Bo Burnham’s Egghead

The first book of poems I ever bought was Bo Burnham’s Egghead. I bought his book after watching his first Netflix stand up comedy special, what. The collection of poems is rather silly and humorous, but there’s a moment when the book pauses to ruminate on something Bo has recently opened up about in his life: anxiety.

He made his directorial debut this past year with the film 8th Grade, which he also wrote. While I still haven’t gotten around to seeing the film, I’ve watched a lot of interviews of Bo talking about the project. He spoke on creating something that represented his experiences with anxiety, and performing professionally as someone with debilitating anxiety. Reading Egghead now, with the new knowledge of Bo’s anxiety, I can garner a new reading experience.

The pages of Egghead aren’t numbered, and the content can shift dramatically from poem to poem (which are often more akin to jokes). About ten pages in or so, there’s a poem titled “Chameleon,” which reads “I put a chameleon on a red dildo. / He blushed.” That’s the entirety of the poem/joke. But, immediately following this, is a poem entitled “Flowers:”

“On the third of June, at a minute past two,                                                              where once was a person, a flower now grew.

Five daises arranged on a large outdoor stage                                                    in front of a ten-acre pasture of sage.

In a changing room, a lily poses.                                                                                  At the DMV, rows of roses.

The world was much crueler an hour ago.                                                               I’m glad someone decided to give flowers a go.”

The juxtaposition between these two poems is pretty stark, and it’s clear that Bo doesn’t want to keep you laughing throughout your reading of his book. This is very similar to his comedy specials, too. He’ll take a joke about messy burritos from Chipotle and flip it on its head to show his audience that life isn’t just jokes. That his art isn’t separate from his anxiety and that humor is often a product of pain. Even the title of his book, in its entirety, reads Egghead, or You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone. I purchased this book when I was seventeen and now, at twenty-one, my reading of it feels more complete. It’s a fun book, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it isn’t dumb. If you’ve never heard of Bo Burnham or Egghead, I suggest you look him up, and I hope you soon find yourself laughing.

A Poet Who Inspires Me

A poet who constantly inspires me (I think I’ve written about him before — probably. I write A LOT of blog posts, remember?). SO — this poet is Kaveh Akbar, and his collection of poems is Calling A Wolf A Wolf. I have no idea how this book got into my hands (maybe I stole this one, too). But legitimately, I don’t remember how I acquired this collection. I just remember how I started reading it over summer.

I instantly loved Akbar’s work — so much I followed him on twitter (LOL), researched him, got his social security number… you know, the works. What I love most about him, and something that I try to mimic in my writing (key work: try), is the subversion he constantly brings after line breaks, or when creating an image. The juxtaposition of certain words, and phrases and things that don’t/shouldn’t go together, but do in poetry, is what propels me to keep reading his work — it is exciting. There is always the unexpected — expect the unexpected while reading his work.

Last year in workshop, before I even knew Akbar existed, and before I somehow acquired his book, I encountered one of his poems — and later when I read his collection, I realized why I hung onto this poem for so long — because it was his. Last semester, in workshop, there was a student named Jasmine, and she would go ALL OUT in letters, and annotations. She would suggest poems to look at, give people entire books, and print out pages on pages of work to compare yours to, and give you inspiration. For mine, I wrote a lot about alcohol (I dropped that this year — in workshop, at least), and she printed out a poem for me called “River of Milk” — I didn’t pay attention to the author (even though it was Akbar) and I just LOVED the poem. I loved the poem so much that I looked it up online, and tabbed it in my bookmarks — it is still there, and I read it from time to time. Then, when I got Calling A Wolf A Wolf, I loved that just the same. One day over the summer, I was like “hold on, I’ve read this before what is this it sounds SO familiar” — and I whipped out my computer, and looked at my tab and my mind was BLOWN that it was the same author — Kaveh Akbar. It was crazy that Jasmine had predicted I would love his poems, and that I bought his book later was just so insane to me as a person, reader, and writer.

