On Making a Poem Yours

April 26, 2010

One of the fundamental questions that keeps reappearing in my head is what makes a poem yours? As I feel poetry to be one of the most emotionally volatile of art forms, particularly in writing, this question always leads me to wonder how personal to make it as a writer. Too much emotion, and the piece becomes so much a pat of you that you cannot share it without fear of rejection, of ever able to edit to find the poem’s full potential. However, with not enough emotion, readers cannot find a connection with the piece and the poet can easily lose the passion to work with it until the end. So how much is right? I’ve been writing for long enough not to take criticism personally anymore, so poetry has been a good outlet for me to discuss issues very personal to me. That being said, I’d like to try some pieces that were more abstract, but it’s difficult to work with personal pieces in a small college setting when most of the people know you on some personal level and would rather focus on how non-fictional or fictional the pieces are rather than their artistic merit. I think it is definitely up the discretion of the poet to decide how much is just enough emotion, but it is important for any artist to get a bit of a thick skin when working with emotional topics, but without the ability to open up, art will never become art.

Does it even have to be your story to make it good? When I write poetry, I always feel like I’m giving it away to the audience when it is complete, and thus it no longer holds the same personal connection with me that it once did. Maybe this is one of the reasons I like to write about ugly situations – once I can make them beautiful I can let them go. Strangely, I could never do this with long works of fiction; I get so connected to my characters, I have a hard time letting go. So maybe that’s simply it? What makes a poem yours is the ability to make something ugly, or even just real, into something beautiful to a mass audience. I think it’s very important to distinguish that claiming a piece of art as your own is not the same as not making it connectible for a wider audience. Because ultimately art is meant to evokes some sort of emotion, or create beauty where there was none before.

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On Home and Heart

March 19, 2010

Home sticks in clods between the ridges of motorcycle wheels,
But our faithful ride is tired, worn from our escapist fantasies,
We are quiet,
Laying side by side in an abandoned gas station
Under flickering city light,
Gravel digging into our shoulders and our backs and our knees.
We smell like rain and gasoline,
Comforting in it’s simplicity.

You are new to me, yet you are peace to me,
A piece of me, a slice of what if feels like to be warm and safe
If even for a moment.
You are worn leather
Every crack like the creases of a rough, callused hand,
Each telling a story.

So I tell you a story:
How lies and deceit can be triumphed over the smell of coffee in the morning,
The view of snow-tipped velvet mountains can make you feel pure again,
I tell you about our city,
How the lake is a vast, dark ocean, surrounded by the rush of street-life.
How the Ferris Wheel turns like the gears in your head,
even as icicles drape every spoke.
I tell you how similar they are,
Those mountains and this city,
And that when you listen just right,
In that moment before the dawn breaking,
For a second everything is absolutely
Still.

So we say a prayer for our faithful ride,
Let the gravel in our skin feel alive.
And, if even for just this day,
The city is ours.

All rights reserved. This is not yours.

History of Passion

March 15, 2010

(Published in All Rights Reserved Literary Magazine, 2007)

Come find me when the sun has set and the stars faintly dust the skies. As the bustle of everyday chaos and the mulling of voices dies down – slowly, to a faint whisper, then disappears, leaving nothing but nature and the simplicity of darkness. I emerge, crouching between the purity of the empty page, waiting eagerly for the drip of ink. I am invincible, invisible, in an inverted world of a white darkness and black stars. With nightfall, I can only exist in this space, accompanied by words and imagination and dreams and memories.

The hours turn slowly; allowing my time to watch, listen to your dreams – mixed thoroughly with your desires and recollections – as you whisper to me. Rain begins to fall on my blank page, slowly at first, black drops splashing and running around me in designs of words and sentences. The rain is more violent now; it pounds my head in the rhythm of my rapid heartbeat. Then onto my shoulders and outstretched arms. No longer black and white, colors emerge from the cloud of ideas above me. Iridescent, they drip from my hair, trickling down my forehead, stinging my eyes, and tracing a shimmering line down my neck to pool in the hollow of my collarbone. Soaking my clothes. Radiant blues and hues of green contrast with the bright yellow of the midmorning sun. The page is transformed into a tranquil ocean. Away from people. See them? They are far off, unimportant to this story. Your story. There you are, in the water now, bathing gracefully in the salty shades of the page. Swimming, swimming, invisible.

