Spring Poetry by Dalia Harb

For the past month, Creative Writing has been in our poetry unit. In this unit, the sophomores have each taught a one-to-two day lesson surrounding their culture. This unit has been enchanting and delightful. Each new theme has been refreshing and taught me something new. I have been able to explore new cultures and writing originating from it, and my own writing has evolved with each new style. The sophomores give us poetry prompts at the end of their unit, a way to extend the lesson past the classroom and allowing us to experiment with writing on our own.

These units have helped my poetical voice develop. Through workshopping and reading new pieces, my writing has improved immensely.

Being able to explore the different poems from multiple cultures has opened my eyes to the different styles of poetry. With each unit, my eyes have been opened to exciting new voices and forms of poetry.

If I were to teach my own mini-unit I would bring in some poems surrounding Middle-Eastern culture. I would bring in some poems, such as ones by Mahmoud Darwish and Naomi Shihab Nye.

This unit is different from our previous unit, fiction, because in our poetry unit we have a larger range of diverse writers. In our poetry unit it has been much more personal and, while teaching us plenty about the culture, it has taught us about the person teaching the unit too.

My favorite has been Solange’s unit which was focused African-American culture. Solange brought in poems and showed us music videos by artists like Solange Knowles, Beyoncé, and Todrick Hall. These were significant because she was able to compare contemporary African-American poetry to older works, and how both still combat the same issues.

We get weekend prompts as well from Heather Woodward, our department head. One of the prompts was to write a poem having to do with a conspiracy theory. This was our first one given therefore the weakest of my poems this unit.

When we turn in the prompt to the sophomore who assigned it, they read over and edit it. Then we fix the edits they had made. We’re to edit all of our poems from this unit and hand them in as a portfolio.

We will be able to use the poems we have written for our upcoming poetry cafe. The poetry unit has been my favorite thus far. It has given me the opportunity to delve into different cultures and enhance my knowledge on certain topics, such as Native American dances and the history of Tagalog. I look forward to see what next year’s poetry unit holds.

Dalia Harb, class of 2020

Solange Baker at Bringing the Noise for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Sophomore Creative Writer Solange Baker was one of the students selected by Youth Speaks to read at their 20th annual Bringing the Noise for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held on January 16, 2017 at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco.

SOTA CW recently worked with Youth Speaks and poet-mentor Trey Amos for a six-week unit on Spoken Word in preparation for the opening of our new Spoken Arts pathway in Fall of 2017

A Dip into New Waters by Eva Whitney

The beginning of the school year was filled with outings, such as going to the Museum of
Modern Art and the San Francisco Bay. These were to bring us closer together and build friendships between the Creative Writers.

On the Friday of the second week of school, the Creative Writing Department ventured to the tip of the city take a ritualistic dip into the water. We crowded on to the bus, huddled next to our new friends, towels and bathing suits stuffed into our backpacks. At the waters edge, we scrambled out of our clothes and barreled into the frigid bay. I was tentative, dipping my toe in at first to test the temperature of the water before fully submerging myself. I could only bear the water’s bite for a minute or so and then rushed onshore to join my peers. The freshmen stayed close to each other, whispering about the weather while the seniors balanced sophomores on their shoulders and splashed at each other. I reclined on the beach and watched as my new classmates rejoiced in the water. It was then I realized how fortunate I was to be surrounded by these people, not only as writers but as allies.

We parted ways, leaving on separate buses. I got on to my respective bus with new friends, and thought of the next four years of my Creative Writing journey. The first month left me feeling optimistic about what was in store for me. I could not wait to obtain the same confidence the seniors had, both with each other and with the world. On the Friday of the second week of school, I took a dip into the new waters of the Creative Writing department.

Eva Whitney, class of 2020

Chanukah and Kwanzaa by Lena Hartsough

My family celebrates Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa over the winter holidays.

We’ve taken to calling this mix match of holidays Christmachanukwanzakah, and I haven’t yet encountered another family who celebrates all three. In fact, many of my friends don’t know what Kwanzaa is. It is an African-American holiday not affiliated with any religion, and I’ve met people who think it’s a Muslim holiday from northern Africa.

