Response Poetry Unit by Leela Sriram

I have never been particularly excited about writing poetry. I felt as if my work wasn’t “poetic” enough and I would spend hours deleting and rewriting the same line trying to tweak it into perfection. On the first day in Creative writing, I knew that our performance poetry unit was going to be our first, which stressed me out a little bit because I didn’t have much confidence in what I wrote. As the school year has been progressing, my poetry has been improving slightly each time I write and compared to my summer work I believe I have improved drastically.

Currently, Creative Writing is split into two classes, CW I (a class for the freshmen and sophomores) and CW II (a college-style seminar for the upperclassmen.) In CW I, we are learning about responding to poetry in our new unit, which I like to call our “Response Poetry unit.” Initially, I was a bit daunted by this idea of mimicking the form and style of other poems, mainly because I didn’t really know how to properly use certain literary devices, but after giving these “response poems” a try, I feel more confident in my ability to respond to poems and share out in class. One of my favorite things about our “Response Poetry unit” is that we have a lot of freedom regarding what we can write about, but the poems have to be in a certain format, such as four three-line stanzas and a couplet. So there is a lot to work with within the format, which gives some guidance.

For our “Response Poetry unit,” we have been writing a poem a night, for our project where we make a book filled with all these poems. When first learning about this assignment, the making of a book filled with poetry that we have written in response to other poetry really interested me. Here is a poem I wrote and turned in for this unit, inspired by “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

13 Different Ways of Looking at the Moon

I

Within darkness,

The only thing disturbing

The void, was the glow of the crescent moon

 

II

Wind blew idly by,

As crevices

Creeped up upon the surface

 

III

The Moon Lady is solitary, they say

But she has the sun, for an eternity.

 

IV

The ocean bleeds onto sand

As the First Quarter moon hovers, heavily

 

V

Seven hungry men

Run through every crater

Searching for

The mythic moon cheese

 

VI

Sometimes,

If you look close enough

The moon

Has three eyes

 

VII

The full moon

Enchants the earth

With its melted-silver glow

 

VIII

What is it like to be the moon

To look out at a sea of stars,

Yet the only thing sparkling is you

 

IX

In Between the trees

And the waning gibbous moon

Another twinkle appears

But its just a plane

 

X

Maybe the moon’s

Not just a fan of the dark

But also enjoys time with the sun

 

XI

Drenched in rainwater,

And the moon is still

Shining

 

XII

A tear rolls down

Its rocky crevised face

But the tear never falls off the surface

 

XIII

We fly from coast to coast

In a pitch black sky

The waning crescent moon,

Is always with us.

 

-Leela Sriram, class of 2023

Witchcraft and Creepy Statues: a Freshman’s First Reading by Gemma Collins

Never before I got into Creative Writing did I actively go to readings. It was a foreign concept until about last week when I pulled up Green Apple Book’s website and picked the soonest reading. It didn’t matter to me the book or the author, I simply intended to go, watch, and go home.

It was 6:30 pm after school on a Tuesday, and I pushed away my sleepiness and headed to Green Apple. The book Initiated: Memoir of a Witch by Amanda Yates Garcia was displayed all over the store. Ready to take notes, I pulled out my notebook and pencil. When the author came out and sat on the little stool in front of a microphone, I realized I wouldn’t be taking notes. I would be watching intently. She brought with her a small altar, on it was an age stained doily, a pomegranate, a few crystals, a statue of the goddess of Crete, and elusive essential oils.

Fascinated and slightly confused, I couldn’t help but ask what the items were. She looked curious about my question, possibly because everyone else at the reading was an adult, but then told me the items were passed down from her ancestors and brought peace and balance. The author then asked the audience to hum and clap to the rhythm of our heartbeats. This, she said, was an exercise to show how humans are connected by our hearts.

I was surprised at how interactive the reading was, and I was slightly unsettled. Witchcraft, similar to readings, is another unexplored realm to me. The room vibrated with the audience’s humming, and I too, attempted to join after the shock of the cult-like exercise settled in and I had violently scribbled out some notes.

When I returned home afterward, I no longer thought of readings as chores and dreaded tasks. The interactive style gave me excitement for my next reading. Inspired by the witchy and Halloween theme, I wrote a short poem:

Halloween

When the sun sinks into the horizon along the tops of city building

We swiftly grab bags and head out the door,

Elaborate costumes on our backs.

 

Throughout the night,

Our bags are weighed down with candy,

Snickers and gummy bears and Twix and lollypops.

Littered among them

Empty wrappers of the sweets we eat while walking.

 

When we get back home

We sit cross-legged on the floor and dump each bag over the hardwood,

Hard candies clinking together.

Hours later, piles of our sorted candies make tripping hazards around the house.

