Struggling With Poetry By Otto Handler

Performance poetry is usually the first unit of the year in the Creative Writing department. Last year, as a freshman with two weeks of workshopping summer work, I felt like I wasn’t ready for the unit ahead of me. Not that our performance poetry unit last year was unsatisfactory, quite the opposite. I’m sure I would have appreciated it more if I didn’t have the case of the freshmen nerves.

Our artist-in-residence, Preeti Vangani, has helped me look at poetry with less tribulation. Now, as a sophomore, many things have changed, I have chosen the elements of writing that I feel I am better at. I am becoming more confident in my work as the unit progresses. Poetry is still a form that I need the most work on. I am fine with this fact and still have two more years to work on improving my writing skills in general.

I was able to fully experience and participate more like a full member of Creative Writing during this unit. I have written a more promising peace for the show coming up in late October. I am looking forward to the show because I now have a piece I feel more confident and generally happy about and that I didn’t just choose this piece a few short hours before school. I’ve actually had some time to type up some of the prompts, that I had written throughout the week no matter what I had thought about them originally. This is a poem that I wrote for this year’s performance poetry unit:

 

Unchangeable

You don’t like that word?

You like that word?

Burn in hell

I don’t care

Because I hate it

So, we’re gonna change it

NOW!

And I mean NOW!

The world will immediately and without noise bend to my will.

No one and nothing will ever describe anything as unchangeable again

No more unchangeable ADHD

No more unchangeable slow processing

No more unchangeable other things

 

How ‘bout

We knock the two letters “U” and “N” off a cliff

Never to be heard from again.

Let’s see what we have left.

You see, everything just becomes changeable.

Unsatisfied becomes satisfying

Uneven becomes even.

Unfortunate becomes fortunate

How does that sound.

Yes

I know and don’t care if its not grammarly correct.

That’s not the point.

What is the point one asks?

To change that mental mindset everyone carps about

No those words suck too

When one uses those words

They make me want to run away screaming

Out

Of

My

Mind

 

I know all of this

Small stupid rant

sounds too positive

So full of sunshine

So full of promise

So full of hope

So, I assure you

It will never happen

The two letters are

way too important to the English language.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t hope.

 

-Otto Handler, Class of 2022

First Field Trip as a CW Freshman by Isabella Hansen

On the first Wednesday of the school year, Creative Writing takes a trip to the Asian Art Museum. This being my first field trip as part of the CW community was a bit daunting. It started with me trying to work the terrible evil MUNI machines to try and get a ticket and having to hurry after the rest of CW. But after that, the trip turned out to be quite fun. We were all assigned a writing prompt and spread out around the many exhibits that inhabited the quiet space. One thing that I noticed was how easy it was for everyone to pull out their notebooks and write. I chose an interesting painting and sat down to examine it. Then I started writing. After we all finished with the prompt, we assembled down in the main entrance. A few other freshmen and I took the elevator with someone already in it to get down. One of my fellow freshmen was wearing a SOTA hoodie, so the guy asked us if we went to SOTA. And at that moment, packed into a tiny box, I realized that I go to SOTA for CW, and all the work that I put into my application paid off. And I was very pleased with my younger 8th-grade self for not giving up while writing another poem for the application. The poem I have written while gazing at that painting is one I treasure because it’s what I call my first “official” creative writing poem.

Naked

Their naked bodies glistened with sweat,
Squirming as the hot flames licked their smooth backs.
The putrid stink that flew out of the shell they pressed their ruby-red lips to
Drifted and landed on the shiny colorless beads that adorned their long beetle shell black hair.
A long white shell necklace that hung well past their quaking knees,
Swayed with the slight breeze they lapped up like a dehydrated dog.

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder
But only a lucky few can stare at the two dancing creatures
And dive deeper
Past the scars
Past the hideous smiles
And descend into the lair
Of the kindness that landed the creatures there
Forever dancing with the fire.

