Writing Inside-Out, by Isi Vazquez

Writing a poem is always a sort of backwards thing for me. I tend to do it first as a layout of generally what I want in it, a really rough outline of the poem, like the gesture sketch of a character before you actually start to put any details in. After that, the drawing metaphor stops working, unless you draw an eye and then a finger and then a nose and then decide that the person doesn’t actually need fingers, and that you like the drawing with just one eye, which most artists don’t generally do when they’re drawing people. At any rate, poems are less straightforward than a drawing, at least for me. They always tend to have hidden lines that I have to write seven or eight times before I get them quite right, and there’s always that weird feeling at the beginning and the end, when you’re not sure if that’s really where the piece starts or where it ends. Poetry is less about the artist themselves and more about organizing twenty-six letters in a way that they need to be.

The actual process of writing a nice piece that you can turn in to some publishing companies or, infinitely more frightening, your creative writing teacher, is a convoluted process for me. I sketch it out, and then I detail it in. The original draft for a lot of poems is very loose and raw, and often makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. This actually used to be really discouraging for me, since when reading you only get to see the nice, polished, finished work and sometimes I forget that a lot of editing went into that final product, and the author didn’t just miraculously spit it out and show it to the world. I’ve since had it drilled into me that editing is a) vital, and a part of every piece, and b) one of the things I enjoy most in writing. It’s always so much harder to get out that first bit of what you want to say. Once that’s all out, you can take away words and phrases that don’t make sense, and add words and phrases that are appropriate.

There’s also that phrase in writing – kill your darlings. Take out bits of a poem you love, because it doesn’t have a place or doesn’t fit or is simply unnecessary. That’s the hardest part of editing. I have a couple documents that are just bits and pieces of old writing that I loved and had to take out. They’re recyclable – you can use them in other stories if they fit. It’s always a fun exercise when I write a poem based around the fragment of another poem I really liked.

Writing a poem is an inside-out process for me, because my brain thinks in weird, wiggly, jumpy patterns. Everyone thinks differently, and everyone writes poetry differently. Don’t be afraid of your poems, and don’t berate yourself because you have a different process than so-and-so. Just write your own way, in your own time, and hopefully find something in it you love.

Isi Vasquez, class of 2019

Little Notes by Isi Vasquez

Lately, to start off class, the head of Creative Writing, Heather, has been having us write little notes to each other. Just something nice to a random person in the department, or a book recommendation, or a secret, or something like that. It’s a quiet sort of ritual. We tell each other brief little stories at the beginning of class every day. It’s become one of my favorite things to do, simply because I get a sweet little note from someone, and get to give a sweet little note to someone else. Before Thanksgiving, our prompt was to tell our person what we were thankful for. I got a note saying that my person was thankful for me.

I’m only sharing this because I’ve had a terrible few days, and it’s a nugget of gold in this field of coal. I’m sharing this because I want everyone who reads this to know that if they want to be part of this community, we will welcome you, and we will find you a safe place. Even if it feels like everything is falling down around your ears, we will find you a safe place, a place where at least there is one thing that is positive. Yes, this is cheesy, yes, it might even be cliché, but it’s also important. If you feel down, someone will care. If you feel lonely, someone will help. If you need to talk, someone will listen. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for these small moments that I get every day that make things seem not quite so bad.

Isi Vasquez, class of 2019

hometown of harlem by Isi Vasquez

hometown of harlem

all of us, haulin and singin and spillin juice. mister charlie
is a-comin, and we all gotta run, but not ’til we get what’s due. the reefers  are droppin
the stomp of our feet
the ofay don’t deal in coal,

but we do.

we’re all in west hell, deep below, sell out
dressed in our righteous rags, draped down.
collar a nod, hear our words
we’re aunt hagar’s kids, we’re just like you.

all these frail eels, and i, coal scuttle blond, all of us smokin

each other.

and all these jar heads tryin to catch our attention, but all the girls are here
for each other.
the old cuffee girls, with the gut-bucket beat, stayin here long after the song is done.
don’t want to go home to thousand on a plate and the bear.

young suits, but lovely faces.

the big apple ain’t been good to us, but we made our way here.

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One of the most interesting things about writing poetry, for me, is how you just end up with so many words that you had no idea were used. This poem was an assignment for my LGBTQ + studies class. We were supposed to write about the Harlem renaissance using language from then. The writing process of this piece was really interesting! I had to learn a lot of language, and look up how to use it. I watched videos on what slang people used and put together a list of phrases that I liked best. It was really interesting and a completely new experience for me, writing a piece with language that I wasn’t that familiar with. The process of putting this all together was a really incredible experience, and really interesting. Language is such a fun, lovely thing.