Revisions

As usual, I was inspired by Elyssa’s blog post from last week (thank you Elyssa for the constant source of inspiration!) and decided it was time I blog a poem, too. I went home this past weekend and found an old poem I had written in high school while cleaning out my bedroom. The assignment was to compose a satirical piece of writing, so naturally I chose a poem. I still liked the poem, but there were certain things I revised. I went through and picked out words that seemed awkward, replacing them with a more suitable synonym. I read through and rewrote a few lines in order to help the rhythm of the poem. Finally, I re-read again making minor changes (tense, commas, etc.) to improve the final product.

 

Have you ever done this, returned to a poem to edit, revise, or rethink it? I found it to be a useful and enjoyable experience. It is interesting to look back on a piece of writing from awhile ago and appreciate what you were able to accomplish at that time, as a writer. Moreover, it is equally enjoyable to build upon past ideas. Revisiting former work is enjoyably nostalgic but also allows the opportunity to revise and rethink the ideas or experiences that have shaped your writing. I feel the new version is a better piece of writing than the original. The new poem, or writing, retains its original charm but benefits from the ever-growing skills of the writer. I encourage you all to go back and look at an old piece of you work. Is there something you would change? Even if it is only a few words, minor changes can transform your writing.

 

Why is the planet no longer green

but blacks and grays? – an ugly in-between

I pondered this thought as smoke pooled behind me

A swirling image of dirty foresee

“Who stifled nature?” No one spoke at the stop

For everyone was busy polluting, no time to drop

I was only left to dwell, in impurity and thought

But the question was not lost on me, no it was not

A man piped up, it’s only natural yup,

and I know these things, I’m a grown-up!

the environment is pristine

the holy image projected by the spires of the Sistine

And all the animals killed by man’s filthy folly

why that’s only the work of  Darwin’s jolly

it’s natural selection you see

that suffocates the animals from ocean to tree

I don’t ever pollute, no that’s not me

I’ve only got two trucks, three cars, and one SUV!

My house runs purely on anthracite

and at night I leave on all the lights, I’m a bit of an energy saving luddite

It is pure foolishness, when people exclaim

we shouldn’t use earth as a chemical drain!

lakes are supposed to be dirty, the air full of smog

I can’t take any more of the environmentalist monologue

No one really cares about a few holes

in the ozone that protects us – we need no controls!

Greenhouse gas – it can only be good

we should let it bloom and flourish, grow tall like a redwood

Who needs nature

when we’ve got skyscrapers

the utility of the tree

falls inferior to the grand prix

Recycling is an archaic tradition

We should embark upon a policy of reusable abolition  

Create something plastic, prime, pressed

after all new and wasteful – this the best

From Mother Nature’s sad perch

she sees only a beautiful burning tree – a birch

It’s all rather funny you see

her signs of distress appear to blind addresses

I love the Earth as much as anybody else

but I’m sick of these environmental seat belts

We have not harmed this planet

it’s life unceasing, roots forged out of pure granite

Dear child, who has misguided you so

filled your mind with images of a dilapidated environment – very low!

you must not commiserate with this starving Earth

when it’s quality of health has little worth

The real wealth lies in things that smoke black

in industry that has destroyed – no turning back

we must focus now on finding a new source to employ

the beginnings of a new mother to destroy

 

-Isabel

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I Am Human

Today’s blog post was inspired by the spoken word poem, “Humans” by Meghann Plunkett. In her poem, Plunkett muses on what it means to be human using a goldfish as a point of comparison. Throughout the poem, she repeats the phrase “we are human.” My writing prompt for today is to use the line “we are human” as inspiration for a poem of your own. Below you will find what I came up with.

Rain falls steadily outside my window

and this is the moment I realize I am human.

I don’t mean to sound all existential, but think about it:

I could have been a deer among the trees.

I could have spent my night battling Mother Nature

in a fruitless fight for cover, but instead I’m in bed

cozied up underneath the covers.

 

In another life, I am looking up at a sky void of light.

Above me, droplets of water pool on the leaves,

weighing them down until the branches break,

releasing a waterfall onto my unprotected back.

In another life, I do not dream of stars.

I cannot be certain that I dream at all, but if I do

my dreams are probably like geometry

and nothing like poetry. They are logic proofs.

