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

Response Poetry Unit by Leela Sriram

I have never been particularly excited about writing poetry. I felt as if my work wasn’t “poetic” enough and I would spend hours deleting and rewriting the same line trying to tweak it into perfection. On the first day in Creative writing, I knew that our performance poetry unit was going to be our first, which stressed me out a little bit because I didn’t have much confidence in what I wrote. As the school year has been progressing, my poetry has been improving slightly each time I write and compared to my summer work I believe I have improved drastically.

Currently, Creative Writing is split into two classes, CW I (a class for the freshmen and sophomores) and CW II (a college-style seminar for the upperclassmen.) In CW I, we are learning about responding to poetry in our new unit, which I like to call our “Response Poetry unit.” Initially, I was a bit daunted by this idea of mimicking the form and style of other poems, mainly because I didn’t really know how to properly use certain literary devices, but after giving these “response poems” a try, I feel more confident in my ability to respond to poems and share out in class. One of my favorite things about our “Response Poetry unit” is that we have a lot of freedom regarding what we can write about, but the poems have to be in a certain format, such as four three-line stanzas and a couplet. So there is a lot to work with within the format, which gives some guidance.

For our “Response Poetry unit,” we have been writing a poem a night, for our project where we make a book filled with all these poems. When first learning about this assignment, the making of a book filled with poetry that we have written in response to other poetry really interested me. Here is a poem I wrote and turned in for this unit, inspired by “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

13 Different Ways of Looking at the Moon

I

Within darkness,

The only thing disturbing

The void, was the glow of the crescent moon

 

II

Wind blew idly by,

As crevices

Creeped up upon the surface

 

III

The Moon Lady is solitary, they say

But she has the sun, for an eternity.

 

IV

The ocean bleeds onto sand

As the First Quarter moon hovers, heavily

 

V

Seven hungry men

Run through every crater

Searching for

The mythic moon cheese

 

VI

Sometimes,

If you look close enough

The moon

Has three eyes

 

VII

The full moon

Enchants the earth

With its melted-silver glow

 

VIII

What is it like to be the moon

To look out at a sea of stars,

Yet the only thing sparkling is you

 

IX

In Between the trees

And the waning gibbous moon

Another twinkle appears

But its just a plane

 

X

Maybe the moon’s

Not just a fan of the dark

But also enjoys time with the sun

 

XI

Drenched in rainwater,

And the moon is still

Shining

 

XII

A tear rolls down

Its rocky crevised face

But the tear never falls off the surface

 

XIII

We fly from coast to coast

In a pitch black sky

The waning crescent moon,

Is always with us.

 

-Leela Sriram, class of 2023

Happiness is a Warm Gun by Tess Horton

I will admit, through gritted teeth, I miss—and mourn—the poetry unit. This sentiment is strange indeed, for I do consider myself to be a grander writer of fiction, and although I respect poetry and understand its’ appeal, I tend to detest the act of creating it on most days. What a funny thing it is, because as soon as I need not write poetry any longer, I suddenly have the incentive to do so!

As a product of this grudging realization, I have written poetry with sad fingers during class, as we speak of, admire, and discuss stories by Bernard MacLaverty, Italo Calvino, and Edward P. Jones. Through bouts of impulse I scrawl haphazard lines of prose, swimming in and out of structured language and the opposite. I am inclined to write poetry now, and yet the words I write are absolutely and utterly vile: a disgrace to poetry itself. That is why I will share the poetry I wrote last semester, while I was under the influence of disgust and bitterness—somehow, I managed to conjure somewhat of a poem. Why can’t I seem to amalgamate words like I did not two months before now? This world is a cruel one.

 

Able-Anna, Able-Anna

She walks between a guided path,

Toes of lace, dipped in a bath

Of early morning breath of birds

It drips below her feet-cut thirds

And with the candle placed in her palm,

She twists the wax and hums a song,

Fit for a king, fit for a man

Of humble words, from South Sudan

She wanders to, from fro and back

With nothing left to whom she lacks.

 

O’ Anna knows she is forlorn

She has been, too, long since the mourn

When little boys breathed in her ears:

“Anna, O’ Anna, You have more tears!

You must go back to the weary tomb

Where lies your birdies, since the womb—

They call you now, they have since noon!”

And so she did, she upped and left,

With nothing but a mood; bereft

She felt as if she were not able

To see the light from which the sable

Dress she wore sucked away till drought

Past meaning; the past without

Her faith in what she knew as opposed

To Mordecai on the tip of her nose.