Feel the waves on your shoulders. An electrifying sensation that will linger long after the moment has passed. In a fleeting second, you sensed a connection. You became part of the water – part of something larger, deeper than your mind could comprehend. I feel it too, brushing my fingers over another completed page. Knowing when I return again to the chaos of the sun that the satisfaction will follow me. It will fade eventually, when you had to stop and exhale. Your breath shakes the page, remodels words in new forms. Some will disappear, evaporate, chased away by the wind of reason. They’ll try to creep back in at later times, silent and unnoticed. As you drift away again, that charge reemerges. The ritual will repeat itself, as history so often does.

I laugh, exhilarated, careful not to wake you, peaceful and unknowing to my frenzied exuberance in the immersion of words. The sound echoes, reverberating in the empty spaces of the paper, hungry to be filled with more words. It harmonizes with a constant heartbeat, the rise and fall of your chest, and the scrawl of pen on paper. The music is rough, simple, and yet elegant. It compliments the colors in different fashioning of beats. There is no score, no tempo, no refrain. Only pure sound. Beauty. It keeps me from losing my grounding completely, from disappearing into passion and imagination, wrapped snug in a velvet blanket of memories.

I taste the words as they fall. Sour, like a ripe lemon pleading to be plucked from a tree, then chuckling at your naïve confusion as you take a bite. The next drop is sweet, but fait, like a memory of cotton candy at a fair last attended many years passed. You won a contest that year, didn’t you? A youth’s poem – vague, incomplete and unpolished but nonetheless your poem. You don’t even like cotton candy, but on this particular year, it tasted particularly sweet. The scent of pride and victory stuck to your fingers long after the synthetic sugar had disappeared.

I can smell the wet ink as it dries. Like overnight summer rain and the succeeding morning mist that saturates everything, making the grass cool and inviting in the warmth of the rising sun. Soothing as you watch and listen as the world awakens, yawning and shaking and begging for its several more minutes of solitude. But you are well awake, and you study each aspect of the dawn. Like coffee, too hot to drink but tantalizing you with its aroma. Drank in musty, dim-lit coffee shops at midnight, with friends, poetry reading, guitars, and card games. Like the scent of his cologne – all of them you’ve ever known – and dulled into the universal scent of men. Like pine trees, the crunch of twigs and a thin layer of ice under a clear February night. The crackle of a roaring fire that warms beyond aching limb and muscle and bone. Deeper into your core than you ever thought possible. As I write, this is the scent of history.

The sun is beginning to rise, and the clouds begin to dissipate. The last words are hurried, outrunning the impending sunshine that seeps into the windows and under the door. My heart slows and my breathing deepens. And you awaken. Take my place in the world; manage the maze of city streets and watch emotion, politics and destruction. Race against pressure. When you have had your fill, return to me by night. Let passion reign. Watch me sing and dance on a blank page, fulfilled with your memories and dreams and hopes and despair. Watch your history, my history, unfold on the empty page as the process repeats again.

Can You Smell It?

February 9, 2010

In one of my many trysts on the Internet, I cam across a brilliant compilation of quotes from young children about their interpretations of the meaning of love, which are phenomenal in their simplicity.


“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.” — Billy – age 4

“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.” — Karl – age 5

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” — Terri – age 4

“Love is hugging, Love is kissing, Love is saying no” — Patty – age 8

“Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.” — Noelle – age 7

“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” — Tommy – age 6

“Love cards like Valentine’s cards say stuff on them that we’d like to say ourselves, but we wouldn’t be caught dead saying.” — Mike – age 8

What is it about love that is so difficult to discuss, let alone write about? Despite the romance novels and the sappy television pairing that we cling to, we have yet to attempt to pinpoint what it is that makes us so enthralled. We outwardly seek romantic pairings to coo over and sigh dramatically, yet ask someone to describe the actual feeling and you will receive an uncomfortable, shifting stare.

