Making Sense of Something Foreign

Upon first opening Myung Mi Kim’s Dura, all I really saw were double spaced lines and occasionally separated words in those lines. Lots of the word choice seemed random to me, though I know that most published poets have a reason for their decisions, even if those reasons yield illogic. I continued reading, not understanding most of what was going on (that’s contemporary poetry for you, at times, I guess) but still accepting what was to come. Despite the initial frustrations, I appreciated a lot of the rhythmic sounds. For example, on page 6, the last line just echoes to the beat of some drum playing quietly in the reader’s head: “Lop off the top where the milliner’s wooden box doesn’t reach”

This brought me back to the discussion of rhythm, meters and emphasis in words we had in class a few weeks back. Myung Mi Kim demonstrates emphasis within words and lines perfectly here, as when it is read aloud, it sounds like: LOP off the TOP where the milliner’s wooden BOX doesn’t reach”

The word “milliner’s” is spoken the fastest. It is also the word with the most syllables in the line. Looking at emphasis like this in a book of poetry leads me to thinking about the chapter I read for my Teaching English as a Foreign Language class called “Teaching Pronunciation”. In order to teach a foreign language speaking student how to emphasize the correct parts of a word or sentence, they must learn prominence. Prominence is the focus of the sentence, where the emphasis is placed most. For example: Did you hear that John moved to ChiCAGo? CAG in Chicago is emphasized because where John is moving is the main focus of the sentence. Word stress works the same way, but within a single word. Think of the word economic. We say it like ecoNOMic. There is stress on the NOM. Then there is connected speech, where two words sound like one when they are pronounced in conversation, such as Kim’s milliner’s wooden. Outside the context of her poem, these two words wouldn’t sound connected, but because they are bound together in a rhythmic line, they are spoken faster and sound like they are together.

I found it interesting that my Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language textbook related so much to my reading of Dura. But then I flipped back to the Preface by Juliana Spahr.

First of all, she defines dura for us: an enveloping membrane. But it can also mean “hard mother” in Arabic, “to last” in the French infinitive, “feminine stiffness” in Spanish, or an ancient city that once existed in Syria. The many meanings of one word, the title of the book, open up our language and reveals to us that the context is different, not so precisely defined, and she ultimately tells us that things are not always what they may seem. She discusses the cultural gap in her poetry. Suddenly, her use of white space made sense to me.

Kim confronts the language and cultural gap through poetry, and expresses the difficulty of translating Korean to English, and vice versa. Her poetry in this book is mostly comprised of fragments in order to reflect broken English and a foreigner’s communications.

Learning a new language is hard, especially English. And the entirely new, possibly conflicting cultural aspect makes it even more intimidating. I found Spahr’s words resonating with me when she concluded, “For to write in this ‘America’, is to write with the 38th parallel, the line that separates North and South Korea, the line that crosses the San Francisco bay” (x). According to my Teaching English professor, English is the most desired language in the world (to be spoken, written and used in general). American English demands its own cultural barriers and limits that may sweep foreigner’s values or traditions under the rug. How much of this English speaking continent allows all of that to go lost in translation?

[Insert Poet’s Name Here] Poems

As I finished writing my comment on Katie’s post about the “Geneseo School” I was comparing the different types of writing going on in our class by referring to it by the writer’s name (see my title) and I realized it’s an empty and inaccurate, though convenient, way to describe a body of work. Its not only detrimental to thinking constructively about a poet’s work, but insulting to the poet. We re-enforce the idea that poetry is somehow purer in reflecting the soul or essence of the writer when we say this; an idea that I know I’m outspokenly against. Its as if we’ve nailed down some aspect of the poet’s personality by noticing patterns across their poems.

I think the fix is simple. To use an example from class, instead of calling Savannah’s most recent workshop poem a “Savannah Poem” why not call it a “Nesting Poem” or an “Inside poem.” Obviously these quick references fail to capture the complexity of a poem, but its a step in the right direction.

Any suggestions?

Finding the Time

One of my friends today mentioned that one of her plans for tonight was sitting down with a glass of wine and poem revisions.

I all but howled in longing. (I think I actually gave a quiet moan and put my head down on the desk.) The cantankerous, perpetually dissatisfied old lady voice in me went, “I wish I had time to do that. Grumble grumble. Wish that could be my night. Wow, that sounds so nice. Wish I had spare time. Kvetch kvetch.” In reality, I technically do have time to do that.  I’m just not making it the priority it should be. Even thinking about my day: if I cut out the ten minutes I spend checking my email and Facebook (every hour) and  the twenty minute nap I take religiously, I would have thirty minutes (at least) to write or revise a day. It’s just not a priority and it should be.

One of the struggles of writing/revision is always finding the time. Everyone I know has an incredibly busy schedule, between a full course load and various extracurricular commitments. Sometimes all we want to do at the end of the day is drop into bed and stare mindlessly at our Netflix options for the night. Writing is hard. Revision is hard. It involves brain power and thinking and creativity. There are definitely days that we need to give ourselves a break, but I find myself pushing writing and revision back farther and farther in my to-do list as the semester picks up. Almost every seasoned writer offers the same advice: Try and write every day.

I was very good last semester–I tried to journal once a day, even if it was to put down three good things that happened in my day, and was constantly carrying around a poem to revise/made the effort to be in some kind of creative process. I would get up early or stay up late and write. This year for some reason, it’s been much harder.