 

She wanted nothing but a small, brief taste

Of the bitter paste served once, with haste

Perhaps, she thought, it would be sweet

To add a bout of sick, petite

She’d read the words on paper-thin

Turned the ink before the tin

And once old Gideon had said enough

She’d turn back to the door; a bluff

Bite into the muted, whispered words

Flee again, past mountains, past birds

Back to the path she knew and heard.

 

Tess  Horton, class of 2020

Thank You, Lara by by Emily Kozhina

During my past two years in the Creative Writing department, I considered myself a fiction writer, and if not that, then a novice playwright, but I never once thought of myself as a poet. I went through two poetry units with a passionate disdain for stanzas, similes, and simply anything most would associate with “poetry.” That being said, the thought of moving into Creative Writing 2 (the poetry and non/fiction unit for upperclassmen) terrified me. Not only would I have to read and write poetry, but it would be in an older group setting, with more experienced students that probably have grown to love poetry. I couldn’t imagine why.

Our poetry artist in residence for Creative Writing 2 was Lara Coley, a San Francisco poet with a niche for knives. As nice enough as she seemed the first day, I wasn’t convinced that she, of all people, could change my opinion on poetry. The unit began exactly how I imagined, reading poetry to discuss in class, writing in-class prompts, and talking about writing poetry. Maybe if I just don’t work too hard, these few weeks will fly by, I thought. So I planned to simply wait it out, reading and writing the poetry I was assigned to, and pray I would survive.

But Lara caught me on a baited hook. By the third (maybe even the second) day, I found myself excited to come to class. I wanted to write poetry. This was a shock in itself. How could two years of despising poetry suddenly disappear? I still can’t answer the question, not fully. Part of it must have been Lara herself, her daily positivity and willingness to open up to us, laugh at our jokes, see us as more than teenagers in some artsy high school. We were writers to her, poets, even.

Another part surely had to do with the prompts Lara assigned. From using lines from a self-help book to answering questions that our writing supposedly answered, they were all prompts I wanted to write to. It felt like my poems were suddenly more than just stanzas and stanzas of wondering about the vague and impersonal. Each poem I wrote in that unit meant something to me, held a piece of my truth I wanted to share, which is everything I thought writing should be. I realized poetry didn’t need rhymes, and it didn’t need to be deep. With this seemingly minuscule discovery, my entire perspective on poetry shifted.

I now like to consider myself a poet. I find myself writing more poetry than fiction, without any anxieties over if what I’m writing is “poetic enough.” I like to read poetry, and learning about different poets, both local and dead. I’ve learned the beauty in “ugly poetry” and that’s all I ever want to write. Of course, my love for fiction and playwriting hasn’t disappeared, I know now there’s no need to replace one form of writing for another. I simply learned to love poetry, and it’s all because of Lara.

Thank you, Lara. Thank you for being kind and patient with us, for believing in us and our writing. Thank you for showing me all the possibilities of poetry, and how I can obtain them. You’ve taught me so much during our unit, and I’m sure everyone would say the same. As much as I try, though, I don’t think I could ever thank you enough.

Emily Kozhina, Class of 2020

Chapbooks by Puck Hartsough

Last unit, Creative Writing was working on poetry, CW 2 with artist-in-residence Lara Coley and CW 1 with both Heather and in mini units led by the sophomores. At the end of the unit, both classes made variations of chapbooks, short paper booklets of the poetry we’ve written this year. Creative Writing 1 made accordion fold books, with a poem in each fold, and Creative Writing 2 bound little books by sewing two large stitches in the middle of a folded packet. CW 2 spent several days on our chapbooks, working together at times and asking each other for help or to pass certain tools and the like over the table. We each made at least three copies of our chapbooks, and some people chose to make each cover different, with different stamps or designs, while others decided to make the covers as similar as possible.

When we had finished our chapbooks, we spent a day making each other bookmarks. We each made eleven, one for each student other than ourselves, as well as one for Lara. We wrote about things we’re grateful for about the others, about how their writing inspires and impresses us, and how we’re so glad to have met each other.

The last day of the unit, we read our poetry out loud to each other. Just before each person stood up to read, another student would read the bio written at the end of their chapbook.

The bios ranged from goofy (discussing how one student would love to be on the beach right now) to impressive (a list of literary journals and websites where a student has been published), but every one matched the author they described perfectly, and every one made each of us so proud of how far we’ve come.

This unit was productive and enjoyable, and I’m glad we were able to work with Lara and each other to make it so.

Puck Hartsough, class of 2019

Sophomore Poetry Lessons by Zai Deriu

During our poetry unit, Creative Writing One spent some time being taught by the sophomores, each of whom had planned and then taught a lesson on poetry surrounding their culture and background. As each of the ten sophomores taught their lessons, the class felt almost purely student directed for a time, as Heather sat watching the lessons progress.

