Creative Writing II Poetry Unit by Tess Horton

The Creative Writing II poetry unit has spanned over the course of the past month. Our artist in residence, Emily Wolahan, structured the six-week unit in a refreshing way: every other week, we read poetry and essays concerning poetry at home, then discuss them in class. Every week in between, we workshop the poems we’ve produced throughout the previous week. This intensive poetry-production-process has tested my ability to constantly keep up the motivation to write. I’ve written poems I like, I’ve written poems I don’t like as much, but the important part of this exercise is that I am writing at all.

Part of the weeks when we aren’t revising is to respond to various in-class prompts that Emily gives us (usually in some relation to a poem/essay we’ve read); one of the prompts I have particularly enjoyed so far was the haibun prompt. A haibun is a three-paragraph prose poem followed by a haiku at the end. Here is the haibun I wrote in response:

The Tambourine Man Haibun

I met the tambourine man behind the carousel when I was a good age. I am not sure whether I was supposed to meet the tambourine man or not. He was sinking in his pinstriped cloak and the hairs shaking on his upper lip seemed to shine, like the black armor beetles sport even on hot Saturdays. The tambourine man was red in many unnatural places. Red on his scalp. Red on his chin and only on the tips of his fingers. Red on the sagging parts of his pants where his skinny knees were supposed to fit. Skinny knees, I thought. The air was hot and I was suddenly glad I wasn’t wearing anything underneath my dress. The tambourine man looked down at me and slapped his hand on his wrist as if he were expecting hard cow skin instead. I was three feet and his bulging sunshine boots were perfect.


Yellow morning was the time I put on sunscreen. The day is early and cold with the promise of heat and pink skin later. White cream becomes a pocket item. I hare that white cream. That white cream is sticky, it sticks to my tongue for many hours after I taste it on my thumb. Soap, like soap. Tied down to a felt seat backwards: is this supposed to be fun? I am sad with the white cream. This morning feels like a white box, sterile from its lack of color, and I feel as if I am suffocating in its whiteness, its medicinal taste.


The circus is wet and dark. The tent is orange, tethered firmly to the dew-grass beneath the tarp, and when my father opens the front curtain and we enter as a family, the white cream against his lapel smears. This tent is large and dark. The tambourine man plays his cowskin arm off to the side, quiet. I smile at him from my mother’s shoulders.


With a gentle hand

The tambourine man leans downwards to greet me

The cream on my hands is sticky, yellow shoes slip against the mud


-Tess Horton, class of 2021

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


Within darkness,

The only thing disturbing

The void, was the glow of the crescent moon



Wind blew idly by,

As crevices

Creeped up upon the surface



The Moon Lady is solitary, they say

But she has the sun, for an eternity.



The ocean bleeds onto sand

As the First Quarter moon hovers, heavily



Seven hungry men

Run through every crater

Searching for

The mythic moon cheese




If you look close enough

The moon

Has three eyes



The full moon

Enchants the earth

With its melted-silver glow



What is it like to be the moon

To look out at a sea of stars,

Yet the only thing sparkling is you



In Between the trees

And the waning gibbous moon

Another twinkle appears

But its just a plane



Maybe the moon’s

Not just a fan of the dark

But also enjoys time with the sun



Drenched in rainwater,

And the moon is still




A tear rolls down

Its rocky crevised face

But the tear never falls off the surface



We fly from coast to coast

In a pitch black sky

The waning crescent moon,

Is always with us.


-Leela Sriram, class of 2023

[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.

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

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, 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: (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.”

Remember the de Young

For a week in September, Maia Ipp came into Creative Writing and taught a “Craft and Critique” class in order to prepare us (well, us being CDubs sans seniors, ’cause our three years of sweaty toil has earned us privileges, dammit) for a new department requirement— the literary critique (see Smolly’s Daily Report for reference).

We began by defining the word “critique” and its connotations— for someone to be critical is usually negative, though to look at something with a critical eye is pragmatic and sort of good. Using these definitions as a springboard, we then worked to redefine “critique” and came up with a new operational definition: analysis of the text and its effects with the intention to either better it or to simply point out its success.

