I think I tend to fall more on the side of “confessional poet,” but I also like to write about other people and focus on their stories—even if they’re really small, subtle moments. I prefer free verse, but I sometimes wonder if that’s because my mentors wrote mostly free verse, or because I overused rhyme when I “wrote” in high school. I wish I could be a bit more political, but I always feel like it sounds false/trite when I try to write something. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying.
After months of a creative drought, I’ve finally started writing (poetry) again. I find myself writing about people I’ve had issues with, my (and sometimes others’) perceptions of them. There are also times when I find myself twisting interactions and events, so that it is essentially fiction.
When I was in my second creative writing workshop we didn’t have much control over what we wrote about, or at least that’s how I saw it at the time. During that semester I wrote a lot about one of my relatives. I used to worry about what she would think if they were ever published. Two poems have been published, and as far as I know, she’s never read them. I’ve never told her that she has two poems about her, mostly because I don’t know how she’d respond to them. However, she (+ a few others) are a rarity because I usually tell people I’ve written something about them, or a piece about the time we had some sort of adventure. I think the difference with those people is that I’m trying to sort of freeze this moment where they were something that they aren’t anymore; where we were something completely different. Even if the events in the poem didn’t happen exactly they way I wrote them there’s some truth to it. Ok, so most of the people who know I’m writing/have written about are writers–they get that things are emphasized or distorted. My friend Jenny A. didn’t freak out when I wrote about her hectic and emotional few months during the time we lived together. After I sent her the poem, I told her that I sort of constructed more of a story around her. She responded with “I get it, it’s art.”
One of my creative writing professors once said, “people have to realize that if they are in your life, they are fair game to be written about.” I don’t think this is a concept that most people grasp. Most people aren’t ready to see how you view them, even if it is one element of them magnified to the nth degree. I think there’s a good amount of people who would jump up and say “that’s not how things really are.” Fair enough. My friend “Morticia,” quotes Henry & June to me whenever I tell her that I’m worried about how a person might respond to something I’ve written about them.
It’s a distortion. Henry, Look at me! Look! You can’t see me or anyone as they are! I wanted Dostoyevsky –June Miller
Sometimes I think about telling those who don’t know. Everything is constructed so they can understand my truth, but I worry that will get lost somewhere, so I say nothing. I think for the most part that’s the best.
I used to believe that if someone wrote about me, I’d want to know. Now, I’m not so sure. It would depend on the someone. I’m curious though, who does want to know if they’ve been written about?
Once on Boy Meets World, both Shawn and Corey went undercover as teen girls to find out what it was really like to be female. They had to deal with boys not understanding boundaries, only paying attention to them because they were attractive (Ok, this was mostly Shawn) and at the end of the day (like in any good 90’s sitcom) they learned a valuable lesson.
I only wish the poet Vagabond Andy, had undergone a similar experience before he penned his “masterpiece” for the Times, “The Trouble With Women: Forget the Fairytales.” This poem came to my attention via a former coworker who posted both this piece and a follow-up article on Jezebel.Com.
Like most women I’ve shared the poem with, she was outraged. Here’s a piece of work that thinks it’s being witty by taking a diverse group of people and boiling it down to one simple image. He assumes that we all want to be rescued by a prince, but only after a day of shopping and getting our hair done. It’s out the realm of possibility that we’re capable of taking care of ourselves, or that some of us aren’t interested in marriage, or being a size 0. According to Andy, what we want at the end of the day is to look hot for a guy who kinda sounds like a tool.
From what I gather the poem wants to be taken in similar vein to that of P!NK’s “Stupid Girls.” The difference is P!NK knows that while the current pop-culture is favoring plastic, dumb-downed girl—there’s also those who don’t fit the mold. She acts as the voice for those who don’t “want to be a stupid girl.” She understands that it’s the patriarchy and media who set these standards that some women buy into. I’m also going to go out on a limb here, and say P!NK is basing “Stupid Girls” off of her actual experiences as a woman, while Andy is just the casual observer.
