Happy Valentine’s Day!

Roses are red,

violets are blue,

I’ve got a story

to tell all of you.

 

Those two corny lines

at the top of this page

were written long ago

428 is their age.

 

Sir Edmund Spencer

wrote The Faerie Queene

and there was the first time

they’d ever been seen.

 

A kids’ rhyme is closer

to the poem of today

they’re even in Les Mis

seen on Broadway.

 

Many have used them

to woo a lover

but if the rhyme wasn’t right

I’m sure they would suffer.

 

So write one for your valentine,

or someone else who needs it

using these two lines,

knowing this tidbit.

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Sensory Poetic Experience

People generally frown upon eavesdropping, it’s true; but, there’s no denying the ripe and delicious material a writer can extrapolate from overheard conversations. This might present itself as an obvious statement—artists collage and frame small instances of life all the time to transform them into bursts of art. I mean to bring attention more to the seemingly insignificant moments than the outwardly monumental ones. At the start of the semester, my creative writing teacher emphasized the importance of these small moments, like somber bus rides and food lines in the café, in attempt to encourage us to seek out poetic inspiration. It’s often easy for us to get caught up in the stress of the day, in the music playing through our headphones (I know I rarely go out alone without them) that we forget to take advantage of our placement around people with the ability to spark rich, sometimes comical, creative ideas.

Poets, non-poets, I myself may often feel inclined to focus on and react to our most initial emotion sparked by grandiose events or abstract ideas, like love and anger and loneliness and joy. Sometimes trying to illustrate these ideas results in a cycle of clichés and generalizations. I forget this in my own writing process frequently, probably every time I write a rough draft. One of my pieces was recently critiqued because I used “drip” to describe “tears.” My professor told me that I should consider changing this; one, because of its over-usage, (which I should’ve seen coming!) and secondly, because I tried to capture an internal feeling of longing and grief by using external images that can too often appear ambiguous. He explained that instead, it can most times prove more effective to use external sensory and shared human experiences to depict how these two things affect the characters of the poem, internally. I thought my instructor’s observation (and subsequent advice) pertinent to this blog post. He emphasized for me the importance of observing and making sense of human emotion—empathy as fuel for bringing my characters and poetic personas to life.

When we take in these day-to-day encounters from things like kid siblings fighting over the last pickle in Walmart and a co-worker’s video of her granddaughter on Facebook to intimate conversations that maybe we wish we didn’t hear, how do we first, as humans, attend to our perception of these situations in terms of our lives, and second, as artists, sublimate that understanding and redistribute it into our art? This week, try focusing in on one or two of your senses, whether smell, sight, taste, touch, or sound, and tune in sharply. Collect and make note of anything that stands out to you. Think about what kind of emotion it elicits in you; think about how you would explain that experience in a way that might elicit that in a reader. Think about what it might look like to someone different than you and the ways in which their experience might be both like and unlike your own. Write a poem or short story or essay about the things that you noticed with whatever your heightened sense of the week might be. You can do this with smell by paying special attention to things you may not initially notice the smell of like rain or steam or sand.  I think I’ll start with sound by paying special attention to the sounds the world makes, like blowing wind or the splashing of tires through a puddle; the way my peers interact with one another—how human empathy sometimes reveals itself (or doesn’t) in unexpected voices, phrases, tones; the difference between all of the cracks and ticks and scratches and thumps I hear throughout my day; etc.

 

‘Til next time. Ciao!

 

Jenna, Spring 2018 intern

 

New Year, New Interns

My mother named me Jessica after Mrs. Claus in the ABC Family Christmas special,Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” In it, the woman who Santa marries is named “Jessica.” Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not Mrs. Claus, so I can’t put in a good word for you. The name Jessica was coined by none other than William Shakespeare himself, in his play Merchant of Venice. I think it’s fitting, then, that I ended up an English major, with a love for reading and writing.

When I’m not doing either of those things, I like to bake. Usually I bake desserts— cookies, cupcakes, brownies, cakes, and more. There’s something about carefully measuring out the exact proportions of flour and sugar and folding them all together that I find calming and therapeutic. The elements alone aren’t particularly appetizing. No one just has a cup of flour for lunch, and I’d like to meet the person who enjoys a tablespoon-sized swig of vanilla extract. But once lovingly apportioned and stirred, they work in harmony to create something wonderful, and deliciously different.

