Slang as a concept is fascinating – little verbal workarounds and implied connotations to construe a concept. It is not always used for the best means – how many slang terms were created on sexist, racist, heteronormative grounds? – nor is it always sourced properly – how many slang terms are taken from AAVE and then profited off of from majority white entities? – but it is a cultural machine, nonetheless.

And yet, slang has largely two paths laid out before it. It’ll either get absorbed into the English language, thus becoming mainstream, or it falls out of use. Interestingly enough, either path tends to strip the slang of its original context (and frankly, so does the act of popularizing and using slang, such as staples of drag culture falling out of ballrooms and into the Twitter blogosphere). When you read lists of old slang, you’re often left wondering the wheres, whys, and hows. To get NSFW for a second, check out this Wikipedia list of sexual slang terms. Some are recent (himbo is one, which I find hilarious), some are mainstream, some are completely new (“Swaffelen”, anyone?). But a lot of them bend words and roots we may or may not be familiar with into a definable word – a fascinating act.

I feel as if it would be a fun exercise for you to take a list of slang words, select one or two, and write a poem centered around the concept, or taking imagery from it. Take “the bee’s knees”, which is occasionally used somewhat ironically but was in fact in full linguistic force first to describe something insignificant, and then changed meanings to be something cool – imagine a poem about bees swarming around and inside your knees, or other bones. “Don’t have a cow”? What would the process be for a women giving birth to a cow, anyway? Probably messy. There’s a lot to work with there.

Repressed memories?

In my past blog post “Home Depot by Brian Turner,” I talked about poetry being able to draw out repressed memories. After doing some digging, I found that the memory I was describing as repressed could be argued that it wasn’t actually a repressed one. The reason being around what a repressed memory actually is. A repressed memory is actually a psychological phenomenon, in which a person’s brain suppresses a traumatic moment because it is too much to handle. This phenomenon occurs mostly in adults that were abused as children. The trauma of their childhood was too much for their brain at the time and it could not handle the stress of it, therefore, their brains acted as if the event never happened. However, as their minds aged memories events that could not be processed are now able to be processed and their memory of the event comes to the surface. The memory that I described in my past blog post wasn’t a repressed memory, but a memory that slipped into my deep subconscious. 

Now, I am no psych major and trying to make sense of all this seriously gave me a brain aneurysm. So please forgive me psych majors, if I butchered this concept. In my research though, I found an article on the effect of poetry on your brain and learned some interesting things. The article bases it’s content off a study done by the University of Exeter to figure out the effect of poetry on the brain. I found that music and poetry affect your brain the same way; both stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain and is responsible for joy and thrill. I also found out and this is the big one- that while reading their favorite poetry, the area of the volunteer’s brain that is responsible for memory “lights up.” While I don’t know what the volunteers were thinking of, I believe I experienced what they experienced while reading At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center. Reading that piece: activated my deep subconscious, made my brain make a connection that was not in my immediate thought, and caused me to actually relate to something that I had forgotten I related to- that just amazes me… Reading a poem- words on paper caused all that to occur in my brain.

Thinking Without Words

Have you ever thought of what it would be like to think without words? What would it be like to think without pictures, syllogisms, typeset, linguistic codification in binaries, tertiaries, quaternaries, or any other “aries?” Touch has been considered a language but that is dependent on a sensory image. I am curious about the hard question, or in the human case, it is fairly grey and soft spread through a network of nerves, the question of “consciousness.”

What is it that makes us, us? I am asking because I feel like most poets have had the experience of feeling their psyche push forward into wet ink blotches quickly crossed out and written again. “driven by the wind” we say, “’driven by the wind’ just doesn’t seem right…” we wield our pen and scribble out “driven” replacing the word with “blown,” but it is still not “right.” There is something inside of us, pushing out its sentiment and taking body in our words. The sentiment must not be the words themselves then, the words are only the vessels of transmission. What is the essence of the thing that is itself transmitting though? How come our transmission, “blown by the wind,” feels inadequate still? There is another attempt, for some us endless attempts, until we say “’parted,’ yes ‘parted by the wind.’”

What was it about me, and what is it about us as poets, signaling deep inside that “parted” is more true to my sentiment than “blown” or “driven?” Some sensor, some gauge, some poetic trip-switch, always ready to tell me when my vocabulary and syntax aren’t adequate to convey some sentiment. If the metric is always measuring my words, what is it measuring them against? My soul? My innate self? How come I don’t have a word adequate to describe that?     

Art & Poetry

This semester, I am in ENGL 426 with Rachel Hall. Basically, the entire class reads, edits and publishes the SUNY wide literary magazine called Gandy Dancer. For one of our assignments, we had to read the last edition of the magazine (Gandy Dancer 8.1) and come to class with thoughts, likes, dislikes, etc. One thing that I noticed in the magazine is that next to a lot of the poetry and fiction pieces were different art pieces. For example, the poem would be on the left page, and the painting would be on the right, so that way, visually, they are seen together.

