Final Reflection Part II

This semester was a progression of experimentation. We began with the known, the real (?), the (mostly) representational—then moved to where we decide what is real, and the world is at our mercy (even more). Then we entered poetry, where in some ways there is more structure (form)—but in most there is less—if only in the infinite ways one can combine words within the context of poetry without worrying about sentences or grammar—only the feeling one wants to evoke. For me, all three genres had/have something to offer, and also have elements that freeze me up in different ways (though its mostly all the same demon just with different faces). With more freedom comes responsibility, which is a pressure that creates anxiety for me as my mind hollers about how my language is betraying its beautifully conceived ideas; in non-fiction it is reality that my words are compared against (or at least my conception of that).

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a cord one is given taking refuge or visiting a high-ranking Lama called a mind-cord. It’s a piece of string worn about the neck to protect the wearer from their mind. I think the Buddhists are onto something. Our minds are what make us so powerful—give us our imagination, creativity, but also make us so powerful—give us our imagination, creativity, but also our neuroses and psychoses. Though perhaps it can be argued that these are two separate entities—if only conceptually. The gremlin that sits on our shoulder embodying the latter of the two.

This is where emotion, or motivation, and structure enter. If I am excited to write and I don’t think—just let things flow—I have less trouble. Similarly, if such a state is induced by giving oneself up to imposed rules (a writing game), the chances for “success” are also increased. Also, the importance of not just “getting” but internalizing that not every piece must be a masterpiece can only help further.


The theme song of the evil hordes’ advance
The lumber of the drums, it swallows thee/you/all
romance, dance, perchance
The music floating limply in the air

Poetry Close Reading: Quarantine by Eavon Boland

See this writeboard for an up-to-the-minute updated version. Since there is no way to edit these posts without losing one’s sanity.

In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking—they were both walking—north.

This powerful poem begins with a decisive use of repetition, as Boland repeats the word worst three times in the first two lines. This word is also set up to parallel whole as it describes a whole people at the end of the second line. Boland sets up a pattern in the first line, then continues it in the beginning of the second, but then breaks it subtley, and you encounter the whole where you expected to find another worst (though if you were actually following the story of the poem you wouldn’t really be suprised). This is compounded by her use of the conjunction of to draw us forward. This is shown in the first stanza as well as the third, "Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history." The use of short chopped sentences connected by conjunctions also gives the poem a plodding feeling, which fits clearly with the subject of the poem:

He was walking—they were both walking—north.

He walked like that west and west and north.

Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.

Eavon also uses a very interesting time-perspective; the poem begins zoomed into the worst hour then quickly moves out to the worst year of a whole people. The sheer power of a statement such as the worst hour is compounded by the repetition at different scales until we are thinking about the history of a whole people. Then the poem moves into a narrative about a generic man and his wife—the prototypical victims of this horrible time—as they are walking somewhere. Boland then mentions the otherwise assumed fact that both the man and his wife are walking, forshadowing the wife’s eventual debilitating illness; not to mention the image of both individuals merely walking, very much alive.

The overall poem has a plodding inevitability about it. Lines such as the first few, the second stanza with:

He walked like that west and west and north.

and then in the third stanza:

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.

Read the whole poem here.

Final Reflection v.1

So. What was EL170 for me? EL170 was a turning point, for one. It wasn’t until I wrote my creative non-fiction piece that I realized I might actually have sometime to offer as a writer, and that it might be something to consider for my future. The feedback I received on that piece, and on my writing in general caught me almost completely off-guard. For whatever reason, I had never really gotten that kind of positive reinforcement, and had moved-on through my assumed medicority.

However, from my first post my difficulties in writing were evident as well:

As I write I tend to edit, typing — delete — typing… delete. I love to craft the sentences just right, but at times the ideas fail to come. I strain, pulling what droplets I can muster from that hidden reservoir which has decided to close for the day. I see myself filling with anger, frustration, dispair. And so I do something else.

The particular circumstances of this semester were such that I was all the more prone to being slammed with a self-imposed self-perpetuating creativity block (or atom bomb). Some units were easier than others; non-fiction was difficult to find subject matter for, but once I hit on something things flowed… And I had good material. Fiction was just hard all around, and I never really felt like I got it, though I know there is lots more time to figure things out… It was frustrating to work for 3 weeks and feel like I made no real progress as far as my ability to get in the right frame of mind and get excited about what I was going to write. In general, I’ve been faced with the prospect of just writing through a sort of indifference, no matter what the unit. This most obviously takes away much of the fun of writing, unless I’m able to just barrel-on through and hit on something that brings me out.

Unit 1: Digital Stories (Reflection)

The whole process of playing writing games, creating-then-using our PUD’s, workshopping, reading and discussing, and of course blogging allowed my brain soak in the creative juices and loosen up.

The class at its outset was an eye-opener, and as such was immensely energizing. I was, and am still refreshed by how organic and creative this take on the practice of writing is&emdash;as opposed to the more analytical, and I’d say stifling versions we deal with everyday. I guess I had never thought of writing as an art. Once I label it with art, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities that just aren’t allowed for in the traditional definitions.

I very much enjoyed the multimedia aspects of the Digital Story project – it continued to take the traditional definition of writing and dump it on its head, even if seen as just an exercise of that freedom it was worthwhile. Plus it was fun.

