “The Munich Mannequins”, and “Edge”. Oh god how I hated them, but I really liked the poems that I had written. The following school year I started writing my own pieces, all of them so edgy and depressing that several teachers wanted me to go into counselling (little did they know my therapist loved my work). I deeply, and truly, hate Sylvia Plath, but I do have her to thank for working.
In an odd way as well, I suppose I do have to thank my brain chemistry for making life so difficult for me. I have always turned to expression as a way to cope with the crap that life throws at you, whether that be a panic attack at the worst possible moment, falling for the one guy you KNOW will hurt you badly, dealing with depression and suicidal ideation, the list goes on and on. And having friends dealing with all the same things also gives way for inspiration. I have pieces from high school dedicated to friends who were a breath away from overdosing, a piece of art that I wrote an ekphrastic poem on that was created using the blood from a self-inflicted wound (he almost died that night). While its not fun to experience, it makes for great inspiration. Maybe that’s why all my pieces are dark and gross: it helps me reconcile the things that have happened to me, or continually happen to me, that make me feel gross. Poetry is, in a way, a form of therapy. For me at least. I am jealous of the person who can write fictitious, or even non-autobiographical poetry. That’s something I’ll have to try soon, we’ll see how it goes.
What’s the reasoning behind my impulse to write poetry; who is the little man behind the green curtain? It’s probably the same inclination that made me gay; or it could be the flu shot. That time my baby-fat ankle got stuck in a banister at summer camp and three grown adults had to hoist me out while I first learned the consequences of my body, or the Tamagotchi that Zannia Zie took from me on the bus and completely fucking reset to the egg stage even though I had just raised the thing to adulthood which, for the record, is incredibly difficult, especially when you have thirteen of them on one lanyard and are constantly begging your mom to go to CVS for watch batteries before you lose all of your progress. It’s the spontaneity at which I slip paint sample cards into my pockets at Wal-Mart, or how I handle my desk garden of cacti with my bare hands because finding the worksafe gloves is too hard, twenty dollars I spent on them be damned. It’s all the daddy longlegs I pull from out from under my bed between my fingertips and name Samuel before tossing them out into the cold to die. An improvisation of authority and organization. That time my stupid bitch of a Spanish teacher made me cry because I couldn’t pronounce “isosceles” in Spanish, no less make one on my pegboard. All of the times I say “stupid bitch” despite having a Women and Gender Studies minor. The steak knife I think I’ve still forgotten to remove from under my childhood dresser, which I stowed there first to fix the broken 3DS my mother snapped in half out of anger and second to take slices out of my arm in case I needed to make someone worry. The time that I didn’t actually do that because blood would have made me cry. Stupid bitch. All fifty of the furbies I have scattered around; I used to name them all and now it’s getting hard to remember all that. It probably comes from somewhere; exists unwritten inside of me, or something. I prefer to think of it as something I have to win over in order for it to exist with gifts and kisses and sweet nothings.
It’s an incitement.
Thinking back to when I actually started writing poetry had to be in the junior high years of my life. I don’t distinctly remember reading poetry outside of what school had assigned for me to read, however, some of my earliest memories are sitting with my parents on my bed reading a book before bedtime. It was the routine to brush our teeth, put on pajamas, and pick out a book to read together. I think that is where my love for literature really started; not only because I love to read and I love unfolding stories in my head, but because it is associated with such an intimate and crucial part of my childhood.
I remember being in first grade or so, sitting on the coffee table in the living room (I always rejected chairs for some reason) and reading “Green Eggs and Ham” over and over to my parents making dinner in the kitchen. I will say I definitely did not pick up a poetry book as a young child and immediately know that poetry is what I wanted to do. It was my early beginning of reading which developed into reading multiple books a month, then writing epilogues to some of my favorites, then discovering poetry and already having the drive to want to understand what I was reading. I had written in my last blog post that my source of poetry really comes from my childhood memories and that I owe a lot of my inspirations to my parents, something I think still reigns true here as well.