They are tomorrow’s meal and next week’s lay.

 

In this life, I dream in an effort to unpack today.

Today, I was a dry patch in a wet world.

I was useless, unapologetically undeserving

of the space that I take up.

 

Today, I heard music in the pitter-patter

of the falling rain. It doesn’t get

 

more human

than this.

 

—Elyssa

Snooping

I have three sisters: Theresa, Taylor, Gwendolan. My oldest sister, Theresa, is eight years my senior; I have always idolized her, copied her, admired her. I often wonder how much she has influenced me, how much of her has shaped me. We are remarkably alike, my oldest sister and I – cut from the same cloth of course but still, strikingly similar.

Theresa, I should say, did not intentionally try to mold me to be like her but rather I think I did it to myself. She was, and is, my glamorous older sister, always sitting in our checkerboard kitchen, drinking coffee out of chipped mugs, a pen pinched between her lips as she read.

I started sneaking into her room in elementary school – in utter awe of the majestic trappings of a middle schooler. I would paw through her books, smell her perfumes, play with her make-up, look at myself in her mirror. I continued to sneak into Theresa’s room until she left for college, and if she still lived at home I probably still would. I’m a snoop – I’ll admit it, and my favorite thing to find in Theresa’s room was her poems.

When I was younger, there weren’t that many. I usually found them pawing through her drawers. One time, I was lucky enough to find a whole self-made book, a homework assignment of Theresa’s. My favorite poem from the book was called, “Amanda the Panda” and it went like this: “There once was a girl named Amanda/ She lived in the woods with the pandas/ The sun would shine and she swung from the vines/ Her life couldn’t have been grander.” I remember saying the poem in my head constantly after reading it. I brought up this poem to Theresa last winter, she didn’t even remember writing and could much less recite it. But it has stuck with me all this time.

When I started fifth grade, Theresa started college in New York City. I still wandered around her empty, orange room, examining paper scraps left in drawers for any semblance of poetry – I missed reading her work. But it was all gone. I decided that I should write my own poetry, create my own work. I don’t remember the first poem I wrote, or the many after that but I do remember that I loved it, that I still love it.

When Theresa came back from her first year of college she moved back into her room for the summer. I was thrilled; there were so many new things to snoop through: new clothes to steal, pictures to look at, poetry to read. One day while she was at work I found an anthology she had compiled in her poetry seminar at school. It was a beautiful book – as big as a textbook but not nearly as thick. The outside was covered in a sort of rough, textured fabric that was light yellow. Inside, of course, was her poetry and it was marvelous.

Everyday when Theresa would leave for work, I would find the book – stashed under her bed in a blue storage bin. I picked out my favorites; the one where my sisters and I are in my mom’s red Jetta and we roll into a lake and die – a bit morbid but beautifully done. Or the one where a woman wakes up to find that her body has been unzipped all the way down her sides, a haunting yet unforgettable image. And finally the one about our house, dilapidated but alive. I would read them over and over, absorbing them, thinking about how I could write something like this.

That summer I wrote so many poems, trying to emulate the spirit of Theresa’s work that I loved so much. This was good and bad; Theresa was inspiring me to write but it wasn’t my work, I hadn’t found my voice. Theresa never moved back home after the first summer, I never again got to freely traipse the intellectual and physical space of her room. But slowly, I  started to experiment, write poetry that existed out of Theresa’s realm of prose and rhyme, a space that was my very own.  

Sometimes, I wish I could go back to that orange room, creep around the messy bed and make my way to the big, old, white desk in the corner and search around inside. I do miss the poems, the inspiration, but mostly I want to compare. I no longer seek inspiration but search for juxtaposition. I have discovered my voice; I realize that my own work is much better than a copy or an imitation. I have become a writer, a poet.

Theresa inspired me to write poetry; she is an integral part of my poetry origin story, if you can call my narrative that. Today, I find value not only in our similarities, but more importantly in our differences. How did you discover poetry? Do certain writers, famous or familiar, inspire your work?

Insomnia

I am good friends with the hours between dusk and dawn. That period of purgatory when today is over but tomorrow hasn’t started. I share these moments with drunks and lovers and nightshift workers, wherever those people may be.