This got me thinking about how much a visual image can change the tone and/or meaning of a poem. Paintings, photographs, sculptures, & sketches paired with the right poem, you have a completely different piece of art. I hadn’t realized at first that my interpretation of the poem was altered with the image right next to it. There was one poem called Motion Sickness by Mitchell Angelo, and it was paired with an abstract painting of bright colors like red, yellow, blue and white; they were in chunky lines that were spread all around the page. As my eyes were reading the poem, they would catch a glimpse of something in the painting, so I would take two seconds to look at the painting, and then continue reading. I hadn’t realized that the movement of the painting altered my perception of the poem.

Had I read the poem by itself, I cannot say that my interpretation would have been completely different; however, the painting brought the poem to life, if that makes sense. Similarly, how experimenting with the form of the poem changes how you perceive it. When a poet scatters words around a page, the visual effect of the words being scattered is meant to change the pacing of the poem, perhaps, but I believe it is also there to evoke some kind of emotion. The thing is, some of the images seemed to make no sense until you read the poem, and then look at the image again, and realize in some abstract way that they make sense together. In high school, I had a creative writing teacher that would assign extra credit to anyone who took a line of poetry and put it in an image to either have it make sense with the words or change the meaning. For example, someone took a poem that mentioned boots and had written the line on the bottom of the boot and then took a picture. Someone else had taken a poem about childhood and had written a line out in chalk on the sidewalk. I just find it really interesting how visual art like paintings, or photographs, or where something is written can alter the meaning of a poem. I kind of want to try pairing some of my poetry with different images and just see where it takes me. Does anyone else experiment with this?

“Film is an Empathy Machine, Poetry is a What Machine?”

I keep coming back to our in-class exercise prompt Wednesday: “Film is an empathy machine, poetry is a what machine?” I really didn’t grasp it then (“reverse-engineer code,” what?) and I still don’t know, but that question still bugs me.

I might be off the mark entirely, but the only real answer I can come up for that- what poetry can do where film, prose, painting can’t as easily- is capturing and naming the nuance of stream of consciousness. I feel poetry comes close to representing half-thoughts and emotions that you don’t fully have a grasp on in that moment, something indescribable that you have to come back to later and process/preserve in a vignette or a collage. With visual mediums it’s difficult to express a stream of thought itself, you have to dance around it. The artist/director is forced to show the viewer the something concrete, outward expressions, the secondary manifestations, the shadows cast, and a lot thought is lost in that. Music is much better at conveying emotion, but the lyrics often have to be sheared down to fit the rhythm. Prose is also incredibly effective for illustrating that stream of thought, but it often dips into poetic devices in doing so. And going back to our earlier discussions, I remember when asked “who are your poems for?” most of the answers were along the lines of “for me alone.” The poem for the author alone, is, as far as I’ve seen, a tool for catharsis and processing- capturing streams of thought. And I feel like this tendency is partly the result of the form- Dr. Smith said earlier that poetry is the most economical art form- you can write poetry on the subway, it takes very little relative effort to craft a poem, and it makes use of the potential of language to easily show things diegetic elements alone couldn’t.

Is that off the mark entirely?

Poetry in Youth

This past month, I have attempted to get ahead on assignments & projects in classes, and extra curricula’s. This includes visits to elementary schools in the Rochester area as it is required as an early childhood education major to complete a certain number of hours before the end of the semester. To get them out of the way, I have been a frequent visitor in a kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classroom over the past few weeks. As this has taken up a huge chunk of my time regarding being a college student, I have noticed that english and education visits may overlap in content.

As a visitor, my job is to observe the in’s and out’s of what go on in a classroom, help the teacher with whatever is needed as well as take in the atmosphere and acquire new knowledge on children. During most of these visits I am able to experience the things kids say. Some things that come out of their mouths just don’t make sense, some comments are funny and cute and others are shocking. To a teacher, these are the moments you remember and stick with you throughout your career. It can be said that children, even as young as five years old are little poets. Floods of ideas race through their tiny developing minds every second. Some children are very thoughtful in what they say but most just say what comes to mind. I have thought of this as another source I can use in my poetry. I think it is especially unique as well as I have never seen any poems on this topic. Looking forward to workshopping some of the pieces I create using this idea, I am always open to any suggestions and/or comments!

The Sketchbook Project

There’s a potential source of inspiration that some of you might be interested in checking out. The Brooklyn Art Library serves a very specific function to its local and global community – it is the physical storehouse of thousands of sketchbooks. These sketchbooks are not taken from the estates of famed contemporaries, nor do they hold any historical value. They are specifically the notebooks of normal people. For twenty dollars (and a little extra if you’d like your book to be digitized), you can buy a sketchbook from the Brooklyn Art Library, do whatever you’d like to it – draw, doodle, write, paint, paste, etc. – send it back to them, and it will forever be a part of their archives. It’s called the Sketchbook Project. These sketchbooks can be rented out within the library and read, as well as accessed online by the larger world – all with the intention of giving voices to people who normally would not know where to submit their work to, if they ever even considered submitting their work. I’ve seen people give these sketchbooks to children, whose art is usually looked over.

There are first-time and not-so-first-time poets who write about their trauma (TW for abuse).

