Letting Go & Just Listening by Leela Sriram

Translation is a key factor of life. We translate words in our heads when speaking. We translate the world by noting the colors and sounds that are seen and heard around us. We translate from language to language in spanish class. 

Last weeks unit in Creative Writing 1 with CW alumni: Josie Weidner, Noa Mendoza-Goot and Violeta Sticotti, was all about how translation is not just translating from language to language, but a way to interpret the world and society and transform the world into how we see Earth and society from our perspective. 

On the second day of “A Week in Translation,” CW I partook in an independent activity that let us free ourselves from the eye strain and headaches from the piercing bright lights that illuminate from the computer, and instead just listen to the world around us. A sound map charts down all of the intricate sounds created by the world around us, such as the echoes in the voices of hikers walking in Golden Gate park, or the scratching sound of a dog’s paws on a dirt path. This activity helped me let go of my mind and just listen to the world, and observe the sounds in the park that I hadn’t ever really paid attention to due to being caught up in my own thoughts. 

After drawing out my sound map, I thought intently about the connection sounds in nature have to translation. The two almost seem completely incomparable, but translation is not as simple as speaking Spanish and then saying the same sentence in English. Translation is not just verbal, but also auditory. A large part of translation is connecting sounds to visuals and objects. Translation is just putting together one big puzzle that is understanding the world.

Leela Sriram, Class of ’23

Decisions on the Cultural Heritage Project by Gemma Collins

With the new semester just beginning, the start of the fiction unit draws near. This year CW 1 is starting off the fiction unit with the sophomore cultural heritage lessons. These lessons, carefully planned and culminated over the entire past semester, are crucial parts of the preparedness for CW 2. As of the past Thursday, the presentations have started. I spent a large portion of my time this winter break editing and perfecting my own lesson plan and coming up with my best idea on what to teach the group about. This was a daunting decision, considering that for most of the year, I was wavering between different subjects to talk about and contemplating what I thought would provide the most educational yet enthralling lesson. 

When thinking about my culture, the foundation of the assignment, I found myself coming up blank. The presentation is centered around talking about ourselves, something I am not used to doing. The freedom of subjects to discuss was both freeing and confusing, as with the ability to pursue multiple ideas comes the dreaded need to make decisions for oneself. I never felt connected to any specific background, so when deciding my topic for my project, I decided to steer clear of the “culture/race/ethnicity” genre and into other possibilities.

Then there were the options of music, but I am definitely not the most musical person. I spent winter break going back and forth until I finally solidified my idea. I thought about what I felt passionate about and began my project on environmentalist poems. The best plan I could muster, I found poems to use and began to build my powerpoint complete with writing prompts and a homework assignment all based on poems that make a call to action. Soon my presentation was complete and I just needed to survive the presentation. 

A poem that I wrote while working on my project:

A Walk

I don’t know that I’ll be alive
If the world is run hot and dry,
Like a desert with a red sky.
A red sky that possibly in the far reaches
Of the atmosphere has one breath that
Escaped my mouth when things were 
Green for a little longer.

I am here now in a little longer.

When things were green.
How long a little longer is, I’m unsure.
I’m going on a walk today to
Appreciate a the green
Although I admit it will be hard not to be 
Distracted by crusty gum on the sidewalk
Or sewage smell at the bottom
Of the hill. 
But the walk is meant to be appreciative, so
I better not get hung up on 
undeniable bad things. 

I run my fingertips in the rosemary bush
Which I haven’t done in a while. 
I may not know how long a little longer is
But I know a while is 5 years.
5 years but the fresh scent is still as sweet
As my memory of it.
I hear two parrots squawk
In the tree above me, dropping red berries.
Their noise isn’t exactly pleasant, but
I find some joy in the raining red berries.
I wish it still rained.

Reach the top of the hill and look out at the view—
Bunny shaped clouds and
shimmery water and small waves
the rolling hills 

Can’t forget the city
Downtown buildings twinkle
I can almost feel the hot glittering
Sidewalk,
I look out at the view.

In the corner of my eye

I see the red rolling in.