So despite the media obsession with romance, it takes a certain skill to really acknowledge, let alone describe the feeling itself, rather than just the outcomes. Myself, I’ve always been a cynic. My view of the process of love, or falling into it was almost scientific. A combination of social factors, hormonal shifts, primal urges and often the aide of alcohol created a feeling of togetherness that with luck would stick around two people for an undetermined amount of time.

This is not to make me sound like a complete love-hater. I’ve always thought myself to fall in love faster than most, and with most people. My friends, my roommates, passer-by’s with interesting life-stories to share (hey, I’m a writer), it’s never taken much. I’m also like most females (and some males) I know who have been planning their “perfect” wedding since they were children, down to ridiculous detail. So allow me to classify in my own strange way – a spit between love, the affection and closeness you can share with family and friends, and this ethereal unknown that will drive even the most rational, absolutely insane. And there we have it, the exact reason why we avoid trying to qualify true love – it’s closest equivalent is madness, which isn’t exactly socially acceptable.

I don’t claim to have found a way to describe it, particularly in the written word. The best I’ve found myself doing is detailing experiences, moments in time that trigger emotion. It’s a close second, and something people can easily relate to in the written form. That is fine and dandy, but comfort has never been my interest; it’s to provoke, to probe, to make things real on the verge of uncomfortable. So this is something I ask to be considered, in a deeper understanding than we give it credit for. What is this feeling, this emotion that drives so much of the population on the brink of insanity, or even to the point of committing acts of insanity? Are we that scared that if we can successfully find a universal way to qualify it that love would lose it’s splendor? If this feeling is so powerful that it can overwhelm all bases in reality, trip our feet and give premature arrhythmia on occasion, simply putting it into words could never make it lose it’s appeal. Rather, (from my very well hidden logical brain) it might just bring some ease, some understanding to those like me that were so eager to hide from the thought of an instant where we might not be in control.

Would it scare you to think that maybe that love that drives us to lovely madness could really be as simple as a bunch of first-graders were able to acknowledge? It certainly irks me, in that disgruntled ‘I should have known’ sort of way. In our constantly moving world, could we be making it all too complicated?

For anyone that remembers being a child, has at least one, or has ever seen one, you would know that when a child wants something, it is life-or-death. Whether a new toy, a piece of candy or just their bedtime, everything is urgent and pressing to the point of tantrum. Maybe love isn’t that different. Of course in situations of danger, everything is life-or-death, and we will often look for our loved-ones safety before our own. But in times of calm, love can make you feel like everything is still in great peril. As adult human beings we constantly fight to be in control, and love it out of control. It is radical, extreme, frightening and delicious in its simplicity.

In truth, there is absolutely nothing wrong with losing control for a little part of your life, a slice of reality where you can be removed, be wild and irrational and just enjoy life with a child-like reverence for yet another thing we cannot explain.

And So It Begins.

January 14, 2010

I’ve always wished I were one of those people who could sleep anywhere. You know the type: relaxed, a smooth river-washed stone, without a care in the world. When they’re tired, they curl up in anyone’s a bed, or on a dingy couch, in the backseat of a car, under a table, wherever they can find a body-length of space to rest their head. In an instant they’re fast asleep, in another world, far apart from reality. Day or night, in quiet or a tsunami, they’re long gone for an undetermined amount of time, then off they go with the rest of their every day lives.