Baking can be a social activity, and for me it often is. I bake with my friends because it’s a simple way to create something together. One afternoon in my best friend’s kitchen we went from being ice cream and ketchup, preteens on adjacent tracks that sometimes bumped into one another, to peanut butter and jelly, friends for life. I remember vividly the time in middle school when someone (no one will admit to it) put three tablespoons of lemon juice instead of three teaspoons into the cookies, or just this past December when we threw powdered sugar all over one another in my backyard. Like eggs in a cake, our binding agent throughout all of these years has been baking.

My mother and I bake at Christmastime. We make over a dozen different types of cookies and bars between us, plus a homemade gingerbread house. She and I spend a weekend in the kitchen with festive melodies playing in the background (or maybe a certain Christmas cartoon), passing the sugar canister between us. She makes the lemon squares while I make the pecan snowball cookies, or she puts together the fudge while I do the raspberry bars. My brothers sneak by and try to pluck a cookie (or ten) and we playfully bat their hands away. It might be old-fashioned, but I love working in the kitchen with her; it adds to the magic of the season.

I couldn’t possibly eat everything I bake (though, believe me, I’ve tried), so I give it away. I love to see someone’s face light up as they bite into something I’ve created. It’s hard to frown when there’s a gob of frosting on your nose and a morsel of cupcake on your tongue. I once made mini apple pies for a charity bake sale that sold out in an hour. I gave a batch of cookies to a family friend when she was going through a rough patch. I made my dad’s favorite chocolate chip cookies for father’s day every year. While baking in the dorm kitchen last semester, I gave a cookie to a stranger passing through and he stopped to chat with me for twenty minutes while I was waiting for the final batch to cool.

For me, baking is about connecting. It’s reaching out towards strangers, loved ones, friends, and even within myself. Everything homemade is made with love. We can all use a little extra love every now and again. Back when I was barely the size of the jelly bean, there was no way for my mother to know who her “Jessica” would turn out to be. It’s a common name, I’m probably not the only “Jessica” you know, and although we are perpetually bonded by our common seven letters, we are each entirely unique.

This week when you write, consider the ingredients that you have accumulated throughout your life. What are the essential components of your personality or your mindset? How have you acquired them? Write your poem in the form of a recipe, with a list of ingredients and their quantities, as well as baking instructions.

– Jess the Intern

Goodbye

I started off this semester with a blog about a reflection of me: my rambling, charmingly dilapidated home: Stines Corner. It seems fitting then, to end on a reflection, not necessarily of me this time, but on my experience this semester, here at the Binghamton Poetry Project.

 

I have learned a lot this semester – a cliché thing to say, I know –  but it’s the truth. I learned that little kids, through attending the kids workshops, have unlimited poetic capabilities. This workshop was my favorite experience as an intern. I always forget how creative and fearless kids are. They have no preconceptions of what constitutes “good” or “thought-provoking” poems. They just write and it imbues their work, their poems with a certain authenticity that I strive to reach in my own poetry. Their work never seems contrived or affected. They love to write poetry, so they came to our workshop and they did. I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this process for them. What’s more is while I was helping them with their poetry – they taught me to be fearlessly creative and to be confident in my poetry.

 

I learned that running a community organization like the Binghamton Poetry Project, is hard work. This seems obvious but working with Carolyn and Heather, the director and assistant director of BPP, I have witnessed first-hand how much effort goes into organizing and running the workshops, compiling the anthology and coordinating the final reading – to name a few of the things that the Project does each semester. Community work, while sometimes tedious and often difficult, is very rewarding. The artistic outlet this organization offers to the Binghamton community is very special and unique. I feel very lucky to have, minimally, contributed to its existence.

 

I learned that poetry is for everybody. I often feel that people think poetry is unapproachable – either too tough or tedious to write, or too abstract and difficult to understand. In working with BPP this semester I have been exposed to the range of individuals that this organization serves. While compiling the anthology I was amazed at the spectrum of community members submitting poems. One moment, I was typing up a clever middle-schooler’s poem about a circle and the next completely engrossed by a middle-aged man’s poem about self-reflection. I love that the anthology is representative of the breadth of individuals who can, and do, write poetry. BPP offers the opportunity for community members to embrace the poet inside all of us. At the final reading, I was struck by the members of this community who have found their poetic voice, who have embraced their inner-poet and proudly share his work.

 

As I conclude this final blog, it seems like a good time to give some thanks. To Carolyn and Heather: thank you for being patient with me, guiding me, and for the opportunity to work with you in this incredible organization. To anyone who reads this blog, who came to the workshops, or has been involved with BPP this semester: thank you for allowing me this unique, fulfilling internship opportunity. I hope our paths, through poetry or otherwise, continue to cross.

