Beauty Through Words

afremov23I have always greatly enjoyed implementing effective sensory details into my poems, even though it has proven to be a pretty great challenge for me. I’ve found that if I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing, or if I get too wrapped up in the intent of the piece, I’ll completely leave out the details needed to actually show the story. Over the years I’ve gotten better about balancing my focus between images and other aspects of the poem, but still find myself with poems that lack the different details that would make it so much more powerful.

        I think that because I’ve had to be more cautious about the attention I pay to detail in my poems, I’ve learned to really appreciate it when I can create a powerful image. I also have a pretty deep admiration for poets who are able to write wonderful images without even paying too much attention to the sensory details they’re using; it’s just second nature to them.

        One poem I read a few years ago, Preludes by T.S. Eliot, has always stood out to me, as it’s compiled of so many beautiful and abstract images that really put the reader in the moment. In the second section, the lines “The morning comes to consciousness, Of faint stale smells of beer, From the sawdust-trampled street, With all its muddy feet that press, To early coffee-stands,” are so brilliant. Eliot obviously pays special attention to the close details of the poem, inviting the reader to smell the thick, smoky air, and walk along the streets as he says they are. You get to go into the homes and lay on the bed, feeling everything the writer describes. The images have a great impact on giving the intent to the reader that they work well for the poem.

        Whenever I find myself having trouble with my writing, I like to read over this poem, if not for inspiration then just to appreciate the writing. Most times, however, reading it gives me encouragement to work on my images and strengthen them, or gives me specific ideas for how to use sensory details for the betterment of my poetry. I’ve definitely noticed that the longer I take on a poem, the better outcome I’m going to come up with, but that pretty much goes for anything. I would like to think that as I’ve recognized this fault of mine I’ve been able to gather experience and allow myself to grow and learn more about sensory details, and how to successfully use them in my writing. Not only have I learned more about powerful sensory choice from reading other poetry, but I’ve also learned about them from classes and workshops, receiving feedback to help further images for the experience of the reader. While I may be learning to make my sensory details and images stronger in my poems, I’m also making the intention of the piece clearer and improving the experience of reading the poem as a whole.  

Makinley Dozier, Co-Web Editor

On Saunders and Sentences

george-saundersI have a thing for deeply flawed voices in stories. Those characters who immediately rope you into a new way of seeing the world. Use of diction and sentence structure is crucial to sending the reader straight into a character’s head. There are many great examples, but no one author has influenced my way of composing sentences like George Saunders.

A creative writing teacher lent me his book Tenth of December because she thought I would enjoy the stories, but also look at his use of craft when forming my own writing. I read the book, with few breaks, over one weekend, sitting on my chilly porch, each gnawing breeze pushing me further and further into the work. His characters are gritty, realistic people in slightly unreal situations. The really incredible part is, he can put me into a way of thinking without so much as using first person. His word choice and forming of sentences is largely to thank.

Take, for example, this passage from the first story, “Victory Lap” of his recent Tenth of December: “Had he said, Let us go stand on the moon? If so, she would have to be like, {eyebrows up}. And if no wry acknowledgment was forthcoming, be like, Uh, I am not exactly dressed for standing on the moon, which, as I understand it, is super-cold?” What stuck me, what would change the way I write, is how a character’s’ thoughts become part of a stream, the way both dialogue and action are projected in his mind. He doesn’t think in clear patterns, the way people are expected to in stories. Instead, it’s much more real. When a person becomes jittery and nervous, they cram their thoughts and reactions together. This is what Saunders does in the anxious stream of possibilities, of a character with that “super-cold”, creating a condensed form of thinking, the way I have internally.

Reading this style of writing strikes me, because it’s unusual, but once I fall into the patterns of it, my thinking matches up with the character and suddenly, at least in my experience, the two of you are one. The story is immediate and palpable, not distanced and planned. This is what I wanted to create. A kind of writing so direct, so natural, that it becomes synonymous with a reader’s own mind. At the moment, I have many stories with the subtleties of Saunder’s style creeping up in them.

I wrote a story last year about the destroyed landscape of a Florida swamp swallowing its abusers in a storm, “Song”. The terror of the characters needed to be visible, but just as important was their way of interacting with the world from the beginning. Anyone can be scared. Only Johnny, a doomed Floridian, could arrive with his background of going to work each day to smother the land in concrete and wood, a life dripping with heat and humidity, the whole system of values instilled in him so, when the land finally did claim him, it was as a product of place being consumed by place. When I revised the story, the sentences were just as much a product of the place as Johnny himself. The words were carefully chosen in both vernacular and specificity. The land’s reaction isn’t the first violence; this is a setting fraught with battles over control. Word choice, whenever possible, held that history of conflict.

In the end, that story was published in the 2016 edition of Elan. And I plan to keep reading George Saunders, keep inventing characters that are so saturated with individual views, so honest through language, that a reader can’t help but delve into their world, headfirst.

Ana Shaw, Junior Editor-in-Chief

A Lesson in History and Culture

PICTURE MaryGrowing up, my street never changed. In the summer, zinnias bloomed. In the fall, acorns would brush against the concrete pavement as my car glided onto the driveway. Winter lights flashed as dead leaves piled on our porch, and in the spring, bees and pollen and mosquitoes from the river would dance outside my window.

I grew up in a community where people lived in the same house for years. Where neighbors would let me pick the grapefruits and oranges off their backyard trees, and tell me the garage code to let their dogs out when they were at work. My neighbors came over for Christmas, knocked on my door for butter, asked me to pick up oatmeal when they knew I was going to the store, and invite me on fishing trips or bike rides along the river.  When I say I live in Arlington, people react as if they had just bit into a lemon thinking it was an orange. I hear “ghetto,” “ruined,” “integrated,” and “trash,” as if my side of town is just a landfill for everyone’s negativity. People often forget the beauty, the people, the history, and culture that is right at my fingertips.

The Fort Caroline National Memorial holds the history of the Timucua Indians, one of Florida’s first settlers. Walk through and find mounds of oyster shells that touched the hands of these ancient people. Blue Cypress Park holds soccer games, play grounds, nature trails, even a pier to see the St. Johns River where one can bike ride or just sit and watch the sun set. One of my favorites is the Jacksonville Arboretum, where every year they have an annual gathering with music and food that after helping clean the park, one can join in. People often forget the little stores like the Plant Place Nursery, where the owner allowed my mother and her autistic student to volunteer, giving her student the chance to feel as if he was a part of something and have a job.

The community of Arlington holds a necessity to Jacksonville’s history and culture, and no matter where one is from, their community does the same thing.

-Mary Feimi, Junior Editor-in-Chief