The Sophomore Poetry Lessons by Eva Whitney

For the six weeks preceding Winter Break, the Creative Writing Department focused on poetry. We split into Creative Writing One and Creative Writing Two, or, more simply, the underclassmen and upperclassmen. In Creative Writing One, we spent the majority of the six weeks reading from The Discovery of Poetry, a poetry anthology edited by Frances Mayes. All sixteen of us would sit around a big table as if we were about to have a grand feast, and, with the hum of Creative Writing Two in the adjacent room, we dove into sestinas and sonnets and villanelles from an assortment of poets, contemporary and ancient. It was truly like the poems we read fed us! I felt full of words and ideas after each class.

The poetry unit allowed me to get back into the swing of writing as we wrote a poem nearly every night. Circling around that grand table and hearing how each person interpreted the prompt the day after was always fascinating, and I found myself able to finally find the same joy in poetry that I found last year and lost over the summer.

For the first week of December, at the end of our six weeks of poetry, the sophomores of the Creative Writing Department taught poetry lessons about our cultural heritage to our fellow sophomores and the freshmen. We heard lessons about Chinese Communism, Korean Commu- nism, the Beat Generation, Russian Communism, and Immigrants. A sophomore would bring in an array of poems of their choosing and we would discuss them and pick them apart, and even write in conversation with them. It was a way to learn about each other better, as well as hear po- etry that the six of us find beautiful and fascinating.

In my lesson, I hoped to introduce Zen Buddhist poetry to my peers as an approachable section of poetry. Buddhism is often revered for its difficulty, but many do not realize how accessible the religion, or even just its core practices, can be. I brought in poetry by Gary Snyder, Ikkyu Sojun, Philip Whalen, Stonehouse, Jane Hirshfield, and Ryokan. I created pairs of poems, alternating between a contemporary Buddhist poet and an ancient one. The poems of each pair were connected somehow; I did this in hopes of showing how constant Buddhist values are and how even poets from four centuries ago could share the same experiences or have the same ideas as a living Buddhist poet.

Teaching this lesson and experiencing my peers’ lessons was entirely rewarding. Know- ing that I may have made a slight impact on one of the students fills me with a simple joy! Zen Buddhism has been such a large part of my childhood, and now young-adulthood, so to share it with my peers was a special experience. It took some strength on my part to constantly share my ideas and keep everyone engaged, which is not something that comes naturally to me, but after- ward, I was glad I persevered. Watching my classmates do the same impressed me immensely, and allowed me to see them as real, capable people with interesting backgrounds.

Eva Whitney, class of 2020

The College Application Process by Angelica LaMarca

To put it frankly, the process of applying to college is an absolutely potent pain in the ass. It can be quite awkward having write about yourself for pages, and often, one is forced to adapt a clunky, awkward syntax in order to accommodate a strict, diminutive word count. Furthermore, if you are like me and you are prone to procrastination and a fully-flexed lack of motivation, you may find yourself on the day of the application deadline sleep-deprived and hyperventilating, scrambling to varnish essays which you in fact had months to work on.

Since I am applying mostly to UC’s, I spent the bulk of my application process generating my UC personal statements. The UC website provides eight prompts from which one must choose only four to respond to. Being forced to self-advertise extensively, I found that one must straddle a fine line between being too flaccid and being too arrogant. This was probably the most challenging part.

UC prompt #2 pertained to creativity, inquiring of the applicant, “ How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?” Being an art school student, I had the most fun responding to this one. Because I feel that what I wrote was particularly authentic to my identity, here is the personal statement I wrote articulating my passion for writing.

“Writing is my greatest pursuit because there has always been a part of me who fears a wasted or forgotten thought. As someone with a poor memory, writing is a way to preserve my most unflexed fragments of ideas which I can later develop into fully thrumming pieces of art. Without the process of archive, I am simply a sanctum for a current of perpetually flowing ideas that are immediately forgotten and never fulfill a purpose.

For high school, I attended Ruth Asawa School Of The Arts, an art school located in San Francisco where I specialized in Creative Writing. In order to qualify for a place, applicants had to submit a portfolio which included three short stories, ten poems, and one play. The day I received my acceptance letter, my mother treated me to a fancy dinner to deliver the news, but I had already read the email, so I faked surprise over a bowl of hot soup.

