Advocates of Truth

Reading poetry is one of the most important aspects of being able to create your own. You could just constantly create and figure out how to improve using some version of trial-and-error, but the consumption of poetry allows for technical exploration and understanding, and most importantly, it can give you permission to say what needs to be said.

The first poet I ever fell in love with was Edgar Allen Poe. I know, I know: All the rhyme and meter and death – how could anyone like that, right? But the thing about Poe is that he was never afraid to write his truth. The man had a bad life, let’s be real, so of course his poetry is macabre and melancholy. Whenever I read his work, I see it in colors – dark blues and scarlet reds, undertones of grey and black. He has a consistency to all of his work, where many other poets experiment with a vast array of forms and techniques, so if you read a piece, you’ll know if it’s Poe. And I liked that bold statement and adherence to identity. He was never afraid to write about the pretty dead girls or the anxiety surrounding murder; he himself had loved an Annabel Lee; he, too, had felt an oppressive anxiety about the world.

On the flipside of this true-to-life poetry coin is Katha Pollitt. Talk about an odd couple. Just as I admire Poe for sticking to his guns, I admire Pollitt for the same reason. Coming from journalism, she has a simplistic, yet hard-hitting style of writing which is unlike virtually every other poet I’ve read. Combine that with her strong, feministic outlook on life, and you’ve got a real winner. One of my favorite poems by her is about Martha and Mary Magdalene, in which she subverts typical views of women and their roles as either temptress or servant. She points out Jesus’ hypocrisy in performing selectively timed miracles, as he doesn’t give Martha an opportunity to sit and listen to him speak. In typical Christian analyses of this situation, Martha is often shamed – even by Jesus himself in the Bible – for not taking a break and hearing what he has to say. Pollitt takes this perspective and uses it to highlight the worship of men and denigration of women in a patriarchal society such as ours. She’s a poet unafraid of backlash and judgment; she, like the subjects of many of her pieces, is a woman unfazed by the opinions of others; she’s a friend to and advocate of truth.

Some of my other favorite poets include Charles Bukowski, Maya Angelou, Marilyn Chin, and of course, the odd little balloon man himself, e.e. cummings. The thing I love most about poetry is the diversity through form, dialect, personal experience, and every other element involved in being an artist. Reading poetry allows us to see life through hundreds of lenses, each their own tint and thickness, and enlightens us to the injustice, beauty, and folly of being alive. In these confusing and bitter times, we can all learn something from the craft of poetry: Our differences are what make us whole.

 

Martha

by Katha Pollitt

 Well, did he think the food would cook itself?

Naturally, he preferred the sexy one,

the one who leaned forward with velvet eyes and asked

 

clever questions that showed she’d done the reading.

You’ll notice he didn’t summon up a picnic

so that I could put up my feet and hear how lilies

 

do nothing but shine in God’s light. God’s

movie star, he says

we stand in glory, we are loved like sparrows,

 

like grains of sand: there are so many of us!

He means he stands, he is loved.

The music wells up in a dark theater:

 

a kiss, a kill, a tumult of clouds and cymbals!

We lift our hands, we weep, we don’t deserve him.

I don’t deserve him. I’m

 

all wrong, I’m nothing, hurrying home

in my raincoat and practical shoes.

The sky won’t speak to me. But still,

 

somebody’s got to care about the tablecloth,

and the bread, and the wine.

Mackenzie Steele, Art Editor

Beneath the Tree

I’ve lived in the same house since I was six years old. As I was growing up and beginning to write, I was discovering the world at the same time, often through the same outlet. I’d find myself walking around my backyard, which is an acre of woodsy land, looking for inspiration. One day I came across a tree I hadn’t seen before; it was huge, with the perfect dip in the grass at the base of the trunk for me to lay a blanket down and stretch across with a notebook. That spot quickly became a safe haven for me, where I would escape to journal about my day or write to distract my mind.

