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.

On changes and poetry in translation

For me, this past summer was filled with margaritas and disposable days. I felt greedy, hoarding these hours with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It’s nice to be back to a more scheduled life,  to return to a classroom setting where I’m pushing myself to create poems rather than waiting for them to come to me. 

When I’m writing organically, my poem ideas usually start as one-word concepts: glacial, locusts, larvae. So in class, it was an easy transition for me to shift from attempting to capture the image words invoke into defining what they mean to me. I had forgotten how nice it was to be surrounded by writers, a community of people looking to write and explore poetry and translation together. 

I’m excited to see where this next semester takes me and my writing! I’ve always viewed poetry as my way of continually interacting with the mutable world around me, so the constantly changing nature of translation really intrigues me. The truest and most beautiful thing that pushes me into creating is the way that nothing lasts. Everything changes and passes. The creative process is just that. Not a means to an end, but a way to engage with being alive. I hope to improve my skills and continue to learn techniques that will bring my writing to a more advanced level.

Invasive: tending to intrude on a person’s thoughts or privacy

Much of my writing is based around an intrusive thought. There are always moments in my day where I see something that will remind me of someone or something that I want to push far back into my consciousness; something that I desperately do not want to remember. It could be brown and curly hair, a song on the radio, the smell of a burning cigarette; anything can send a grenade into the psyche that explodes into an intense memory that I have tried my best to erase. These little invasions lead to some great poetry, as, at least for me, it’s easier to write about trauma and the things in life that are less than happy than things that make my heart sing. Yes, some of these memories are positive, like the sounds that my ex-boyfriend made while he slept beside me, but they are always tinged with some form of sadness, or perhaps regret. They are no longer, they are but moments in the past that come back to haunt the present. Even if I am in a better state of mind when I was when the memory took place, part of me is always sentimental about the past, always wishing to go back. But, as I am here, in Geneseo, the only place to go is forward, into the future.

The invasion of thoughts stands as a foundation to a work. My process most often starts with a thought popping into my head, most of the time completely out of the blue. I have found myself on line at the grocery store, at a bank, driving a car, when out of nowhere I will need to stop whatever I am doing to write down an idea before it slips away, never to return. These thoughts are fleeting, however they are strong in nature, and require immediate attention, and then more and more attention until I feel satisfied enough to post them to a blog or put them in my google drive folder of poetry, to forget about it until I find it at a later date, and have to start revising again.

Basing poetry off of a memory has always been an interesting idea to me. Not only are you able to vividly describe a scene, but there is room to put the conclusions of the event, as well as the implications of what has occurred, and how it will effect the speaker. The speaker of each piece is given the opportunity to not only share something that has occurred, but to give it meaning beyond what is actually being said.

Invasions of the mind are inescapable. It is not only difficult to truly push these memories out, but it appears to be impossible as humans don’t even know the entire capabilities of our own brains. So, if you ask me, the best thing to do with these thoughts is to write them down, and see if they provide any clarity to the present day that could be useful in everyday life. Embrace the little invaders, and remember that no matter how unpleasant the memory, it is still your life, and is, in the end, under your own control, and no one else’s.

to isolate

“to isolate is to lock / the mind inside of itself”

I chose isolate because it was how I had felt all summer. I hadn’t written much over the past three months, but ever since unloading my belongings into my dorm a few days ago, writing is all I’ve been doing. Normally when things get hard for me, writing is my saving grace and the thing I pour it all into. But somehow this summer’s challenges just shut the switch off.

So to sit in a room of other poets, talking about words and associations and accidentally oversharing about what this summer had been for me — it was refreshing, to say the least. This definition of a simple word was enough to remind me what it was about writing that always kept me coming back. There were other people in the room that got it.

And no matter how lonely of an activity writing can be, when you sit down with a group of strangers that get it right away it reminds you of the magic behind what it is that we’re doing. The idea of translation, to me, reminds me that the job of a poet or writer in this world is to throw pride and privacy away and share every gritty detail of your truth to convey a universal idea or feeling and make other people feel less isolated in their experiences, their struggles and their joys.

And so my semester goal is “Tell the truth. All of it.” To play with new styles and new tools, yes. To push myself to try new things and get out of my old habits, yes. But mostly, just to tell the truth. My truth. In the hopes that it could someday help someone accept theirs and feel a little bit less alone.

Writing a Definition

When asked to write a definition for one of our words, I wrote one, erased it, and wrote another better one. Easy peesy. “Delve into the specific words you picked. Why?” (to paraphrase because my memory is not that good). Ha, I already did that too. I started to feel pretty confident and smug about this activity.

