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

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