Then came Creative Nonfiction, which was a complete revelation/revolution for me. The readings were inspirational–they made me say “Hey, you can do that?! No WAY! I want to try that!” The defining piece was my ADHD perspective-piece, where I tried to use the form and the liberties of creative non-fiction to add another dimension beyond the meanings of the words. Using the structure of the prose, much like one uses structure in a poem, allowed even more creative freedom to shape.

Fiction was a further opening up of my writing perspective, or perhaps field of view; where I could mess with form I could now mess with content, and characters, and anything else I felt like messing around with. With power comes great responsibility, I soon found out, and was often stymied by the overwhelming possibilities before me. Thusly another of my age-old dilemmas resurfaces again. In the end, I was never quite able to kick my short-story out of the rut in which it ended up, but I was still proud of what I’d created, and the process of creating it was transformative to say the least.

I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned throughout ALL of this, is the importance of the process over the product. Being able to distance myself from the “end result”— and so also from any expectation of failure—proved the most effective means of sedation for my writing-gremlins.

EL170 has shown me that writing can be an art, and that writers can be artists. This has been very powerful for me because I’ve always loved art, but was frustrated by my lack of sheer ability in most forms that I tried. For me to realize that something I’m fairly good at—writing—could be approached with an artistic creativity was exciting to say the least.

see part two

Poetry Reflection

I’m still conflicted about poetry—not quite ready to seal my judgment on it yet, which is good since I”m signed up for a poetry class next semester, but still… I never really felt I was able to get into poetry, I was always writing around it, trying to get at things I couldn’t really feel. Most of my day-to-day problems with poetry were similar to those I faced in the other units, but they seemed all the more acute during this unit. I wasn’t really ever able to enjoy writing any of the poems (hm… nope), even if I was satisfied with some of the results, which wasn’t often. Barbara says over and over again that you need to write crappy poems to get good ones, but it sucks when you feel you turn out nothing but crap, and don’t enjoy turning it out in the first place. Anyone can write a decent poem if they spend enough time just writing and writing… isn’t a better success rate what makes a writer a writer? These are all just thoughts, not convictions really, and that’s why I’m not ready to write off poetry just yet (pun intended).

As far as poetry as a medium is concerned, it holds a great deal of promise for me theoretically, as I am very much a “poet” in the sense that I enjoy tinkering with individual words, and am fascinated by the intricacies of writing. I like to read slowly, taking in each word and seeing how it fits with those around it. I remember reading Light in August (Faulkner) in my senior year English class and just loving it— it was poetry masquerading as a novel!!! Beyond that though, I have trouble getting into the form as it is physically–when you isolate things so much it draws that much more attention to them, which increases the pressure to get things “right”— which is my biggest neurosis as a writer.

And I have always enjoyed reading poetry, this unit only furthering that love—seeing other writers getting something “right” is such a thrill, the most basic enjoyment I can get from writing… Identifying.

I have hope that with time and work and effort I’ll be able to bust through this carapace of stuff that is keeping me from writing to my “potential”, and this semester wasn’t exactly a pleasant one in other ways, which only made it that much harder to get into the writing. If only I could take this class again, I’d be much less apprehensive—its just that I can’t imagine this environment being recreated in any other class (another point, but still relevant). So yeah, I still like writing, and I like poetry, though I don’t really see myself as a poet (though I might be, I can’t quite go there yet). So hopefully this rambling reflection makes some semblance of sense.

Grandpa Abe

Someday, if I go bald
I can blame my grandfather

It’s easy to blame someone
you never met

I Hate Poetry

I hate poetry.
Every word is wrong
Disgustingly simple, cliché
Who do I think I am?
To define a phenomenon
To know you have lied, misrepresented
Or at least,
tried your best and failed
A growling shock of anger,
indignance, despair.
You search for words you know
do not exist.

5/19: A Metal Show

The music is weak
impotent, despite their valiant
efforts to churn the air
The bass swallows,
the treble fades
I know the song yet cannot find the parts
Lost in this sea of adolescents and itching
adolescent eagerness.
My mind strains, and finally
begins to find familiar notes
My body wants to jump to sing to play
Yet locked and bound I stand, maybe a sway
But not for long,
The next band takeds the stage, they
are worth a sound-check—yet
even now the sound is all wrong
Earplugs in, it sounds like
I’m underwater—
My anger builds, I am sure to glare
menacingly at the sound-man,
lolling at the back beer in hand.
I slough off my skin, begin to drop-in
allowing my baser nature to drink in
these emaciated tones—still familiar enough
The crowd begins to breathe and pluse. The
sweaty, teenage white boys with their bored
(amused) girlfriends. There is the
kid who cannot move. He stares. A nod
perhaps, no wait, was just a blip
of noise on the screen.

My hands are raised, the drums begin their
next lumber, my head’s nodding (banging)
We do the dance for them, scream for them
reach out our hands to them
We want
so desperately
some of what they have.
To reach that place
that plane. We are grateful for the journey
the sensational experience.
My head shudders, my neck
twines in a deep way
My shirt sticks to my chest and back
my hair drips.
I drive home shirtless, smile on my face.

Recast Prose as Poetry: Muted Tones

Sometimes Muted Tones are nice
Almost the opposite
of the blaring
“I don’t trust you
enough to let you find me
on your own
So I’m going to screech”
Muted colors
carry a subtlety their
more saturated companions
will never know.
You want a white that looks white, but
doesn’t really feel white;
You want the cleanliness, but not
the oppressive starkness
of a sanitary ward.
Elegance, simplicity
in light.
Muted light.