Cadence & Presentation

As an introduction to found poetry, Professor Beltz-Hosek made a poem out of the back of a pack of Sticky Notes. She cut up each sentence into lines, and what surprised us all is that it didn’t not work. Breaking the lines into the kind of rhythm and cadence we associate with poetry, and the words themselves felt different.

That exercise had led me to think about poetry as presentation, not just wordcraft. I think, despite how minimalist the format of the printed poem is, we still impart an air of power and reverence that comes with the written poem. This is why, I feel, spoken word poetry gets so much flak in popular culture for being “awkward.”  The change of the format removes that air of reverence, at a surface glance it isn’t how people imagine poetry, it’s someone speaking in a tone that isn’t how they’ve seen people usually speak before.

The inverse of this is also true- people will almost always look over beautiful word craft and form when it appears in places we don’t associate with poetry. I’ve seen people respond to very banal posts online and say, hey, wait a sec, this is poetry, you wrote this in iambic pentameter. I feel like it’s only when we see markers of certain presentation do we think “Oh, I’m reading poetry” and begin to look at the words as more than just information to be skimmed. Cultivating found poetry and making blackout poems train us to not just skim, but to train our poet’s brain to pick up phrasing we may have missed. Online poets and on Twitter or Instagram get around the problem of skimming through how they present their format- they’ll scatter the words across the screen in a way you only see in poems, or they’ll put a sunset background on the words, not to fit the theme, but to communicate to the reader “this is not a post, this is poetry.”

Here, Bullet

In this week’s blog post, I was gonna talk about a point I brought up in my previous one. In which poetry and writing has the ability to bring forward suppressed memories. However, my copy of Here, Bullet by Brian Turner came in and wow, I’m loving it. So I thought I would take this blog post and talk about it so far. Right now, I am little more than half-way done with the collection and I can’t stop reading it. The themes of the collection follows: the emotional turmoil of both American soldiers and Iraqi fighters during the conflict in Iraq, how the fighting affect Iraqi citizens, how American soldiers are viewed in Iraq and many more. Turner switches POV in this collection between American soldiers, Iraqi fighters, and Iraqi citizens. Poems such as What Every Soldier Should Know and Two Stories Down are two of the many that show the reality of war. The first poem mentioned has the narrator presumably an older vetran speaking to younger men. He tells them some of the customs of the Iraqi people, but also intertwines threats that they should be aware of while on patrol. The second poem mentioned shows the brutalness of combat and I would hate to spoil it because it has a “oh damn” moment in it. One of my favorite poems so far though is called Ashbah The poem’s title means “Ghost” and it follows the dead of both sides as they struggle to find their way back home. I believe it is Turner’s ability to have such elegant brutality in his poems that make them so effective. I encourage everyone to give it a read.

If you want to give it a read, just ask me in class and I’ll let you borrow it 🙂

Things I am going to STEAL

I forget what day we talked about this in class, but there was a quote that said, “Good poets borrow. Great poets steal.” I wish I had copies from the poems we have already workshopped, but there are definitely lines that I am in love with from the writers in class, but alas, I can’t remember them. Here’s a working list of things that I want to steal:

  • Grimay’s idea of relating things to flies
  • Grimay’s relation between telescopes and guns (I already compared cameras and guns, so I need something more)
  • Troy Seefried’s line “fog-filled morning” that I misread as “fog-filled warning” which I loved
  • The way that Tora’s music makes me feel
  • The entire song “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” by Bright Eyes
  • Ilya Kaminsky’s line “I must write the same poem over and over again, for any empty page is the white flag of their surrender”
  • From 6LACK’s “Luving U”, the lines [I stand up, say ‘I had enough’/ She stand up ‘Oh, you think you tough’] (Oh, the joys of toxic relationships!)
  • Elieen Myles’ line “She never resembled/ the woman/ but she became/ her… like looking/ death in/ the face/ and saying/ okay/ get going” from the book Not Me
  • From The Triggering Town, “There is always a body of water, a sea just out of sight beyond the hill or a river running through town. Outside of the town a few miles is a lake that has been the scene of both romance and violence.” 
  • From Yeek’s song “Cleaner Air”, the lines “I was born and raised/ I don’t know where/ She’s from Florida/ Probably breathing cleaner air”

Abstract Reality

One of the most challenging thing for writers, in my opinion, is avoiding abstraction in your work, especially in a medium like poetry. I’ve fallen victim to the use of words like “fear,” “anger,” and ironically, “clarity.” The words seem powerful enough, but they can vastly differ from person to person. Reading poems from Gandy Dancer, Erin Kae’s Grasp This Salt, as well as Aracelis Girmay’s The Black Maria, I was greeted with vivid imagery like “Our roadmap folds into a fan and shoots into the puck//ered eye of a toll booth worker,” in Mitchell Angelo’s “Motion Sickness.”

I think some of it lies in the fact that when I get inspired or get an idea for a poem I feel compelled, like many, to write it down. But in the process of getting it down, I overlook the necessity of revising and editing my lines to include more specific details rather than just broad ideas. To me it feels like writing an outline for a short story, or maybe writing the entire thing in just exposition. To get the idea of what you want to say but it’s not as fulfilling as it could be.