Their eyes are flat as stiff paper
From the decades they have spent up
In the red sky of lit flames
Twirling with the embers that never stopped burning
Much like the tiny bit of hatred hidden away in their hearts.
Because even though it was the kindness that tossed them there,
Hatred is what kept them.

Some say it’s a warning,
Gawking at the apparent pain that these creatures exhibited.
Do not be too kind;
Just look at what happened to them,
Cursed with scars and pain
All because of the pity they chose to show.

And now,
The gawkers have passed
Learning to keep their eyes away
In fear that their once long-passed kindness
Can awaken and devour them whole.

.

-Isabella Hansen, Class of 2023

Letting a Poem Breathe by Kaia Hobson

In September, Creative Writing was led by our assistant director, Ploi Pirapokin, in a two-week flash fiction unit. During the unit, I realized that flash fiction is what my poetry tends to imitate. During the workshopping sessions at the beginning of the year, I was often told that my poetry could also take the form of a piece of prose, but thought little of it, either expanding the poem I had written, or ignoring the comments altogether. When I do write poetry, sometimes I feel as though I’m cramming too many situations and ideas into a single piece. I try to stop myself, remembering to hone in on the small and to move the focus outwards as I write, but sitting down to write poetry is usually comprised of me frantically sifting through whatever I’ve thrown up onto the page, trying to find that one concise nugget of a poem. When asked to write a 500-1000 word flash fiction piece, I immediately saw it as an opportunity to drop the sifter and make use of the wiggle room I found in prose and flash fiction.

If I had ever accidentally written flash fiction before, I definitely did not know I was doing it at the time. I wasn’t aware that this writing style was its own entity, nor did I realize how much I would enjoy it. Writing my final piece for this unit felt like finally learning the name of a song that you’ve liked for some time. I was able to let all my ideas breathe, and sit comfortably with the knowledge that I could include everything I wanted to express without the piece feeling unfocused and scattered. Although I do sometimes appreciate the discipline that the structure of poetry requires, the greater freedom provided by the flash fiction genre allowed me to feel comfortable with expressing the volume of ideas that would otherwise detract from the essence of my poetry. I look forward to using flash fiction as a vehicle for those times when the brevity of a poem feels inadequate.

 

Kaia Hobson, Class of 2021

Whirlwind of Spices, a poem by Anya Patel

Whirlwind of Spices

A whirlwind of spices

Can make you cough

The powder gets breathed deep into your lungs

It tickles the back of your throat with its wings

A whirlwind of spices

Can make your eyes water and twitch

The particles dissolve on your pupils and make them itch and burn

A whirlwind of spices

Can make you feel nostalgic

your mother is holding your hand as you stir a big pot

A whirlwind of spices

smells like a restaurant explosion in the kitchen

hot and exciting

A whirlwind of spices

Flutters down on your skin

Like someone is blinking on your arm

Someone with spices dissolved on their pupils

For this poem, I had an original draft with the same topic, but I used re-imagining techniques to revise it, and this was one of them. I wanted to make the reader feel like they are at home, and help them really imagine what is going on by using sensory details. I tried to really explain what it would feel like to be in a “whirlwind of spices.” This was really interesting for me to write because as I was writing it, I tried to put myself in the mindset that I was in the middle of it all. Just watching from a safe spot, and thinking and feeling everything, but less dramatically then everyone on the outside.

I used repetition in my poem to remind the reader the setting, to keep bringing them back to that one concrete image that is like a break from all the abstract. I kept thinking about the sensation of spices burning your eyes and nose as I was writing this, and also the feeling of it glittering down on your skin.

-Anya Patel, Class of 2023

Poetry and Mental Health by Parker Burrows

After spending over a year in the Creative Writing department, I can say that this department has given me some of the most enriching life experiences I can ask for. I’ve had the opportunity to meet several intelligent and friendly people that I get to share every single school day with, and I’ve gotten to read tens of impressive pieces of writing. I’m extremely thankful for the department and have little to complain about.

