So this past Saturday I was able to go the VSW Pub Fair in Rochester and, as it tends to happen at events like this, my affection and need for literary communities was reinvigorated (even despite the pointed lack of poutine). First of all, for once I crossed over to The Other Side, behind the foldable tables, pushing journals on unsuspecting literature art lovers. Many people were genuinely curious about our journal (BTW, y’all should stop reading and submit to it right now) and it was awesome explaining what Gandy is all about to someone other than my mom (who still doesn’t quite “get it”).
When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence,–that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime.
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I’ve been thinking recently about what it means to be a poet – that is, to see things as a poet would, and derive some kind of meaning from those things. I’m being purposefully broad here, because since I’ve just recently started the writing program and just recently begun seriously considering what it would mean to take writing as a career choice, I’m trying to figure out what I think about all this.
Still don’t know. But by some magic of scheduling, my classes have all been intersecting and shedding light on each other in fascinating ways. I’m taking a class on Thoreau (complete with cabin building) where we’re reading Walden, and some parts of Thoreau’s philosophy jump out to me as pertaining particularly well to our class, and to a view of the world that promotes thinking poetically and noticing the fine details that make up a poem. “Thinking like a poet” might sound cliché or pretentious, but I do think it takes a particular kind of thinking about certain things in order to make them into a poem – a particular kind of eye.
One of the bigger ideas in Walden is the necessity for us to simplify our lives – to stop wasting life on menial labors (like paying rent, reading every bit of news) and start living a richer life, with more attention to the details (insert Thoreau’s lyrical descriptions of the air in the morning, the virtues of cutting down a tree). Essentially, to stop rushing – to take the time to have time to be. When this happens, he says, we can appreciate true reality, in all its meanness and its beauty. We perceive reality, instead of all the frivolous luxuries surrounding reality.
So what does this have to do with poetry? Thoreau’s ideas remind me that sometimes work isn’t all there is to life – that elements that sometimes end up in a poem starts with taking the time to slow down and pay attention. I think this is something we all do naturally as writers, paying attention to the way a person’s hair falls on the bed, or the paying attention to the feeling a certain word or a line break can involve, but Thoreau puts it in a wider view: what we do in our poetry we can do in our lives. To me that’s pretty liberating – slowing down and taking time to notice will help me have the poet’s eye that I’m craving, and writing poetry can also help me slow down – like a kind of meditation.
Over the summer at a BBQ, a family friend asked what classes I was going to be taking in the fall. As I began to list them off, he suddenly stopped me and said, “Poetry? Are you just taking that just for fun?”
Shrugging, I replied with, “Well, I’m really excited for it but it’s also for my major.”
“Oh right I forgot your dad said you were studying English.”
I get that type of response more often than I would like to care to admit. But what has been bothering me even more lately is the answer I get when people hear I’m studying poetry in particular. “Really?” They ask, before shaking their head. That irks me for a plethora of reasons (obviously). Here is my list why more people should seriously study poetry.
1. This is a simple one, but still valuable. Who doesn’t love music? If anyone says a flat out no I’m not sure if I can trust them. But what’s another name for song lyrics? Poetry. How great would it be to be able to comprehend those songs you like so much? Knowing the imagery, metaphors, motifs, and similes that are in your favorite song only heightens your enjoyment.
2. Many of us have heard the idea that the brain is like a muscle. Well ladies and gentleman, it is! Older people are actually encouraged to read and analyze poetry in order to keep their minds sharp.
3. For the younger crowd reading this, it can help you as well. It will open up your mind to the prospect of new ideas and words and even teach you how to think analytically. This is part of critical thinking, which is one of the most important components of education.
4. We also study poetry so that we might learn something new about who we are as people. Every time you read a poem, something new is revealed to you. Perhaps it’s a new idea, image, political party, way to look at your dog, or so forth! The point is, something exciting and different is being exposed to you, allowing you to make up your own mind on the subject.