I rediscovered my love of poetry under starlight and desk lamps. I say rediscover because if you were to ask my mother, she would say that I wrote my first poem before I knew how to write. I was three, spitting straight poetry for my teacher to write down. But when I reached age nine, I lost that fire, at least momentarily. I was too busy with word problems and girl problems to write another poem about a tree.

And then I was in sixth grade, and my body forgot how to fall asleep before three in the morning. I would walk into my homeroom each day and announce that I only had three and a half hours of sleep. I had no idea what was wrong. My dad would tell me about articles he had read that talked about the harmful nature of the blue light from electronic screens, so I tried to stay off my iPod before bed. The problem was, without my music or digital solitaire I was left for hours with nothing but my thoughts.

In case you don’t remember, the thoughts of a middle schooler are not the best company. In my case, I spent a lot of time stressing out about this new thing called homework and constantly replaying mental montages of all the times I fell in public. When I was in middle school, I fell in public a lot.

In order to stop my thoughts from constantly whirlpooling around my brain, I started filling up notebooks. I hoped that the act of writing would help empty my head. I had a theory that words could only exist in one place at a time, so once they found a home on a page they could no longer live inside me.

I wrote poems I was proud of that I would eagerly read to my parents the next morning. I wrote others that haven’t seen the light of day in years. It didn’t matter if they were good or not, the point was that I was writing. I still wasn’t sleeping, but at least I had something to do with my time.

I am still a creature of the night, but after a long day of classes and jobs and internships and clubs, my body drifts towards sleep more readily than it used to. Those years of not sleeping were hard and physically trying, but those sleepless hours gave me poetry, so I guess it was worth it in the end.

So, this is my poetry origin story, part of it, anyway. Now I challenge you to write your own poetry origin story. Consider some of the following questions: What inspired you to start writing? Was there a specific moment when you first considered yourself a writer? What motivates you to continue to write? Write a poem or personal essay about it.

Overlaps

It is hard to explain why, but an influx of adults on campus is always unsettling, rather uncanny really, and this weekend was host to a whole hoard of adults here in Binghamton. That’s right, I’m talking about Family Weekend.

Family Weekend is held every year, pretty early on, to help aid the painful blow of leaving home after a long summer of pointless fights, unsettled grudges, poorly completed chores, and general disorder. At least, that has been my experience.

So naturally, my parents drove all the way up from Pennsylvania just to catch a glimpse of me for a mere four hours. But, instead of the knock-down, drag-out fight I was anticipating – the trip was actually rather lovely.

The day began, or was supposed to begin, at 10:00am sharp. This was the projected arrival time of my father, mother, and little sister Gwen. So, when 12:00pm rolled around with no word from my family, I was a bit on edge, to say the least. But at the ripe hour of 1:00pm, I got a call from my mom. My family was outside my dorm building waiting for me to come let them peek into my private, independent college life.  

I think they were all a bit shocked upon entering my dorm room. I had woken up early to clean, but the overall dinginess of the dorms could not be negated by my feeble attempts at tidying up. My mom: “Isabel how do you survive in so little space?” My mother, having only ever lived in a hotel her whole life, grappled with organization and space optimization strategies while my father, a carpenter, commented on all the structural shortcomings of the room. My little sister, Gwen – fourteen, full-lipped and freckled – stood in the corner and merely observed.

After the room debacle, things seemed to take an upward swing. We wandered around campus for a bit, exploring my daily path. My mom loved all the trees and plants on campus, my father enjoyed the nature preserve, and my little sister only complained about being tired and hot twice – so, all in all, things were running smoothly.

We made a trip to Goodwill, an excursion I emphatically insisted upon because I have an insatiable fondness of thrift shopping. The usual happened: I picked out clothes and my family commented. Mom: “Now, Isabel, why on earth would you ever buy that?” Dad: “I think my mom used to wear pants like that” Gwen: “Those clothes are ugly.” But I sort of enjoy the critiques now. In a new setting, having been away from my family, I realize I have missed their nagging. Away from our hotel, from our corner, some things are different – but I guess some things, critiquing my style for one, stay the same.