We lie,

Costumes crushed under us

The sugar crash has struck.

 

-Gemma Collins, class of 2023

Ethics Bowl by Midori Chen

On Saturday, Abigail, Frances, Mykel and I piled into the Schott-Rosenfield minivan and drove down to UC Santa Cruz, where the annual National High School Ethics Bowl was being held.

This is only the second year since its inception, but competition was intense. Schools from across the Bay Area sent one or two teams— Bentley, Kirby, Hillsdale. Competing teams were given fifteen cases to prepare for before hand, each with its own ethical dilemma to consider. The day of the competition, two teams went head-to-head, giving a five-minute presentation, a three-minute response to the rival team’s rebuttal, then ending in a ten-minute section for judges’ questions. We were scored on presentation, depth of argument, and cordialness to our opposing teams.

There was talk of starting an Ethics Bowl team in SOTA since the end of last year. Jerry Pannone, SOTA’s previous Orchestra director, led the charge in November; we had two months to prepare. SOTA managed to put out three teams, so three graduate students at SF State coached us in the cases regarding argument and presentation. The team of CW Seniors (we actually didn’t plan it? It just ended up that way? Maybe?) got Matthew (or Professor Howery, in his classes), aaaand…

We got to semifinals! I’m typing with a stupid grin on my face. We won against three out of four teams and went to semifinals!

So philosophy has this reputation of being all, “So what is the meaning of life?” with bitter old men and wine, and there were concerns going into this that Ethics Bowl would be like that. It’s not that at all, thank the powers that be. We take very real, very contemporary situations (Frankenburger, Indian Child Welfare Act, One Child Policy, Trayvon Martin, just to name a few) and determine the essential ethical conflict, then decide on a stance to take. I’ve found that often times, I would discuss a situation and immediately have a gut feeling about it being right or wrong— the case that comes to mind is “Political Sex Scandals,” in which the question is whether or not it’s moral to reinstate a politician who conducted sexual indiscretions back into office. My gut feeling told me No, that’s just bad. However, Matt then told us to redefine the question, specifically where “sexual indiscretions” mean “a breaking of a sexual contract between the politician and his or her partner(s).” Given that the politician does not misuse public funds or violate another person’s autonomy/cause them harm, the question becomes a little bit harder. Ultimately, it was an argument that Mykel gave in favor of “Yes, we should reinstate the politician, if his/her previous track record proves his/her competence” that solidly changed my mind— that it was the duty of the voters to be rational and get over that gut feeling if the politician produces good results. This is just one case in which my ethical intuition (as it were) became more fleshed-out.

Competition day was intense. I’ve never done anything like debate before, so I was shaking, and I had a stomachache, and I was dizzy, and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears… It started out somewhat dreadful. As the day went on, though, my confidence in and love for my team grew more and more— gosh they’re so cool. Bee-Gail had this stately, austere way about her (as she often does), Frances was precise and eloquent, and Mickel was a boss on articulating snap responses. My favorite moment was when Matt was, I guess, so happy with one of our responses (I think it’s when Frances shot down someone’s attempt to draw a Hitler analogy) that he put on his shades in the middle of the relatively dim competition room. In that moment, I could feel my confidence sky-rocket.

Conclusion of this story: ethics is a ton of fun. Our team wants to begin building next year’s team now, as to better prepare them (as we found out, meeting once a week for eight weeks was not enough time). Also we just want to keep debating ethics. An interesting topic to possibly have in Creative Writing— questions such as the ethics of writing fiction (misrepresentation of reality?), or even a character exploration exercise in developing how they respond to the ethical dilemmas proposed in our cases. I’m already writing one for a character in my thesis. Matt is super cool— our team talked for hours during celebratory dinner on Tuesday night, and we’d love to share his brain and person with the rest of CW. (He’s even a cat person. Wow.)

[DR]: 12/13

by Frances (’14)

On Friday, we continued our playwriting unit by workshopping our plays. I’ve always liked workshopping. It’s a staple of the Creative Writing department, and a good complement to the feedback we get from our teachers. Peer perspective is much different from professional perspective. When, for instance, Isaiah gives us criticism, he focuses on what he thinks we should change because he is viewing our plays from the eyes of a more experienced playwright. During workshopping, we tend to see each other’s work the way an audience might see it. We let ourselves get excited about our favorite parts. This is important, I think. We see our art the way an art viewer would see it.

In other news, Midori lost her phone and spent a good deal of class looking for it. At first, she assumed that she’d left it in one of her morning classrooms, but then she used a GPS tracker to locate it, and realized that it wasn’t even in San Francisco. She watched helplessly as it moved from city to city across the peninsula. Molly called several police departments. It was only after a lot of strife that Midori realized her classmate, Cristina Rey, had taken the phone.