Recently, I was able to go up to Yosemite for three days to take part in a teen winter retreat at a Jewish camp I go to. The two nights I was there were the fifth and sixth nights of Chanukah, and also coincided with Ujima and Ujamaa, two nights of Kwanzaa. I had been planning to bring some candles or electric tea lights to light, but in the rush that occurred the morning I left, I forgot. I remembered once we were already in Yosemite, and asked a few staff members if they had tea lights or black, red, and green candles. They didn’t.

So, when bedtime came around, I slipped out of the cabin to celebrate Ujima, the principle of “collective work and responsibility.” I ran into the counselor in charge of our cabin, who asked if everything was alright. I awkwardly told her I was celebrating Kwanzaa, which felt a bit odd after we had just lit the Chanukah candles. She nodded, and went back into the cabin.
My family always celebrates Kwanzaa by singing a song called “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as “The Black National Anthem.” I imagined a black candle for Umoja, the
first night, a red one for Kujichagulia, the second night, and a green candle for Ujima. Then I sang the first verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” quietly and a bit nervous that someone inside would hear. When I went back inside, the counselor asked if I could tell her about Kwanzaa the next day. I agreed.

The next night, before we went off to bed, all forty-one of us (plus some of the staff members) participated in a guided meditation that was about spirituality. I mostly thought about my Jewish identity, and realized almost for the first time that I am very proud of being a Jew. Later, just as I was getting in bed, I remembered that I had forgotten Kwanzaa, and got back out of bed. That night, Ujamaa, represents cooperative economics. As I was leaving the cabin, my friends asked where I was going. I told them I was going to celebrate Kwanzaa, and they looked a bit surprised. So when I came back in after imagining the candles from the previous nights and another red candle for Ujamaa, then singing the first and last verses of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” my friends asked me questions about Kwanzaa. I explained what I knew of the answers, and was again proud of my identity.

Celebrating an African-American holiday at a Jewish camp was interesting, to say the least. When I was considering spirituality, I left out Kwanzaa, and focused mainly on Judaism. Kwanzaa is, however, a big part of my spirituality, and my identity as an African-American is just as important as my identity as a Jew. Although I’ve been celebrating both Kwanzaa and Chanukah for as long as I can remember, and we’ve even combined the names to speak of our winter holidays, I’ve always thought of them as separate. After celebrating them both on the same night, but one with a large group of people and one alone, I have a new perspective on the two holidays.

Lena Hartsough, class of 2019

Bruce Connor: It’s All True by Ren Weber

“I am an artist, an anti-artist, no shrinking ego, modest, a feminist, a profound misogynist, a romantic, a realist, a surrealist, a funk artist, conceptual artist, minimalist, postmodernist, beatnik, hippie, punk, subtle, confrontational, believable, paranoiac, courteous, difficult, forthright, impossible to work with, accessible, obscure, precise, calm, contrary, elusive, spiritual, profane, a Renaissance man of contemporary art, and one the most important artists in the world. My work is described as beautiful, horrible, hogwash, genius, maundering, precise, quaint, avant-garde, historical, hackneyed, masterful, trivial, intense, mystical, virtuosic, bewildering, absorbing, concise, absurd, amusing, innovative, nostalgic, contemporary, iconoclastic, sophisticated, trash, masterpieces, etc. It’s all true.”
–Bruce Conner

It’s All True at the SFMOMA is a collection of Bruce Conner’s work over fifty years as a Bay Area artist. It’s an almost overwhelming exhibit: a combination of experimental film, photographs, collages, paintings, etc. My vivid recollection of this exhibit is due not only to Conner’s ability to stretch far across many genres and medias, but also how well he carried it out.

His first film, A MOVIE, is a twelve-minute edit of old newsreels. The non-narrative film is similar to others in the collection: incorporating a washed-out, hazy black and white style and also having no story, rather a collection of images or one long shot. CROSSROADS, made in 1976, is an extremely slow-motion replay of an underwater nuclear test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. The intense slow-mo gives the audience room to capture every detail as the mushroom cloud descends towards the camera, expressing a deliberate destruction. Conner, who is clearly a fan of replaying and rewinding clips, includes this in BREAKAWAY, my favorite in the exhibit. The five-minute movie is a black and white rendition of Toni Basil (known for “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine”) dancing to her song, “Breakaway.” The entire film is made up of very quick shots of Basil, rapidly changing from close-up to far away, all moving quickly so she looks feathered and a flurry of white against the black background. When the song is done the clip and track rewind, becoming an eerie, indistinguishable gurgle.

