My First Impressions of CW by Parker Burrows

It’s been about 12 weeks at SOTA, and looking back on it, I’ve realized it’s the most fun I’ve ever had going to a school. I came into this year with so many doubts, and I thought it would be impossible to make friends but I was fortunately proven wrong. Being in the Creative Writing department means I’m just surrounded by intelligent and friendly people at least 2 hours a day.

Plus, I’ve made such a strong connection with each of the freshmen, that it’s absolutely wonderful spending time with them. 7th and 8th grade were difficult years for me, and it was hard for me to enjoy school because of either people in my class or constant assignments. One of the biggest things driving me through 8th grade was the idea of the creative writing department, and the moment I found that I was accepted into the department, I pushed through the rest of the year.

Now that I’m here, I realize that being able to write something every day and having an entire community behind me is extremely therapeutic. Our discussions in creative writing are always filled with mature and thoughtful ideas, which is a drastic change from how lazy our religion discussions were in 8th grade. We are currently studying poetry, and as we have discussions about each poem we read, I always get to see a new side to the poem because of all of the insightful observations each person brings.

Our field trips are amazing. Compared to my two field trips in 8th grade, both of which were plays at Riordan, there have been so many great moments. The MOMA, The De Young, The Exploratorium, the bay, and the list goes on. One of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had was the Kirby Cove field trip. It was an overnight camping trip that began with us freshmen getting dunked in the ocean and improved from there. I walked around the woods, I played midnight soccer with the department, I saw the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise and I had so many great moments there. Everyone seems to enjoy themselves on these field trips and there’s such an impossibly infectious energy.

I’ve fallen in love with Creative Writing, and it has just been nothing short of an absolutely amazing trip. I am so excited to see how the next four years will play out.

Parker Burrows, Class of 2022

My Relationship With Poetry by Nina Berggren

What is poetry? To some people it is irrelevant, impossible to comprehend. To others, it is a puzzle waiting to be solved, filled with deeper meanings and compelling language. To me, poetry has always been an enigma. In the process of applying to SOTA, I wrote several pages of ambiguous lines about nature, utilizing careless line breaks with no rationale for doing so. This writing was meaningless. How did I expect anyone to gain something from my work when it possessed absolutely no significance to me?

Since then, I have undergone two fulfilling years in Creative Writing, complete with reading and analyzing classic and contemporary poetry, yet I still struggle to understand poetry on a daily basis. Just when I feel as though I’ve grasped the extent to which poetry can evoke emotions and influence readers, something takes me by surprise. A word or image will resonate with me, and I’ll find myself dwelling on it for days. Or a poem will trigger a profound memory within me that inspires me to create more art.

I strive to write poems that resonate, but writing poetry does not come easily to me. Though I have written countless stanzas and rhymes, I can’t bring myself to call the work I generate “poetry,” because doing so, seems to invalidate what poems do stir people to make change. For instance, we recently watched Il Postino in class, a film regarding famous poet Pablo Neruda. In this film, he writes some poems that instigate critical political controversy and others that make enamored women flock to him. His words elicit such passionate reactions.

In a historical context, poems have inspired whole movements, and I feel as though my feeble attempts at writing substantial pieces, don’t deserve to be called “poetry” as Neruda’s evidently do. I’ve been told that I am hard on myself, but the reality is that my “poems” are mere skeletons. Such obstacles like excess words or questionable syntax prevent my pieces from exuding the power and closure I intend to attain. I sit and think, trying to write what comes from my mind, but the result never feels sufficient. I believe that one day I will write a real poem, one that I can be proud of. Until then, I am content with writing endless rough drafts, for Creative Writing has opened my eyes to the value of poetry. Poetry articulates the unexplainable in a combination of perfect words and I look forward to further exploring this daunting art form.

Nina Berggren, class of 2020

Keeping Up With School and Creative Writing by Emma Cooney

School work is stressful and hard enough to manage for some people, including me. So adding extra creative writing work with analytical responses and reflections, can be overwhelming. I tend to sit at my desk staring at my computer for up to an hour debating whether school is worth it or not. Even though I do have these thoughts, I know that in order to live a happy, successful life, I have to at least graduate high school. I also realized that in order to maintain my sanity while also keeping up with my school and creative writing work, I would have to reach out and change.

