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
Music has always been a big part of my life. It’s a way that I express myself when I can’t find my own words to: I can easily find a song to fit my mood or situation to express my thoughts and feelings.
Around late high school, I decided that I wanted to be a writer and began writing horrible fan fiction in my free time. I was struggling to write an ending for one of the stories I was working on until I came across a song on YouTube that expressed the pain and longing I wanted to portray between the two main characters. I listened to that song on repeat, my fingers tapping the keys of my laptop until all the words left me and I had the perfect ending. Well, it was perfect until editing started.
I had let my two favorite things come together, and I never knew why I hadn’t tried to find inspiration this way before. I felt I had opened the floodgates, and every song that I came across had the potential to be a new piece. Some songs would sink their teeth into me and wouldn’t let go until I wrote down the idea it had spurred. I would put the song on repeat, and type as fast as I could, letting the words flow from my fingertips.
One of the best things about using music for inspiration is that it is constantly changing, and there is so much out there for me to discover. When I’m struggling with a piece, whether it’s from writer’s block or that the words just aren’t sounding right, I take a break and turn to music; waiting for the lyrics to speak to me. Sometimes the inspiration comes from a song I hear on the radio while driving, other times it comes from a shuffled song from my Weekly Discovery or Release Radar playlists curated by Spotify. I wait until a song finally speaks to me. At first it’s quiet, planting an idea in my head for a story. As the song builds, its hold on me builds as well, taking complete control and making my finger itch to release the story building inside me. With a song on repeat for hours, I sit with my fingers clicking across the keyboard until there are no more words waiting to escape. I’ll listen to the song once more, making sure that every last drop of inspiration is soaked up.
Now when I’m having a particularly hard time with writing, whether it be picking up an already started work or beginning a new one, I’ll sit for hours and listen to music on shuffle. I’ll listen for something that speaks to me and my project. When I struggle to find something to fit a particular project, I’ll take a break from it altogether and start a completely new project.
Music speaks to me, so maybe next time your struggling with a story, scene, or character, turn on some music and let it speak to you.
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.”
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.
“I am the outcast”
I am the outcast of the day
aloft on shrill gusts
up near the quiet cirrus,
who dangle their legs in my long, thick hair
that tickles in breezing past. Behold the shepherd whose sheep go home
each to his own den, away from the wind,
and I to my humble abode, too small
to house them all. I who stand creekside