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

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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.

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

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?