I’ve been exploring the poetry resources online and found a few places where they list abstract words to avoid in writing. I think some of the most surprising I’ve found have been “envy,” and “sorrow.” They feel like strong words, but I can see how they lack the specificity required to break free of the “abstract” label.

Mass Hierarchies and Art Monopolies

The 21st century has brought with it advancements and complications that nobody in the pre-digital age dealt with: the dotcom boom is our modern Gutenberg press.

The industrialized automaton of book printing is one thing, but the mass sales and proliferation of their hard-cover copies in an international market is another. In the most interconnected age in history, competition within art is more stratified than ever. Whether the shelves of our grandparent’s local libraries where the Book of the Month Club dished out copies of Richard Wright, or the airport bookstore’s exaltation of Stephen King’s newest novel on the top shelf, or even the Carolingian monks studiously copying Cicero in 8th century, the geography of publication always seemed limited by access; and therefore the acclaim and popularity of authors had always been restricted by access… and the total amount of authors.

With educational opportunities abounding, the brightest amongst us have access to the literary craft and artistic domain like never before. Yet the massive marketplace available through Amazon and other distributers makes a few favored authors the catch all for book sales. Where poets could once be “the best around,” it seems to be noticed one needs to be the “best” period. How many brilliant artists are lost in the river of an oversaturated, never-going-to-be-egalitarian-and-that’s-ok kind of market?

For those familiar with the infamous Pareto distribution, it seems the swimming pool for creatives is only getting bigger and a few fish fatter. But where does that leave the novice poet? A job in academia? Well statistics are equally dismal.

The bottom line is that we all want to be published and we all want to be read. Hopefully making enough income so that we don’t become the emaciated embodiment of a “starving artist.” But I don’t think that’s possible… I think the only thing that I am left with is the desperation, joy, and final conclusion that despite overwhelming odds, I will choose to write; and as I do so with the hope of being published one day, all that I can strive for is to write something worth reading.

The Jungian Revelation: The “Unconsciousness” and Inspiration

In Carl Jung’s influential essay “Approaching the unconscious,” found in the larger work Man and his Symbols, Jung defines cryptomnesia or “concealed recollection” in relationship to a passage in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra:

“I myself found a fascinating example of this in Nietzsche’s book Thus Spake Zarathustra, where the author reproduces almost word for word an incident reported in a ship’s log for the year 1686. By sheer chance I had read this seaman’s yarn in a book published about 1835 (half a century before Nietzsche wrote); and when I found the similar passage in Thus Spake Zarathustra , I was struck by its peculiar style, which was different from Nietzsche’s usual language… I wrote to his sister who was still alive, and she confirmed that she and her brother had in fact read the book together when he was 11 years old. I think, from the context, it is inconceivable that Nietzsche had any idea that he was plagiarizing this story. I believe that fifty years later it had unexpectedly slipped into focus in his conscious mind.” (37)

Jung is exploring the relationship between our “conscious” and “unconscious” knowledge. As part of a psychological model that includes the “unconscious” as an objective component of what it means to be human, Jung believes that our attentional focus can only perceive a certain amount of what our cognition is experiencing, the “conscious” part, and that thoughts can “slip” into our conscious experience without our realizing of it. In addition to cryptomnesia, he defines dreams as the primary mode of communication between the “unconscious” and “conscious,” stating:

“The British author Robert Louis Stevenson had spent years looking for a story that would fit his “strong sense of man’s double being,” when the plot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was suddenly revealed to him in a dream.” (38)

A dream, an “unconscious” crytpomnesia, and the “muse”? What I am most interested in, is if these are synonyms. I don’t think that it would be too much to posit that Jung believed the “muse” of old was the inspiriting “unconscious;” thrusting a new connection, absurd synthesis, or in the case of Nietzsche, an unknown regurgitation of a former story into the passionate fervor of an author. How much artistic plagiarism is intentional? How much is malevolent? How much is our rearticulating of themes found from the dawn of literature explicit plagiarism opposed to unintentional association?

If in poetry, there is a sentiment to “stop being logical,” I am curious if this decommissioning of focus on the executive functions of conscious experience has been the means for individuals to try and let “unconscious” associations flow forth and rearticulate the world in a dreamy, dare I say, poetic sense.

Tumblr “Vent Art”

In Tumblr’s high times before the adult content ban forced away most of its users (fun fact, I am quoted by name as a “furby enthusiast” in Vox Media’s article covering the debacle), there existed a form of “art” – one can argue about whether or not it actually was – on the site that I’ve never actually seen replicated anywhere else. Site users would create blogs dedicated to them getting over/coping with childhood trauma and would create what was called vent art. Vent art as a concept is not unique to Tumblr, but the form of vent art they would create was. It was simple: they would take a black-and-white coloring book page, or use MS Paint/other childhood paint computer programs, or somehow involve child media vector, and in big font over the image would write something related to how much pain they were in. Like so:

I can’t help but feel like – well, know like – there is an application for this in poetry. Like taking a children’s coloring book and writing poetry inside of the margins of the art. Or layering photography into your poetry. There’s something so raw and uncomfortable about this artwork because you know it’s genuine and real; someone is using it to come to terms with something horrible that happened to them as a child. And there is a poetry in it – changing the placement of words, the font that is used, the background that is set. What do you think?

