Personal Truth is Required for an Evolution in Writing

ellas-blogpostJust thinking about my earliest writing elicits cringes and pained contortions from secondhand embarrassment. I remember being so proud of my audition portfolio, thought I was the next writer with God-given talent discovered at a young age. Perhaps immediate scoffs when reading my earliest writing isn’t the best reaction because that embarrassment and shame I feel when reading my clumsy prose and cliché poetry lets me know that I have evolved as a writer.

Early in my writing career, I believed fiction was completely divorced from the writer and poetry was always angry spoken word or dramatic Edgar Allen Poe rhyme. I didn’t understand that my personal truth could come into play with either of these genres because creative nonfiction itself was a genre and that’s only where I could let the reader know about my life. The result of trying to keep my prose and poetry sterile, free of personal information, was something safe and cliché, showing technical promise but no real depth. It was only after taking a speech/oral interpretation class I realized that one’s personality and experiences can come into play with poetry and by extension, fiction. That class gave me permission to take a published poem and make it my own with stylistic choices and intonation and most of all, relate to it, live inside the piece, let it live inside me for a while.

With this revelation and newfound confidence under my belt, my writing began improving. I began writing more consciously about things I was passionate about. My fiction held more clues to my personal life and my poetry became distinguished from usual teen poetry as I learned to become more comfortable in my skin. Oral interpretation broke my shell, and an advanced poetry class during my junior year gave me permission to ooze out. Junior poetry class forced me to be naked in front of my peers in a way normal critique groups didn’t- I now had to write from very personal places without the guise of fiction protecting me. My peers had to read the details about my life I couldn’t even previously utter, and then critique it, tell me what wasn’t working, but also, what was working, what they were interested in. Having this renewed confidence and nakedness oral interpretation class gave me, I’m now learning how to make my fiction as personal as my poetry. I’m writing thematically about things I never would’ve even given the time of day before and my voice as a writer has become infinitely stronger because of this. Diction and syntax that is unique to me has emerged. Fictionalizing my personal truth, my heart beating and bleeding on the page, is a process I’m still learning to create fiction that is still uniquely my own but easier to write about. Once I got a taste of personal truth permission, it was all I could write about, so much so my prose would veer into creative nonfiction, my poetry a diary, so now I’m reeling it back in and being more selective with my personal truth. My earliest writing was good for my age, but now it has improved in strides I’d never believed to be possible, and it’s still improving.

Gabriella Christenson, Poetry Editor

Emotion in Syntax

imagesThe first thing I was taught when I started writing was how to correctly use both diction and syntax to further the emotional response evoked from the reader. Emotion is something I really focus on when writing and I think it also gives me new ideas when I want to convey raw feelings. An author that I studied who is exceptional at this technique is Tim O’Brien, the author of The Things They Carried. His use of masterful language and various sentence structures puts the reader in the mind of a soldier in Vietnam who watches others battle with the mental and physical struggles of the war. A single word in a sentence can make the reader go off into a completely different direction of what the story was depicting, so it’s important to pay attention to these details.

Tim O’Brien understands both his characters and plot, so his use of this particular style works in favor of the writing. If he were to be talking about WWII instead of Vietnam, then everything would change. The characters, the setting, the time period, and the pressure. But most importantly he would need to change the style in which these characters talked, walked, even just stood there. The words in how he first described the characters would change. The reader can get different themes when reading a story, and a lot of the time those themes come from the idea of particular word choice or sentence variance that conjures up emotions that lead to a recurring symbol or idea. This is another example of how you need to pay attention to your styles. If Tim O’Brien took out his theme loss of innocence and the corruption of war the story would not be the same. It would be about how this war was like every other war and things were hard, but good. This is not Vietnam nor the story Tim O’Brien wrote. All these things are so important to the piece of work, so it’s fascinated me how these things can change one small detail and shift the entire writing into a different direction. I admire his writing style and hope to one day incorporate what he uses in his work into my own. As I read multiple style types my writing increases in emotion. I evolve and learn all I can about a specific style of writing to help arouse rawer emotions just from small detail choices. Both my peers and teachers also help me by critiquing my work and pointing out specific instances where something doesn’t feel right or a detail is saying something it’s not supposed to. It’s always good to have someone else look at my writing because it’s not their darling and they can rip it to shreds without second thought. Once I can catch on how to see those choices (how to kill your darlings) and how to quickly change them, I’ll be able to write in ways I wasn’t able to before and I think that’s something I really look forward too.

-McKenzie Fox, Fiction Editor

A Thin Line between Poetry & Fiction

kiara-september-blog-post-pictureÈlan Literary Magazine is celebrating its 30th year Anniversary. In honor of the evolution of our published writing, our editorial staff is appreciating the techniques and stylistic choices of those that have inspired them. 

I am a writer that is constantly battling whether I see myself as a fiction writer or as a poet. I think that I do well in both aspects but there always seems to be the need to categorize myself. Recently I have found that both worlds are attainable through hybrid writing. I am really inspired by writers such as Jamaal May and Lee Ann Roripaugh. These are artists who tell their poetry through a narrative lens. One of my favorite pieces by Jamaal May is, “How to Get Your Gun Safely out of Your Mouth”.

The piece is a prose poem in which the examination of the retaining the will to live, to take a moment and breath. The poem takes you through a series of moments, and lists out the ideas to get the reader to take their time and consider the options to move forward. May uses second person perspective to his advantage in the poem, as he’s talking to the “you”, but he is also speaking of himself in the piece. I recently, tried to do this in my own poetry examining a similar pool of thought, and I wasn’t as successful with my endeavors, but I want to be able to speak to the reader and for myself.

Lee Ann Roripaugh, is able to take on a more personal approach and even creates an almost, folktale, storyteller vibe. The voices in her poem seem wise and the structure of her poems mimic this. The poetic elements tangle with that natural and ethereal voice which makes me feel that her own story is something I can always take to heart.

I believe I am drawn to prose poetry and poems that feel like stories because of their relatability aspect. Story telling is something all people have exposure to, and it makes a poem seem more accessible, and the visual style of a prose poem or hybrid piece always seems to be a journey. I am always interested in how visual structure can change the perspective. A reader can see the piece and dive in, and afterwards, feel in their chest that what they experienced was unique.


How to Get Your Guns Safely Out of Your Mouth by Jamaal May

Go ahead and squeeze, but not before you put on some tea,

clean two cups, lift shades and pin back curtains. Not before the end of this

song, before dawn reaches in, before you turn the page or a woman

apologizes for dialing the wrong man again—not before you learn her

name, how to pronounce it, how to sing it with and without regret

catching in your throat—Are you done? Go ahead and squeeze after

the hinges are reinforced on all doors, the house secure from storm or

intruder, your laces tied, this commercial break over, drywall taped,

spackled, painted—a nail driven, a painting hung and adjusted—

there is still so much to adjust, arrange, there is still time—and you

write your letter, correct every letter,

scrawl the signature so swift and

crooked it becomes the name of another—relax the

jaw that holds the barrel in place,

remove gun, point to heaven, and squeeze until the clip

is empty like the chamber.

-Kiara Ivey, Senior Layout & Design Editor