Maia’s Back!

After a veritable forever of Maia being sick and gone, she’s finally less-sick and more-back!

We welcomed her with a sign:

photo 1

We also expressed our fondness and love for Maia in form of algebraic graphs:

photo 2

(This one describes the exponential increase in the level of suckiness of Maia’s illness over the time that Maia’s gone.)

photo 3

(This one describes the general upward trend of the department’s mean “Missing Maia” value with a blip in it over time.)

photo 4

(This one has a Z-axis? I don’t frickin’ know.)

photo 5

(This one describes CW’s functionality and productivity in all its varying stages, with the asymptotes representing Maia’s absence from our department. We approach levels of productivity, but never manage to reach it with Maia gone.)

Found Poetry

CWII had been with Maia Ipp for our poetry unit (recently ended), during which we studied Jack Spicer and his whole thing with Federico Garcia Lorca. There were a lot of bewildered questions and exasperated exclaims: “So Spicer just claimed that Lorca wrote everything in After Lorca? Even the ‘translations’ of other people’s poems? Even the poems Spicer himself wrote?” We studied the concept of translation, as well as Spicer’s “transmissions” from Lorca (who is, of course, dead at the time Spicer wrote in his name).

One topic that particularly gripped me was found poetry. Of course I’ve known of them– my fellow senior Giorgia loves them (and I the way she does them, by cutting out the lines in strips and manually rearranging them)– but I’ve never had much interest in the form. Maia’s class, however, and what my fellow CDubs were doing with found poetry, made me think twice.

The first exercise we did was to make found poetry from Spicer’s Vancouver Lectures. I’ve always been a categorical thinker, so the stuff I pulled out of the text belonged in certain categories, so my poem read more like a list than anything else. However, as my classmates began sharing their constructs, I realized how linear the poetry could be. My thoughts and intent had more freedom than I had initially thought; the original text is not a constraint, but a guide.

(As it happens, I like my poem enough to throw it on here– so maybe this entire blogpost had just been an excuse to show it off.)

After Spicer’s Vancouver Lectures

Tonight, Eliot on one hand and Duncan on the other, you know, nice poetry
hang it onto metaphors
emotion machines in perpetual motion

Infinitely small:

One-eighth of the struggle
FIve dollars from Ten dollars
First step, step Two, Third stage
Two or Three years later

I prefer more the unknown
Nonsense:

the furniture in the room
children’s blocks
Oscar Wilde

nonsense you have to avoid
Or you are stuck with
screwed up
being inside you

Some of my best friends are dying in loony bins
Some of m friends are dying in loony bins
Some are dying in loony bins
Some are dying
Some are loony bins

On found poetry, Poets.org says: “Many poets have also chosen to incorporate snippets of found texts into larger poems, most significantly Ezra Pound. His Cantos includes letters written by presidents and popes, as well as an array of official documents from governments and banks. The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot, uses many different texts, including Wagnerian opera, Shakespearian theater, and Greek mythology. Other poets who combined found elements with their poetry are William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, and Louis Zukofsky.” I had never thought that including lines from other texts could count as found (though now that I think about it, duh). That’s one of my favorite kinds of allusions– referencing not only the content, but also the style and form of another piece of writing.

The Found Poetry Review came up in my brief research for this post. It looks sleek and awesome, and I’m definitely checking it out. (Let’s end on a random plug.)

[DR]: 11/4, Thirteen Empty Goats

by Olivia A. (’14)

The Virgin Mary, three chambermaids who are actually literary critics, and a pigeon walk into a bar. Or a book. Today in Creative Writing 2 we finished reading After Lorca by Jack Sparrow. I mean George. I mean Spicer. Does it really matter?

We read an absurdist play written by Federico García Lorca and translated by Jack Spicer called “Buster Keaton Rides Again: The Sequel.” We laughed a lot while reading it though we acknowledged that most of the Spanish citizens who witnessed it back when Lorca was alive probably weren’t laughing. When we stopped laughing we were frustrated with the idea of absurdist art. We talked about how absurdist works all aim to do the same thing—that is, to exhibit the ridiculousness and lack of inherent meaning in life—over and over again. Someone said that we would probably only need one play in the world with this idea and then we could move on. But really, I think that the things we do are always absurd! Here are some things that have happened during this unit:

Giorgia asked Maia about Hebrew semantics halfway through the lesson!
Avi has a Kit-Kat addiction!
People (probably not C-Dubs) tape clippings of hair to the bathroom walls!
We think the phrase “13 empty goats” is really, really funny!
A boy tried to run out of the room and the door shut just in time for him to slam up against it!
Maia was in a puppet theater!
“Federico García Lorcker!”
Anyway, our poetry unit is ending and we as though it went by very quickly. I am going to miss Spicer, Lorca, Maia, and especially the static electricity on the cover of my reader.