Overall, I love Akbar’s work — and suggest it to anyone, and everyone. I try to mimic his subversions and pairs of images. All of which are purely satisfying, and masterful to me. Please consider what started it all, River of Milk, below.

River of Milk 

bear with me      it wasn’t long ago I was brainless
lazily pulling fireflies into my teeth       chewing them
into pure light       so much of me then was nothing
I could have fit into a sugar cube      my body burned
like a barnful of feathers        nothing was on fire
but fire was on everything       the wild mustard
the rotting porch chair         a box of birth records        eventually
even scorched earth goes green       though beneath it
the dead might still luxuriate in their rage     my ancestor
was a dervish saint     said to control a thick river of dark milk
under his town        his people believed
he could have spared them a drought       they ripped him to pieces
like eagles tearing apart a snake    immediately they were filled
with remorse       instead of burying him        they buried a bag
of goat bones and azalea      my hair still carries that scent
my eyes      black milk and a snake’s flicking tongue
does this confuse you       there are so many ways to be deceived
a butcher’s thumb pressed into the scale       a strange blue dress
in a bathtub    the slowly lengthening night      I apologize
I never aimed at eloquence      I told my mother I wouldn’t live
through the year       then waited for a disaster      sitting cheerfully
on cinder blocks pulled from a drained pond      tossing
peanuts to squirrels     this is not the story she tells     hers filled
with happy myths       fizzy pistons and plummy ghosts
it’s true I suppose       you grow to love the creatures you create
some of them come out with pupils swirling       others with teeth
~ Julia xoxo

Intersectionality in Poetry

Next week in my Women and Gender studies class we have a paper due that explores intersectionality in everyday campus life, developing  your own case study and analysis. The paper will rethink “everyday practices underpinning racism, genderism, classism and other -isms” in the university environment with a focus upon your own discipline/major.

I thought to myself, what could I possibly write about that involves these said issues that also relates to my major (English creative writing). I was stumped for a while, thinking about what my major has to do with intersectionality. But then I was reminded of David Herd’s, “Through”. David Herd’s collection of poetry deals with politics and the various ways it can be echoed.

This brought to me to my paper topic and that poetry can be used to express ones political views, emotions, privilege, etc., and this relates back to intersectionality. I am also arguing that what a person may write may spark interest and potentially bring rise to a movement or start a new passion for someone who is reading said poem. Poetry can be written and read in various forms and I believe it allows one to explore intersectionality in a creative and artistic manor.

Form

It was really weird to write a poem that had a set form before I started to write it. I usually write all of my poetry by way of free-writing.  Everything I write comes with no thought to form until after it is written. It was really cool to see how writing with a pre-determined form helped me to write a poem. It was fun to write in a different way but I definitely prefer writing free verse.

A Poem I’ve Been Thinking a Lot About Lately

In these stressful times, I wonder what will become of the 2010’s, and how we will we be written about in history textbooks. Along with that thought, I wonder how we as older people will explain our actions and our thoughts about this moment we are living in. I’ve been thinking a lot about the poem “First They Came” by Martin Niemoller. It’s almost been like a mantra.

Continue reading “A Poem I’ve Been Thinking a Lot About Lately”

Revising Poetry

Most of my poems make me nervous because the genre feels very flexible.  Almost too flexible. The different forms and paths you can take a poem down sometimes overwhelm me. This is one reason why I love reading the different rewrites of my poems (S/O to Abby, Mya, and Sarah) because it helps me get a better feel for what I stand to gain and lose by altering the form of my poems.

I think my first post on this blog was in regards to my bewilderment at the different choices some of you make for your poems, in terms of form. I think I still largely feel the same way now. There’s so many choices that feel very deliberate and thought out for others’ poetry, and this concerns me, because most of the formal techniques I use in my poems are just sort of instinctual. Some of the feedback I got on that first blog post was that many of you feel similarly, and that form often does come from a place of instinct. However, instinct is sort of the opposite of revision. Revision is where you question every instinct you have and force yourself to justify those instincts.