Writing In Someone Else’s Style

I mentioned this poem in a comment on a classmate’s post, but I want to write more about it! Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make” is within my top ten poems of all time. I highly recommend that every person listen to this poem (especially because every one has had at least one teacher in their life). Here is a link to the poem ( ). I could talk about the content of this poem until my face goes blue, but that’s because I’m a future teacher, and teachers don’t go into teaching to become rich in money. What I want to talk about is the style that Taylor Mali uses in this poem.

I think it would be really interesting to write more “what I make” poems. I don’t think I could write my own version of “What Teachers Make” without plagiarizing, but writing from another community I belong to might be interesting. In class, we wrote about different, specific communities that we belong to, and it might be worth trying to write what we make as a member of that community. For example, one of my communities was “Women who have a dad, three brothers, and a nephew who are all hockey goalies.” I’ve never met anyone else who fits that description, but it might be interesting to dive further into what I do in that role that I fulfill. It might sound something like “I make brothers spend hours in the street catching slap-shots.” Although, I think that it would be much more interesting to see what other professions would look like in this style of poem. I’d love to read “What Professors Make” or “What Authors Make.”

Something else really interesting would be the opposite of “What Teachers Make.” I’m not thinking about what teachers lose but rather “What Makes Teachers.”

If anyone decides to make their own version of “What Blank Makes,” please share it with me! I would love to see how it turns out.

Home Depot by Brian Turner

During one of our past classes, Professor Smith referenced a poem by Brian Turner called Home Depot. After he mentioned it and the themes that surrounding the poem, such as a soldier’s PTSD and dealing with it in public, I was very intrigued. After that class, I spent a good hour and a half looking for Brian Turner’s Home Depot yet could not find it. Of course, it is when I gave up looking for it that Professor Smith emailed the class saying the title wasn’t Home Depot, instead it was called At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center. It was very humorous and I guess I can’t blame him for mixing up two very similar hardware stores. That aside, when I was finally able to read Brian Turner’s poem, I was blown away. I have never read a poem that has described combat PTSD is such a manner before and I was completely taken aback by it. I come from a military family, although my father didn’t serve, both my grandfathers and their fathers served in the military. My one grandfather, whom I was close to served in the Vietnam War. When I was around seven years old, my grandfather brought me to a Dunkin Donuts to get a jelly doughnut. It was our usual tradition to get one after my day at school. When we entered the building it was business as usual. We waited in line and my grandfather held my hand cracking some jokes. Suddenly, a loud crash came from the back room. I don’t know if it was a pan or something falling, but it made a pretty loud noise. My grandfather squeezed my hand and he looked straight ahead with a gaze that still make my hairs stand on edge today. I asked what was wrong, but he didn’t answer. After a few minutes, he snapped out of it and continued on like nothing had happened. I never had the courage to ask him what had happened, but over the years I pieced it together; I assumed that the noise triggered memories from the war. After reading At Lowe’s Home improvement Center, I was immediately drawn back to that memory. Keep in mind I had not thought about this for years and honestly didn’t even remember it till I read this poem. This brings me to a point that I would like to explore more in the future, that poetry has the power to cause repressed memories to rise to the surface. I believe that poetry is it’s strongest when it is able to draw on locked memories; to shatter the mold that would keep emotions hidden away. Anyway, I definitely look forward to developing this idea more and reading more of Brian Turner’s work. His collection Here, Bullet should be arriving in a few days!

Poetry in Music

Other than literature and writing poetry, music is a major passion of mine. However, I have always seen poeticism and music as something separate when, in reality, that’s not entirely true. I think that in a lot of recent pop music, the poeticism in the lyrics of songs has significantly decreased, or really isn’t there at all. Part of me forgot that a lot of songs are derived from poetry and/or started as poems themselves. It can be a bit difficult to explain, but I can only describe it as the pop-music-brainwash, I suppose.

Personally, I generally enjoy pop music. It is what most of my Spotify is comprised of, but every now and then, I stumble across an artist or a band where I can only hear their songs as poetic. Right now, I’ve been into Bon Iver, an American folk band started by the lead singer Justin Vernon. Their songs are so complex that it becomes inspiring. I cannot help but focus on every aspect of them, almost as if I’m workshopping a poem in class. I look at the title, the lyrics, I interpret them and then try and figure out where the inspiration for the song came from. Then I decipher with myself why the music works to compliment the lyrics, as well as work on its own. I don’t find this kind of experience in a lot of pop music. In particular, I listened to Justin Bieber’s new song called “Yummy” and while I think it’s kind of catchy, I don’t get the kind of overwhelming experience like when I’m listening to Bon Iver. I’m not entirely sure if there is anything more here other than just acknowledging the diminishment of poetics in a lot of contemporary music.