I was more excited than nervous this week for my writing class. The nervousness stemmed more from the poem I completed as an assignment. We had three different types of poems to choose from: a poem starting with numbers (“Number of times I went to the bathroom: 5.”); a poem with short phrases that rhymed (the example was items and events recalled from the author’s childhood in the 1950s); or a rules poem (“Don’t do…”). While we were discussing that last week in class, I had the phrase, “Boys don’t cry” come up, so I wanted to do a rules poem.
I spent every extra moment I had on the weekend and during the week to try to make that poem work. At first, it started of as “Boys don’t cry,” then shifted to “Men don’t cry” so people kinda didn’t get the wrong end of the stick. Keep in mind that this entire time I had kept the assignment sheet in my bag so I was more focussed on the “write a poem” part and the “lines must repeat” part than the actual assignment.
On Thursday morning, I woke up and felt rather energized to write. I think being in the headspace of not getting up to go to work helped immensely (although I do usually work from home on Thursdays, but this week after a rather intensive last few weeks with a jump to alert level 2 and back to 1, I decided to take a day off).
With a blank piece of paper (or rather a blank screen) and my iTunes on, I was inspired by Blink-182’s song “I Miss You“. Using the title as the repetitive part of the verse, I started to write, and it came out about The Man I Once Loved and where we had been and where we were at now. Overall, the poem dealt with different aspects of him, from physical (his eyes, his touch) to mental (geekiness, scifiness) to traits (indecision, hesitancy).
I honestly think I got the core of the poem out in an hour or two. The words came pouring out, and I kept writing, writing, writing until I felt it was mostly done. Of course, I moved to rearrange the verses, from happier to sadder, added the capstone at the end which deviated slightly from the rest of the verses but summed things up nicely, and then kept working on the minutiae, like the write words to use and the right order to use them in. (I could tinker with my writing all day, every day, given the chance.)
We spoke in class the week before about “feeling” when a piece is right, and this felt right. I was anxious about baring so much of my soul and so many of my feelings to people I just met, but I was trying to convince myself that the best writing comes from some deep part inside us to expose to the world and that writing is the most authentic in my opinion. So even though I thought my classmates might dissect it to the smallest components, it was a risk I was willing to take to improve as a writer.
After a day of really wonderfully inspiring writing, I found I was tiring quickly, so I moved to another task we had to complete: what subjects did we want to cover while in the course? So I filled that sheet out, and then looked back on the homework assignment and realized: I didn’t quite follow the brief.
I’d bragged on Facebook earlier in the day about how well I thought I did on the assignment after my flash of inspiration, and then added the note that I’d done it wrong-ish. Some of my English-loving friends replied that actually, inspiration could have been one of the driving parts of the homework itself, so to keep what I had and submit that. That’s what became the plan, mostly too because I didn’t have much more time to work on the material or start a new poem.
Saturday, week 2 of classes.
I felt like I was running late last week, so I left earlier to get to course and then arrived 25 minutes before class. It gave me an opportunity to unwind and speak with the director for a while, and then some classmates from the other class came trickling in, so that gave me time to get to speak to them and know them a little better. Two of my classmates, Moya and Zoe, sat either side of me on the couches in the English department office, and we chatted a bit about various things, which was nice as we got to discuss non-writing stuff and bond.
Our teacher Faith was away this week, so we had another teacher, a local poet named Rose. She was very approachable and had a slew of things prepared for us to work on poetry-wise. I honestly never felt we skipped a beat at all with our learning.
We worked on various types of poetry, which was a lot of fun, and stretched me a bit beyond my normal limits to be honest.
The first exercise started with us thinking about words we associated with winter, and blurting out those words so Rose could put them on the whiteboard. The challenge was to write a five line poem about winter without mentioning those words. The thought unfolded in my mind about when Noel and I went back to Chicago during the winter when my Grandma was dying. After she passed, a huge blizzard rolled through, and while it was still snowing outside, we all sat inside and watched the Super Bowl, the most surreal part of it being Katy Perry dancing with sharks on the screen while a snow storm raged outside.
So I wrote about that.
Some of my classmates read their work, and I seem a little out of my league compared to them poetry-wise. I guess I could have shared mine because it was such a snapshot in time as opposed to seeing my breath on a winter’s morning while admiring barren trees, but I decided not to share.
(I have to interject here that I don’t have the most amazing vocabulary or writing style right off the bat. I write down what I want to say then keep polishing it until it shines like a gem.)