The problem with Andy sitting on the side lines is he doesn’t seem to get those crucial points. He assumes that women are creating their own problems–they’re the one’s who came up with the idea of being a size 0 with double D’s; it has nothing to do with the male fantasy that’s being pimped out by a patriarchal society. This is why he has no problem reducing all females down to the image of a Paris-Kardashian-WAG-celebutante. He is also silly enough to believe that’s what all women want to be. He misses the subtleties that each woman carries, most likely because he’s bought into the male fantasy. It’s entirely possible that the only girls he pays attention to are caught up in his image of what being a woman means. Maybe they ignore him, hence his frustration. Either way it seems his interactions with a variety of women is limited.
My friend Sara made an excellent point stating, “his somewhat sickening message is cloaked in rhyme, making it appear pleasing and acceptable when in fact his subject is heartbreaking and sexist. In this way, it mirrors the media and the society that are culprits in manufacturing the condition the protagonist finds herself in. Media/society puts forth these slick images of a happier, thinner, sexier, more buxom youthful “you” in such a way that we are lured by its gloss when, underneath it all lurks a darker, more sinister meaning.” This is why the poem is so dangerous, those who don’t read closely are likely to be hypnotized by his end rhyme and pop-culture references.
I’m curious to know how many buy into Andy’s way of thinking. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if a good amount of men were nodding in agreement as they read this. But how many women jumped on the band-wagon? How many find this to be an excellent piece of poetry, representing the way things are today? How many of them don’t know to be offended?
The Trouble With Women: Forget the Fairytales
The trouble with women, hmm, let’s see,
Perhaps with some help from poetry?
“It’s a girl!” shouts the midwife, as she joins our world,
Long before her hair is dyed or curled,
Barbie and Ken, her first celebrity friends.
Can’t wait to see how this transcends:
From the day that she is born,
What wedding dress will she adorn?
Supposedly, the happiest day of her life,
Will be the day she becomes a wife.
Her diet starts the moment she wakes.
Of Prince Charming fairy tales and Diet Coke breaks,
Her head full of fantasies, of meeting “The One”,
A life of perfection and buckets of sun.
High expectations, from an early age,
Tall, dark and handsome, plus a good wage.
Funny too, and amazing in bed,
Completely faithful and ready to wed.
From Disney to Hollywood, selling the dreams,
Everybody lives “happily ever after”, it seems.
Hugh Grant movies, and a million love songs,
Johnny Depp in this season’s long johns,
James Bond adventure, Travolta grooves,
Brad Pitt body, Clooney’s moves,
Brosnan charm, Russell Brand wit,
She should have it all, “because she’s worth it”.
Grazia, Now and her other mags,
Breast implants, Louis Vuitton bags,
Diamonds galore, a girl’s best friend,
What kind of message does this send?
She embarks on her quest to find her hero,
But first she needs to visit size zero,
Slim-fast plans and self-help books,
A mortgage of cosmetics to help her looks.
“I’m not as slim … I’m not as pretty”,
Comparing herself makes her feel shitty,
But she doesn’t stop, likes her fantasy,
Yep, she loves to live vicariously,
She’s naked in bed, tears in her eyes,
Her naked man beside her, sighs.
“What’s wrong?” he asks. “That was insane!”
“I know, but compared to THAT my life is plain.”
“The trouble with women?” Well since you inquire
You may be relieved to hear it’s not dire,
My answer is she does too much gazing,
If she ditched her fantasy, her reality would be amazing.
I once read an astrological profile for my sign Gemini, that said Gemini’s eternal age is between 14-21. Having other friends who are Geminis I can say this is for the most part true. I think sometimes it expresses itself in different ways. For example an ex-roommate of mine is trapped emotionally and behaviorally (and I’m sure one could argue physically) in the mind/body of a 14-year-old girl. That tender age where girls still think the world revolves around them and have a difficult time handling experiences that suggest otherwise. It’s a time when the movie “Mean Girls” is more of a documentary than a comedy.
But it can also be a sort of magical time, where anything seems possible. Maybe that cute boy will ask you out in front the whole cafeteria, maybe you will score the winning goal for your team, and you just might pass that calculus test with a cram session and a bit of luck. I think there are some great writers who can really capture that time in our lives where we seemed on the edge of something great.
