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

The Poetry Unit by Nadja Goldberg

We are now entering the fourth week of our six week poetry unit. In this unit we have discussed and practiced many aspects of poetry: the traditional forms (sonnets, quatrains, etc.), rhyme schemes, the shape of poems, concrete and abstract imagery, metaphors and similes, and more. Our studies are based on reading The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes, a book that explores many poetic devices and provides a range of examples for each one. Every night, we have a poem prompt due the following class. The prompts are usually related to the area of poetry we were focusing on that day or inspired by a poem we read. For example, after reading “A Blessing” by James Wright, our assignment was to write a poem with the same title. Another time, when we were learning about traditional forms, we were asked to write a poem with a traditional form about a certain mode of vehicular transportation (train, car, boat etc.).

After numerous nights with poem prompts, we did a day of workshopping where each of us brought in three of our favorite poems and received written and verbal feedback from the three members of our workshopping group. I think this practice is what truly strengthens our writing, as it allows us to get helpful criticism from classmates who also have experience with poetry, and it gives us a chance to listen to and appreciate others’ poetry.

I first took interest in poetry when I had to write five to ten poems for my portfolio. At first, that was the part of my portfolio I dreaded, and when I started writing it, I considered it my weakest style of writing. But as I began to study famous poems and write more poems to submit, working intensively to revise them, I realized I was actually enjoying it. Now that we are diving into the art of poetry in Creative Writing and I have several assignments to inspire my own poetry, I cherish the time I have to work on my poem when I get home from school.

After the process of revising a poem, I often like to compare the revised copy to the initial version and notice how much it has evolved. Here is an example:

Before:

Adolescence

At night the park transforms.

The jungle gym
that once invited me
to clamber
to the top
now stands
in its cold, metal
complexity
in which I fear
I will be trapped
A trail pressed in grass
from wandering feet
that trek countless circles
waiting for the right moment
to stop
Stars point through drifting holes
in fraying fog
As the wind
brings a chill
to my skin.

 

After:

At Night the Park Transforms

The jungle gym
invited us to clamber up
vibrant blue, criss-crossed ladder
hook spindly legs around a bar
and dangle
shirts plummeting
pale bellies revealed
faces turned crimson from gathering blood

Despite the heaving effort
put upon upside-down lungs and heads
we laughed

When vigorous rounds of tag
left bodies taken over
by automatic rapid breaths
that inflated and deflated our tiny torsos
we lay in shady splotches
on mounds of damp soil
beneath sun-soaked leaves
coolness extinguishing the flames
on our cheeks

Now
as I press a trail in grass
with wandering feet
the jungle gym stands
daunting
in its cold, metal complexity
in which I fear
I will be trapped

Once refreshing shade
has become eerie moon shadows
trickling toward me

Formerly
friends frolicked on cloudless afternoons
that rolled into exuberant evenings
munching candied fruit and salted nuts
crumbly crackers and crinkled chips

Now
years later
I tread countless circles
at nightfall

My dog follows
with weary paws
drowsy
longing to return home

Though numbness stiffens
each limb of my sleep deprived body
I cannot stop trudging
I’m waiting
for the pound of thoughts to deccelerate
hoping, pleading
I won’t have to lie
when I look into my parents’ faces
their eyebrows sloped with concern
and say
“I’m alright.”

Stars point through drifting holes
in fraying fog
as the wind
brings a chill
to my skin.

Nadja Goldberg, class of 2021

Funicular by Sequoia Hack

Lately, I have been thoroughly enjoying playing with form in poetry. Our current six-week unit, poetry, has enabled me to freely experiment with the shape of the work I produce. We were recently instructed to write a piece about a vehicle of our choosing. The form of our work must correlate with the vehicle of choice. My poem describes a funicular’s ascent to the summit of a mountain. I wrote twelve rhyming couplets and placed them to depict the steady upward direction in which it travels.

Take one last breath of sea-level air
I promise you will need it to stay aware

Place a cautious foot on wooden planks
now is the time to give your thanks

Don’t look down, please just trust me this time
we are only beginning this climb

Once doors close there is no turning back
zone out to the rhythmic click and clack

Snow covered meadows glisten to your left
heartbeats seem absurdly fast, are you stressed?