There is a stigma against asking for help if you’re struggling to complete work, even if you understand the material. Like most people, I have always had issues with procrastination. It became a habit, a system that is incredibly easy to fall into. To break out of it, it takes a lot of effort and sometimes I just don’t have that energy. So, if I wanted to succeed in creative writing and school, I had to push myself hard to not fall back into my slump.

As a highschooler, it is also normal to have mental health issues, which can contribute a lot to how well I do in school. So, being a procrastinator and dealing with mental health meant that I would have my work cut out for me. I started setting up a schedule for work, which may seem simple to other people, but for me it was a big step up from not even knowing what was due the next day. Little steps like talking to Heather Woodward, talking to my dad, creating a schedule that left relaxation time for myself, and really realizing that I need to get a grip on my life helped me turn a corner.

Although creative writing and school work can be a lot, it isn’t impossible if you have a drive and care for the classes. A lot of adults talk about how they “need to get their life together,” and I think even high schoolers shouldn’t be afraid to make changes and reach out, especially if they have an art discipline. It isn’t a bad thing to have issues with completing work, and the only way to overcome it is to realize that. In my case, Heather Woodward and my dad were the ones to help me and now I feel more successful.

Emma Cooney, Class of 2021

Humor Week with Daniel Handler by Tess Horton

 

Creative Writing spent a week with our latest Artist in Residence, Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket. The main subject he taught us was humor, and the many subjective ways humor can be incorporated into our writing. We covered structure and format, the definition of a “callback,” the nature of the number three in Western humor, and how, to make a piece of writing objectively funny, sometimes you need to have a few boring sentences before the joke.

Everyday, we would read a piece of humor in class, a few examples including Curses From a Millenial Witch by Scarlett Meyer and SantaLand Diaries by David Sedaris, and then analyze what made them “funny.” The goal of the week-long workshop was to write our own 1-3 page humor piece, using the devices we discussed in class — focusing mainly on formatting and structuring our pieces in ways other than straightforward narratives. For example, the piece I ended up writing was “A Snake Charmer’s Dating Profile Throughout the Years,” featuring five years worth of updated dating profiles of a snake charmer.

Our week of humor with Daniel Handler was entertaining and a solid introduction to humor for me. I appreciated learning about the technical aspects of what makes a piece funny, and how to use certain techniques in my writing if I were to ever want to do so. Although humor is subjective and difficult to teach because of it, I take my hat off to Mr. Handler for teaching us in a relatively unbiased way and letting everyone’s own sense of humor thrive without restraint.

Tess Horton, class of 2021

Performance Poetry by Eva Whitney

Between the two introductory weeks of Creative Writing where we swam, visited museums, attended readings and got to know each other better, and our Fall show, there is an empty period of time. During my past two years in the department, we have filled these weeks with Spoken Word and Experimental Fiction lessons in which we were introduced to niche genres of writing. Both lessons were fulfilling and gave me a new perspective to incorporate into my writing for the following months. This year, we had a Performance Poetry unit taught by Taylor Duckett, a local spoken word artist and MFA student. With our daily practice of writing to music and analyzing lyrics, she introduced the idea that popular music can have literary qualities and that words on a page can have musicality.

The class compiled a playlist with each of our favorite songs. From “Wigwam” by Bob Dylan to “Feel it All Around” by Washed Out, there was great variation in the choices. For the length of the song, we would all write in response to the music. In the beginning, I found it challenging to write in conversation with the song, especially songs I had never heard before. I soon realized that the only way to learn how to mimic rhythm in a piece of writing is through practice. By the last prompt, it felt more natural to write to music than to write in silence. I found it interesting to watch what came to while writing based off of what I was listening to. This is an example of a prompt I wrote in response to “In the Kingdom” by Mazzy Star, a song complete with an organ introduction, a swinging guitar melody, drums, electric guitar solos, and a mellow female vocalist:

In Hawaii, the whole island grows dark at night. People sleep with the sun, the animals too. Streets, unlittered with lampposts, are wide and welcoming for the late-night bikers. On the beaches, small crabs glow and the moon, like a stadium light, illuminates the sand. If you want to stay awake, you have to go to the beach. The water turns gelatinous, and the fish hold their position until dawn. Once, I tried to swim in the water at night, but it would not accept me. I wish I was one of those Hawaiian sea creatures, cradled nightly by the sea.