5. Finally, we also study poetry because we are humans. We have the amazing ability to create works of art from nothing. By putting words on a page we can evoke images of beauty, destruction, love, death, despair and so many more it would be impossible to list them all. What’s the point of honestly being alive, of living and breathing, if we don’t have a creative outlet to pour out heart into? Poetry is so unique because, in a sense, there are no rules. You can follow a rhyming scheme , or not. You can have the same amount of syllables in each line, or not. It doesn’t matter. You can place words like an abstract painting and just toss them in the air and see where they fall! No other type of writing would ever dare to allow this to happen. It’s the most free way to write, and there is no topic that is too taboo to dabble in.
I know there must be a lot more reasons out there to study poetry. But I think it makes you a better person, a smarter person, more well rounded, and honestly just way more cool. What are your reasons to study it?
I don’t have much experience writing poetry (or any, really), so when I signed up for this class one of my biggest questions was, well, what am I going to write about? A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a wikipedia article about Turritopsis Dohrnii, a jellyfish that has the ability to revert itself back to sexual immaturity after it progresses in age–basically, the freaking thing is immortal. I wrote a really rough draft of a poem about this jellyfish for our second poetry exercise, and that’s when I realized: weird, random facts can be a good source of inspiration for poetry. Continue reading “Poetry Inspiration”
It was cloudy around 8pm on Friday, so instead of watching a brilliant Geneseo Sunset™ my friends and I were watching a sort of negative sunset. As a poet I naturally began to think about how our experiences of art, nature, life in general, etc. can be informed by absence. While huddling together for warmth (because this was a Geneseo anti-sunset, after all) my friend Dave began talking about a website called Garfield minus Garfield which, as you’ve probably guessed, erases Garfield from the comics, exposing Jon as a character full of anxiety and existential dread.
Jon’s heavy lidded looks of malaise and final breakdown are now directed at nothing, instead of at a cat. The cat who gives this comic its name. How the meaning of this particular strip is changed by the deletion of such a crucial element gives a great example of how absence can magnify instead of morph. Without a direct object of his gaze and his breakdown we imagine Jon’s feelings are more intense, deep seated and directed at something more abstract, like the sense of doom he feels when thinking of his dead end job at OfficeMax. It may seem like a complete morphing, but it’s only a jump. Smaller moments of aggravation like getting fed up with a lazy cat sometimes create a nice little door into larger, more existentially charged feelings of frustration.
This doesn’t work for all of these strips, some of the meanings are changed or disappear entirely along with the cat. As poets these are the sort of changes we want to avoid when revising. As much as I may want to, I obviously can’t make Garfield into a direct analog of the line, but in terms of how deletion can magnify an already functioning meaning we can aspire to the example given in the strip above: delete a cat (or a line) and turn a moment of petty aggravation into a nervous breakdown.
Charlie Sheen published a poetry memoir titled “A Peace of My Mind” in 1991. I think it’s interesting to read poetry written by celebrities because although most everything is made public, poetry is still very personal, and is usually created when the author is alone. I think this gives a special insight into the poet as a person. It is kind of hard to think of celebrities as fellow people because of how high the pedestal we put them on is. No one treats celebrities like normal people, and no one really gives them the respect that would be granted to any other individual. People feel perfectly comfortable tearing these people apart verbally, and bombarding them regardless of what they are doing; based off of an incredibly impersonal opinion. Sheen talks about this in his poem “I-media-etly.” It’s normal to call a celebrity crazy, although the general public doesn’t really know them; at all. Through poetry you kind of learn about how the poets mind works based on the words they choose, the way they compose these words, the ideas they convey, and the images they include. You kind of get a realer feel of their innards.
