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

Performance Poetry by Eva Whitney

Between the two introductory weeks of Creative Writing where we swam, visited museums, attended readings and got to know each other better, and our Fall show, there is an empty period of time. During my past two years in the department, we have filled these weeks with Spoken Word and Experimental Fiction lessons in which we were introduced to niche genres of writing. Both lessons were fulfilling and gave me a new perspective to incorporate into my writing for the following months. This year, we had a Performance Poetry unit taught by Taylor Duckett, a local spoken word artist and MFA student. With our daily practice of writing to music and analyzing lyrics, she introduced the idea that popular music can have literary qualities and that words on a page can have musicality.

The class compiled a playlist with each of our favorite songs. From “Wigwam” by Bob Dylan to “Feel it All Around” by Washed Out, there was great variation in the choices. For the length of the song, we would all write in response to the music. In the beginning, I found it challenging to write in conversation with the song, especially songs I had never heard before. I soon realized that the only way to learn how to mimic rhythm in a piece of writing is through practice. By the last prompt, it felt more natural to write to music than to write in silence. I found it interesting to watch what came to while writing based off of what I was listening to. This is an example of a prompt I wrote in response to “In the Kingdom” by Mazzy Star, a song complete with an organ introduction, a swinging guitar melody, drums, electric guitar solos, and a mellow female vocalist:

In Hawaii, the whole island grows dark at night. People sleep with the sun, the animals too. Streets, unlittered with lampposts, are wide and welcoming for the late-night bikers. On the beaches, small crabs glow and the moon, like a stadium light, illuminates the sand. If you want to stay awake, you have to go to the beach. The water turns gelatinous, and the fish hold their position until dawn. Once, I tried to swim in the water at night, but it would not accept me. I wish I was one of those Hawaiian sea creatures, cradled nightly by the sea.

In addition to writing to music, Taylor taught us about our writing as music. We had various assignments in which we would write poetry to a beat. I noticed how, with the knowledge that the piece would be set to music, my content changed. I no longer tried to create a narrative but chose words that sounded nice together, typically ending lines in a rhyme. My group and I created a ridiculous rap that would have read awfully on the page, but, set to a beat, had a good flow. I realized how difficult it is to write music that both sounds good and reads well on the page, and now understand why most musicians prioritize rhythm over meaning.

The performance poetry unit introduced me to the importance of rhythm in writing. Even if the meter is subtle, the innate pleasure one finds in a beat will improve their experience as a listener and add a foundation the piece. As we prepare for the upcoming Fall show, I find myself returning to the lessons Taylor taught us about reading to an imaginary beat, and how to attract the audience by doing so.

Eva Whitney, class of 2020

“I feel like an old oak door” by Max Chu

Over the summer I was in a funk. Whenever I tried to write, I got the overwhelming sensation that I was wasting my own time, in addition to whichever poor friend who had to read my own piece. For months this creeping sensation followed me, making itself intertwined with the heat of the summer like a cat in a curtain! I roamed about my day to day of summer nothings with this funk gnawing away at my creativity and only at night when it got cooler could I assess the damages. After the summer, I named this time in my life the “Funky Hours,” and out of the Funky Hours came nothing but that grey spitting funky mush.

The one and only salvageable thing I wrote over the summer came to me thusly, on the hottest day of the year. I was sitting at a kitchen table, sweltering. The window yawning, and through its mouth I could see the greater countryside of Britain. A man stood in front of me, and had been talking and talking for maybe days, who was I to say? I tip my chair back, and while balancing on the tip of two legs is when I deem it appropriate to evaluate how each part of my body is feeling, specifically (as I do in moments of great…inaction). I start with my toes, work up, and come to this conclusion, expressed best in the poetic form:

I feel like an old oak door

by Max Chu

              I
feel      like
an        old
oak
              door
.

This may be the best poem that came out of the Funky Hours. In the moment of conception, there was no doubt in my mind that this was the truest poem I could have written. As the author, I can tell you with full assurance that the speaker and the author are one, that the old oak door that the speaker describes is the same to the one that the author envisions in his mind’s eye! Therefore, whichever old oak door that the reader envisions the speaker to be envisioning is the same to the one that the author, me, is envisioning.

My godmother use to own this enormous house in the wilderness of Inverness. Whether it was actually in the wilderness and whether it was actually enormous is unknown to me, as I have not been back to the house since my childhood. However, in the mornings, my godmother would take a dog food dish and fill it with birdseed before leaving her front door and placing the food on the front porch. Then she would turn around and go back inside, closing the red old oak door behind her. I bet you didn’t expect it to be red!

