Pillow vs. Shelf Poetry

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Poet Marilyn Chin

When I first started writing the only genre I enjoyed was Fiction. I liked making up stories and being placed in worlds greater then our own. I thought Poetry was what you see on
the back of milk cartons and what my sister hides under her pillows. Poems about romantic love and heartbreak, both of which I have yet to experience. I continuously tried to write “poems” but I always ended up gagging and throwing away the paper. I was afraid of poetry until I was shown the work of writers like Yusef Komunyakaa, Marilyn Chin, and Billy Collins, new writing that introduced me to words and images I had never thought of before. They also had different points of view and I really loved exploring each writer’s likes and dislikes. Reading some contemporary poets helped me understand that poetry is not only about love. After reading and realizing that it isn’t something to be afraid of, I started looking for more poets and wanting to learn more about the art form. The first poem I wrote is about Vesuvius and Pompeii and children being caught in the dark smoke. I think the idea was really original, but my execution sounded more like prose then poetry. What I had yet to learn was how to use poetic language.

Diction and the way it’s placed in poetry is something that I struggled with when I first
started. It was something entirely new that I had yet to experiment within my fiction. The
specific choices writers make with every word isn’t something I learned until I studied poetry. Poetry, although fiction does this too, relies on the word to give context to a specific meaning or tone that leads the reader into believing something that’s going on in the poem. With fiction the writer can rely on a lot more words and actual scenes. Having this type of structure forced upon me was extremely hard because I had yet to think that every single thing in the story can have meaning, even the placement of the word “they.” It taught me to go deeper into vivid details. For example, when someone is talking about a paper cut they’ll say, “This papercut stings.” But using more poetic structure would be “My papercut sizzles like it was placed on a stove.” Or something along those lines. Really thinking of how to describe something in a completely unique and descriptive way can give the reader a new view into the mind of the writer and the story. Without these combined genre techniques my imagery would not nearly be as well developed as it is today. What I challenge myself to do is to have an original idea and describe it in a way that no other would. Being different and not fully following the patterns is what I enjoy doing, so I’m hoping to move forward with my ideas.

-McKenzie Fox, Social Media Editor

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