Why do your clever eyes appear forlorn
for you should not be feeling such scorn

This is a once-in- a-lifetime experience
do not furrow your brows and appear so furious

Atop the summit, you may sigh
but to the village below, wave goodbye

Hold in your nausea for one more second
the end of the track is nearing, I recon

Look! We made it to the mountain top
wait to get off, your pulse will surely stop

Go on, take a step through the door
I cannot wait to dash off and explore

Emptying its riders atop the peak
trusty funiculars prove not weak

Sequoia Hack, class of 2021

A Poem Every Day by Hannah Duane

With the onset of winter, the Literary Arts department has begun poetry, so for the past week Creative Writing 1 has been writing and analyzing poems daily. I have been enjoying the simplicity of theses exercises. Every afternoon I arrive for Creative Writing, and settle into the warm room for our careful analysis of a variety of styles of poetry.

I’ve been hearing poetry for most of my life. My father would read me William Carlos Williams poems as bedtime stories, and I can still remember him telling me how Williams’s simple but precise language was what made each poems melodious and refreshing. Now, being able to discuss poetry with friends has been insightful as well as enjoyable. Reading poetry is also crucial for writing poetry. It’s hard to improve one’s own work without reading masterful examples to learn the craft. My personal favorite poem of the week was “An Atlas of the Difficult World” by Adrienne Rich, a freeform piece with the refrain “I know you are reading this poem,” that creates a comforting feel, assuring both the reader and writer that they are not alone in their appreciation for poetry. Imagery also creates pockets of worlds, familiar and unfamiliar.   

For homework each night, we write a poem. Monday night was emerging from a blank screen and noticing the space around ourselves, Tuesday a blessing, Wednesday an invitation and Thursday an aubade (a poem about dawn and the morning). Though before joining the department I wrote poems fairly frequently, I have found formalizing the ritual and having a prompt as well as editing to be relaxing and informative. Most days there is an opportunity to share these prompts, and reading my work aloud for my classmates, while nerve racking was encouraging. We discuss everyone’s piece, which gives room for feedback. For me, sharing is definitely a stretch out of my comfort zone, but is also a positive and informative experience. I don’t know what to expect for the next five weeks of poetry, but I’m excited to continue to grow as a writer and make connections with the people in the department.

Hannah Duane, class of 2021

Spring Poetry by Dalia Harb

For the past month, Creative Writing has been in our poetry unit. In this unit, the sophomores have each taught a one-to-two day lesson surrounding their culture. This unit has been enchanting and delightful. Each new theme has been refreshing and taught me something new. I have been able to explore new cultures and writing originating from it, and my own writing has evolved with each new style. The sophomores give us poetry prompts at the end of their unit, a way to extend the lesson past the classroom and allowing us to experiment with writing on our own.

These units have helped my poetical voice develop. Through workshopping and reading new pieces, my writing has improved immensely.

Being able to explore the different poems from multiple cultures has opened my eyes to the different styles of poetry. With each unit, my eyes have been opened to exciting new voices and forms of poetry.

If I were to teach my own mini-unit I would bring in some poems surrounding Middle-Eastern culture. I would bring in some poems, such as ones by Mahmoud Darwish and Naomi Shihab Nye.

This unit is different from our previous unit, fiction, because in our poetry unit we have a larger range of diverse writers. In our poetry unit it has been much more personal and, while teaching us plenty about the culture, it has taught us about the person teaching the unit too.

My favorite has been Solange’s unit which was focused African-American culture. Solange brought in poems and showed us music videos by artists like Solange Knowles, Beyoncé, and Todrick Hall. These were significant because she was able to compare contemporary African-American poetry to older works, and how both still combat the same issues.

We get weekend prompts as well from Heather Woodward, our department head. One of the prompts was to write a poem having to do with a conspiracy theory. This was our first one given therefore the weakest of my poems this unit.

When we turn in the prompt to the sophomore who assigned it, they read over and edit it. Then we fix the edits they had made. We’re to edit all of our poems from this unit and hand them in as a portfolio.

We will be able to use the poems we have written for our upcoming poetry cafe. The poetry unit has been my favorite thus far. It has given me the opportunity to delve into different cultures and enhance my knowledge on certain topics, such as Native American dances and the history of Tagalog. I look forward to see what next year’s poetry unit holds.

Dalia Harb, class of 2020

Poetry For Survival by Thalia Rose

A question that often comes up is, “Why do you write?”