I started out by writing cheesy love songs. I’d lean against the tree, staring up at the branches touching the sky, and write sappy songs about it. Eventually the songs turned into poems, and I needed more to write about than just leaves and the sky, so I started writing about my own life. However, even though I may have found new places to bring inspiration and experience into my writing from, a piece of that spot has always been present in my writing. I continued going out there, encouraging myself to write outside. Not only did the tree spark ideas within me, it was also a quiet place for me to find peace of mind, and relish in it. My home has always been pretty hectic, so that escape was something I really needed to get somewhere personal and intimate in my writing.

Even today, I think nature is extremely prevalent in my writing, whether I purposely implement it or not. I wrote a poem about the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and how deep their relationship truly went. Woven throughout the poem was a metaphor of the daughter being a plant that her mother, a gardening hand, was tending to; she was trying to prune her into perfection. Often, I read through a piece I’m working on and notice some form of symbolism or metaphor that I hadn’t even purposely used, but it makes the poem or story all the more powerful. That’s what amazes me about nature; it’s always there, it’s often ignored or taken for granted, but it always finds a way to weave itself into the deeper meaning of everything, to have purpose in writing, and in our lives.

Throughout my years in Creative Writing programs, I’ve often been asked if I have a favorite place to write, or thing to write about. Each time the question is posed, my tree is the first thing that comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing about it or not, I’m still writing because of it. After ten years, it still manages to inspire me. Now, when I have a rough day, I still find myself walking to the end of my property with a blanket and a notebook, ready to sit down and wait for the inspiration to hit me. It almost always does.

Makinley Dozier, Website/Submissions Editor

Little Stories

I write poetry to tell little stories. As someone who prefers fiction, I use my poems to explore the emotions I can’t access through prose. I find that poetry allows me to be more vulnerable—it’s more effective to infuse and explore personal bits of me without having to worry too much about character development and plot.

My favorite part of poetry is imagery. I love describing objects and people. It’s fun to find adjectives and verbs to convey how both readers and I should feel about something. Imagery has so many effective, interesting aspects. In my case, diction, syntax, and images go hand-in-hand. It’s quite an effort—and one that’s worth it—to find the right words that not only creates the right emotional images, but also the sound and feel. For example, I once wrote a poem about a dying light bulb. Instead of saying “dim light shines on me,” I took the time to revise several times until I found a satisfactory line: “Light spills/across skin, fumbles/silent/and cool.” This line expresses the isolation of both the speaker and the bulb, which itself is a metaphor for watching someone die without an emotional connection.

The aspect of figurative language also plays in my quest for great, emotionally-raw images. I’ve mentioned metaphors already, but similes are just as important. I once wrote a poem talking about a hangnail, and what I compared it to really drew some reactions from people (which is what I wanted): “The last time my index fingernail snagged/on a thread and ripped into/pale-pink pricking muscle,/I cried out—/watched clear shell split easy/like Tupperware left in the sun.”

There’s also something I got a lesson on this year, but found that I’ve attempted it many, many times before—synesthesia. Most people use their five senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing,) to process objects. Synesthesia takes that reliance and plays on it with adjectives and verbs that deliberately contrast a specific sense—while still using that sense—to create a lasting emotional impact. For example, if someone ate a cherry that was fresh, but maybe reminded him of a broken relationship, it could be described as having “…velveted skin/peeling crunchy, sweet-tart sparks/pricking his tongue.”

I guess my love for images comes from my love for grotesqueness. I love piling images on images to describe things in great detail, which I credit to one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury. But enough about fiction for now. I was first introduced to poetry in elementary school, when we covered classic American poets like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. The first poems I heard/read were Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” and Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” I remember being taken aback at the frankness of these poems, and how they described things so simply yet beautiful. I still read their poetry now, although I can say that I’ve found many, many more poets that inspire me to keep going.

Seth Gozar, Co-Fiction Editor