Our second exercise was a bit more difficult. We needed to write a poem that was made up of very terrible lines. As one of my classmates said, this can constitute some of our normal poetry! I came up with:
She longs for him like a baby wanting breastmilk He hangs around like a bad egg and its ilk Her passion smoulders like an out of control burn-off He knows it and is drawn to the smell of her cloth Alas!!! She was there when it happened!!! All he wrote for her, and that's that then.
Again, I really don’t feel I did the best on this exercise because I didn’t have time to think it over and refine it. But it’s an exercise to get our brain working and that’s probably the most important thing over all.
The third exercise built on the second one. We needed to take a line from the first poem and address it in another poem, starting with the phrase: “You have to”.
I used the last line in my poem and used it like this:
You have to understand the moral of this story. A few poorly picked words and her want for him withered. If you want to be The Hero, you should choose your words wisely. No one like an uneducated nerf herder for a husband. Well, unless he's rich and owns a yacht.
I did acquiesce and read this one out only because I thought I was witty and that would be fun. I started to get in a little bit of a slap-happy mood because I think I felt I was not doing as well as others in my class at these exercises.
The fourth exercise was a little more difficult and quite raw. It started off as an instructional poem, a “how to” poem. Rose suggested we go outside our comfort zone, to write about something like “How to Rig a Sail” or “How to Chop Wood”. I went a step further and wrote, “How to Move On.”
The poem was compounded by the fact that we had to write from the bottom upwards on the page, so the poem should be read either way (although we weren’t supposed to concentrate on that right away). I got as far as writing the entire poem. To be honest, though, I wasn’t clear if we were supposed to be writing the last line first and then working our way back through the poem or writing the first line on the last line and working our way back up the poem.
Anyway, the poem was about how to move on from the quakes ten years ago and the instructional part became probably more of an abstract than concrete part. (Spoiler alert: there wasn’t any moving on going on.)
The fifth exercise revolved around bound poems and a subgenre known as erasure poems. In erasure poems, you take an existing text (a page for a book, for example) and eliminate words until you have sentences or other ideas that come forth. In my case, it was a page discussing where anecdotes come from. What I got from scribbling out a lot of text kinda reminds me of a Silverchair song.
A crampy motion of the diaphram is a good definition. Sigmund Freud is a mystery as abstruse as the question. Nobody belongs. The very essence of the person has got invented: An author, but only a passer-on. It circulates from no single creator. A cheat and an impostor is from other planets. There are rabbis in Poland, magic rabbis; It is pure tradition. A funny story poses as old snuff boxes. No maniac collects the parson? You don't know the narrator.
Jagwida put together an amazing erasure poem. The page was about the Greek islands but the poem itself painted a very vivid picture for me of this beautiful, colorful island where gay men in togas were throwing javelins to see who could throw the farthest. It was a really good piece of work.
The sixth and final exercise we undertook was another large change from the previous exercises we had undertaken. In this exercise, we had to choose three words out of a bag, and then, on three separate pieces of paper, we had to write a phrase describing them.
The three words I got were hollow, culture, and… I can’t remember the third one right now. I wrote down phrases on the pieces of paper, and then returned the paper with words on it to one part of a Tupperwear container and the definitions to another.
I drew out three words — and by this point, my brain was getting a bit tired so I didn’t realize one of them was mine — that were hollow, bowl, and contain.
The definitions were: the disturbance comes when you least expect it; support; discovery.
It was hard to figure out how bowl fit into it all. Bowl as in what I eat cereal in? Bowl as in throwing a ball down a lane to hit pins? Bowl as in roll over me? So I tried to run with it as a verb.
We were allowed to alter and expand and subtract where we wanted to do that. I needed to do that as two of the phrases I drew were merely words.
Hollow The disturbance comes when you least expect it Bowling me sideways The support blows in after the numbness rolls through me Containing the fog The discovery of how to stop the spread within
So overall, the lesson and exercises were very challenging, and I enjoyed them a lot. Even though they moved from one type to another, they didn’t move so quickly that I couldn’t keep up with my depersonalization, although towards the end, I was struggling to concentrate.
I felt like I got a lot accomplished over the three hours. I’ve only shared a few of the outcomes of the exercises with you here because I feel like I can work on the other ones a bit more to flesh them out and perhaps publish them. But I’m also using these entries to follow my progress throughout the course itself.
By the time I got home, I was mentally exhausted. The depersonalization was pressing up hard against my skull, and I tried to unwind as much as I could, including going for a long walk in the late summer’s sunshine. It did help enough for me to come home and write the first drafts of a few poems I am hoping to include in my final portfolio. We will see.
Oh, and we didn’t turn the poem in that I mentioned at the start of this blog.