In addition to writing to music, Taylor taught us about our writing as music. We had various assignments in which we would write poetry to a beat. I noticed how, with the knowledge that the piece would be set to music, my content changed. I no longer tried to create a narrative but chose words that sounded nice together, typically ending lines in a rhyme. My group and I created a ridiculous rap that would have read awfully on the page, but, set to a beat, had a good flow. I realized how difficult it is to write music that both sounds good and reads well on the page, and now understand why most musicians prioritize rhythm over meaning.

The performance poetry unit introduced me to the importance of rhythm in writing. Even if the meter is subtle, the innate pleasure one finds in a beat will improve their experience as a listener and add a foundation the piece. As we prepare for the upcoming Fall show, I find myself returning to the lessons Taylor taught us about reading to an imaginary beat, and how to attract the audience by doing so.

Eva Whitney, class of 2020

Writing to Music by Xuan Ly

Last Wednesday marked CW’s last day with artist in residence, Taylor Duckett. For the last two weeks, Taylor taught us the foundations for performance poetry. In the unit, we differentiated a storyteller from a music artist and analyzed what being a storyteller meant; we wrote and performed pieces written to a sixteen beat, and compared a line of poetry to a measure of music. As these lesson changed each day, one aspect would stay the same: the free-writes.

At the beginning of the unit, Taylor asked each student for one song in order to compile a class playlist that we would listen to for each free-write. Every day to start class, end break, and end class, Taylor would play one of our songs for us to respond to. Her challenge for us was to keep our pen moving for the entire song. Which is difficult when I am trying to jam to a song that I have not heard before, or trying to make out lyrics on the first listen.

Taylor’s hope was that we incorporate what we hear into our writing. For each song, maybe we would use the song’s beat in our piece, maybe sample a few lyrics, or respond to how the song made us feel. Typically, when I listen to music, I am reminded of the events surrounding the first time I heard the song, but what happens when I hear the song for the first time? With a pen in hand and paper in front of me, I found that, for me, I am transported back to a time that resembles the mood of the song.

Oftentimes, listening to a certain song on the list brought up a memory that I had not stopped to think of since. For example, the song “Handle With Care” by The Traveling Wilburys reminded me of when my brother and I would go on bike rides to a school near our house during the summer. I found that music can evoke emotion by relating to its audience with parts like the beat or lyrics. The ability for music to bring up instances from the past is something I found fascinating.

While I was able to enjoy the music and relive, mostly happy, memories that the songs brought back to life, it was difficult for me to write a creative response to the song. I felt that I was too focused on listening to the song, or trying to uncover more details of a memory that the song evoked rather than allowing the song to aid my creative writing.

Everything that Taylor taught during her performance poetry unit were things that I had not attempted or observed before. Her lesson also prepared us for our upcoming showcase.

CW Performance Poetry Playlist

  1. I’m Not in Love – 10cc
  2. And the Waltz Goes On – Andre Rieu
  3. Millionaire – Kelis
  4. In the Kingdom – Mazzy Star
  5. Wigwam – Bob Dylan
  6. Cassiopeia – Joanna Newsom
  7. What You Won’t Do For Love – Bobby Caldwell
  8. Moody’s Mood for Love – Tito Puente
  9. Heavenly Father – Isaiah Rashad
  10. Every Planet We Reach is Dead – Gorillaz
  11. Will of the Wisp – Miles Davis
  12. Thinning – Snail Mail
  13. Feel It All Around – Washed Out
  14. Pienso En Mira – Rosalia
  15. Fireworks – Animal Collective
  16. Transit – Fennesz
  17. Suzanne – Leonard Cohen
  18. Handle with Care – The Traveling Wilburys
  19. Lonely Girl – Oceanlab
  20. Mythological Beauty – Big Thief
  21. Pool – Tricot
  22. He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat) – Jill Scott
  23. Wham Bam Shang-a-lang – Silver
  24. Fancy Shoes – The Walters
  25. Come Together – Beatles
  26. Powerlines – Riz La Vie
  27. No Other Plans – Sunny Levine
  28. Graceland – Paul Simon
  29. Hear You Me – Jimmy Eat World

Xuan Ly, Class of 2021

“I feel like an old oak door” by Max Chu

Over the summer I was in a funk. Whenever I tried to write, I got the overwhelming sensation that I was wasting my own time, in addition to whichever poor friend who had to read my own piece. For months this creeping sensation followed me, making itself intertwined with the heat of the summer like a cat in a curtain! I roamed about my day to day of summer nothings with this funk gnawing away at my creativity and only at night when it got cooler could I assess the damages. After the summer, I named this time in my life the “Funky Hours,” and out of the Funky Hours came nothing but that grey spitting funky mush.