Besides the films, Conner showcased his paintings and assemblages, which often include different textures created with netting or fabric layered on photo collages. These pieces as well as his ink drawings have a distinct color scheme: monochrome, dusty brown, or beige. The exhibit has a wall dedicated to punk rock show photos, appropriately gritty and faded, and in the next room the “angels,” gelatin silver prints of human silhouettes with hands outstretched towards us. These collections of photographs, as well as his avant-garde films, relay a signature style of white figures against a black background.

With many artists these days, I feel there is an underlying fear of “stretching oneself out too thin” in art. At SOTA, with separate departments, the idea is furthered that we should hone one art. However, if anything, Conner’s art disproves this in a way. His work is a full, vivid, synchronized range of art that surpasses the limitation of genres, blurring the lines and filling the gaps between them.

Ren Weber, class of 2018

About Good Books by Liam Mullan

About Good Books to Follow And the Writing of Them

Of Finn McCool of county Antrim it is said he was a giant, but I never imagine that he was very big at all, for it is not his strength that is intimidating, but instead his wit and his broth that stirred within him from a very young age, and so when he heard of the Scottish red-footed giant Benandonner and his challenge to fight, he said “Okay” and with many black hexagonal stones made a bridge to Scotland and called to him from behind a cliff’s side that he was there to fight him and that he had made a bridge from Antrim with his own hands because he did not want to get his shoes wet, and when old Benandonner appeared he was much larger than Finn had thought and so he ran back home to Antrim and to Oona, his wife, said:

“Oona! For a Scottish giant named Benandonner is after me and he is currently crossing a bridge of hexagonal black stones I happened to make across the Northern ocean, and so I need you now to dress me as a baby and convince the poor man that I am our little baby son and you must also make a batch of griddle cakes and leave an iron griddle in the middle of one and say to him ‘Old Finn eats these all the time’ and perhaps then he’ll truly fear me and will never come back” And so this Oona did and she dressed her husband in baby’s clothes with even a little baby’s hat and sat him down upon a bed and when Benandonner knocked on their door said to him that Finn was out but that he would be home soon for a dinner of griddle cakes but in the meantime would he like to come in and see her baby son and also have a griddle cake, which I find very sweet and hospitable, and Benandonner of course said “Okay.”

When Benandonner saw the little baby, who was funnily enough Finn McCool of Antrim, he said that he had never seen a baby so big and he then became very nervous indeed, for if poor Finn’s baby was so big then how big was Finn himself! And so he broke a large rock and said to Oona look how strong he was that he could crack such a rock and she said it was impressive indeed and if he would like his griddle cake now and Benandonner of course said “Sure.”

Oona fed the red-footed giant his griddle cake and within it was the iron griddle itself and so when he bit down upon it out came three teeth and he said Damned is this, for if Finn eats this his teeth must be very big indeed and Oona assured him that this was Finn’s favorite meal and that never had he broken a tooth on it and she then fed a griddle cake to the baby, who was funnily enough Finn himself, but this time it was just a soft little griddle cake and had no hellish iron griddle within it, and so the baby ate it comfortably and it is then that it is said that Benandonner of Scotland wailed and screamed and ran from the house back to Scotland and destroyed the hexagonal black stones along the way so as to make sure old Finn never came back and then Oona and Finn laughed for many days.

☘ ☘ ☘ ☘ ☘

I tell you the story of Finn McCool so as to explain to you what it is I mean to have a sure and definite idea of the broth within you, which I can say I do, and that is all I know now for I am only a certain amount of years old and am not very wise or experienced, in fact I was just born, and perhaps when I am much older I will write a good book so as to tell you how I think you should live and the procedures you should complete to go about doing so, and I reference now what I believe to be the greatest book ever written and a beautiful account of the sad pauper life: “’Tis said in the good books that describe the affairs of the Gaelic paupers that it’s in the middle of the night that two men come visiting if they have a five-noggin bottle and are looking for a woman,” and so I believe one day my book should be the same and will tell you how it is you should be looking for a woman. But alas, I have never found a woman myself and was just born and so don’t have much more to say about that now.

Liam Mullan, class of 2018

Chair Stacks by Samantha Friedman

I had been thinking about endings as this year’s first semester came to a close. I was relieved, but not satisfied. It was the last period of the last day and I stood in the center of the Creative Writing room, desks sloppily pushed together and a sole candle quivering in the corner of a windowsill. I thought I would have written more, written better. I wished my grades were higher. There was enough left of my list of wants that I wasn’t ready to move onto the next chapter of my freshman year.