I haven’t tried to revise my poems yet. I’ve given it some thought, but I don’t quite feel ready to sit down and start hacking them up. Not because I feel overly attached to them, but because poetry feels overly flexible to me. When I revise prose, I usually think in terms of scenes. Which scenes are essential, how they drive the story, etc. Perhaps I just trust my prose instincts more and that’s why poetry feels overwhelming. I feel like I know what my prose pieces want (whether I execute that is another matter), but I find my poems speak in quieter tones. I can’t always hear their desires. That whole concept of knowing what a poem wants, rather than what the author wants, feels very abstract to me anyways.

So, as I head into the process of revising my poems, I want to know how you all go about that process yourself. Do you have any methods you return to when revising your poetry, or does it feel instinctual to you?

Reflection on the Kindergarten Teacher and Why Poets Write

 

****Warning! This post contains spoilers for the Kindergarten Teacher!!!!!*******

A couple of weeks ago my friends and I watched the Kindergarten Teacher because we heard it was about poetry and were excited to see where the movie went with this topic. As we watched the movie, we found that the protagonist became increasingly obsessed with one of her students, who she believed was incredibly gifted at poetry. At the same time as this discovery, we learn that she also is interested in poetry, and even attended a weekly poetry class in the hope of improving her craft. While her poetry was never really complimented amongst others she sees the young student’s potential and decides that she needs to nurture this boy, in a way that would further harness his talent. While she still writes some poetry at this time, she is much more interested in what the boy has to say, even to the point of substituting his work as her own in class to see how her teacher would rate it. While all of this is happening, we can clearly see that this obsession is unhealthy and that it is taking the teacher away from many elements of her established life, losing attentiveness over her family and career, and in many situations prioritizing the boy’s poetry over those previous responsibilities.

What I found most interesting is the aspect of her losing touch of her life in order to pursue the boy’s poetic genius. I thought it was especially interesting that to her, abandoning the responsibilities in her life would improve her worth as an artist. For her, this detachment was something that could lead to being better in touch with poetry. In my experience, gaining better attachment to what is going on in my life in delving deeper into my relationships with others and myself, help improve my poetry. I think if I was to completely detach myself from aspects of my life, and try to write poetry without those aspects it would be incredibly hard (unless I wrote about the process of trying to detach from everything) and even if I did produce something I don’t think it would feel very organic to my writing style. I believe that writing is another way of interacting with the world rather than trying to isolate a craft from anything I would consider normal in my life.

Even though this is my main motivation for writing, I would love to know what other people think about the reason they write. Also if someone writes out of a detachment of their surrounds I would love to know about that as well!

a silly story about my boyfriend, and a Robert Hass pome

My partner Noah is both a lover of as well as constructive critic of my work, and for this I appreciate him a lot. He’s not afraid to say this is really good and I don’t understand this in the same breath, and furthermore, he’s not afraid to say this is not your best work and this would make it better.

Naturally, I use email to send him a lot of my work, and I often write funny little comments in the email’s text. But what I’ve been doing for a while now is typing “pome” as the subject text and then simply saying “a pome” as the email message with the attachment. I’m not sure when this started, but he and I have a history of purposely fudging words. “Yocky” in place of “yucky” was a childhood misspeech for him, but soon we’d find ourselves saying “bogs” (for insects) and extending our vowels in all sorts of ways to sound funny. We have a similar sense of humor, so this tends to work. I like how “pome” sounds like “poem” but softer; it’s shortened to one syllable and immediately brings to mind my favorite Christmas fruit, whose seeds are seen through a translucent ruby exterior which is juicy and tart and sweet, and crunches when bitten. If a poem is anything like a pomegranate then I would say it’s wonderfully successful. (Ironically, “pome” generally indicates apples or pears, not pomegranates, but the latter always come to mind first upon hearing the word. Connotations, what can I say.)

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About The Book I Stole…

So about that book… that I uh… ‘borrowed’.

Just kidding, it will be put back safe and sound next week (most likely).