Me, I need the perfect conditions for sleep. Very rarely will it be before midnight, and all to often I’m doomed to failure after 3am. It usually has to be my bed, or the rare occasion of another bed if another pre-approved body is in it, and/or if the situation demands it. The temperature has to be just right: cool, crisp like an early spring morning. Consequently, I need multiple coverings – while scarcely clad, mind you, but at least a sheet, a cover and a blanket. Over-sized quilts are always preferable. The mattress has to be long enough so my lanky frame doesn’t hang off the end, and it is neither too firm nor too soft – a neutral surface in which to stretch out on. After almost a decade, I still have not found any mattress better than my childhood bed, which has long since been passed to many another home and probably ended up decomposing in a dumpster. I still mourn that bed. Most important perhaps is the need for a large but not overly stuffed pillow that I can hopefully hold onto in the middle of the night (a body will suffice from time to time).

Yet even with all that preparation and specificity, the act of sleep is still a difficult process.  I will toss and turn, from stomach to side and to stomach again, the pillow will shift sides multiple times and I will slowly curl myself up into a small insurmountable ball, cocooned and seemingly safe in a tangle of warmth and comfort and blankets within a cool, dark and harsh world.

It is then that the dreams find me. Slowly at first, a hazy, shifting menagerie of hopes, fears and the past days events. Then, as the night progresses they broaden, elaborate on nuisances that become grand myths and mysteries and horrors. They twist and turn into parallel realities and contort into grotesque creatures. As the night wears on, a story is created, or rather recreated. Very rarely are they pleasant to the naked eye, and even rarer do they make sense, least of all to me.

And then, when the light filters in to my nest of comfort, they are retold again and again, flipped over and analyzed in my sleep-hazed rational mind. Then, without conclusion or understanding of the purpose behind my brain’s bizarre creations, I write: put pen to paper and tell a story in all its detail. My pen follows the paths my own mind created over the period of a dark and heavy night, and continues until the connections in my addled brain waves find other interests.

I do not claim to know where most of my stories come from. How my own mind comes up with exotic and ridiculous adventures through life I will never know, nor do I care much to know. But as a result, I find attachment in this delicate balance between reality and the imaginary, stretching the boundaries of fiction to borderline fantasy. After all, what good is reality without a bit of fantasy? It is the fantastical, the whims that push people’s desires, their hopes and aspirations, their fears and their pain.

I’ve always wished to be someone who could sleep anywhere, anytime. But though I would probably sleep better than I do know, I would hate to lose the irreverent connection I think to share with the supposed dreamland. My own brain can serve as my muse, and I pride myself on being self-sufficient.

However created for any writer, to me the story always lies in the details. I can never envy the person with a hazy outline of their last dream, when I can remember, if only for a short time, all the smells, the tastes, the colors, the feelings. It takes one thing to create a story, and another object entirely to create a world. It is this object that I am honored to feel that my brain possesses and that I can utilize in my stories. While I may not understand my own dreams at first, when looked back on, I can see the details and their significance, and built upon those to create something universally appealing.

Thus, if most of my stories come from my non-waking state, I can comfortably argue that each of my pieces helps reveal a bit about myself. While I can separate myself from criticism, I do not claim to attempt to remove myself from my stories. Rather, I can find myself in some shape or form in each piece, and I find the completion (or supposed completion, as I find none of my works to be ever complete) of a story to be a development of my character.

If a body can come up with a story in a moment of sleep, at a point of weakness, a short story is prime to create a world in a limited amount of pages, of time and space. It is a grand challenge; one this sleepy writer will take gladly. If you are a writer, and you can sleep anywhere and everywhere, congratulations, as you will probably live much healthier than I do. But in every detail of my dreams can find themselves in my stories, and not only develop a world for my readers but add to my world, and for that, I’ll take the difficult sleeping.
This blog is a long beginning to the creation of an artistic statement. In the last several months, I’ve come to the realization that my interests are not only multi-faceted, but also ever changing. Most importantly, they always find a way to coincide with one another (for better or for worse). As my life has twisted and turned, as some doors have opened and some have shut, I find the balance of my creative energies between various projects and ideas increasingly interesting to study.

Thus is my attempt. This is a creativity journal, a publishing place, a diary of creative inspirations, projects that succeed, projects that fail, musings on life and art and how often the coincide.

Welcome! Read the rest of this entry »