I don’t know what I would’ve done without SOTA. Art school offered me an environment in which to groom my abilities; within my four years, I’ve earned multiple awards in poetry competitions such as the SFUSD Literary Art Festival, where, in sophomore year, I won first place. But most importantly, this artistic space is what nurtured my ability to handle criticism. In my writing class, we must participate in peer-editing workshops, and routinely putting myself in that state of vulnerability is what ultimately chiseled out my confidence. I have learned that artwork is separate from the artist; if one insists on viewing their artwork as an extension of themselves, constructive criticism becomes personal insult, and one will never improve.

My fiction pieces tend to lack plot, but I feel this more accurately reflects real life, which does not always channel the hyperbolic, frenzied momentum often depicted in literature. In the stories I write, I hold absolute control over what happens. I have learned to instill a similar control in my own life, treating my world as something malleable to be influenced rather than a body that has inflexible power over me.”

Angelica LaMarca, class of 2018

On the Senior Thesis by Anna Geiger

As I near the end of my four years in the Creative Writing department at School of the Arts, I have begun writing my senior thesis that will embody everything I have accomplished here, from the development of my writing skill to the development of my understanding of myself and the world around me. neatly bound together in print for my friends and family to enjoy, file away, and forget about, as I will most of my memories of high school. What I will take with me are recollections of my years in the Creative Writing department, the tightest-knit and most fruitful community I have ever been a part of. As small a community as the department is, I have learned the writing style and voice of every other student, and realized how much I can discover about others through understanding their perspectives. Having spent hundreds of pages pouring over the junctures of other students, I have empathy for the unique experiences of every individual, and each of their time-worthy moments that has amounted to their present experience. Never before in my life has a community made me feel so safe, confident, or excited to discover the stories of a myriad of new people upon leaving high school.

In addition to taking the time to understand the thoughts and experiences of other people, Creative Writing has led me to do the same with myself. Learning to translate into writing years of watching the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge and dreaming of fog signals, dancing down neon Bourbon Street and swaying to the jazz of Congo Square, getting lost in the reels of the Internet Archive, has allowed me to appreciate and reflect upon my time as a teenage to an extent that I couldn’t otherwise. Taking every night to relive a new experience through writing has molded me into someone who takes no experience for granted. If I had not spent hours in a tent under lantern light scribing the sound of Aspen tree leaves in breeze or the quiet peace of my childhood home, I would never remember to appreciate them in times less tranquil.

Reading my thesis in its pristine, printed final form, there is a symbiosis between the richness of my language and the richness of my experience; each year they grow together. In studying metonymy and synecdoche, in memorizing the meter of a sestina, in reading Sappho and Hemingway, I learned the significance of every moment, and the detail that it deserves. Because of this education, I have felt the elation of hearing my words performed on a stage and reading my poems in the pages of a literary magazine. It has never ceased to awe me that the thoughtfulness which undercurrents my writing could inspire someone else to view life through the same open and optimistic lens. It is my hope that my thesis will be that catalyst. So when I am next asked “What do you even do in Creative Writing?” I will laugh and say “I have examined and interpreted a thousand moments, found the joy and lessons in each of them,” and hand them a copy of my senior thesis.

Anna Geiger, class of 2018

Preparing for a Unit Battle by Emily Kozhina

Last year, I found myself in awe of the previous sophomores and their unit lessons about their culture. I knew that there would be a day that I would be in their socks, but I didn’t think I would find myself there so quickly. When I found myself sitting with the CW I circle, poems from my culture in my hand, and my rehearsed lesson plan lodged in my throat, I felt the pressure surging through every word I tried to speak.

Though I found myself panicked at times, unsure if the poems I picked worked (considering I was the third sophomore to center my lesson with pieces around communism), or if anyone would have something to say about my choices. Thankfully, with assigned prompts and long pauses of thought, I found myself leading a full discussion between the students, who raised their hands and voices with interpretations. The group discussions grew smoother with each poem as they familiarized themselves with these poems that took my long summer days to analyze.

In the end, once I sat patiently, waiting for my unit reflections, I felt proud of the work I had done, and thought to myself, “I can do this again, no problem,” which I will continue to believe until I once again find myself with packets in hand, throat suck, and my mind whirling. Until then, I’ll be preparing.

Emily Kozhina, class of 2020

Divination by Max Chu

When you google the definition of divination, what pops up is the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means. As always, the dictionary is half right. In life, there is a natural forward entropy, or fally-apartyness, that everything animate and inanimate possesses. Everyone will die, every country will fall apart. Every mountain will crumble, and every star will fall apart or brilliantly detonate. In this pessimistic way to view the world, there is no point in reading the future, learning from the past, or even existing at all. When you look at things in the grand scheme, most everything is pointlessly pointing in circles. Life points to death points to life. Or if you will, creation points to destruction points to creation excetera. It’s all just circles.