How do other people incorporate writing and revision into their daily lives/schedules? When do you write best? Do you feel that you make writing a priority in your busy college life full of other commitments? How do we best go about this juggling act?

An Unspoken Hunger

Terry Tempest William’s “An Unspoken Hunger” was the first poem I read in my freshman creative writing class that actually made me nauseous. And by nauseous, I mean it was incredible–when I finished reading it, I wanted nothing more than to pass out or vomit or sit very still for a very long time. I think that poems should create some sort of physical reaction within a reader (even if it is just imagined). The poems I have loved the most, or that have stuck with me the most even if I didn’t particularly like them, are the ones that made me feel so ill that I wanted to empty my skull for a little bit. The poems that make us feel something beyond an “oh, that was nice” are the ones that are (in my opinion) successful. For me, An Unspoken Hunger has absolutely nothing to do with avocados, and yet the poem (or maybe it’s just a hunk of words, who knows) in its simplicity and clarity of image was able to convey so much. I encourage everyone to pay closer attention to the way poems can manifest themselves physically. and to embrace poems as something to be read as such.


“It is an unspoken hunger we deflect with knives-one avocado between us, cut neatly in half, twisted then separated from the large wooden pit. With the green fleshy boats in hand, we slice vertical strips from one end to the other. Vegetable planks. We smother the avocado with salsa, hot chiles at noon in the desert. We look at each other and smile, eating avocados with sharp silver blades, risking the blood of our tongues repeatedly.” – Terry Tempest Williams

Writing about Things that Don’t Interest Us.

Whenever I’m able to shake off my procrastination and sit down to write a new poem my mind always reels to all the things in life I care about; things I have passion for and stick with me that I just need to spew onto the blank page. My last poem was about music because it consumes most of my time and thought.  So far in this class we’ve seen poems ranging from the subjects of Full House to Horror Video Games and beyond. It isn’t uncommon to latch onto our interests when writing creatively–after all we must write what we know so we can dig deeper into our subjects than perhaps other people are willing or able.

But this somewhat obvious revelation brings me to something kind of strange, so bear with me: What if we wrote about things we don’t really care for? Not even things that we dislike, because dislike lends itself to passion as well, but things to which we are indifferent, things apparently of no consequence–that crumb on the table in front of me, the brave and greedy seagull that walks stealthily beside me, the group of three or four swaying beside one another a few yards ahead. These are mundane things, things we see all the time but rarely analyze–because why would we?

Well, perhaps our passion sometimes gets in the way of our writing. That is to say, if we care about something it becomes easy to write with abstraction because we already know the significance of the thing. So maybe if we tried writing about something we have no passion for we would force ourselves to write with more depth and clarity. And maybe the process of writing will illumine the significance of whatever the topic may be and we suddenly find ourselves interested in that thing. This post runs parallel to Katie W.’s about discovering strange facts and basing a poem on them. Maybe the uninteresting topic can eventually serve as the perfect metaphor for something we do care about.

What do you think? Does this idea completely contradict the purpose of creative writing/Poetry writing? Or could it be a useful challenge to strengthen our writing?

Instagram Poetry

As I sat in my house with my eleven other housemates (desperately trying to do work, but of course failing miserably since I live with eleven…other…girls…) I was stumped on what to blog about for this week. Looking around the room, everyone was either engrossed in a calculus book, or talking excitedly to the girl next to her.

After zoning out for far too long, I finally said, “What should I blog about for my poetry class this week?”

An almost eerie silence filled the air. A few people tossed out some cute ideas, but nothing struck me until my friend Kayla said, “You should write about how people post poetry on Instagram.”

“People do that?” I asked, but I immediately knew that that shouldn’t have surprised me. Poetry can be found all around us, so why not Instagram?

Kayla quickly sent me the information, and I began to explore this guy’s Instagram. To my surprise, it wasn’t some random person off the street, Continue reading “Instagram Poetry”

Attending Poetry Readings

I hope everyone’s having a good Wednesday!  This post is going to be a sort of continuation of Katie’s last post, and my comment from that post.

Being honest, I thought I was not the type of person who enjoyed attending readings–I didn’t know what to expect and I thought they would be awkward and stuffy.  I’m the type of person who likes to stay in my bed and eat an entire box of Oreos.  But since joining the creative writing scene here at Geneseo I’ve realized how important it is to push ourselves and do things we might not normally think we’d enjoy. Continue reading “Attending Poetry Readings”

Is There a Geneseo School of Poetry?

This is a topic that has come up a few times in the Gandy Dancer class, both this semester and last. I’ve talked a little with Lucia about this, and we both seem to agree: Geneseo has a definite school or style of poetry. Complex, multidimensional lines; intricate details and images; an aversion to the abstract and vague—these are all things I tend to see in the poems being produced in our workshop and by other Geneseo students that write poetry. Continue reading “Is There a Geneseo School of Poetry?”

Influence on Poetry

I find it funny that people are posting about poetry in their childhood, as I was thinking about which poems really stood out to me when I was young.  I own every book of Shel Silverstein’s poetry, and I remember reading all of them over and over when I was young. My favorite poem of his was probably “Whatif”  from  A Light in the Attic. I still, for some reason, have the introduction memorized: Continue reading “Influence on Poetry”