Poetry

The Middle of the Poetry Path: Reflections

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At the beginning of session 5, Ron wanted us to reflect and think about our progress in the previous sessions. Being exactly in the middle of our path, we could have a more specific idea of our work and what to present as a final project. Therefore, he wanted us to answer to three questions.

1) What have you made these past four sessions? What feels like a particularly powerful change, what do you pay attention to now, that you did not pay attention before?

I think my process in writing in another language changed a lot. Before studying poetry, my aim when writing in English was trying to move on. I felt like I was too dependent on forms that I had read or heard before, on the shortcuts that helped me to just shoot what I had in my head on the page (usually, I would think in Italian and try to write them down in English, which is not the best way to produce a good piece of writing). Now, I feel like I am more daring in using different forms, I pay more attention not only to how the sentences and periods sound, but also how single words sound. When I write fiction, I like my stories to be simple, to use a straightforward language. I like to write like how people talk, using swearing, slang, colloquial expressions. With poems, instead, I feel like I can use different words for the same concepts, I am more eager to be misunderstood. Not everything need to be simple and straightforward.

2) Do you have written a draft, poem or story that you think embodies that change?

I think my poem Bundy and the sequence of sonnets I wrote about the cities where I lived can be good examples of this. As for the sequence, I think it embodies my attention to single words because I spent a lot of time trying to figure out their pronunciation, their sound, their syllable structure (which I’ve never thought about when writing fiction). It’s only a draft, but I guess I spent more time than I thought looking for single words, erasing line I did not like that much. In fiction I usually write the whole shitty draft down and then go for mistakes or syntax problems, but the most important thing is the development of the plot.

3) Which do you think was a text that was influential to you?

I think The Lottery by Shirley Jackson was one of my favourite. I know, it’s fiction. I found it a perfect short story, with a good build up and an amazing ending. It showed me how well a story can develop in such few lines as this. As for poetry, I loved Song by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, which structure and tone was quite “fictional” but also had the sound of a good song. I loved Public Toilets in Regent’s Park, because it taught me how irony can be used in poetry. You can really write about anything: nothing is “holy” anymore, you can even write poetry about sexual diseases and be ironical about it. One of the lines in this poem is only made out of names of sexual diseases.

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For this class, Ron wanted us to move around the room, sitting at places we had never before. He wanted us to reflect on the changes we experienced and to consider everything we noticed about our poetry and writing in general. This may include our subject matter, that can be shocking to us just as it is our effort of making. To me, the effort of making poetry was very different from the one I used to have for fiction. I paid attention to the sentences, to the lines, to the periods much more than before. This does not mean to forget my roots, but it is also interesting to notice the shifts, switches, the layout structure. I thought about the process of creating a poem, the “make while making”. There were strange mutations. Writing, and thinking about our own writing while doing it, means to grow up, to face our demons.

And of course, I got angry. I got angry because I noticed that I had not a complete mastery of my pieces, I could not express myself at best and I re-thought every word and line carefully, cutting and deleting the ones that didn’t convince me. Ron told us that if we want to be writers we need to delude ourselves, to face our flaws and issues.

We also discussed what the obstructions and limits meant to us. Sometimes, having to write poems while following strict rules can seem quite hard and students may want to just write anything they want. Be told what we can do and following those rules meant to experience a respectful rebellion. What can we include and incorporate in our poem? What is our form? What can we write while following some specific guidelines? Publishing houses and magazines have guidelines. Learning to follow them means getting used to the literary world. Also experimenting is an important part of writing poetry. What makes prose prose? What makes poetry poetry? This is something that is worth to explore in our own writing. What makes the difference, which are the limits and where can we push ourselves? Sonia Sanchez said that your ears can catch what your eyes cannot.

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Thinking about form means also to consider what is important about line breaks, where we feel in our bones that we need to do line-break and where we don’t. What is the difference between lines and sentences. Can we be conscious writers?

When talking about her own short story Bloodchild, Octavia Butler said that she writes about what worries her. Her story is shocking, as all the best literature and art in general. Science fiction is interesting because of the subject matter, which says a lot also on all times, it focus on evergreen anxieties. Concerning this, Ron told us to read Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith.

What are you showing us that is odd? What is special about you and your writing? I need to consider my condition as a non-native English speaker an asset, to find the joy in it, to use my poetry as to ask someone to be part of my country and my tradition. Making our writing universal and not linked and associated to a single place is just bullshit: the more “local”, particular our story is, the more it is universal and believable.

The story of Hamlet is not relatable it its particularity, but it is relatable because it is about human condition. We are expatriate to it, but there is something that invites us to an expatriate space, that invites the reader to human experience.

I do not need to be scared and to write about small details of my own experience. The important thing is to consider carefully the form and the style and to take risks.

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