However, we live in just one circle of this everlasting cycle, and so theoretically everything happening to us should be all new. In one lifespan, the future is as blind as the past, or it technically should be. However, we have writing and speech and such, and so we as humans have begun to analyze the past. And such is a form of divination: looking for patterns in past things that repeat over and over again to tell where and when they will repeat in the future. This can be politically, socially, anything with a broad, well categorized history. This is the stuff that is touched upon in all the pop culture cliches about immortals. They’ll say something along the lines of, “I’ve seen this all before! History Repeats Itself™!” and the protagonist will be like, “No, it’ll be different!” The good novels and literature will then eventually circle back to the beginning at the end of the book, with some easy poetic closure.

Now there are of course other ways to tell the future. One way is through the Chinese I-Ching. The I-Ching goes as such: one throws two coins, and if they’re the same, you mark even. If they’re different, you mark odd. One does this six times, then reads the proverb and prediction for the corresponding series of evens and odds. Another method is through Tarot cards. Another is through divining tea leaves. There are many ways to tell the future, but the most reliable (in my opinion) is ones that utilize chance.

The idea of looking at the future through something that can be different or the same any time that you do it is the idea of tapping into the natural entropy in the universe. The idea of randomness is the exact same idea that is slowly building the future, as well as pulling apart the universe. So it only makes sense that when you throw coins, the result will have something to say about the future.

And finally, it is important to note that when you seek out the future, nothing is definite. Any “prediction” that you can receive can only ever be a lens in which to see events unfold. For an analogy, imagine a beam of light shining on a painting in a gallery. The beam is clear and you can make out the ocean and men and women in this painting. However, someone comes along and holds up a red colored piece of glass to the light. Suddenly the painting is bathed in red light. It is still the same painting, with the same strokes and frame, but the ocean looks like it’s full of blood and the people’s skin have changed color. There’s a different perspective on the same situation. This same idea can be applied to divination.

Next time you throw the dice, or get a Tarot reading, remember the natural entropy in the universe is giving you a lens in which the future is recommended to be viewed. The recommended setting.

Max Chu, class of 2020

A Day of Silents by Ren Weber

San Francisco Art and Film for Teens holds Art Saturday every other weekend, taking Bay Area students to the many galleries, museum exhibits, and art festivals that San Francisco has to offer.

This Saturday we attended A Day of Silents at the Castro Theater. It was a full day of cinema with silent-era films set to live music, put on by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. With Art & Film I had the opportunity to watch The Rat, a 1925 silent film about a man named Pierre Boucheron, otherwise known as “The Rat,” king of the Paris underworld. What really sold the film for me was that it was musical accompaniment by Sascha Jacobsen and the Musical Art Quintet.

Quoting the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website, “Jacobsen is the founder of the Musical Art Quintet, which performs his original compositions, and plays bass in the group, along with Matthew Szemela and Michele Walther on violin, Keith Lawrence on viola, and Lewis Patzner on cello.” The quintet’s accompaniment enhanced the silent film’s excitement and suspense, as the live music, timed to fit each scene’s tone perfectly, filled the theater. During brawls and dramatic sequences, the music had a low, ominous tone, whereas  scenes with romance and intrigue were met with soft, soothing violin melodies that support the silent film stars longing looks.

Many people have perceived silent movies to have lost their cultural relevance and value, yet, in many ways the style of silent films is still being emulated, with modern films imitating the grainy and subdued washes and tints created during the silent-film era to signify a certain mood. At A Day of Silents I learned that with the proper musical accompaniment silent films can be just as gripping and charming (or even more so!) than the films we see in cinemas today.

Ren Weber, class of 2020

Learning How to Drive by Juliet Roll

Recently in my junior year I have begun my venture into the world of the American streets. By that I mean I have begun learning how to drive. I’ll be honest, it’s been rough. The cinematic scene of the teenage girl hitting the road seems far from my reality of jerky steering and lurching halts at the red light. No, it hasn’t been easy, but I think driving has given me a whole new perspective on my position in the world.

