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


Jamaal May, Poet & Realist

Jamaal May Picture - McKennaIn poetry class my Junior year, we recited poems we found intriguing or moving in order to practice our oral interpretation skills and bring us closer to the work of other poets. Before I knew who Jamaal May was or heard he would be attending Douglas Anderson’s Writer’s Festival, I recited his piece “There are Birds Here,” a piece of his which is dedicated to Detroit. Previously, I read it as a jab to critics who tried to put symbolism and emphasis into every poem they read, but today, understanding who he is as a writer, I see it as him asking people not to sugarcoat what is real and true.

This piece connects to his other work, where he writes to show what he sees as true and does not attempt to hide it under any circumstance. In every piece he builds up cohesive images and ideas until the final sentence where he adds something impactful, something you didn’t expect when reading about a boy whacking fireflies with a stick. In poems like “Hum for the Hammer,” there is a more industrial focus that involves more tactile imagery like in the line, “May sandpaper be the rough hand that rubs you smooth,” and still captures this human feeling as naturally as his childhood and community-centered poems.

Upon reading more of Jamaal May’s work, I’ve also come to admire how he can bend a narrative into poetic format. As a writer who leans more towards the fiction genre, creating poems focused on single emotions or moments without full flourishing sentences and thoughts is extremely challenging. Yet May manages to pull off this poetic vibe even when there are long sentences, like in his piece “On Metal,” published through Gulf Coast Journal. Despite there being a whole narrative focus, there are still poetic elements, abstract ideas, a meaning that could only be provided through the poetic format he gives it.

Balancing between gritty textures and light or sometimes religious imagery, Jamaal creates statement pieces about the state of the world he grew up in and the one he lives in now, including both man, machine, and sometimes even God. His narrative pieces remind us as both writers and readers that there are no limitations in poetry and the poets that show us that are the ones that we should look forward to seeing again and again.

-McKenna Flanagan, Senior Art Editor

Movements of a Trapped Animal

Maddie-Jamaal May Pic BlogpostA few years ago I discovered the poet, Jamaal May doing a spoken word piece on Button Poetry, which I recommend checking out, “Movements of a Trapped Animal.” I instantly became drawn to the rawness and honesty he achieves in the poem and knew that was something I wanted to achieve in my own writing. Hearing that he was coming to Writers Fest on March 5th was incredibly exciting and I really can’t wait to meet him and be able to learn from someone who has achieved the art of being able to do spoken word and write poetry really well while also keeping them in very separate worlds. He started out being better known for his slam poetry, being a member of six national slam teams, most from Detroit where he grew up and one from New York. He has won the Rustbelt Regional Slam three times and has been a finalist for many national and international slams.

When I first heard his piece, “Movements of a Trapped Animal,” I was just flipping through Button Poetry on YouTube. Listening to spoken word pieces is one of my favorite past times. I almost skipped past it because I assumed it was going to be about hunting or trapping and that didn’t exactly appeal to me, but I listened anyways. His presence on stage immediately eases you into the piece, welcomes you. He is comfortable and it allows you to fall whole heartedly into the piece, something many spoken word artists still work at achieving, something I still work at achieving. His purposeful hand gestures, full voice, inflection, and well-placed pauses force you to listen as he takes you on the journey of PTSD in Americans, not just war veterans, but everyone.

Also on Button Poetry is his piece, “Sky Now Black with Birds,” which he performs in his hometown Detroit at the Rustbelt Regional Slam. He walks us through the feelings of grief and the anger that comes with it and the eventual acceptance that one needs to forgive.

I swear,
the word has feathers. I want
to learn to get its wings between my teeth
before more retribution
blots out the sky.”

I ordered his poetry collection, “Hum,” online. It was the first thing I had read and enjoyed in a long time because it was something I was genuinely interested in. It wasn’t an assignment or anything, I read it because I wanted to. I want to be able to walk up to him at Writers Festival and tell him his poetry has made a difference in my poetry. I will also be able to tell him that I’ve spent the time I should have spent writing, reading and listening to his work. I hope he takes that as a compliment.

-Madison Dorsey, Junior Poetry Editor