Learning How to Read With “Wren: Three Mirrors” by Zadie McGrath

Early in the school year, I walked into the CW classroom and was handed a printed-out copy of a poem. As the low buzz of conversation slowly faded, I skimmed through it, the seemingly incongruent words stirring my mind into panic. Before CW, the poetry I read had been simple and relaxing, easy to digest. I would read a poem or two in the evening, lulled by the fluidity of the words, comforted by them in a distant way. Poetry is abstract, I thought. When I wrote my own, I never went beyond the first draft because I liked the sound of the words. What I write, it doesn’t have to be intentional, I thought at the time. For me, poetry existed in a bubble that I was afraid to pop.

The poem we read, “Wren: Three Mirrors” by Michael Burkard, infuriated me at first—I could tell there was something I was missing as I annotated the poem, but whatever it was, it eluded me. The piece read more like a paragraph than a poem, and it switched rapidly from image to image, leaving me disoriented. “Like waking in the small room, looking out,” it began, “seeing the moon, almost down, through the pale/trees. So then the incompletion is waking…” It continued on like this, describing wings, mirrors, a woman, and finally ending with the bizarre words “I have/missed you like a donkey on fire, like a donkey.”

As we moved into a class discussion, though, I began to glean some understanding of the poet’s intentions. The poem didn’t let me walk away from it with only a distant reaction; it contradicted all the conventions I knew and soon had me scrutinizing every word. 

I came to the conclusion that the confusing imagery had all been a distraction—the speaker, trying desperately to distract themselves from the woman described at the end of the poem, focused first on the small room, then the moon, then the trees, and so on. Like waking in the small room, they said. Not Waking in the small room or I woke in the small room, but Like waking, as if the poem’s speaker was comparing waking to something else, and the act of waking was just an illusion.

After frantically scribbling my theory down, I raised my hand to participate in the class discussion. It was the first time I had spoken up without stuttering over my words or trailing off, unsure of what point I was trying to get across. Now, the urge to have a complete, resounding idea of what a poem is trying to say is the norm for me. My annotations sometimes turn into full-fledged analyses, and at break time during arts block, my friends and I trade our takes on whatever poem we’re working on with one another. Surprisingly, this doesn’t feel like doing extra homework voluntarily; it doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s just the way I interact with poetry, popping the bubble and letting all the air in.

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

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