Then we go out to eat, my birthday dinner actually, and my mom tries to embarrass me in front of our handsome waiter, my dad shakes his head, and Gwen sits there – still observing. We order our food and my mom tells me all about what she has been doing in the four weeks I have been gone. For the past four summers, I have worked for my mother at her daycare, so I love to hear about what all the kids have been up to since I left. My mother, I should mention, is a master story-teller. When she talks at the table, everybody listens and does not dare interrupt, for fear that she will not begin again. She tells me about the babies, crawlers when I left, who are now walking. About the preschoolers who are now in kindergarten, about the “big kids” (who are really just school-age children) and all the trouble they have been causing. Again, I am struck by how much I miss not only the kids, of course, but listening to my mother’s stories. It feels like I am back on my corner, like I’m back at home.

At home, we all sit around the maple dining room table anticipating my mother’s stories; my father shakes his head when my mother gets too loud or outrageous, and Gwen, a story-teller in her own right, interjects whenever she can – dying to tell all the things she has been busy observing. I love this ritual, I miss this ritual. I am glad to have it on my birthday, right here in Binghamton. The table is different – but it still feels like home.

I did not realize how much I missed my family until they wandered into my dorm room last Saturday, curious to see what I have been up to for the past year. I was dreading this, this merging of two separate spheres – college and home, but I feel more grounded now. I have a little of my family, my home, at college now. And they got to take a little bit of my life at college back home to Stines Corner.

This Family Weekend I discovered the beauty of overlaps, of family and friends, college and home. Try to find these overlaps in your own life. Is there a particular space that is completely your own? Perhaps consider sharing it with someone who is central to another sphere in your life. The mingling of separate spaces can be quite lovely; at least, that’s been my experience. Write about the experience, about the merge. I look forward to reading your stories in the comments below!

-Isabel

Happy New Year in September!

Hello, and happy New Year!

Yes, I know that it’s only mid-September, that we have not yet said goodbye to the green leaves and we don’t need our jackets just yet. But in my book—the Old Testament, that is—the beginning of autumn means the beginning of the year, and I’m prepared to bring in 5778 with a bang.

Before I continue, let me briefly introduce myself. I’m Elyssa, the second of this semester’s Binghamton Poetry Project interns. I’m a senior at Binghamton University studying English and human development. I do a lot of things besides studying, too, but I’m sure you’ll learn more about those as the semester continues.

Today, I’m going to take you on an adventure. One that will leave you saying, “I have a feeling we’re not in rural Pennsylvania anymore.” Let’s leave behind the hammocks and the honey and venture into the eye of a hurricane. Welcome to my favorite type of chaos: a Jewish kitchen as a holiday approaches. And as you have probably figured out, the holiday is Rosh Hashanah, or literally, the head of the year.

Welcome to my suburban New York kitchen.

Your first steps feel as if my mother has wrapped you in a blanket. While you will notice that there are no closed doors to trap in the heat, the fire on the stove and the blasting double ovens do not care that hot air expands. Not a single scented atom wants to leave the room out of fear that it will miss the excitement.

This is mom’s domain. All you can do is take a seat around the blonde wood table, listening to the buzz of the electric knife as tender brisket practically falls apart. Nothing seems loud until everything is quiet, until the knife stops buzzing, the stove fan is shut, the TV muted.

Across the room sits a silver stockpot on the stove, so worn it’s almost bronze. You lift the lid, causing the eruption of a steam volcano, except different. They both make your face sweat, but now when you breathe in your lungs are not burnt with ash. Instead, your sinuses open as you welcome the aroma of homemade chicken stock filled with sweet simmering carrots and onions.

I tell you that my mother makes the best matzo ball soup around, and if your mother makes soup, you say the same. Knowing quite well that we’re both right, we’ll argue anyway. That’s what we do, after all.

In reality, the soup isn’t what matters. What matters is the fact that it tastes the same.

Like that time in my grandparents’ empty house, knowing we would never eat it there again. For a second, we were able to forget that the room smelled like ghosts and nostalgia. For a second, it’s 2003, and there are 20 of us around the same dining room table. Pop pulls out his paring knife, passes out apple slices for a sweet new year. Ma laughs, because she knows where she is and who we are, still understands that we belong in that room together.