Sheen’s poetry is really dark, sexually twisted, and the tone is full of so much anger. Although I must admit, I only read what was available online, so this is referring to those poems and not his entire body of work. In “I-media-etly” it seems like Sheen talks about how soulless and fake the paparazzi is, and how they kind of run his life. “The Gavel of Truth” seems to be about Sheen’s struggle with himself. His choice in rhyming is interesting in that it gives these angry, dark, poems a playful sound. Rhyming always reminds me of childhood poems; or poems that are meant to be lighthearted. I don’t think light hearted is the theme of any of these poems though. Sheen uses a lot of abstractions and clichés. He refers to the paparazzi as ticks and eyes as lifeless in “I-media-etly,” and depicts death in a black coat with a scythe in “The Gavel of truth.” There aren’t that many creative images that aren’t disgusting or sexually twisted. Perhaps this could be fixed with structure, but Sheen really does not play around with lines at all. There are no surprises in regard to line or structure, which takes away a lot of reader interest. Sheen also has every line capitalized, but because his work isn’t particularly well written, it’s kind of hard to tell if this was a poetic choice, or if he just didn’t care that this is what happens when you type on Microsoft Word.
The titles are both kind of lame in my opinion, and don’t really add insight or interest into the poems. The ending of “I-media-etly” links back to the title which seems kind of childish and too full circle. “The Gavel of Truth” offers nothing new to the poem. Before I wrap this up, the last stanza of “I-media-etly” must be discussed. Did I just read what I thought I read? About stroking flaccid meat-ew- and cum filled eye sockets? Yes.. Yes I did. This stanza is out of place, like it was composed for shock value. I think it is meant to shame the paparazzi by saying that they follow Sheen around so much that they must want to sleep with him, but I am really not quite sure. Maybe that’s just how his mind works, and the images he forms. Only Sheen knows. I would also like to comment on how Sheen signed his poems, but I’m not sure if that’s how they appear in his book, so I won’t. How anti-climactic. I think what bothers me the most about these poems is the complete lack of tact. I guess it’s cool to be unapologetic but this was just not enjoyable to read. That’s ok though. His poetry doesn’t have to be for me. I think poetry should be for the writer, and hopefully these poems helped Sheen come to peace with his mind.
Earlier this week I took a few older poems I had and wasn’t fond of, and created a “Franken-poem” out of them. It turned into an amazing piece about a very long and personal journey. Because of the nature of the poem I wasn’t sure if I wanted to show it to anyone else or keep it to myself, and this led me to thinking about what we owe our peers, our poems, and ourselves, respectively.
It’s my belief that poems are inherently personal because a writer can’t write without infusing some of their own emotions and thoughts into their work (and feel free to disagree with me on this in the comments). I know the poems that get caught in my head are those that were written from personal experience. The reason that I want to be a writer in the first place is to be able to give someone what others’ words have given me, and therefore I felt I owed it to my community to share this poem (not that I think it is revolutionary or earth shaking, but I like to think that every poem has the potential to matter to its readers the same way it does to the writer).
Then I began thinking about what the poem itself deserved: do poems only become what their readers think of them? Can a poem mean as much if it only means so much to one person? This is all pretty silly and hypothetical considering the answer doesn’t matter–poetry would still exist even if there were no readers because sometimes words have a way of blooming out onto paper despite whether there’s an audience for them or not. But still perhaps poems deserve the opportunity to be seen by a new pair of eyes.
Lastly, I thought of what we owe to ourselves when we write poems. Assuming that all poetry is personal, is it more or less of a catharsis to write it if we are sharing our work? I suppose this is, ironically enough, a fairly personal question, considering it probably changes from person to person, but I think through writing this post I’ve helped decide the answer for myself.
Poetry – and through it, the thoughts that we simply can’t shake and decide to impose on the universe – is a part of its writer, and maybe, deep down, we like to share even the really personal poems for the same reason we like to share anything else: to know we’re not alone.
One thing that always made me wonder about poetry is why we were never taught modern poetry in school. My only real exposure to poetry throughout both elementary and high school was much older. Shakespeare, Dickinson, Poe, Frost, and Whitman were the only poets I ever really learned about in English class. I often think that’s why so many people I went to school with dislike poetry – these structured poems bored many of my classmates and must have turned them off from the whole poetry experience. If there were more modern styled poems taught in classes, maybe it would help students find a style of poetry they like.
