The Craft of Nye

naomi-shibab-nye

When I first came to Douglas Anderson I swore I would never write poetry. How could I?  Poetry was constructed of line breaks, and choices. Like fiction these choices were made with intention, but with poetry the intention was a hard technique to learn, a hard technique to master. When I look back and think of what scared me most, was how raw poetry allowed one to be. Every word gave away a personal detail. It feared me to know that in a few stanzas people could know aspects of myself I never shared with anyone other than myself.

My junior year I wrote my first real poem, what deemed it real is I had to share it with others, yet I didn’t hide my emotion, the emotion I was always scared of sharing. Of course it was the cliché poem about the death of my grandmother. Later that year I had to recite a poem of my choice, and I chose Naomi Shihab Nye. A poet crafted in detail, and symbolism. Metaphors that brought me to the sands of the Middle East, every word counted.  What brought me to Nye was how she respectfully wrote about her heritage half American, half middle eastern. I always had a hard time writing about my half Albanian heritage. I felt as if I didn’t have a right to those topics, because it was only half of my identity.  The poem I recited my junior year was titled Blood, a commentary on war, and a narrative about how it affected her father, symbolism for how it affects us all.

“Years before, a girl knocked, 

wanted to see the Arab. 

I said we didn’t have one. 

After that, my father told me who he was, 

“Shihab”—“shooting star”— 

a good name, borrowed from the sky. 

Once I said, “When we die, we give it back?” 

He said that’s what a true Arab would say.”

Yet Nye  wrote about this in the perspective of herself  an American, who is so torn by what is happening, torn because even though she is an American they are still her people.

Nye is the reason I can write about my own father, about my own heritage, and also why I can write about being an American. Because what does the word American really mean? Who gets to fit that description? Nye has made me consider how every detail counts, how a title can convey much more than it seems, and that displaying a picture in someone’s head is a gift that not many can master. Nye is the reason I have never felt that when it came to my heritage I had to choose.  

-Mary Feimi, Co-Editor in Chief

At the Core of Poetry

If I had a nickel for the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “write what you know,” I’d probably have fifty nickels. While that is only a whopping $2.50, the point is, fifty times is a lot, considering I’ve only considered myself a writer for the past two years. This phrase used to grate on my nerves, making me want to scream, because I didn’t really know anything. Or at least, I didn’t think I did.

I knew that Romeo loved Juliet and that anything that wasn’t poetry was prose. But how do you write about that? The answer is: you can’t. After many moons of biting my nails and unsuccessful third, fourth, and sometimes fifth, drafts, I realized the key is much more than writing what you know. A brilliant poetry teacher once told me poetry was like an onion, and with every read you pull of layers of emotion, meaning, truth. The core of it is writing what you know, but all the layers around this core rely on–get ready for it—lies. Tim O’ Brien said it best,  “A lie, sometimes, can be truer than the truth. And that’s why poetry gets written.” (Alright, he said fiction, but I think poetry still applies here.)

After this brilliant discovery my poetry seemed to blossom. I took the core of it, what I knew, and all of these lies blossomed. Lies like beautiful images I’d pay to see, people I’d kill to meet, love I’d die to have, and loss I’d barely live through. I’d found that the images, or the lies, I created were indeed truer than anything I’d ever written, because once they were complete and on the page, I realized they were simply truths I’d never acknowledged.

And so I’ve realized that lies are the key to all brilliant poetry, or maybe even all brilliant writing. Because the lies bound to page by an author’s hand really aren’t lies at all, but layers of an onion that were otherwise unacknowledged.

–Darcy Graham, fiction editor

Revision Techniques

We’re approaching the end of our first year as an online literary magazine. Did you submit? Were any of your pieces published? If so, congratulations! If you weren’t published, however, or if you received an email from one of our staff members asking for revisions and didn’t know how to go about that, then I might be able to help you out.

Here’s a few revision techniques I’ve picked up from four years at Douglas Anderson:

Poetry:

  • Symbolism is your best friend.
    You never want to give your intent away, or in other words, be “too tell-y.” Instead, utilize devices such as extended metaphor and related imagery to communicate what you would like to say about your topic. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t tell your best friend that the pair of shoes or the shirt he/she picked out was in every way revolting, would you? Hopefully, you would show them another pair of shoes or shirt in an attempt to dissuade them from buying that crime against vision.
  • Diction is your favorite aunt.
    Poetry is all about what specific words are used and where they are used. How you describe certain events, atmospheres, or even people says a lot about how you or your narrator feels about the topic of the poem and goes a long way in building an intent (what you want the reader to leave with after reading your poem [or story]). It’s similar to how aunts tell stories. Aunts always seem to have the best stories and usually they are the best because the way in which the aunt tells it is exciting or thrilling, depending on the type of story being told.
  • Syntax is your parent.
    In my experience, not many writers are fond of utilizing structure and line breaks because it is so simple that in poetry it seems almost unnecessarily acknowledged. However, your line breaks can say a lot about the tone of your poem. For instance, choppy lines that break before the thought is finished (and usually at a grammatically incorrect spot) help to build tension. Don’t brush syntax and structure aside because, like a parent, it is often trying to guide you to the best possible outcome.

Fiction:

  • Characterization is key.
    Writing to communicate an intent is all about specifics. What did this character do? Why did he do it? How does he feel about that blue vase in the kitchen that was given to his mother by the character’s stepfather? Remember that you can characterize by what a character does, what a character says, what another character says about that character, and what the narrator says about that character.
  • Perspective, perspective, perspective (and POV)
    A lot of times, a story that has met a road block can be freed with one question: Whose story is this? This is a huge huge concept for a writer to tackle. Ask yourself what you want the reader to know and how you want him/her to view your character. This is where you start playing with pairings. For example, a first person point of view from the perspective of one of the outlying characters (such as the narrator in The Great Gatsby ) brings the reader in close to the action but still allows the writer to keep secrets from the reader until the time is right for a big reveal.

Non-Fiction:

  • It’s all about using techniques from poetry and fiction to make a true story more fun, creative, and relatable.
  • Use poetic imagery to communicate how you feel and foreshadow possible events without having to spoon-feed the reader.
  • Use fiction techniques such as dialogue and setting to bring the reader in close to the story.

–Sarah Powell, Non-Fiction Editor