The one and only salvageable thing I wrote over the summer came to me thusly, on the hottest day of the year. I was sitting at a kitchen table, sweltering. The window yawning, and through its mouth I could see the greater countryside of Britain. A man stood in front of me, and had been talking and talking for maybe days, who was I to say? I tip my chair back, and while balancing on the tip of two legs is when I deem it appropriate to evaluate how each part of my body is feeling, specifically (as I do in moments of great…inaction). I start with my toes, work up, and come to this conclusion, expressed best in the poetic form:

I feel like an old oak door

by Max Chu

              I
feel      like
an        old
oak
              door
.

This may be the best poem that came out of the Funky Hours. In the moment of conception, there was no doubt in my mind that this was the truest poem I could have written. As the author, I can tell you with full assurance that the speaker and the author are one, that the old oak door that the speaker describes is the same to the one that the author envisions in his mind’s eye! Therefore, whichever old oak door that the reader envisions the speaker to be envisioning is the same to the one that the author, me, is envisioning.

My godmother use to own this enormous house in the wilderness of Inverness. Whether it was actually in the wilderness and whether it was actually enormous is unknown to me, as I have not been back to the house since my childhood. However, in the mornings, my godmother would take a dog food dish and fill it with birdseed before leaving her front door and placing the food on the front porch. Then she would turn around and go back inside, closing the red old oak door behind her. I bet you didn’t expect it to be red!

Max Chu, class of 2020

CW at the Magritte by Hannah Duane

On the last Monday of September, Creative Writing made its way to SFMOMA to see the exhibit of Magritte’s late work. We met, excited in the lobby. Many students among us had already seen the show, were quick to tell us it was fantastic.

In the first two weeks of school, Creative Writing builds community by going on many field trips. Some of these excursions are purely enjoyment, such as our ritual swim in aquatic park, however many connect CW with the culture and art happening in our city. This year, we went to SFMOMA to see Selves and Others, a collection focusing on modern self portraits, as well as the De Young to see a Judy Dater photography show, and attended a reading at Booksmith to hear Thomas McBee, and finally, back to SFMOMA for the Magritte. After two weeks of talking about art and learning to further develop our vocabulary, this final show was our chance to take the art in on our own. Most of the Creative Writers went through slowly, and by themselves or with a few friends, talking about their opinions with each other, and occasionally stopping to write.

The show was set up across many rooms, each focusing on a different period in Magritte’s life. I very much enjoyed seeing his progression, and beginning to understand the themes and motifs Magritte found most interesting. As a writer, it was intriguing to see how these same techniques are applicable across art forms.

Magritte’s exploration scale, light, and weight most affected me. In the final room displayed a painting of a rock suspended over the sea. In this image, entitled “Clear Ideas,” the rock is the same size and shape a cloud above it, asking the eye to equate the images. However, while a cloud is light, and in its whiteness does not connote danger, the rock is menacing. It nearly represents rain, and yet the light coming from the position of the viewer illuminates the rock as quite solid.

I also enjoyed the way he captured light in the painting “Evening Falls.” This piece features a sunset behind a window frame with the fractured glass strewn around the floor. Though the glass, in reality, would show what is newly behind it, the shards depict the sunset as well. This surrealistic image invites the reader to question representation, and merge past and present visions.

I left the exhibit inspired to write surrealism and explore what themes I am drawn to in my own writing. It is easy, at a school full of artist to attempt to find clear lines between the different disciplines, however in reality, art is far more fluid than that, with a variety of forms in conversation.

Hannah Duane
Class of 2021

Summer Homework Revisions by Sequoia Hack

There’s no way to say it nicely. Assigned summer homework is not something all CW students enjoy. Summer is the only extended period time over two weeks in length where we aren’t sitting through classes lasting an hour and twenty minutes. It’s when we do not have to wake up at ungodly times of day to get to the climate-indecisive Glen Canyon where SOTA is located.