Every person taught a distinctly different lesson, ranging from poetry from Berkeley, to Canadian songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, to British grime rap. Every day a new topic was introduced and some new bit of information about a person and a culture was learned. In some lessons, class discussions continued into break time without anyone noticing, all so interested and eager to contribute.

The lessons required us to write a poem a night as homework. It helped me to explore new literary devices and topics by responding to various poets or styles. Some nights it was more difficult than others, when writer’s block became a large issue, but being forced to push through that and still turning in all my assignments on time made it easier to process my thoughts into poems despite obstacles.

Not only did responding to poetry creatively help to expand my own writing, but simply hearing different poet’s work made me think of all the different ways one may present their art. I had never particularly considered what exactly makes something a poem, and I still wouldn’t attempt to define one, however in quite a few lessons, music was used in collaboration with poetry. Playing music and my writing have always been things which were separate to me, but hearing and reading the range of styles made me curious to incorporate my music into my writing.

Seeing each of the sophomores present their carefully prepared lessons to the class made me think about how in a year, I and the rest of the freshmen class will have to do the same. I began to consider what aspects of my culture I might want to study and teach. I could pull from the Italian side of my family, and research poets from the area where my father was born. Perhaps I would consider researching poetry by LGBTQ+ people, having grown up with gay parents in the Castro, where the streets literally have rainbows on them. It made me excited to share an aspect of my background with next year’s Creative Writing One.

Zai Deriu, class of 2022

A Poem to Remember by Nadja Goldberg

Over the summer, I hiked for three and a half weeks through the Sierra mountains with an enormous backpack and a group of friends. Our boots trekked over beds of crisp pine needles, on trails of sheer, jagged rock, and along muddy meadow paths. As I breathed the open air and felt a flood of sunlight on my cheeks, I longed to capture the feeling of being so deeply immersed in nature.

One evening, after we set up camp on a floor of rock beside a river and ate rehydrated rice for dinner, I slipped a notebook and pen into my jacket pocket and started to climb a nearby hill. I clambered over heaps of boulders, continuing up and up. When I turned around, the rest of my group, huddled around a chess board, appeared as a small, brightly colored patch in the valley. Behind them, a row of immense granite mountains towered toward the sky. For miles in every direction was the untouched beauty of Earth. I have never felt so simply like an animal connected to the wild. I tried to write about this expansive feeling but each word that I scrawled on the page seemed to carry meaning too limited for what I craved to express. I descended the mountain with pages full of pen strokes covering phrases that I deemed inadequate.

As I climbed Bear Mountain one afternoon some days later, I began to form a poem in my head. When it became too detailed to retain in my mind, I sat on a rock next to the trail and fished my notebook and pen out of my backpack. The poem was addressed to my future self. I planned to read it once I returned to the city in order not to forget the pure, blissful world that had absorbed me:

 

Remember the Sky

Remember the river?
Your toes curl over slippery rocks,
soft gush
twists through the valley
bound by sprouted grass,
thin strokes shivering in the breeze.

Remember the mountains?
Enormous bodies
of stagnant power,
draped in a pine robe.

You sit on a rock at the top,
take full breaths
and recall when this spot
was a distant rift
in the serrated ridge.

Remember the bird?
Chirping faint and sweet
on a springy aspen branch,
Canvas tree trunk etched with eyes,
a flurry of leaves.

Remember the lake?
Sun-glazed surface drifts slowly,
reflects blurred cliffs and trees.

You leap from a rock
plunge
into soothing depths.

Remember the sky?
An unhampered sheet,
wisps of clouds unfurl
in peachy morning hues
behind hilltops.

At night,
you are focused on stars and planets
radiant dust across darkness,
and you are a part of it.

Nadja Goldberg, class of 2021

Sophomore Year by Lauren Ainslie

Early in the semester we were given an article titled, “Is Literature Dead?” We then analyzed and discussed the points it brought up, which mostly centered around the rise of technology and the decline of literacy. It was old news, but I still became depressed when it mentioned cell phone addiction and the decrease of recreational reading, as I am afflicted with both. But just as I thought my mood would be ruined permanently, I remembered something that happened a few weeks before.

This was my first year with Mr. Slayton, a freshman/sophomore English teacher. Something he does as a warm up before starting class is pass out poetry, and then ask us to discuss and write about it. I won’t get too much into how I loathe the way he goes about this, but it usually doesn’t inspire much response from the class. We usually doodle until he tells us the answer and then we write it down and turn it in. This process is quite disheartening as a Creative Writing student, seeing the wonder of poetry be permanently corrupted in the eyes of my peers, but I learned to accept it.