For my last story for the Fiction Unit, Heather and I discussed that I needed a different ending. At my computer I cried and screamed. I can’t do endings, I decided. I don’t want to write endings, or experience them, or think about them. Ever. My first semester went by so fast that the memories don’t feel like my own. It’s almost that I wasn’t fully present in the moments I can recall and the lack of awareness and appreciation makes them not count. I didn’t utilize the resources to improve my writing and I backed down from challenges. Looking back on that now, from after the end, is hard.

What makes an ending bearable? It’s not a steadfast finish. The world doesn’t topple over from its axis. There’s always more to come. On the last day of school I promised that in Creative Writing I’d learn from my regrets. I realized good things could come from an end. Our Artist in Residence, Carson Beker had the class listen to When it Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster. Foster wrote this story while ill, and used her ending to create something beautiful. Foster’s short story’s ending had something mine never had, a satisfying ending.

So on the last day before Winter Break, Creative Writing never started. The students were dismissed. We cleaned the room one more time, wiping tables and erasing the whiteboard. I brought the last chair to its appointed stack. Looking around the room one more time, I plopped the chair on top.

Samantha Friedman, class of 2020

Reflection on Marina Abramović by Julieta Roll

Marina Abramović is a Serbian performance artist born in Yugoslavia. In her nearly five decade career she has preformed radical and questionable feats pushing and defying the limit for
what art can be and what performance art can be. I went to see her talk with City Arts and Lectures, a privilege I had been given through the Creative Writing Department. It was at the Nourse Theatre with interviewer and mediator Maria Popova. I was completely blown away by this women. I was seated in in the balcony, straining to see the large yellow-lighted stage where the two women sat facing the audience in large upholstered chairs. They seemed so far away but when Marina Abramović spoke her voice echoed powerfully and filled the theatre space making her seem close, nearly touchable.

Some of Abramović’s most significant work includes “The Artist is Present” and “Rhythm 5” among others. “The Artist is Present” (2010) was shown in the New York’s MoMa where Abramović sat unmoving in a chair, a table and another chair opposite her. Visitors were welcomed to sit across from Abramović where she would simply maintain stable eye contact with the guest until they left. The piece lasted 750 hours, stretching over several months and thousands of people waited in line to sit across from the famous performance artist.

In “Rhythm 5” (1974) Abramović constructed a wooden star in which she soaked in petroleum, sprawled in the center of, and set on fire. The piece was brought out of Abramović’s thoughts on the strict Communist government that Yugoslavia lived under. In the interview she talked about how the Communist star was everywhere growing up: on buildings, in her house, on her birth certificate, and how she wanted to get rid of it, how she wanted to “burn it” so it was no longer apart of her. She also discussed while performing “Rhythm 5” she fell unconscious due to

the lack of oxygen in the burning star and how this frustrated her. She felt she had lost control and was angry at the fact that the body had limitations. I thought Abramović’s work raised the question “What is art?” and “Why is this art?” as her pieces were so unfocused from the traditional lense of the fine arts and even modern arts.

“I learned very early if you want to be an artist, not to compromise….I make my work without any compromise” said Abramović as she discussed the struggles she faced trying to become successful through her performance art. “The plumber had more money than the performance artists” she remarked. This inspired me greatly, to see a women who had come from so little and had made her way to place where she could talk freely about her ideas and create what she wanted. She spoke with such wisdom and gracefulness her words kept the audience at an attentive silence. I was extremely engaged the entirety of the talk, Abramović charismatic personality wrapping me and afterwards leaving me with more questions than I began with. Although this wasn’t a usual reading I did not exit any less inspired.

Julieta Roll, class of 2019

Notebooks by Max Chu

My notebook, in which I write all of my prompts and poems and draw all of my stick figures and mindless doodles, is larger than most; or at least larger than the standard composition notebook that one uses in math class, with the ruler and metric conversion tables. The cover is vibrantly red, with a three sided black diamond drawn in sharpie and a looted bar code sticker pasted in the middle. The pages are blank, not lined, and presumably are intended for professional drawings and paintings, but are instead covered in multicolored ramblings about the ocean and interesting words or phrases overheard. Everything about my notebook is uniquely me. Every inch has been touched or written on, and it’s been shoved in my backpack so many times that the corners are all crinkly. There are many stories in my notebook, literally and symbolically and if you ever meet me, ask to see it, and I will gladly show you the place where there used to be a sticker, but I decided against it, or a list of books I’ve been meaning to read, or some drawing that looks like it took seconds, but in actuality took hours.