(Yes, those are my words, and yes, they are carefully diplomatic, but that’s the jist of it, I think. Y’know, people always say to not shoot the messenger, but what if the messenger screws up?)

(No I change my mind. Please don’t shoot this messenger.)

We also discussed ekphrasis, which is sort of the evolved version of part two of the lit critiques, which are the creative responses. An ekphrastic piece of art is inspired by another piece of art in another medium— the example we looked at was a poem inspired by a painting. The poem stood on its own well enough, but with the painting there was a basis to work from, and there was suddenly a synesthetic duality to its evoked meaning.

On Friday, September 20th, Maia’s  class ended on a high note. We visited the de Young museum and the Diebenkorn exhibit (which I will admit I did not see, sadly— it was just so… populated there) to create our own ekphrastic pieces of writing. And it’s kind of hilariously awesome, because Maia was so inspired by all the poems we turned in, that she took lines from all of them and created a group found poem, so it’s something like meta-ekphrasis.

(Though if we really did the math, it’s 1.5 ekphrasis, because while not everything we wrote was poetry— mine certainly wasn’t— words to words still doesn’t count as an entire ekphrasis, I don’t think. Hence the point-five.)

On top of that, Frances (’14) and Lizzie’s (’14) poems were chosen for special mention. Here they are below:

After the de Young: a group found poem

The poem that follows is composed of lines taken from the Fold-Up responses. Every Creative Writer is represented, and lines have been only minimally changed where necessary.

Tell me about the life you’ve built
the way it seems to fall apart
in the drifting winds that run through empty houses.
I, too, remained nameless that year.

A stretched film over the skywater above us.
It fractures though, by gravity or worse.
How hard it is to keep it together:
the water that was made in darkness.

The sun is smooth and patient, a pulse of light wavering between leaves and branches.
The ocean offers a flat relief.

I would die in this place,
my body slouched on a blue plastic chair, the door
open for the world to see.

Skin the taut surface of water—
A round, flat eye.
It is dangerous without being alive.

Examine for bloodlessness the bold predawn birth.
I had golden feathers,
but now everything is moonlight
Stung, bitter, by our blackened palms.

I found you beached,
your burnt snow gills gleaming.
To do something with these arms—
I nod quietly, stare into wind and snow, letting its sting replace the one I feel in my chest.
I am not to be approached.

The most refined woman is nothing but texture.
You may be full to the core with honey and old water.
So soon, we’ll both be useless things.

Frances Saux, after Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1955

I, too, remained nameless that year—learned in the clench of summer the constituencies of self, somehow—
One night she’d gone and I took three, four tries at a match, but too selfless to start supper I let them die out—
What was moving that year, what was anything?
I needed medicine and thought a spoon of vinegar, a slice of lemon looked all right.
And I thought I’d go on a walk but of course I didn’t. She came home, I stayed seated, she let the water run in the kitchen sink, I thought about the lengths of water, for lengths, the anonymous water.

Lizzie Kroner, response to The Wild Swan by Alexander Pope

It is wild—it is like painted taxidermy. The swan hangs so majestic but still so pathetic in its demise, tied to a door. With its full, faded head it can only exist as a symbol now. It evokes meaning without having a meaning of its own. In its death, as in all deaths, it has lost life, but its corpse, bright and beautiful and sprawled, wings spread, emanates such vivacity you have to question whether it is really dead or not. Of course it is dead, its webbed feet are tied by a string to the hinge of a green door and its gold is only visible when it is directly under the light. But the stillness of its heartbeat means nothing. The painting doesn’t have a heartbeat either, neither do these words, but they mean something.


Picture 50by Frances Saux (’14)
From the Sarah Fontaine Unit

There’s a night I keep thinking about. It was years ago, so long ago I feel like I shouldn’t remember it as well as I do. That’s what’s strange about this story. Sometimes, during the slow parts of my shift at work, I close my eyes and I relive this night in my head, moment to moment, feeling the wind, not just the memory of the wind but the real, centuries-old wind that touched the back of my neck all that time ago. I mean I can really remember it like that. But maybe I should tell you that it only feels this clear because I haven’t changed much since that night. Proof is at work, when I’m daydreaming about it, my chest starts hurting. It feels a lot like looking in the mirror. Just so you know.