I tried to figure out why some people don’t like poetry by asking my sister (two years younger than me) what she thought.
“What do you think about poetry?” I texted her.
“I think it’s dumb.” She responded, two hours later. No further explanation was given.
So, my experiment failed. I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe, if schools taught more varied styles of poetry, more people would find a style that they like. Modern poetry seems lost in classes before college levels, and I really think that’s a shame. Sure, plenty of the people I know do like poetry, but I feel like more people would enjoy it if they found a style they really liked.
(I apologize if there are any major typos in this post. My ‘m’ key and my spacebar are both breaking down on me.)
I’ve been trying to visualize poetry, specifically writing poetry, in order to make it accessible for non-poets or those who are afraid of poetry. What is the right (or at least a decent) metaphor that is simple but contains enough complexity and nuance to explain the genre? I want my family and friends to be able to enjoy poetry without feeling intimidated. My solution is Legos. Continue reading “Is Poetry a Puzzle? (Or is it Legos?)”
I’ve conducted a kind of casual social experiment. I decided to do so in order to get the public’s perspective on what they think poetry is (there are no wrong answers, necessarily: some are academic, some are introspective, some spiritual, some lighthearted jokes). The reason I wanted to ask others, specifically those who don’t study poetry or literature on a higher educational level, is because I feel like the more I immerse myself in poetry, the more I am perplexed by it. So, I was wondering if those who don’t spend as much time thinking about, reading or writing poetry felt similarly as I did or not.
At first, I posted a Facebook status bluntly asking, “What is poetry?” I proceeded to attach the link to our blog, The Contemporary Poem. I posted the status rather early in the day, so I waited until the evening to read the responses. But there was nothing there. Now, perhaps no one saw my status and it got lost in everyone’s BuzzFeed-polluted news feeds, but it could also suggest other possibilities.
Perhaps no one wanted to comment on my status because they were not confident to start conversation on something they didn’t know much about for all of Facebook to see. Or maybe those who did read the status knew I was a writing major and felt intimidated or judged by what I might think. Or perhaps no one cared. Nevertheless, I think this bump in the experiment is a noteworthy one.
So, in order to actually get responses, I tried again. But this time, on my boyfriend’s Facebook. He posted a status reading similarly, but apparently came off more welcoming: “here’s a thinker for you: what is poetry? (input encouraged)”
And, maybe you guessed it already, but he got responses! They are rather interesting:
“Poetry is writing that cuts out meaningless filler. Poetry is difficult to describe because emotions are difficult to describe and it is essentially a way to describe emotions. When you have thoughts and emotions they are better reflected with striking words and imagery rather than story telling and linear forms of writing; not that poetry can’t tell a story.
Ideas always seem so clear in your head and I think poetry is an attempt to capture that mental clarity without all of the clutter and fluff that floods everyday speech and thought. Almost like meditation with words. But then again thats my interpretation, there are lots of different styles of poetry and lots of different people that think and express in different ways.
Try some Japanese Death Poems. The use of language is simple, and brings a sense of tiredness.” -male, age 22
“Poetry is an aesthetic communication of thoughts/feelings… poetry conveys what gets lost in translation. words sometimes aren’t enough.i think poetry is a lot like empathy… i think we can FEEL what poetry conveys even if the string of words doesn’t particularly make sense to us” -female, age 20
“Poetry is painting with words.” -male, age 24
“Poetry is lyrics without the music.” -female, age 55
“When I write poetry,..rhyming always, I do it to memorialize something or someone that I’ve observed doing/being something that moved my heart and spirit” -female, age 77
Disregarding the cliches, we can find a common theme here. People write when they want to express an emotion, scholarly or not. So, maybe the next time I cannot understand what a poet is trying to say, I’ll instead try to experience what they are feeling. Not all aspects of poetry demand reading comprehension or even logic. But it should always demand one of our most human abilities, to feel.