Kenzo’s notebook is small and black and a very nice Moleskine, which he’s drawn all over with gold sharpie. The front has his initials, K.F., in the center of a diamond. Every one of the pages in his book is taken up by a comic strip in which two detailed stick figures are forever fighting. In fact, there are more drawings in his book than actual writing. You’ll see a place where he finished detailing a prompt, and then in the last minutes, drew an entire comic book. Harmony’s notebook is large, but not quite as large as mine. It’s light blue and somehow gives off the feeling of being cloudlike and holy. The pages are lined with a block at the top of the page for the date, in which I’ve seen her put quotes, drawings, and on occasion, the date itself. Huck’s notebook is a purple variation on the classic black composition. It’s contents are very too the point, no doodles or drawings, only sentences in Huck’s scrawled handwriting. It gives you the feeling that he’s someone like DaVinci or Newton, someone who’s thinking great thoughts at a rate that’s too fast for his hand.

Every creative writer has a notebook like this, where they put their deepest darkest, most controversial fears, or where they are outlining the next great dissertation. Each one is unique and reflects the writer’s own style and aesthetic so well that if a stranger were to look through the notebook, by the end of the reading they would know the person as if they were a friend. Every single thing that we put in our notebooks says something about who we are, from the size and style of our handwriting, to what’s in the blank spaces of our sentences. The variety of styles that you could find in creative writing just goes to show how much creative wiggle room we have; how much ability we have to express ourselves as the unique individuals that we are. The painters have their palates, the musicians have their solos. We writers, well we have our notebooks.​

Max Chu, class of 2020

My First Kirby Cove by Nina Berggren

When I arrived at Creative Writing’s annual camping trip to Kirby Cove, I came wide-eyed and eager to experience all of its glory. The Marin sun breathed heavily on our necks, and the tall, beautiful trees, provided a welcoming shade.

Late afternoon, all the Creative Writers went down to the beach, where the seniors struggled hilariously to dunk the freshman in the frigid bay, a refreshing, but also numbing, Creative Writing tradition.

When nightfall came, we gathered around the campfire to eat sausages, while listening to a delightfully creepy story, told by Sam, Heather’s husband. Following the story, the Creative Writers retired to the bunker for Hot Seat. What transpired at that time can not be repeated, but it brought us all together as a class and made me feel much closer to my peers.

It was two in the morning when Hot Seat concluded and tired writers began to give in to their exhaustion, shrinking away from the bunker and into their sleeping bags– all but a lively eight of us, who decided to pull an all-nighter. We sat around the fire with the dark, raccoon-infested forest at our backs, and the hot, crackling flames heating up our faces. Time slipped by as we listened to Max Chu (‘20) strumming his ukulele while we talked and laughed. My peers were slowly being exposed to my wild side, a result of me being delirious.

After a competitive game of “B.S.” we walking back to the ocean at around 4:30am. We treaded carefully across the smooth, icy stones to a nearby rope swing that had been used by tourists all day.The swing was now empty, but not silent. The foghorn sounded often in the distance. Heavy fog encircled us as we took turns soaring upwards on the swing, an exhilarating feeling that belittled any stress I once had.

After returning back to the campfire to warm up, we returned to the beach to watch the glistening stars give way to the soft light of dawn. The fog was thicker than ever and the Golden Gate Bridge was entirely shrouded in the white wetness. We watched the ocean transform from deep black to a crystal blue. The water swung repeatedly over the edge of the beach like the swing over the water. That moment was serene. I was amazed when a pink and orange glow was revealed, originally hidden by the fog. We watched the fog move and listened to the foghorn wish us good morning. I could now see the Golden Gate bridge in all its entirety, as well as downtown San Francisco’s skyline, a silhouette surrounded by warm, red and yellow hues. The colors deepened slowly and finally faded when the full sun could be seen. Wind followed us back to camp for coffee, muffins, and fruit, a glorious ending to my first Kirby Cove.

Nina Berggren, class of 2020