“Consider your line breaks” Line breaks? What line breaks? Was this supposed to be a poem? Suddenly, the five words I had written next to my word did not look so good. Maybe it was a nice definition (although not very scholarly), but it was not a poem. I did not write a poem …even though I was in a poetry class. It had not even occurred to me that it should have been a poem. When I hear “definition”, I think of, not poetry. This was a mini mind-opening experience. Why can’t a definition be poetry? In a way, a poem could be (but is not always) the definition to the title. What does the title mean? Read the poem to find out. Its almost the same as looking at the definition under a word in the dictionary.

Unfortunately, my creativity was not fast enough to transform the small definition I had written into a more intentional poem in the few minutes left of the activity, but even without the words written yet, I feel that my knowledge and experience with poetry has already grown. You could say my definition of poetry has expanded.

Re-Visiting ENGL 301

It’s amazing how much can change in a year. I’m back in ENGL 301, at the same time as last year, and I am comforted by the familiar. I was in the workshop that was the test for the writing pods structure, which admittedly was difficult to decipher the first time around. Now I look at that document and it is easy to decipher, to know exactly what I am responsible for. Back in Welles 119, with the same circle of desks, with the knocking on the desks to signal agreement, with some returning folks and some old friends, feels like coming home.

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A Final Reflection….

Today when I was going over my final draft of my portfolio it made me realize that a lot of the poems that I expected to write for the class felt in a way completed. I’ve never really had this sense in poetry before. Prior to this semester, I was always unsure of my work and whenever it was time to edit my work I always felt like I was grasping at straws and just hoping that it overall made sense. This was coming from a place where I wasn’t sure exactly what poetry was, or how certain people are so comfortable writing it. I think that a lot of my prior work was based off of emotions which I had tried to turn into concepts or themes. While this wasn’t necessarily bad I felt this pressure to create something rather than unveil it and that what I had to say wasn’t “poetic enough”. While I don’t think I will ever have a clear answer as to what poetry is, I think that I have grown as a poet by embracing what poetry means to me. Right now I think I use poetry as discovery or unveiling about thoughts and patterns in my life that I hadn’t realized needed to be unearthed. There is something I find much more natural about this process, even if the tone of the poems isn’t necessarily cheerful ones. I believe that something resonated with me last year when T. C. Tolbert spoke to us and said that sometimes they would have to go off and write and deal with being in a less than positive mood in the process. I think in this way their poetry was not necessarily coping but visiting their pasts. While I connect to what Tolbert said about these emotions, I don’t think my reactions to spending time to write aren’t nearly as draining and I think that in part its because my process is questioning and reviewing my thoughts so that I write what comes to mind even if I am not completely sure how what I’m writing resonates with me. Often in a workshop, someone will make a comment about the tone or content and it will make me pause for a moment and think, is that what I meant by that? That being said, I think with the content I write now, I’ve become surer because I am more at home (no pun intended!) with what my poetry’s about. Before this semester started I remember being nervous about my second poetry workshop, and I felt that I had nothing left to write about and I had no real thing to say. Now that this semester is over, I feel as though I have scratched the surface of what I can write about as a poet and am hopeful that I continue exploring where my poetry goes in the future.

I would love to know how everyone else felt about this semester of writing. Please feel free to share!


First Song to Break My Heart

Ah, my friends…and I am back to writing about songs.

Aren’t songs the wellspring of poetry?

Or is poetry the origin of song?

In any case, the lyrical has always had the striking ability to create and sustain emotion by tonal shifts and dialogues. In particular lately, I’ve been thinking of Jack Johnson’s song “All At Once,” which is strikingly lovely, melancholy, openly afraid and hopeful all at the same time. As the lyrics are fairly straightforward, I won’t offer heavy commentary, but I will say that a song about climate change that is this generous and warm is what we need in our current politico-cultural climate, especially considering that the UN has just given us the world 12 years to collectively get our shit together.

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Poetry to Fiction

Although I am upset that this semester is coming to an end, I am anxious and excited for the Spring. Next semester will be my first semester where I am not taking a poetry class or workshop of some sort. Next semester I am taking my first fiction workshop and to say that I am nervous is an understatement. I am used to being stuck in my comfort zone, writing things I felt most comfortable with, but now I am placing myself far out of my comfort zone. I believe that in doing so, this will push me to become an even better writer. I also think that writing fiction can push my creativity in poetry and help me strengthen my quality of writing. Although I am scared, I know this will be a positive and beneficial opportunity for me.