As a passenger, your perspective is passive. You lean your head against the window and you watch your neighborhood go by. The movement of the cars around you appears timed and orderly and jeez! Why can’t your dad just park in one go? But as a new driver having that control is unnatural and horrifying. You suddenly have to think about every move you make, the cars around you, and how to get to where you’re going. It’s scary, especially being aware that you could get into an accident, but I’ve learned to be more observant. As a writer, detail and specificity are so important. When I’m driving I find myself focusing on the color of every sign, how each pedestrian walks, and the layout of every block. Driving has given me a new freedom and I can go through the world so differently from how I did before. I feel this is truly the transition from my childhood to my adulthood.

Julieta Roll, class of 2019

Looking Forward by Solange Baker

Junior year is a strange time, I’ll put it at that. It’s the year when everything you do and every grade you get starts to truly impact your college choices. But Junior year is also a limbo year; where you’re not quite at the end yet, but you can see the light at the exit of the tunnel. In addition, having Senior friends allows me to see what’s in store for me next year. So as my elders frantically submit their UC applications, I cheer them on from the sidelines, secretly dreading when it’ll be my turn. This is something I appreciate about SOTA, though. There is a unique relationship between grades that comes from us being a small school and having different grades interact in our art. My friends at other schools don’t know everyone in their grade, much less those above and below them. But at SOTA those boundaries are broken through the inherent structure of our school.

At SOTA, we have a block schedule and three academic classes a day. Since we give up half of our day to be dedicated toward our art, we only have five academic classes total. Everything rotates around our art and as a result we have to cram in academic credit requirements. Although by the time you graduate you’ll have all the credits you need without a problem, what it means is that you generally don’t have electives until Junior year. Last year I loved signing up for my classes. I’ve tested out of language so I had a free period to fit an elective into. I also go to choose between English, science, and math classes. I’ve found that getting to chose your classes allows for much greater enjoyment of them.

So clearly, potential Creative Writing applicant, you have a lot to look forward to. High School and college seem like looming unavoidable horrors, but in reality they’re great opportunities through which you’ll evolve and create community. I look forward in nervous anticipation to my Senior year, but right now I’m focusing on getting through this year and all the growth and fantastic contingencies it brings.

Solange Baker, class of 2019

Haiku by Xuan Ly

For the past month, Heather has led the freshmen and sophomores through a six-week poetry unit. We have read and analyzed many wonderful poems such as E.E. Cummings’ “Chanson Innocente,” Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” and Rupert Brooke’s “Sonnet Reversed.” We have explored concrete poetry (or shaped poetry), open form poetry, and traditional form poetry. The most recent traditional style we have learned about is the haiku.

This form of traditional poetry originates from Japan. The Japanese courtsmen would pass letters in 5-7-5 form for the recipient to respond in 7-7 syllable form. This five line, 5-7-5-7-7 syllable poem they would create is called the tanka. The haiku comes from the longer tanka, taking only the beginning 5-7-5 part. Courtsmen would write about a single moment in nature that expresses something larger than the haiku describes. For example, this haiku about the emotions the speaker felt after a staring eye-to-eye with a snake by Kyoski:

The snake slid away.
But the eyes that glared at me
Remained in the grass.

This poem describes moment after locking eyes with a snake. The glare stays in the speaker’s mind similar to an afterimage. The first line slips off the tongue like a snake slithers smoothly through grass. One of the words that stands out the most is “glared” in the second line. It breaks the silky feeling that the first line gives. The word “glared” portrays an intensity of the moment that cannot come across by using a word like “gazed.” The third line, “remained in the grass,” signifies the impression that the snake left on the speaker. It also could represent the shedding of the snake’s skin that often shows change. If this poem were taken into the context of real life relationships, the snake could represent someone that came in and out of the speaker’s life but left a lasting impression that the speaker cannot forget. There are so many ways readers can interpret this haiku, which is one of the most amazing aspects of this traditional form.

Haikus may be one of the most well-known forms of poetry. The haiku is seemingly straightforward, but as we learned this week, haikus complement Japanese culture’s appreciation for nature and simplicity. We also experienced the difficulty in creating such a short beautiful representation of nature and life relationships. In class, Heather had us collaborate with the person to our right to create a tanka. One person would begin by writing a haiku. We would then pass the poem to the next person for them to respond in two lines written in 7-7 syllable form to complete the tanka. The result of the tankas were astonishing. The thoughtful lines and responses connected so well. Despite the similarities of nature and love, each tanka was entirely unique to themselves.

Writing haikus is much for difficult than throwing words into a form. Haikus are intended to express nearly indescribable emotions and surroundings in only a few syllables.

Xuan Ly, class of 2021