Surrealism Friday

by Abigail (’14)

Have you ever watched a Key & Peele sketch? As we discovered on Friday, November 1st, they’re not just a great way to procrastinate—they’re educational.

Next time you find your cursor hovering over the YouTube icon, try these two videos: “I Said B*tch” and “Check That Sh*t Out.” While you’re watching, think about the surreal elements of each 2-minute narrative and how they point out the strange/ridiculous nature of some common human experiences.

CWI and CWII spent Friday together, learning about Surrealism—a timely subject to be studying the day after Halloween, the most surreal holiday of all. After Key & Peele, we watched segments of a lecture also found on YouTube introducing us to some of the main figures, themes, influences, and artworks of the surrealist movement.

We acted out a short, (very) surreal play by Jack Spicer, a poet CWII has been studying. Jules played Buster Keaton. Colin played Buster Keaton’s bicycle. Olivia W. played an owl, of course. Midori and I played Adam and Eve. Other characters included a rooster, an American, and four angels. Buster Keaton gets on his bike and…I can’t quite think of a way to summarize the rest, but it caused us to debate the function of surreal writing. Does it have a place in today’s world, or is it outdated?

During discussion, we came up with the general conclusion that surrealism is still relevant. (Happily, we have Key & Peele backing us up.) Surrealism reminds us of the innate strangeness of the world—which may be a reminder not to take things too seriously. What is “real,” anyway? What is “normal?” Most “normal” behaviors seem bizarre if you think about them too hard.

Does all creative writing have a surreal side? Many poems, at least, cannot be understood in a completely logical way. Here’s some reliable backup for that idea, too: former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall wasn’t even sure what his own famous image, “white apples and the taste of stone,” signified when he wrote it. Here’s the interview in which he discusses this fact: http://billmoyers.com/content/423/ (go to about 23:00 minutes). Language itself can feel surreal too: say any word over and over, and it will suddenly lose its meaning and start sounding like a mere collection of sounds…

In conclusion, some words of wisdom from poet Hugo Ball, who appeared in the lecture in a funny hat I’m pretty sure he made himself: “wulubu ssubudu uluw subudu…ba-umf…ba-umf.”

[DR]: 11/8

by Colin Yap (’16)

Let me set the scene for you:

Friday, 1:10. We, the students, are inhabiting the minutes after lunch but before class truly starts. It is just the freshmen and sophomores; the CW2 class has vacated the classroom. We sit at the ready, making quiet conversation, waiting and wondering about the class that lies ahead. What are we going to do today, I wonder. . .

Heather calls for our attention. We turn in our poems, the final drafts of the sound poems we have been working on for a while. Heather speaks: “so, going off your instruction from yesterday, and upon learning your weariness and lack of energy, I have decided to dedicate this time to sleeping.”

There is immediate silence. Someone says, “wait. Really?” We all think, “wait. Really?”

Heather smiles, and says, “yes, really.” We cheer. “But we need to clean up this room first; it’s been too long since it has been dusted and scrubbed down fully.”

We get to work, dusting the book shelves and wiping down the tables, trying in futility to align them completely. We play music and dance as we do so, and it is a joyous Friday afternoon.  We spend the rest of the day relaxing, lying on the carpet and reading, even reading poetry aloud in a circle to our peers, just because.

Heather sits at her desk, quietly finishing up her work. Josie and Noa doze off next to the book shelves. Sophie reads Dylan Thomas aloud to everyone. Everyone gives themselves the due time to relax and prepare themselves for the weekend, shaking the stress of the school week off our shoulders. It is a happy and free time in Creative Writing, all thanks to Heather’s respect for the benefits of doing nothing.

Image 

[DR]: 11/7

by Amina (’17)

Today in C-Dub I, we were joined by the delightful company of shadows (in case any of them are reading this, thanks for visiting, and hopefully we didn’t scare you too much), as we continued workshopping poems we all wrote with a special attention to sound and texture. Basically, our whole poetry unit has been based on sound, because as Heather insists, “SOUND IS EVERYTHING!” So, it was interesting to revisit Josie’s, Noa’s, and Olivia’s poetry with that kind of critical eye. I think we had a pretty rewarding workshop experience this week, especially considering all our comments today. Amazingly, seeing as it’s nearly the end of the week, we managed to stay on topic, sans a small tangent on sleep paralysis brought up by Noa’s poem.

On an unrelated note, Justus and I wore the same shirt today. (We didn’t plan it, I promise.)

amina_justus