Growing as a Writer and a Person

winnie            I think there came a point in my time at Douglas Anderson where I began to question a lot who I was. Part of it was the typical teenage questioning of trying to find out who I was and who I was becoming and who I wanted to become, but the other part of me was questioning who I was as a writer and what it meant to be a writer and if I was even valid in calling myself a writer. It is hard to imagine being able to claim a part of your identity when you are on the cups of everything changing in your life.

            Coming into Elan I couldn’t imagine begin a part of something as solidifying as being a part of a literary magazine. It was like a token to me being able to say I am a writer. Maybe if I was a part of something bigger than I could truly be able to call myself a writer and not feel guilty about it.

            There was an odd sense of guilt because I felt that since I had trouble being even to claim the writer part of myself. How could I be a part of something that other writers go to?

            As I went through my first year on the staff, I had to adjust. I had to adjust to being able to call myself a writer because that is what I am. It will always be a part of me in some way, shape, or form. There is no way for me to try and hide that aspect of myself and I have tried. I through myself into Calculus class and physics and swore that I was never going to study writing ever again. It was denial in its purest form.

            I am afraid of losing the part of me that found solace in writing when I go to college. Elan allowed me to feel the power that my own words can have and the power that other people’s words also have. I had forgotten the weigh that words hold.

            I want to be able to carry with me the need to spread the love for writing that manifested itself in me through my time spent on the Elan staff. I think that’s what I want to give my junior, too. As managing editor, I spend an ample amount of time reaching out to other schools and students to encourage people to submit to Elan. It is tedious, but I enjoy sending out the emails because receiving an email from someone in China submitting to our literary magazine. It sounds horribly stupid that sending emails can be something that I enjoy, but I am also the person that says she enjoys math and will rant about derivatives when given the chance.

            It has been difficult for me to call myself a writer because there is so much I don’t know about myself and am still learning about myself. I thought that all I could be was only a writer and nothing else because of the way I see the world in such black and white terms. I didn’t realize that I can be a writer and someone who majors in math and someone who enjoys sending emails.

Winnie Blay, Senior Managing Editor

Natasha Trethewey’s Poetry Dragged a Portfolio Out of Me

The clean lines of her newest, most popular poetry book were so soft in the palms of my hands that it almost felt like a crime when I stained it with my black ballpoint pen. Every word was so meaningful to me that I book marked several poems with big blocks around a whole stanza, or sometimes a whole poem would be sectioned. There are dozens of little brightly colored Post Its hanging on to the edge of pages, like bookmarks for me to find my most favorite lines or poems without having to bend the neat pages back.

I was assigned Natasha Trethewey for a poetry project but if I’m honest, I think Natasha Trethewey assigned me to herself. What I mean by this is that I felt like she took over my life when I was supposed to be investigating hers and learning about her work. Trethewey may as well be a doctor because she brought back to life my poetry. Its an experience reading her work, like sitting the bed of your parents and letting the pillows sink beneath your weight.

Every poem I read in Natasha Trethewey’s book, “Native Guard”, was like a heart to heart with her. There were lines, like “My back to my mother, leaving her where she lay.” in Graveyard Blues shattered me. The whole book left me breathless, almost like she had bloomed a flower of faith in me. A line like that, one that it’s honesty is more important than making the reader feels something artificial, is the line I starve for when I read poetry.

Let’s examine these lines; “For the slave, having a master sharpens / the bend into work, the way the sergeant / moves us now to perfect battalion drill, / dress parade.” Absorb this, understand that these lines came from a poem about the black soldiers who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. This poem, titled Native Guard is basically a journal entry of one of these soldiers. Natasha Trethewey created a book of poetry that one of the Pulitzer Prize and moved my heart back into its rightful poetry state.

She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2012-2014 because of her poems on racism and family conformation. She changed the face of poetry in the US with her elegiac verse. Natasha Trethewey opened a world for me all about her and the life of African Americans. Her personal experience made me think of every moment in my life similar to hers. Whenever I feel like my poetry is running its head into the sand, I flip through Native Guard and read poems like “Myth,” “At Dusk,” “The Southern Crescent,” and “My Mother Dreams Another Country.” Her poems lift me from whatever rut I’m in and make me feel like my brain is growing bigger and bigger.

Valerie Busto, Creative Non-Fiction/Fiction Editor

Michael Dickman

At the start of my freshman year of high school, I did not know how to write. I knew that I wanted to write, and I knew that I had a lot to say, but I hadn’t quite figured out how to articulate any of it. The poem that changed all of that for me was “Killing Flies” by Michael Dickman. I stumbled upon it by chance, and I was immediately captivated. The opening lines grabbed me and pulled me into a situation that I had never come close to experiencing, but that I somehow felt incredibly connected to

 

“I sit down for dinner

with my dead brother

again

This is the last dream I ever want to have

 Passing the forks

around the table, passing

the knives

 There’s nothing to worry about”

 – Killing Flies

 These lines stunned me, and expertly conveyed grief in just a few words. This poem came at an important time for me, and showed me the way that words can affect people in a way that can’t always be explained. During freshman year, I experienced the loss of purpose that comes with being 15. I was writing all the time for school, but I didn’t really know why. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything important. After reading this poem, I understood why.

As much as I love Dickman’s craft, I can’t say that is specifically what draws me to his work. Rather, it’s the unexplainable feeling I get each time I read one of his pieces.

The most valuable advice I was ever given as a writer was that specificity is your friend. In a lot of my early writing, I was trying to be as general as possible. I wanted to write what I thought people wanted to read, and I tried to be relatable to everyone. I was a 15 year old girl pretending like I lived in New York City, or played guitar in a band, or was struggling through college. In Michael Dickman’s poems, nothing is ever general. The detail is astounding, whether he is talking about his deceased brother, his relationship with his father, or Emily Dickinson.

“You eat the forks,

all the knives, asleep and waiting

on the white tables

 What do you love?

 I love the way our teeth stay long after we’re gone, hanging on

despite worms or fire

I love our stomachs

turning over

the earth”

– My Autopsy

These lines strike me in ways I can’t explain, but the feeling I get when I read his work resonates through me. In a way, this feeling is what I am searching for in what I read, and what I am striving to produce in what I write. Michael Dickman taught me how to speak, how to be honest about the things that it hurts to be honest about. Now, I know that I can find myself, and by extension my writing, inside his poetry.

Meredith Abdelnour, Junior Layout and Design Editor