The story is this:

Back in high school, at a party, some kids locked me out while I was standing on the front steps. I’d just gone outside for a second, for some air. They crept up behind me and slammed the door before I could say anything. Then they shifted the bolt into place. For a while I just kept pushing and pulling the doorknob. A part of me hoped that the door had locked on accident. It just feels so terrible inside. After a minute, they spread the curtains and looked at me through the window, laughing into their hands like they couldn’t believe me. I thought of yelling at them. I thought I’d scare them into opening up, loving me.

They were not that kind of kid. I was not that kind of kid. Soon I felt myself starting to cry. I let go of the doorknob and turned around. I didn’t want them to see.

They’d locked someone else out too. He sat on the front steps, staring at his hands. I could see that his eyes were dry, but dry in that painful way where I knew he’d gotten so used to crying that he’d learned to cry a different way. We weren’t friends but I’d always felt okay around him. I knew we were similar in these kinds of way. For example, I knew he wasn’t going to college in the fall, either.

He looked up at me. “Well, we’d better walk to keep warm.”

There was a field behind the house, and we walked through it in silence. Instead of talking I pretended I was somewhere else. I don’t know where exactly. Just someplace different. I thought of how I was wearing a nice, white dress. Normally I didn’t wear dresses, but today I had. This hurt.

When we’d wandered deep into the field, he stopped walking.

“What?” I asked.

“Be quiet.”

“What is it?”

He pointed to something. I looked. It was a skunk. Then I saw another skunk. Then I saw skunks everywhere, like a chain reaction of sight. The whole field had filled with skunks. They’d come out at some point and we hadn’t realized. We both stood there, frozen. They crept around. It was too dark to really see them but we could hear them rustling the grass. We could find the white stripes, circling us like eels. We were scared.

“I can’t get sprayed,” he said.

“Me neither.”

We meant it. There was dignity involved. If you haven’t figured out, we were the kind of kids that didn’t have extra dignity to spare. I bet you that some of those people from the party would have run across the field naked, like into a dense cloud of spray, and it’d have been a funny story later. You’ve got to understand that wasn’t us at all. We didn’t have that luxury. To us it felt like we were in real, honest danger. They were everywhere.

“What do we do?” he said. He spoke softly, like he worried that the animals might overhear.

I didn’t know. I could see one of their snouts, sniffing ground near my leg, which started shaking from the effort it took not to move.

There was a tractor sort of nearby. I mean sort of because it was still distant enough to look small. But at least it was closer than the house. I pointed.

“If we can get there.”


We moved towards it, holding hands and stepping only on the tips of our feet, and only on the places that looked unmistakably like dirt and not fur. But I could feel them moving as we moved. It made my legs shake until I thought I’d collapse. He, too, looked unstable. Halfway there, we developed this informal strategy for moving. Instead of looking at the ground, we looked at the tractor, finding places to put our feet through instinct instead of vision. It sounds like it wouldn’t work, but somehow this got us there. After a long time, we reached the tractor. We both sighed. I climbed up the steps and into the driver’s seat. He sat in the passenger seat next to me. We closed the doors and I held the door handle tight for a second, like I thought they’d try to come barging through.

I let go.

“What are we going to do?” I asked, my breath slowing down. “Do you think they’ll go away soon?”

“No,” he said. “We might be stuck here all night.”

It was cold. In the distance I could see rectangular lights, the windows of the house. They looked so solid. I wished they were the kind of thing I could have picked up and held to my chest. I said, quietly, “I hate this. I hate those bastards.”


“I don’t know. All of them.”

“You mean the skunks?”