Those are just two categories I’ve noticed; I wouldn’t want to take away the experience of you exploring the digital library for yourself. But there’s a lot of poetry on there written by all sorts of people from all different walks of life; just searching “poetry” yields 692 results in multiple languages, skill levels, etc. And there’s a bunch of visual art that isn’t published anywhere other than within these digitized journals, either. It’s worth looking through!

Don’t make me say it

I spent most of last week writing a long poem about a lot of things but mainly grapefruits and my friend Aeryn. She wanted me to write it, and I wanted to write it, and when I was done writing it, she asked if she could post it to Instagram and I made a noise like ‘hnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngnnnnnnnn’. I’m a very private person, which juxtaposes in the worst possible way with being a poet— sometimes I make poems vaguer before submitting them to workshop, sometimes I have to do the writing exercise of the week over again before I feel comfortable sharing it, sometimes I write poems about things and reread them, realizing that even in my head I can only talk about them by talking around them, never allowing things to come into focus. You get it. 

Is it ever really the role of the readers to know what a poem is about? Is that ever your business? I think not. I know that feels rude, and I do think it’s wonderful when poems are open about their meaning, freely accessible and available for others with similar experiences to relate to. I just prefer poems that are hyper-specific, with proper nouns and weird references. I want to write poems and have strangers read them and think that they are beautiful and weird and sad, and then I want my friends to read those poems and laugh and know who and what they are about. 

The expectations of openness are different for poetry than anything else (except creative non-fiction which is maybe almost worse). If I were a Physics major, I could simply share my physics homework and never worry about whether or not my classmate saw through it and into me, suddenly burdened with profound knowledge about what shapes me into a human. They would only know that I was terrible at math and probably should not be a physics major. There’s too much of myself in poetry, just right there in the open for anyone to see. Sometimes I get anxiety sweats the night before workshop, imagining someone asking me what the poem means, exactly. 

I let Aeryn post the poem, eventually, because I felt bad for denying her the opportunity to share it. Once I let her into the poem, it wasn’t really just mine anymore, and, to be fair, nothing bad happened. My mother did not erupt from the earth and shame me for bringing open emotions to our stoic Irish ancestors, no one informed me that my acceptance into the creative writing track was an elaborate prank, there were no locusts or rivers of blood. There was only me and Aeryn and a few hundred readers, suddenly burdened by intimate knowledge. Or maybe not.

Poetry in Pictures

I will admit that I am writing this without any research, but I wanted to get this idea down before I forgot it. In class today we talked about language, and someone brought up that people think in words, and Professor Smith talked about writing poetry in a language that is yours and is not yours. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think in pictures and words. The way I’ve explained my brain in the past is that it’s like going to the TV section of Best Buy and there’s a different station on every single screen, but you can see all of them at once. There’s a screen that has all the words I’m hearing, there’s a screen that has my thoughts as words on it, there’s a screen that has whatever song lyrics that are stuck in my head on it, there’s a screen that has whatever I’m seeing, a screen with the picture representations of whatever I’m thinking of, and so on. It’s very crowded and chaotic. However, if people can think in pictures, could we write poetry in pictures? We write books in pictures (graphic novels).

I’m not talking about paintings or photographs because those are stationary in a way that poetry is not. I mean could poetry exist as a visual representation? I think that it could. Literacy is so much more than most people realize. It’s possible to be literate in more than just languages. Coding is a great example of something that isn’t a traditional language, but is something you can be literate in. Another example is graphic novels. Those take a completely different type of literacy to read. The most abstract example I will give in memes. Some people can look at a picture and find the humor behind it because they are “literate” in memes while someone else will just see a random picture.

Going off of these different types of literacy, I wonder what poetry would look like if it were all in pictures. Because people can understand graphic novels, it’s possible! I think that this idea might look like a comic you’d see in a newspaper, but vertical instead of horizontal and more abstract than cartoon. I’m not sure that any of this made sense, but if anyone knows of some completely visual poems, I would be so interested in reading them!

Happy Poems Just Don’t Happen

I have never written a happy poem. I am sure that I am not the only one who struggles with writing something happy, but I simply cannot bring myself to writing about something that makes me happy. Sometimes, I’ll start to brainstorm, and then get a few lines out, but I immediately decide that I hate it, so I move on. I also chose a poetry book that is about grief for the book review. Actually, I’m kind of expecting there to be at least one poem that is perhaps about happiness, because as someone who has experienced grief, it definitely is not just “sad.” I suppose that could be an interesting thing to write about, the happiness experienced during grief, but I feel like it’s not the “happy” that I’m looking for. It’s sad happy. I need just happy happy, does that make sense? Whether it’s about romantic love, or familial love, or a kid on their birthday, or maybe being able to get your favorite meal that you haven’t had in a while–I don’t know, anything without something sad tagged onto it.

Has anyone written a “happy” poem? I’m really stuck on the process. Where I typically start when I’m writing poetry is to create a certain atmosphere using imagery, and then go on from there. I suppose I also haven’t read a lot of uplifting poetry, or at least none that I liked or didn’t find cringy. If anyone has a suggestion, or perhaps a good poet who writes about uplifting, “happy” things, please let me know.