In my department, we have used this as a generative exercise; and outside of the department, the question recurs in conversation. It takes a moderate amount of determination to pursue writing. It sometimes seems masochistic to revise time and time again, or to submit work to publishers every marking period. So I believe there is a core ambition in every writer that motivates them to work with their art tirelessly. Hitherto, I believe the reason that people choose to write is multitudinous.

There is an anthology entitled We Will Be Shelter: Poems For Survival that illustrates the core of my motivation to write. The anthology, published by Andrea Gibson, focuses on addressing inequality and social justice. It encourages the reader to analyze the social constructs and ethics of the world around them – to contemplate the mechanics of the system and then what can be improved or changed within it. For me, poetry is dauntless and inexhaustible – it is a tool for survival.

As Audre Lorde wrote, “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

Thalia Rose, class of 2018

Poetry? by Julieta Roll

In Creative Writing we are currently in our Poetry Unit. This means that at the beginning of art CW 2 (seniors and juniors) and CW 1 (sophomores and freshman) split and go into their own classes to study and learn about the broad exhilarating topic of poetry. I am in CW 1, I’m a freshman, and I have to say at first I had my doubts about poetry. I never thought I was any good at it, and found writing a poem stressful, like I had to make each line fit in it’s exact place so it sounded right. In the CW 1 Unit we’ve been analyzing mountains of poetry, and I’ve discovered and read so many poets I’d never even heard of. I feel I’ve been opened up, and I’ve been quite enjoying sitting down every night and writing a poem. I think it’s because I’ve found that poetry is freedom to me. I can write whatever I want and it feels personal and contains a lot of meaning. It’s like my own little seashell. When people would ask if I liked to write poetry or fiction better my response would always be ‘fiction’ no doubt about it, but now I’m rethinking. I know I still have a lot to learn about writing and I feel I shouldn’t rope myself to one type of writing or the other just yet but it was interesting to me to how easily I sunk into poetry. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Julieta Roll, class of 2019

A Discussion on Sappho and Commas by Ren Weber

Today the entirety of Creative Writing had a long and passionate conversation about the American school grading system (and the problems that entail). Then, with only forty minutes of class left, CWII left with Maia and the rest of us remained with Heather. She told us a story about rediscovering a book with Sappho poetry, and thus we began the reading.

First we read the foreword that included this Latin phrase: “Non omnis moriar, magnaque pars mei vitabit Libitinam.” With the power of the blessed Internet and temperamental school wifi we learned that this meant, “Not all die, and a great part of me will escape the grave.”

Something quite a bit of us realized early on about Sappho’s poetry is that each one is about 3-4 lines (at least, the poems we read). Another thing I found interesting about the process of annotating and discussing short poems, though, is that they held incredible amount of things to talk about in those short lines. Her poetry writing felt (in Heather’s words): “Sweet, sensual, luxurious.”

Then the topic came to the line in Sappho’s poem “Standing by my bed,” and it goes: “In gold sandals / Dawn that very / moment awoke me.” With short poems like this, there were so many different ways to understand it. Is the narrator waking up standing by the bed? Does the narrator sleepwalk? Is it Dawn standing by the bed? Is the poet personifying the Dawn?

Eventually we came to one understanding of the poem as Dawn wearing gold sandals, standing by a bed. Then we thought about how there could be a comma between “Dawn” and “that”. Upon remembering that these poems were written in (if I recall correctly) 3 BC, we asked ourselves: Were there even commas back then?

With another round of research we learned that commas didn’t exist at that time. Later we realized that commas could be found in other poems in the same collection, and those were simply the result of the poems’ translation.
Only two days in the Poetry Unit, days and lessons like these make me feel very excited for what is to come.

Ren Weber, class of 2019

Flexible Poetry by Davis DuBose-Marler

Currently in Creative Writing Two, which consists of sometimes apathetic juniors and seniors, we have been in the midst of an exhilarating poetry unit where there are virtually no boundaries. Every day we work with our nymph-like leader Maia, who leads us through mentally stimulating exercises that invigorate our world-weary souls. I have never been this enthusiastic about a poetry unit before. This doesn’t mean that our previous poetry units haven’t been phenomenal, it just means that this current poetry unit fits some of our (admittedly more fiction-oriented) minds better. There is more room for creative interpretation and doing writerly writing things. You know–creativeness. I feel as if this unit has changed my perception of poetry, and has made me bolder. I’m excited to experiment more, and hopefully next year’s poetry unit will be just as good as this one has been.