However, my experiences in Creative Writing are often reduced by my struggles with mental health. Much of my time last year revealed little productivity as a product of depression and anxiety, and I’ve had similar issues this year as well. I’ve found many mechanisms of coping, but one that has helped me a great amount is to try to understand my experiences through writing. I’ve found poetry’s obscure language to be a great device to describe my self-uncertainties. Much more than fiction or playwriting, poetry helps me realize that it’s okay to not always know why emotions appear the way they do.

This year, I was asked to write a poem about a change I’ve undergone this summer. I decided to write about my outlook on depression. Essentially, I realized that my thoughts don’t make an effect on how the world works, just on how I perceive it. I’m slowly working on developing a positive perspective about my depression, and this poem has been a huge help in the process.

My Mind is Not the World 

Whether the skylights open

When I’m restless in bed The night still

speaks And the shatters of glasses

and plates Remain the same through

the evening

As they do all

evenings

 

And no matter the days I shake and cry At the people and the

volcanic pressure of an inflexible universe The moon still

shines through the skylight

above my bed If there was ever a

storm in my bedroom, The city gardens certainly wouldn’t

notice They’ve looked the same since I got here

 

My tears are not what halts the world The

world moves like it always does In

renewing, constantly undiscovered beauty

My thoughts are not my experiences And

my experiences will always unfold If there

was ever a storm in my bedroom, The

universe certainly wouldn’t notice.

 

– Parker Burrows, Class of 2022

A Whole World Out There by Nadja Goldberg

My family adopted Qora from the SPCA three and a half years ago. Qora sleeps at least fifteen hours a day, loves peanut butter and most any foods except vegetables, and can’t fetch a ball to save her life. A few months after Qora came into our home, she became more fearful of the world around her, barking at small noises and snapping her teeth at intimidating dogs. Getting Qora to walk down the street became a major endeavor, as she tugged back home at the slightest irregular sound or sight: a garage door opening, a stranger standing on a street corner or walking toward her, a car beeping. My dad often had to carry her, a trembling fifty-pound mass, until she relaxed enough to go on her walk. With time, we developed a routine, with walks to the garden and twice-weekly trips to Marshall Beach, that has made caring for Qora less challenging.

Recently, Leslie Beach came to CW to teach a two-week course on animal writing. We analyzed poems, essays, songs, and videos, discussing the devices the artists used to depict animals. Each of us chose an animal to observe and write about for the two-week period, from housecats to wild geese to a panda live streamed from a zoo camera. I decided to write about Qora. For a persona poem assignment, I found myself diving into my dog’s insecurities in a monologue from her perspective:

 

Smells and Skateboards

by Qora

I don’t like it when Nadja watches me eat. Aw man, there’s no more kibble in this kong! Hm, what to do next, what to do… how ‘bout a nap? Why is Nadja following me? Hey! I need some alone time! What? I don’t care if it’s for a homework assignment.

The carpet smells like soggy crackers… oh, a treat, yum!

You ever think there’s a whole world out there? So many tennis balls, and ocean waves, and cheesesteaks! And I’m just stuck in this house with the same old smells.

The heating vent in the hallway carries the smell of the purple-haired lady from upstairs: coconut shampoo, juicy roast chicken, and hardwood, tinged with beer when her niece throws Friday night parties. The sour stench of mouse droppings seeps in through the cracks in the back door. I find that same smell in the parched grasses above the beach where little flitting furry creatures escape my paws. The kitchen is like the sun of smells, sending aromatic rays down the hallway and into each room of the house, infused with the humans’ wonderful concoctions: toasted sourdough with butter, lamb stew, peanuts, fried eggs, spaghetti… none of which I’m allowed to eat.

Aw man, I have the hiccups.

What’s that sound? A skateboarder? How dare he come near this block! Who does he think he is… I’ll show him who’s boss! Yeah, that’s right, run away, you scaredy cat. Don’t even think of touching my territory again. You hear me? Huh, you hear me?

Oh. It was just a stroller. No skateboard, false alarm. Sorry!

