Teacher for a Day by Benny Leuty

There are two classes in Creative Writing, CW1, and CW2. CW1 is generally freshmen and sophomores, CW2 two is juniors and Seniors. For a sophomore, graduating to CW2 is not a guarantee. Heather, our department head, judges whether or not to allow a student to graduate into the next class on a variety of factors including how they contribute to the community and their maturity and work ethic. So for a sophomore, a lot rests on their cultural heritage lesson.

Each year, every sophomore puts together a one day lesson on their cultural heritage centered around its poetry. It is, for sophomores, the ultimate chance to demonstrate to Heather their maturity and growth and with CW2 on the horizon, the stakes are even higher.

For my sophomore lesson, I decided to teach Philip Levine’s poetry on the industrial midwest. Initially, I was intensely dreading teaching my lesson. Yet as I began to work on its outline over Thanksgiving Break, I had a change of heart. Through researching the poet and Detroit during the 1940s and 1950s, (the time in which Philip Levine lived) I connected with my home state of Michigan more than I ever had before. I also discovered quite a lot about my family history as my father told me about his hometown after the washing machine company Whirlpool closed their factories, my mother told me about her time working in a Detroit factory during college, and about how my grandfather covered the raging war between the auto companies and the unions during his time as a photographer for the Detroit News.

All in all, I learned more about myself, my family, and of course Philip Levine than ever before. And when I eventually gave my lesson, it was a great time.

By Benny Leuty

Class of 2022

Workshopping by Isabella Hansen

Workshopping in Creative Writing has helped me be more self-critical of my work. Before entering CW, workshops mostly involved comments such as: “This is so good! Maybe just include some more details in this part, but only if you want too.” These comments did not prepare me for the real world of workshopping. The idea of sharing my work with more experienced upperclassmen was daunting to my freshman self. At my first workshop, I read my poem aloud and nervously waited for my peers to give their feedback. I came out of the experience more comfortable sharing my work with others. It gave me a renewed want to improve my writing. Workshopping made me notice points in my poetry where I could grow and expand on my ideas where I wouldn’t have noticed them before. I realized everyone just wanted to improve my work and to make it the best it can be. A part of me was wary of workshopping my writing because it felt personal and the critique would feel like a judgment of my ability as a writer.  When going through all of the poems that I wrote for my portfolio to get into the Creative Writing department and compared them to my revised poems, I saw how much I have improved thanks to examining my work through a critical lens and in a group setting. 

After my realization that the process of editing my writing isn’t as daunting as it first seemed,  I find myself looking forward to working with poems that I feel need help. For Thanksgiving break, we are supposed to revise three poems for Monday and after the workshops, I now have notes and edit suggestions to use. I see where I went wrong with clichés and vague images. While I still haven’t eased out of my shy shell, I can now receive feedback without shock and bewilderment.

Recently, I had the opportunity to workshop with some of my fellow freshmen. I was proud of the progress we all made and I could see the improvement in all of our poetry. Workshopping was a valuable way to close off the week and to take a look at the progress we all made, and relish the fact that we survived three whole months of high school.

By Isabella Hansen

Class of 2023

Filipino Cultural Heritage Poetry Unit by Parker Burrows

Over the summer, I had the daunting assignment of preparing a lesson plan about the poetry of my culture. As I thought about my cultural background, I realized that preparing a unit on Filipino-American poetry would be perfect. Historically, Filipino and Filipino-American history have not been taught in most schools, and most people don’t know about topics such as Filipino immigration, and the Philippine-American war, which I believe should be basic history education. 

I also decided upon the lesson because of my own desire to connect with my culture. I haven’t met many Filipinos my age, and I hadn’t learned anything about Filipino culture before I began research on my lesson. I was feeling disconnected from myself, and by researching this lesson through the internet, books, and talking to family members, I began to gain a deeper appreciation for my family and my cultural background. 

The lesson itself was quite successful. I decided to focus on the late Filipino-American poet and activist Al Robles, a native of San Francisco who was strongly involved in pro-Filipino movements, such as protesting the demolition of the International Hotel, a popular shelter for many Filipino immigrants. Although the poetry was all from the same author, Robles writes his poetry from a range of voices and topics; one poem was about a wandering immigrant, another was about ethnic empowerment. Each of the poems had various cultural references, which I explained individually, using a slideshow. There was an overarching theme of desperation to assimilate and fit in to American culture, which I felt both related to the theme of my lesson (teaching about forgotten Filipino stories) and to my personal identity (feeling lost and disconnected from oneself). The whole class was engaged and participated enthusiastically in each of the poetry discussions. I wanted to help the class understand the different emotions that Filipino-American immigrants felt during their journey to America, so I gave relevant writing prompts. I asked people to write about a poem about a character who undertakes a difficult journey (like the Filipinos on their way to America), and a poem about feeling extreme desperation (like the Filipinos who are desperate to assimilate in order to have a prosperous life).

I was not the only one who shared my personal experiences. Assistant Principal Monette Benitez, and Spoken Arts head Aimee Suzara were both invited to participate in my lesson, and they spoke about growing up as Filipina women. They echoed similar sentiments as I did, such as feeling disconnected from their heritage and “whitewashed.” Suzara even shared poetry from her book Souvenir, including one striking poem about challenging her high school history teacher to teach about Filipino history. 

At the end of the lesson, many people wrote in their feedback cards that they previously had little to no knowledge about Filipino culture, and that my lesson was informative. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to educate people about important topics that I care about and are frequently ignored.