Max Chu, class of 2020

Poetry Inspired by Music By Nadja Goldberg

Carmina Burana is a cantata written by Carl Orff in the 1930s, using the Latin text from a collection of medieval poems. A cantata is a narrative piece of music with singing and musical instruments. On April 26, at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, several art departments from SOTA are participating in a show inspired by the works of Carl Orff. The show will involve vocal and instrumental music, a dance performance, and visual artwork; and I and five other creative writers will read pieces we have written in response to the cantata.

To prepare for the show, we met up twice and played sections of the music while writing. As the music resonated throughout the classroom, I was enthralled by the elaborate texture and emotion the music conveyed, with deep, sorrowful solos, delightful, high-pitched melodies, and shrill chords on the violin. We also read the English translation of the 24 Carmina Burana poems, and identified a few common topics from our writing and the poems, such as rivers, mountains, birds, beetles, spring, and cycles. We each then wrote a piece incorporating those topics. I wrote a poem about a lakeside scene at dawn:

 

Five Silhouettes

The lilies sit, glossy and ruffled
Atop the navy water; silver wisps of fog
Drift slowly; from the murky shore, a frog
Croaks a persistent, heavy heartbeat.

The moon hovering, bright and full
Coats the water’s surface with
A white, gleaming sheet.
Frozen, windless air—
Unmoving like a buried breath,
Fearful under the moon
And its unceasing glare.

A single loon drifts along.
Beneath it, water ripples, trembles.

Five silhouettes ascend
The distant hillside; footsteps brisk,
Rhythmic, as pale sunbeams peek
Eagerly over mountain tops, extend
Long fingers that lightly tap a creek
Trickling through grass; night becomes day.

A tiny swift darts overhead;
Sharp wings and tail poke
Up at sky as it lands
On a twisting branch;
Chirps a sugary melody.

Two of the five silhouettes
Tilt softly outlined faces
Toward the swaying tree top.

Kar Johnson by Angelica LaMarca

Kar Johnson In Creative Writing II, the juniors and seniors have recently completed a unit with artist in residence Kar Johnson, where we studied the “personal” and “political” and how these labels may become interchangeable in the context of poetry. Over the course of about two months, we studied various poets such as Solmaz Sharif, Ocean Vuong, and Carolyn Forche, and how their work pertains to our course aim. We spent much of class time discussing “-ism”s present in our society, and how poetry may be wielded as a vehicle through which to combat said injustices in an accessible, well-articulated form.

One of the first pieces Kar brought in was an article by Audre Lorde, entitled “Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”. Here, it is emphasized the importance of speaking out against injustices, even if it makes you afraid. Lorde begins the article by citing a cancer diagnosis as the provoker of a p deeperiod of self reflection, as it forced her to recognize her own mortality. It was during this time when Lorde realized the artificiality of silence; whether or not one chooses to combat injustice, injustice will always be there. This concept really impacted me. After being introduced to this article, I found myself, in small ways, explicitly attempting to defend myself in situations both personal and political. I learned that it is always worth a try.

In our country, there is a tendency to view “ism”s as impersonal, abstract concepts. Those who are privileged may view incidences of racism/sexism/etc as simply newspaper headlines because these injustices don’t intimately affect their lives, and hence, the experiences of marginalized people are needlessly politicized. The politicization of these topics is often used to dismiss those who speak out as those who are “concerned with politics” rather than those who are simply articulating their realities. I think it is important to acknowledge that what’s “political” is often also personal, especially for those who are marginalized and do not have the privilege of having their stories be the default narrative.

Here is a poem I wrote near the conclusion of our time with Kar, entitled:
“When The Ocean Decided To Investigate”.

When the ocean decided to investigate
there were albatross babes in the schoolyard
and the farmer
was arranging to wheel his grapefruits up to the town

so when

the tapered inns on the cliff-fringe suddenly began to
uncrease themselves
as the hazy manes

of ocean waves
surged in

I watched my cushions                             simply bloat up with salt
as otters filled my slippers and my stove

I maneuvered my way up the chimney
with porphyra in my mouth

only to find two swordfish gasping on the unsoused roof
the neighbors yowling out to God
and
unfar

the approaching yokes of sea foam!

Sometimes I am afraid I am this obvious.

In kelped vehicles
invaded women pinch the water out of their sleeves.

Look, there: the man is sprawled across a spinning minced mattress
he purrs
as the sea lifts him closer to the chandelier

and there: submerged

delicate boys cork sea shells into their ears
in hopes
the air in their heads
will help them float back up

Angelica LaMarca, class of 2018

The Sophomore Poetry Lessons by Eva Whitney

For the six weeks preceding Winter Break, the Creative Writing Department focused on poetry. We split into Creative Writing One and Creative Writing Two, or, more simply, the underclassmen and upperclassmen. In Creative Writing One, we spent the majority of the six weeks reading from The Discovery of Poetry, a poetry anthology edited by Frances Mayes. All sixteen of us would sit around a big table as if we were about to have a grand feast, and, with the hum of Creative Writing Two in the adjacent room, we dove into sestinas and sonnets and villanelles from an assortment of poets, contemporary and ancient. It was truly like the poems we read fed us! I felt full of words and ideas after each class.