That wasn’t what I’d meant, but once he said it, I understood he wasn’t going to acknowledge the thing that had happened with getting locked out. It makes sense. It reminds me of something people say about the guy who pushes the rock up the hill, like how if he decides he wants to keep pushing the rocks up the hill, if he makes that choice, then he is no longer trapped by his circumstances.

So I said yes. I said I hated those bastard skunks.

He looked at the house.

“Me too.”

Suddenly we had the same idea at the same time. We didn’t even look at each other, we just knew. I knew he knew because he sat up a little straighter. There was blood in my mouth from chewing my lip.

I felt around the tractor. Someone had left the key in there. When I turned it, the whole thing shook awake, less like a car than I’d expected, more like an animal. I tried the gas a bit, and we grunted forward. For some reason, with him sitting next to me, it didn’t feel like driving at all. What I mean is it didn’t feel like there was any sort of boundary between us and the world, sort of like we were the tractor, and like the tractor was a living thing. I pressed on the gas fast.

I said, “Tell me where you see them.”

He put his hands and forehead against the windshield, scanning the ground. Then he pointed. “There’s one. There.”

I chased it down. I could barely see it but my senses kicked in, tracking its movements the way a predator might, noticing even the smallest things like the shapes its muscles made, the little temporary bulges in its arms and legs and neck. We got right up close to it, so close that we couldn’t see it anymore. There’s was a moment of silence. Then we heard it crunch.

You’ve got to understand about that crunch. It marked the beginning of something different, something powerful. I tried to say something but my mouth didn’t feel human. I couldn’t talk but I could bare my teeth. He was grinning too, beside me. I swear I could see his heart moving up and down in his chest. Exhilarating.

Together we chased down all the skunks. We slaughtered them. I think of the crunching sound a lot. It’s a sound like something was chewing on the skunks, the most painful sound you could imagine. You know that thing where you hear your name called on the street, but no one’s there when you turn around? Well, instead of that, all the time, I hear this crunch. I hear it all the time. Don’t ask me what it’s like.

We chased anything that moved. It got to the point where we’d gotten all the skunks, or they’d all run away. Now we were just chasing the wind through the grass and we knew it.

But we felt so grand.

We didn’t talk about this later, we couldn’t. It got too hard. After that night, everything we’d both hated still remained unharmed. I could hear people in the hallways at school talking about the massacre they’d found on the field the next morning, rubble of guts thick enough to keep the grass lying flat against the earth. I didn’t see it but from what I heard, it was one of those sights.

But here’s the thing that makes this story difficult to tell. After that one moment of power, in the tractor, everything went back to how it had been before. For a few minutes I thought I’d leave a legacy on this town. I even maybe thought that years from now, people would be talking about what had happened to the skunks. But everyone forgot and I was still hopeless. Not hopeless. What are the words they used? Directionless. Unmotivated. No-good. A few months later we all graduated. I stayed around and watched as the whole town shrunk a size. That was about it. I wondered about that boy sometimes. I kept remembering:

After killing the skunks we’d fallen asleep together in his driveway. We’d parked the tractor and walked all the way back through the field, taking our time because now it felt like our field. When we got to his driveway we got preoccupied with looking at the stars, and somehow we just dozed off there, our arms touching.

Once, I think, I walked past his parent’s house to see if he was still living there. He wasn’t. He had left, escaped the town while he could. Smart kid.

Do you see yet why this story makes me sad? I haven’t really left the town since then. Look at my job. I’ve had it forever because after a while you get too worn out to really move. It’s the heat, I think. It sticks you in one place. Sometimes the only way I move all day is tapping my fingers against the cash register, pretending I can play the drums.

Interesting thing about drums, actually. I had this dream that I played drums for some famous band, except in the dream the band was only me, and he was the only one in all the audience. I started playing, but the tips of my drumsticks looked like hooves, and the wood became part of my arms, so instead of drumming I felt like I was running across the earth, changing from a person into something else, into a god with an animal’s body. I felt horns in my head, sweat as fur, all that.

He, too, was changing. He ripped off his shirt and gave a triumphant roar. Then he bent down and bit the edge of the stage. I grinned. We were reunited, us mighty beasts.