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

Workshops, Change, and Community By Nadja Goldberg

On Monday, November 18, I taught a portfolio workshop at 826 Valencia with three fellow juniors in Creative Writing. As I looked at the applicants hovering over sheets of loose-leaf paper, I remembered sitting in the same room when I was an eighth grader.

At a journalism workshop I took at 826 when I was eight, I wrote an article titled “Too Many Walgreen’s!” prompted by a record store near my house turning into a Walgreen’s. I took another workshop in which each student brought in a special object to draw and write about. Unlike these previous two workshops, the one in eighth grade amounted to something more. I was not in the warmly-lit back room seeking only a writing activity. I was seeking acceptance into SOTA’s Creative Writing Department in which workshops would become part of my everyday life. Students around me read their work to each other and made playful comments. I became doubtful of myself and my writing when the boy next to me told me my poetry was “bad.”

A student in Creative Writing read my short story about a magician in a crisis after losing his suitcase full of equipment on his way to perform a show in Moscow. I scanned the book titles on the walls over and over as she surrounded my writing with notes. “This is so cute!” she said aloud as she read. I gave a slight smile, relieved. When the student finished my piece, she expressed her feedback, telling me to make the magician’s mother a more relevant character. I revised my story based on the comments I received that evening, and now, three years later, I am immersed in the Creative Writing Department.

As part of the workshop we led, my peers and I discussed teachers, homework, commitment, and details about the department. Afterwards, I reflected on the way I could easily ramble about Creative Writing, and how I did not hesitate to spend my Monday evening helping younger writers join this community that I have grown so fond of.

The two prompts we gave as we taught the workshop were, “Write about an experience that changed you,” and “write about a meaningful friendship.” I considered how I’ve changed since eighth grade and how Creative Writing has played a big role. I thought about the perceptive lens I have learned to use when looking at writing and the world around me. I thought about the friends who bring so much joy and companionship to my life.

-Nadja Goldberg, Class of 2021

For I am Possum, and Possum Isn’t Perfect by Emily Kozhina

I’m at a stage in my life where the most helpful thing for me to do is look to the future. With college applications due in just over a month, all my thoughts have been preoccupied with who I will be and what I will do, as if I’m supposed to have a clue. This stress seeps into my writing, as since the summer, I have found myself introspecting far deeper into my future, writing about the more gruesome and lonelier meanings of what it means to grow up, and eventually, to grow old. But it’s always good to think ahead, I’m told, so I try. 

I’ve been a senior for just about two months now. 

What I’ve learned so far are two things: 

  1. It’s much harder than you’d expect, and
  2. It’s not that bad.

What senior year is, is that insatiable hunger to be the best. I need to be the best for colleges so they’re all crawling to me on their knees, begging me with full scholarships in their fists for me to accept their pleading offers. I need to be the best writer, with a published flash fiction collection under my belt, because after all, what would these past three years in Creative Writing have been for? I need to dedicate every moment of waking time to work, to write, to work on writing, and writing about future work, and only take a pause to breathe when I sleep.

Obviously, this is unrealistic. I am sitting in my pajamas, avoiding eye-contact with my college to-do list and my writing revisions I have yet to make. I am drinking tea that tastes bitter because I left the bag in too long, my library books are long overdue, and I have yet to write back to my pen pal (Sorry, Esperanza). 

Most days I find myself looking in the mirror and seeing a possum staring back at me, wearing my jeans and my sweater, taking too long to tie my boots. This isn’t me, this can’t be me! I want to think, but the possum looks back at me with a sad expression and confirms my fears. When will you come to accept me? It asks, tears whimpering at the corners of its tired eyes.

 I am possum, I have always been possum, and that’s fine. I’ve spent far too long expecting myself to be perfect, and getting frustrated when I am not. Possums are smart, mostly immune to rabies, and sometimes, in the right light, have a sort of glow coming off them from the bottom of the garbage bin. 

I’m trying to get to know the possum in the mirror, and it turns out, she’s not that bad, after all.

Emily Kozhina, Class of 2020

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

Idea House by Zai Deriu

This last Friday, Creative Writing had our yearly poetry show. We spend the week before rehearsing and reminding everyone we see to come to the performance, and in that time, I reflected back on how much I’ve changed and grown since last year’s show.

My writing has become far more precise and interesting, for one. It’s so much simpler for me to transfer my thoughts into words than it was last year. The fact that I know I’ll only continue to improve through my time in Creative Writing and through the rest of my life is incredibly exciting to think about.

Things that would have terrified me last year, like being the first to read their poem, was not quite so scary. After Heather opened the show and the first sketch was performed, it was my turn to read. My legs started shaking a bit halfway through, and I switched two words around at one point and had to backtrack, but I felt fine. There was no moment of oh god I can’t do this. Then I just got to relax backstage. I took off my shoes so I could walk backstage without the audience hearing my footsteps and listened to everyone’s poems. I didn’t have much time to stress over reading my own work before I did it.

It’s occurred to me this year, especially this past week, how nice it is in Creative Writing now that I know everyone better. In my freshman year, everyone already in the department was open and accepting to me, of course, but this year I feel even more solidified and comfortable in the department in a way I didn’t even realize I was lacking last year. It’s not as though I’m sharing my work with strangers or even close acquaintances but actual close friends.

Creative Writing has an incredibly strong and close-knit community, I might even go so far as to say a family. It’s not just a class that we all happen to be in together, we’re friends who care about each other on a deep level. As we all took a bow to close out the show, it struck me just how quickly last year passed by, and that it will likely continue to pass just as fast. It makes me sad to think that one day I’ll graduate and I won’t get to see my department five days a week, but it also makes me value the time I do have. I don’t want to take any of this time for granted or leave with any regrets in mind.

 

Zai Deriu, class of 2022

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