The poetry unit allowed me to get back into the swing of writing as we wrote a poem nearly every night. Circling around that grand table and hearing how each person interpreted the prompt the day after was always fascinating, and I found myself able to finally find the same joy in poetry that I found last year and lost over the summer.

For the first week of December, at the end of our six weeks of poetry, the sophomores of the Creative Writing Department taught poetry lessons about our cultural heritage to our fellow sophomores and the freshmen. We heard lessons about Chinese Communism, Korean Commu- nism, the Beat Generation, Russian Communism, and Immigrants. A sophomore would bring in an array of poems of their choosing and we would discuss them and pick them apart, and even write in conversation with them. It was a way to learn about each other better, as well as hear po- etry that the six of us find beautiful and fascinating.

In my lesson, I hoped to introduce Zen Buddhist poetry to my peers as an approachable section of poetry. Buddhism is often revered for its difficulty, but many do not realize how accessible the religion, or even just its core practices, can be. I brought in poetry by Gary Snyder, Ikkyu Sojun, Philip Whalen, Stonehouse, Jane Hirshfield, and Ryokan. I created pairs of poems, alternating between a contemporary Buddhist poet and an ancient one. The poems of each pair were connected somehow; I did this in hopes of showing how constant Buddhist values are and how even poets from four centuries ago could share the same experiences or have the same ideas as a living Buddhist poet.

Teaching this lesson and experiencing my peers’ lessons was entirely rewarding. Know- ing that I may have made a slight impact on one of the students fills me with a simple joy! Zen Buddhism has been such a large part of my childhood, and now young-adulthood, so to share it with my peers was a special experience. It took some strength on my part to constantly share my ideas and keep everyone engaged, which is not something that comes naturally to me, but after- ward, I was glad I persevered. Watching my classmates do the same impressed me immensely, and allowed me to see them as real, capable people with interesting backgrounds.

Eva Whitney, class of 2020

Haiku by Xuan Ly

For the past month, Heather has led the freshmen and sophomores through a six-week poetry unit. We have read and analyzed many wonderful poems such as E.E. Cummings’ “Chanson Innocente,” Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” and Rupert Brooke’s “Sonnet Reversed.” We have explored concrete poetry (or shaped poetry), open form poetry, and traditional form poetry. The most recent traditional style we have learned about is the haiku.

This form of traditional poetry originates from Japan. The Japanese courtsmen would pass letters in 5-7-5 form for the recipient to respond in 7-7 syllable form. This five line, 5-7-5-7-7 syllable poem they would create is called the tanka. The haiku comes from the longer tanka, taking only the beginning 5-7-5 part. Courtsmen would write about a single moment in nature that expresses something larger than the haiku describes. For example, this haiku about the emotions the speaker felt after a staring eye-to-eye with a snake by Kyoski:

The snake slid away.
But the eyes that glared at me
Remained in the grass.

This poem describes moment after locking eyes with a snake. The glare stays in the speaker’s mind similar to an afterimage. The first line slips off the tongue like a snake slithers smoothly through grass. One of the words that stands out the most is “glared” in the second line. It breaks the silky feeling that the first line gives. The word “glared” portrays an intensity of the moment that cannot come across by using a word like “gazed.” The third line, “remained in the grass,” signifies the impression that the snake left on the speaker. It also could represent the shedding of the snake’s skin that often shows change. If this poem were taken into the context of real life relationships, the snake could represent someone that came in and out of the speaker’s life but left a lasting impression that the speaker cannot forget. There are so many ways readers can interpret this haiku, which is one of the most amazing aspects of this traditional form.

Haikus may be one of the most well-known forms of poetry. The haiku is seemingly straightforward, but as we learned this week, haikus complement Japanese culture’s appreciation for nature and simplicity. We also experienced the difficulty in creating such a short beautiful representation of nature and life relationships. In class, Heather had us collaborate with the person to our right to create a tanka. One person would begin by writing a haiku. We would then pass the poem to the next person for them to respond in two lines written in 7-7 syllable form to complete the tanka. The result of the tankas were astonishing. The thoughtful lines and responses connected so well. Despite the similarities of nature and love, each tanka was entirely unique to themselves.

Writing haikus is much for difficult than throwing words into a form. Haikus are intended to express nearly indescribable emotions and surroundings in only a few syllables.

Xuan Ly, class of 2021