This was true until the day we were given “Meeting at Night” by Robert Browning. It was one of the few poems he gave us that I actually liked, and I was happy to write about it. It was light and romantic, and used wonderful concise imagery. The discussion was livelier than usual, students giving personal opinions and guessing at the true meaning of the poem, especially one student, named Ben (His name was changed for privacy). I knew Ben was smart, we had physics together the year before, and he was quite outspoken. But in English he didn’t seem to possess the same passion or drive to participate, until now. When called on he spoke for a number of minutes on how perfect the language was, how he didn’t usually like poetry, but this was “crazy.” I watched him stare at his paper with uncharacteristic focus, hear him mutter “Wow,” and even shake his head in disbelief. “Meeting at Night” by Robert Browning had touched him, moved him, as cliché as it sounds, and it he looked astonished at his own reaction… Ben, the person I least expected, appreciated poetry, and it was wonderful to watch, funny, even.

So when asked the question “Is Literature Dead?” I say no. It’s lethargic, a little worn, but not dead. Ordinary people like me or Ben can be moved by it at any day and at any capacity, and from that experience, I know literature will live forever.  

Lauren Ainslie, class of 2021

Poetry Unit by Solange Baker

After the fall show, Creative Writing separates into CW I and CW II. Our first unit is poetry. The CW II artist in residence is a wonderful woman named Lara Coley. This unit will last until the end of the semester and to conclude it, we are having a reading in late December and are making chapbooks. We get to pick the cover color of our chapbook, the title, and design the cover if we so choose. These are small decisions, but they help make the process more personal. Being a Senior, at the end of the year I will have my thesis done and bound, so I’m thinking of this as a mini version of that. It’s exciting to have a project to be working up to, even within a unit. It encourages me to reflect on my work to help make a more cohesive chapbook.

Generally, poetry hasn’t been my genre of choice. I’m still not writing traditional poetry, it’s more of prose, but even that hasn’t been what I typically write. But that’s one of the most valuable aspects of the Creative Writing department, and SOTA as a whole: you’re constantly evolving as an artist. I don’t know a single person in Creative Writing who will say they are the same writer they entered the department as. When I started my thesis I planned on it being predominantly plays with some fiction, now I’m thinking about adding some of the work I’ve been doing this unit. It’s nice to see that even as a Senior having nearly completed the program there are still new aspects of myself as an artist I have yet to discover— it’s exciting. But maybe that’s naive to say, because I’m only in high school, and we are forever evolving, forever surprising ourselves throughout our lives. I can’t wait to see how the rest of this unit unfolds in my own writing, and that of my peers.

Solange Baker, class of 2019

My Relationship With Poetry by Nina Berggren

What is poetry? To some people it is irrelevant, impossible to comprehend. To others, it is a puzzle waiting to be solved, filled with deeper meanings and compelling language. To me, poetry has always been an enigma. In the process of applying to SOTA, I wrote several pages of ambiguous lines about nature, utilizing careless line breaks with no rationale for doing so. This writing was meaningless. How did I expect anyone to gain something from my work when it possessed absolutely no significance to me?

Since then, I have undergone two fulfilling years in Creative Writing, complete with reading and analyzing classic and contemporary poetry, yet I still struggle to understand poetry on a daily basis. Just when I feel as though I’ve grasped the extent to which poetry can evoke emotions and influence readers, something takes me by surprise. A word or image will resonate with me, and I’ll find myself dwelling on it for days. Or a poem will trigger a profound memory within me that inspires me to create more art.

I strive to write poems that resonate, but writing poetry does not come easily to me. Though I have written countless stanzas and rhymes, I can’t bring myself to call the work I generate “poetry,” because doing so, seems to invalidate what poems do stir people to make change. For instance, we recently watched Il Postino in class, a film regarding famous poet Pablo Neruda. In this film, he writes some poems that instigate critical political controversy and others that make enamored women flock to him. His words elicit such passionate reactions.

In a historical context, poems have inspired whole movements, and I feel as though my feeble attempts at writing substantial pieces, don’t deserve to be called “poetry” as Neruda’s evidently do. I’ve been told that I am hard on myself, but the reality is that my “poems” are mere skeletons. Such obstacles like excess words or questionable syntax prevent my pieces from exuding the power and closure I intend to attain. I sit and think, trying to write what comes from my mind, but the result never feels sufficient. I believe that one day I will write a real poem, one that I can be proud of. Until then, I am content with writing endless rough drafts, for Creative Writing has opened my eyes to the value of poetry. Poetry articulates the unexplainable in a combination of perfect words and I look forward to further exploring this daunting art form.

Nina Berggren, class of 2020