I am so fortunate to be a part of the uniquely Bay Area SFSOTA Creative Writing department. Throughout my year and three months here, I have become a much more responsible and aware person. Heather has not only guided and strengthened my writing passion, but has introduced me to perspectives I had no experience with prior to high school. But summer work was not my motivation to apply to this department, nor is it my favorite thing to do now. During the three months we have off of school, I’d prefer to escape to sleepaway camp without any looming deadlines.

However, one of Heather’s many insights is about how to improve one’s writing skills. It is centered around the cliche phrase, “practice makes perfect” (but of course as a writer, Heather introduced this concept without using any cliches). Her reason for assigning summer work is something like this: if one would like to strengthen their writing abilities, one must constantly write. I have taken this mindset to heart during the two times I have been assigned summer work, and I appreciate her firm belief for I have been able to explore my specific strengths in writing outside of the class environment.

Upon arriving back in school during August, CW revises their summer work based off of Heather’s comments. This has been an unpleasant process for me, as revisiting work done months in the past has been like looking at my application portfolio for this department after a year of being immersed in sophisticated writing — cringe-inducing. Regrets come forth about the piece, for example word choices or chosen formatting. Heather counsels us individually after reviewing our summer work, and has jokingly dubbed me the “thousand-poems-in-three-poems” girl after commenting that I wrote a poem with many concrete images but didn’t particularly blend cohesively.

These are some selected stanzas from a poem I had written this past summer and recently revised. I’ve centralized the theme, unified the imagery, and excluded extra words.

Excerpt from Coyote Bones

The bones flow and grow and sway,
suspended from cloud toes,
blown away with a fist of air
carried into Yosemite valley
by millions
of thousand year-old trees,
roots plunged to Earth’s core.
The trees remain there,
forever anchored in an ocean of
lush soil.

Robins greet blue jays
atop speckled boulders,
iridescent wings intertwine.
Slugs the hue of sunflower petals
mingle on slabs of granite.
Raccoons sulk in the heat,
claws clicking on rock,
paw pads lurching forward
to the dining birds.

And the bones keep moving,
around Glacier Point
where young couples marry,
out to fields enveloped in
sunset and lupine blooms.

Thank you so much for your comments and care, Heather! I truly appreciate the confidence you’ve instilled in me.

Sequoia Hack
Class of 2021

Freshie By Benjamin Leuty

As of today, the Creative Writing department has concluded its sixth week of the 2018 school year, and its brave band of freshmen has survived to participate in the fall performance poetry unit. It’s been a wild ride for us freshies, and I already feel like I’ve done more over the course six weeks than in my entire eighth-grade year.

These first couple of weeks have led my mind to wander back to my early childhood, specifically how young children seem to find such joy and find such novelty in experiences that for their elders, would be considered mundane. That same overpowering feeling of wonder has been present throughout my experience in the Creative Writing department as I explore the alien customs of my new habitat. The feeling was present during the roaring of the yellow-clad crowd on field day, the surreal Kirby cove camping trip, the thought-provoking Magritte exhibit, and has been part of every other enchanting afternoon spent in Creative Writing.                                                                                                                       

My time at SOTA starkly contrasts with my middle school years, as 7th grade Benny so eloquently put it “middle school sucks!”. Middle school was nothing more than an endless cycle of repeating lessons, filled with interminable boredom, and unmotivated, uninspired students (myself included). SOTA has been the complete opposite, every day is different, indistinguishable from the last, which is part of the reason why I can never seem to answer the “what do you even do in creative writing?” question which is frequently asked. Everyone here loves what they do, everyone here is happy, and for the first time ever I am happy to go to school every day.

As with most high schools, adjusting to SOTA is difficult, it’s a very different environment and Creative Writing, in particular, has its fair share of whacky community building traditions and field trips, many of which take place in the first couple of weeks. Every day of these past few weeks has been a blur, as all of us freshmen try to find our place at SOTA and in our respective departments. It has taken a while, but I think most of my fellow freshmen have started settling in, and as the dust settles I’m starting to truly comprehend and appreciate this one of a kind school. I can already tell that the singers and the dancers, the actors and the architects, the musicians and the writers of SOTA are, and will continue to be, some of the most committed and talented artists I will ever meet.

Benny Leuty
Class of 2022