They’re able to make us sigh with longing for an easier time (or what seems like a simpler time when our days are full of bills, appointments, job hunting). Even now I revisit the pages of Francesca Lia Block novel or a Judy Blume book.
I suppose the reason I’m drawn to the coming of age story is because everything seems so raw. Even calculated experiences turn out otherwise, things are left hidden; everyone is waiting to unfold and show the world who they could be. I like it because it’s so different from the 20’s and 30’s syndrome where everyone thinks they know who they are, and they’re just waiting for everyone to bow down and say they’re “fucking amazing!”
Sometimes I think we should celebrate the people we used to be, before we got caught up in being a grown up. Maybe we should take a page from Marie Howe’s book and examine those turning point experiences.
I want to write a love poem for the girls I kissed in seventh grade,
a song for what we did on the floor in the basement
of somebody’s parents’ house, a hymn for what we didn’t say but thought:
That feels good or I like that, when we learned how to open each others’ mouths
how to move our tongues to make somebody moan. We called it practicing, and
one was the boy, and we paired off — maybe six or eight girls – and turned out
the lights and kissed and kissed until we were stoned on kisses, and lifted our
nightgowns or let the straps drop, and, Now you be the boy:
concrete floor, sleeping bag or couch, playroom, game room, train room, laundry.
Linda’s basement was like a boat with booths and portholes
instead of windows. Gloria’s father had a bar downstairs with stools that spun,
plush carpeting. We kissed each others’ throats.
We sucked each others’ breasts, and we left marks, and never spoke of it upstairs
outdoors, in daylight, not once. We did it, and it was
practicing, and slept, sprawled so our legs still locked or crossed a hand still lost
in someone’s hair … and we grew up and hardly mentioned who
the first kiss really was — a girl like us, still sticky with the moisturizer we’d
shared in the bathroom. I want to write a song
for that thick silence in the dark, and the first pure thrill of unreluctant desire
just before we made ourselves stop.
-Marie Howe, 1997
Back when I was an undergrad my first poetry professor would organize various readings by published poets. One of my favorites was E.A. (Tony) Mares. Most new poets know when giving a reading there’s always a chance they might fall into the “poetry voice.” A lot of us try to use a different cadence for each poem, emphasizes specific pauses, or draw out a line. Sometimes we’re overcome with nerves and we return to our safety net. As a result a lot of poems sound the same, and the audience gets bored. Granted there are some poets who use “poetry voice” because they think it makes the poems sound more interesting. If you ever meet a poet who does this, feel free to smack them Gibbs style. Or you could also make fun of them by reading random things (the menu at IHop, the back of a cereal box, etc…) like they would read one of their pieces.
If you would like to encounter a poet who doesn’t use poetry voice, go see Mr. Mares. It’s been almost 6 years since I attended his reading and I still can’t get it out of my mind. It was entertaining, each poem brought something new. One moment the audience felt like he was telling a joke, and during the next they were reaching for a tissue.
In light of recent events I would like to share a poem he wrote about the loss of a daughter. I think there are so many great things working within this poem that really capture the speaker’s pain, and show the emptiness that is now in his life.
Crestview Funeral Home
Wrapped in white linen and your prayer shawl,
you travel well, my child,
my silent voyager into the unknown.
The service, traditional, simple,
flows with a dignified drone
for you, my most untraditional daughter.
As the prayers rise and fall,
images come back from a happier time
before this coffin of unvarnished pine,
pegged and with no nails.
Like a burning man in a sea of fire
I grab on to a plank of memory.
recall you and your sisters
traveling with me when I acted
on make-do stages everywhere in New Mexico.
We bounced along two-lane blacktops,
munched down burgers on the run.
Stayed in cheap motels in Raton,
Socorro, Roy, Ruidoso, Taos.
We loved the anarchy of life on the road.
There was that time on the Canadian
I stared down a bull,
mooed to him from the safety of the car.
“Dad, we’d better go,” you said
with those large, luminous, olive eyes.
