During the spring semester of 2018, I enrolled in Creating the Poem with Dr. Iliana Rocha here at the University of Central Oklahoma. Before entering the classroom, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew nothing of poetry besides the few guidelines to some forms covered in half of a week’s span while I was in high school. I honestly walked in the classroom on the first day thinking, This should be simple. Roses are red. Violets are blue. I couldn’t have been any more mistaken.
Dr. Rocha explained that we students would be creating and compiling a chapbook of our own for the semester. What the hell is a chapbook? I thought to myself. Normally, I’m not one to freak out when it comes to a required page count either, but when she told us the final chapbook portfolio was to be 20-25 pages, my brain went into panic mode. I’m screwed. Why did I do this to myself? I’m good for one world-changing poem, if that.
But then, she made each student pull out a piece of blank paper and number the paper 1 to 13. She told us to list something similar to the following: the street you grew up on, your favorite beverage, a cartoon character you remember from your childhood, an item of clothing, a dream destination, etc. On another blank sheet of paper we were instructed to write, on line number one, a line of poetry using one of our 13 facts. Next, the person to the right, on line two, would continue the poem with another one of their 13 facts. Together, the class created (for the most part) a cohesive and sentimental poem about their lives. (One line about an exploding toilet lightened the mood though). I soon began to think the class wouldn’t be that bad.
Until I heard the first poems about dying animals, war in Afghanistan from the eyes of a soldier, and growing up in a neglectful home as a child slightly older than a toddler. I can’t write about red roses and blue violets? One evening, while in class, Dr. Rocha explained and discussed with us a term called the unutterable. Some students nodded their heads in understanding while I sat imagining how I must look like an animated cartoon character with the three bouncing question marks floating above my head. As the discussion progressed, I came to understand that the unutterable was any raw emotion or uncomfortable writing from any given writer. Also, it’s simply subjective. The readers’ catharsis is based upon individual and personal experience. Who wants to talk about poop (Chen Chen) or menstrual cycles (Rupi Kaur)? Such subjects that can bring out a quick shiver or shudder is successful in creating the unutterable.
The very discussion and encouragement from Dr. Rocha and my peers opened up a new pathway for my writing. Just after a few months in the class, I was able to write about an assault that occurred in my youth that I never thought I would be able to verbally express to anyone. Poetry, and its mechanics, allowed me to write to everyone and no one in particular. The fact that Dr. Rocha explained to us that poetry is purely subjective encouraged me to write to other victims solely for my extended support and encouragement. Roses aren’t always red and the violets I see are broken—petals forever flowing in the Oklahoma breeze.
ACE BOGGESS is an author of three books of poetry, most recently Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017), and the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016). His fourth poetry collection, I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, RATTLE, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.
Advice for Saying Hello
KELLY KING WALDEN blogs at kellylogos.net, which is also her Twitter handle (without the net:) She has raised children (4, one from Ethiopia) and mentors teens and college students. She created an ACT Prep business, which she runs, and writes on the side for various online magazines and a local magazine. She has only published one poem, at Plough Quarterly. She has a Master’s in English and has taught school and college in the past.
Writing has been a part of my life since I learned cursive in the third grade, but I didn’t fall madly in love with it until well into my high school years, where I was often known as the “Black One” or “That Black Girl with the Weird Hair.” Writing became the channel that I never knew I needed. I struggled with my identity as a Black girl and what it means to be black. People often tried to quantify my blackness; my classmates or some of my family didn’t believe I was black enough because I went to a predominately white school. Through my writing I was able to find myself, and it illuminated the person I am today. I don’t know the kind of person I would be now had I not fallen for writing. Something as simple as writing my feelings on a blank page could extricate me from any bad mood or bad day.
Is the starless night
A hole in space that absorbs all that can fall within.
The colorless color fabricates as rubbish to the blind.
The sign of evil and frightening reminder of sin,
The magic of silver tongued casting witches twisting the mind,
Devils, liars, mystics, cheats, and criminals all absorbs in one,
Distorting the color, policing the image is man who places the bind.
Embrace your beauteous form whose curves thy dark caress on light ought,
Enthrall those who shun your essence in ignorance, for the future is fluid to sight.
A resilient experience has made the child in me wise,
Your pain knit in every fiber and strand within my heart and soul forever sown.
Black, is my pride, armor, culture mixed in a bowl, the essence that creates my mind,
A woman painted an image of a man, woman, child in thy color refined.
My identifier, the absorbing shroud over my mirror,
For one so illustriously dark and ebony, my opinion is ever clearer.
Thy inky hand caresses my hair and face sweeping down to my feet.
Acceptance, the windy cold mountain challenge, the greatest feat.
I am you, and you define me.