 

Farewell,

Isabel

 

It’s crazy to think that after three months, five weeks of writing workshops, and countless hours spent with this organization, my time as an intern is up. I first learned about Binghamton Poetry Project during my freshman year when I received a call for submissions email for BPP’s spring contest. By some stroke of luck, my poem was the runner-up, and I was invited to read at BPP’s spring 2015 final reading. Now, two and a half years later, I am a senior who had the opportunity to plan and host this semester’s reading. Isn’t it poetic how my college experience has come full circle?

 

As a BPP intern, I gained the confidence to teach a room full of adults about poetry. I am president of Binghamton University’s Slam Poetry Club so I have experience leading workshops for people around my age, but I was nervous about going in front of a group of people who are older than me and know more than me and have probably been writing for a lot longer than I have. Of course I am still a student and still have a lot to learn, but this semester I realized that someone can be a poet at any age and you are never too young to talk and to teach and to listen.

 

As a BPP intern, I learned a lot about nonprofit management. I have wanted to intern for BPP since my freshman year but I held off applying until the semester that I wanted to complete my human development practicum. As a human development major, I have dedicated myself to helping others and the community at large. In order to finish my degree, my final requirement was to volunteer 100 hours at a community organization. BPP has been the perfect practicum site because it combines so many of my passions: poetry, community development, and education. Not only have I had the opportunity to write and to learn, but I got to see firsthand what goes into making a community organization run smoothly.

 

As a BPP intern, I had the opportunity to be a true citizen of Binghamton. As a college student, I have taken so much from the city and I have made it my goal to give back as much as I can. During these last few months, I have gotten to know so many wonderful people at my workshop and at the final reading. Without BPP, I never would have known how many poets have made a home in Binghamton. I also probably would have never realized how nice the Broome County Library is.

 

I still have one semester left at Binghamton, so this is not a permanent goodbye. And I’m sure that whoever takes my (and Isabel’s) place next semester will be so great that you won’t even miss us. But regardless, know that I will miss you. When I think back on my college experience, BPP will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you for reading, thank you for writing. Do me a favor and don’t stop.

 

Bye for now,

Elyssa

Ways You Know You’re Having a Bad Day…

  1. When you arrived on campus, it was definitively Tuesday but when you leave campus, it’s the wee hours of Wednesday morning and you need to wait for your windshield to defrost before you can safely drive.
  2. You set an alarm for 9 a.m. so you can work on an assignment before your 11 a.m. commitment, but when you wake up it’s 10:37 and you’ve done no homework and you know you are going to be late.
  3. You open a gate directly into your glasses because, instead of looking up to see where you are going, you are looking down at your phone, texting an apology about your impending lateness.
  4. You thought that nobody saw the gate-to-the-face incident, but when you look up, a man who works for your apartment complex greets you with a smile and says, “be careful, it’s dangerous out there.”
  5. You don’t eat your first meal until 2 p.m.
  6. You go to an event that offers free cookies, but the only cookies left are oatmeal raisin.
  7. The overpriced Dunkin’ Donuts on campus runs out of milk.
  8. When you arrived on campus, it was definitively Wednesday but when you leave campus, it’s the wee hours of Thursday morning and you need to wait for your windshield to defrost before you can safely drive…

Poetry is definitely an art form, but sometimes it’s okay to treat it more like therapy. Today’s writing prompt is to write something without an audience in mind. Is something bothering you? Do you need to have a difficult conversation that you’re afraid to initiate? Do you need to vent, rant, or complain? Today, write something that is strictly for you. If you want, you can go back and edit it later to make it more audience-friendly, but you have no obligation to do so.

Sam

My dog, Sam, was a fat yellow lab whose hips swayed when he walked up the stairs and had the softest ears I’ve ever touched. He wasn’t always fat, but his passion for human food and my family’s willingness to give it to him led to his plumpness. When he was a puppy, he was adorable. Everyone used to tell us he looked just like the Cottonelle puppy, you know, the one from the toilet paper TV commercials? And he really did, he really really did.

He misbehaved, to put it mildly. But I loved that about him. He wasn’t mean or violent, just mischievous, always eating food that wasn’t his, destroying my family’s possessions, sleeping in my parents bed. I could fill volumes with stories about Sam, in fact there is even a song, written by my mother about Sam. The kids from her daycare would perform that song at graduation. But for the purpose of this blog, I’ll share the most memorable.