I remember that time in Ruidoso
the conversation-starved man
followed us off the stage.
Stuck his head in the car window
and talked as I quietly slipped into gear,
waved goodbye, then slowly drove away
and he never stopped talking.
We laughed for hours over that.
The thin plank of memory smolders, then burns.
I swim on fire back to the prayers,
the service about to end.
This summing up of my daughter’s life.
Oh how I want to grab you and run, Galit.
I want to go on the road with you again,
play all those towns once more.
Drive, drive on forever into the sun.
– E.A. Mares, 2004
It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything poetry-wise. There have been lines and stanzas compiled in a notebook, but nothing solid. It’s been 6 crazy years since I started the journey as a poet. I look back and think of how easy it seemed to get something down, to make it a poem. When I look back at those pieces from my first and second year as a creative writing major, well I tend to keep them at the bottom of the stack. So, just because it was easy doesn’t mean it was good. Don’t get me wrong, there are some that I’ve carefully edited, and reconstructed over the years; I’m proud of those few.
There was one poem I found right after I signed up for my first creative writing class, that really made me want to pursue poetry. I used to use this poem as a standard that I measured my poems against. Even as late as 2007, I would go back to this piece to analyze what I liked about it. What made it work as a poem, and what I could do to get my work to include those things that made me want to read it over?
I thought I would post this poem during my writing dry spell to see if it sparked any new ideas. Maybe it won’t, maybe it’s not as shiny as I once thought it was. It’s a piece that I love though, one that I find myself returning to every year.
His Name Is Arash
He is my cousin.
I do not know him.
Pictures flash in my mind:
You are three and I am two.
We stand in the gardens behind Mumangee’s house.
Red and orange flowers surround us,
two dark-haired, black-eyed Persian kids holding hands.
I wear a white jumper with Raggedy Ann embroidered below
the collar. You wear brown shorts and an orange Roy Roger’s
t-shirt. We, two Iranian cousins
You used to hold me close, your little brown arms
surrounding my chubby pale body.
You would say, “My Sarah,”
two of the few words you knew in English,
expressing your Persian thoughts.
Of course I was yours, I was your first girl cousin
and should become your wife.
No one bothered to tell you that
my parents had American plans for my marriage.
Fate twisted with us, Arash:
As children, you were an orphan,
your father the first Iranian soldier to die fighting Iraq,
your mother left to raise you and
the baby girl growing in her stomach.
As Childhood playmates we ran in the gardens and
begged for grapes and
chattered in Farsi.
You even learned to communicate like me.
Did you know that in three short years in America
I would lose my Farsi,
my ability to talk with you?
Where did you think I went those first few weeks?
My family and I fled our country,
afraid of the militant Islamic law invading Iran,
and found a free life here,
where I never had to wear a chador.
I don’t remember those first few months,
but I know I missed you.
And now, sitting at my $26,000-a-year college,
surrounded by food and heat,
I wonder how you felt.
Did you cry for me? Did you think I would come back?
Who did you play with?
When did you forget your English?
Fate twisted with us, Arash:
You were orphaned as a child, I as a teenager.
When my Baba died, I wanted desperately to talk to you.
You called, too, when he was sick.
I remember handing him the phone.
When I answered and heard the Farsi,
I could say nothing.
I sat in the living room and heard my desert-eyed father crying.
He told me what you said.
You’d been to mosque, and said to Allah,
“You took my father, Allah, please don’t take my uncle too.
Please don’t take the father of my Sarah.”
And even though I can barely say ‘how are you’ in Farsi,
I can hear your voice telling him that.
Your words made him survive a few days longer.
The last I heard of you, Arash, you were jailed.
You were seen holding hands with a girl,
breaking a sacred law in Iran.
I pretend that you sat in jail and watched t.v.,
but I know that you were tortured for two months.
I’m sorry Arash.
I’m sorry I left you seventeen years ago,
in the red and orange gardens of Mumangee’s house,
without a hand to hold.
–Sarah Azizi, 1997
ETA: “without a hand to hold” is part of the last stanza but the spacing is messed up. I’ve tried fixing it several times.