What really got me into poetry in a meaningful way was as a tool of self-expression. I love to paint, too, but it’s very difficult to express or explore certain ideas in painting. You can capture emotions, symbols, poses, but it’s very difficult to explore ideas any further without an explanation. I got into poetry because it’s a lot easier to describe very lofty, abstract ideas and build on them, explore them in a very compact way. In high school we had a great English teacher who led a poetry unit, and I remember that was my real introduction to poetry beyond just half-scribbles. He introduced us to a lot of older poets like William Blake, and that set my expectation from the beginning. Because of that my idea of poetry going in was that it should be a silent music- I remember disliking very blunt poems because they didn’t have the musical quality I assumed they should have to be “good.” But I learned better soon, and as we read more and more varied work in that class I dropped that pretension. What changed is that I realized that the content is so much more important than the sonic quality, that the symbolism, the art of the words makes poetry more than rhyming alone. Back then I also had no idea that poetry could be cathartic, a tool to process events, and that aspect really let me get into writing. The fact that you could write about your own experiences, not just distant, impersonal truths let me drop the artificial rules I’d fabricated for my own work.
One moment I almost stopped writing poems was after my high school teacher tried to have us read the Odyssey, back when I still thought all poems had to be musically lyrical. It was presented to us as the classic of classics, the metric by which all work was judged, but it was so dense and cryptic I couldn’t read it. I almost gave up then, before we branched off into contemporary work.
I learned poetry
through hip-hop. I didn’t grow up quoting Virgil and Wordsworth, but dipping class
and cyphering with my friends, imitating the flow-schemes of Big L and Nas. Standing
on the glossy wooden benches of the boy’s locker room, we’d unfold wrinkled
sheets of notebook paper with blotted ink squiggled across its pages, jagged
handwriting containing our rhymes about the 21st century teenage life.
While the content was typically restricted to misogyny and glorifying drug use,
my interests in the world around me permeated through the lyrics: “we need less
Jihadis and more Mahatma Ghandis”
My punkish angst
caught somewhere between the suicidal lyrics of Senses Fail and “N.Y. State of
Mind” found body in lyrically tapdancing across rhythmic 808s and YouTube beats
humming through my headphones and a portable speaker. It taught me that poetry
was above all else, supposed to say something. Pompous emphasis. Elaborate
surprises. Express one of two extremes, either the shear meaninglessness of
everything or the absolutely undeniable awesomeness of yourself and your life. Mix
proving you’re the GOAT with a knack for reckless behavior because “who cares”
and you’ll get a taste for the origins of my poetic sentiment.
For a while I stopped rapping. Granted, I had bigger issues than
a lack of creativity considering I was blowing lines of heroin four years ago and
dealing with a whole lotta spiritual vexation. Yet once I had my house placed
back in order by Jesus, and had my entire worldview flipped inside out, I now channel
that lingering youthful poetic sentiment into prose and art that reflects a
rightly placed pomp on the glory of God.
I love translating abstract academic concepts into narratives, I
love singing sounds and phonemes about the world into rhythm, and I love
pulling apart the symbolic depictions of our diction.
A surprise to no one, my introduction to poetry was music. My eighth grade English teacher was the first teacher I had who taught poetry in his class. He explained poetry to us as music. Mr Mo was awesome, and he let us listen to our iPods while we wrote poetry because he said the music would inspire us. I was so happy to be allowed to have my iPod in class, that I took these poetry assignments seriously. This introduction to poetry made me have a huge focus on sound in my poems. I am admittedly nervous for the class to read my poem out loud because it won’t sound like it does in my head. That’s a good thing, it’ll let me learn how it sounds to other people at least.
Because I took the poetry assignments seriously, Mr Mo decided to invite me to perform in the high school poetry slam. That was a huge deal to me as a lowly eighth grader. I didn’t win, but I got to hang out with a bunch of high school poets. Basically I thought I was the coolest kid alive. I threw myself into poetry after that. I was a Button Poetry and Brave New Voices addict. It wasn’t until tenth grade that I really encountered classic poetry and forms other than free-verse and slam poetry.
I stopped writing poetry almost entirely when I got to college. Nearly four years later, I’m in two poetry writing classes. I’ve learned that my introduction to poetry back in middle school has definitely stuck with me. I still write all my poems while listening to music. I also tend to read my poem out loud as I write it to see how each syllable and phoneme sounds exactly how I want it to. The difference between now and then is that I am slowly starting to care about how the poem looks on the page. The first poem I submitted for workshop has the beginning of every line capitalized and little to no punctuation. That wasn’t on purpose. It didn’t occur to me to care about how it looks. The look of a poem is something that doesn’t matter in slam poetry. I never thought that anyone would read my poems. In the past, people have only ever heard me read my own poems in slams. It’s interesting to think back to eighth grade with Mr Mo, my beat up composition notebook, and my iPod Shuffle. It makes me feel really nostalgic.