Sleepwalking: The Art of Concision and Vulnerability

I’ve never been good at keeping things short and sweet. As a person who rambles in their writing, who takes a long time to say what they need to say, I deeply appreciate poets who master brevity. I immediately felt this admiration towards Gwyneth Atkinson after reading “Sleepwalking” in our Fall 2018 edition. Her piece has inspired me tremendously.

From a structural perspective, the poem is only comprised of twelve lines–each line no longer than ten words in length. Yet the content of the piece is so intimate and emotionally charged that the word count becomes irrelevant. In fact, it is strengthened by the fact that it takes up so few words on the page.

My favorite line is the poem’s first line: “I woke up this morning having dreamt of my mother.” There is so much implication! We don’t have to be explicitly told whether the dream was bad, or whether the dream was good. Or what even happened in the dream at all. We, as readers, can just tell that it was haunting enough to wake her up. And the rest of the poem parallels this structure of implying and not telling so beautifully…it greatly matches the piece.

For me, writing about my mother falls into a steady rhythm of sameness. I write about the same couple of events, the same couple of feelings, draw the same conclusions in the end. Reading this poem was a realization for me. You don’t have to tell the reader everything! In fact, Gwyneth says the word “maybe” three times in her piece. When writing a poem, you, the poet, don’t even have to know what you’re writing about! Allow the reader space to read, to think about what you’re saying…you don’t have to force-feed a message.

I’ve been trying to find other lines of the poem to quote, but I find myself wanting to excerpt the entire latter half: “Maybe, last night I crossed fields/ Of black grass and cow shit to step/ Into her room, to sit with her, my eyes moving/ Under my eyelids like animals./ Maybe she woke up having dreamt of me.” There is so much longing here. I was left thinking about my own mother: how parts of me still want to be with her, and how much I wish she wanted to be with me.

This is the haunting “Sleepwalking” embodies. We don’t know the speaker’s relationship with her mother. We know she is hurt. Her words sound like the most private confession; an almost guilty admittance. It doesn’t take a ton of words to be honest– it takes guts. In this piece, we know what the deepest and most subconscious part of she wants. And that is truly the most meaningful thing I can ask of a poet.

 – Olivia Meiller, Junior Editor in Chief

The Impacts of Art and Writing

An art piece from an edition of Elan that has stuck with me is “Untitled” by Janai Dawkins in the Fall 2016 Online Edition. Personally, I like very abstract art, something that makes me look more than once and all around to try to figure out just what’s going on. This piece, although it’s abstract, has a focuses center, a distorted figure. Calling it focused and distorted is a contradiction, but I think that’s just what the art piece is trying to accomplish. The dark, swirled figure is set against a bright and active background, colored blue with the sun packed into the corner, greens and flowers decorating the frame that encases the figure. It’s really up to the observer what the piece means, to answer the questions that the art raises.

Questions I asked when first seeing this image were: who is the figure? Why are they framed? Where are they? Why are they distorted? These are all questions I could pose and answer in my writing. I see writing and art as cousins. I think art is one of the best stepping off points from the creation of a written piece. For me, I like to write poetry from art. The term for this kind of poetry is ekphrastic. Poetry is a snapshot of emotion. This can be said for art as well. Art is still, yet full of movement. It is a moment paused to be examined and understood by the viewer, just as poetry is meant for the reader to take in. Taking these aspects and making them meet creates an even more extensive impact.

One of the most important things in Elan is the making of powerful, creative work. All the work displayed is meant to encapsulate the reader/viewer and bring them out with their own takeaway from the pieces. This is a goal of Elan. The art and writing in each issue come together to create a deeper meaning, to get across the importance of art forms that come out on the page.

Lindsay Yarn, Digital Media Editor

The Art of The Essay

chelsea-ashleys-december-bp-pictureIn school, we are tested by our ability to comprehend prompts and answer their questions through essay format. We are graded on our diction, syntax, and if we actually answered the question. Before students even get to college, where it seems term papers are at their peak numbers, we know the five paragraph format like the back of our hands. Sure, we can cut it down to four or three paragraphs and even up the ante with as many paragraphs as the teacher requires. We are not writing for ourselves, but for the teacher and most importantly: the grade. That is what worried me about creative-nonfiction essays. I was tolerant of essays about books I’d read over the summer or what president was my favorite, but writing an essay on an experience that was actually personal to me seemed a little over the top.

I was first introduced to the idea of writing creative non-fiction work my freshman year of high school. We read pieces out of miscellaneous collections by well-known writers and also writers that weren’t as known but had stories that needed to be shared. That’s how my teacher hooked me on the idea of writing essays about your own experiences. We all have stories that need to be shared, whether we consider ourselves a writer or not. My teacher allowed us to explore the idea of writing these essays for ourselves instead of feeling as if we had to write about the experiences that would shock or allow happiness for other people. That was a worry of mine. I, along with my fellow classmates, had been writing academic papers for so long that I felt the need to write for my audience. With creative non-fiction, you are your own audience and when you cater to the needs of yourself you will consequentially impart wisdom to your readers. That year, I wrote about everything my thirteen-year-old mind could possibly imagine. Deaths in my family, lost dogs, and self-esteem riddled the pages of my composition books. Now, these topics seem weak to me. I’ve experienced new things, learned from them, and can write about them with stronger diction and tactful syntax. However, one aspect of my creative non-fiction writing that has not changed is how I can learn about myself from these pieces. When writing fiction and even poetry, you can find yourselves in the characters, imagery, etc. When writing creative non-fiction, I have no choice but to find myself in the work because I am the entire piece. Sometimes, the piece doesn’t revolve around me but I am there in the background or on the sidelines. Either way, it is illuminating to step outside of your body and see yourself on that page in a way that you didn’t see yourself in that moment.

Presently, I find myself using creative non-fiction outside of the essay format. I dabble in writing strictly about my own experiences from time to time, but I find my experiences expand and grow into something bigger than myself when I input them into my other work. I insert milestones of my life into my poems and place poignant moments of my own into stories. It doesn’t have the same effect as creative non-fiction, where I put myself out on the page and make the reader analyze me. However, it does allow me to flesh out ideas and characters with the one thing I know better than any five-paragraph-format: myself.

 

Prompt: Pick one room of your house randomly. Think about all the events that have happened in that room, no matter if they are monumental or seemingly irrelevant. Choose the event that you weren’t directly involved in but somehow impacted you. Write a creative non-fiction piece about it from your perspective.

-Chelsea Ahsley, Digital Communications Editor