This poem created a vacuum for all the thoughts of what it means to me to be black, and how I should move forward, despite all the labels added to my race. Writing is a way to find one’s self-awareness, and I think that bleeds into my works often. To quote the well-known author Enid Bagnold, “Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything… It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
Diversity in Literature: Intersections
Literature is a preserved collection of the human experience. It transfers thoughts and ideas into a shareable medium. Literature by nature is diverse, but does it represent the expanse of the human condition? Does it provide a truly collaborative snapshot, or merely the most popular narrative?
We are all humans, and like literature, exist in a variety of forms. We are diverse in race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, culture, socioeconomic status, political beliefs, occupation, etc. Literature helps us understand/comprehend the differences and the connections between us. Literature is at a point of intersection. To expand our minds, we must also expand our exposure to different perspectives.
We at New Plains Student Publishing encourage everyone to have a voice, and are excited to announce a new biweekly diversity blog series: Intersections.
Intersections will feature blogs from alternating diversity themes.
-New Plains Student Publishing
What It Means to Me
Written by Caitlin Carnall
I would be lying if I said I had it figured out from the start, writing that is. For the first couple of years, I was extremely self-critical of my own work and never wanted to share it in fear of judgement from my peers.
During my fourth year on campus at the University of Central Oklahoma, I was in a Young Adult Literature course and we were studying W.E.B. DuBois’s concept of double consciousness. The concept encompasses the idea and struggle of an individual’s identity being split and divided into two or more facets.
It was difficult for me growing up with a Hispanic grandmother who blared Latin tunes during Sunday’s chores, singing every word in Spanish, but not understanding what I was listening to. Not to mention, I would look in the mirror and notice my skin wasn’t as dark as hers, so did I really belong to her ancestry? Or was I just this white girl living in the Mexican neighborhood in Oklahoma City?
When I first began studying the concept of double consciousness, I didn’t recognize that I, myself, was split between three different racial identities: Caucasian, Hispanic, and American Indian. When speaking directly about the effect of my racial identities upon my writing, I rarely talk about and reflect on my American Indian ancestry for the simple fact that I know very little about it. On my mother’s side of the family, my great grandmother’s mother was full-blood Cherokee Indian, but we couldn’t trace back the history far enough to take ownership of our benefits. On my father’s side, I know my grandfather was less than 25% Indian. I reflect most on my Hispanic and Caucasian ancestry in my writing, especially my poetry. The divide between my racial identities add a certain kind of character to my work, where in reality causes me anxiety that I am normally uncomfortable sharing out loud. However, through my writing, I am allowed to express this struggle I encounter with my racial identities without feeling directly judged. My writing truly allows me an outlet for overwhelming emotion, and it gives voice to a diverse individual. The following is my poem, Tough Meat:
Girl, you crazy.
Yeah, gram. You.
Best friend—my fear
Is my best friend.
Hold you close, but at a distance.
Like your skin color, like
the color my skin should be—
Stuck to my finger and stuck to my memory.
Just don’t let anyone catch me
Love you at your worst.
Oh shit, maybe I’m crazy too.
The skip-a-generation bullshit is real.
We got tough meat—as hard as is—
Lithium over easy atop my enchiladas
¿Por favor Abuela?
Over easy brain,
Over cooked heart, impenetrable.
I am crazy, but
We got tough meat—as hard as is—
¿Duele? Swallow pills like Portia
Swallowed fire. Your neuro
home is not a home any longer. You
know the medicine is there in your food, your brain.
I stopped taking my happy pills and
I’ve been searching for the roundness
in light, caramel dermises on the streets.
We got tough meat. Always soft.
Within the piece, I am questioning my identity as a Hispanic female, but also, I am questioning my future mental stability as the grandchild of a woman who suffers from a severe case of bipolar disorder. So, not only do I struggle with a divide in my racial background, but also, I struggle with the fear of my genetic mental state. The personal tear I experience when dealing with such issues is flavorful for my writing.
The machine I call myself.
The mechanism known as me.
The clock or timer that I am.
Running down and always was.
Music in a garbage truck’s
Thud of a dumpster in the morning,
Or the way another wakes me,
Makes far better matter to consider.
The snow arrived at 11:11, superstitious numbers for the Cass Lake loggers:
four parallel pines announcing the banking storm.
Men had been promised a day and a half of women and whiskey,
and drug themselves from the forest, footfalls heavy as felled fir.
These thirsty birlers—Norwegians, French Canadians, Irishmen—carried
upon their shoulders broad axes and serrated saws,
but buried deep within their woolens they bore darker truckage:
national pride and prejudice as sharp as crushed juniper.
Let us move to the island of rattlesnakes.
I will protect you.
Watch me slide off my city-pumps,
walk barefooted on hot
rocks. Together, let us dance
across the beach, wave our hands
like carefree children, feel grit
rise between hungry toes.
I will ask you—spend the night here,
with me on the dunes,
bare-bodied in the sand.
Know that in this garden,
all things are natural.
Take away my weapons.
Let the hiss of the water
conceal their approach.