It’s OK… it’s OK, Qora… it’s OK, relax.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, there’s a whole world out there, with squirrels I can never seem to catch, and pizza rinds hiding under rosemary bushes. I want to go farther, unclipped from my blue captivity rope; I want to run and gallop! But um… not now, maybe later? Someday, I’ll explore the corners of the world. I’ll swim to a remote island where bacon hangs from trees, and I’ll climb to the top of a mountain and lick the cotton candy clouds.

But… here’s a secret that no one knows: I’m afraid. It’s a delicious world, but also a scary one, with big dogs who amble down the middle of the sidewalk like beasts, and tiny yappy dogs with spiky teeth, and monstrous cars, and strange people who yell strange things, and skateboarders. I have nightmares about skateboarders sometimes, their wheels rumbling against concrete, roaring, as they come closer and closer, so close I can smell their sweat, hear them screech into my ear, and my fur stands up, my arms quiver, I open my mouth to bark and nothing comes out. Before they can attack me, I wake with my paws twitching and my tail between my legs.

So, I suppose the beach, the park, and the house are enough for now. The beach with sea foam to chase, with Nadja to throw me a stick. The park with hidden food and an explosion of smells. And the house, with the occasional spilled almond, with kibble-filled kongs, with my family who pets me, Nadja who tries to write from my perspective, and this couch where I can take a nap, this soft, soft couch, this warm couch…

Nadja Goldberg, Class of 2021

Playfright By Emma Cooney

To me, the playwriting unit is an anxiety fueling yet fun couple of weeks. It is enjoyable because we get to learn about and read a variety of plays. Plus, I love bonding and spending time with fellow creative writers even if it is because we are stuck together for up to six hours after school in a dark theater. The pressure of having to memorize lines and act made it hard to relax. Being that acting is so unfamiliar to most of the creative writers, including me, we were not confident in our performances. Personally, I wanted to be able to fulfill the playwrights vision, even if I was lacking in skill and practice for acting. Even if I was unable to properly perform the playwrights characters, I felt that the show was more fun because of the acting. 

 

Besides the acting, there was also the stage fright aspect of the unit. Having to go up in front of one hundred plus people is scary enough, let alone having to keep calm enough that you remember your lines and delivery. When I go on stage, even if there are only a couple people in the theater, I panic and my brain goes blank. Even with my lines memorized, right when I walk onto the black platform, I forgot everything. The feeling of having a bright spot light shone on you and technical theater kids watching you causes a reaction unlike any other: total and utter failure of the mind. Thankfully, after rehearsing all week and practicing so my lines became muscle memory, going on stage became easier. 

 

When the show came, backstage, I was so nervous I fell totally silent and felt sick. Luckily, I was in the first act so I was able to get going on stage out of the way earlier and relax for the rest of the show (for the most part; I was still nervous about how the other plays would go). After the relief of getting off stage and knowing the anxiety from the week and being on stage was over, I was overwhelmed with endorphins. Done with all my parts, I got to silently celebrate with other creative writers as they walked off stage. It is an incredible experience getting excited and celebrating with the other people backstage; the community is strengthened by these experiences. To me, the stress and anxiety of the week was worth it because we were able to have an amazing show and make fun memories. 

 

Emma Cooney, Class of 2021

 

 

Standing on a Ledge by Rae Dox Kim

Here I am, in a place I have never imagined actually being in. I’m about to be a senior, or more specifically, a senior in the summer after junior year. Here is when all my morals will be tested, and I will be at the mercy of faceless bureaucracies until I get into a college. My parents’ friends are descending on me like vultures, taking advantage of my vulnerable situation to talk at length about their own college experience. “It was so easy,” is a favorite line. As I stare down into the swirling whirlpool of application and rejection, I cannot imagine any easy path. Watching my senior friends, warm and content in acceptance letter light, gives me a watery sense of peace. I am happy they are happy, and I know that if they can succeed, I could too one day when it’s my turn at the chopping block. Until then, I’ll have to get my self in order, organizing my personal internal chambers so when the College Board comes a-knocking, I’ll be ready. 

