From Poems about Whales to Now

maddie-oct-nov-picture When trying to learn about the earliest civilizations, archeologists look to cave paintings as clues to what humans used to be like and how we have evolved. If you think about it, all of the writing in the world creates an entire body of work that represents our society’s evolution of thoughts, feelings, inventions, politics, culture, etc. I think a writer’s work from the time they are a child often does the same.
The earliest poem I have a memory of goes like this, “I love whales painting there nails. They look so nice in there long tails. They are so younge they don’t like mails. And they love good sales.” Note the spelling of “there”, younge”, and “mails”. The second memory I have of writing was a narrative story in fourth grade about my dog Keiser that died when I was four. It was a very vivid moment for a young girl and it made its way into my writing a lot. There are obvious advancements in my writing like spelling, phrasing, diction, syntax, and imagery, but aside from that I don’t think the topics of my writing have changed a whole lot.
In my fiction, my pieces stem from my own life and personal truths that I need to explore through fiction in order to process and make sense of on my own. I still really enjoy writing things like creative non-fiction, so my piece about my dog Keiser isn’t that far off from something I would write now. It would be a lot more subtly tied to my life and it would of course be more descriptive and have more of an emotional arc and message, but the root would still be that it’s a story about my life that changed me in some way that I needed to express through my love of words. Death is something I often explore in my work. Religion and dealing with death and how those connect are something I struggle with processing and making sense of and writing it out through other characters is sometimes the easiest way to deal with it.
I recently wrote a fiction piece loosely tied to my extended family and all the issues we seem to have with each other. When first writing out the piece, I remained angry at that side of my family that was causing all this drama and didn’t feel the need to work to forgive them, but through the course of revising the piece, I grew to understand the characters I created as individual human beings that had made mistakes and were worthy of small acts of forgiveness. I didn’t have to let them in completely, but I could open myself up in slight amounts.
My poetry is also almost always rooted in my personal experiences. While I have no encounters with whales that I can truthfully write about, nature is something I often incorporate into my poetry. One of my favorite pieces I’ve written was a coming of age poem centered on how my family and I used to spend our free time going to the beach and hunting for sharks’ teeth.

If you were to line up all of my work from the time I was a child, you would see an illustration of my life up to this point. You would see my initial love of nature, particularly whales, then my first encounters with death, dealing with family issues, coming of age, and they will continue to follow my life from the big moments, like grieving, to the small moments, like just finding beauty in a creature. As a senior, I am moving towards college and deciding my future. I want to be a pediatric physical therapist and I only hope my writing will be able to follow me and illustrate the next stages of my life.

-Madison Dorsey, Community Engagement

What Richard Blanco’s Looking for the Gulf Motel Taught Me About Identity

Aracely PictureAs I lay curled up in an armchair reading Richard Blanco’s third book Looking for the Gulf Motel, I was struck by his diversity and approach. In my personal life, when my writing suddenly shifted towards interactions with my father and references to Mexican culture- I housed a fear that I would be pigeon holed. Surely no one wanted to read ten poems all dealing with my father, and italicized Spanish words. However, words like chiles and tortilla popped up again and again, along with whole lines of dialogue in Spanish.

Somehow,- it wasn’t enough, just to talk about my father and discovering culture. There had to be something else, a layer or theme hiding from me I hadn’t explored yet. Blanco poetry showed me just that. Knowing he was a Cuban writer, I expected unbridled praise for his culture, imagery upon imagery of joyous family gatherings, and ethnic dishes. It wasn’t quite what I imagined.

Reading the poem for which the book is named, I realized there was so many other layers to exploring culture. In the poem he touches on the intricacies of poverty, shame and trying to exist in a society that is not completely forgiving. Amidst this, he celebrates, he creates the true immigrant experience of being out casted, a pariah, and in that humility rebuilding pride, but accepting the weight of practicing culture in different country.

Blanco also explores how his sexuality relates to his culture. He does this in a poem about his grandmother suspecting he was gay, and what the cultural implications of that were. Knowing how the LGBT community is viewed from the traditional Hispanic lens, I felt for him.

More than that, Blanco taught me that even though culture can be beautiful, and rich, you can walk the line of being an in-between, you can criticize it, and be fond of it.

Most recently, with this nugget of knowledge, I’ve been exploring the difficulties of having mixed heritage, being Irish American on my mother’s side and Mexican’s on my fathers.

For a long time I suppressed this desire to voice this confusion. Now I see I can, I have permission to celebrate, and express my identity and its intricacies.

Aracely Medina, Senior Poetry Editor

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