Davis DuBose-Marler, class of 2017

Feminist Poetry by Thalia Rose

Last Tuesday, CW alumna Mollie Cueva (Class of 2013) visited CW1 and taught a lesson about feminist poetry and intersectionality.

Definitions (convened by Mollie Cueva)

  • Feminism: the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of women
  • Gender: range of socially ascribed characteristics pertaining and differentiating between masculinity and femininity (and other)
  • Sex: the 2+ major forms of individuals that occur in many species on the basis of reproductive organs and chromosonal structure. may or may not agree with gender identity.
  • Intersectionality: the acknowledgement of the different and overlapping spheres of oppression/oppressional forces on a person’s life
  • Womanism: the acknowledgement of the specific discrimination and inequality experienced by black women

After an introduction to feminist poetry with the definitions shown above, CW I read and discussed the essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury” by Audre Lorde. Poetry is Not a Luxury was predicated by a brief summary of the first two waves of feminism, which illustrated that while the first and second waves of feminism granted women the right to vote and opened up more opportunities for them, these early movements excluded trans women and women of color from the movement.
In modern time, intersectionality is still often disregarded. It was important for us to discuss this, because addressing a problem is a step towards working out how to make things less unjust. It was beneficial to me that I could learn about my privilege as a white person (and feminist).

Anna (class of 2018) pointed out how in last year’s poetry unit, the book we studied from was predominantly the writing of white men, and that it lacked diverse perspectives. Audre Lorde, a lesbian poet, presented different styles and ideas than we had read last year. In Audre Lorde’s essay, she wrote, “This is poetry as illumination… From which true poetry springs births thought as dreams births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.”

Furthermore, we read “Translations”, a poem by Adrienne Rich. The poem introduces the concept of the nuclear family. The nuclear family concept prioritizes gender roles. It was initially created by sociologists as an oppressive device. The archetype of a woman as a docile housewife harms and isolates women. The poem mentions the sexism and internalized misogyny that is a result of the nuclear family concept.

“The phone rings endlessly
in a man’s bedroom
she hears him telling someone else
Never mind. She’ll get tired.
hears him telling her story to her sister /
who becomes her enemy
and will in her own way
light her own way to sorrow.”

These two stanzas tell of an affair, presumably of the husband of the narrator and the narrator’s sister. The vagueness of the poem makes it so that what the husband says open to interpretation. It also brings a tone of powerlessness. In discussion of this piece, it was brought up that there is a double standard for men and women regarding sex. For women, there is “losing your virginity”. In life and literature, there is an odd fixation on virginity, specifically the breaking of the hymen during first sexual experience. Women are objectified as sexual objects in media and American culture, yet a woman with sexual desire is shamed for it. In the ultra-patriarchal world of the novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a newlywed woman is beaten by her husband once he discovers she is not a virgin. The man who took the newlywed woman’s virginity years ago is murdered by the woman’s brothers in a machismo sense of honor. Today, when a man has sex with multiple partners, he is called a stud. When a woman has sex with multiple partners, she is called slurs.

“ignorant of the fact that this grief
is shared, unnecessary
and political.”

With that in mind, Heather Woodward mentioned that when she decided to prioritize teaching over writing, she reflected on the decisions she had made throughout her life and realized that, for her, they all correlated with being a woman. She felt that, by being raised to be nurturing, teaching was the path she had naturally selected.

Personally, being raised a girl, I had personal experiences with sexism and was weighed down by being treated as lesser. I had been silenced in classes, or spoken over by men who repeated my ideas. This year I’ve been practicing empowerment with statements like, “You interrupted me when I was talking” and “I wasn’t done with what I was saying” and “Don’t make comments about my body”.

My relationships with others have been influenced by sexism. Even with girls, my relationships have been affected by internalized misogyny and the petty envy and competition that is instilled by it. I am woman-aligned agender person, yet feminism is still one of the most important things to me in my writing. I was shaped as a person from being raised as a girl, and from only having strong women figures in my life when I was growing up. I think that being raised a girl and facing discrimination from being assigned female at birth is why feminism is so important to me and in my creative work.

Thalia Rose, class of 2018