Gemma Collins, Class of ’23

Poetry & the Greener Pasture by Jesper Werkhoven

I would say that poetry was fun. It was the first step in an enigmatic journey that has, most definitely, started off on too many wrong feet. My Eighth Grade was cut short by a demon sphere I couldn’t ever see, and whatever this is isn’t exactly filling the void. Then, I come here, and I trip on two rocks back to back, landing myself neatly above a drop into a ravine. Finally, after clawing my way back out, I’m greeted with my least favorite way to write. Sounds unfun, doesn’t it? All thanks to some real good paraphrasing.
Poetry was a new experience. For one, I didn’t think I could write it at all during the summer. It turns out I can, and I should probably start trusting myself more. This unit opened my eyes to the possible beauty of poetry. Shame I wanted to close them immediately after reading the instructions for the sonnet. I might miss poetry, now that the unit is over, but I think the excitement of the new topic might eclipse that.

Short stories are my thing. I don’t need deep meaning, or put in thought-provoking imagery. I can just make people fight it out for seventy-eight pages and call it a day. Fiction is freedom for me. It has no restriction other than the restrictions you create for yourself. Now that we’re moving away from poetry, I can finally put the Creative in Creative Writing to the max- or at least, I hope. It might be awhile until I can make people fight it out for seventy-eight pages.

Whatever the next unit throws at me, I’ll be ready to enjoy it to the fullest. Motivation and confidence will replace reluctance and uncertainty, and I’ll be having fun showing off how good of a writer I am to my friends.

Jesper Werkhoven, Class of ’24

CW2 Final Poetry Project by Otto Handler

In Creative Writing Two, we finish off each unit with a larger project. Due to the fact that we have different fellows teaching each of these units, these projects look different every time. I am a junior and getting ready to finish off my first poetry unit in Creative Writing Two. The project that our current poetry fellow, Angie Sijun Lou, introduced was a call for seven poems, most of which we had already been working on over the course of the unit, plus an artist statement, a short artist biography, and an introduction to your work written by another student in the class. This all may seem like a lot, but I planned out my timing well enough and it worked out fine. 

When I started the poetry unit back in early October, I was purposefully trying to write my poems in a singular voice so that the collection would be unified. I had recently immersed myself in the work of Raymond Chandler, and my poetry is inspired by his short and precise images. Chandler was an American writer best known for his mystery stories, including The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.  His characters are lonely and sharp-tongued, and the world they live in is dark and desperate.  My poems’ speakers feel like the similar people, the way many of Chandler’s stories feature the same famous detective, Philip Marlowe. My poems talk about isolation and being stuck in one’s own thoughts–I was, without meaning to, writing about the pandemic. 

My poetry has taken on a new tone throughout this unit, either because of the current turmoil going on in the world, or just because I felt like I needed a change from the work I was producing before the pandemic started. Whichever was the case, I feel as though this change was an improvement and a sign that I had grown as a poet since Freshmen year.

Otto Handler (Class of ’22)

Poetry With Angie Sijun Lou by Zai Deriu

Our first Creative Writing 2 unit of the year has come to a close. In Creative Writing, we are either taught in one large class with all four grades, or split in two, with freshmen and sophomores in CW1, and juniors and seniors in CW2. This is the first year for my grade, the class of ’22, to be a part of Creative Writing 2. Rather than being taught by Heather, our lovely department head, we are taught by fellows artists. In normal classes, this would typically mean working in the annex of the CW room, but now, it means a separate zoom meeting.

This past unit was poetry, taught by Angie Sijun Lou. Despite all the current difficulties of maintaining a successful class online, Angie has been a wonderful teacher for these past seven weeks. We would typically read a few pieces of poetry, discuss them, and then spend the rest of our time on a writing exercise. Other days, we would workshop each other’s poetry, offering compliments and criticism. By the end of her unit, I feel sad to see Angie go. Being stuck at home and doing school online makes it difficult to feel motivated, and without leaving the house, it is easy to feel as though the days mush into one another. The structure of CW during Angie’s unit helped remedy that for me. 

Being taught in a small group with the class of ’21 again for the first time since my freshman year feels quite nice. With the smaller group, class feels more intimate and community-based. I feel close with my own grade, and I think we and the class of ’21 work well together. Moreover, after two years of being taught by Heather in CW1, it’s nice to feel as though I have graduated to my next stage of writing, so to speak. Still, I am excited to go back into the larger group in the coming week and help CW1 with their poetry workshops.

Zai Deriu (Class of ’22)

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