Hunting for Poetry by Benjamin Leuty

Hunting is the wrong word. It is only fitting that this blog post about writer’s block should begin with a contradiction. But hunting is the wrong word. Too brutish, too primitive. As if I’m leaving the house wearing nothing but fox pelts, a notebook in one hand, and a club in the other. I’m leaving with neither and I wear regular person clothes. Sometimes I’m not leaving the house at all.

That first paragraph is perhaps the most appropriate example of my dilemma. Absent-minded musings about “hunting” and “poetry” and “foxes,” disgusting. I’ve been scouring the internet for some time now and much to my chagrin, most of the articles and remedies for writer’s block are written with an aura of thin detachment like the authors, between bouts of writer’s block, have already forgotten what it was like. So I thought to myself “Hey Benny, you write. You’re a writer. You write. You should write about writer’s block but not after you’ve overcome it, while you’re still in its grip,” as a catalog of sorts for future study. Genius. What my writing has been lacking for some time now is any sense of urgency and forward motion. I might enjoy individual sentences within that first paragraph, but altogether it doesn’t really get the reader anywhere, not to me at least.

It’s easy to chalk up this lack of focus to the quarantine and not my approach to writing but that notion is the opposite of comforting. The idea that writer’s block could swing in like a train (wait a sec); the idea that writer’s block could snuggle (nope); the idea that writer’s block could suddenly creep up on me like some sort of lizard-bug (time to move on) has the power to stick with me and keep me doubting any future success I have in writing. I refuse to live the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, wondering when I’ll suddenly be unable to write again. So ok, forward motion. What have I been doing to counteract this writing lethargy?

When I have writer’s block, it does not mean I am lacking in some kind of nebulous creative energy or divine writer’s karma, just lacking the ability to string that creative energy together in the moment. So I’ve been training myself to pounce on any remotely interesting thoughts I have and let them stew for a while in my notes app instead of immediately trying to jam them into a poem and forgetting them. Perhaps this is why I used the word “hunting” in the title. One part of me has hidden the poems, and they do not want to be found, and the other part of me is seeking them out. Eventually, I discover my poems in bits and pieces. Coaxing them off the street and into my notes app. Here are my notes after a short walk through my neighborhood:

  • I want to hop that fence
  • Some days I only see the sun in windows and mirrors
  • A ball bouncing against the rim
  • Brake lights = very red
  • DUCK QUACK QUACK DUCK
  • Fireflies and embers
  • Yummy stew (I never said these were all good)

And here is the rough draft of a poem I wrote the following week:

Noriega

                       I crave a “hop the fence” kind of certainty 

I crave the truth                                 until it turns me brake light red 

And some days I only see the sun 

Through windows and mirrors.

And some days I only see the sun. 

                                                          And speaking of red, some days fireflies 

                                                                    And embers are the same     

And some days, 

across from the burger restaurant,

The old men congregate to smoke cigars beneath 

This week’s billboard for cannabis. 

      

                                                               I see them on my walk.

And speaking of the restaurant 

      See at the condo beside it 

   Standing above the houses, standing 

Or leaning   against the grey sea   

See the planter bursting with too much dirt, bursting

                                                                       And now I stroll towards the ocean.

Look, there are basketball courts 

Where the school was

                                                           The ball bouncing on the rim sounds the same

Regardless of where it falls- 

Through the hoop or not.

Regardless of where it falls

And it scares me. 

Reach the ocean.

Find the Bird scooters and Lyft bikes 

Abandoned or locked by the beach’s edge

A ball will never bounce on sand 

A condo will never be larger than the sea

Embers and fireflies both start fires 

Not all fences are chainlink 

Some have teeth 

And minds.

It is by no means polished, but this piece is the first step towards slowly lifting myself out of this writing rut I’m in. One poem at a time. 

Benjamin Leuty, Class of ‘22

Apocalypse: Day 40 by Benny Leuty

I’ve spent many days shadowed by the feeling that we are drawing ever closer to the complete final destruction of the world, an utter apocalypse. The “we” in that last sentence, changes every day. On Friday, for example, “we” was just me and the catalyst for the apocalypse was a missing English assignment. On Saturday, “we” was everyone and the threat was climate change. Today, the “we” was one of my favorite professional cyclists and the impetus for his doomsday was a thigh bone fracture that nearly ended his career. And how could I talk apocalypse without talking COVID? 

I’ve begun to catalog many of my mini apocalypses. The only rule that I have for myself is that I get it on paper. The more interesting apocalypses become poems, short stories, or personal narratives. In one of my earlier apocalypse writings, which would eventually become a short personal narrative, I discovered my retainer no longer fit after not wearing it for a week. In it, I reflected on, and eventually came to terms with, how weird it was that I was fretting about crooked teeth during a global pandemic. But even the less interesting apocalypses usually still get a sentence or two. Shortly after my routine was established, I realized that there are very few apocalypses I can think of that literally spell doom for the entire planet. Even in some of the worst scenarios, there is usually a Noah and his ark and the fish below it. There are almost always survivors of the zombie horde and a case to be made for zombies themselves being “alive.” My day to day “apocalypses” are important to me. Not only because of what they take away from me and stop me from completing but because of what I continue to do in spite of them. I brush my teeth, I eat lunch, I ride my bike, I write. My apocalypses reveal to me what I could let go of. Going to bed later than midnight is one thing I should do away with. My base functions are revealed to me. Because “apocalypse,” in Greek, is a verb. Apocalypse is something that is done. It means to uncover, reveal, and lay bare and I welcome that.

Benny Leuty (Class of ’22)

Freshie By Benjamin Leuty

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

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

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

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

Benny Leuty
Class of 2022