–Rae Dox Kim, Class of 2020

Playwriting as a Freshman by Otto Handler

Being a freshman, playwriting was something that I had rarely tried out. As a result, I felt nervous going into this unit because it was one of the only forms of writing that I had little to no experience with.

As the Creative Writing Department usually does, we read a lot of the specific kind of writing before we try our hand in creating a piece of our own. As we were reading some different plays with our artist-in-residence, Sara Brody, a feeling of dread started to form inside me. I didn’t have even a fainest clue about what I was going to write my ten-minute play about. Even though most people didn’t have ideas, I still felt like I was the only one. 

For the end of every unit in Creative Writing I and II, all the students put together a final piece that includes all new skills learned throughout the unit. Playwriting was no exception.  After a week of workshopping these plays, the students turn in all scripts and Isaiah Dufort, our department head, Heather Woodward, and Sara Brody, our artist-in-residence chose the lucky plays that will be cast and performed at our playwriting show which happened last week. 

Being a freshmen, my play was not chosen for the show (thank goodness) but I was worried if my play would even make it through the extensive week of workshopping. It did make it though and despite my attitude toward it when I first wrote the play, I ended up with a decent ten minute skit.  

When I finally came up with an idea for my play, I didn’t like it, but my play was due on Monday, and it was Friday and I had already written a little of my play and it was too late to change my idea. I spent many weekend nights hating what I was writing and then, on the weekend, I slowly began to actually enjoy myself. That’s when my play was the best, when I accepted that the first draft wasn’t going to be perfect and that I required time to really become interested in my idea to push it to its best potential. 

The best part of the playwriting show was the casting process. It was interesting to figure out who worked for which role. When I was asked to try out different roles, it was the first bit of acting I had done since middle school. Most plays and musicals at Ruth Asawa SOTA are put on by the more performative departments such as Musical Theater or Theater. I think that the Creative Writing shows always turn out good, despite the fact that we are not a performative department. 

My parts in the play were playing two children. One of them is living in a sad suburban midwestern town that had pretty much nothing going on. The other one lives in a suburban town full of people with wacky christmas lawn decor.  They were both different characters with different emotions and personalities. 

This show was an opportunity to act and be a part of a bigger thing. Both are things that don’t often happen in a normal high school.

— Otto Handler, Class of 2022

Middle School Reading Adventures by Lauren Ainslie

As part of an effort to improve Creative Writing’s Middle School outreach, the director of Creative Writing, Heather Woodward, had us complete a survey detailing our reading habits in Middle School, as well as the English reading and writing assignments we completed. It seemed to me that I had read very few books, only a few appearing vividly when I tried to recall them. I felt depressed, knowing that I had blasted through shelves of books in elementary school, and it seemed as though I had only read five in the following three years. There were a few factors I immediately knew to have caused this in part: time constraints, re-reading, and the internet. For most kids (in my experience), their parents give them their first cellphone in sixth grade. Before then, our only option for relaxing entertainment was reading books; I was forced into reading by boredom. Then, a new option appears, one that requires a lot less work, and so it makes sense that I’m reading a little less. As for time constraints, we suddenly had real homework, so that made sense, and as for re-reading, if technology wasn’t cutting it, I would fall back to something familiar that didn’t require real participation. 

All of this made me re-examine my relationship with reading for entertainment throughout my life, and why it changed. After thinking about it for a few weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, I did read more in Middle School, but the books mattered a lot less. Unlike before, I don’t have to read, it’s harder and more time consuming, and reading of my own volition made the book’s impact more meaningful. As cringey as it sounds, I’ve also been coming to terms with my own identity, and how I was placed in current society, and books were a more personal guide to life. I also began writing in Middle School, which changed the whole game, as reading also became a tool to better my writing skills. Thinking about the stages I had to go through to understand where reading would fit in with my daily life makes me appreciate books more, and even pushed me to lend out books to friends, to share the joy of literature with them.  At first I wanted to yell at my younger self to read more books, but I now understand that taking a step back, and realizing why I returned, gave me the value I place on books today.

 

–Lauren Ainslie Class of 2021