Sam loved the school bus. Luckily for him the bus comes to my house four times a day to pick up and drop off the kids from my mom’s daycare and to get me and my sisters for high school and middle school. We always tried to corral him before we would go out for the bus, but once he heard the bus barreling down the road there was no stopping him. Everyday, despite our best efforts, he would slam through the front door and wait, like a student himself, for the bus to screech to a stop. The doors would open and he was off, up the stairs and down the bus aisle. He would trot down the aisle so exuberantly, stopping in front of a few people for a nice scratch or to sniff a backpack. Then he would walk back to the front and sit in the seat right behind the driver, waiting for us to grab him by the collar and drag him back inside. I can still see him there now, perched behind the elderly bus driver, smiling.

Sam was particularly skilled with lunchboxes by the end of his life. Like I said, my mom runs a daycare so there was a bounty of perfectly packaged lunches for Sam’s consumption daily. At first, he would destroy the lunchbox – rip it to shreds to frantically retrieve the treats that awaited him inside. I can only imagine how much money my mom spent replacing lunchboxes. But eventually, he figured out how to open zippers; he would stick one of his teeth through the slider and throw his head around until the contents of the lunch were scattered on the floor. Then he would put the undamaged lunchbox to the side, and happily consume his bounty.

We have a dumpster at my house, so every Wednesday the garbage man would come to retrieve our week’s worth of trash. Sam, upon hearing the noisy truck pull into the parking lot, would race to the door barking, entreating us to let him out. And we always did. He would run over and greet the man, beg for a few pets. Then, the garbage man would procure a rawhide bone from the pocket of his fluorescent green vest and Sam would happily accept the treat. Once he secured the bone, he would saunter back to our porch, lay in a sunspot if there was one, and enjoy his afternoon snack.

Sam was my dog; he passed away while I was still in high school but it still feels like I’ll find him snoring in the living room, or enjoying a stolen treat, maybe lounging on the porch – paws outstretched. I keep him alive in my memory of him, and I think that is very special.
Writing as a manifestation of remembrance is no novel idea, but I find it to be a worthwhile exercise. I find it easy to transfer my memories to the page. To take something that I have lost and make it real again through my words. I choose to remember Sam, my fickle and fat yellow lab, but who or what do you want to remember?

Happy Hallowbirthday to Me

Hello BPP blog readers! I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but Tuesday is Halloween. And you know what Halloween means: candy, horror movies, pumpkin spiced everything, a half-hour special dedicated to David S. Pumpkins…but most importantly, Halloween means my birthday is coming up!

Because my birthday falls two days before Halloween, I have always felt that I have a special claim to the holiday. If I’m being honest, I would not care about Halloween otherwise. Once I became too old to trick-or-treat, the holiday became more stressful than sweet. I am not creative, crafty, or a skilled enough makeup artist to enjoy costume parties. In high school, Halloween became a public display of who your friends were. It was not about what you were dressed as, but who you were dressed up with, and which parties you were or were not invited to. In college, the parties don’t have enough candy and I have too much homework and too sensitive of a stomach to get drunk three nights in a row.

My complicated relationship with Halloween mimics my complicated relationship with my birthday. I was born on a cursed day. A Tuesday in late October exactly 67 years after that other Tuesday in late October…. Black Tuesday…the day the stock market crashed, marking the beginning of the Great Depression.

My fifteenth birthday fell during a record-breaking New York October snowstorm. There was so much snow that I couldn’t even make it to the Halloween party and, even worse, the pizza deliveryman couldn’t make it to my house.

I turned sixteen in the dark, on the day that Hurricane Sandy made landfall. The wind knocked out my power at about 6pm. I could not blow out the candles on my Entenmann’s birthday cake because they were our only source of light. My belated gift that year was when the power returned nine days later.

Birthdays 17-20 were not accompanied by any weather events, but many of them have stories, too. Some of those stories are happy, some end in disappointment, but that’s the nature of events like birthdays and Halloween. When the cultural expectation is that the day has to be perfect, there is only room to go downhill.

This year, for 21, the bar is low. I have big plans—my parents are driving up for the night, my best friend and I are co-hosting a joint Hallowbirthday party, another friend is visiting all the way from Maryland—but I don’t want to expect anything. I’m spending the weekend surrounded by people I love and as long as the world does not end, no freak storms, no financial disasters, I will call the day successful.

Do you have any particularly memorable birthdays? Write a personal essay or poem about it.