You see here, Maria Lima is my adviser — and never have I ever had a meeting on time with her. This is a fortunate thing, because it allows me to browse the Welles/English Department library. I always noticed the books on the shelf, but never actually got up to take one down. This past Wednesday was different. I found an April 2016 Poetry Magazine — and started reading. The poetry was extremely refreshing. I want to talk specifically about my favorite poem in the magazine, which I am pasting below.

A Little Closer to the Edge

Young enough to believe nothing
will change them, they step, hand-in-hand,
into the bomb crater. The night full
of  black teeth. His faux Rolex, weeks
from shattering against her cheek, now dims
like a miniature moon behind her hair.
In this version the snake is headless — stilled
like a cord unraveled from the lovers’ ankles.
He lifts her white cotton skirt, revealing
another hour. His hand. His hands. The syllables
inside them. O father, O foreshadow, press
into her — as the field shreds itself
with cricket cries. Show me how ruin makes a home
out of  hip bones. O mother,
O minutehand, teach me
how to hold a man the way thirst
holds water. Let every river envy
our mouths. Let every kiss hit the body
like a season. Where apples thunder
the earth with red hooves. & I am your son.
~~~~~~
I LOVE this poem. The couplet form is specifically speaking to me. The couplets in particular are working with the use of enjambment, and line breaks. The subversion of expectation and language is astounding to me. In addition, just to scratch the surface of reasons to be inspired from this poem, the images are also doing an incredible amount of work. The “black. His faux Rolex” and a “miniature moon behind her hair.” These lines and imagery are creating so much for the reader. In addition, content-wise, the interplay of family, characters, people and inanimate objects are creating a very divine and surreal feeling/tone in this piece. Specifically, the line “O father” and “the snake is headless” and “unraveled from the lovers’ ankles” — I feel like I am waiting to see imagery of fruit, or a garden as well. Oh WAIT — there IS! The last couplet, which brings me satisfaction as a reader — “apples thunder/ the earth with red hooves & I am your son.” This line is, for lack of a better term, BOMB. There are so many natural, and organic vibes from this poem that it is cohesive, paints a setting for the reader. There is so much I love about this poem — from the tone, to the sonic components of it, to the refreshing quality, and the images — I hope you love it, too. I will keep you updated on my journey through this book, and if I ever give it back.
Julia xoxo

Articulate Arguments

Maybe I’m just not that argumentative, but argument(/persuasion?) never occurred to me as a motivation for writing poetry before. Well, that’s not entirely true. I think we’re all always trying to argue, if not justify our or our speakers’ point of view, emotions, and experiences. Articulation is what I always thought the ultimate goal of poetry was, not that an argument can’t be articulated (that may be the only thing an argument can be).  It’s up to the reader to let my words in, where as arguments command entry. Arguments came to me as secondary to the content, probably because I thought of arguments as content. But, now looking to things like Through and sonnets, I think of arguments as a form that works beside the content rather than behind it.

All this ties into our discussions of politics. I think politics boils down to interaction of ideas using people as the medium. Ideas only matter if we share them, after all. But I’m not so sure the people part is so necessary. It may be more akin to the interaction of ideas through language. In that sense, poetry is just an interface for ideas to collide as much as presidential debates or dinner tables.

That being said: if arguments are a form, then politics dominate content even if they lack content.

Politics still scares me some, though. Mostly in the sense that politics (more so than general arguments) is rhetorical/can be refuted and that there’s more to the world than language. Feelings can’t really be refuted and language is only a tool for description. Language is more like a container than its contents. Rhetoric scares me. Rhetoric is using language for language’s sake; it takes a step past interaction into the realm of persuasion. I don’t really want to change anyone’s mind. Politics is such a weak force compared to experience. So, I’d rather deal in experiences. Language interests me insofar as it communicates experiences, not so much in the ways we use it. I’m still interested in politics because of its ubiquity, but I can’t see it as anything beyond a means to an end. Language is such a funny thing, still; it’s the best way we have to communicate ideas, but by that same token its the very thing that muddies ideas. We’d be perfectly articulate without the need for language, but we need it and we have to deal with it.

This one was felt like it really rambled, but maybe that helped my argument in a hyperbolic sort of sense?

Thanks for reading.