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

Reading Poetry by Isaac Schott-Rosenfield

I started reading poetry again. Not that I really had stopped, but I hadn’t read any in maybe months. I’d been in a fiction unit in school, which meant reading it and writing strictly prose for class, and prose was all I was getting in my English class with The Great Gatsby and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Plus I’d been reading novels back to back; Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast and A Farewell to Arms, and Faulkner’s The Wild Palms. The tangibility of the prosaic object assailed me on all sides. The poem was being subverted to the abstract slur which many of my peers maintain it is. It was too fanciful and too intellectual in turns.

I was beginning to have doubts.

Then my mother asked me to help her find a poem. I went to grab a book of poetry, and looking at the bookshelf, got distracted with the titles and authors that jumped out at me. I made a stack of books I’d read, and grabbed a few I hadn’t, looking for the poem. I brought a few books—Unattainable Earth by Czeslaw Milosz, The Simple Truth by Philip Levine, a book of Merwin, a book of Ferlinghetti, and a copy of The Bhagavad Gita—to bed, and then to school the next morning.. In a couple days I wrote a poem, unbidden.

It hadn’t left.

I am always scared poetry has left me. That I won’t like it anymore, that I won’t be able to write it, that no one but a poet would ever read it. It turns into a blank word document and retreats up in to the air.

But only for a while.

Isaac Schott-Rosenfield, class of 2017

Drawing Inspiration from the Bay Swim by Anna Geiger

On September 28th, the SOTA creative writing department visited the Dolphin Club, which is a private establishment bordering the San Francisco bay where members can swim in the ocean or spend time on the beach. The first two weeks of every creative writing year are dedicated to building community, and this outing is my favorite of the many that we do. Plunging into the frigid waters of the bay as a class always proves to be a bonding experience, as well as great inspiration for creative work. I have always been fascinated by the ocean, particularly the sensory experiences, including the smell of saline air, the texture of sand, sounds of waves breaking. After the trip this year, I sat on the bus on the way home listening to music and thinking about how I would creatively respond, when the song I was listening to ended, and Clair de Lune began to play. For those who are not familiar with the piece, it is a classical movement composed by Claude Debussy. It is slow-moving and elegant, reminiscent of a lullaby, and rhythmically reminded me of hearing waves crashing on the shore of the Dolphin Club. The piece primarily features sequences of light, high notes followed by a low note, which in my mind mirrored the sound of waves rising and falling evenly against the sand. I wrote a poem for my response, in which I have used rhyme, meter, and musical vocabulary to portray this aspect of the theme. The poem is included below:

 

Song of the Sea

My legs are swimming in heavy blue sheets,
head resting where a maternal hand meets;
whose hum sways to a movement floors below,
whose lithe fingers dance as chords ebb and flow.

Woodwinds whir through the month of November,
strings sing until the end of December;
my apricity each day that only fades
as sleep marks the close of cold winter days.

On my head, mother plays the Clair de Lune,
reclines in a bath of light of the moon.
Behind my closed eyelids, in darkness seeps,
and slowly I’m slipping, into the deeps.

After three breaths of cadence, one of rest,
I resurface to find that I’ve left the nest.
To a haven where song comes to run free,
I am cradled in the arms of the sea.

Into flowering seagrass my toes sink,
wading through schools of fish dotted with ink,
Leaping over anemone blowing
as the arm waves, flowing and reflowing.

As the tide rises, my limbs rise up too,
dancing as I bid the seastars adieu.
It’s been a short visit, but I’ll return soon
when my mother hums as I greet the moon.

There is a song found only in the sea,
that lives in the waves and is played for me.
A crescendo as the sea’s arm takes hold,
a cado as I succumb to its fold.

[DR]: 10/30, Facing Fears in Poetic Expression

by Clare (’18)

Two weeks into Creative Writing One’s poetry unit, with Halloween and the end of the marking period looming near, we have arrived at a point where few brave writers have ventured before: meter. Last week, a whole hour was spent trying to define stressed and unstressed syllables. Many terrifying terms were floating around the room today such as iambic, trochaic, and –gasp – rhyming.

You see, although rhyming poems are pleasing to the ear, they can be challenging to write and often result in a circle of tired students shouting out words that rhyme with ‘nest’. Nonetheless, the class made a valiant effort, everyone tackling their own pattern of meter, and although some students concluded their poem by smacking their head repeatedly into their notebook, a few gems emerged. These will be read tomorrow with great enthusiasm (in full costume).