Welcome to my favorite kind of chaos: an overcrowded house during the holidays. Through births and deaths and marriages, four generations have asked for seconds of the same stock. The crowd is different now, so is the dining room table, so is the house. But it’s still Rosh Hashanah. It’s still my mother’s matzo ball soup.

Whether you’re celebrating this week or not, I encourage you all to take the time to think about a favorite family tradition. Maybe it’s a recipe that has been passed down through generations. Maybe it’s the way your family spends your favorite holiday. Maybe it’s just your weekly game night. Whatever it is, write a poem or short story about it. Use your words as a tool to bring the reader into your home. Try to make someone else understand why it means so much to you.

-Elyssa

 

A Time for Introductions…

 My name is Isabel. It is rather hard to come up with a clever yet endearing way to introduce yourself in a blog. So, after much tribulation I figured I’d dive right in and just say it: I’m Isabel. I am a sophomore at Binghamton University, studying Comparative Literature. But most importantly, this semester I am an intern at the Binghamton Poetry Project. It seems pertinent, then, to express a bit of myself in this post as I embark upon my blogging journey for the semester. So, I tried to think about the thing that defines me, that encapsulates the essence of Isabel. As I mulled over what this could be, an image of my house popped into my head.

My home is Stines Corner, a well-worn former hotel and country store that sits on the corner of a quiet highway in Pennsylvania. The property is a corner that has been claimed by my family for the past half century or so. The paint is chipping and the wrap-around porch is comprised of old slabs of concrete — cracked and incomplete — one newly poured and embedded with a penny from the year I was born and a pair of small hand-prints that are my own. Inside the house, large pieces of horse-hair plaster occasionally fall from the ceiling on unsuspecting victims, and the radiators hiss and break. This is the sprawling metropolis of my childhood, my sanctuary, my soul.

I have read Vonnegut under the trees in the backyard, practiced German in the library, broken bones as I precariously tottered on a swivel chair picking berries from the mulberry bush. As I stand on the corner in the middle of the road, my feet straddling the yellow lines, I realize this house is a looking glass; this house reflects me.

Inside is the center of the limited universe I have inhabited up to this point. As a child in the living room, I lay on the coffee-stained carpet working through the tribulations of addition and subtraction, questioning the utility of what I took to be a trivial concept — math. In adolescence, I lounged in the red string hammock under the cool shade of a maple tree contemplating the psychological implications of Sigmund Freud. Each summer, I marked jars in black ink, handing them to my sisters as we set up our honey stand on the front porch. I have written countless poems perched on the roof, inspired by the nature around me. In the checkerboard kitchen, I stuttered through that initial awkwardness of learning the German language I have come to love. It is in these familiar spaces that I’ve begun to understand the beauty of knowledge and the worthwhileness of its pursuit.

This house contains all the evidence of my first 18 years of life in rural Pennsylvania. There are my first grade report cards, the unstable stack of dismal writings my mother insists on keeping, and folders of bygone homework assignments I refuse to throw away. My house is my sanctuary and I like to keep the pointless artifacts of my past there. I find it comforting that somewhere nestled in the countryside of Pennsylvania there is a time capsule of me.

Sometimes, my house seems to take on a life of its own. Its heart throbs, and the beat continues to remind me of the endless possibility of the future and the stability of the past. My mother says we give life to this house, but this house has given life to me. Through an exploration of my looking glass, I have explored the spaces that have shaped my passions. I hope to bring the spirit of creativity and curiosity cultivated in my childhood home to the Binghamton Poetry Project this semester. I hope in sharing my home, I have communicated a bit of myself as I look forward to getting to know all of you this semester.

As I wrap up my first blog, I ask you to consider a sacred place or object that is your very own. I have my corner. So much of oneself can be instilled in an object, or a space. These places, objects, etc. are so important – they remind us of the past, of who we used to be, of what we have overcome. They provide a haven for the present. When I feel lost or misplaced, I like to go home or simply think of my house and I feel more safe, comfortable. They shape our futures and help guide where we will go, who we will be. So take some time, think about what has shaped you. Write about the influence it has had on your life or special memories you associate with it. Do you have a looking glass? Take the time to catch a glimpse of yourself in its reflection.

– Isabel

 

-Isabel